As we think about the need for children to have an inner moral code, our first question is probably, “How do I make that happen for my kids?”
Unfortunately, the short answer is, “You can’t make it happen.”
As one of my pastors explained when preaching through the Old Testament a few years ago, verses like Proverbs 22.6 – i.e., “train up a child in the way he should go and even when he is old he will not depart from it” – contain principles, not promises. In other words, even if it were possible for a parent to do “everything right,” the free will God has graciously granted every human being means that, tragically, some will go astray. And much to our chagrin, there’s no “magic formula” to guarantee none will.
But that doesn’t mean we should give up in despair. A principle is not a promise, but it is – by definition – “a fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief or behavior or for a chain of reasoning.” Thus, it is true that if we “train up” children properly, most will “go” as they should – i.e., embracing God’s ways as their own inner moral code.
And there are a few important things we can do to support this principle. First – and most importantly – we must daily take most seriously God’s command to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5.17) for our kids’ spiritual growth and development. This shouldn’t be an occasional afterthought we get to after trying everything else. Instead, it should be our first “line of defense.” Simply put, if our kids are to choose God and His ways, it will be primarily from His leading, not our cajoling.
Then - if we are first “prayed up” – we can work on other things:
- Taking time. In order to
earn the right to impact our kids’ hearts and minds, we must spend time with
them – not just a few random minutes a day but as much as possible. Ideally, that
means eschewing daycare and even institutional schooling in favor of a parent
staying home with and being his/her children’s long-term, primary caretaker in
all aspects of life. But if circumstances preclude that, we must at least
purpose to be very intentional about the time we do have, making certain our
kids know that they have our full
attention when we are with them;
- Modeling what’s right. We won’t be
perfect, but if kids see us living out God’s ways even when it’s hard – and
honestly acknowledging before them when we realize we’ve blown it – they’ll
want to do the same. Why? Despite what the culture sometimes insinuates, all
the research clearly demonstrates that a child’s parents still have the greatest impact – for good or for ill – on
his/her behavior and choices;
- Demonstrating authentic love. As parents, we should not try to be our kids’ friends; we must retain our “authority” over them. However, playing drill sergeant won’t help. Our kids must know – in their “guts” – that we love them, and we have to demonstrate that with our actions. When they know without a doubt that they have our hearts, they may not always like decisions we make “for their own good,” but they will accept our choices and continue to move forward in relationship with us. And if we hope to impact their inner moral code, that’s what they (and we) need.
Photo Credit: Long Thien