Sometimes we think “You are what you do”. But, the Bible says, “Do what you are”. The things that we do, flow out who we are. Our actions emerge out of our inner thoughts and feelings. The condition of our hearts can be seen in the actions that we take. When we see words and actions that don’t match who people are, we call them hypocrites. We look for people whose lives are consistent. These are people who don’t pretend to be someone they are not. What you see is what you get. Teenagers and young people seem to be really good at spotting people who are fake – people who are trying to pass themselves off as something they are not. So, if we want to pass on our faith to our children, or share our faith in Christ with our family and friends, we will get what we are.
People watch how we live. People will listen to what we say. People are looking to see if we are authentic. Does how we live and what we say actually match who we are. Are we living a practical faith? Does our faith make sense in the way we live? Does it flow naturally from our hearts or does it seem fake and forced?
When we think about passing on our faith to our kids, we want to have a sticky faith. We want who we are and what we believe to “stick” to other people. One of the findings of the Sticky Faith research (www.stickyfaith.org) is that you get what you are. After studying the faith development of more than 3000 young people nationwide from Protestant, Roman Catholic, Jewish, and Mormon families, they discovered that “the best general rule of thumb that parents might use to reckon their children’s most likely religious outcomes is this: ‘We’ll get what we are.’” In general, the primary influence in a child’s faith trajectory is his or her parents.
There is no magic formula for developing sticky faith in our kids. There is no money back guarantee that always works for every single person in every single situation. But, the more that parents live who they really are, the more we are genuine and real and authentic, the more our kids will see that, and the more our faith will “stick” in their lives.
As important as our faith lives are in influencing our kids, multiple studies of teenagers indicate that more important than what parents believe is what teenagers perceive they believe. If there is a difference between what we believe and what teenagers think we believe, they will be more influenced by what they think we believe. So, it’s important to verbalize our faith and find ways to clarify what we believe, so that our kids get a clear picture of where we are coming from and why we do what we do.
The quality of our marriages also affects our family’s faith trajectories. A nationwide study of more than 1,100 adults examining the effects of family of origin on church involvement found a modest association between the marital happiness of a person’s parents and that person’ religious involvement. In other words, people whose parents had marriages that were more life-giving were also more likely to attend and be involved with a faith community. But, even when our marriages are struggling, the relational glue of your extended family and the church can help compensate for what’s missing at home.
Some people think that Christianity focuses on a bunch of “do’s” and “don’ts”. It doesn’t. It focuses on shaping who you are at the core of your being. It focuses on your soul, your spirit, your heart, and your mind. The Holy Spirit is re-shaping who we are. As this happens, it will eventually change how we live, what we do, and what we don’t do. But, the re-shaping of our hearts comes first.
This reminds us to do what we are. If we want our faith to “stick” to our kids, we will get what we are. People will look at who we are more than what we say or what we do. If we want to influence our kids towards Jesus, we will get what we are.