This is the second post of a series meant to be preceded in reading by an introductory letter. Please read that HERE.
“Children learn more from what you are than what you teach.” ~ W. E. B. Du Bois
“There’s a world of difference between insisting on someone’s doing something and establishing an atmosphere in which that person can grow into wanting to do it.” ~ Mister Rogers
“My heart says of you, ‘Seek his face!’ Your face, LORD, I will seek.” ~Psalm 27: 8
My parents came for a week after the birth of our firstborn. Our son was born on Thursday and they arrived on Saturday, just a few hours after we got home from the hospital.
During the week of their visit, my mother took care of me and helped us with the baby. She, my father, and my husband also packed up our apartment and moved us to a townhouse, where they proceeded to unpack us again.
By the time they left the following Saturday, we were well on our way to being settled and I was recovering nicely. But I wasn’t quite ready to let them go.
That afternoon, with Bill out on an errand and my parents just departed, I stood with my newborn wailing in my arms, and I cried too.
There we were, otherwise alone in the house and both of us crying, when I realized that someone was going to have to stop crying–and that someone would have to be me.
I had to be the grown-up.
More than Maturity
We all understand that the best-case scenarios find babies born to mature adults, emotionally prepared to rear a person into maturity. Not all babies get this in their parents; not all people are equipped to be parents. And many of us (I’m raising my hand here) learn to be parents along the way.
It’s impossible, prior to the arrival of your first child, to know everything you’ll need to know. We learn as we go. And even though a firstborn schools us in ways the next child(ren) won’t have to, we learn from our children all the time. It’s not enough to be a parent: we learn to be Auggi’s mom or Piper’s dad. The uniqueness I wrote about last week demands unique attention.
I think it’s fair to say that it takes more than maturity to rear a child. What we need is wisdom.
If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does. ~ James 1: 6-8
In light of our need for wisdom, that first sentence there is absolutely fantastic: you need wisdom? Ask God! He’ll give it to you!
But there’s more to it than that. In my isolated paraphrase (just verse 6), God dissolves into something resembling religion, a system of behavior-and-consequence. Here God is a genie or vending machine: I ask for wisdom, he dispenses it. Voila!
The difference between Christianity and religion is that Christianity is a relationship. God is a real person, and we are his beloved (unique and inimitable) children. Among the scads of virtues that make up his character, wisdom–like the rest of them–is not something he totes in a box or jacket pocket, ready to dole out like so much candy. Rather, wisdom is an aspect of who he is, imparted to us as we know him more.
The more we are changed by his love, the more we love. The more we receive his patience, the more we are patient. The more we know his grace, the less quick we are to judge. The more we know his wisdom, the wiser we become.
The verses following James 1:6 bear this out. We ask God for wisdom, but we must believe he will give it to us. We have to trust that he’ll answer our request. In other words, we don’t sit around waiting for wisdom to hit us between the eyes. We go about our business, trusting God, because we rely on who we know him to be: good, faithful, true to his word.
And wisdom comes. Why? Because God is good, faithful, and true to his word.
If as parents we are paying any attention at all, we know we need wisdom. We also need patience and gentleness and a host of other things.
We need God.
Which leads me to the whole point of this post: parents who want to teach the gospel to their children must absolutely grow up.
Crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. ~ 1 Peter 2: 1-2
Peter’s words here are an admonition and encouragement to people who already have put their faith in God and in the gospel of Jesus Christ: you have tasted the goodness of God, and you know how delicious, satisfying and nourishing it is. Want more.
We appreciate the metaphor. If I’d never had a bacon, egg, and cheese biscuit from Bojangles, I would never miss one. But now that I’ve had one, well. Suffice it to say that they come to mind from time to time.
In a similar but far more challenging and satisfying way, the delights we have known through the love of Jesus should make us want more of the same. In craving him, we pursue our relationship with him, and this causes us to grow. We become mature, joy-filled, obedient, faithful servants of the living God who are sources of blessing and comfort to the people and world around us.
Including our children.
How Do We Grow?
So, how is it done? What are the actions that result from the craving Peter recommends?
I’ll be honest:
But the simple answer is the best: spend time with God.
If you’ve been a church-goer for any time at all, you’ve heard this before: read your Bible. Pray. Spend time in honest joy and pain with people who also have put their faith in Jesus. Be taught from the Bible by people who take it seriously. Receive communion with a full heart.
Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
This is all so familiar. And it’s also spot on because of what I said before: Christianity is not a religion. It’s a relationship.
I’ve been married to my husband for almost 30 years. Being with him has made me a less judgmental person because he is less apt to judge than I am. I also have a better sense of humor than I used to because he is funny and has an excellent sense of humor. I hear music differently because of how he appreciates it. I also regard money differently. And entertainment.
These changes wrought by his influence come off the top of my head, but there are other changes, deeper and more vast, that have come from years of being with him, talking with him, learning to see things from his point of view.
Spending time with a person changes you. Same with God–but far more mysteriously, richly, and abundantly than with anyone else.
I’ve known a lot of beauty in my life, but this quiet and real transformation is among the most beautiful things I’ve seen.
Two Additional Notes
Growing Up and Teaching the Gospel to Children
I began this post by pointing out our need for wisdom. God, as the father and source of all wisdom, becomes our pursuit as we seek what we need to nurture our children.
But nothing about God is transactional. We don’t seek him to *get the stuff we need.* We seek him, and we get him. Beauty and grace result.
As we grow in Christ, we are transformed by him. Our children might not witness that transformation. Being young, they may not track the changes and growth he is working in us. But they will see the beauty of his life in us. They will live in an atmosphere of increasing grace and mercy because of that life. And this may very well awaken in them a craving to know him, too.
I wrote a post before this one on enjoying our children. Read it here.