I have seen this happen over and over again in my life and the lives of others. If we don't teach and train our children, the world will gladly do it for us. Given today’s culture, this should compel all Christian parents to a higher level of engagement when it comes to our youngest ones at home.
As a dad, there are countless life lessons I want my children to know before they hit their teenage years–while the cement has yet to fully harden. Here are six truths I see as essential before my sons and daughters leave grade school.
1. Life is not all about them.
Starting at a very young age, my children have been taught about the "two most
First, love God. Second, love others.
This simple truth is the foundation of our faith and must be "caught" by our kids at an early age. If they miss this essential life lesson, the teen years will be rough ones. This is not to say that they will always be perfect–as none of us are. However, if they understand that their primary life mission is to glorify God through loving Him and others, they will less likely fall into the teen mentality that the world is all about them. Unfortunately, almost every marketing ad will tell them just the opposite.
The other aspect of this truth is this: To love God means that you will seek to follow His decrees. As Jesus stated, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). It’s not enough to love God with our emotions; we must seek to love God and others through our words and deeds (Colossians 3:17).
2. Character comes first.
This will be a difficult one. Our world today, including most educational and athletic systems, teaches and rewards just the opposite. Let's face it. The "heroes" and role models of today are typically the overpaid athletes and movie stars that rarely uplift character as the most important thing about a person. Pick up any magazine today or spend some time on social media, and you'll quickly see what the world values: self-centeredness, outward appearance, money, materialism, and self-indulgence.
We must resolve to teach our sons and daughters that God looks first at the inner person of a man and not the outer appearance. I’m not saying that such things like competency and good health are not important–they are. Yet, when we stand before God and eternity, our Lord won’t care about what promotions we achieved or how many workouts we did. He’ll look at primarily two things–our standing in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, and how we lived out our faith for Him. As Christians, this is the sum of what godly character really means.
I’ve always told my kids, it’s who you are that will drive what you do in this life. In Christ, pursue being a man or woman of noble character, and you will forge a life that accomplishes honorable deeds for our Lord. As Proverbs 18:12 indicates, humility comes before honor.
3. Embrace hard work and challenges.
In the age of exponential advancement of technologies, it seems that "hard work" has gotten a bad rap. I love technology as much as the next guy. However, as a dad, I don't want my children growing up without experiencing some physically challenging work. As I have personally learned over the years, hard work and sweat are exceptional teachers when it comes to discipline and achieving goals. Whether it's doing household chores or pursuing some fitness-related tests, our children need to develop the discipline and fortitude to see something through to completion–especially when they think it may be too hard. Also, don't forget to celebrate the achieved goals along the way, and just as important, celebrate the efforts even when an objective is not attained. I’d rather my son or daughter give “110%” and fail at something versus never trying.
I love this quote by Ted Roosevelt:
"A soft, easy life is not worth living, if it impairs the fiber of brain and heart and muscle. We must dare to be great; and we must realize that greatness is the fruit of toil and sacrifice and high courage... For us is the life of action, of strenuous performance of duty; let us live in the harness, striving mightily; let us rather run the risk of wearing out than rusting out."
I pray that my children will never shy away from a difficult task, even when it seems impossible in their own efforts.
4. Be quick to listen and slow to speak.
The Apostle James stressed this point to the early church, and we need to hear it just as much today. I've been blessed with five children, two still at home and three young adults. If I could turn back the clock, I'd reinforce even more this extremely practical tenet that touches all relationships in life—seek first to listen and then to speak. I've never regretted when I have listened more intently to my wife and children before sharing my response. Unfortunately, we live during a time when people just want to be heard and are seldom taking the time to listen to one another.
If our kids grasp this profound truth, they will cultivate a trait of discernment in a
world that often listens too little and speaks far too much.
5. Mistakes and failures are opportunities to grow.
My kids know when they make a mistake: 1. Own it 2. Learn from it 3. Grow from it.
Given none of us walk on water, we'll never get it all right. We all make mistakes. The sooner our kids get this, the better off they will be. What’s most important is how we respond to them. This is true for everyone. If we fail to own a mistake, we tend to blame others for it and fall into a victim mentality. My kids know this truth well–we give it our best, and God holds the results. If you mess up, confess up, and make it right before God and others. Do your sons and daughters know this?
6. Forgiven and forgiving.
So much of our walk of faith comes down to this: yet while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). The same grace and mercy God has shown us needs to be given to others. Knowing that we will always be in some state of sinfulness, this is a must-have in every household. It's a daily process of making things right with God and each other. Never be afraid to seek forgiveness from your kids when you don’t get it right. As parents, we need to set the example and pray they will follow our lead.
Interwoven with all of these truth lessons, is the ever-present opportunity to share and build the gospel into the lives of our children. I love the very practical command found in Deuteronomy 6—to speak the truth of God into the hearts and minds of our children throughout the daily activities of life–the "by-the-way" principle. Our children are hard-wired by our Lord to follow the example of their parents. The road our actions forge today will likely become the path our children take tomorrow. Never underestimate the power of your example–it’s part of God’s design.