Where do we begin in helping young children develop a vibrant faith? How do we declare the goodness and faithfulness of God to the next generation? In this episode, Sean and Scott interview Ruth Chou Simons, author of the new book Foundations: 12 Biblical Truths to Shape a Family. They discuss practical strategies youth influencers can put into practice right away
More About Our Guest
Ruth Chou Simons is a bestselling author, entrepreneur, and speaker. She shares her journey of God's grace intersecting daily life with word and paintbrush through her online shoppe at GraceLaced.com and her Instagram community. Her first book GraceLaced, won a 2018 Christian Book Award.
Sean McDowell: Welcome to the podcast, Think Biblically, conversations on faith and culture. I'm your host, Sean McDowell, professor of apologetics at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University.
Scott Rae: I'm your cohost, Scott Rae, dean of faculty and professor of Christian ethics, also at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University.
Sean McDowell: Today I have a guest that I am just so excited is joining us on the program today. She's written a great new book we'll talk about, but she's also a bestselling author, an entrepreneur, and a speaker. Many of our listeners will recognize the name Ruth Chou Simons. She has an Instagram community of more than a 100,000 followers. And by the way, Ruth, when you and I met, I don't know, maybe three years ago, the big Barner research on gen Z, you posted some quote about what I said in my talk and my sister about flipped because she just loves your ministry so much.
Ruth Chou Simons: Oh my goodness. Well, it's so good to be here and I just love your work and am so grateful that I get to be here and share with you all today.
Sean McDowell: Well, your first book, Grace Laced won a 2018 Christian book award. And maybe at some point we could have you back to talk about that. But today we want to talk about your newest book Foundations, 12 Biblical Truths To Shape a Family. And one of our heartbeats here at Biola is just passing on the faith to the next generation. And this is such a practical tool and book that you put together. So let me just start by your own family. Tell us about you and your husband, Troy, and what life is like with six boys.
Ruth Chou Simons: Yeah, I like to say that I'm an unlikely mom to six young men. My oldest is turning 18 next week and my youngest is six. So we've got both college students and I will just say the college student stayed home this year, but he got a presidential scholarship at Viola and is contemplating [crosstalk 00:01:55]. So you know, we don't know. But at this point we're both doing phonograms and considering an international program for him for next year as well. And so it's been a wild ride. But you know, I am a founder of gracelaced.com and I'm an artist and author and I've not always been doing this in a different season of life.
Ruth Chou Simons: My husband, Troy, was a preaching, teaching pastor of a church and a headmaster of a classical Christian school that we helped to found. So there have been different seasons of ministry and I will say that when I look at this newest book Foundations, it's a culmination of so many different decades and seasons of ministry all based around the idea of discipleship and living out loud and leading the next generation to know the gospel and to be firmly planted on the word of God.
Sean McDowell: Before we jump into your book, I have a question about just the name and focus of your ministry and your book, Grace Laced. Is that from an experience you had? Is that from a need our culture has? Why title it that and why is that such a heartbeat in your ministry?
Ruth Chou Simons: Yeah, so 13 years ago I was a young mama. I was staying at home, picking up Cheerios off the ground, stepping on Legos and going, "How does the grace of God intersect my daily life when it doesn't look the way I thought it would?" It wasn't me ministering on the mission field, even though I spent a year in seminary, even though I thought we were going to go run some big ministry together or do something crazy. No, I was just kind of sitting at home discipling college girls during nap time and after the kids went to bed and going, "Wait, this doesn't look the way I thought it would look," and so Grace Laced, at the time I never knew it would turn into an international brand or a licensed product line or a book. I just thought it would be kind of cool to smoosh two words together.
Ruth Chou Simons: Back to the fact that I was like, "Oh, wouldn't that be snazzy? Put grace and laced together, capital L." But it was really for the purpose of saying, how do I consider this thing that I truly believe the grace of God, how do I see God's grace actively lacing through, interweaving through all the mundane and ordinary places of my life? Because if the grace of God and the gospel message isn't true and active when my life doesn't look the way I thought it would, then what am I really basing my faith on? And so that's where it came. It was started as a blog and it was like 13 years ago and I was really writing just to work that out in the everyday of my life.
