Train a child in the way he should go,
and when he is old he will not turn from it.
I firmly believe, and have mentioned before, that children are blessings. They are precious gifts from God that we are to welcome, treasure, and raise up for His glory.
But though they are blessings, children are still human - imperfect humans who can cause even the most joyful mother to shake her head in disapproval or walk away in discouragement. Lately, I have sadly noticed a tendency to find more frustration than joy in my own children. Though I love them and thank God for them daily, I have become discouraged by the seemingly constant complaining, arguing, crying, and disobedience. Instead of enjoying my children, I confess that I have often been enduring them.
Thankfully, the Lord in His wisdom gave me a gentle reminder: children need to be discipled. Yes, they need to be disciplined also, and we have been faithful in that, but discpleship is something more. It involves a relationship where the teacher instructs the student in specific doctrines, creating a faithful follower. While I do use Scripture to remind my children of how God wants them to act, I have been slack in bringing them to the Word simply to love it and learn how to live it. How can I expect my children to act like Christians without taking the time to teach them how to BE Christians? And if adult Christians need regular time in the Word in order to grow spiritually, why would the same not be true for little ones?
I realized recently that it had been a long while since I had a time of devotions with the boys. We used to spend time every morning reading a devotional book, reciting Bible verses, and practicing obedience. Then a few months ago, when our mornings started to fill up with outings - errands, doctor's visits, and even Bible study - our times of daily devotions were pushed aside. Once we got out of the habit, it ceased to even cross my mind. Breakfast, bath, and laundry are always done, but the Bible was forgotten.
Likewise, Bible time has been crowded out of our evenings. With frequent guests, occasional social gatherings to attend, and now Daddy coming home later, we are often getting the boys ready for bed later than usual. While I would never fail to brush their teeth, we skip Bible story whenever bedtime runs late. Our former nightly ritual has become an occasional treat for calmer evenings. Thus while I have continued my own quiet time, my children have not had the benefit of regularly learning and studying God's Word.
So last night, without regard for the clock, I made a point to sit down and read a Psalm to Donny, explaining what the words meant as I read. And this morning, just as I was about to escort two boys to the bathtub, I remembered. I pulled out the devotional book we bought a few months ago - the one we had only read two pages of as of this morning. Today, the children and I read a short entry about wisdom, a fitting character trait to learn from Proverbs, the Book of Wisdom.
When instructing them in the Word of God, I expect the children to sit quietly and listen and obey directions. When my expectations went unmet this morning, we moved into discipline and discussion of the lack of wisdom they were displaying. It was ugly - as sin always is, whether my children's or my own. But eventually, everyone was calm enough to play a round of The Obedience Game. When met with consistency and patience, the sin nature submitted to the joy of obedience.
The Obedience Game is much like Simon Says: I give an instruction to one or both children, and they are to carry it out immediately with a joyful exclamation of, "Yes Mumma!" I often send them to another room to practice obeying, "Come to Mumma!" Other times, they have to jump, put their hands on their head, or pick up toys. Although we have only played the game a few times since moving here in December, the boys immediately remembered it and were, as usual, eager to play. They happily followed instructions and called, "Yes Mumma!" until we concluded the game for a short bath. When it comes to making obedience fun, this game definitely works for us!
I would like to tell you that the children and I both exhibited flawless behavior for the rest of the day, but that would be entirely untrue. Hayden cried for no reason, insisted on buckling himself into his booster seat despite my warnings that no one would unbuckle him, and then cried over the consequences of being stuck in his seat. Donny made a mess with his yogurt and I got angry. But afterwards, we seemed to find a resolution sooner than we would have the day before. I had hope for my children. And being aware of my own part in the chaos helped me to control my responses.
I think my recent frustration has been that I am constantly reacting to issues instead of acting to prevent them. I have stamped on fires, irritated that the same ones flare up whenever my back is turned, without taking sufficient time to eliminate the cause of the smouldering flames.
I am realizing that it is not enough to wait for a problem (and the wait may not be a long one!) before offering a lesson from God's Word. My children need to be constantly, patiently, lovingly instructed in His ways. If I want them to grow up to be followers of Christ, I must teach them what it means to be a follower, and gently help them toward that goal.
Children are always blessings, but I will only reap the benefits of those blessings when I invest myself in training them. By going to the Word together, all of us imperfect humans can grow towards being the blessings to others that God intended us to be.