How to Imperfectly Disciple Your Kids, Part 3: Presence

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Start here → How to Imperfectly Disciple Your Kids, Part 1: Definitions.

We’ve established definitions and unearthed the power of desire, the engine that drives disciple-making. Now we discuss presence.

Simply put: your kids need your presence. Never underestimate the power of presence. All day long your kids are absorbing your presence—who you are is shaping who they are becoming.

Your presence communicates more deeply than your words. Day by day, week by week, and year by year your children experience  you—a unique embodied existence of a particular height, weight, complexion, personality, and way of relating that invisibly forms how they relate to God, people, and themselves. Think of presence like you think of the weather. The warm sunshine, or cold cloudiness, of your presence produces a particular climate in which your kids can more readily flourish, or more readily struggle. On warm days we feel free to explore and play outside. In the same way, a child who grows up in a home where mom and dad give off a warm and stable presence will feel more safe to explore and develop the relational territory of knowing God, knowing one’s self, and knowing others. A child who grows up in a home with caregivers who present a cloudy, cold way of relating will feel less safe in developing healthy relationships and healthy ways of relating.

Remember, we demystified discipleship and defined it as “Transferring truth & love through relationship.” We desire to imperfectly transfer truth and love through relationship, through our imperfect presence, to our kids. Discipleship is not a data dump. And discipleship is not a “job” we farm out to someone else. Discipleship is a relationship, not a job. And this discipleship relationship has its power switch turned on all the time as our presence is constantly turned on, always and invisibly shaping our kids.

Therefore, to disciple our kids under this banner of presence, we must do three things:

1) Be present. Our age is an age of distraction and fragmented presence. Perhaps more than ever before in human history the most impactful thing we can do is learn to be fully present. Sixty or so years ago Jim Elliot famously said, “Wherever you are, be all there.” That’s good counsel for parenting and discipleship. Forget about quality time vs. quantity time. Simply focus on being present to your kids. This will naturally begin to translate into both quantity and quality time.

2) Be aware of your presence. Self-awareness is central to growing as a disciple of Jesus, and helping others grow as disciples of Jesus. Start, right now, paying more attention to the impact your presence is having on other people, most importantly the impressionable young people living under your roof. Ask yourself several times a day: “How is ___  experiencing my presence? “What’s it like to be on the other side of my presence?” Then, ask your kids this question, get their feedback on how they experience you. Next, use this feedback to grow and to more healthfully transfer truth & love through relationship. Use this feedback to adjust the thermostat of your presence. For example: recently I learned from my three sons that they can experience my presence as harsh. This feedback is helping me. I’m making adjustments in my presence/discipling, I’m praying for and practicing being more gentle.

3) Own your imperfect presence and trust Jesus’ perfect presence. Own that you will always be an imperfect presence to your kids. If you were a perfect parent your kids would have little need for a Savior. Much “Christian parenting” is little more than self righteous attempts to be Jesus for our kids. Beware of, repent of, traveling this path. Your job is to be an imperfect, maturing presence to your kids—a wounded sinner saved and being sanctified by grace alone, trusting in and constantly pointing your kids to the perfect presence who will never fail them. And the more you embrace your imperfection the more fully and truly present you can be to your kids, presenting them your whole self and pointing them to the Savior who makes you whole. Amen?

Photo credit: Monet Eliastam, my sister in-law.

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