Scott Rae: Ruth, I love your book, Foundations, not only for the content, but just for the presentation of it. You can tell that somebody had artistic background when they put this book together. It's absolutely gorgeous. I want the copy to just go on my coffee table just for appearances sake, not to mention the great ideas that are there. I just kind of commend you for just the artistic flair that it has.
Ruth Chou Simons: Thank you.
Scott Rae: It's really just a beautiful piece of work.
Ruth Chou Simons: Well, if you've seen the books that I've written, and I'll just say really quickly that the artist tree in there is purposeful. I think in past we've separated sacred and the secular and kind of made people choose whether this book was going to be good for their minds or good for their eyes. And I thought why not use beauty to point to truth and cause people to linger longer. So thank you for thinking of it as a coffee table book, but as well as a book that might bring a lot of resource to people.
Scott Rae: Well if you've had that dual goal of bringing truth through beauty, you've succeeded wonderfully with this.
Ruth Chou Simons: Thank you.
Scott Rae: Let me ask you besides the artistic flair, what about the content that makes the book so unique? Because there are a million parenting books out there, and I think the majority of them might be written from a distinctly Christian worldview, but what makes your book, Foundations, so different than the rest of them?
Ruth Chou Simons: So the book is called Foundations, 12 Biblical Truths To Shape a Family. But when we tackled this, we truly in our minds thought of the word family as not necessarily a mom, a dad, two little kids and a dog. It could be your community group, it could be your college roommates that you are sharing a floor with. It could be your neighbors that you have over once a week. Family is those people that God put in your life as your direct group that you get to influence, that you get to love, that you get to live out the gospel with. The thing is, I think a lot of times as parents, when we want to shape our children, as friends we want to shape our community. So many times we think, well what is that one formula?
Ruth Chou Simons: What is that thing that we can give that will simply help them understand the gospel? But the reality is they need to see it lived out in us. And we are in a culture, and I think you gentlemen would totally agree because I know your heartbeat. We are in a time where people don't even know fundamentally what they believe anymore. That we're just sharing memes and we're reposting posts kind of going, yeah, I think I align with that, or I think that sounds okay. But the fundamental truths and the fundamental doctrines of our faith are getting a little bit muddy out there. And I think fundamentally we cannot even approach how to live our lives as believers if we don't know the fundamentals of who God is, who we are, and what does He desire for us as He's transforming our lives this side of heaven.
Ruth Chou Simons: And so when we came to this, we really wanted to make the deepest truths the most accessible. So meaning we knew we did not want to tell silly stories. We knew that if we wanted six minutes of somebody's time, we did not want to spend that time telling a bunch of stories that just made that story memorable. We wanted to illustrate it as poignantly as possible so that a really deep truth would be really accessible to a new believer, to a teenager maybe reading this as his or her personal devotional to a young parent going I don't even know how to talk to my toddler about this, to a seasoned parent who is going in a new season with a teenager. Whatever season that that reader is in, we wanted a book that would not dumb truths down, but make really deep truths accessible and understandable, and make it possible for somebody to carry on a conversation and turn back to the word of God instead of a story as their foundation.
Sean McDowell: On page 12, there's a line in your book that I kind of stopped and highlighted and just thought about and the line is that relationships are always a greater motivator than ritual. Can you unpack what you mean by that? Why are relationships so powerful for motivating people in terms of their faith and what's maybe one or two ideas that you have for practically building those relationships with kids in the next generation?
