So far in our study we have talked about marriage, which is the basis for a sacred family, and I have shown that a marriage based on the design found in the Bible (one man + one woman for life) is the foundation for building a sacred family devoted to God. I then described the type of communication necessary to cultivate a love in marriage that lasts a lifetime. Our next subject for discussion is the raising of children, a task that naturally follows for those engaged in a loving marriage.
First, a quote we can all relate to, "If it was going to be easy to raise kids, it never would have started with something called labor" (Anonymous). Next, a question for all parents to consider, "Why did you have children?"
There are any number of reasons that we can put forth in answer to this question, but the one that is the most useful in seeing us through the many challenges of parenthood is this: God commands us to have children (Genesis 1:28). Not only are we to continue to multiply until Jesus returns, but the Bible also says that we are to raise spiritually sensitive children who will know God and His will (Sacred Parenting - Gary Thomas - Zondervan 2005).
1Listen, O my people, to my instruction;
Incline your ears to the words of my mouth.
2I will open my mouth in a parable;
I will utter dark sayings of old,
3Which we have heard and known,
And our fathers have told us.
4We will not conceal them from their children,
But tell to the generation to come the praises of the Lord,
And His strength and His wondrous works that He has done.
5For He established a testimony in Jacob
And appointed a law in Israel,
Which He commanded our fathers
That they should teach them to their children,
6That the generation to come might know, even the children yet to be born,
That they may arise and tell them to their children,
7That they should put their confidence in God
And not forget the works of God,
But keep His commandments,
8And not be like their fathers,
A stubborn and rebellious generation,
A generation that did not prepare its heart
And whose spirit was not faithful to God.
- Psalms 78:1-8
14You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, 15and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
- II Timothy 3:14-15
It is helpful in dealing with our emotions concerning parenting if we understand that having children is not only about us, how we feel or what we want. Having children is first and foremost about God because He has specifically called on us to bear and raise children for His glory, not our own. When parents accept this fundamental spiritual component as part of their mission, the trials and sacrifices that come with parenting are more easily borne. It is no longer how my children make me feel (proud/ashamed/worried), but rather how faithful have I been in my duty to God as a parent.
To pin our hopes and dreams on an immature and imperfect human being (our child) is not a recipe for happiness. When we as parents accept that the reason and work of parenting is to breathe the life of God into our children, and family is the divine framework where this is done, several things change:
- We gain an overall vision of our responsibility as parents which in turn helps us persevere in this lifetime process. There is less confusion and worry because we see the "big picture" and know what our task really is.
- We save ourselves from the "performance anxiety" that comes from relying on our children to provide us with self-affirmation through their accomplishments. Obeying God in parenting godly children provides the esteem and encouragement we need regardless of how many trophies the kids collect in their various activities. Relying on our children's accomplishments to make us feel good creates a lot of pressure for them, and often leaves parents feeling disappointed.
- Breathing the life of God into our children also affords us a greater opportunity for future reward. Ask any grandparent whose children and grandchildren are faithful Christians!
There are many aspects and issues concerning the parenting experience that I will not address in this book because they are too numerous (e.g. discipline, eating habits, bed wetting, sibling rivalry, preparing for adolescence, etc.). However, this chapter on how to breathe God's life into your children will be helpful in effectively navigating these and other common issues associated with the raising of children.
Breathing the L.I.F.E. of God into Your Children
Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.
- Genesis 2:7
20And when He had said this, He showed them both His hands and His side. The disciples then rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21So Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you." 22And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit.
- John 20:20-22
In these two passages we witness first Adam, and then the Apostles, receiving the life of God. Adam received the Spirit or "likeness" of God in order to separate him from lesser forms of life. The Apostles, on the other hand, received the Holy Spirit Himself in order to separate them from those who were not saved and did not have eternal life. When, therefore, I talk about breathing the life of God into our children, I am referring to the same kind of action. The Life of God that is within us as Christians is breathed into our children in order to separate them from those without spiritual life.
William Gaultiere, in an article about the spiritual development of children, says the following, "I believe that the primary purpose of Christian parenting is discipleship. I invite my children into my walk with Jesus, investing in them the life of God that I have come to experience so that they grow into being new creatures in Christ. (II Corinthians 5:17)" He also mentions four elements that are necessary in order to breathe that life of God into them.
A - Breathe Love
Loving your children as God loves you. The practical aspect of this idea is found in II Corinthians 12:14.
Here for this third time I am ready to come to you, and I will not be a burden to you; for I do not seek what is yours, but you; for children are not responsible to save up for their parents, but parents for their children.
- II Corinthians 12:14
The parenting relationship should be focused on the parent providing for the child's needs, not the reverse. It is God, in His love, who provides for us, and in the same way we provide for our children in our love. Understanding this helps neutralize the bitterness often expressed by parents tired of the demands of parenthood. For example, parents who say, "I did not have it so easy when I was a kid" are really expressing their resentment because their own children do not have to experience the hardships (lack of love) that they themselves had to deal with as children. These parents need to realize that just because their parents, for whatever reason, did not meet their needs, this does not justify them making the same mistake with their own young ones.
Children learn love from observation and experience, and they make the connection that God is love from the example of their parents (i.e. Mommy is love, Daddy is love). Children who are not loved by their parents have a hard time perceiving God's love. After all, if they cannot see evidence of parental love from people they see, how are they to understand the love of someone they cannot see? Of course, this parental love is not just theoretical, it is very practical, even mundane at times. For example, love is breathed in the following ways:
- Meeting basic physical needs.
- Physical affection.
- Listening, watching ("Watch me Daddy!").
- Verbalizing affirmation ("Atta boy/girl!").
- Playing at their level, not them watching you play.
- Offering comfort, discipline, advice.
- Giving gifts, favors, "specials."
There is a lot more that can be said about love, but let me just emphasize two things about breathing God's love into your child.
1. It takes time
Finance is the enemy of love because love takes up a lot of time and time is money. There are no short cuts to love because cultivating love requires a large quantity of time, not simply "quality" time. Most families with their hectic, overly-scheduled lives think that "doing" many things together is the same as "being" together. We are not human doings, we are human beings. Better sitting around the house where the main activity is just being together than a jam-packed day watching each other scurry from one activity to another.
Taking the one-on-one time with each child, and the together-time with the whole family in order to develop loving relationships will cost you in the advancement of your career, the rate of getting all your projects done and your standing in little league, but this is the choice you make when you have children. Less time for me and singular interests, more time to love and create love in my children. There is a payoff in this love investment and it usually comes in the form of spending less time dealing with the fallout produced by children who are acting out in destructive ways because they are hungry for love.
2. Show your child how to express love to God
Children soon learn to return their parents' love by being obedient and helpful. This exchange teaches them the joy of shared love which they will need in order to build healthy relationships in the future. As parents, we should add the dimension of prayer to our children's lives and help them see this as a genuine expression of love as well. "Why do we pray?" they ask, "Because we love God" you answer.
It is endearing to see young ones bow their heads or clasp their hands in prayer, and it is! However, we must be careful not to transform what can be the beginning of their spiritual communication and expression of love towards God into a kind of "children's theatre" where the child is performing or on display. Teach them why, when, what and who prayer is about by modeling it and allowing them to participate meaningfully: for meals (before or after), before a long car ride or trip, when someone is ill, during a celebration or happy occasion and when making decisions.
Teaching them early to express their love to God in prayer will set into motion the spiritual life and attitudes you hope they will develop in later life.