One of Jonathan's favorite movies is the Toy Story series. Last year, before bed, he would catapult himself into our arms (each one in turn) and say "To Infinity and Beyond!" and give us a hug. As we have been talking about life skills and work as areas in which we can disciple our kids, I want to reiterate what I hope you're beginning to see. Christian parenting is not about having smart kids or well-behaved kids. The more that I get further into this parenting gig, I am realizing that the ultimate goal of my parenting is to one day let them go "to infinity and beyond"! I am praying that God will take my small efforts and launch my children into a world that needs Him.
I don't need to tell you that kids (and their parents too!) are born selfish. At least, I haven't had any kids that weren't! Isn't it interesting that one of the first and most common words a toddler says is "No!" If it weren't for the Gospel, we would all be sunk!
As parents, we aren't a whole lot better. How often I grumble when I am interrupted or yell when I am stressed. In my own journey as a mother, I am still learning what it means to die to myself so that Christ might live in me.
Exchanging my will for God's, laying down my desires so that I can be filled with His---these things don't just happen for any of us. Even when the Holy Spirit lives in us and empowers us to live that kind of life, it is a struggle as long as we live in this flesh of ours.
That is why I see my job as a parent must involve helping our kids shift their focus from themselves and looking out. Unless we proactively do this, we will have ingrown children.
As Jesus says in Acts 1:8, His desire is to send us out as His witnesses from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria, and to the end of the earth. He didn't design us to stay in our comfortable little homes, in our comfortable little neighborhoods, living our comfortable little lives. Rather, His desire for us is to be ambassadors for Him, wherever He should lead us. (2 Cor. 5:20)
It has been said that "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." And so that is with our kids and for us. Service and a heart for others doesn't just bloom overnight. It is cultivated, little by little, starting at home.
My two boys are typical brothers. One minute they love one another. The next, there is punching, wrestling and crying. But one thing that we work very hard at is fostering a strong brotherly love. The same applies with their big sister. Have you noticed how much harder it is to love the ones that share your roof? Perhaps it's just the comfort of being at home. Our real selves feel comfortable to come out...and sometimes it's not pretty! And yet, home is one of the best places to begin discipling our kids to serve. My theory is that if they can really love their siblings, then loving others will be a piece of cake!
The Next Step
Not only is our home a great way to learn service by loving our siblings, it is a great place to extend hospitality. (I wrote a post on this last month.) One of our family goals is to have someone over every month. We have invited singles, young married couples, new parents, and families over. I try to involve the kids as much as possible in choosing those families. Of course, they tend to want to invite their friends over, but I try to stretch them by asking them to think about people they may not know very well or maybe people they even have a hard time with.
When the big day arrives, we work together as a family to clean the home, prepare the meal and take time for our guests. When we work together, what could be a big job is a lot easier. We coach the kids in how to greet visitors, take jackets and bags, and make guests feel at home. We talk about serving others first before serving ourselves. Being kids, this often takes repeated efforts before it sinks in.
Showing hospitality and reaching out to others is not natural or comfortable for our family of introverts (except maybe for our youngest who thrives on having company!). But it has been a valuable and practical way for our children to begin serving.
Arrows in the Hands of a Warrior
But all this is just the training ground for the real challenge. One of my favorite pictures of parenthood comes in Psalm 127:4 that describes children as "arrows in the hands of a warrior." Arrows kept in the quiver are not doing what they were created to do. Ultimately, we must release our children out into the world---to their "Samarias" and beyond.
That is why I must keep the big picture in mind as I disciple and train my children at home. I teach them life skills---so they can serve. I train them to work hard---so they can serve. I help them cultivate their talents and gifts---so they can serve. And then I release them as the Lord directs into the world so they might impact their target. Whether it be a mother in her home, or an employee in the marketplace, or a missionary in the jungles, God has good works for my children to do.
And so we build strong foundations. We teach our children to love God and develop their personal relationship with Him. We equip them with a solid understanding of the Gospel and His Word. All this so that they can serve the Lord with their whole hearts out of love for Him and in service to others.
This is one area that we have not gotten to yet, so I am eager to learn from those of you who have already traveled this path. My questions to you would be:
What have you done to train your kids with a heart of service?
What words of wisdom do you have to share?
I'd love to hear your comments!