On this earth, our human relationships reflect spiritual relationships and can serve to teach us many things about our relationship with God. For most of us, the first, most fundamental relationship is that of children relating to our parents. Time and time again in Scripture, God describes himself as our Father, and we gain much of our understanding about Who He is based on how we have interacted with our human parents. And so one thing that has become foundational to my husband and me is that we behave toward our children in such a way as to teach them experientially from the moment of their births things that are true about God, things that will help, rather than hinder their relationships with Him, because the ultimate goal of parenting should not be independent children, but children who transfer their dependence on their parents to dependence on God. It is out of that desire that we have sought, in our very fallible way, to model our parenting of our children after the Lord’s fathering of His children.
One of the most basic ways this has been played out practically is in seeking to always be available to our children. This is a somewhat revolutionary thought and one that severely goes against our independence-loving culture. All around I hear moms talking about how much they want to get away from their children. They can’t wait for school to start so they can get something done. They need “me time” so they don’t go crazy. And they need babysitters for everything, babysitters during Bible study and church, babysitters so they can hang out with other couples, and babysitters for clubs and “Mom’s Day Out;” I even had a lady suggest to me that I should have a mother’s helper come in so I could do my laundry. It was quite a revelation to me the day I asked myself, is this the way God treats us? I came up with a resounding, “NO!” Consider the following verses, which are just the tip of the iceberg:
Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the LORD thy God, he that doth go with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee. –Deuteronomy 31:6
I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.–Hebrews 13:5b
Psa 55:16,17 As for me, I will call upon God; and the LORD shall save me. Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice. –Psalm 55:16,17
Psa 34:15 The eyes of the LORD are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry. –Psalm 34:15
…and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen. –Matthew 28:20b
We have come to the conclusion that just as the Lord is always with us, we should seek to be with our children as much as we possibly can to help foster in them the kind of trust that they will eventually transfer to the Lord. But the Lord doesn’t stay with us just to comfort and help us, He is discipling us, chastening us, teaching us through His Word and through carefully chosen life experiences, all for the purpose of conforming us to the image of His Son. So, too, we believe, should we as human parents have as our purpose discipling our children toward Christ-likeness. And, interestingly enough, there’s a direct command for parents that seems to me to illustrate this principle.
Deu 6:6,7 And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. –Deuteronomy 6:6,7
The picture here is one of discipleship, it’s one of parents taking their children everywhere with them. It’s a system in which no teachable moment is ever missed. Not only do the children have constant access to their parents, but the parents are constantly investing in their children, constantly teaching and training. And the children who are parented in this way, learn not just from their parents words, but from their examples also. This is exactly the relationship that our Heavenly Father has with His Son.
Then answered Jesus and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, the Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise. For the Father loveth the Son, and sheweth him all things that himself doeth: and he will shew him greater works than these, that ye may marvel. –John 5:19,20
Showing our children what we’re doing, teaching them to do it, too, working together: this is the kind of relationship that fosters the closeness necessary for our words to have weight with our children. Consider:
Pro 23:26 My son, give me thine heart, and let thine eyes observe my ways. –Proverbs 23:26
How many teenagers lament that their parents “just don’t understand” them? We want to have our children’s hearts, and though we don’t have teenagers yet, we believe a key element of preparing for that time is simply spending A LOT of time with our children from Day 1 so that we will truly know and understand them and they us, and so they have a chance to observe our ways. And, of course, we’re not just trying to produce clones of ourselves to pad our own egos. As Paul said,
Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ. –1 Corinthians 11:1
Any fruit that we hope to see in our children’s lives must first be evident in our own lives. We need to be working together as a whole family toward godliness, and as parents, it’s our job to take the lead both through direct training and example.
We all have the tendency to want to be like whomever we spend the most time with. If we want our children’s hearts, if we want their eyes to observe our ways above the ways of their friends, the people on TV, and the media all around them, if we want them to have the kind of relationship with us early on that will help them understand a right relationship with God later, then we need to never leave them nor forsake them, our ears need to be open unto their cries, we need to tell them about the Lord throughout the day, and show them everything we do.
So, how do you really go about this day by day? I’m definitely still learning myself! In a moment, though, I’ll share some of the things the Lord has taught us so far on what it might mean to be discipling our children. But before I start, I do want to emphasize one very important thing. What I’m about to say is the practical outworking of the principles I’ve just gone over as my husband and I have applied them to our family. Your family is different. Please consider what’s here and take what is helpful. I’m not trying to create a new law that you must live by or else you’re a bad mother and a bad Christian. These are our convictions, and they are genuine convictions, but I’m not here to judge you if you have different ones. My motivation in sharing these things is simply to encourage you and to give you some idea of what this lifestyle could look like, but it’s up to you (and your husband!) to decide what thoughts, if any, you’ll implement in your home. With that in mind, let’s get started.
