Editor's Note: This was first written in 1998, but still remains true and powerful. I believe it is worth sharing again. Donna has two young adults and two foster grandsons that bear the marks of her love and grace and are blessed by the legacy she has passed on to them.
Children are gifts from God. God has entrusted us with something precious to him — an eternal someone, a living soul. I am filled with awe as I ponder this. The Heavenly Father not only entrusted me with my children's precious souls, but he also gave me his Son to be my own Savior.
What an awesome responsibility we have as stewards of this precious gift we call our children and what an incredible blessing the Father wants us to share with them!
Once we truly believe our children are gifts from God, we need to let them know that we believe they are gifts. For the early years of our children's lives, I had a shadow box in our kitchen that we could see at every meal. It was divided into four sections: one for Phil, one for Zachary, one for Megan, and one for myself. Over the years, I had collected assorted tiny treasures that represented the interests of each one of us. In the sections for Zachary and Megan, there were also tiny boxes. Each box was gift wrapped to look like a present with a little bow. This was to remind me, and for me to remind them, that they are both precious gifts to me from God. I wanted them to know how special they are to me... and to God!
For children to truly recognize they are precious to us and to God, they need to feel our unconditional love. This is sometimes hard in our performance-oriented, anxiety-filled world. Our children feel pressure from school, teams, clubs, and friends to be the best at everything they do. Social acceptance is often only given when they measure up in one of these categories.
With all that pressure going on in our children's lives, they need to know that we view them differently in our family. At home, they are not measured by what other people think. We love our children just because they are our children — not because of A's on report cards, not because of how they look, and not because they were chosen for the baseball team. They are loved because they are who they are and whose they are.
A child is not our employee to be evaluated and then have his or her value determined based upon performance. We must not reduce our love to the equivalent of a payoff — something like a salary for being a high achiever as OUR child. Let's make our home a safe harbor from the world, a place where our children know our love for them is never going to be calibrated based upon their external performances.
One of the ways we demonstrate this love for our children is by sharing our genuine interest in them and their specific concerns. Some things children do may seem very childish or silly, but they are important to our children. Our children are real people now! They have emotions, feelings, and frustrations just like we do. The key difference is that they aren't mature enough to be able to handle many of the things handed to them by their world.
We show interest by listening to them and what they are saying. Eye contact is essential! If you are reading the paper, put it down. If you are washing the dishes, stop. By doing these kinds of things, your child will know that he or she is your priority and that you are really interested in what they have to say and in who they are as a person. Every parent knows this isn't easy most of the time. However, it pays huge dividends when we make the time. When you have developed some credibility with your children by really listening to them, then you will be able — on those occasions when you can't stop and listen — to tell them, "I really am anxious to hear what you have to say. If you will give me 30 minutes to finish this task, I will give you my undivided attention."
With these foundational principles we use in blessing our children, we have a basis of relationship to pass on our faith. This is the major desire of every parent who loves Jesus and wants our child to love God and grow up to be led by the Holy Spirit. The foundations for this desire is rooted in God's word, God's love for us, and God's desire to see us pass on our faith to those who come after us (Deuteronomy 6:1-9; Ephesians 6:1-4).
Our children are gifts from God. They must know our unconditional love for them. But for them to believe in those truths, they must know we are interested in them and their concerns.
But how can we pass on faith to our children? How can we go from these three principles on to leaving a legacy of faith in our children?
First, we pass on faith through teaching them God's principles. We saturate ourselves and our children in the Word of God. We invest our time, effort, and energy into teaching them Biblical truth. We take the time to explain and discuss their questions. We are responsible for teaching our children truth: not the Sunday school teacher, youth minister, or church leader. We do the teaching and these other resources are supplements to our training.
Our children will ask questions about our faith and why we believe what we do if we have carefully laid down the three foundations for our children. Don't put off their questions! Those questions may never come up again. When you immediately focus on your child's question, you are sending the message that your child's faith and his or her questions are important to you. This doesn't mean a 30 minute sermon on the subject, but give a short concise answer. If possible, show them a scripture or remind them of a Bible story that teaches or relates to that question.
Second, our children learn our faith by our pattern or example that we live before them each day. There is an old saying that goes something like this: "Children learn more by what they see than what they hear." This is so true. However, this is a hard principle for us. It is so easy to be inconsistent. For example: If our children hear us complaining often about worship services being too long... the songs pitched too high... they had ol' so and so pray again and he always prays so long... then our children receive the message that worship is to please me and not to please God. They learn to be critical about church and church people. On the other hand, they can learn a powerful lesson from a mother who is facing a difficult decision as she calls her family together to pray about that decision. They are equipped with prayer and family as resources when they don't know the answer to their problems.
Third, we hand our faith to our children through our participation with them in their emotional lives. They know we know them, their concerns, and their feelings. This way we can help them better apply God's values in their own lives. We don't smother them, but try to be available to them. They know they are welcome to share their feelings and not be judged. We don't shut off their conversation by saying, "You shouldn't feel that way." They DO feel that way, so we need to help them process those feelings by talking through them with us so that they can find appropriate ways to act or not act on those feelings.
Fourth, we pass on our legacy by offering our children appropriate praise. Children can't get enough praise. Praise your children for what they are doing right. They will learn that you care about the things they are doing and that they are a priority. Look for opportunities to praise them. Our children need all the goodness and self-confidence in doing right that they can get so they will be able to fight off the temptations of the world as they grow older. Children have a need for attention and will try to earn it either through positive or negative behaviors. Let's give them our attention for positive and godly behaviors!
Fifth, we pass on our legacy through prayer. Pray not only for yourself as a parent, but pray for your children. Let your children be involved in your prayer life. Let your children see your dependence upon God in prayer for strength, guidance, and decision making. Let them see you seek the Father in joy and thankfulness. Pray for things together and then let them see how God is answering those prayers. One of the things I appreciate about Phil's stepfather, Grady, is that after our visits, he circles up the whole family for prayer before we leave. He gives thanks for our time together, our family, and God's blessing as we head home. As grandparents, parents, and children hold hands in a circle praying, Grady is modeling prayer to our grandchildren and also to us!
Finally, if we are going to pass on our faith to our children, I believe we need to have a plan of action. It's so easy to just think it's going to "happen" — that they will learn Bible stories, life lessons, and Scripture from Bible class and that's all they need. Rather than just taking our children's training for granted, or simply just taking them to church, I believe it is important to have a key goal or message to share with our children during each of the key early years of their lives. The following is a little guideline I've found helpful with my own children:
- Infants to Two Years — You are Secure Here: We Love You and God Loves You!
- Two to Three Years — How Happy We are to Have You in Our Family!
- Three to Four Years — God Loves Us and Will Take Care of Us!
- Four to Five Years — I am So Glad God Made You Just the Way You Are!
- Five to Six Years —You Have Special Talents That You Can Use to Serve Others, God, and Your Family!
- Six to Seven Years — You Can Read God's Word!
- Seven to Eight Years — God Hears You When You Talk to Him: He Will Listen and Answer so You Can Talk to Him about Anything!
- Eight to Nine Years — You Can Know God's Story!
- Nine to Ten Years — You Have a Place in the Lord's Church!
- Ten to Eleven Years — You Can Do Important Things for God!
- Twelve to Thirteen Years — Give Your Life to God!
Children are our greatest gift. If we take these precious gifts that God has placed into our hands and lovingly mold and guide them into relationship with our Father, what a wonderful legacy we will be leaving for the church and the world. Let's commit to leave that legacy!
Please use the Facebook discussion box below to give practical ideas on how to teach each of the age appropriate messages listed above or share your experiences with others on how to impart your faith to your children.