Yesterday, I told my oldest daughter that one of the moms from church was going to teach her how to knit a scarf this afternoon. Her eyes lit up. “Are you serious?” she said in surprise. “Yes,” I replied, “She told you she would on Sunday.” Her reply struck deep into my heart, “Yeah, but grown ups say that kind of stuff all the time but they never actually do it. They’re too busy.”
I’ve heard the saying, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions” all my life but never did it carry more weight than in the brief exchange with my daughter. I always assumed the person who had the good intentions was paving their own road, but what if it was broader than that? What if our good intentions with no follow through is actually paving a road for another person? And what if that person is a child?
It is widely recognized that parents/caregivers have the greatest influence on their children. But what about other influences? I attended a seminar with Dr. Kara Powell, author of Sticky Faith and Executive Director of Fuller Youth Institute. She asked all of us to write down three people other than our parents who were influential in forming us into the people we were that day. Once we were done, she asked us to raise our hands if we had written down a teacher? a Sunday school teacher? a grandparent? another adult? Lots of hands. Then she asked, “How many of you wrote down your high school best friend? How about your middle school classmates?” Not one hand went up for those. She used that moment to illustrate what their research had found: Adults have a far greater lasting influence on us than our peers.
This flies in the face of the messages we get from media and even our own kids at times where peers are portrayed as the most important influence in kids lives but the truth is, that influence is fleeting, while the influence of adults sticks; it endures past awkward middle school clumsiness and past high school “coolness” and past college independence. The influence of adults, especially involved adults, lasts for a lifetime.
So, what do you think happens if we, as adults, tell our kids, “Yes, I’ll do that, teach that, play that, build that, go there, eat there, and read that with you” and then we fail to follow through? If in a moment of good intention, we say we will do something and then we repeatedly and consistently fail to do that thing, what message are we sending to our kids? That our job is more important? Our social media too demanding? Or own lives too consuming to follow through with what we said?
I wonder if our very words, our good intentions, are paving a path for the next generation that does not lead to lasting faith, strong commitments, and kept promises. Rather it leaves to a life where whatever is best in the moment, whatever feels good, whatever we have “time” for is precedent. I am worried that we adults don’t take seriously the incredible gift we have been given to influence and shape the generations to follow us. Our words carry much weight. Our actions carry even more.
If we say it, we NEED to do it.
All the good intentions in the world will only make a stronger road away from truth and commitment. I’ve been just as guilty of this as the next person. But hearing and seeing my daughter’s genuine shock over a simple kept promise has convicted me deeply. I don’t want to pave a road. I want to build character, model love, and display commitment. I want to be the right kind of influence on generations that follow.
For me, today, that means setting up a movie date with a teen girl I promised I’d watch a movie with – putting it on the calendar, making it a priority. What does it mean for you today? Your words matter – your actions matter more.