Before I had kids, I attended
church services at least two times a week, a weekly small-group Bible study,
and week-long seminars. I taught religious education classes, sang in choir,
and was an active member of the youth fellowship. I prayed and read the Bible
I was a conscientious worker at
my full-time job as a magazine editor, a friend who could be counted on to
“always be there,” and a daughter who helped her mother with her invalid father
once a week. Before I had kids, I managed to take a shower every day and
brushed my teeth at least twice a day.
But after the kids came,
I could barely make it to
Sabbath services, and when I did, I processed nothing of what I heard (which
were two-minute sound bites in between diapers changes, feedings, picking up
toys, etc.). I dropped out of all
I attempted to do my job
part-time but ended up quitting after I realized that editing was impossible
because I could barely string together a coherent sentence due to getting
four-and-a-half hours of sleep a night (usually broken up into ninety-minute
My friends thought I had
dropped off the face of the earth, and my mother saw me only when she invited
me over for dinner. I no longer felt any qualms about going out in public with
oily, stringy hair, and often fell asleep with fuzzy teeth.
I was a failure—from spiritual
health to personal hygiene.
“What is going on?” I wondered. If children were
supposed to be a blessing, why did my life look like it had been cursed after
my kids arrived?
Then I thought, maybe it wasn’t
the children. Maybe it was me. Maybe
I was doing everything wrong. I felt inadequate as a mom because my children
were not on any kind of “prescribed schedule,” and they were still not sleeping
through the night even after twelve months.
I felt guilty as a Christian
for dropping all forms of church work in addition to my daily spiritual
cultivation. I felt like I had let down my friends, especially the ones whom I
avoided because they liked to talk on the phone for too long. And I’m pretty
sure I smelled bad.
My life revolved around
parenting my children, and I wasn’t even sure if I was doing that right.
SEASON TO FOCUS ON CHILDREN
Then one day, I came across
So God created man in His own image; in the
image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed
them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply.” (Gen 1:27, 28a)
Somehow, these verses
penetrated my haze of guilt and failure, and I came to an important
realization: The first “job” that God gave to man was to “be fruitful and
multiply.” In other words, the first job that God gave to us was to have
And with the act of having
children came the responsibility of teaching them:
“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is
one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with
all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your
hearts. Impress them on your children.”
(Deut 6:4-7a, NIV, emphasis mine)
So I started thinking that maybe
I wasn’t so far off track as I thought. Maybe it was okay that I was focusing my limited time, energy, and brain
capacity on my children—the first and most important “job” that God had given
Maybe it was okay for me to quit my job, take a break from church work, and
focus on my babies, who needed me and depended on my presence for their very
survival. After all…
To everything there is a season,
A time for every purpose under heaven:
A time to be born,
And a time to die;
A time to plant,
And a time to pluck what is planted;
A time to kill,
And a time to heal;
A time to break down,
And a time to build up… (Eccl 3:1-3)
I realized that now was the time to build up my
children; now was the season to meet their needs, to love them, and to teach
them about love. This season—their childhood—would pass all too quickly, and I
did not want to squander the time I had with them.
Another season would soon come
when I could again do church work, perhaps go back to work, and be the reliable
friend and devoted daughter that I wanted to be.
Feeling vindicated by God’s
word in my direction in life, I felt a sense of reassurance and peace that I
was doing the right thing in focusing on my children at this point. But one
thing niggled at my conscience….
“Impress them on your children…” (Deut 6:7a)
Impress them on your children… Impress them on
I was doing many things with my
children, but I felt that I was failing at impressing God’s commandments upon
them—at least not in the way that I was conditioned to do.
THE BIG PICTURE
We were often late to Sabbath
services, and sometimes we missed it altogether. My older child went to
religious education classes, but she never finished her assigned homework or
Bible reading, and I didn’t make her. My younger child refused to go to
religious education class altogether, instead opting to do his little activity
workbooks next to me as I sat in the worship service.
I tried to read a children’s
Bible to them at home, but the reality was that we would often go long
stretches without doing anything “biblical” at home. I had invested in a huge
collection of Bible cartoons, but at most a handful of them were watched. They
could not tell you a complete Bible story if their lives depended on it.
Our prayers consisted of grace,
“Thank you, God, for this food,” and our bedtime prayers, “Please, God, don’t
let me have any nightmares.” My children hardly participated in prayers in
Spirit, and when they did, they lasted all of sixty seconds.
