Our children are growing up in a world unlike the one we knew, where basic convictions of right and wrong have been blurred and moral relativism reigns. One of the best ways to combat this problem is to create an atmosphere of general well-being and acceptance at home, so that children can see that the values held by their families do indeed produce the best environment for a fulfilling life.
So how can we create a conducive home atmosphere? Let’s explore it together.
1. Communicating Your Delight
Looking at our children as a blessing influences our attitude toward them. Paul yearned for his spiritual son Timothy and wrote, “Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy” (2 Timothy 1:4). How important it is for children to know that their parents find them delightful and long to see them!
This is the way our heavenly Father looks at us. Zephaniah 3:17 makes the same point: “The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.” The Bible actually teaches that God is thrilled over us!
Children can find special help through sharing with their family members because those members occupy a very significant place in their lives.
If that is the way the heavenly Father views His children, then we have a model for the way earthly parents should view their children. And because God gave us words as the major way to communicate truth, we must express our delight over our children in words. When we praise our children, we increase their joy and ours. Paul often expressed delight over his spiritual children: “Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends” (Philippians 4:1). Our children should frequently hear such warm words of affirmation from our lips.
Not only do we affirm our children, but we also rejoice when they are honoured. Paul says, “If one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26). We should respond with unmixed joy when our children meet with some success or honour. Don’t add qualifying statements like, “Next time, try to do even better”, or, “Now don’t get too proud, you should give all the glory to God.” And don’t become preoccupied with boasting about it to others. Go out for ice-cream as a family instead.
There should be some regular practices in the home that communicate how we delight in our children. When a child gets up in the morning, we can welcome him with joy. When he goes to bed at night, we can tuck them in with a prayer and perhaps a bedtime story. It is a great idea for parents to say goodnight to their adult children, too, before turning in.
One of the warmest opportunities for fellowship in a family is when everyone is together at mealtime.
When a father comes home after work, he can first express his joy at seeing his wife. Then he can go to his children and give them big hugs. Sometimes, children are so happy that they run to the door to greet their father when he comes home from work. When the children leave the house, parents can drop everything to acknowledge their children with something like: “Bye! Have a good time.”
Some Christians who have not experienced such delight from their parents find it difficult to accept the idea that God is delighted with them. They don’t believe that they are delightful people, and can also find it difficult to express delight over their children. They should be aware of this and make an extra effort to do what may not come naturally to them. Our children should not suffer because of our weaknesses.
2. Desiring to Help
Paul beautifully describes his love for the Thessalonians: “But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thessalonians 2:7–8 ESV).
Paul uses three terms that well describe a mother’s attitude towards her children: she is “gentle,” not rough and irritable; she is “affectionately desirous” of them, not distant and difficult to reach; and her children are “very dear” to her, so she does not act unpleasantly to them. These terms all convey a sense of affection and longing. To maintain such attitudes, parents need to keep in touch with God and receive the freshness His love brings.
There are few things that express love to our children better than spending time with them.
Armed with these three attitudes, Paul says he does three things that a mother does. A mother does the work of “taking care of her children.” She not only takes care of her children, but she also cherishes them, that is, she expresses affection to them. Next, she shares the gospel with them. This is the most wonderful thing parents can do for their children—to help secure a wonderful eternity for them. Finally, Paul and his colleagues “were ready to share . . . [their] own selves” with the Thessalonians. Mothers do this so well. But Paul was a spiritual father. This suggests that fathers also should care for their children in these ways.
Put briefly, we “make love [our] aim” (1 Corinthians 14:1 RSV) in our relationship with our children. Then we do what we can to fulfil that desire, even if it is inconvenient or tiring. The best example of this is the love of a mother, which makes her stay up night after night when a child is sick to care for him. But fathers also must show such love.
When our children were young, they would ask me to pick them up after a party or a meeting late at night. Or they would ask whether I could take them to the train station early in the morning—not easy for a night person! Even if I was very tired at the time, I would readily do these things. I tried to communicate that these were things I wanted to do; things I was happy to do. And happiness was always my experience when I did these things. Love is costly, but we don’t dwell on the price, because we know it is a beautiful thing we want to do.
3. Keeping Promises
Another vitally important aspect of our concern for our children is keeping the promises we make to them. Both Jesus and James say that we do not need to take oaths because a simple yes or no should suffice (Matthew 5:33-37; James 5:12). Such failures give children the idea that their parents are not dependable. They may grow up finding it difficult to trust people and even God. Parents should aspire to be faithful like their heavenly Father, who faithfully keeps all His promises.
Paul expressed deep sorrow about not being there and did all he could to compensate for his absence.
Sometimes, parents foolishly make promises that are too difficult to keep. But if they do make a promise, then they must do all they can to fulfil it. Sometimes, we may be able to fulfil a promise at a later time or in a different way. For instance, an absolutely essential meeting requires that a father call off an outing to the beach with his family, but he allocates the next available slot in his schedule to this trip. His children get the message that their father is reliable. He does not forget. He perseveres until he is able to do what he has promised.
When we are forced to break a promise due to unavoidable circumstances, we should focus on the sorrow that is caused rather than trying to justify our decision. Don’t say, “I can’t make it! It’s impossible!” Say, “Oh, dear, I wish I could have come. I’m so sorry!” If we keep telling our children we can’t be with them because we are doing God’s work, they may end up resenting Him.
