Editor's Note: Elyse Fitzpatrick and her daughter, Jessica Thompson, have written a book titled Answering Your Kids’ Toughest Questions. The following was adapted from a three-day FamilyLife Today® broadcast series in which Elyse and Jessica joined host Dennis Rainey and co-host Bob Lepine. Here they discuss Jessica’s spiritual journey.
Dennis: If you’re a parent, or a grandparent, or an aunt, or an uncle, you’ve got some nieces and nephews who maybe ask you a question around sex, around movies, death, divorce, suicide, doubt, pornography, homosexuality, around natural disasters, around war, terrorism …When we’re asked a tough question, a lot of times, we fall back and punt and really never address the question. Why do you think that’s our natural tendency?
Elyse: I think it’s our natural tendency because, first of all, we hate to admit that there is something we don’t know. And then … a lot of times parents are nervous about giving answers simply because they are afraid that they’re not going to give the right answer or that their child’s salvation ultimately depends on them. And so, they build … a wall around themselves—as if they have all the answers.
Bob: I remember one of our five kids being the particular question-asker in our home. He was the one who was always asking the “Why?” and the probing, “I’m just wondering.” Was Jessica that child for you?
Elyse: No, because … Jessica sort of feigned faith for about 18 years. … Jessica was a person who decided that acting as though she were a Christian would be a good way to get me off her back.
Bob: Outwardly compliant; but inwardly, I’m going to do my own thing.
Jessica: Absolutely … I thought it was easier for me just to pretend like I was a Christian. I didn’t have any questions because I didn’t really care. … I loved the praise of man and knew the best way to get that in the church was to go on mission trips, and to be involved in the youth group, and to get up and be the one that gave the testimony. I knew how to play the game.
Then, when I was … in Bible college. … I went so far as to go to Bible college so that I could continue to get the accolades. It wasn’t just the accolades—it was also, like she said, to keep everybody at a distance. We had to go to pre-service prayer before we went to classes. I would just sit there and take a nap. If I would have had a smartphone, I probably would have been on Facebook or Twitter; but that wasn’t the case back then—so, I just sat there.
But one day … God arrested my heart, broke me of my goodness, and showed me it wasn’t enough. And I walked out of that prayer service a different person. I went in dead and came out alive.
Dennis: I found it interesting that in the midst of [those years of] faking your faith, your mom never stopped pressing into your life. Like the time you went to a movie and you were 15 years old. …
Your mom was waiting up for you … What happened that night?
Jessica: I came home from some movie … and she was sitting on the stairs. If I didn’t roll my eyes outwardly, I did it in my heart. I was walking up the stairs and she said, “Now, stop. Let’s talk. What worldview was the movie trying to tell you?” And I just sarcastically-angrily said to her, “Not everything has to have a meaning.” …
Bob: “Did you know, when you were faking it, that you were faking it?”
Jessica: Yes, I did. For sure, I knew. …
Dennis: You just had a self-will that said, You know what? He may be the Lord, He may be the Master, but not for me—not now.
Jessica: I didn’t even know if I thought that deeply about it, to be real honest. I think I thought, This is what everyone else is doing, and that’s fine. I don’t want people bothering.
Bob: “I’ll play the game”?
Jessica: … I will play the game, and I will get all the awards. Everybody will love me.
Bob: And I’m just curious—did you know she was faking it?
Elyse: Oh, no; not at all. When she came home that night from Bible college, and she said to me, “Mom, I got saved today,” it didn’t even register in my mind what she was saying. It was shocking to me—that, all these years, this girl—who, when she was in kindergarten, won “Miss Christian Character.” She went on mission trips. She was in the youth group—one of the leaders of the youth group in Bible college—all the time, faking it. She wanted my approval and the approval of the family …
Bob: Is there a way a parent can diagnose whether a child is faking it? I’m just wondering if there is anything we can do, or do we just kind of go with it and keep praying for them?
Jessica: I don’t think there is a way to diagnose that, but I think there is a way for parents to talk to their kids about their goodness not being everything. Being a good kid doesn’t equal being a Christian. And I think there is a way to talk to kids—telling them over and over again, “Your goodness will never be good enough. You need the goodness of Jesus Christ. You need His righteousness alone to stand before a Holy God.”
And we’ve talked about this. … That’s nothing we ever heard, growing up.
We heard, “Be a good kid and that will get you through life.” The gospel message is, in fact, so much more and deeper than that: You can never be good enough.
So to tell your kids, “Put your own goodness away. Trust and rest in the goodness of Jesus Christ on your behalf,”—that’s a message our kids need to hear.
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1. Read some of FamilyLife’s most popular parenting articles.
2. Listen to the FamilyLife Today® broadcast series with Elyse Fitzpatrick and her daughter, Jessica Thompson, "Answering Your Kids’ Toughest Questions."
3. Gather a group of friends and go through Improving Your Parenting, a six-week small group study from FamilyLife.