(Read the first parts of the series here.)
If you are like Teri and me, the issue of how children are exposed to the world is critically important to you. This topic is where the rubber meets the road in parenting: we either win or we lose after years of raising the child. We can do what appears to be a wonderful job in raising our children, and when we are close to the finish line, all can be lost.
We’ll re-look at part of what the father wrote in the second part of the series: What I am seeking is good, practical advice on how and at what age to expose my children to the world. And how to keep from losing them to the world. (I’ve got a seven-year-old daughter, four-year-old daughter, two-year-old son, and one on the way.) This isn’t the first time that I have heard people speak of sheltered kids getting out and “going nuts.” It seems to me that it would be best to expose them to the results of sin (chapel for recovering addicts, jail, etc.), as compared to them seeing “all of the pleasures and none of the guilt,” such as is seen at the mall, etc. Maybe even working this into some kind of a family ministry (although my children may be too young now; that is part of my question). This recent comment about the backsliding grandson has got me seriously considering self-employment and some kind of family businesses.
Last month I shared what I believe to be a critical attitude for our children and ourselves and how important it is in regard to our association with the world. I discussed how I believe that we would all benefit from the attitude that any one of us can fall into sin. We must own the fact revealed in Matthew 15:19: “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.” This is just as important a truth for us as it is for our children. If we accept the fact that any of us can fall, and if we don’t really want to, then shouldn’t we welcome something that will help us avoid falling?
This month I want to share about something that I believe is at the center of parenting, although there is far more than can be written in one or two Corners. In a way this is a mini reflection of the essential element in our relationship with the Father. “Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind” (Matthew 22:37). The Lord wants our hearts because He loves us and desires fellowship with us. Also, when He has our hearts we are far less likely to be drawn away by the idols of this world. The blood of Jesus enables us to enter into a heart relationship with the Father. When we are born again (John 3), we become the children of God (John 1:12-13). Notice how God uses “family” terms so we will understand heavenly truths.
This is a beautiful picture of, ideally, how our relationship should be with our children. In the Bible, we see a God Who loves His children so much He died for them. The Father desires, more than anything, fellowship with His children. He wants to spend time with them, listen to them, teach them, guide them and—in return He wants our hearts. The more we give Him our hearts, the more wonderful that relationship becomes.
This is true for the parent-child relationship as well. As parents we are called to sacrifice for our children, love them, spend time with them, listen to them, teach them, guide them and . . . We may be tempted at times to think we will be satisfied with mere outward conformity, but we really want their hearts. When we have our child’s heart, the older the child becomes, the sweeter the fellowship.
I was talking to a good friend a while ago and discussing the importance of keeping our children’s hearts. We agreed that we both believe it is the most important and most difficult challenge before a father. If only dads would become passionate about their children’s hearts, we would not see so many “children” being lost to the world.
Why is it that more dads aren’t concerned about keeping their children’s hearts? First, I think many would say that they are. Unfortunately, there seems to be a disconnect. It is impossible for a father to spend his time and mental focus on a number of other things (outside of work time) and have anything left for his children. There is no substitute for time, and we are lying to ourselves if we think we can just spend quality time because we aren’t willing to give quantity. It takes time and effort.
Why is having a child’s heart so important? Aren’t they going to grow up anyway? Yes, they are going to grow up whether you have their hearts or not. However, if you don’t have your child’s heart, you miss out on the tremendous blessing of your children as they grow up. You stand the very significant chance, I believe, of losing them. Keeping a child’s heart is like the shepherd who is constantly inspecting his flock. He knows the danger that comes if disease or pestilence takes root. The toll to restore the flock to health will be high, if the shepherd is even able to accomplish it. If you have your child’s heart you can quickly tell if something is drawing his heart away. You will sense a heart change and know something is wrong.
There was a time when I felt that the heart of one of my children was slipping away. During our weekly discussion times, there were more issues of increasing difficulty to work through. Instead of being able to share my concerns and know this child was receiving them, I could see this child was struggling. I was perplexed and couldn’t figure out what was going on. I began crying out to the Lord and seeking Him for answers. The Lord was faithful and showed me what the cause was. I shared this with the child, who was able to receive it. Soon, the sweetness was back in the relationship and our hearts were close again.
If I hadn’t had my child’s heart, I would not have noticed the drifting of the child’s spirit. I would have thought that it was a normal separation, due to growing older, and believed the lie that you should accept it and not worry about it. If you believe the lie, as it gets worse and you see changes in your child, you cry out to the Lord because you are concerned about the direction the child is heading. The more concerned you are, the more desperate and fearful. Finally, resignation sets in, and you now believe that everyone was right and rebellion is normal.
I don’t believe that having our children’s hearts means they instantly receive everything we tell them. At times I wish that were the case, but it hasn’t been my experience. However, I do think it means that we can talk on a very deep and intimate level, and they will listen carefully to what we say. It means they value what we say, and what comes from our hearts will weigh heavily on their souls. Isn’t this true of our relationship with the Lord as well?
There are things the Lord brings to us that we do not receive with open arms. When the Lord started telling me that I was wrong to have had a vasectomy, and He wanted to be in charge of when we had children, I was not thrilled. However, because of my relationship with Jesus and spending time with Him, I began to see why I was wrong in getting the vasectomy. However, I was not ready to accept Him determining how many children we were going to have. My spirit was troubled because I wanted to resolve the issue about more children. Finally, one day when I was home ill from work, I said in my heart, “Okay, Lord. Today is the day. I’m going to find out what you really think about children.” So I got out my Bible and concordance and began to look up what God had to say about children. I don’t remember how long I was at it, but I do remember finally being broken. With tears in my eyes, I said, “Lord, I now see how precious children are to You and that they are the best gift You can give, next to our salvation.” It appears that in a similar fashion those things that are on our hearts from the Lord will find acceptance by our children if we have their hearts.
Dads, I encourage you, no matter what the state of your relationship with your children may be, to make having and keeping your children’s hearts your highest priority next to your relationship with your Lord and your wife. If you feel it is too late and your children are rebels, there is still hope. (If that is your situation, one resource we would recommend is Dr. S. M. Davis’ audio, Changing the Heart of a Rebel). Years down the road you may well have deep remorse that you didn’t invest what was necessary to win and hold your child’s heart. Whatever it takes, do it. There is no sacrifice too great. You will never regret it.
There is another very important aspect to having our children’s hearts, and I will share about that next month as we continue to look at how to avoid losing our children to the world.