There is a trend recently to take hand or foot prints of newborn babies. A great idea for a forever memory. A beautiful gift. It strikes me that in order to make a good impression on the clay, there needs to be enough pressure applied by the hand to create an accurate representation. If too much pressure is applied holes and cracks are formed, if not enough it is unclear who the impression belongs too.
I have been thinking about how raising our children in a faith environment can be like this clay impression. Press too hard and cracks can appear in our children’s view of the Father, press too lightly and they may not know Him in the way we desire for them.
In Deuteronomy 6:4-9 The Lord speaks to the Israelites and gives them this message:
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 on 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 doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
Over the last 3 years we have been experimenting as a couple what it means to be a ‘Family on Mission’. Some things have worked and some haven’t. Some things have been sustainable and remained. Others have taken so much energy they were done once and never repeated! However, as I have reflected on the last three years, I have realised that the most accurate impression has been made when we have given our children a life to imitate, and embraced predictable patterns of reading the bible and praying together as a family. What I have witnessed as we have done this (especially in our eldest) is the steady and consistent growth of a walk of faith. Nothing dramatic. Just a life that is now modelling to his siblings the things he has been able to imitate from us and our extended family. His gut response is to pray and he knows God is real. I know if I read this 3 years ago I would have felt like “it’s not possible”, “it’s so far from where we are as a family”. But I want to say to you that “it is!” and it’s only small steps that get you in the right direction.
Years ago I had an ideal that I wanted for the spiritual life of my family. But ideals don’t work alone; they just build feelings of failure and guilt when they don’t happen. In order for our ideal to become our reality we have to put practical steps in place. For example we can say “I really want to grow in my relationship with God” and have that be our desire and wish, but if we aren’t being with Him through prayer, fellowship, and the word then it won’t happen. We have to accept the practical little steps that help our ideals become our reality. The right impression of God in our family is built through building a consistent loving culture of faith through small steps in the same direction. Don’t get me wrong, we are not ‘sorted’ as a family. We don’t get it right with our kids on pretty much a daily basis – but we have the rhythms and patterns in place that enable the culture we want to maintain in our family. We are not leaving the spiritual health of our kids to chance. We want God at the centre and His love first in our relationships; our predictable patterns are the scaffolding that support this culture.
We have learnt from our mistakes but we try to pass on the things that we have found success in. I have tried to think back over the last 3 years (not easy for an intuitive) and remember what the keys things were that we implemented to try and build our ideal into our reality. Think small steps. If these are too big a jump for you try and break them down into a small step towards it.
- Breakfast Prayers. Our most fruitful daily rhythm is breakfast prayers. We read a daily bible reading (children’s translation), apply it to today, and then pray for each other and any other issues. We do it all in 20 minutes. I am convinced that the daily reading of the word has brought the most supernatural transformation in our children. It might seem obvious but our children need us to pray for them daily. They face all sorts of issues in their lives and sharing those with a listening parent who can direct them to their heavenly father is crucial. We have had many answers to prayer especially over issues at school. It has taught the children that God is real, He listens and they have direct access to Him.
- Bedtime is precious. Some of the most important conversations we have had with our children especially about faith and the deeper issues of the heart, like facing fears, have been at bedtime. This isn’t easy as it’s often our most tired time as adults but our children being able to share their hearts with us is vital if we are going to have the right to speak into their lives as they grow and develop.
- Extended family. I cannot express enough the benefit of having extended family (significant other family and friends with faith) around our children. That extra voice that underlines your family values with love and fun has been invaluable. We have a tea slot every week that extended family come to, they also babysit and hang out with us in some of our family times. They are usually cooler than us and tend to be closer in age to our kids than we are. It helps our kids to know there is a life of faith outside mum and dad that I aspire to.
- Be flexible. God is gracious He is not watching over us with a year planner and stop clock waiting for us to fall down when we don’t keep to our rhythms and then criticise. He is motivated by unconditional love. He is full of grace and mercy. Predictable patterns and rhythms are helpful but they only support us to build a culture – they never replace listening to the Holy Spirit and being led by love. When my child doesn’t want to attend something that I think will benefit his discipleship journey, the answer isn’t always you must go! There are times where we need to show heaps of grace to our kids just like the Father does to us.
Andy and Annwen have 3 children, Caleb (12), Toby (10) and Elly (6)