Parenting Series – The Spelling Bee: G.O.S.P.E.L!

The next three days Robynn takes us into a great conversation on parenting. We look forward to hearing your thoughts!

Part one:  The Spelling Bee: G.O.S.P.E.L!

When Connor was in 6th grade he was in the school spelling bee. He had won the class bee. He had won the bee for all of 6th grade. And now he was in the all school spelling bee.

I quickly decided that as a mom, attending spelling bees is one of the most stressful things I’ve ever done. You sit there quietly in the audience and wait for the word to be announced. Once you hear the word, you spell it out in your mind, quietly, slowly and then, still in your mind, loudly, insistently. All of your brain tries to will the spelling of the word to the mind of the young speller. It’s agonizing. When it’s your child standing, waiting for the word to materialize in their heads, it almost hurts you as a parent spectator to watch. It’s excruciating.


Younger spellers were quickly eliminated. Soon there were only 6 spellers left. Now 4. It was Connor’s turn to spell. The word he was given was ‘gospel’.

Lowell and I squeezed hands. Connor seemed to hesitate. There was a long pause. The audience had time to spell out the word in their heads several times over. Still Connor seemed to struggle silently.

Gospel. Can I have it in a sentence please? Can I have the definition?

He was using all the familiar spelling bee participant’s stall tactics. He was grasping for the spelling of his word. Until hesitatingly, falteringly, he began,

Gospel. G…..O…..S……P……E…..L? Gospel?

Altogether, parents, teachers, students exhaled. He had spelled it correctly. The Principal of the school, sitting just in front of us, turned and said with a smile, “Wouldn’t that have been awkward to have the missionary’s kid go out on ‘gospel’?!” We all chuckled with relief!

It’s an amusing little story but the truth is I really don’t want my kids to go out on the gospel. I don’t want them to lose faith or to abandon God. We’ve made ourselves a sort of silent checklist…an unspoken, yet agreed upon “How To” guide…to help us parent our three. I have no idea if this stuff works—we’re still very much in process…but here’s the frame-work Lowell and I are using, in hopes that, by God’s grace, our kids will not go out on the gospel:

1.  It’s time to simplify!

It really is time to strip down our Christianity back to the simple Jesus underneath. Really the only thing that matters is Christ. It doesn’t matter what my kids wear to church, or how they do their hair. Their choice of music might be obnoxious; the volume might be too loud. But at the end of the day Jesus is the only thing that matters.

Connor came out of youth group several months ago fuming mad! Someone had said something that infuriated him. As he climbed into the car he spouted, “I hate Christians, I hate the church, I hate all of Christianity.” Admittedly I was a little alarmed. What had happened to provoke this type of visceral response? We talked it through on the way home. As soon as we walked into the house, Lowell asked how youth group had gone. I repeated what Connor had said when he got in the car. Lowell, in response, casually said, “Well Connor, what do you think of Jesus?” Connor’s reply was immediate and full of conviction, “I love Jesus very much.” “That’s all that matters then,” Lowell said. I was a little flabbergasted at Lowell’s nonchalance. I had gotten a bit more worked up about it. But Lowell is right. Really, at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is that our children embrace Jesus. Only Jesus.

measuring kids

2.  Remove the measuring sticks.

We’ve never forced our children to read their Bibles. We’ve never forced them to have a “Quiet Time”. Growing up in boarding school, especially when we were younger, there was a time for “personal devotions” –we were supposed to read our Bibles and pray. To help us in that feat we were given little Scripture Union devotional books. First you worked through the red one and then you could graduate to the Blue one. There was a green one and yellow one and I think, even a purple one. Spirituality became a competition all based on which little workbook you were in. When we were older, I remember reading my Bible in less than private spaces to ensure, subtly, that others might catch a glimpse of my devotion.

Lowell and I could set up a system. We could offer rewards. But I don’t want to raise “white washed tombs”–I want children who want to know God. I don’t want children who look like they want to know God. When Connor makes his bed, he pulls up the top bedspread only. The rest of his blankets lay in a nested mess at the foot of his bed. I don’t want his faith to be like his bed –only one blanket deep and thinly veiling the hypocrisy and mess underneath.

3.  Don’t be afraid of the slippery slope.

It’s scary to parent without the measuring sticks because we have no idea what’s really going on inside the souls of our children. We are out of control. If we have those types of rules in place we know if they’ve been obeyed or if they’ve been broken.  They allow us to feel better about ourselves as parents. And without those rules, those mile markers, the measuring guides we have no way of knowing what’s going on. Not only are we out of control but there’s nothing to contribute to our sense of well-doing.

