By the time we get this parenting thing figured out, the kids are going to be grown and gone!” That is a statement I often made to my wife as we were in seasons of parenting our children through their stages of development (and ours)! Our goal was not to just raise morally astute or socially responsible kids, we wanted more for them, and we wanted them to offer more to the world in which they would live and help develop. We wanted to raise kids who had a personal faith in Jesus Christ, who would value it and take it with them into their adult lives and future families. We believed generational faith (families of faith) was God’s original design for global evangelism and discipleship.
I must admit, the parenting terrain appeared rocky at times, if it did not seem altogether obscure! I suppose it was because neither my wife or I grew up in homes that we really wanted to serve as our model. It is hard to believe how quickly those years of parenting passed by and that now two of our children have families of their own. In just a few short months, we will begin a new season of trying to get the empty nest figured out!
Looking back, I am certain we made our fair share of mistakes, and through the years, we have tearfully apologized to each other and our children, both privately and publicly, for not always getting it right. We also have (half-way) jokingly told our children we will pay for a few sessions with a therapist to help them work through some of our mistakes. On occasion, our grown children have asked us if we thought we did a “good job” raising them. My response is always, “We will not know how well we did until you start raising your own families!”
Living as a family of faith has been the most gratifying thing in our lives, and watching our grown children begin their own families of faith has become one of the greatest blessings of our lives. It has afforded me the privilege of truly experiencing the words of 3 John 4: “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” These words from John were the culmination and combination of a lifetime of prayer, strategy and intentionality.
Unfortunately, while the Bible does not offer any guaranteed results or “faith insurance” for our children and families, it does provide lots of helpful wisdom and instruction.
One of the most insightful and instructive passages of scripture for our families is in Deuteronomy 6:4-9: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
Although these verses were spoken millennia ago, and, at first glance, may appear archaic, they are more relevant to today’s parenting and Christian family than parental controls and time outs. Here are a few principles for developing our families of faith:
Start with spiritual integrity. The words were spoken to parents – those leading the family. The instruction was simple enough. “Love God with all our heart, soul and might.” Essentially, love God with everything within you. These words resemble and support the idea of integrity. Integrity at its basic form means whole or complete. In other words, our devotion to God should embody everything about us–the whole of us. Our children are watching, and they can tell when faith is relegated to Sundays or our life at church. It is fair to say that our children will conclude a faith which is not valuable to the entirety of our lives is not necessary for even a part of it.
Value, verbalize and visualize the Bible in your homes. “These words shall be on your heart; we are to teach them.” We are to talk about them, remember them and write them. In other words, God’s word is to be highly-valued in our homes. Interestingly enough, we talk about, teach our children about, put to memory and make notes about the things that are important in our lives. Scripture is the source of strength and direction for a family of faith.
Do not attempt to substitute anything for time. “When” is a time word. We use the word to reflect or project upon our time. It is always looking back or looking ahead. “When” is prevalent in this passage. Parents are to capitalize on time with their family, to instill God’s word. “When you get up. When you walk. When you sit down. When you lie down.” We can never underestimate the value or substitute time with our families. No number of gifts or amount of stuff can replace needed time together. Dinner, board games, picnics, vacations, house chores, family prayer time, ball games, worshipping together and even going to the mall create opportunities to instill faith and create lasting memories that will cause our children to say, “Hey, do you remember when … ?”
Focus more on what we should be doing than what they should not. Our default setting tells us that developing our kids and raising a family of faith is about making sure our kids do not end up doing certain “bad” things or getting involved in unhealthy activities. This is certainly part of being a parent. However, what stands out to me in the instruction of Deuteronomy 6 is that there is no instruction on what we are to tell our kids to do or not to do. While that is an essential part of parenting, the emphasis here seems to be focused on what we are to do as parents in living and sharing a vibrant faith before them. Lots of consistent positive interaction with our children will help reduce their involvement in negative activities.
Remembering our obedience in these areas provides for more opportunities in others. At the end of Deuteronomy 6, something interesting and encouraging happens. A scenario is debuted. One in which a son (or daughter) instigates a spiritual conversation with their parents … a teaching moment! One not forced upon our children but welcomed. This is the joy of parenting. These are the moments when we see our children making our faith, theirs. This is the culmination and goal of all our previous effort and intentionality. It is also a reminder that they have been listening and watching when we were doubtful or even unaware. This is where our faith transfers from one generation to the next.
While the Bible and history remind us that our children and families do not come with any guarantees, they do come with incredible opportunities – opportunities to experience the highest joys of our lives, to shape the next generation and to advance God’s kingdom on this earth. Our families were intended as gifts from God, and there is no greater joy than the opportunity to offer them back to Him full of faith.
Randall Wright is the pastor of CV Church in Princeton, Texas.