At one point, when I realized
that this type of spiritual pursuit was missing in our lives, I began to
institute changes. I “strongly encouraged” my older child to watch the Bible
cartoons every morning. I began reading the children’s Bible to my children
every night, whether they wanted to hear it or not. I forced my daughter to
finish her assigned church homework. I even tried praying in the Spirit with
Somehow, though, as the level
of “spiritual” activity increased, so did the sense of artificiality. Yes, it
seemed like we were doing the “right” things, but things felt forced. There was
no genuine sense of engagement and enthusiasm from my children.
I forced myself to take a step
back and evaluate the situation. What was I doing? Why was I doing it? Was it
even effective? Were they learning what really mattered through all this
One of my worst fears is
becoming like a Pharisee—having the outward appearance of piety, but lacking
its true substance inwardly.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!
For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and
have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith.”
Somehow, what I was doing
smacked of pharisaism. I felt that in all our
“doing,” we were missing the big picture and perhaps neglecting the “weightier
matters of the law.”
CLEAR AND LASTING UNDERSTANDING OF GOD
I began to wonder how it was
possible to “impress” God’s commands upon my children in a way that was genuine
as well as effective. One of the definitions of “impress” from the Encarta World English Dictionary is “to
make sure that somebody has a clear and lasting understanding, memory, or
mental image of something.”
I began to pray to God to help
me teach my children so that they could truly have a “clear and lasting
understanding” of Him and be able to understand the “weightier matters” of
life—to understand what really mattered. I laid out before Him all my
weaknesses, my confusion, my failure, and asked Him to teach me how to teach my
Slowly, I began to find the
way, but not without having to give up many preconceived notions of faith. I
had to give up caring what people thought of my parenting and my children. I
had to give up timetables and learn to trust my children and God’s timing. I
had to give up doing things in the way I
thought best but instead rely on God to do things in the way He thinks best.
In giving these up, I found a
closer and more genuine walk with God, and my children are slowly but surely
developing a “clear and lasting understanding” of God and His commands.
Here, I share with you what I
learned, and what worked for my family:
Your Child’s Interest
In my research on how people
learn, I came across some interesting information: unless people are interested
in and engaged in what they are learning, they will not retain the information
I thought back to my years in
school and realized that explained why I retained about 2% of what I learned—I
couldn’t have cared less about 98% of what was taught.
I applied this bit of
information to teaching my children about God. I evaluated the “spiritual”
activities I was doing with my children and retained what really interested
My children would often ask me
to read the Bible to them before bed, so I knew that they were interested in
that. They also liked the comfort of praying before bed, but we no longer
prayed in Spirit. They would pray in words of understanding about things that
mattered to them, whether it was not having nightmares, thanking God for the
fun things they did that day, or wishing a sick friend a speedy recovery.
I no longer “encouraged” my
children to watch the Bible cartoons or forced my daughter to finish her church
homework, which included a weekly memory verse. However, I did buy a CD with
memory verses set to upbeat music, which the children enjoyed.
If something no longer
interested them, I would not force them to continue but instead continually
tried to find other avenues for them to learn about God.
Adding all of these activities
up didn’t seem like much, but I realized that this was enough for them right
now. Little people have little appetites and require more frequent meals—and
perhaps this applied to spiritual food as well. I could see that my children
were “digesting” these small, frequent meals of God’s word and simple prayer,
and changes were happening.
Sometimes in the car, my children
would randomly ask me questions like, “When we die do we become angels?” Or I
would hear comments like, “God is so powerful, He can do anything. He could
squash a car if He wanted.”
These may seem like simple
things, but the important detail here was that they were talking about God out
of their own volition, which meant that they were thinking about Him. They were
trying to figure out who God is and His relationship with us. They were
developing an interest in spiritual matters and, more importantly, were
enjoying the process of getting to know Him.
This enjoyment and interest
would be the very thing that would help develop that “clear and lasting
understanding” of God and His commands.
on Biblical Principles Rather than Biblical Knowledge
Sometimes I think we as parents
are tempted to stuff our children with biblical knowledge so that we can assure
ourselves that we are doing our jobs teaching them God’s word. It is something
that we can measure, something we can test.
But in so doing, are we
neglecting “the weightier matters of the law—justice, mercy, and faithfulness”?
Are we neglecting the principles of God’s laws in favor of the vehicle in which
they are delivered? Because isn’t that what these Bible stories are—vehicles to
teach us what really matters—living out God’s command to love each other, to
act justly, to show mercy, to be faithful to God in our daily lives?
Sometimes, children are not
ready to learn Bible stories or memorize Bible verses, but all children are ready to learn the principles of the Bible. A
child can learn the biblical principle of love when someone wants to play with
his favorite toy. He can learn the principle of kindness when he sees a lonely
child on the playground. He can learn the principle of obedience when a parent
asks him to do something he does not want to do.
