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It’s a balmy August evening, and rays of sinking sun shine white on the lawn as our little family of four finishes dinner on the deck. Darrell offers to take the kids to the yard while I clear the table and clean up. In no time, the hose is squirting water into the sky, and rainbows dance over the grass. There are squeals of sheer joy and delight.
I hear it all through the open window while I scrub dishes at the kitchen sink. Suddenly, a primal scream interrupts the joyful commotion outside. I’m taken back to the day Caleb, at nine months old, went off the deck in his walker. He tumbled down two steps and onto a concrete pad. He was fine. Bekah and I were both traumatized for weeks.
The screams indicate a crisis, so I drop the sponge and bolt out the screen door without bothering to close it behind me. I find them sitting in the wet grass. Darrell holds Caleb, consoling him, and Bekah is quickly melting into her own small puddle of tears and hose water.
“She accidentally sprayed his face with the hose,” Darrell explains over the two wailing children.
I breathe a deep sigh of relief and sit on the ground with Bekah, scooping her into my lap. Her sensitive spirit, thoughtfulness, and compassion never cease to amaze me.
“It was an accident, babe. It’s okay,” I reassure her, wiping the tears from her soft cheeks.
“I hate myself! I’m the worst sister in the world! I’m terrible!” she retorts, and she quickly takes to hitting herself in the side of the head.
I’m beside myself. She’s never acted this way.
After calming her, I look into her eyes and speak as much truth as I can conjure up. I tell her she’s a caring, thoughtful, wonderful sister. I tell her that no mistake will ever define her. I tell her she never needs to hate herself and that she’s wildly loved by her parents and the God who created her.
Later that night, when all is well and everyone is dry, calm, and reassured, I find myself considering the events of the evening. It becomes remarkably clear that if we don’t deliberately teach our children what it means to have an identity that’s rooted in the love of Christ, they’ll be tossed about, like waves on a stormy sea.
If they don’t grasp that they are passionately loved, just because they belong to Christ, they’ll define themselves by their talents, their gifts, their successes, and their failures. All of these things are subject to change. The only certainty in their lives is the certainty that they can never be separated from the love of Christ (Romans 8:38-39).
Since that evening on the lawn, teaching our kids who they are in Christ has been a focus in this house. Here are 10 one-liners to share with your children as well:
1. “You are defined by Christ’s love for you.”
The world tells us that we are defined by how we look, what we can accumulate, and how high we can climb on social and corporate ladders. The world tells us we’re defined by our natural talents. But these things are all subject to change. Our worth was sealed once and for all. God demonstrated his love for us in a lasting way: While we were not yet perfect, Christ died on a cross for us (Romans 5:8). Whether we feel loved or not, those who have received Christ as Savior are defined by the fact that he loves us wildly. He proved it at the cross.
2. “I love you just because you’re mine.”
We tend to believe that we’re more or less lovable depending upon our actions. When our kids see that we love them simply because they are ours, their hearts are better prepared to grasp the truth that God loves us, simply because we belong to him. We can do nothing to earn this love. It is freely given.
3. “This is where I messed up today.”
When we model humility and engage our kids in open dialogue about our mistakes, we set the stage to share even the biggest mistakes they will make in life. The child who can share mistakes in a shame-free environment becomes an adult who doesn’t need to erect walls to hide shame or appear strong. The person who knows that it’s okay to make mistakes walks in freedom from being defined by these mistakes.
4. “How can I pray for you?”
Asking our kids how we can pray for them opens the door to see where they’re at spiritually. Ultimately, only the child who has received the forgiveness of Christ and trusted in him as Savior can find an identity in him. Engaging our kids in spiritual conversations is important for speaking spiritual truth to them, wherever they happen to be on the journey of faith.
5. “I’m so proud of how hard you’re working on this.”
When we affirm the efforts of our kids, we free them from defining themselves by fixed attributes and natural talents. The child who hears, “You’re so smart,” all his life is bound to tie his identity to this attribute. When he fails his first test, his identity will be greatly shaken. Affirming hard work as well as natural talents creates balance in the lives of our children.
6. “How can you use this gift to bless others?”
Reminding our kids that their natural talents are to be used to bless others shows them that the purpose of their gifts is not to define themselves by these areas of strength. We are blessed with talents for the purpose of blessing others.
7. “Let’s seek God through his written Word together today.”
Find a way to get into the Bible as a family. Find a way that works for your season of life, and stick to it. Whether it’s a reading before dinner, devotions before bed, or time in the Bible during breakfast, make reading the truth of God’s Word a priority. When our kids see that the Bible is filled with stories of imperfect people who are dearly loved by God, they encounter his heart.
8. “This mistake doesn’t define you.”
Most of us feel like we’re not good enough at times. We struggle with the temptation to define ourselves by our mistakes. Our kids are blessed when we remind them that their failures don’t define them, no matter how great the failure.
9. “Wherever you go, remember you’re with Him.”
Reminding our kids that they can walk into a crowded cafeteria or new social situation with the assurance that they walk with the Lord plants their feet on solid ground. It enables them to face the world with calm assurance, knowing they are embraced as children of the Most High God.
10. “You bring God so much joy, just as you are.”
God’s not waiting for us to improve our behavior or get over our habitual cycles of sin so that he can enjoy us. He enjoys us just as we are – imperfections and all. When we remind our kids that God loves them as they are, we set their feet on the unshakable Rock of Christ.
Brennan Manning wrote these words: “Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion.”
Our kids need to know that above all else, they are radically loved by God. May we receive this truth for ourselves and impart it in their lives with tenderness and compassion.
*As a parent, I’ve found it helpful to post these one-liners in a place where I am regularly reminded to speak these words into my children’s lives and pray these words into my children’s hearts. Click here to download your printable copy of 10 One-liners to Develop Your Children’s Identities in Christ.