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everyday life inside the fishbowl

Thursday Thoughts: Child-Training: Good Citizens or Godly Christians?

on January 1, 2015

mom-son-and-flowersTraining my children has been one of the most challenging tasks I have every attempted. And I am only in the very beginning (albeit extremely exhausting) stage, with a 4-year old, 2-year old, and 5-month old. The aspect of training that challenges me most is training my children’s hearts. As I have read the Bible and good books (one of the most transforming books for me in this regard has been Give Them Grace) and as I have analyzed what I am doing (usually in the shower–my few moments of quiet! 🙂 ) I have realized a very important truth.

Aside from the work of the Gospel in my children’s lives, all of my best parenting efforts, discipline, and training will result in–at best–merely good citizens and nice people.

I have heard people say things like, “If a mule can learn to obey, so can children.” Okay. I suppose that is true. And I do discipline and train my children so that they will follow rules. Life is much simpler when my children aren’t total terrors when we are at the restaurant. Life is much simpler when my children play with each other and their friends without biting each other. I feel fantastic about my parenting skills when someone tells me what good kids I have (because they happened to catch us all on a good day). And if my children continue to follow these rules and learn such good behavior, they–like a mule–will have learned to obey.

These children will likely be nice people who hold the door for the elderly lady with the walker. These children will likely stay out of jail and obey most of the laws.

And that is great! As a tired mom of  kids who still fight and scream and run around like crazy, little, cute monsters, I look forward to the day when all that comes true! 😉

But merely good citizens and merely nice people are not my ultimate desire for my children. Merely good citizens and nice people are people who have learned a couple things:

  1. Conformity to the rules (what people often call obedience) generally makes life easier or smoother.
  2. Punishment for breaking the rules is a negative experience.

Now don’t get me wrong. We have our rules, and we discipline accordingly for broken rules. Do not hit, do not spit, do not throw a fit, do not run away when I say come here. . . All of these rules are necessary to train my children to (by God’s grace) be nice people (not monsters) and good citizens (not criminals). And I can certainly basically force them to go through the actions and conform to my rules. I can instill in them the principle that “the punishment fits the crime” and that the way to avoid punishment is obeying the rules.

But I have a higher parenting goal for my children, a goal that is attainable only through the work of the Gospel. Despite all my best efforts, this is something that I cannot force upon my children. Although I want to, I cannot take their little hearts and turn on the switch that makes them obey God because they love God.

Real obedience is obedience that stems from a love for God because he first loved us.

This is why parenting is so challenging for me. I cannot do for my children the very thing that my parenting wants to accomplish. While this truth has changed my mental and spiritual thinking in regard to parenting my children, I have found the practical application of this truth to be a bit more difficult.

How do I train my children to love God? How do I enforce our rules and discipline appropriately when their young hearts haven’t been captured by the Gospel yet? How do I train them to be good little citizens now without inadvertently encouraging hypocrisy?

As I mentioned, I am still in the trenches, still in the learning stage of all this, but there are some things I am learning. Clearly, only God can do a regenerating work in my child’s heart, but there are things that I can do to help prepare their hearts.

I talk about the Gospel all the time. We have our Bible story time. When I pray with my kids in the morning I speak of the Gospel. When I discipline them I tell them that the discipline is because they sinned. I tell them that they can never obey without Jesus’ help. My four-year old will ask questions, and sometimes we have quite the extended conversation. My two-year old is quick to tell me, “Jesus died on the cross for my sins, because he loves me.”  I pray with them that God would help them to obey him because they love him.

I also regularly (really, all the time) ask them to forgive me for sinning against them. I tell them that I need Jesus too. They see a very, very good picture in me of a sinner who needs a Savior.

So, I am still working out the practicalities of attempting to raise children who will be a godly Christian and not merely a good citizen. But I would say the two keys I have  found at this stage are modeling (I am a sinner in need of a Savior) and talking, talking, talking about the Gospel every day, all day.

I pray that God does a work of grace in my children’s hearts. I pray that he helps me to patiently, persistently, consistently train my children so that they will obey God from a heart that loves God, because he first loved them.

{On Thursdays, I share some thoughts about what God is teaching me in my various roles as a Christian, a woman, a wife, a mother, and a pastor’s wife.}

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One response to “Thursday Thoughts: Child-Training: Good Citizens or Godly Christians?

  1. Linda Huffstutler says:

    It is so humbling to be entrusted with children. God blesses our imperfect efforts, in spite of ourselves, when by grace, we strive to please him with our methods. Pray without ceasing.

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