As exceptional parents, our goal is to pass on the importance of faith to our children. Not a secular faith or a general “Sure, I believe there is a God” kind of faith. Instead, we want our children to learn about a real, interpersonal, loving Lord who has an amazing, eternal plan for their lives!
This kind of faith development must be intentional! If you simply hope it will happen, you will probably be sadly disappointed down the road. And if you don’t do anything, you certainly shouldn’t expect positive results.
Several years ago we had a discussion with a friend who had some experience with organized religion but decided it wasn’t for him. He explained how he wanted his children to know about God, but he wouldn’t force “religion” on them. When we asked if he planned on taking this same course of inactivity regarding their knowledge of reading, writing, and mathematics, he looked at us as if we had lost our minds. “Of course not!” he retorted. “Well, why not?” we asked in return, “After all, can’t your kids catch onto those concepts the same way you hope they’re going to ‘get’ faith?”
He quickly understood our point, and a lively discussion about intentionality in parenting—especially in regard to faith—continued during the course of that evening.
Early on in Scripture, God reiterated the importance of passing on His teaching to the next generation, and He also pointed out how this process should begin:
“Now, Israel, hear the decrees and laws I am about to teach you. Follow them so that you may live and may go in and take possession of the land the LORD, the God of your ancestors, is giving you” (Deuteronomy 4:1).
The members of the older generation were to hear God’s instructions, and then they were to follow them! Their faithful obedience to His guidelines would be the first step in living the abundant life the Lord had planned for them.
This is the critical cornerstone of the faith-building process. As Dr. Jim Dobson explains, children learn more about the Lord by watching what we do as opposed to listening to what we say. In other words, faith is demonstrated by the parents and experienced by the children. We like to call this Faith in Action.
Think about how many things in life you learned by watching, observing, and experiencing as opposed to simply hearing or reading about them. Let’s look at the concept of driving. We’ve all been through the process of reading the DMV manual or sitting in a Driver’s Education course. Sure, the rules of the road are explained. Yes, we get images in our mind of what it must be like in the driver’s seat, traveling down a roadway with other drivers around us. But until we are actually seated behind that steering wheel ourselves with the engine running as we motor motoring down the highway, we don’t totally “get it,” do we?
So much of life is like this! Whether it’s cooking, gardening, home repair, computer work, or interpersonal relationships, humans actually understand the full dynamics of any given situation when they’re knee-deep in it!
Instruction manuals are fine—but life experience beats them out every time!
We love the story of Timothy, the Apostle Paul’s apprentice. The young man became a strong witness for the Christian faith, but how did his faith begin? As Paul retells it, “I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also” (2 Timothy 1:5). Timothy had a legacy of faith in his family! In fact, the apostle describes the foundation as a faith that “lived” in his grandmother and mother—and now it was alive in him. Timothy learned because of Faith in Action.
This is exactly what we want to encourage you to do with your faith. Live it! Let your kids see you read the Word, pray, treat others around you well, reach out to the poor and needy, and, most of all, love and care for them!
We’re not saying that teaching them isn’t important—it is. But first and foremost, live your faith! St. Francis of Assisi famously said, “Preach the gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words.” In other words, humans learn best by example. This is exactly where Ryan got the idea that his daddy might be God. He had seen something that resembled what we’d been talking to him about, and he wanted to know more.
Through a mom and dad’s great and godly example, kids will naturally pick up the elements of faith. But, as we said earlier, we also should be intentional about teaching the Lord’s truths. Here is a reminder of that from chapter four of Deuteronomy:
“Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them” (verse 9).
The older generation has the responsibility of teaching the younger generation godly truths and principles. We are not supposed to let our faith fade away—ever! This means a regular, consistent and intentional effort regarding our Faith in Action.
Excerpted from Straight Lines for Parents: 9 Strategies for Raising Exceptional Kids (c) Sonkist Publishing. Used with permission.