How, though, do we each go about teaching our children what we believe? And how can we maximize the potential that they will choose to adopt similar values?
This is a complicated matter, of course. The Judeo-Christian principle laid out in Proverbs 22.6 tells us that taking time to consciously disciple our children will generally result in their choice to adopt good (godly) values.
However, the existence of free will means that the verse is a principle, not a promise. Some who are trained well still choose to go astray, and that reality can be disheartening and scary. However, despite the risk of a child deciding to reject his parents’ values, it’s still our responsibility to impart them; we can’t abdicate just because the desired result isn’t guaranteed. And we must do this directly and indirectly – in what we say and what we do.
It’s imperative that we actively teach our children – in ways that will resonate with them at different ages and through various phases – the precepts of our value system; kids must hear from us directly what we feel is important and why. In fact, Deuteronomy 6.7 challenges us to “teach [God’s ways] diligently to [our] children and speak of them when [we] sit at home and when [we] walk along the road, when [we] lie down and when [we] get up.” In other words, we’re commanded to directly and personally communicate truth to our kids during all of their waking hours.
But the old adage, “Do as I say, not as I do,” is a dangerous lie. If we instruct our children to obey particular rules or follow certain beliefs, yet they see us consistently living contrary to our words, they’ll rightfully see us as hypocrites and likely conclude that our values aren’t worth embracing. Likewise, even if we personally obey everything we preach and hold our kids accountable to, but fail to build strong, intimate relationships with them, we will be to them like the clanging gong of 1 Corinthians 13.
And we’re also called to protect our kids from influences that will contradict the values we aim to teach and model (Matthew 18.6). This doesn’t mean raising kids in a bubble, isolated from the world. But neither does it mean throwing them into situations where their fledgling beliefs are apt to be regularly assaulted. As parents, we are accountable to God for what (and whom) we allow to impact our kids’ minds and hearts.
Living up to all of this is a very tall order! Continually watching what we say, what we do, and the influences we allow into our kids’ lives is surely overwhelming – and we definitely won’t be perfect. But the more we’re consciously aware of our responsibility and calling, the more intentional we can be, and the more success we’ll have.
Painting by Auguste Renoir