Mothering My Child’s Spirit

by Lianna Davis August 3, 2020

Thomas Spurgeon, son of famed preacher Charles H. Spurgeon, relayed in adulthood that his conversion to Christ was dependent upon the “earnest pleading and bright example” of his mother, Susannah.[1] In one particular instance, she taught during a time of singing: “Dear boys of mine, I have no reason to suppose that you are yet trusting Christ: you will, I hope, in answer to our constant prayers, but till you definitely do you must not say or sing ‘I do believe, that Jesus died for me,’ It is just as wrong to sing a lie as to tell one.”[2] Later in life, Thomas remembered well the morning when he could confidently tell his mother that he believed he did truly love Jesus.[3]

Sharing Susie Spurgeon’s desire to plead for Christ in my home and communicate with my daughter clearly about the necessity of a personal decision for Christ, I want to remove barriers to faith in my daughter’s life. So, I seek to discern the experiences or perceptions in her young life that might inspire doubts about gospel truths, if they are not addressed.

A few of our most important household gospel conversations can be told in a series of sketches—me interacting with my four-year-old:

Doubting God’s Holiness

As parents, we aim for our discipline to correspond to the disobedience. Yet, disobedience toward me is a different concept than disobedience to God. What if I didn’t tell my daughter that sin before a holy God is distinct from sin before Mommy? What if I didn’t tell her that because God’s holiness is without measure, we don’t fully grasp the greatness of our sin? What if the consequences in my discipline sometimes make sin seem somewhat manageable, making Jesus’ forgiveness seem more or less unnecessary? She could come to doubt God’s holiness.

So, I remind my daughter that hell is a real place of eternal punishment, different from the consequences Mommy and Daddy give. In a straightforward manner, I tell her of God’s utter goodness and relay to her what Jesus has spoken about this vital doctrine—impressing upon her that all people will either live or die forever.

Doubting God’s Compassion

Instead of consequences feeling manageable, what if at times they feel hopeless or bleak to my daughter? I tell her that with discipline, what is hard is meant to lead to what is good. I speak of my hopes for her with compassion—hopes for all God has created her to be and for ways she can use her gifts for Him. By directing her unique person in profitable, excellent, true, noble, right, lovely, and admirable ways, she’ll bless God and others. I speak of my hope that the more she sees and knows God’s pure and unmatched goodness, the more she will love and do all that is right.

I think of Jesus’ compassion for crowds of people lost in sin; he doesn’t withhold his compassion from us when we’re wrong (Matthew 9:36). If I withheld compassion in conversations about discipline, perhaps she would doubt God’s compassion. So, I seek to show her mine, sharing that I too look to Christ’s mercy constantly in the fight against sins in my life. I tell her how I gain encouragement from knowing that he desires to grow goodness within me, drawing me near to himself as a result of discipline.

Doubting God’s Grace

Instruction in good character, as I give my daughter, involves accepting and rejecting behaviors. But looking beyond outward actions, God’s grace is the founding principle of obedience—it is why obedience is joyous.

If I didn’t describe that God sacrificed for us while we were still sinners, instructions about behaviors might cause her to doubt God’s grace that comes apart from works. So, I speak to my daughter about the gospel message. I ask her clarifying questions: “Now, when we come to God for forgiveness for our sins, do we carry the good things we’ve done in our hands to him when we go to try to prove ourselves to him, or do we approach him empty-handed?” We discuss God’s goodness in freely offering forgiveness to us.

I tell her that receiving Christ’s grace prompts joyous obedience in us that God loves. Doing so, I seek to avoid teaching my daughter of a morality devoid of Christ. I also do not dismiss obedience—for that would be to reflect a false gospel that doesn’t transform us to be increasingly obedient children of our King.

Doubting Personal Faith

Because much of a child’s faith context is received from a parent, a child might sincerely assume that we have a household faith—that being in a home of Christian parents makes her a believer. I have said to my daughter, “In this house, we serve the Lord.” When I say it, I refer to the disposition of our home, whom we honor within its walls.

Yet, without further clarification, that phrase could also confuse—as if believing in Jesus is something that parents do for children, or as if honoring Christ applies to the home context at large and not to individuals in it personally. So, I tell my daughter that each person must decide whether or not he or she will believe in Christ. I have said, “Mommy has decided to follow Jesus. But Mommy cannot decide to follow Jesus for you. You have to decide for yourself if you will give your life to him or not. Many reject the thought of someone else ruling their lives, even the good King who made us, loves us, and wants to remove our sins from us. I can tell you that he’s everything. He is far better and bigger and worthier than the whole world. And, I can tell you that you will meet him one day, face-to-face.”

To guard against mistakenness about God’s character and gospel in our home is worth every conversation, every contemplative moment I spend thinking about her spirit to discern what truth might be most helpful for her to hear next. For, a day in his courts is better than a thousand elsewhere (Psalm 84:10). He is the treasure buried in a field for which we want to sell everything else we have (Matthew 13:44). Christ is my greatest good, my daughter’s greatest good, and our King forever, whether we bow later or now. For as long as I have her ear, I will tell her so. 

[1] Ray Rhodes Jr., Susie: The Life and Legacy of Susannah Spurgeon, wife of Charles Spurgeon (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2018), 89-98.

[2] Ibid., 91.

[3] Ibid., 92.