Ruth Chou Simons: Yeah, I think that when you see sometimes ... let's just talk about teens. I know, Sean, you've got such a heart for teens. So many times you see this robust excitement over youth group and it's because they have this relationship with a youth pastor and then so many times teens leave that youth group after they graduate and then their faith maybe isn't their own. Well, why is that happening? And I'm sure I don't know as much as you all do in your research and your understanding, your ministry to families, but ultimately what I've seen and I feel convicted about, is we're not necessarily doing that work and that great influence at home. We're allowing what we consider professionals to build that relationship when really our children, our people in our lives, are looking to ask for that relationship. So a lot of times I think what's easy for parents to do is like, well, here's the Bible reading plan, so you need to check off these boxes.
Ruth Chou Simons: This is the ritual, this is the routine that you have to follow. Do one devotional a day. It's tempting to do that because it feels like, well, if I just give you a pattern and a formula, you'll turn out. But the reality is, if you think about it, the Bible is a love letter from the Lord, the God of the universe. And if we think of it as this big academic book to unpack and we got to dice it up so that we get through it, we'll miss the fact that He's wooing us with the Word that He is drawing us to Himself, that He is desiring a relationship with us. And so one of the best ways that we can actually encourage our kids and others in our lives to want the word of God is to model for them that it's a sweet relationship, that it's relationship, not ritual, that's drawing us in.
Ruth Chou Simons: And ultimately, I think I shared this in the book intro, but excuse me, I think I shared this at the beginning of the book that not all of us are built the same way in terms of our routines. But Troy happens to be a morning person and he goes downstairs and he makes it seem so sweet. His time with the Lord, he's drinking coffee because he's enjoying it and when my sons walk downstairs, the words out of his mouth aren't, did you read your Bible yet? Here, here's your Bible. You better put in your time. He shares with them how sweet it's been for him prior to them walking down the stairs and over the years it's kind of just drawn them in to, well, I want to taste that. I want to see what that is. It smells so fragrant to them and I'm not saying it's perfect all the time.
Ruth Chou Simons: Obviously our families have times when it's not fragrant and we're all running out the door and you know, we're all yelling at each other. I'm not saying it's perfect. I just mean that the wooing of that, both between parent and child, as well as the demonstration that it's Jesus who's wooing us with the Word of God. That's what is going to actually cause us to have a desire for the Word.
Scott Rae: Ruth, one of the things that fascinated me about the book was the section you had that you entitled, Family Worship 101. I don't know too many other areas that induce more guilt or families struggle with more than cultivating that type of family sense of family togetherness around our spiritual lives and our spiritual nurture. In fact, I had a friend of mine who said, who was hearing someone talk about the family altar that they have, and they said, "Where do you buy one of those?" He completely missed the concept.
Ruth Chou Simons: Right, right.
Scott Rae: But what does that mean? Help us put some shoe leather on this. What does this mean to worship as a family? And tell us a little bit about what that looks like in your home because I can imagine with six boys that'd be like reigning in chaos when you try to do that.
Ruth Chou Simons: It can be, it can be. So let me just say first that I think a lot of times we think about community group or small group or life groups in our local church and we think, Oh it's when we get together once a week with this group of people and we share our hearts and we pray together and we confess in and we talk about things that are hard and we carry each other's burdens. And then we just do life together. But the reality is your family is your primary community group. That is the group that God's given you to do those very things with, pray together, confess sin, forgive one another, carry each other's burdens, encourage each other. And so sometimes we forget that that is actually the group that God's put right in front of us to invest in. But the problem is, most of us have this idea in our minds of what it is to do family worship.
Ruth Chou Simons: We think, oh my goodness, my kids will roll around on the ground. Somebody's going to throw a napkin through the air. Nobody's going to pay attention and oh my goodness, do we need to sit perfectly and sing Amazing Grace together? How should it look? And I'll just say, yeah, we have six boys and we are finally in a season where I can ... I will say this with no shame, I can bribe them and woo them to stay longer at the dinner table because they all love to eat. So if I serve up ice cream after dinner, if dinner is a little bit more interactive and Troy gets started a little bit earlier, six boys will stay at the table. We're finally at the stage in our lives where the youngest one, he's been cultivating this ability to sit through service, sit through family worship.
