One of my hobbies is gardening. I like it because it gives me a chance to be in solitude to meditate on Jesus' words. It is always a learning experience for me. One of the lessons that I have learned is that plants need room to grow. As a parent, I find that this is an important lesson to remember - children need room to grow in the Lord so that they can develop a deep-rooted faith and bear fruits for Him.
Should Parents Give Their Children Room to Grow?
In Matthew 19:14, Jesus says, "Let the children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven." How can parents hinder their children? Paul tells us, "do not provoke your children to wrath," and he adds, "but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord" (Eph 6:4).
How Do Parents Give Their Children Room to Grow?
In other words, how do we bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord? One such instruction is written in Proverbs 22:6: "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it." Now when we train a child in a new skill, we let him or her practice it until he or she can do it naturally. But sometimes, he or she may not practice it in the way we want. For example, I am training my children, Felicia, 13 and Sarah, 10, to make time for a personal prayer at least once a day. I would like them to get down on their knees to thank the Lord for a good night's sleep as soon as they wake up in the morning. This prayer would also include a request for the Lord to help them with their Christian walk during the day. Unfortunately, Felicia and Sarah find it difficult to kneel down at this time and close their eyes to pray without falling asleep again. Instead, they find it easier to pray quietly by themselves after they have eaten their breakfast and are dressed for school. Since they do not always leave the house at the same time, they are able to decide for themselves during which part of the morning they want to communicate with the Lord.
How Do Parents Exercise Flexibility in Giving Their Children Room to Grow?
It helps to remember that the children God has given us come with different personalities for His purpose. Some grow better when they are given more room. Others need less room. Felicia needs a lot of room to grow. For example, the first time Felicia was invited to a youth fellowship sponsored by a church that was different from ours, I asked her to decline the invitation. Last year, Felicia's friend, Kathy*, invited her again. This time, however, I gave Felicia permission to attend.
"Mom," she said before she got into our white Dodge Caravan, "This church shares some of our beliefs, don't they?"
I did not know and I told her we would need to find out. Then before I dropped her off she turned to ask, "Do I pray with them?"
This was a good question but I did not have a good answer. So I said, "Pray in your heart. God will let you know what to do."
When Felicia came home, she said, "I found the way they prayed to be okay. But I told Kathy, 'Don't get me wrong, but I'm not coming back.'" She explained that she did not think it was appropriate for the youths to be playing hide-and-seek inside the sanctuary. She also noticed a young couple kissing passionately on church premises, and she thought it was at the wrong place and at the wrong time.
This incident taught me that if we believe that our children are given to us by God, then we must learn to trust our children's faith in their Creator. We need to keep calm when our children seem to be challenging us. Children's minds are always thinking. If we have been teaching them about the ways of the Lord as naturally as we have been teaching them how to read and write, Jesus will remain in their thoughts in the same way that they will remember their ABCs. When parents give their children room to grow in their thinking and practicing skills, their children will understand God's words better. They will be able to add to their knowledge about God and relate it to what they say, see, hear, and do.
Sarah, my younger daughter, on the other hand, offers a different challenge. For example, when Sarah learned that her older sister was going to accept Kathy's invitation, she asked, "Why can't I go, Mom? I want to go too!"
"Of course you can go. But wait 'til your friends invite you. Let's do a Bible crossword puzzle."
"I don't want to do a crossword puzzle. It's hard."
"It's good for you."
"I don't want to, Mom."
"What would you like to do?"
"I don't know."
"Shall we look through this magazine and see what we can find?"
"You do it."
I flipped through the pages, and tried to look interested. Suddenly a page caught Sarah's attention. "I can pick a verse and draw a picture to explain it."
"What a good idea!"
How Do Parents Know It's a Good Idea to Give Children Room to Grow?
When I do not know the answer to my children's questions, am unsure about my response, or am losing my patience, I am tempted to shut them up by saying, "Don't think. Just do as I tell you." Usually, I try to catch myself before I become a stumbling block in my children's faith. When children are encouraged to think about the answers to their own questions, they are given a chance to train themselves to think about what is right or wrong. This kind of training also gives them a chance to speak up for the Lord. For example, there is a law in the United States that helps people of certain races or gender get a better education or better job opportunities. One day, as I was listening to a radio talk show, a woman called in to say that she got better job opportunities because her married name helped her to qualify. "I can do that," I spoke my thoughts out loud.
My children quickly chorused, "That's wrong, Mom!"
How Do We Know All This Work Is Worth Our Time and Effort?
Children are full of surprises. Usually they do better than we expect. Felicia is outspoken about her religious beliefs. She began in Kindergarten by telling her teacher that she would not participate in Halloween and Christmas activities. As she got older and more opportunities arose, she shared a little more about her faith. When she got into junior high, she wrote about her Christian values in classroom assignments, and talked about them during open discussions. For example, several months ago, Felicia and her classmates were asked to write whether they thought they would grow up in a more peaceful world. Some of her classmates were hopeful that the world would become more peaceful. Felicia did not think so, and she wrote that the troubles we see and hear are just signs of the end times. She supported her essay with quotes from Matthew 24:5-6, 8, 14, and Luke 21:10-11. Felicia concluded, "Optimism sometimes gives a sense of false hopeâ€¦It's not fair to put people into a 'neighborhood of make-believe'. We must face reality."
Before Jesus went up to heaven, He left these instructions with His disciples: "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mk 16:15). This is our mission today. We must also remember that while Jesus was teaching on earth, He also said, "The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few" (Mt 9:37). Christian parents everywhere must therefore respond to this urgent need. One way is to train our children to be a part of this workforce. We can get started now by giving them room to grow in their faith. Their faith, like ours, will be tested over and over again. But in God's time, this faith will grow to be deep-rooted as the Lord has designed it to be, and we shall see it bear fruit for the sake of Jesus and for the glory of His church.
* not her real name