The Baton of Faith
As my dad watched the 2008 Summer Olympics, he knew his own race was coming to an end. His 14-year battle with cancer had taken its toll. The failure of both the U.S. men's and women's 4x100 metre relay teams to qualify for the finals troubled him. In each instance, the runners dropped the baton instead of successfully passing it on. Both teams failed to finish.
"There's a lesson to be learned here, Greg," my dad said, turning to me. "Parents must do all they can to guarantee that faith will be firmly grasped by succeeding generations."
My 82-year-old pastor-father was still looking for sermon illustrations for messages he would never preach. With tears in his tired eyes, he contrasted the tragedy on that Beijing track with the challenge Christian parents face in the race of faith. Knowing he had only weeks to live, his voice broke as he told me that he prayed for his grandchildren daily.
As I reflect on how the baton of faith was passed to me, I don't recall any Herculean exploits. No strong-arm attempts to force my brother and me to confess Christ. Our home was a gymnasium of sorts, where spiritual muscles were strengthened and faith was conditioned while my brother and I were given the freedom to work out our salvation.
On Your Mark, Get Set . . .
Our relay race began with my dad giving us an example to follow. His coaching flowed out of his own devotional life. His favorite hour of each day was the one before breakfast in which he sat in his favorite chair with his Bible and a pen. Before he said anything to my brother and me about God, his example spoke volumes.
From the time I was old enough to ride a bike or swim laps, my dad impressed upon me that I had a heavenly Father who loved me more than my earthly one. He helped me understand the importance of reading the Bible. He prayed with us before we went to school each morning, and his conversational style helped me see that I, too, could talk to God.
Rounding the Corner
In our family, spiritual conversations were not limited to formal religious settings such as worship services, Sunday school or even family devotions. Our family's daily routines were opportunities to lift our concerns to God homework, the death of a pet, losing a Little League game or a conflict with a classmate. I learned that nothing was too big or too little to talk to God about.
My dad also incorporated symbols into our spiritual training. Our home had a painting of Jesus and a wall plaque of a Scripture passage; a cross hung from the rearview mirror in his car. Tangible symbols silently reminded us that the Lord was present.
Speaking of symbols, I have one of my own. Two weeks before my dad died, I purchased a unique object at a thrift store: a silver-plated tube used to preserve a certificate, such as one of a child's baptism or dedication. As I held that shiny tube in my hand, I thought of the baton athletes pass in a relay race. It reminded me of my dad's comments.
As we each run our leg of the race, we must continue to extend our faith toward our children until they willingly accept it as their own. A successful passing of the baton will find them grasping what we have given them as they leave home to make their own way in the world.