Ruth Chou Simons: So no, we're not at a time now where there's all out war going on or kids whining and crying. Thankfully we're not in that stage. But we started this when we had littles who barely paid attention and there was always somebody getting his finger stuck somewhere or a chair breaking or milk spilling. So the reality is every season calls for a different tone, and a different pace. And sometimes you're hoping you just get in two minutes, two seconds of encouragement. You're as a parent saying, I just want you to focus today on the fact that God loves you. And maybe that's all you get to say today. And you are the one who's really taking in the true nourishment but you're passing on simple truths to your kids. But that cultivation day by day leads to the season that I feel like I'm in now where my kids are a little older and they know what it is to engage in that conversation and nobody's running off right after dinner.
Ruth Chou Simons: I think sometimes what we need is to reset our expectations and our ideals of what it is to worship and what it is truly is to adore Him who is worthy, who is God Himself. We need to adore and know who He is, and then rehearse and repeat to one another, "This is who God is. This is what He's done for us. This is how He's been faithful." And then to confess where we're struggling and our weaknesses and confess sin and to lift one another up through prayer and that's what worship really is.
Scott Rae: This is really helpful I think for a lot of families just to recognize that what you're talking about is not something that's long and drawn out necessarily, but it's more planting seeds where you can and then you know-
Ruth Chou Simons: It's conversation.
Scott Rae: You don't get a chance to water your garden all the time, but when you do you, you do what you can do. I think you've learned something also really important that the way to herd cats is by moving their food.
Ruth Chou Simons: You know you're right.
Scott Rae: I think there's something to bribery with food I think is a total, in my view, as an ethicist, that's a totally accepted, ethically acceptable way to do things.
Ruth Chou Simons: Can I share the most practical thing in that we just happen to be a family that enjoys steamed artichoke. I know that sounds really wonky and weird.
Scott Rae: Not from California.
Ruth Chou Simons: Well, years ago I would just steam a few artichokes, make fun dips, and that would keep them at the table for so long. That's how we started family worship because you really just can't eat an artichoke fast and everybody sits there and picks at it and before you know it you bought 30 minutes extra time. And another more simple version of that is if you did like a, you know those pumpkin dips. I'm talking to two gentlemen. I don't know if you all make pumpkin [crosstalk]
Scott Rae: Sean does that all the time.
Sean McDowell: Yeah.
Ruth Chou Simons: Ginger snaps. But I'm just saying dessert can be interactive. You can make it some version of cookies and dips and it's just as a mom just taking that one little step of saying, I'm not going to just make this feel like this burden of I just need your attention because I need to fill you up with knowledge. No, I want time with you because this is about relationship and as I spend time conversing with you because it's a privilege to be in a relationship with you as mom and child, we're also in a season where we're seeing how God is investing in a relationship with us and that's worth a little extra effort.
Sean McDowell: This is so helpful. I love that the chapters, number one, they're really brief, so busy people can just dive in and get some substance and there's also practical ideas that are there. But I noticed in the 12 foundations, it wasn't really until foundation number, five be an encourager, that the book becomes primarily outward focused toward other members of the family. In other words, here's a book about passing on the faith, shaping a family, but the first four are about the leader, him or herself. Why did you arrange it that way?
Ruth Chou Simons: Yeah, because fundament ... I mean, I'm so glad you noticed that. Thank you for bringing that up. I think this is the first podcast that's drawn attention to that, so thank you. That was very intentional because ultimately we're just creating a whole bunch of more or less some behavioral changes if we start with better build each other up, encourage each other. No, we have to start with the fundamental truth of what is the problem. The problem is we have sin in our lives. What is the good news? God loves us and He has done everything to win us back to Himself and that's a foundation. Who God is and who we are in Him, that's the foundation for why we can actually live out our faith or do any of those things.
