They scream with tears in their eyes as they wrestle and fight. “MO-OMMM!” they shout, beckoning me to referee yet another match of brother vs. brother.
I sigh and sit on their bedroom rug, motioning for them to take a seat next to me. Arms crossed and brows furrowed, two tearful, sweaty boys begrudgingly join me.
I look into Abram’s eyes. “Abram, the truest thing about you is that you are a beloved child of God.”
I look into Asher’s eyes. “Asher, the truest thing about you is that you are a beloved child of God.”
“What is true for you is true for your brother,” I say. “The words you said, the ways you chose to hurt and harm? Those aren’t the truest things about you. And your brother’s words, the ways he chose to hurt and harm? Those aren’t the truest things about him, either.”
I ask them to look into the eyes of their brother and affirm this truth: “The truest thing about you is that you are a beloved child of God.”
All too often, we have spiritual amnesia. We’re prone to forget who we are—and the One who calls us beloved. This leads us down paths far from the peace God holds out for us. Instead of being people who heal, we’re overwhelmed by the violence of our world, clamoring over ourselves, choosing to harm ourselves and others.
How can we raise peacemakers when our own hearts are bruised and battered? If we want our children to choose paths of peace, we must also keep choosing these paths for ourselves. To follow Jesus is to embark on a lifetime path of healing and wholeness.
Jesus is peace. All his ways are peace. But this path is often at odds with a world that’s not only saturated with violence but even celebrates conflict, aggression, and acts of war.
My sons can’t walk down the toy aisle without being bombarded with violence. Plastic weapons meant for play come packaged in all shapes and sizes, marketed to the youngest among us. Plot lines of video games and movies glorify violence, forgoing creative problem-solving or collaboration when a gun, sword, or blaster will do. Children as young as toddlers are sold the lie that peace is weak or passive, that justice comes through vengeance.
But Jesus taught a different way.
Jesus gave us his teaching—and, indeed, his very life—so we can be free from vindictive violence. As theologian Miroslav Volf wrote, Jesus “broke the vicious cycle of violence by absorbing it, taking it upon himself.”
Thousands of years ago—long before Jesus broke into the world and ushered in a new understanding of peace—the prophet Isaiah foresaw a world brimming with peace that would be ushered in by the Messiah, one where violence wouldn’t have the final say:
“He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore” (Isaiah 2:4, NIV). Other versions say, “Neither shall they learn war anymore” (ESV) or “They won’t play war” (MSG).
As people who worship a God who was violently killed, our hearts should not be calloused when it comes to violence. We are our children’s first teachers. At a young age, they’ll learn peace—or violence—from us by watching how we navigate conflict and how we mediate our anger. Through the rhythms of life at home, they’ll see if we lean toward reconciliation—or retaliation. They’ll watch how we treat others and see how we advocate for a more just and peaceful world for everyone.
Bring your family into conversations about why you choose rhythms of peace at home, at work, and in your neighborhood. Ask them questions. Look to faithful leaders who have followed Jesus and advocated for peace, often at a great cost, such as abolitionists and civil rights advocates.
In our parenting, it’s important to remember that Jesus went first, inviting us into a true and abundant peace that is so much bigger than false unity or passive peacekeeping. When we truly pursue peace, we come alongside the marginalized and oppressed, just like Jesus did. We call out the belovedness we see in others. We seek to heal where others intend to hurt or harm. And like Jesus, we don’t bow to the whims of the empire, of those in power. We worship God—and God alone. We realize that our words and actions may ruffle feathers, but in our peacemaking, we don’t resign ourselves to false unity, saying, “Peace, peace when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:14; 8:11).
If parenting for peace feels overwhelming, take heart. We are not in this alone. Begin to pass on peace to your child by reminding them of their belovedness. Show them that they can choose to live a life that flows from the peace of Christ—that we love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19). We can point even our youngest children away from the hurt hurled by the world and toward a God who heals.
Our culture doesn’t make it easy for followers of Jesus to resist the violent trappings of this world. In the United States, the months leading up to Election Day are full of rhetorical violence. Politicians hurl verbal assaults and vitriolic accusations. Violent words (and sometimes deeds) run rampant among those who are charged with leading our nation. People who stoke fearful fires and political platforms that harm the vulnerable often garner millions of votes. It’s overwhelming and disheartening.
If this behavior sounds antithetical to the gospel, that’s because it is. But you can cast your ballot for peace. You can take heart that we do not parent as people without hope. Jesus offered a blessing for those who make peace, saying that “they will be called the children of God” (Matthew 5:9). This is good news! We are set free from culture’s claims that we need to be vengeful, powerful, and dominant—that we have to hurt one another with our actions or words. Instead, we can follow Jesus, who rebuked Peter after he attacked someone, thinking he was defending Jesus with his act of violence. But Jesus told him to put his sword away (John 18:10-11).
It’s easy to be like Peter, thinking we’re fighting the good fight by taking vengeance (and violence) into our own hands. But while our intentions may come from a good place, our potential to harm someone else is not God’s best for us or them. Jesus tells us to put our weapons (literal and figurative) down. This means we don’t berate others on social media, even if we’re convinced we’re right. We don’t speak violent words to our children or spouse. We advocate for victims of violence and oppression. We get involved in community advocacy and dismantle systems that harm others.
Instead of being combative toward each other, we can choose compassion. Instead of fighting with each other, we can choose communal flourishing.
This excerpt was adapted from Every Season Sacred: Reflections, Prayers, and Invitations to Nourish Your Soul and Nurture Your Family Throughout the Year by Kayla Craig (Tyndale, 2023).
Kayla Craig, a former journalist, combines curiosity and compassion in her writing. She’s the author of Every Season Sacred and To Light Their Way and founded the popular Liturgies for Parents Instagram account, weekly podcast, and newsletter. Kayla lives in Iowa with her husband and four children.