By Kyle Idleman
Initially I was reluctant to write this tribute. I was hesitant not because my parents are undeserving or because I’m ungrateful. I was reluctant mostly because I’ve already written to my parents most of the things I’ll write here. I’ve already expressed my appreciation to them. And this is the sort of thing that makes my parents feel awkward. If you asked them to tell you about passing on “the blessing” to the next generation, they wouldn’t point to their example, but would be quick to speak of God’s goodness. They would tell you his grace is amazing and his mercies are new every morning. They wouldn’t share best parenting practices, they would speak of God’s loving-kindness and his redeeming work in family.
But I guess if Dave and Rusty are contributing to this, I probably should too.
Faithfulness Isn’t Perfection
“The righteous lead blameless lives; blessed are their children after them” (Proverbs 20:7).
In talking with my sisters about this, we agreed that the blessing doesn’t have much to do with being blameless, if by blameless you mean perfect. Being blameless was never my parents’ goal—because it would be impossible. The only place you’ll find blameless parents is the fictitious world of social media where moms and dads go to pretend they know what they are doing and make believe their kids are always awesome. Don’t get me started. Trying to be a blameless parent is as exhausting as it is unrealistic. It leads to a life of pretending where everyone may think you are a perfect parent, except for the people who really matter—your children. They know what life is like behind the unfiltered photos and the carefully worded posts.
My parents weren’t perfect, but they were faithful. Faithfulness is hard because it is so daily. It’s a daily decision that has generational repercussions. The good news is, you don’t have to be perfect to be faithful. You can mess up some days and still be considered faithful; but string together too many far from perfect days in a row and you’ve got unfaithfulness. A family blessing can survive a few days of unfaithfulness; but, except by God’s redeeming grace, it won’t survive years of it. It’s not so much that my parent’s faithfulness led to a generational blessing as much as their faithfulness was and is the generational blessing.
Faithfulness in the Little Things
My mom and dad were faithful in the little things. Faithfulness for my parents and grandparents was determined by many, many decisions that were made many, many consecutive days in a row. The cumulative effect of their daily faithfulness? Blessing. My sisters agree there wasn’t a single, dramatic teachable moment, it was the day-in and day-out routines. It wasn’t something that was hard to do. It’s the stuff that was easy to do, but easier not to do that made the difference. Bible verses during carpool trips, intentional conversations over dinner, nightly prayer times by the side of the bed—at some point faithfulness in the little things becomes the blessing.
I remember repeated phrases that sounded like bumper stickers on old cars, but are now mantras over my own kids’ identity: “Remember whose you are.” “Hold the banner high.” “Have courage and be kind.” I remember being prayed over, listened to, cheered on, and told no. And when I asked why I was told no, their response was, “Because you need practice taking a no.” What does that even mean?
I remember integrity described in terms of using personal stamps for personal mail at work, being truthful on the telephone about whether a person is really home or not. I remember church being mandatory, because everything else was optional. I remember waiting and waiting and waiting while my parents had heartbreaking, life-altering conversations with neighbors. I remember listening with a combination of embarrassment and pride as my dad shared his faith with a stranger on a ski lift. I remember him getting angry only when someone was being abused or bullied.
I don’t remember a time when my dad placed his hand under my thigh and pronounced a blessing (obscure Old Testament Bible reference). I’m not exactly sure when it happened. I couldn’t tell about the day or point to it on a calendar, but at some point, I received the blessing.
Faithful in the Joy of the Lord
I remember singing—lots and lots of singing. Singing about faithfulness. My sisters will back me up on this, we all know the lyrics to Steve Green’s song, “Find Us Faithful.” I’ve never knowingly listened to Steve Green, but I’m sitting in my office right now singing: “May all who come behind us find us faithful. May the . . .” I couldn’t tell you how many times I rolled my eyes and heavily sighed as my dad belted out that song. He was constantly singing . . . in the car, at the table, at night after putting us to bed, and in the morning (which my sisters hated). And it wasn’t just Steve Green. He probably sang more oldies than hymns. Was that a blessing? Hard to say. But he and my mother were faithful in the joy of the Lord, and at some point, it went from annoying to contagious—just ask my kids.
Whether you feel like you have a generational blessing or a generational curse, my guess is the thing that shaped your family long-term is daily faithfulness—or lack thereof. Faithfulness isn’t what secures the blessing or guarantees the blessing; it is the blessing. So be faithful today and then do it again tomorrow.
Kyle Idleman serves as teaching pastor with Southeast Christian Church, Louisville, Kentucky.