Ruth Chou Simons: It's empowered by God's love for us. It's empowered by the sanctification that happens, just a fancy way of saying God transforms us and brings us back into his intentional original purpose for us to reflect His likeness. So ultimately all those other chapters, where we want to encourage our family, to reflect the likeness of Christ with one another, give generously, build each other up and encourage each other. All those things will only happen or develop out of the right understanding and the right perspective of where that transformation comes from.
Sean McDowell: Ruth, one of the things that the older I get, I'm so grateful my parents built into me, is a love and respect for the scriptures and really a commitment to biblical authority. Your foundation number three is hide the Word in your heart to live by it. How can parents pass on just a passion for the scriptures and a commitment to the authority of scripture?
Ruth Chou Simons: Yeah, well, there's a reason why we didn't write that, because you know each of the foundations, we wrote those based on verses, but we wrote them in a way that sounded conversational, the way we would actually say it to one of our children. Because originally I had painted these as artwork for our walls so that we would look up and we wouldn't just subscribe to fun rules like in this house we say please, but rather in this house we will hide the Word in our hearts and live by it. But the reason why we wrote that, not to say hide the word in your hearts so that you might know more or you might memorize a million verses. No, but to live by it, the Word of God is meant to be our life source. It's meant to change everything about the way we live.
Ruth Chou Simons: And so one of the best ways that we can actually inspire our kids to desire the Word of God is when we talk about how our lives are being influenced by the Word of God, which I guess honestly, one of the ways that I see that play out in our home is that we don't hide our trials from our kids. We don't hide the way we work out pain and struggle, and when we feel betrayed and when we go through loss or when things don't turn out the way we want them to.
Ruth Chou Simons: I think as parents, sometimes you want to work that stuff out yourself and then show up with your kids when you're like, this is the lesson I learned and I don't want you to repeat my mistakes, but rather I think it's really powerful when we come to our children and say, "I lost my temper today. I blew it. I made a mountain out of a molehill and I yelled at you about the situation. And not only am I going to ask you for your forgiveness, but I'm going to tell you that the reason why I did that was because I was worshiping that thing I wanted more than I loved the Lord and I was made to love the Lord. I was made to love Jesus. And that's what you are made for. We will never be satisfied unless we love Christ above all else. But I put all that love on this other comfort, this thing I wanted more than that. And so I yelled to try to get my way."
Ruth Chou Simons: And do you see how if we just talk like that with our children, you point to loving the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength and pointing out that my goodness, that command is not even possible without being in Christ. And so the more you talk about it, the more you realize you show your kids the scriptures aren't a set of rules. They are God's absolute love story from beginning to end to win us back to Himself and to show us how it is that He made the way and He became the way.
Scott Rae: Ruth one of the areas that Sean and I are different in is ... we have a lot in common, but I'm a little bit older than Sean and I'm waiting for a snarky comment.
Sean McDowell: I resisted. I knew you were waiting for that.
Scott Rae: Because I have one back. My wife, our kids are all in their 20s. Our oldest son turns 30 here in a few weeks. So we've been around the block a little bit longer and have grown kids, and we've been at this long enough to recognize that as we reflect back on our prime parenting years when they were living under our roof, that there are some things that we would have done differently and some things that I wish we had done differently.
Scott Rae: And I suspect that we're in good company with a lot of other parents and grandparents who have those reflections as they ... one thing I appreciate so much about your book and your vulnerabilities is yeah, life is messy and you know, none of us get this perfect. We probably all have parenting regrets, but other than the fact that this is something that probably most parents share in common, what other encouragement would you have for parents and grandparents who are listening to this who may have, as they reflect back on their parenting years, wish that they had done some things differently?
Ruth Chou Simons: You know, we would all be lost but for the grace of God, I mean, God's grace is so comforting for us to realize that we can truly just start where we are. Like regret, I mean its hindsight is always 20/20 and we can always look back and sometimes we can say, wow, I wish I had a resource like this. I wish I had a mentor like this. I wish somebody had said these things to me. I can look back and wish that my 25 year old self knew a few things that I know now, right? We all do that. But I think the most powerful thing we can do today is to realize that if we woke up with breath today, if He's given us breath, if He's given us relationships, if He's given us the Word of God, He's not through with us yet.
