Laura was stuck. Though she was passionate about bringing her boys up “in the training and instruction of the Lord,” she could tell that her oldest son Connor, at only four, was already getting “exasperated” by her reminders: “God wants us to…” …be kind, share, be respectful, be responsible, and on and on.
At best he just tolerated dinner time prayer, and other times even seemed to enjoy interrupting it loudly. She was rightfully concerned about his growing lack of interest in her “spiritual guidance,” but didn’t know what to do. For Connor, God was becoming the Great Disapprover of all things childish and misguided.
Laura’s story reminded me of my early parenting days. As a gifted problem solver, I was unfortunately also a gifted problem finder. Sometimes this attribute of mine could become pretty frustrating to my kids.
During one particular negative encounter with my oldest son Daniel, the Lord pointed me to Philippians 4:8: “…if there is any excellence and anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things.” I realized then and there that I was noticing and responding way too much to what Daniel did wrong, and way too little to what he did right. So I confessed this to Daniel and told him the verse God had used to help me see it. His response: “I LOVE that verse!!” Our brief discussion of it became a milestone in our relationship for apology, reconciliation, and an increased effort to focus on whatever was good in even bad situations. His conclusion: If the Bible helps Mom be nicer to me — it must be a pretty cool book.
Perhaps you, like Laura and I did, want to bring scripture to life without making God out to be the Great Disapprover. It takes humility, insight, and creativity. Here are a few helpful tips:
1. Share your joy in the Bible.
Psalm 19:9-11 declares, “The judgments of the LORD are true; they are righteous altogether. They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb… In keeping them there is great reward.” If you really believe this, how would your kids know it? Do you joyfully share wise or encouraging things from the Bible and how it helps you?
2. Share when God convicts you.
As in my story up above, sharing moments when God convicts you in your relationship with your kids — and celebrating the blessing that happens — can help open the crack in the door of their hearts a little wider. In children’s eyes, God’s looking pretty good when he cares enough about them to help you be kind to them.
3. Look for times when your child exemplifies a scriptural quality.
These might be the very things he struggles with …be kind, share, be respectful, be responsible. Help your child see what joy those qualities or actions bring. One day Noah joyfully fixed and served his dad breakfast. I playfully paraphrased Luke 22:27: “For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.” Noah grinned as Jim pretended to be upset that the guy gettin’ the breakfast was less cool, because the server was acting like Jesus.
4. Spark their curiosity about God.
Talk about God by mostly asking questions, not giving answers, while gently guiding children toward sound thinking about God’s character. (How is God like the wind? Why do you think God made mosquitoes? And so on.)
Here Were the Results
Once you have frequently helped children view God’s word as inviting and encouraging, then you might occasionally use it for gentle, loving reproof and conviction. But until then, be very wary of any tendency to selfishly manage kids behaviour with Bible verses or “Jesus is disappointed in you” kinds of messages. Use scripture to model, plant seeds, and set the stage for God to woo kids toward repentance with kindness (Romans 2:4).
Laura wrote me several weeks after our conversation. She no longer used the Bible to prompt better behaviour. Instead, she let the Bible change her own anxious perfectionism toward her kids and replace it with growing grace. And she was now having fun talking informally about things she thought about God or different Bible verses.
“As I’ve lightened up and not put so much pressure on them to participate in “Bible lesson time,” there have been a lot of opportunities where they ask questions out of the blue about God and spiritual beliefs. Connor actually wanted to pray the other day at dinner! So I am remembering that God is able to do a work in their hearts apart from and even in spite of my misguided efforts.”