Tethered to his room by an oxygen hose, Art could do little other than sit and think. The prospect of impending death drove his thoughts back to a time he had desperately tried to forget. Though 20 years had passed, Art could barely contain the sob that surged from deep within.
His son had seemed incapable of taming the impulses that controlled so much of his life. As he had lived, so he had died—quickly and violently—his car wrapped around a bridge abutment on a deserted country road. The police investigation discovered that he had been driving at a high rate of speed while under the influence of alcohol.
As the memories taunted him, Art voiced the question that had burned in the back of his mind these many years. “Would things have been different if I had been there for him?” He saw his toddler clinging to his leg as he walked out the door with his suitcase in hand. He saw the eager sixth grader fighting back tears when Art told him that he would be working late and wouldn’t be able to watch his baseball game. Such scenes had repeated themselves many times.
Art couldn’t recall exactly when his son’s tears had given way to anger and resentment. However, he could remember the increasing alienation throughout his son’s teenage years. He remembered how angry he had been that Terry didn’t seem to appreciate what he was doing for him—the hard work that provided a nice home, food, a stereo, and much more. Even the graduation day “thank-you” seemed forced when Art handed Terry the keys to his own car. “Could it have been different if I had been there more?” He couldn’t help but wonder.
As much as those thoughts caused his heart to ache, it was a more recent incident that convinced Art he had neglected his children .
Just a week earlier, Art had phoned his daughter. Though they had never been really close, Art wanted to express the thoughts that were churning in his heart. But his daughter put him off, explaining that she needed to get back to the party she was hosting. She would call back as soon as possible, she promised.
The call never came.
Now he wondered how often his kids had felt so rebuffed.
Is Art’s case extreme—an exception? No.
Our world offers us an abundance of choices: many affect our families. We sometimes forget that in choosing one thing, we may be turning our backs on another. A job promotion may allow us to provide our family with a higher standard of living, but it may take us away from them. That choice may very well mean we will have less time to spend with our children.
Our children are faced with a multitude of choices also. Participating in certain activities may be good for our children while making it impossible to participate in other equally good activities. Being very active in sports, for example, may take away from study time. But time spent working to get straight A’s may interfere with learning lessons in teamwork and good sportsmanship. And a student who chooses to have a full-time job forgoes time for relaxation or study.
Each day in God’s perfect Eden was 24 hours long. Each day in America still is. We need to fill those days wisely. But a veritable marketplace of choices and opportunities lies before us, and the choices that confront us are not always easy. Each day we walk up and down the aisles, picking and choosing experiences we hope we or our children will enjoy. The problem for many, as they shop for life experiences, is that they wander through the marketplace with no priorities. They grab an inviting bauble from this table, a useful item from that shelf, and some “necessities” from this stack—none of them necessarily bad—but suddenly the basket is full. And then they pass by the table with the highest treasure—a personal invitation to a feast in the heavenly Father’s kingdom. How many families haven’t filled their baskets with dance lessons, baseball or soccer games, school parent meetings, town council meetings, and night classes? They are all inviting and useful activities. But by choosing a maddening schedule of activities and events, families have forfeited quality family time, so much so that no time for spiritual nurture remains.
Several years ago some of us had opportunities to attend workshops on the subject of sharing God’s promises with our children. The opening devotion included this rather thought provoking illustration: Imagine that it is judgment day. Our Lord has separated the sheep from the goats. From your vantage point among the sheep, ready to inherit the kingdom the father has prepared for you, you see your child—on the other side. Maybe you worked hard to fill her life with experiences or his room with gadgets, but at what cost? Certainly that is food for thought.
Art questioned the priorities he had set for himself and his family. He realized too late that it isn’t the experiences they encounter that prepare kids for life, or an understanding of the latest technology that will benefit them most. It isn’t a closet full of brand name clothes that will enable them to face the world with confidence.
What Art finally realized is true. Some of the happiest people on earth have never left the state in which they were born. They may not know how to operate a computer. They don’t fret about what to wear to a party. But they recognize the rich treasure God has given in his promises to be with them, to provide for them, and to give them eternal life in Christ.