God’s name may never be mentioned
and a Bible verse never quoted, but in these situations, a child is learning
about God all the same. In a way, this is an even more important learning
opportunity, because it has to do with real life. It has to do with living out
God’s teachings, and that is ultimately what God wants us to do—to convert our
faith into deeds.
I learned to not be too
concerned if my son could not get the story straight about Jericho or if he
couldn’t tell me how many loaves and fish Jesus used to feed 5,000. However, I
am very concerned about each and
every situation my children encounter that may test their character and teach them
how to live out a biblical principle.
It’s not to say that it is not
important to know the Bible, to go to religious education class, or to pray in
Spirit. All of this is very important. However, it may not happen in the
timetable that you wish.
In raising my young children, I
had to admit that I didn’t fully comprehend what was going on with
them—developmentally, emotionally, spiritually. When I tried to expose them to
something new and they balked, I had to trust them and trust that somehow they
were not yet ready for it.
When my younger child turned
three, I was so happy that I could finally send him to kindergarten class at church
and I could enjoy my Sabbath worship in peace. But he absolutely refused to go.
Every week I encouraged,
cajoled, and bribed him to go, to no avail. Other kids (many who were even
younger than him) were happy as a clam, going to not just one but both sessions
of kindergarten class. But no, my child stubbornly refused.
Finally, I gave up. For a year
and a half, he spent every Sabbath at my side in the adult worship service with
a little workbook and coloring pencils.
Then one day (finally, at four
and a half years old), ten minutes before the worship service started, he
stated, “I am going to class today.” My husband dropped him off in class, and
since then, he has been an active participant and enjoyed every single class.
There’s no telling what clicked
in that brain of his, but somehow, it was time, and he was ready.
What I learned is that even
though your child may not be interested in something now, it doesn’t mean that
he will never be interested in it.
Even though your child may not be interested in Bible stories, or praying, or
going to class, it does not mean that this will always be the case.
Sometimes, he may not be
developmentally, emotionally, or spiritually ready. In that case, you can still
focus on reinforcing biblical principles in daily life and expose him to
whatever you think might be edifying to him, following his interests.
Another bit of interesting
information about how people learn: I have read that 90% of what we learn is
information was actually very disconcerting to me, knowing how much I struggle
with my own faith and my own character. My children would be in a very sorry
state if 90% of what they learned indeed came from my example.
But this did make me realize
how important my actions were in my teaching. Our children are learning
important principles every time they see us operate, from the words we speak,
to how we treat others, to how we spend our time. If the studies are right,
then our actions in our daily lives will teach them more than our words ever
Maybe that’s why God said,
“Impress them on your children. Talk about them
when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and
when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your
foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”
(Deut 6:7-9, NIV)
In other words, we need to live
out God’s teachings in our daily lives—in our homes (how do we treat our family
members behind closed doors?), in our cars while we’re on the road (are we
cursing at the guy who just cut us off?)—from the time we get up to the time we
We need to live out God’s
principles in what we choose to do with our hands and what we choose to think
about in our heads. We need God’s teachings to be the framework of our family
and our communities.
Yes, sometimes our faith is
tested by huge, fiery trials. I’ve found, though, that more often our faith is
refined in the crucible of daily life.
This is really the most
important and effective way that we can teach our children, but this is also
the hardest, because our children see us day in and day out—our strengths and
our many weaknesses. I know that many times, I have been compelled to try
harder, not because of my own desire for piety, but because I know that I need
to become a better person for the sake of my children.
I have had to admit to my
children that I was wrong and to tell them not to follow my example. This is
important to show them the consistency of God’s teachings—that it applies to
everyone, and that there are no double standards.
Interestingly enough, instead
of undermining my children’s respect for me, admitting my wrong has actually
increased their respect. Perhaps it is because somehow, as young as they are,
they implicitly understand that it is harder to admit wrong than to pretend
that you’re right. Or perhaps, they realize that we are all in this together,
striving for perfection in this imperfect body.
What better way to teach your
children about God’s love than to love them with the love of the Lord?
If it is true that people learn
from example, then the best example is to love our children. Spend this season
with them, because it is so short. Impress upon them the word of God through
our love for them and through our daily lives. Fill them up with love and build
them up on God’s teachings, so that they in turn can love others and build
others up in God’s teachings.
Perhaps one day, when they are
mature Christians, they will look back and say, “I learned to strive for
perfect faith through my imperfect parents.”
Liturgy: The Place of Memory in the Composition and Practice of Liturgy.
Atkins, Peter. Ashgate Publishing, 2004.