Sunday 20 December 2009

How will our children 'read' us this Christmas?

Children are learning machines. From birth they observe their world and the people who inhabit it. Even if you wanted to stop children from learning you'd find it difficult. The hard part about being a parent is that often we don't have the degree of control that we'd like in the things that our children learn. We often lament the fact that our children don't (or won't!) learn the things we want them to. But in many ways, a much bigger problem is the fact that they learn lots of things we'd prefer them not to learn simply by observing us.

The major task of the parent is to shape their children's character. I doubt that there is any parent, irrespective of their worldview or faith, who would not want to influence their children for good. But unlike the humanist who assumes that all people are basically good or capable of becoming good people, Christians believe that all people are marked by sin and require God's intervention and salvation. The Bible teaches that the "..intention of man's heart is evil from his youth" (Gen 8:21), so consequently, one of the major tasks of the Christian parent is to train our children's hearts. Our aim is not simply to shape behaviour, but instead we seek to influence their foundational beliefs. We do this in many ways. Clearly we set limits on their behaviour and try to train them to demonstrate the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-26), but as Tedd Tripp points out in his book 'Shepherding a Child's Heart', it is easy to spend most of our time focusing on our children's behaviour and to neglect the need to train their rebellious hearts that produce the behaviour (Luke 6:45). We need to work constantly to orient our children towards God. We do this in many ways.
By teaching them about Christ and their personal need of forgiveness and redemption.
Through the example that we set for them and the extent to which our own behaviour reflects the orientation of our own hearts towards God.
The priorities that our family life demonstrates - how much is life within our families shaped by our faith in Christ and our desire to know him better?
At Christmas Christian families have great opportunities inside and outside their homes to speak about and demonstrate the reality that Christ lives (!) in their hearts and lives. And yet, it is easy at this time to demonstrate inadvertently the opposite in our words and actions towards others and hence provide confused messages and priorities for our children. While my children are grown up, I still have a responsibility to provide an example to my children and grandchildren, and members of our extended family. And I still find it challenging to provide a message in my actions that matches my faith in Christ and the priorities that I say have shaped me.

So as we approach Christmas it would do us all a lot of good to consider in advance how our family members will 'read' us at this time when we celebrate God's grace and mercy in breaking into the world in the person of Jesus. I offer some questions below for self-evaluation that I've framed broadly enough for those of us who don't have young children.
Do we speak of God's grace at this time and yet demonstrate lack of forgiveness in our attitudes and actions towards our family members, fellow Christians, workmates and neighbours?
Do we talk of the love of Christ and yet demonstrate a coldness of heart that fails to show patience, kindness, and gentleness in the way we deal with others?
Do we speak of the generosity of God in sending his Son into the world and yet demonstrate avarice, greed, envy and jealousy?
Do we speak of the priority of Christ in our lives and yet at this time demonstrate in our actions that other things gain priority over our devotion, love and service in Christ's name?
Paul challenges his readers in several of his letters to be imitators of godly men and women who in turn are imitators of Christ (1 Corinthians 4:16; 11:1; 1 Thessalonians 1:6; 2:14). Similarly, the writer to the Hebrew church exhorts his readers to be imitators of those who through faith and patience have inherited the promises of God (Hebrews 6:12; 13:7).

Our children read us every day. How will they read us this Christmas?

Related posts

My review of Ted Tripp's book 'Shepherding a Child's Heart' (here)

'How not to teach children to gamble' (here)

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