With the launching of my firstborn son into independent adulthood, I’ve been wrestling with how parenting is a bittersweet intermingling of celebration and sadness. From the moment a baby is placed in his parent’s arms, they wrap their arms tightly around him, knowing that the ultimate goal is to let him go one day. As parents, we pray for our child’s good, but know that it will eventually lead him out into the world to pursue God’s purpose for his life. When he leaves home, we simultaneously throw one hand up in triumph while discretely wiping away our tears with the other. We gently push him out of the nest, struggling against the instinctive desire to pull him back in for shelter under our wings. We cautiously observe those first tentative toddler steps, and then applaud a confident sprint to adulthood. As I pondered the paradox of this parenting moment, some questions came to mind that might be helpful to consider as we raise our children: Whose voice are we tuning their ears to listen to? What foundation are we planting their feet on? Where are we teaching them to look for guidance? Which appetites and values are we feeding and cultivating?
The parent’s voice is the first one heard by a child. He becomes familiar with it as he grows in his mother’s tummy for nine months, and this familiarity instills comfort as he hears it sing the first lullaby. He hears this same voice whisper, “I believe in you,” when he lacks confidence in himself. He recognizes this familiar voice as it prays over him during the darkest hours of the night. As familiar as our voices are to our children, God’s voice should be even more discernible. It is critical that we train them to listen for the voice of truth among all the lies of the enemy ringing so loudly in the world today. As in the process of tuning an instrument, they will only be able to recognize the dissonance of the wrong pitch when they have first been taught how to listen for harmony of the right one. When we spend time with them in God’s Word, the very definition of truth, they will recognize this truth when they hear it. As they see us valuing and prioritizing the Word in our own lives, they will be encouraged to do the same. They will then hear God clearly whispering into their souls in the dark when we are no longer physically present to do so.
Learning to stand and walk is a progressive endeavor. It begins with pulling up on a steady object, taking the first uncertain steps while holding onto a parent’s hands, and then bravely letting go to walk independently. When a toddler first attempts to let go and walk on his own, he wobbles along with a tentative trust in the ground beneath his feet. As he discovers the perfect combination of coordination, balance, and strength, he is eventually able to take a few steps away from us and gains confidence that the foundation he’s standing on is not going to give way. Similarly, we must build our child’s trust in his spiritual foundations through the practice of disciplines that encourage him to love God with his heart, soul, mind, and strength. As he discovers that the Christian worldview provides a firm foundation that is both reliable and unshakable, he is then able to step out into the world with calm assurance, knowing that this worldview is undergirded with solid evidence to back up its truth claims. He is able to walk confidently, having placed his faith in the One who set the foundations of the world in place.
Our children begin life looking to us to meet their every need. We feed them, clothe them, shelter them, and comfort them when they are afraid. But there comes a time when we will no longer be around. If we have modeled the Christian life faithfully, they will look to God, as revealed in His Word, for guidance. Otherwise, they may be tempted to look to worldly ideologies to guide them through life. Celebrities, politicians, athletes, or online personalities are more than willing to exercise influence if we let them. Or they may even look within at their own emotions to tell them which way to go, and that is a dangerous path to follow. Emotions shift from moment to moment and provide no absolute certainty. Just as a compass is magnetized to point to true north, we must magnetize their internal compasses to point to the truth. As we teach them that the Bible is sufficient to guide them in every area of life, it will become their go to navigational tool when they inevitably become lost at some point along the way.
Our children are born with innate cravings and preferences. My son once told me I was ruining his whole life when I made him eat green beans. He obviously was born with a distaste for green beans. He did eventually eat his beans at my insistence because I knew they were good for him. I’m also happy to say he survived the ordeal, and his whole life was not ruined. Sometimes we have to cultivate a taste for certain things in our kids’ lives in the way of habits or entertainment choices. They may not initially like something that we know is healthy for them, but we encourage them to consume it anyway, and to stay away from unhealthy choices. It works the same way with values. If they see us acting kindly and charitably toward others, odds are they will imitate this kind and charitable behavior. If they see us acting with indifference to those in need, they will likely follow our lead. Just like when we eat our veggies, if we model the behavior we want to see in them, they are more likely to do the same.
Sending Them Off
As difficult as it is to see our children walking out into the great unknown, we can be assured that they and their future are fully known by God. Eyes that once looked to us for guidance now peer off into the distance to discern God’s direction for their lives. Ears that once listened to our words of wisdom now listen for God’s voice to follow where He leads. Feet that once tottered along with uncertain steps now walk away confidently to a world that desperately needs to know the only firm foundation. And that makes a parent’s heart happy.