There is a prevailing idea in Christendom that suggests that we can’t completely throw out the law or the rules. Those suggesting this insist we need a balance. Too much grace leads to permissiveness….before you know it you’re on the slippery slope. A bit of law regulates our behavior in good and productive ways. This type of Christianity results in us controlling behavior; it’s really just sin management.

And it simply is not true. Grace is generous and complete. The law has been erased. The only rule that remains now is the rule of love.

Our worst fears lie on the other end of the slippery slope. Sin. Licentiousness. Paganism. Hedonism.

Jesus calls us to camp out on that slope. To trust ourselves and our children to the depth of his grace. We are called to love: the Lord our God, our neighbours, our families, ourselves. If we do sin, grace pursues us and welcomes us back. We need to remember nothing is wasted by God. He takes the meanderings, those mistakes and he uses them for His glory in our story. We can know he does that with our children too.

You’re either a parent or you’ve been parented, so what are your thoughts? What’s your story? Would love to hear from you through the comments.

Tune in tomorrow for Part two: Bible Trivia. Shmible Shnivia.

*Image credit: dekanaryas / 123RF Stock Photo

15 thoughts on “Parenting Series – The Spelling Bee: G.O.S.P.E.L!

  1. I love the conversation running down the computer screen!
    Ultimately it all comes down to faith – faith and trust that God loves our kids more even than we ever could; faith that He is working in them even when we don’t see it. When fear threatens to take over, we have to turn back to the One in whom we have put our faith. Just before we put Ed into boarding at 7&1/2, I was sitting in the living room at Woodlands in Murree sewing on name tags. Ruth Montgomery came to the door. I didn’t really know Ruth that well – we later became very good friends, but at that point I was just a bit scared of her. She was even more outspoken than I was! She came right in and sat down and said, “Get me a needle. I’ll help you out here.” We talked and I heard about their experiences in Jordan before they came to Pakistan, and then we moved to the topic topmost in my mind, sending a first born away at such a tender age. How could I do it? Would he survive? We knew it was the right thing, and he was excited to go. But oh,my he was so small! Ruth shared a verse she had prayed for her children from Isaiah 54:13 “All your children will be taught by the Lord and great will be the peace of your children.” I have prayed it ever since, and for our grandchildren, and now our 6 tiny great grands. There is no formula for bringing up perfect children, no perfect parents or perfect parenting. Every generation has its own challenges – children and their parents. But God is up to it all – nothing takes Him by surprise or knocks him off His feet. He is there, and He is good


  2. I John 2:9-11 — Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.

    I John 3:10-15 — By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.

    Matt 5:21-24

    I understand the principle of not over-reacting to someone’s strong feelings, particularly a child’s, but I hope that you went beyond what you wrote in terms of helping Connor to understand what happened, and what love of Jesus means. Jesus is quoted in Matthew saying in effect, don’t bring your love to me until you have straightened things out with your brother. There are other things that Jesus said which complement this.

    There are times for anger at injustice, and perhaps Connor saw some injustice, and experienced justifiable anger, but we need to learn the principle of being angry, and not sinning (Eph 4:26). The teaching doesn’t always have to happen in the moment of anger, but it is often the ideal time, seeing how Jesus spoke into people’s lives.


    1. I hear this and appreciate the verses, but here’s my struggle. In times like this (and I can’t speak for Robynn with her kids) when I’ve immediately gone to the ‘right’ thing — they close up. They feel preached at. They walk to their rooms feeling defeated and as though they can’t be honest, can’t question, can’t express. So while I agree with your overall words – the specifics are a lot less black and white. Our kids need us to sometimes just sit back and not talk, not give the ‘right’ answer. I work every Thursday in an Alpha program. The premise of Alpha is that we tend to want people outside the church first to behave, then believe…and only then will we let them belong – Alpha says – no, first you belong – we love you, then we pray you will believe…only then is it possible to behave. Alpha has helped me exponentially in the area of listening first, responding only after careful listening with my kids.


    2. Certainly the story with Connor is longer and has more depth….I appreciate the scripture and truth you bring to this piece. I agree with Marilyn’s comments here too. Sometimes the best answer in the moment is the space to give and to receive grace. Thank you Rene for your contributions to the conversation today.


  3. This thinking is counter-cultural both within the church and within society as a whole. According to both of these, there should be measuring sticks, and you should be able to know when your child is successful, and, therefore, when (and whether) you are successful. Furthermore, if you gave up a career for this parenting gig, this is your one means of proving to the world that you are successful. So, if you have any self-respect at all, you had better get busy using your kids as a vehicle for establishing your worth!

