Parenting is not for the faint-hearted. A respected pediatrician was once asked by a mother when was the best time to put her children to bed. “While you still have the strength,” he replied.
Parenting requires time, patience and perseverance. One is never sure from one day to the next what issue we might have to deal with – helping children survive in a rapidly changing society; helping them safely through the trauma of growing years that can bring both laughter and tears; helping them with their successes and their failures; helping them with their decisions, especially their working through the moral issues of right and wrong, truth and falsehood.
We all know that there are some decisions that are more challenging than deciding what to wear or what to eat, for there are times when we have a sense of obligation, a sense of, ‘I ought to…’ or ‘I ought not to…’
It’s here that many people today are confused, for apart from the laws of the land, our secular society has not equipped us to determine what moral obligations we may have. So if we say to growing children, ‘You ought to do that…’ we get the response, ‘Why should I?’ Children will want to know if there is a reason for doing or not doing something.
Many parents have a problem here because they have rejected or ignored God and God’s moral authority over their lives. Ethics have become subjective, doing what feels right. This is one reason why people are ambivalent about sexual attitudes and behavior, or about honesty, theft, and compassion. Pragmatism has become the norm.
Children need to come to understand that morality rests on the authority of God, for we live in a moral universe where there is an ultimate accountability. Without God we all may as well do as we like. There will be no final justice.
Consider therefore Moses’ words: Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise (Deuteronomy 6:6f).
The command of Deuteronomy is that parents should talk about their own faith, creating an atmosphere of learning for their children – when sitting at home, going for walks, over meals and at bedtime.
The parent-child relationship is built into God’s pattern of life and parents are the most important influence on children. Children model themselves on their parents. As someone once observed, ‘Children are natural mimics: they act like their parents in spite of every attempt to teach them good manners.’
In his Second Letter to Timothy Paul told Timothy that he had a great advantage in life: Eunice his mother, and Lois his grandmother had, from his childhood, taught him the Scriptures which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ (3:15).
This weekend we remember Luther’s action in nailing ninety-five theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. Papal indulgences, designed to raise money for the renovation of St Peter’s Basilica, Rome, offered a pay-plan for the ‘satisfaction’ element in the church’s teaching on salvation. Grounding his theses on the supreme authority of the Scriptures for our knowledge of God and salvation, Luther questioned the pope’s authority and the abuses in the sale of indulgences.
In contrast to Timothy, Luther had not been brought up in a home or church where there was a clear teaching about God’s unique work of salvation. He had agonized over the assurance of his salvation. It was only when he came to understand the Bible that grasped all that God in his mercy had done for him. He was saved by faith alone, in Christ alone, through God’s grace alone.
The Scriptures set out clear principles for raising children – not just for parents but also for grandparents, aunts and uncles, family friends and for churches.
Furthermore, the Scriptures indicate that we should not just teach children but that we should be ready to answer their questions – especially about life and death issues, about God and the Lord Jesus Christ, about right and wrong (as set out in the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount). We also need to be prepared to tell our story of faith, explaining what Jesus means to us.
Parents are well placed to blend the demands of society and the needs of the child in a way that fully affirms the dignity of the child and yet also makes that child fully ready for society and not simply to be a self-centered little island.
So we need to keep God’s ancient words to his people at the forefront of our teaching and living: Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Above all, whether we are parents, grandparents, uncles or aunts or cousins, we need to pray – pray for the children.
© John G. Mason – www.anglicanconnection.com