When the latest trend or toy whizzes past your child's eyes, do you wonder how to keep him from worldly distractions? When your daughter's friends dress five or ten years older than they are, do you worry about their influence on your pre-teen?
Raising children is not getting any easier. However, the Word of God stands true and unchanging even in a world that is changing by the second. Learn strategies to teach kids about priorities and intimacy with the Lord from Pastor Scotty Smith of Christ Community Church in Franklin, Tennessee.
How do I keep my child from wanting to get involved in too many different extracurricular activities, and from wanting so many material things?
"I think it was Richard Foster in the beginning of Celebration of Discipline who said that 'muchness and manyness' become our contemporary, American way of life. We work so hard not to sit here and be restless because we busy ourselves, we medicate ourselves so as not to confront the fact that we really are empty," says Smith.
The way to help your child prioritize his time is to set a good example in your own life. Even if you are not a resident of the United States, much of the American way of "busyness" has most likely infiltrated your own habits, and you may not realize it. Here are a few tips to help you strategize the way you, and ultimately your children, spend time.
• Set aside 10 to 30 minutes each night reflecting on your day. You can even ask your children to join you. This could be at your evening meal, or some other time when it's convenient for the family. What choices did you make today, and how do they relate to the Lord? Were they in keeping with His Word, or is there something you can lay before the Lord for forgiveness? Invite your children to be honest with you, yes, but most importantly with God.
• How many things are you currently involved in on a week-to-week basis? Now, how many of those things do you have express, specific leading from the Lord that you're supposed to be involved in it? Oftentimes, we take on responsibilities and even just "fun" activities that are more life-draining than they are life-giving. We must constantly check our schedules and present them to the Lord with the question: Is this something You want me doing?
• How much time do you–or your older children–spend at work? If you find yourself spending too much time at the office, re-evaluate your priorities. Ask your boss if you can work only the full-time schedule you were hired to work, and extra hours only on an emergency basis. Remember, work is one of God's means to supply our needs, not our needs and everything else we–or our children–could ever want. Now, ask your older children: Are you working to learn responsibility and pay for things you need, or are you working to have money that's spent on frivolous things that have no real worth?
• Write a life mission statement, and encourage your children to sit down with you and write their own. The statement expresses what you want your life to be most concerned with. Take into account your God-given passions, talents, and gifts. Do you have a heart for children, and feel that God has called you to minister His love to them? Has God blessed you with a family and a husband or wife? If so, they need to somehow be incorporated into your personal mission statement. When you hold up opportunities for service and other involvements against this mission statement, it will be easier to decide how to prioritize your time.
How do I help my child make sense of the negative circumstances that occur in life?
Smith replies, "Spurgeon said, 'God whispers in our prosperity and shouts in our suffering.' The megaphone of suffering is oftentimes one of the main ways the Father finally gets through."
It's important to teach your children that times of suffering are ideal times to ask God questions. They need to make sure they're not expecting a certain answer from Him though. Instead, teach your children to ask the Lord more than why, but also what. What can I learn from this? What do you want me to do in response to this?
As your children watch you employ this strategy in your own life and in circumstances that affect the whole family, they will understand that God is a gracious, loving God who does not shy away from our questions. Rather, when we are sincere and when we wait on Him, He answers us with truth and gentleness.
How do I teach my child about the beauty of God's unconditional love and forgiveness?
The best way, says Smith, to teach your children about the love of God is to model it sincerely in your own home. Smith shares that his own parenting experience would look different now than it did when he was raising his now grown children.
He says, "Darlene and I reflect and we thought, 'How powerful it would have been if we had started our healing journey sooner so that the first experience of the Kingdom [of God that] our children would have tasted was a humbled, broken mom and dad who are working hard to live out radical forgiveness with each other, who are not paranoid about their children making mistakes, but would parent by grace?' I think in an environment like that, the image of God even in the heart of a fallen child is going to resonate with something. There's something about humility and God's grace that's very attractive even to the fallen heart."
Ways to model forgiveness and love include: admitting your failures with your children and to your spouse, asking their forgiveness, and turning away from habits that enforce guilt or anxiety on your children and spouse.
How do I teach my children the importance of living by faith, but also expressing their emotions instead of denying them?
Smith replies, "Number one, it's a sinful thing that you would disown any emotion God would give you. There's no such thing; it's wrong to assume that anger in and of itself is bad. The apostle Paul says 'in your anger do not sin.'"
The important thing, again, is modeling that you experience real frustration, anger, and sadness. But let them see how you handle those emotions. Let them see you turning to the Word of God for your strength. And when you handle your feelings inappropriately, you don't have to hide that from your children. As you learn from your mistakes, use the experience to teach your children too.
Second, encourage your children to express their real emotions with you, but teach them how to respond properly–by bringing their feelings to the Lord and letting Him show them the right way to act.
Let your children know that you are open to hearing how they really feel, but you expect them to express themselves without dishonoring you. That may mean that they can tell you they disagree with a rule and they are upset about it, but they should neither defy the rules you set nor choose to disregard them if you refuse–after listening to them plead their case–to change them.
Let them see that how they feel is important to you, and important to God. Ultimately, however, they need to understand that guidelines are established for our protection and well-being.
How can I teach my kids the importance of vulnerability, that they do not have to fear being honest with God and that transparent accountability with other Christians is vital?
One way to help your kids see the benefit of being real is to help them when they are honest with you and your spouse. For instance, when they admit to having broken a rule or having done something wrong, don't just sentence them and leave them to their punishment. Instead, tell them a story of your own experience when you made a similar mistake and how it cost you. Show them where in the Bible it addresses the wrong they've committed and why God has established such guidelines.
Another way to help your kids see the importance of being vulnerable is to be vulnerable with them. Remember, children can teach adults just as easily as adults can teach children. Maintain an attitude of teachability when raising your kids, and they will respect you for it.
Also, be willing to admit your own faults, and to ask for your children's input. Smith recounts his own experience in vulnerability with his daughter, "I asked her this question: 'Sweetheart, how would you say your dad has loved you poorly in your life?' Of course, I wanted to grab that back real fast because that's vulnerable, but . . . the effect was this: It's kind of like I'm in the process of looking at my own story; I'm reflecting upon a great trauma in my life–the death of my mom; I'm getting stirred up to see how many relationships have been negatively affected by my refusal to go to that healing place; the movement of the Gospel propelled me simply to go to the place that parents oftentimes are absolutely paralyzed to ask their children: How have I failed you?
"And out of it, my daughter–her response–was overwhelming, I mean the compassion, the joy, the tears, the sharing of that level with her young husband . . . getting unstuck in the ways they poorly communicated. And so that domino effect of simply seeing my heart reflecting on loving my daughter well, but moving from simply acknowledging that to saying, 'What would this look like in terms of reconciliation?' To see her now tender with me in a way that she's never been, to see it now spilling into her young marriage . . . I mean this is the way the Gospel's meant to run."
Even though Smith's daughter was grown and married when he asked the crucial question, it does not hurt to continually ask your children as they grow: How have I failed you in the way that I love? How can I, as a parent, love you better? How can I be more of a servant to you?
Reflection, modeling, and vulnerability are just three key ways that will aid your journey in raising children who don't just know about God, but they have a close relationship with Him. They love Him and live their lives in service to Him.
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