Susanna Wesley, Adam Hamilton and our kids

August 25th, 2014

Adam Hamilton's new book, “Revival: Faith as Wesley Lived It,” appeared prominently on my radar screen after my friend Shane Raynor told me it is Hamilton's best book yet. Having started to read it, I can see what the buzz is about. Acting as both pastor and theologian, Hamilton brings together crucial spiritual moments in the life of John Wesley, the contexts of Scripture and the early church, and our contemporary contexts into an enlightening, spiritually inspiring, and imagination-growing juxtaposition. He clearly wants the book to foment Wesleyan revival, as the title suggests.

In the coming weeks, I would like to go through what I take to be some of the key lessons Rev. Hamilton has to teach us. I hope you'll join me, and maybe even read along yourself. Of course there's much more good stuff in this book than we'll be able to cover. And of course we won't always agree with Rev. Hamilton, or probably with each other. I'll do my best to follow up with comments in the comment thread, and we can treat this like a book group — one of my favorite things to conduct as a pastor anyways!

As I read chapter 1, to my surprise, Susanna Wesley stole my heart. There is a lot to learn about John and Charles' amazing mom in this chapter — she is educated, lovely, pious, strong, and wise — but one sentence of Adam's prose leaped off the page in terms of what I needed to learn from her life:

"Among the beautiful things Susanna Wesley did with her children was to spend one hour a week with each child, asking about their faith, their fears, their hopes and dreams, the state of their souls" (23).

Hamilton goes on to note that, "this loving activity was to shape Wesley’s later practice of asking Methodists to meet together weekly in small groups to enquire about one another’s progress in the faith" (23-24). This is very significant, yet I think Susanna's actions raise a more basic question for us. Especially for those of us who are parents. But also for those of us who are pastors. Or youth pastors. Or laypeople in leadership in a local church.

The question, as near as I can discern it: Why not do likewise? Why not devote an hour a week to each of our children's souls, to his or her development as a whole person and child of God?

It sounds like Susanna Wesley was the spiritual director behind her sons' sanctity. The way Hamilton phrases it — that Susanna discussed with each or her children "their faith, their fears, their hopes and dreams" — almost makes her sound like an Ignatian spiritual director. Some churches today would describe what she was doing as discipling her children. That may be, but as all parents know, you can't turn your children into model-discple saints. You can't even force them to be Christians (though you can make them go with you to church if they are going to live under your roof). Conversion and sanctification are ultimately the work of the Spirit.

What Susanna does, and invites us to do, is to water the garden the Lord has given us to tend in our children. We create the soil so that those children who find the grace to respond to the Lord's call to holiness have the resources — spiritual, emotional, relational — and the character and convictions, to follow Jesus radically in a frequently discouraging, dark, and brutal world.

"I planted, Apollos watered, but God made it grow. Because of this, neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but the only one who is anything is God who makes it grow." (1 Cor. 3:6-7). Susanna and Samuel watered, and God gave the growth.

Parents, God help us, let us water.

This post is part of a series of articles and features related to “Revival: Faith as Wesley Lived It.”

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