4. When We Cannot Be There for Them
Sometimes, we cannot be there for our children because of some ministry or other duty. This has been a sad reality in my life and one of the most painful aspects of my travelling ministry. Because my foreign travel schedule fills up about two or three years in advance, I cannot make allowances for important family events that I know about only much later. All busy people have times when they disappoint their children by not being there for important events.
When we know that we are going to be unable to do something or be somewhere that our children would like us to, the worst thing we can do is to snap at them and say something like: “Don’t you realise that I have to do God’s work?” Instead, we should express heartfelt sorrow.
Parents should aspire to be faithful like their heavenly Father, who faithfully keeps all His promises
Paul wanted to visit the Thessalonian church as they had need of his guidance. He says, “Out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you” (1 Thessalonians 2:17). But he could not go. So he went through the inconvenience of remaining alone in Athens and sending Timothy to represent him. He says, “When we could stand it no longer, we thought it best to be left by ourselves in Athens. We sent Timothy, who is our brother and co-worker in God’s service in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith” (3:1–2). Then he adds, “We pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith” (v. 10). Paul expressed deep sorrow about not being there and did all he could to compensate for his absence.
My daughter’s graduation from university was a big event, but I was unable to attend because I was in England. The date of the graduation ceremony had been announced at the last moment, after I had already planned my trip. I sent her text messages expressing my sorrow at not being there and my great delight over how well she had done. I still remember her text reply. I hope the pain she felt due to my absence was reduced by my expressions of sorrow.
Despite all our efforts, sometimes our family members do not understand the sacrifices we make and are unhappy about the demands of our ministry. We should give our family members the freedom to express their disagreement without getting angry. This is a lonely and painful cross to bear.
Jesus had to endure this. Mark records, “A crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat” (Mark 3:20). This seems to have been the last straw for Jesus’ family members. Mark goes on to say, “When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’” (v. 21). Many people were blessed by the sacrifices Jesus made, but the people closest to Him did not appreciate that. Despite our hurt, we must act with restraint when we encounter misunderstanding and strenuously avoid causing further harm to our loved ones.
5. Spending Time with Our Children
There are few things that express love to our children better than spending time with them. This is how parents impart values to their children. When Jesus chose the twelve apostles, it was so “that they might be with him” (Mark 3:14). Parents sometimes say that they have quality time with their children, rather than quantity. With children, however, quality requires quantity. Children spending hours in front of a television or computer may bring some relief to parents, but there is no substitute for personal parental interaction with their children. Computer games and television should never be used as convenient and cheap babysitters!
My friend Dr Lalith Mendis, who was once a medical college lecturer and is now a pastor, has a special interest in developmental issues of children. He tells me that there is a close connection between the time parents spend talking to their children and the healthy development of the children, especially in the area of speech. He says that often, the cause for a speech defect is that the mother does not give sufficient time for speech interaction with the child.
Love is costly, but we don’t dwell on the price, because we know it is a beautiful thing we want to do.
Children learn the security of being loved through long hours spent with their parents, especially their mothers. This is why it is ideal for mothers to give large chunks of time to their children during the first five years of their lives. While grandparents, babysitters, day-care institutions, and preschools can help children, there is no substitute for a mother’s attention. This fact should be a major factor in the vocational choices young mothers make.
I have a friend whose wife took several years off from her Christian ministry-related job. Many of her friends felt that she was doing something very wrong. Her now-happy adult children are testimony to the wisdom of her choice.
Fathers should also spend time with their children. They can play with them, take them places, and watch television with them, discussing what they are watching. I used to find opportunities to chat with my children when I drove them places. Later, when they began using email and text messaging, I had some serious conversations with them, especially my son, through those means.
Of course, us fathers need to get to know the things that our children are interested in if we want to have meaningful conversations with them. If they are interested in music, we need to have some basic understanding of trends in the field. It is the same with sports. We should know about their friends at school and around the neighbourhood. These are things that we must make the effort to learn, out of commitment to our children.
When we praise our children, we increase their joy and ours
One of the warmest opportunities for fellowship in a family is when everyone is together at mealtime. Some years ago, I read an article about research on depression and suicide among teenagers. The researchers found that this problem was markedly less prevalent among teenagers who came from homes where family members had at least one meal together each day. There is a special closeness that arises when people eat together. Eating together was a key feature of the fellowship of the earliest church. Luke says, “They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts” (Acts 2:46).
The article also said that when a family eats together, there is an opportunity for each member to sense the feelings of the others. This gives children a chance to talk about stressful or happy things that they experienced in school. The opportunity to share problems with loved ones helps to reduce the loneliness and stress levels of teenagers. God created us to find fulfilment and healing through sharing our joys and sorrows with others. Children can find special help through sharing with their family members because those members occupy a very significant place in their lives.
The challenges of parenting are immense. As we struggle, especially in the early years of our children’s lives, let us remember that in the Bible, parenting is presented as a huge responsibility and a noble calling from God.
Kent and Barbara Hughes’ excellent book, The Disciplines of a Godly Family, quotes the 19th-century Presbyterian pastor-theologian Robert Dabney, who says, “The education of children for God is the most important business done on earth.” May that biblical perspective help sustain parents when we have to endure the pains and strains of parenting.
Excerpted and adapted from The Family Life of a Christian Leader by Ajith Fernando. © 2016 by Ajith Fernando. Used by permission of Crossway. All rights reserved.