Ruth Chou Simons: If you're a grandparent and you woke up with breath in your lungs, the word of God in your hands, and relationships with anyone, your family, neighbors, whoever is in your life, you can start today. You can start right now putting Jesus on display in ways that maybe you hadn't in the past and for maybe parents who think wow I really wish we had started this a long time ago. Regret won't get us anywhere except to say, I'm going to start today. And maybe that means calling the family together and saying, hey guys, mama has not been in the Word. I've been trying to do this on my own and as a family, I just want you to know that I'd like us to build a foundation on the Word of God and I'm going to start with me. So you're going to see things change a little bit here and I'm just going to ask for your time for five minutes after dinner every day. But I'm going to really love that time together and let's go on a walk and talk as we do this.
Ruth Chou Simons: And I think it's okay to just start right now and even be honest enough to say, I wish I maybe had done this differently, but God is faithful to transform us starting today.
Scott Rae: Yeah. I think one of the encouraging things that I've reflected on is that even though I've got kids in our 20s and some of our listeners may have kids that are even older than that, they're still works in progress and thankfully God's not finished with any of us yet. And so that's been I think a constant source of encouragement that I'm confident that we planted good seeds and that when they come to fruition is not ultimately up to my wife and I as parents.
Ruth Chou Simons: And isn't that the beauty of the idea of Foundations.
Scott Rae: No, that's exactly right.
Ruth Chou Simons: Sorry I interrupted.
Scott Rae: Go ahead.
Ruth Chou Simons: I mean the beauty of this is that the rock, the firm foundation is Christ Himself. We're not the source of the firm foundation. We are not the ones who, I mean any one of us, I mean the three of us here on this conversation, any one of us could go through a really difficult time where we are doubting and struggling and our kids are not, they can't build their foundation upon me as the mom or it can't be based purely on my faith. It can be only that we lead them to the foundation of Christ in the Word because He's the one that's unchanging. And so with that, I would just say, man, I'm so grateful to know that, to hear you speak that, gosh, we plant the seeds but we're not the ones who will complete the good work. Right? That's ultimately Jesus that will do that. So that's encouragement to me too. So thank you for sharing that.
Scott Rae: Yeah. I think the other bit of good news is that adult children are still capable of being bribed by food.
Ruth Chou Simons: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Scott Rae: We've got three foodie kids. Nice place restaurant bribery still works really, really well.
Ruth Chou Simons: Oh man, it really works for me for sure.
Sean McDowell: Ruth, I knew this was going to happen, we're just scratching the surface and there's so many more questions I want to ask you and I'll just let our readers know. Some of the other chapters in here, you have one on giving generously. How do you create a family or a culture of giving generously, one on cultivating praise and thanksgiving, forgiveness, bearing one another. These foundational truths, in many ways what struck me is they're deep, but they're also just like, let's go back to the basics and ask, what did Jesus teach, what does scripture say, and how do we practically live this out?
Sean McDowell: And sometimes there are so many studies on gen Z and other generations that are helpful and they're insightful, but when it's all said and done, I love in the book that you just kind of bring us back and hence the title Foundations is, you know what? We're looking for these new formulas sometimes. Let's just go back to scripture. Let's go back to what Jesus taught. Let's live these out in our relationships with our family and that's what I know you strive to do in this book. That as Scott said, is not only rich with truths, but it's just a beautiful book, so thanks for your ministry and we really appreciate you taking the time to come on.
Ruth Chou Simons: Thank you so much for having me.
Sean McDowell: This has been an episode of the podcast, Think Biblically, conversations on faith and culture. To learn more about us and today's guest, Ruth Chou Simons, and to find more episodes, go to biola.edu/thinkbiblically. That's biola.edu/thinkbiblically. If you enjoyed today's conversation, give us a rating on your podcast app and please consider sharing it with a friend. Thanks for listening and remember, Think Biblically about everything.