For parents, few things are more important than keeping our kids safe. It’s why we incessantly check on them as babies to make sure they’re still breathing, place child-proof locks on every cabinet despite the fact that they’re also parent-proof, and lose half a year off our lives every time we go thirty seconds without knowing where they are. While my kids are still young (three years old and two months respectively), I imagine that need to keep them safe will never really go away.
For the most part, that instinct serves both us and them well. We teach them about the dangers of playing in the street, warn them against touching a hot stove, and help them learn who to trust because we know a time will come where they will have to use that knowledge without us around, and the wrong choice could have devastating consequences.
Yet, how often do we take the same approach to teaching our kids about God? If we compared the time spent instructing them on how to live safely with that spent as a family in God’s word or telling stories about Jesus, in which direction would the scales lean? While the practical consequences of running out into a busy street could appear more severe than growing up with a surface-level knowledge of our Lord, we shouldn’t take the potentially eternal cost of the latter for granted.
In Deuteronomy 6, God instructed the Israelites—and us by extension—to teach our children to love God with their heart, soul, and strength (Deuteronomy 6:4–9). Jesus would later call it the greatest commandment (Matthew 22:36–38). However, it’s vital that we understand that the Lord did not place such a high level of importance on absolute devotion to himself because he needed us to worship him. Rather, he did it because he knows that anything less than absolute devotion will create space for our sinful nature to drive us further away from the kind of abundant life he longs to give (John 10:10).
So how do we go about helping our kids understand that? The first step is to live in such a way that they see just how important he is to us. While nothing is guaranteed, our children are unlikely to value their walk with the Lord any more than we value our own. If you could know today that your kids would have the same kind of relationship with God that you do, would you consider that to be a good thing? If not, work first on your relationship with God and then, out of that commitment, teach them how to better walk with the Lord as well.
Second, just setting a good example is not enough. Kids learn not to play in traffic because, from an early age, their parents take every opportunity to warn them of the dangers associated with doing so. When I see my three-year-old take off towards the street, I don’t just sit back and hope everything will turn out alright. I yell after her and, if necessary, chase her down to make sure that she stays safe. After doing that for the better part of two-plus years, she’s starting to understand why that’s important. The same persistence and commitment will be required to help our kids understand the importance of a strong walk with the Lord.
Ultimately, a day will come when each of our children will need to take ownership of their relationship with God. Growing up, I mostly just piggy-backed on my parents’ faith and it wasn’t until college that I was forced to make it my own. A lifetime spent watching my parents walk with him and their constant teaching about how important that relationship was helped a great deal in that process. I still made mistakes and wish that I’d been less stubborn about accepting all that such a relationship requires, but I most likely would not be where I am today in my walk with God if they hadn’t placed so much emphasis on it growing up. My hope and prayer is that my kids will be able to say much the same someday. Will yours?