Forgive the Russians? But Dad!

We have a set bedtime ritual for our son: one more last wrestling match, teeth brushing, story time, devotions, prayer, lights-out; followed by an hour of chatting, cuddling and escape attempts.

We get a new stack of books each week, along with books I borrow from the school I teach at and the books we own. There is no shortage of printed words here. At bedtime, our son gets to pick two books for his story time. Last night he picked G.I. Joe comics.

In one issue*, the Joes are tasked with recovering a spy plane that crashed in Afghanistan. While on their way, they are intercepted by Oktober Guard, the Russian special mission team. A battle ensues and the Joes win the day with cunning ingenuity.

During our devotions, we read Jesus’ words about forgiving our enemies. My son looked confused.

“Even the bad guys with red stars?”

“Jesus thinks so.”

“But they’re the bad guys!”

The interesting part is that we have never explained what forgiveness is, but he inherently knows that it entails being generous with our enemies; we have to give a part of ourselves to malefactors.

It is a mistake for me to ever think family devotions are for my family. Nightly devotions with my son are not for him, they are for me. I am the convict; the one who is convicted. I need to hear the words of Jesus again.

Repentance and devotions make the parent and child partners in their devotional life, daily renewing their bond. Repentance is a sign of new life. Repentance is the pulse of faith. Devotions coupled with repentance make theology vibrant, keeping it safe from academics and in the realm of daily experiments in grace, prayer and obedience.

We aspire to find peace with God in an active devotional life. But we are not always able to discern between peace and complacency, and healing and mending—this does not matter until young faith asks questions of our devotions.

If we do not find healing in God, no matter the price, our children might not. If we have allowed other elements to mend us, such the passing of time, sex, or booze, then we have been nurtured by vice. This is idolatry.

Devotions with children remind adults to refocus their lives and practice the basics. Devotions give us a second chance to do a few things better.

Now you know, and knowing is half the battle.

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By: Mark Liebenthal

*G.I. Joe A Great American Hero, Vol. 1 issue 6, “To Fail is to Conquer…To Succeed is to Die!”

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cityscape: skyline of faith and nightmare

How do you navigate? Where do you find home? How do you choose your maps? I bought my maps from two old Greeks and a Russian dissident. I ask a lot of questions of Nobel laureates, mostly poets. I’ve had many maps over the years, but I’ve only kept a few.

At some point faith needs to leave home and go on its own adventure, facing danger on its own. Faith needs to learn how to build a fire, make a shelter and find clean water. Faith needs to learn how to make a family, build community, engage commerce and, most importantly, faith needs to learn to keep watch.

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The faith that we want our children to have won’t really come from the devotions we’re struggling to maintain. The paper and the printed words aren’t what make faith great, or even viable. Faith comes with callouses, walking for miles, getting lost and finding one’s way home. Faith is found when we return home.

My wife and I have to raise a boy to be a man, and a better man than his father. My wife and I have different ways of doing the same thing. She is nurturing the deep, beautiful side of the spiritual life, while I take him down the alleys of the city. I take him to the Valley of the Shadow.

Quite often we walk together just to walk together. Sometimes I take him out early morning, sometimes late at night. I don’t like to have a reason for walking together, I like to discover the reason along the way. I want him to experience life unfolding; the city blossoming in the morning, or the city nocturnal, full of real shadows.

When we head out together, we always walk through the parking lot of a church building that has a large stained glass work of Jesus tending sheep. When we walk through here, we say together, “The Lord is my shepherd.” Having him say that on his own has been my only spiritual goal for him this year. Maybe next year we’ll add the part about not wanting. Maybe.

Many times we have walked among foreign gods, military machines, prostituted women, drunken men, and known criminals. We’ve been out in all kinds of weather and pushed the limits of wisdom, but always together. I led him. I held his hand. I carried him.

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You can teach a kid anything during playtime. They are vulnerable to facts and wisdom. During our walks, I lecture with my hands, opening doors for others, paying for everything I take from a store, cleaning my messes. He just thinks we’re walking to the park, but I’m teaching him along the way. I want him to intuit his surroundings as a seasoned pathfinder; mindful of who he is wherever he is. I want him to navigate with his blood, making decisions with his core, not his skin.

Are these devotions? Maybe. Certainly disciplines.

Right now the needle of your success-o-meter might be bouncing around. That’s ok. Someday he’s going to face all of this on his own (as will your children). I don’t want him to merely be ready, I want him to lead.

When we come home with muddy boots, Momma smiles because she knows we were doing our devotions.

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-Mark Liebenthal