When we have a tiny baby, discipling mostly means modeling God’s faithfulness by letting him be with us all the time. We try to put him where he can see what we’re doing and talk to him and sing to him as much as possible. And if he’s struggling, I try to lay my work aside. This can be REALLY hard sometimes. But I always remember that my baby has an eternal soul. My first child wanted to be held all the time, so I know what it’s like to not even feel like you can sit down and eat. Sometimes housework isn’t going to get done. Sometimes we may have to eat frozen pizza for dinner. But what I invest in my baby is forever. I once read a wonderful line in an article by Tamera Eaton, entitled, A Wasted Day? It said, “I don’t plan on taking my dirty laundry with me to heaven, but I do plan on taking my children.” My baby needs a mommy who’s going to disciple him by showing him consistent love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance more than he needs a dust free environment or an uncluttered nursery.
As our babies have grown, what the principle of discipleship has meant for us is that we’ve made the commitment to include our children in our day to day work just as our Heavenly Father graciously lets us bumble our way through participating in His work. Since I’m the one home with them most of the time, that mostly translates to including the children in day to day work. I make a real effort to keep them in the same room with me all the time. If they’re truly too young to be involved, I at least let them get their hands messy, so to speak. If they can’t fold laundry yet, I let them have some small towels to wad up in a ball. And an older baby in a front pack or sling can help put laundry in the washer or empty the silverware tray from the dishwasher into a drawer. As soon as they can stand up reliably by themselves I let them start helping a little in the kitchen with dumping in ingredients and stirring. And toddlers can try their hand at washing dishes or scrubbing potatoes or carrying things in from the car. And while I’m doing all these things, I can be singing hymns with them, talking to them, and of course, answering lots, and lots, and lots of questions, questions that would never come up if they were in the other room watching a video.
Is it impossible to be efficient in this kind of arrangement? Well, yes and no. What I’ve discovered is that when I succumb to the overwhelming urge to do something “efficiently” and try to leave my children in another room playing by themselves, they always make the biggest messes. These are the times that they tend to break things, draw on the carpet, take toys away from each other, and generally make it impossible for me to work efficiently! As Proverbs 29:15 says, “a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame.” I find it actually saves time in the long run to include my children whenever I can.
Another commitment we have made is to always worship with our children. We have decided that even if we go to a church one day that has these things that we will never place our children in church nurseries or Sunday school classes, not because they are fundamentally evil, but because we feel they can be a case of the good getting in the way of the best. WE are the ones responsible before God for the training of our children. We don’t want to give up that responsibility, that privilege, to anyone. We also don’t want to send the message to our children that we can’t worship God with them around. And they soak up an awful lot! My oldest, when she was three and a half, was already asking questions about the sermons she was hearing. Even very young children can learn to sit quietly in church. And before you know it, they’ll be participating. At our little meeting, we have a family whose two oldest boys are ten and twelve, and they’ve been answering questions in the whole group discussion time for over a year now.
Another thing we’ve done is to think long and hard before we get a babysitter. We view it as a sign that we have our children’s hearts that they want to be with us, to go where we go, and do what we do, and we don’t want to undervalue or diminish that desire. We do go out on a date by ourselves every once in a while, (but we take along any baby who’s still exclusively nursing), and my husband and I take turns going to the gym a couple nights a week, but on the whole we take our children everywhere, even out to dinner or to “grown-up” events like adult friends’ birthday parties. This, of course, necessitates a lot of extra training, but since our children are going to spend most of their lives interacting in an adult world, we figure the sooner they learn how, the better off they’ll be.
One other major commitment we’ve made that I would seriously encourage you to consider is homeschooling. I personally think it would be extremely difficult to really disciple my children if they were away from me six or seven hours a day. Frankly, I can’t imagine how I could obey the Lord’s command to talk of His commandments when I sit in my house, when I walk by the way, when I lie down, and when I rise up, if my children weren’t with me when I was doing all those things. Not everyone can homeschool, of course, but if you have the chance, I wouldn’t pass it up.
This path that I have described is far from easy. In fact, if you decide to try any of it, it will probably often feel like the hardest kind of parenting imaginable. We’ve been working alone all our lives, and our flesh likes to remind us how easy it would be to go back to doing things that way. I know I fail so often in truly being open to my children, but the days when, by the Lord’s grace, I manage to do all these things I’ve shared are the happiest and most peaceful of my life.