God knows what our children need to be prepared for life. That subject has always been important. When the Israelites were poised in the desert, east of the Jordan River, ready to enter the land of promise, God had his people pause. As eager as they were to finally enter the Promised Land, God first took the time to talk to his people about nurturing their children. Speaking about his commandments, God said, “Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds. . . Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land that the Lord swore to give your forefathers, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth” (Deuteronomy. 11:18-21).
The silence in this part of Scripture about feeding and clothing our children or providing a good general education for them doesn’t mean that those things aren’t important. They are. The psalmist wrote, “Sons are a heritage from the Lord, children a reward from him. . . . Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them” (Psalm 127:3,5). The word heritage implies that children are both a blessing and a responsibility. We treasure our children and show our thanks to God for them by embracing them in love. We express that love by providing for them and nurturing them. In short, we simply take it for granted that we are to provide for and nurture our children physically. But God wanted to make sure parents didn’t take the spiritual training of their children for granted or neglect it. They were to spend time with their children and teach them. Their teaching wasn’t to be confined to a few brief minutes given to some cursory daily devotion; they were to apply God’s Words to their children’s lives throughout the day—in their discussions at suppertime, as they walked together to the fields or to visit their friends, in their conversations after they blew out the candles at night, and when they got up the next morning and readied themselves for the day.
What things would they find to talk about and what lessons were they to teach? Quarrels caused by selfishness would provide many opportunities to talk about kindness and generosity. By reminding their children of God’s abundant provisions, the parents could cultivate an attitude of generosity toward others. Their sacrifices and daily prayers provided chances to talk about the effect of sin in their relationship with God and the blessed promise of a Messiah. Harsh words spoken in anger or bitter acts of revenge would provide opportunities to teach about forgiveness. They could teach their children that God’s forgiveness of their sins empowered them to forgive others. At harvest time they might point to the gifts that come from God; and when drought threatened, they could talk about trust. When physical yearnings began to awaken within young bodies, they could talk about God’s gift of sex. They would teach their children that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit and that God would have us honor him with our bodies. Yes, these routine issues provided ample opportunities to train the children. They still do today.
As we monitor what our children watch on TV, we can teach them to be discerning. As we dry their tears after someone has hurt or betrayed them, we can talk about forgiving others because Christ has forgiven us. As we worship and lead our daily devotions, we can remind them of our dependence upon God, our privilege of knowing him, and the natural desire to worship the one who has given us eternal life. We can model a thankful spirit as we acknowledge God’s grace in providing jobs for us and giving us opportunities to support our families. By joyfully obeying God’s commandments, we can guide our children to learn God’s will—and to thank him for all of his gifts. When a serious illness or financial challenge calls for a change in our lifestyle, we can encourage them with the reminder of the mansions God has prepared for us in heaven. When our values earn ridicule and the label of being narrow minded, we can assure them that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us through Christ Jesus.
We must recognize that our children’s well-being is not based on popularity or wealth. People prepared for life are those who are confident of God’s forgiveness, protection, and care. We must recognize that the greatest gift we can give our children is to lead them to that place where there will be no more weeping, crying, or pain. People are prepared who see their entire life as preparation for the eternal glory of God’s heavenly kingdom.
Art had been too busy to teach his children about kindness, forgiveness in Christ, trust, dependence upon God, and many other spiritual lessons. He had been so busy he had forgotten the lessons himself. That tragedy occurs so often.
Let’s talk about this:
- Read Deuteronomy 11:18-20, and reread the discussion on this verse in the chapter. God commanded his people to use every life experience to teach their children of the grace of God. Give some general examples of ways parents can carry out that command.
- Think of ways you carry out the command in Deuteronomy chapter 11 within your home.
- What obstacles hinder you from carrying out this important parental role?
- Take a moment and think about each of your children. What could you do to nurture that child specifically? (You don’t need to share this with the group if you prefer not to.)
- Consider the time and money you do/will expend providing an education for your child. How does the amount of effort, energy, and money you put forth reflect your appreciation for the truth expressed in Proverbs 9:10? How do these issues reflect a need for you to rethink your values?