Lucas survived his infancy on borrowed baby clothes, but that young mother soon needed them again so there were no tiny clothes to pass down to Nathan. At that point we were living by a children’s clothes factory and could go to the outlet store and buy seconds for as little as fifty cents each. Each summer and each winter I dug my way through a mountain of irregulars and managed to find three shirts and three pairs of either shorts or long pants, according to the season. Sometimes the colors were a little odd, like the “dress” shoes I bought for Lucas when he was two—maroon patent leather with a beige saddle—but they covered his feet for $1 and no one was likely to mistake them for another child’s shoes.
Then, just as they reached school age, we found ourselves in a church with half a dozen little boys just three or four years older than they. Suddenly my boys’ closet was bursting. They were far better dressed than I was, and they had even more waiting to be grown into. They didn’t mind hand-me-downs and neither did our scanty bank account.
Keith and I have followed suit. Probably 75% of my clothes are hand-me-downs, and the rest I picked up at consignment shops and thrift stores, with only a handful of things I bought new, always off a clearance rack. Keith has more shirts than he could wear in a month—we didn’t buy a one of them.
When you get a hand-me-down, sometimes you can’t wear it as is. Sometimes it’s my own personal sense of taste, meager though that may be. Sometimes it’s a size issue. I have been known to take up hems or let them out if the giver was taller or shorter than I. I almost always remove shoulder pads. I have wide shoulders for a woman and shoulder pads make me look like a football player in full gear. If the collar has a bow, a scarf, or high buttons, those go too—I hate anything close around my neck and it makes my already full face look like a bowling ball. So while I gratefully accept those second hand clothes, I do something to make them my own.
Which brings me to handed-down faith. Being raised in the church can be both a blessing and a curse. Being taught from before you can remember means doing right becomes second nature. There is never any question where I will be on Sunday morning because I have always been there. There is never any question what I will do when it’s time to make a choice that involves morals or doctrine. There is never any question about my priorities—my parents taught those to me every day of my childhood, both in word and deed.
Yet God will not accept any faith that is not my own. Yes, He was with Ishmael for Abraham’s sake, Gen 17:20; 21:13. To those who are dear to His children, but who are not believers, God will sometimes send material blessings, 39:5, and physical salvation, 19:29, but He will not take a hand-me-down faith until it becomes personal, Ezek 18:1-4. I have to reach a point where I know not only what I believe, but why, and that faith must permeate my life as I lead it, in every situation I find myself in, in every decision I must make, but at the same time come from my heart not habit. If I have not reached that point, what will I do when my parents are gone? Will my faith stand then? Or will I be like Joash, who did just fine as long as his mentor Jehoiada the priest was alive, but fell to the point of killing his cousin Zechariah, a prophet of God, when he was finally left on his own? (2 Chron 24)
Pass your faith on to your children, but your job doesn’t end there. Help them make it their own. Let them tear out those shoulder pads and lengthen those hems. It really isn’t a compliment to your parenting skills if all they can do is mimic you while you are still alive to keep tabs on them. You might in fact be limiting them by demanding exact conformity to every nuance of your own faith. Their faith could very well soar farther than you ever thought about if you let them fly.
But the real test comes when you are gone. Can you rest well with the job you have done?
I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder, since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things. For… we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, 2 Peter 1:13-15, 19.