Raising Christian children (2)
‘Of the making of books there is no end’, we read in Ecclesiastes. And nowhere does that seem truer than in the area of self-help books on raising children. Christians seem to be as affected by this fashion as the rest of society.
Some years ago I received the advice not to read more than one book on child raising in any twelve-month period. Even a man under grace, I was assured, could not cope with the guilt that one such book a year would generate.
There can be lots of reasons for this plethora of publications. One reason is a lack of confidence in being able to raise children today.
Western society is changing so quickly and is so uncertain in its own values and culture that parents feel insecure in their role. The collapse of marriage and family patterns has rocked people’s confidence in the family.
Individualism and freedom of choice in a time of prosperity has lead to a lack of commitment and unwillingness to undertake, let alone complete, a long task like child raising.
Wisdom and life
But God has created us in the family. Our role of filling the world and subduing the creation is to be fulfilled through the family. Our creation as man and woman was to unite us into one human family. We are created in Adam, and in God’s mercy were procreated by our parents as an extension of that original creation.
Furthermore, our sin and our redemption come through the family. In Adam we were all made sinners but our redemption comes through the seed of the woman. Christ was born of a woman and, partaking of flesh and blood, is not ashamed to call us brothers.
We therefore should look to God on how to raise Christian children. We need to study the Bible carefully and obey whatever God’s Word commands.
But there is much more to Bible reading than simple commandments and obedience. God in his Word reveals his plans and purposes, his values and attitudes, our sinfulness and dependency. His Word gives wisdom and life. God teaches us to understand the world in which we live and in which we are to raise our children.
The first step, then, is to trust God. No doubt there are many good books on child raising in our local bookshop. Given the large number of titles, there has to be some good advice even if it is only by random chance.
But what about the Bible? All the Christian books on the subject tell that the Bible is important. They seek to distil the Bible’s teaching – they even quote verses from the Bible – but none of this is a substitute for reading the Bible for ourselves.
The whole Bible prepares us for parenthood. If we trust God we shall put its views into practice in our home and everyday life. Some sections of the Bible, like Proverbs, give fairly specific and detailed descriptions of the wisdom needed to raise a child. Understanding this material is more important than any of the latest and greatest methods of Christian parenting on offer today.
Convictions & character
Much of the Bible’s advice is about our convictions and character, rather than particular practices in parenting. We may think that using the right techniques will enable us to raise our children well. But the calibre of our Christian convictions and character is far more important. These are so foundational that many people overlook them.
For example, the first and most important ‘skill’ in raising Christian children, is the skill of remaining united to our spouse. This is a matter of conviction and character developed in both parents. Faithfulness to the covenant promises – ‘for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health’ – is a key to establishing the environment where children can flourish.
Such unity must not be a legal fiction. It cannot consist in remaining united while refusing to love our wife or submit to our husband. Only as we fulfil the promises – from the heart and in reality – will the children see and understand.
A couple ‘united’ in a violent, rebellious or unloving relationship are not fulfilling their marriage vows, nor are they creating the right context in which to raise Christian children.
A similar matter of convinced character is our commitment to our children. It is crucial that parents take responsibility for their children.
Parenting deprives us of freedoms and rights, and bestows upon us responsibilities and duties. These can be undertaken willingly and joyfully or begrudgingly and with deep resentment. Children will always sense and know what place they hold in our hearts.
This commitment to our children affects a range of issues. For example, discipline is an expression of the commitment of the parent to their child. No discipline is pleasant at the time. It is not pleasant for the child and should not be pleasant for the parent.
Parents who lack commitment to their children often give up on the confrontation that is needed to exercise discipline. It is easier to let children have their own way and for parents to have some temporary peace.
Alternatively, some parents find peace by disciplining, not for the good of the child but for their own benefit. Either way, the child will know our motives, often with greater accuracy than we parents understand ourselves.
Another example is the work-family tension. Whether we understand our sinful and deceptive hearts or not, the children will discern their own place in our priorities. It is not a matter of how many hours we work, or whether we are away from home a lot or a little, or whether it is a two-income family or a struggling single parent.
It is a question of the heart. Is our ‘career’ more important than our children? It is the old question of do we work to live or live to work? Children can endure a lot when they know we are working for their benefit, but they have an unerring sense of reality when we are working for ourselves.
These commitments – to God, to spouse, to children – are all matters of mind and heart. They cannot be ‘put on’. They have to be real. Children will see through hypocrisy every time, even when we cannot see it in ourselves.
No parenting manual can impart the convictions that give rise to such character. It is the gospel that is the starting point for raising Christian children.
is Dean of Sydney, Australia
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