Every day, for every meal, I sit at the table with my son.
“Ralphie, can you say ‘Thank you’?”
“Can you say ‘Jesus’?”
“Can you say ‘Amen’?”
I sit back, satisfied.
“Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” (Prov.22:6)
Am I the only one who has struggled with his passage? How can I be sure that I am training my child well enough, and often enough, for him to have a lasting faith?
Three and a half years ago, I was pregnant with my first baby. I remember sitting in church one Sunday, and for the first time, feeling little flutters of life in my stomach while I listened to the sermon. A week later, my baby had died. Loving friends and family comforted me with words of hope—your baby is in heaven with Jesus, they all said. And while I knew all of this, I still struggled with overwhelming feelings of guilt. Had I done enough? I went to church, I prayed, I sang hymns… but had I been a witness to my little baby? Train a child in the way he should go… Suddenly I felt the enormous weight of those words. I realized that the responsibility of caring for a child’s soul was just as important—even more important—than caring for his or her body. I remember calling my mom and spilling all of my worries over the phone to her. She reminded me that no matter what I had or hadn’t done, the Holy Spirit was fully capable of creating a faith in that tiny baby’s soul. She shared a passage from Luke 1:41, “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.” I clung to those words.
One year later, my son was born. This time, my husband and I felt a bit more prepared, and we were determined to do everything right when it came to our child’s spiritual life. He was baptized right away. We bought books about Jesus and read them to him before he could even hold his head up on his own. We sing I am Jesus’ Little Lamb before tucking him in his crib. We go to church. Train a child in the way he should go… We are doing our best.
And then the night comes. My son has never been the best sleeper, and I can still count on getting up most nights to soothe him back to sleep. Every night as I rock him, waiting until he is sleeping deeply enough to set down again, I study him. He’s so sweet while he sleeps, so innocent, so dependent on me. Once again, the responsibility of caring for his body and soul weighs down. Am I doing enough? Am I doing it right? When I tell him about Jesus, does he understand? If I, a 26 year old, lifelong church-going Christian woman, can barely grasp the concept of eternity and a God I cannot see, how on earth can my child understand?
I’d say it’s time I opened my bible, huh.
We know that God wants us to “train a child in the way he should go.” But how do we know we are training them well enough, and often enough? A bit of comfort to this question can be found in Deuteronomy. After God gives Moses the Ten Commandments, he instructs the people of Israel:
“Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” (Deut.6:7)
Those directions are simple enough, don’t you think? In the morning, we should sing songs of praise for a new day with our children. We should pray with our children whenever they are worried, or sad, or happy, or thankful. We should explain the struggle of sin, the promise of a Savior, and the hope of heaven when they are naughty or disobedient. We should open our days, fill our days, and close our days with Jesus, and teach our children to do the same.
And when we worry that our little ones are too young to understand, we should remember the words from 2 Timothy, “from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures…” (2 Tim 3:15) and trust that the Holy Spirit is creating a lasting faith in their hearts. Most importantly, we should remember that God wants us to have a faith like a child—a simple, humble, trusting faith—when we read these well-known words,
“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Mark 10:14-15)
Every day, for every meal, I sit at the table with my son. He prays, “Dayku! Deethuth! Ay-meyun!” I see his faith shine through his words, as simple and child-like as they may be, and I sit back, satisfied. For the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.