I think I was 11 years old when I first doubted my salvation. I had given my life to God at the small age of 4, but, at 11, I began to wonder if I was really, honestly "saved." The crisis began when a teacher at my tiny Christian school called me "self-righteous" in front of the whole class and told me that self-righteousness was just as sinful as more obvious things like lying and cheating. And, while I actually believe that to be true, I'm not sure how helpful it is to point that out to anyone, much less an 11 year old who probably couldn't even define self-righteousness at the time. I wondered if I was lacking in faith since I was "self-righteous" and, therefore, trying to earn my salvation, rather than accepting it as a free gift from God. If I was lacking in faith then maybe I wasn't really a Christian at all.
I don't really believe I was self-righteous at the age of 11, or maybe I was in a kid sort of way. I tried to be good, to do the right thing, to get good grades, and to make my parents proud. I wonder how my life would have been different if that teacher had made a point of telling me in front of the whole class that God was so in love with me, that God smiled on my efforts to be good and to do good but that nothing I could ever do would make God not love me any more. I wonder who I would be if I had learned at a much earlier age to trust in God's goodness, love, and kindness. Kindness. Love is kind. This gentle, loving message is so painfully missing from the lives of most Christian or formerly-Christian people I know. The church, as I see it right now, is so full of judgment, is so terribly good at pointing out sin, and is so downright bad at helping people understand the central characteristic of God: God is love. So bad, in fact, that an 11 year old can have a crisis over whether they're really "saved."
So, I'm starting small and trying to change my own little corner of the world. I try to think of God's love when I'm with my kids. Love is kind. Love doesn't humiliate people in front of the whole class...or the whole family. It is better to communicate God's love to them than to dwell on their sinfulness. I want them to operate out of a sense of their loved-ness rather than guilt or fear. This reminds me of one of my favorite principles of parenting: It is better to teach what "to" do rather than what "not" to do. I want my children to know who they are: children who are desperately loved by the King, and, then out of their assurance of that love and some careful teaching, I hope they grow into compassionate, loving people, who desire to serve God and to serve others.