It's easy to tell how quickly my youngest daughter is growing. We just look to see how her hockey stick measures up. In the past year, she's grown so quickly that we've had to buy two sticks. We're headed out after school today to buy another one.
Using a hockey stick that's too short can keep her from performing her best on the ice. It causes her to hold her stick wrong and forces her to hunch over, meaning she can't get a lot of leverage when she shoots.
We all have a measuring stick for our kids' growth. Whether it's a too short hockey stick or pants that won't go past their ankles, it's easy to see that our kids are growing physically. We replace their clothes or their shoes or their soccer cleats because they have gotten to small. Those tools are no longer the right ones for them.
Unfortunately, it's not quite as easy to measure our kids' spiritual growth. It's easy to miss the signs that our kids are ready for some new tools to face the world.
I don't know about you, but no matter how much my kids grow physically, I would love to keep them little for a while longer. Because of that, it's easy for me to decide that my kids aren't ready for a more grown-up discussion or that we don't need to tackle a certain topic because it's uncomfortable for me.
But my oldest is fifth grade. Next year she goes to middle school. She needs the tools to deal with many of the things she's going to encounter in the next few years. Much as I wish it, I can't keep her little forever.
It's important for us to gauge our kids' spiritual growth just as we gauge their physical growth. When they have outgrown the simple lessons of "God loves you," we need to be ready to provide them with tougher ones like "Even though God is good, bad stuff can happen."
Hebrews 5:13-14 says "Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil." As our kids mature, we want to move them from spiritual milk to spiritual solid food. We want them to grow in their knowledge of God and their relationship with Him just as we want them to grow physically.
Helping our kids grow spiritually may mean answering some tough questions we're not quite ready to answer. It may mean spending some time with our kids helping them understand a passage of scripture. It may simply mean praying with them about a tough situation their facing.
But just like my daughter's hockey stick, if we don't give our kids the spiritual meat they need, it will hurt their game. It will leave them unprepared to deal with situations in a godly manner. It can leave them looking for someone else's advice to make sense of the world around them. And that advice might have nothing to do with God.
Take stock of your child's spiritual growth today. Think about the types of situations your child is dealing with today, then evaluate whether he has the spiritual tools to deal with those situations. Honestly dissect whether the lessons you're teaching your child are appropriate for her age and stage in life or if they are too simplistic or too complicated.
Just as we don't expect our kids to magically get new clothes when they outgrow them, we can't expect them to suddenly understand spiritual matters. It's our job as parents to recognize their need for more complex spiritual training just as we recognize their need for longer jeans.
While I guarantee your kids will outgrow their new jeans, their hockey sticks and their dance shoes, the lessons we teach them about God today will be the basis for the way they deal with the world tomorrow.