Everyday Faithfulness: The Redemptive Use of Texting

By God’s grace, there are (at present) seven people roaming the planet who, in one way or another, can legitimately call me “Dad;” only two of these kids actually carry any of my DNA genetic coding. Three are the result of the blended family that came about with my remarriage in 2004, and the other two came about via God’s call on my heart to be a father to the fatherless. Three of them still live under our roof 24-7, two others come and go much less frequently, and the other two stop by only on rare, special occasions. (For example, the last time all nine of us were in the same room together was for my 50th birthday back in January.)

All of that background information is really just a set-up to say that some of our kids have grown up and moved on, while others are separated from us by distance, adulthood, biology, visitation schedules or what-have-you. Simply stated, we are most often “scattered,” with very little in the way of regular face time. Even though various circumstances conspire to keep us apart physically, our hearts have actually grown closer in many ways. Of course, we pray for all seven of our kids – biological and otherwise – on a regular basis, despite (and sometimes as a result of) various trials and disagreements. Ultimately, it is our hope to share eternity with Christ with all of them.

In the meantime, however, we must somehow cope with the fact that we do not get to see all of our kids nearly as often as we would like. Having facilitated five semesters of separation and divorce recovery at The Crossing, my wife and I have come into contact with numerous people who also have been denied ongoing access to their children. In the very best of scenarios, they may get to see their kids half the time. Whatever the outcome, the enduring result is the same as ours; parents who long to spend more time with their kids but (for whatever reason) cannot.

It is in this context that I recently began sending out Bible verses to my kids nearly every morning. My logic is pretty straightforward: “The very best thing that will ever come out of my mouth will point you to a relationship with Jesus, and I do not have to be sitting across the breakfast table for that to happen.” For example, here is a text I sent out to six of our seven kids just last week (by God’s mercy, the four-year-old doesn’t have a cell phone just yet):

Sent: May 4, 7:46 am
Delivered: May 4, 7:47 am
Good morning, kiddos. Have a great day…love you! The First Commandment, taken from Deuteronomy 5:6-7: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before m
e.”

Back when I began this practice, I made a very deliberate, very conscious decision to rest much of my heart’s burden for all of my children on the promise of God contained in Isaiah 55:11, “So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” (ESV) In other words, I simply decided to believe God and act upon that belief. “OK, Lord, you say that the Word of God does not return void…I am going to rest in that promise and seek to be faithful to my kids by sharing that blessing with them.”

As with just about anything else we attempt in this life, the eternal consequences of what I am doing remain unclear. Because God is an infinite God, whereas I am finite and limited, I can’t say for sure what effect this practice is having in the life of my kids, temporal or eternal. I don’t ever give my kids a “pop quiz” at the dinner table that night, nor do I “target verses to specific episodes of sinfulness” on their part. In no way do I attempt to manage the process by fretting about whether or not they are “getting it.” I simply share a verse that is a very natural, organic outgrowth of a conversation or study I am doing, and trust God with the results.

Lately, I’ve begun to believe that whether or not this minor attempt to “redeem” texting is having any discernible impact in the spiritual lives of my kids is almost beside the point. I suppose it’s possible that one or more of them may thumb right over to the DELETE button without even bothering to read the contents. (I doubt it, but nevertheless have to allow room for the possibility that one or more messages may be disregarded.) The main thing I have noticed as I have continued on in this morning ritual is that my heart toward all of them has been subtly changed, softened and redirected to care more and more for their well-being, even as we walk through the inevitable conflict and turmoil.

And to my own surprise, the practice has begun to spread to other venues; I suppose I am becoming something of a “Charismatic with a Keypad.”

Recently, for example, a friend of mine was suffering greatly under the weight of his previous life of sin; I texted him 2 Corinthians 5:17. Another friend was in great need of someone to speak hard, loving truth to him about the ways in which he had violated his marriage covenant; after an uncompromising truth-in-love smackdown, that guy got Proverbs 27:6. Just yesterday, in fact, I was (very appropriately) thinking about all of the hard work and selfless love that goes into mothering; my wife, mother-in-law and several of our closest friends ended up with Proverbs 31:28-29 splashed across their handheld displays.

All of my kids will tell you that I can be impatient and, like many other fathers of teenagers in the 21st century, I can become too-easily irritated by the inappropriate use of texting during family meals, face-to-face conversations, or (God help them) a Sunday morning worship service. The knee-jerk temptation in these moments is to go waaaaaay too far in the Luddite direction and sternly declare that texting, iPhone games and Facebook are all “tools of the devil,” technological darts of Satan, specifically designed to drag our kids into the trivial and the meaningless (or worse). It helps me, in those times, to recall that this is a decidely unbiblical perspective, and that all good things can be received with a heart of thanksgiving (1 Timothy 4:4-5). Kids in the 1950s ignored their parents by reading comic books; their propensity to dishonor their parents was in no way impeded by the lack of cellular telephone and Internet technology!

A few months ago, one of our daughters received the first season of Modern Family on DVD. Rather than condemn the often-sinful dialog and plotlines, I chose instead to watch every single episode with her along with other members of our family. In one episode simply entitled “Hawaii,” Phil (one of the the clueless father characters) catches his teenage daughter talking on her cell phone with a friend back home while she is relaxing poolside…on vacation in Maui, no less. Determined to teach her a “valuable lesson” in priorities, Phil snatches the phone from her hand and tosses it into the pool, conveniently forgetting that he himself paid for the device. Later, in the same episode, the eldest daughter swipes her sister’s MP3 player because all of her music was stored on her phone, thereby creating still more family friction.

As we all watched Phil enact this incredibly-stupid example of “parental discipline,” I silently resisted the urge to cheer. (What parent hasn’t wanted to do something similar at some point?) And while it’s true that our kids will invariably use technology to indulge in the trivial, the unhelpful, and even the sinful, how much better might it be for us to engage them in the arena of their own choosing and seek to patiently, methodically, redeem and renew? For now, misguided demolition of their phones may cause our kids to mourn the loss of their Lady Gaga songs far more than their handy Bible verses, for sure, but who’s to say that will always be the case?

Mark 4:26-29 (ESV)
And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”

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