An open letter to parents on raising Godly children
Monday, we celebrated Labor Day and with it, the end of summer and the beginning of a new school year. There won't be anymore pool days or late mornings - they've been replaced by new school supplies and a list of books to read and things to learn.
This week, parents across the world are sending off their kids back to school - watching them drive away on a school bus or in their brand new car. As their good-byes echo in the wind and the pudgy, waving hands get smaller in the distance, your heart fills with apprehension, excitement and, above all, prayer - that the Lord watch over your children and keep them from harm's way; that peer pressure won't defeat the things you've taught them and that they'll eat their vegetables at lunch.
I'm not a parent, yet, but since I've moved out on my own, I've begun to appreciate even more the strong foundation and upbringing that my parents have given me. So, I wanted to write you a letter - part a thank-you to my own parents, part a note to myself in the future and part to those of you who stood in the driveway today watching your children drive away in a big, yellow school bus.
From a perspective of a daughter, here are the parenting lessons I appreciate most from my childhood.
Let them see Christ in you
"Do you have a test tomorrow?" he looks up at me with a questioning glance, noting the books and notes scattered on my desk.
"Yes," I answer, wishing he would let me study in peace.
"Okay, I'll pray for you." He smiles and walks away, because the faith of a four-year-old is simple and strong.
I am humbled by my baby brother's faith every day, because he sees God in everything. When my brothers go fishing, he prays for lots of fish, and the next day, when everyone is devouring the fish at lunch, he will point out to you that Jesus gave you that fish, because he prayed for it. When he's fallen off his bike yet again and his knees ache in pain, he'll come up to you in tears, and ask you to pray for relief.
He's four and to him, Jesus is the answer to everything. He wasn't born that way though, but grew up in the shadow of a Godly man and a Christ-seeking family. At home, we joke about how he never leaves my dad's side. All of us older kids are in school during the day, so most days its just my dad and baby brother at home - they cook together, read the Bible, pray, build things, fix cars, work in the garden and feed the livestock. And like the little sponge he is, my baby brother soaks in everything around him.
In all things showing yourself to be a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility. -Titus 2:7
Your children, whether they're toddlers or teenagers, notice everything you say and do. Even when you think they're not paying any attention, they've already noted your behavior and filed it away for future reference. Your children not only share your physical attributes, but they are a product of your beliefs, words and actions.
If you are constantly dieting and commenting on how your clothes fit or how you can lose a few pounds, then your daughter is probably mimicking your judgments in her bedroom mirror - whether she's 5 or 15. If your first reaction when they're hurt is to rush to a doctor, then your child will never know to pray for healing. If they see you stressed out day every day about everything, they'll go through life in constant anticipation for the other shoe to drop.
So, live like Jesus every day. Yes, sometimes you'll fail and make mistakes, but don't try to hide or avoid them. Be honest and real with your children, for they understand far more than we often give them credit for.
Teach, don't just preach
In my teens, my dad and I argued and clashed all the time, about everything. If you're raising a teenager, I do apologize - I promise we don't really think every thing you do is to ruin our lives, even if it may seem so.
What I appreciate most about my dad though is his incredible wisdom and patience with me. I was raised in a strict, sheltered and conservative family, but my dad rarely pulls the "Because I told you so" card to explain his house rules and expectations for us kids. Instead, he spends hours if needed, explaining why we can't stay out past 10 pm or why we don't celebrate Halloween. He reads relevant Bible passages and pray with us, speaking to us like equals.
In the end, he lays out all the cards on the table, but leaves most decisions up to us.
This is what the Bible says and this is what I'd like you to do. I understand that you disagree with point X, but I ask that in respect and obedience to me as your father, you don't do this. But, in the end, you are old and intelligent enough to make a decision for yourself, so may God bless you in making the right one.
Those conversations and final words almost always convinced me to do as my father asked. Yes, usually I'll sulk and complain, but deep inside, I can't disobey because I read the words in the Bible in black and white and I understand why my dad is really right. Other times, even knowing this, I've gone against my dad's advice and each time it was painful and humbling.
And you, father, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord. -Ephesians 6:4
Structure and discipline are absolutely necessary in parenting, but by treating your child like an adult and teaching them how to make right and wrong decisions with you is infinitely more educational than just forbidding your son to do x with no explanation.
And when we're all grown up and people ask us why we believe in God or how to live like a Christian, we'll remember your words and share them with our friends and peers. Because its up to parents, not just church leaders or Sunday School teachers, to teach children the word of God.
Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will no depart from it. -Proverbs 22:6
Raise them on your knees
Growing up, I woke up to the distant sounds of my dad praying or reading the Bible aloud. Almost every morning, he wakes up long before the rest of our family and sits at the dining room table with his Bible for hours.
As the household begins to slowly awake around him, we hear his words to God on our behalf. One by one, he prays for my nine siblings and I - for our current specific needs, for forgiveness and guidance, for our future spouses and things that we may encounter in life. It's not a hurried prayer, but words full of love and intimate knowledge of each child's temperament and personal struggles.
In the evening, my mother's tears are gathered by an angel from above and brought before the throne of the Almighty. Because a mother knows her child better than anyone else on this planet, and even living hours away from her today, I feel her prayers in my Spirit.
And this is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him. -1 John 5:14-15
Prayer is stronger than any act of disobedience, sickness, addiction or undue influence. A parent's prayer can free children from the bonds of sin and protect children from the world. But, it doesn't take one prayer, or two - it takes a life time of daily conversations with the Lord.
Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one's youth. Happy is a man who has his quiver full of them; they shall not ashamed, but shall speak with their enemies in the gate. -Psalm 127:3-5
I think that being a parent is the most important job in the whole world, because you are responsible for raising and shaping a human being to be a good, honest and above all, Godly citizen of this world. You're responsible for their physical needs, but also their spiritual and emotional growth. It's a demanding role with no days off and no option to quit, but as Christians we are blessed to have the guidance of the most powerful God in parenting.
Most parents just want to hide their children in a bubble and protect them from the world - from physical harm, spiritual battles and heartbreak. But, from a young age, you have to let them go out into the world to make their own way. The thing we often forget though, is that even if you can't be with your son or daughter 24/7, there is Someone much more powerful who never leaves their side.
So, thank you to my parents and all the parents in this world for your love, care, patience, and wisdom. Today, I am who I am because of the love and prayers of two of the most amazing, God-fearing people. No matter how long I live on this Earth, I will never be able to repay them for everything they have done for me, but I pray every day that God rewards them in heaven one day!