Children are gifts from God. God has entrusted us with something precious to him, a living soul. It fills me with awe to think that not only did he entrust me with my childrens precious souls, but he also gave me his Son to be my own Savior. It is an awesome responsibility we have as stewards of this precious gift. Once we truly believe our children are gifts from God, we need to let them know that we believe that. For the early years of our childrens life, I had a shadow box in our kitchen where we could see it at every meal. It was divided into four sections. One for myself, one for Phil, one for Zachary, and one for Megan. Over the years I had collected assorted tiny treasures that represent the interests of each one of us. In the sections for Zachary and Megan, there are tiny boxes wrapped as a present with a little bow. This is to remind me, and I remind them, that they are precious gifts to me from God. I want them to know how special they are to me because of this.
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 anxiety world. Our children feel pressure from school, teams, clubs, and friends to be the best at everything they do. Acceptance is usually only given when they measure up in one of these categories. With all that pressure going on in our childrens lives, they need to know that at home they are not measured by what other people think. We love our children just because they are oursnot because of As on report cards, not because of how they look, not because they were chosen for the baseball team, but just because they are who they are. Children are not our employees to be evaluated on performance nor do we reduce our love and attention to them to being their salary for being high achievers. Lets make our home a safe harbor from the world where our children know our love for them is never going to end.
One of the ways we demonstrate this love for our children by our interest in them and their interests. Some things they are involved in 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 arent mature enough to be able to handle many of 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 washing the dishes, stop. By doing this, they will know that they are your priority and that you are really interested in them and what they have to say. This isnt easy all the time, but when you have reached some credibility with your children by really listening to them, then you will be able on those occassions when you cant stop and listen at that very moment to say, I really am anxious to hear what you have to say and if you will give me 30 minutes to finish this task, I will give you my undivided attention.
With these three foundations for children, we have a basis of relationship to pass on our faith. 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 interest. 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 Gods 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.
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. Dont put off their questions! That question may never come up again. When you focus on their question immediately, you are sending the message that their faith and their questions are important to you. This doesnt mean a 30 minute sermon on the subject, but give a short concise answer and if possible, show them a scripture or remind them of a Bible story that teaches or relates to their question.
Second, our children learn our faith by our pattern or example we live before them. There is an old saying that says children learn more by what they see than what they hear. This is so true. This is a hard one for us, because 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, why did they have ol so and so pray because he always prays so long, 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 dont know the answer to their problem.
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 Gods values in their own lives. We dont smother them, but try to be available to them. They know they are welcome to share their feelings and not be judged. We dont shut off their conversation by saying, You shouldnt feel that way. They DO feel that way and we need to help them process so those feelings by talking through them with us to help them find appropriate ways to act or not act on those feelings.
For children to truly recognize they are precious to us and to God, they need to feel our unconditional love.|
Fourth, we pass on our legacy by offering our children appropriate praise. Children cant 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 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. Lets give them our attention for positive and godly ones!
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 Phils 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 Gods blessing as we head home. As grandparents, parents, and children hold hands in a circle praying, Grady is modeling prayer to not only our grandchildren, but 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. Its so easy to just think its going to happenthey learn Bible stories from Bible class and thats it. Rather than just taking our childrens 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 Ive 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 Gods Word!
Seven to Eight Years God Hears You When You Talk to Him: He Will Listen and AnswerYou Can Talk to Him about Anything!
Eight to Nine Years You Can Know Gods Story!
Nine to Ten Years You Have a Place in the Lords 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 God has placed into our hands and mold and love them and guide them into relationship with our Father, what a wonderful legacy we will be leaving for the church and the world.
Donna is an elementary reading consultant for the Pflugerville School District and the mother of two great Christian teenagers.