Once at a formal banquet I met a strikingly well-dressed woman wearing a large red zinnia on her black dress. I had never considered single, large zinnias in the category of corsage flowers.
"Isn't this a beautiful gift my little girl gave me for the banquet?" she asked glowingly. I was rebuked. Would I. have graciously pinned the zinnia on my dress, or instead explained to the disappointed child why mothers do not wear zinnias to banquets? For this woman, her child's value ranked above convention.
As parents, our actions flow from the value we put on our children. Ministry families dread the pressure on their children to meet unrealistic expectations. Somehow the pastor's seventh-grader isn't supposed to struggle with peer pressure like other seventh-graders. The pastor's 2-year-old should never scream, "Me do, me do!" when the nursery worker tries to help with her coat.
If parents' self-image is entwined with children's performance, the real question becomes, "How do we look?" rather than, "How can we help our child?" Jesus' evaluation of children cautions his followers in every generation.
Making children welcome
Read Mark 9:33-37.
- What does it mean to welcome someone? For whom do we usually plan a special welcome? Contrast this with welcoming a little child.
- What value does Jesus put on welcoming a child in his name? (9:37)
- How does this affect the way you view your child today?
The disciples probably wanted Jesus to have time for his important ministry. So they tried to shield him from the unimportant nobodies, including the children.
- What about little children prompted Jesus to hold and bless these noisy, wiggly interruptions?
- What have you learned about God's kingdom by studying your children?
- Where does time for this fit in your schedule?
I learned a painful lesson about the tension between valuing a child and the ministry. Jim was to become the pastor of a church in which he had served as interim for several months. We were eager to get involved with the congregation and gladly accepted an invitation to Sunday dinner in the home of one of the newer families.
After plans were made, our son, John, announced that he was to be a guide at the junior high art show that Sunday. We reluctantly had him excused by the host, took him to McDonald's for a drive-through lunch, and dropped him off at the school, arranging for Grandfather to pick him up later.
Can you imagine our feelings when Grandfather described John's three entries in the art show and the appreciative comments of the art teacher about John's helpfulness in preparing the exhibit? John had said nothing about having any entry in the show. But he certainly hoped we would see them when we shared this important event with him.
In our eagerness and good intentions to build bridges to the congregation, we had failed to listen to what was behind our son's insistence that he must attend the art show. God gave us the grace and wisdom to learn from the mistake and to apologize to John for our failure to grasp the importance of the occasion for him.
Once we grasp Jesus' evaluation of children, we're ready for God's instructions on caring for them.
Training and instruction
Last spring I heard a missionary mother reflecting on their furlough with a 3-year-old.
"I was relaxed because I knew he had learned to obey. I could take him into new situations, and he would be secure. He knew what
I expected of him," she added gently. She understood that obedience was for the child's security and would please God.
Read Ephesians 6:7-4 and Colossians 3:20-21.
1. Why are children commanded to obey and honor their patents? How do the stated reasons differ from avoiding criticism of the congregation, not disrupting the schedule, or not demanding attention when I'm busy?
2. What commands are given parents? For what reasons?
Paul's language carries the force of "stop exasperating," "stop provoking them to anger." He recognized parental tendencies. How do parents provoke to anger or discourage?
3. What is the difference in training and instruction? How did your parents train and instruct you?
For insights into how parents can give children training and instruction in the Lord, we'll examine God's early instruction to Jewish parents.
God's instructions on parenting
Read Deuteronomy 5:32-8:25.
1. What are God's instructions to all his people? With what results? (5:32-6:3).
2. As they realize who God is, how are they to respond to him and his words? (6:4-6)
3. How are they to impress God's character and words on their children? (6:7-9) Could you use any of these ways to do the same for your children: spontaneously talking about God, using written symbols expressing devotion to God, dramatizing Bible stories, reading Christian biographies, creating family traditions around events that demonstrate God 's care and concern?
4. How are parents to answer children's questions about God's words? (6:20-25)
Recounting God's provision
One of my warmest childhood memories is hearing my parents recount at the supper table their decision before their wedding that the tithe would come out of the paycheck first. Then they would budget the rest. With gratitude, they told us of God's faithful provisions and blessings in one situation after another.
Jim and I made a practice of discussing at meals things we saw God doing in our family and in others, not breaking confidences but sharing things people had publicly related.
One family told us about the day a two-pound rock flew into the open window of their car, landing on the seat between the parents, not touching anyone in the car. They keep the rock in a special box and celebrate God's protection each anniversary of the event.
One morning Jim took our son John, about 10, for a lakeside breakfast and fishing. When they were hungry and the fish stopped biting, they returned to the car and discovered they had no keys. They retraced every step, searching grass, shore, parking lot, paths. No keys. In desperation Jim suggested that they pray. They looked at the car again and spotted the keys just under the rear tire. What do you suppose was the most remembered part of the fishing trip for father and son?
In Paul's letters to Timothy, he restates some of the principles in Deuteronomy and adds others for Christian families. Look for these principles in 1 Timothy 3; 1 Timothy 5:8; 2 Timothy 1:5; 3:14-17.
As a parent, I pray I will keep the biblical priority in what I in ant for my children above acceptance, prosperity, and accomplishments. "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth" (3 John 4).
Helps for further study.
Dobson, James. Hide or Seek. Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, 1979.
Neff, LaVonne. One of a Kind. Portland, OR: Multnomah, 1988.
White, John. Parents in Pain. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1979.