Talking, Walking, Teaching and Learning – A Full-Time Parenting Task

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord or God, the Lord is one.  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.  And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.  You shall team them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.  You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”   Deuteronomy 6:4-9 ESV

We have a great responsibility as parents to teach our children.  Regardless of their age and level of formal education, whether they are in public school, private school, home school or at university, parents are the primary teachers of their children.  That teaching responsibility goes far beyond formal schooling.  It is much more than reading, writing and mathematics.  It is the school of life.  And your children are learning from you whether you are teaching or not.  This foundational Scriptural passage lays out that responsibility clearly and also gives some important clues on how to teach your children well.  Here are a few suggestions on how to make the most of those clues.

1.  Embrace the Responsibility – one of the biggest impediments to effectively teaching your children is thinking the responsibility belongs to someone else.  We live in an outsourcing world.  Any task we don’t want to do, we outsource to someone else.  Generations of parents have peddled the job of educating their children to the government and then complain when the job isn’t done to their satisfaction.  Even worse, generations of Christian parents have outsourced the job of teaching Christian faith to children’s and youth ministry and then wonder why their adult children take a different path.  We assume that colleges and universities will train our children to make a living, or worse, help them discover a purpose in life.  We need to stop with the outsourcing.  Schools, ministries, colleges and universities are wonderful resources and can help provide a lot of great things for our children.  But teaching children is a God-given parental task.  Embrace that task.

2.  It takes time – the passage speaks of talking with your children when you sit in your house, walking along the way, bedtime and early morning.  It assumes that parents are actually spending this time with their children.  It assumes that parents are sitting down with their children in the house, walking with them along the way, tucking them into bed and being there when they wake up.  Are these conversations taking place?  Are they taking place without television, computer games and smartphones dividing the attention of either the parents, the children or both?  Parenting requires unhurried time.  It requires saying no to many good things to embrace the best.

3.  It is comprehensive – the other thing about the time-intensive nature of parenting is that it covers formal and informal.  Some of the best teaching takes place in the most informal of settings.  In parks, in cars, in stores, in any and all kinds of shared experiences.  The life of a parent is the life of a teacher.  But these moments must be looked for, recognized and grasped.

4.  Learners make the best teachers – the command to teach is followed by the command to remember and constantly consider.  The best teachers are the ones who maintain the intense desire and curiosity to learn.  In formal schooling, the teachers I remember most fondly are the ones who exhibited an enthusiasm and love for the content that they were teaching.  Their passion was contagious.  Children will pick up on a lack of engagement and will often check out as a result.  Are you passionate and joyful about life?  Do your children sense that your faith gives you zest for living?  Do they see you reading, learning and speaking with others about the things that you are learning?  We can create a hunger in our children to know, to learn and to live.

5.  It only works when it is surrounded by the Love of God – the command to teach follows the command to love the Lord your God.  This first and greatest commandment is the wellspring of life and learning.  We are commanded to love God, but we only love because He first loves us (1st John 4:19).  The truth is that we will default to what we love.  We will effectively teach our children only to the level  that we have experienced God’s love for ourselves.  And our children will only learn that love when we, through our words and our actions, express and embody that love to them each day.

It can be a liberating experience to embrace the responsibility of teaching your children.  It is scary, but it throws us into the hands of God because we can’t do it alone.  God has given this task to us as parents because He wants to be our ultimate parent – a loving Heavenly Father.  Embracing that role can teach us more about the Father heart of God than we have ever experienced before.  It is more than worth it.

What Does “Train up a child in the way that he should go” Mean?

“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” – Proverbs 22:6 ESV

This verse in Proverbs is often used a sort of legal guarantee, that if a Christian parent raises a child in the Christian faith that even if he or she strays from the fold for a period of time, they will eventually come back to the faith.  This is certainly a comforting thought for parents who see adolescent or adult children walking down a path apart from Christian faith, but it isn’t really what the proverb is about.  Instead, it is a short powerful statement that highlights a vital truth of parenting.  It provides an insight that can guide parents in understanding and guiding their children towards a life of purpose and meaning.

The Hebrew verb (and its variations) that is translated “train up” in many translations is often translated differently in other contexts.  It often is used in the context of the dedication of buildings or objects to the Lord as well as the sense of initiation, discipline and education.  The phrase “in the way he should go” refers to both a moral sense, that is, a way a child ought to go or behave, and also a sense of path that one take through life in accordance with their temperament, personality, gifts, talents and resources.  When one puts these meanings into context it paints a much different picture.  It paints the picture of a parent that is carefully tending to a child, paying close attention to their uniqueness and seeking to understand what the best future for that child might look like.  It also paints the picture of a prayerful parent who understands that they are a steward of that child, dedicating that child to the Lord on a daily basis and co-laboring together with the Holy Spirit to guide that child towards a path that is suited to God’s purposes and the child’s unique design.

When seen in this light, this proverb offers an encouraging and challenging template of parenting.  It is encouraging, in that unlike the “legal guarantee” style interpretation it acknowledges that a parent cannot control either their child or the future.  Children make their own choices as they grow and that is a good thing.  They need to learn to do this in a healthy way and parents have a role in helping this to happen.  It is challenging, however, as it highlights the meticulous care and deep prayerful dependance that godly parenting requires.   Every child is a complicated bundle of emotional, spiritual, physiological and mental wiring that even the most sensitive parent can misunderstand and damage along the way.  Our role in stewarding that child requires all that we have and even that isn’t nearly enough to the task.  We need the help of the Holy Spirit every step of the way.

One final thought is appropriate to mention as well.  Acknowledging our dependance on God’s help does not excuse us from the responsibility of engaging deeply.  Engaging with your child is not the same as “helicopter parenting”.  But it does mean being present and being attentive.  It means coming to grips with being a steward, not an owner of your child.  They don’t belong to you, but ultimately to God.  But what a privilege to have the responsibility to help shape that child along the way.