    BUT, this thinking is TRUTH, and LIFE. It leaves me with so many more questions than answers. How can we build it into our faith communities? I would like to hear more from you about how you approach spiritual disciplines, if at all, with your kids. We have also refrained from requiring spiritual practices for exactly the reasons you stated–but I am so fearful of raising kids who then will not know the beauty of prayer and scripture and giving. I find it difficult to avoid expressing this anxiety to my kids, and indeed I DO express it at times–and it always comes out as ugly legalism.

    If we remove the measuring sticks, can we replace them with something tangible? Grace sounds good, but in a vacuum created by the removal of something very concrete, can we offer anything more specific to soothe the anxiety of that loss?


    1. I so appreciate this comment because I am left with the same questions…and also since I am looking back on much of this, I don’t feel sometimes that we did enough. We did the critical thinking piece well….did we temper it with understanding truth? Did we bring our children up to be egalitarian with people but to be elitist with ideas in love? That people are all valuable and should be treated with utter respect and love, but some ideas are better than others….the earth is not square. I wonder if so much of this is about modeling. I remember as far back as I can think the memory of my parents, reading their Bibles and praying. If something was THAT important, I remember thinking, it must be worth pursuing. In junior high I didn’t feel that….but boy high school and beyond? Absolutely. Not without questions, not without doubt but the deep conviction that this is worth pursuing. So maybe it’s the modeling through personal prayers, through living out our faith and speaking to it. In the Orthodox church we are encouraged to do daily evening prayers. This has been a good process for us to develop and for our kids to see.


    2. Even as I ask for something tangible, I read again, “Jesus calls us to camp out on that slope.” You are so right about that, Robynn. He calls us to meet him on that slope, the one that looks a lot like the sea with the wind and the waves, and he is standing out there, powerful and faithful, and enough…


    3. Tracy…In response to your comment, “…but I am so fearful of raising kids who then will not know the beauty of prayer and scripture and giving.” I think part of it has to do with the modeling and the talking. There’s a lot of talking going on all the time at our house. I get excited when I give. There’s joy all over the place. The kids see it. They ask questions. They voice their envy or their cynicism. They roll their eyes but they SEE me and my heart’s response. The same is true of prayer. We do pray with our kids….but I always ask, “Can I pray for you?” or “Can I pray about that?” And I try to respect their answers. But I also talk a lot about prayer and the answers to prayer and the frustration I feel at God when the prayer remains unanswered. If the answer is not the one I anticipated, I give voice to my disappointment in front of them. They see me reading scripture. They hear Lowell and I talk about scripture. Often Lowell reads out a verse, or I read out a psalm to the room…to whoever might be listening. And the room is full of ears. Many times our oldest will ask Lowell to reread a bit, or he’ll incline his head in our direction as we read.

      I so understand the longing and the temptation to replace the “system” of measuring with something more tangible. I think we certainly need to grieve the loss of the structures…and then let it go…. It feels often (ok…nearly every day!) like I’m stepping out onto jello-ground. I have no idea what I’m doing….but as I admit that to God, I push into Him and He Fathers me through that. I am perpetually out of comfort zone in my parenting.

      I’ve had to admit that to my kids more than once too. There was one time, when Adelaide was in grade 6, that I freaked out. She had been exposed to cyber sexual bullying, cutting, full on mouth to mouth kissing in the playground —all of that in a relatively short amount of time in the middle of her 6th grade year! I was still playing barbies when I was her age! We were in the kitchen and she had told me yet another horrible story. I put my hand on her arm, and I asked her, “Adelaide are you ok? How are you handling all this?” She indicated that she would be ok. She wasn’t afraid. I then said to her, “Because I’m not ok. I’m fighting fear. I’m freaking out. Can you please pray for me that I will mother you out of a place of faith and not out of fear?” She quietly placed her hand on my arm and she prayed, simply, sweetly, “Jesus will you please help mom not to be afraid. Help her to parent me in faith. Amen.” I will never forget that moment. There was a tangible vulnerable space for grace and compassion in the kitchen. Adelaide had been my priest, she had led me to the alter and she had prayed for me.


      1. Thank you so much for this thoughtful response, Robynn. My kids are 12 and 14, and I can see increasingly mature fruit from those honest exchanges as well. I love the evidences that God is at work in them, and that He can be trusted. Maybe it’s harder to trust that he is also at work in me, bringing me to maturity!


      2. this story Robynn. What a great example of admitting something in honesty. When we’re in person I’ll tell you a funny story about swearing…..!


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