As I sat with my arms around my little girl desperately trying to keep her from disobeying my instructions yet again, she defiantly squirmed out of my arms and onto the floor of the church sanctuary. I pulled her back up only to be met with more defiance and with anger as well. This, and other manifestations of this attitude, went on throughout the second half of the evening service. As I got more and more frustrated, having to remove her from the room several times, I thought to myself, “What is wrong with this child? Why is she so difficult? Where on earth did she get this stubbornness and anger from?”
I would love to say that I handled the situation in a perfect Christ-like manner, but you can probably tell already by the thoughts in my head that I did not. Shortly after the service fiasco, I had a Eureka moment (whether or not it came before or after I was in the car weeping in prayer before the Lord in frustration and repentance I cannot recall). A short time before this I had heard a sermon in which the preacher spoke about a child’s sinful behavior. One point he made was that to look for the source behind it, parents often need look no further than in the mirror. This thought came to me and I realized I was the culprit.
Indeed, I had to admit responsibility for my child’s behavior in part. Do not get me wrong. I am not saying that apart from my influence I would have perfect little angels. I know that my children are depraved “little sinners,” as a man from my church once phrased it during a study on family worship. Scripture makes that clear:
“Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” - Isaiah 51:5
“Folly is bound up in the heart of a child,” – Proverbs 22:15a
“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. – Romans 3:11, Emphasis Mine
However, children respond so much to the influences around them. They not only are molded by the teachings we bestow upon them, but are probably shaped by our behavior more so.
Children love to mimic what they see and hear. I often have seen this in my almost 3 short years of parenting. Sarah will mimic the dance moves the characters do on her favorite shows. She will repeat phrases I would rather she didn’t (with one game on my tablet, she would respond “Poo!” whenever she lost - which was often during church, because she would hear me say that). I’ll even catch the girls mimicking each other, making similar sounds that the other has made which my husband and I truly believe is an intentional effort to drive us insane. Our actions and words are important because they will most likely copy that which they see played out in the lives of their loved ones most of all.
Child training is not only about teaching them what God’s Word says or telling them when they do something right or wrong. It is about being an example for them. It is showing them how to live what the Bible says. Paul exhorted the church at Corinth to imitate him (1 Corinthians 11:1). We as parents need to imitate Christ so that our children may follow our example.
Children need to see us exhibiting two main qualities, I believe: loving God and loving others. If our lives are molded by these two things, I think we are on the right track to setting a good example for them. Much of what Scripture instructs us in is based on these two love focuses. If we love God, we will obey Him in our actions. If we love others, we will be kind to them.
Being an example includes what we fill our time with. If they looked at how our time was spent, what would they conclude our priorities to be? Do they see us practicing spiritual disciplines more than they see us on the Internet? What kinds of shows do they see us watching? If Christ is not the focus of our lives, children will notice. If His commands are not gearing what we do, they will catch on too.
Another thing to consider when being an example is what we spend our money on. Do they see us always spending on ourselves, buying the newest technology or trendiest clothing…or do they see us giving our money to those in need, to the church, or even to self-purchases that are for our spiritual growth? A lot about a person can be determined by how they spend their money.
At this point, I want to make very clear that simply teaching them to be moral will not save them. We need to teach them God’s Word and lead by our conduct, but it is ultimately repentance and faith that regenerates and gives new life to someone who is dead in their trespasses (Ephesians 2:1-3) However, we must do all that we can to not be a stumbling block in their coming to Christ. Let us not let them be able to justify rejection of Christ because mom and dad were hypocrites, not obeying God’s Word which they claimed was so vital to their lives.
We must not only represent Christ to our children, we must also show them our own sinfulness. By this, I mean revealing to them that even as Christians, we battle with the flesh daily and need to repent. How does this help? It again shows them how to apply God’s Word by seeking God’s forgiveness and the forgiveness of those we have offended. It shows them that sin does not just affect the person partaking of sin, but it also hurts others and offends a holy God. When they know that mommy and daddy have been weeping before the Lord over a recent sin or they see us apologizing to someone we have slighted, it reveals how imperative reconciliation is in both instances. This is a wonderful lesson for our children to observe and see God’s grace and learn the importance of humility and forgiveness.
So what do we do when we realize our children have witnessed us acting in an ungodly way? We talk with them and explain to them how wicked our behavior was and how we need to seek forgiveness. We tell them and even show them what should have been done as the right response. We do not just pretend as though nothing happened and try better next time. We need to teach them that each sin as it is discovered needs to be dealt with as soon as possible.
We need to pattern our lives according to the teachings of Scripture, not for our benefit alone, but to show our children that we love God and His ways so much that it shows in our daily lives from how we treat others to what activities we participate in and more.
Let us dedicate each day to praying for God's guidance and wisdom and striving to live holy lives for the glory of God. Our children will see this and will be eternally impacted by it.