“I’m not trying to turn you into me; I’m trying to turn you into you.”
–Shifu, Kung Fu Panda 3
I know, I know. I just began a devotion with a quote from a children’s movie. Yet it sums up perfectly the message I want to convey today. At the time this line is spoken in the movie, Po is trying to copy Shifu. He was assuming that to be the dragon warrior he had to mimic the one training him. But that was wrong, and Shifu told him such. To be his best, Po needed to be himself.
And the same rule applies to us and to our children. To be our best, we need to be who God designed us to be. We are all different; none of us is the same. None of us. If God had wanted a bunch of cookie cutter children, He would have made us that way. But He didn’t. He made us different. Yes, all of us are fearfully and wonderfully made in His image, yet each of us reflects that image uniquely. Even more, each of us is uniquely designed to use our particular qualities for God’s good pleasure.
Before having my son, I was all about conformity. My daughter could have been the poster child for parenting books. She fit that mold of what I expected from my children. But then my son came along–a little boy who has a tender heart yet who also loves to entertain and has no filter. And by no filter I mean thoughts flow from his head and out his mouth in one swift motion. Many a time I’ve wanted to hold up a sign that reads, “I did not teach him that.”
Now, I confess, I used to want to pray for him to stop his entertaining ways–to grow out of his craziness. But that prayer has changed; I now want him to grow into it. I no longer pray for my son to fit into my mold or the world’s mold; I pray for him to grow into his own–to the one God designed for him.
Read with me 2 Timothy 1:5-7:
I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well. For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
Timothy grew up with two women who loved God and passed that love onto him. Timothy caught their faith, but he did not necessarily mimic their other qualities. Paul reminds Timothy in this passage that he must take with him what he learned from the faith of those before him as he actively fans into flame the unique gift assigned to him.
I believe instead of looking at a child’s personality as something that needs to conform, we need to look at it as something that needs to be fanned–fanned into a flame that draws others to Jesus. As parents and teachers and influencers, we need to pass down our faith but also allow our kids to express that faith in the way God uniquely designed them to. That child who loves to talk–who’d probably talk to the wall if given the opportunity? Let’s not force him into silence; let’s pray God uses that gift of gab to talk to others about Jesus. God may be developing that skill so He can send that child out into the world to preach the Gospel to those who need to hear it. That child who is constantly in motion? The one who always has to have someone or something to tap, kick, or wrestle with? Pray God uses that gift of movement to “do” for His glory. God has a plan for those constantly moving hands and feet–a plan for them to be His hands and feet. The quiet one? The wild one? The class comedian? The sensitive one? The one with no filter? Whatever traits that may come across now as immature, frustrating, misused, and out of place might just be the very traits God placed in that child for His eternal purpose.
So instead of dismissing and squelching those natural tendencies of our children; let’s shape them. Let’s help that child learn how to effectively use His voice for God’s glory. Let’s help that kinesthetic child find a place to use His hands and feet in service to the King. Let’s help that class comedian use his humor to honor the Lord and to draw others to Him. Let’s encourage that quiet one to find creative ways to express himself. Let’s train each child to love God and love people in the unique way God designed them to.
Kids are meant to be trained, not stifled. Forcing a child to fit a mold that was never meant for him benefits no one, especially not the child. Of course, I must insert here that in no way am I saying to let children run free and do whatever they want–that’s crazy and detrimental to both the kids and to those around them. Boundaries and the ability to follow instruction are necessary in all aspects of life. And we are not to neglect teaching our children such things. What I am saying is we should ask God for the wisdom to guide each child into God’s plan for his life–God’s unique plan. Don’t silence the talker; help him develop the skill for good. Don’t extinguish the humor; guide it toward drawing others to Jesus.
Paul reminds us in his letter to the Corinthians of the following:
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (1 Corinthians 12:4-7)
One God. One Spirit. One faith. Yet different gifts.
Therefore, I encourage you to join me today in two ways. First, let us all commit to passing on a relationship with Jesus to the next generation, for without Jesus, no child will ever reach his full potential. Second, join me in teaching the next generation that who they are is not a mistake. Let’s teach them it’s okay to be different. Let’s demonstrate that we can all have the same faith, but we do not all have the same gifts. Let’s work together to pass on our faith while allowing God to use that faith in the way He sees fit.
We’re not all the same, but we can all be as one. So as one, let us train up our children to follow God in the unique way He designed them to follow. Let’s “train up a child in the way he should go” fully trusting that “even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).