Raising Children of Peace
Edited by Farley and Betsy Jones
Chapter 1 - Vision for the Family
Preparing Your Child to Love God
Not long ago I happened across a delightful little book entitled Children's Letters to God. One of my favorite letters included in the book is this one:
Dear God, I didn't think orange went with purple until I saw the sunset you made on Tuesday. That was cool! Eugene
This little letter brought to mind times when our family was all together in the car driving across upstate New York toward Michigan to visit grandparents and we would find ourselves driving toward a flamboyant sunset. Remarks would be made about the beauties of creation and what a great artist God is. In those precious moments we would sense the reality of God, His greatness and love of the beautiful.
This is just one example of how our family has felt God's presence and reality. There are many other happenings that can be recalled, and I'm sure your family has its own rich store of memories and experiences that have provide you with a "skin-touch" relationship with God.
To backtrack a bit, as I was growing up in the beautiful north country of Michigan, I felt a deep longing for a real relationship with God. I was able to sense the greatness of the heart of God through music, songs of the Christian faith. One in particular that touched my heart was a verse from the song, The Love of God, which goes like this:
The love of God is greater far than tongue or pen can ever tell.
It goes beyond the highest star, and reaches to the lowest hell...
Could we with ink the ocean fill, and were the skies of parchment made.
Were every stalk on earth a quill and every man a scribe by trade.
To write the love of God above would drain the ocean dry,
Nor could the scroll contain the whole, though stretched from sky to sky.
To somehow grasp the vastness of God's love through music was important for me. But to really know and love God meant that I could love and respond to these understandings of God. This ability to respond to love is learned in the family. The groundwork is laid in human relationships within the home and also in the church community.
It has been over twenty-five years since my husband and I became parents. As we experienced the miracle of the births of our children, we felt close to God, as co-creators with Him. We felt it our very important mission to raise each of our children to love and know our Heavenly Parent, God. However, this tremendous task could only be undertaken with a lot of prayer and a lot of faith that somehow God could use us to fulfill our parental role. Our desire was there but we were such imperfect parents to try to teach our growing children of a God of love and perfection!
According to one religious leader of our time, the Reverend Sun Myung Moon, we have to be responsible for introducing God to our children. According to Reverend Moon,
We have to introduce God's love to our children. In their immaturity children do not automatically know God, so how will you teach them? You must demonstrate love of God yourself.
In order to make a child happy, you must provide him or her with the love of a father and mother. Even more than that, the parents must give their children the love of God; they must represent God, and His love must be made visible through them.
This modeling, which is so important, is exactly what makes the task of parenting so difficult as we feel the responsibility for the spiritual lives of our children.
Linna Rapkins, a dear friend of mine, has expressed the difficulties parents grapple with in attempting to raise our children to know God's love. She has said:
We may try our very best as parents, yet still feel we are not living up to God's expectations of us. We may try to establish traditions in our home which will foster awareness of Heavenly Father in our daily lives. We provide opportunities for our children to be with their friends in the church who hold similar values as they do. And we want them to have opportunities to feel God in their hearts, so they know He exists. If our children have this foundation, they can really benefit from being taught religious truths in Sunday School activities. These must, of course, be discussed in light of their own daily lives. There is not much point in teaching them religious principles if they aren't helped to deal with their problems in their daily life.
One problem faced by many parents is the feeling of inadequacy. We see our faults and don't feel successful in raising children properly. Too many times we do the very things we hate, rather than what we feel is right. But then we have to constantly repent and try again, and remind ourselves that if we fail, repent, and try again, the children can learn that they too, can repent and try again whenever they fail. They don't need to go through life feeling guilty. So even our failures can be a learning experience for them.
Our actions speak louder than words. What we are and do influences our children much more than words. Yet the word, or religious education, is needed as well. And when children are exposed to good modeling, and also are taught religious truths in a way that stimulates their original minds and allows them to blossom and grow in a nurturing atmosphere, they are then allowing a relationship to grow between themselves and our Heavenly Parent, God. As Anna Mow, a religious educator of our time has indicated, children learn of God's love through relationships in the home, then they can be taught the word. With this foundation, a child, especially in the maturing years, is perhaps able to respond to the religious life, receiving inspiration directly from God.
The home environment is so important for a child's growing ability to love God. A loving atmosphere between Mom and Dad is vital to feeling secure and loved, and to understand and feel the love of God. Teaching religious truths and values can come on that foundation. Sunday school plays an important role as a support system for what is being experienced and taught in the family.
We have a record in the Bible of what the Israelites were taught, and it is applicable to our religious education today. This is from Deuteronomy 6:4-9:
Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door-frames of your houses and on your gates.
The Israelites first expected parents to be whole in their own response to God. This is the basic teaching method, the greatest method of all-living the truth. They saw that this was the basic learning method of every child.
Secondly, those wise people of ancient times saw the importance of informal teaching that parents were doing every day. This is learning that all of life, not just special hours, includes God. In other words, the parents should talk about God as naturally as they talk about food and clothes.
Thirdly, they emphasized the need for visual methods, such as decorating the house, wearing meaningful symbols, and establishing traditions within the home. This helps create an atmosphere where family members are constantly reminded of God.
Our modern world has all sorts of distractions, some of them really unprincipled, that so easily seep into our daily lives. But parents hold the key to the atmosphere in the home. And it is in relationships that love is felt, love is nourished, and love grows. If the atmosphere is one of love and acceptance, and a healthy parent-child, husband-wife relationship, then one can feel the love and acceptance of God.
And with the strength of this love, our children will sense the necessity of reaching out to those around them to share this love; it will come naturally. And isn't this the goal of our lives, to live for the sake of others? We learn this within the family, expanding to the communities in which we live. Living in community and serving others is what will bring one true happiness.
Arnold, Eberhard, Children's Education in Community, 771e Basis of Bruderhof Education, Plough Publishing House, Rifton, New York.
The Blessing Quarterly, Volume 1, Number 2, Summer, HSA Publications, 1977.
Blessed Family Journal, Volume 2, Number 3, October, 1984.
Hample, Stuart and Marshall, Eric, Children's Letters To God, The New Collection, Workman Publishing, New York, 1991.
Mow, Anna B., Preparing Your Child to Love God, Zondervan Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1983.
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