I’ll never forget the time of preparation during my pregnancy with our firstborn daughter, Kate. I bought every book, read every article, and consumed every bit of knowledge I could on parenting. My husband and I must have talked through everything — breast or bottle, cry-it-out or hold forever, crib or bed-sharing. Out of our deep love for Kate, we wanted to provide the safest, healthiest, and happiest atmosphere possible, and we put in the time to prepare.
Thinking back on those days, though, “prepared” is not really the word I would use to describe myself. We did prepare, of course, but I certainly didn’t feel that way. Anxious about all of the unknown variables? Yes. Overwhelmed by all of the very strong opinions on how to parent correctly? Definitely. Fearful I would do the one wrong thing to ruin my child forever? Absolutely.
We are over 6.5 years into the parenting journey, now. Kate will be 7 in June. We also now have almost 5-year old Justin and 2-year old Alisa. I have learned many things over these years as a parent, and despite all of my diligent planning and preparation, many of those lessons were learned after some pretty big parenting failures. But the greatest lesson I have learned is that the best investment I can make for my children is an investment in their hearts.
We have always been concerned for our children’s hearts, of course. We’ve prayed for them and instituted throughout the years different spiritually-nurturing routines. We’ve read many good children’s books about the Lord, and we often have talked about God’s goodness and lordship in our home. However, when Kate was about three-years old, I had a powerful realization, one that drastically altered my parenting approach.
We had established a pretty set morning routine by this point. She was our only biological child at that time, though we had different foster kids popping in along the way. Since I’ve always been an early riser, I would naturally awaken early to spend some time with the Lord. Often, our mornings were quiet while Kate slept in (she is not like her mother). Once Kate eventually emerged from her room, her bed-head sticking in every direction, I would turn on some cartoons and get busy making her breakfast.
At the time, we also had been dealing with some normal, frustrating three-year old behaviors. We spoke often of the Lord to her, desperately trying to teach her the gospel and to encourage her heart toward obedience. On this particular morning, I prayed for Kate while she was still sleeping, begging the Holy Spirit to soften her heart to the gospel and to draw her toward the Lord. As I prayed, I remember the Lord whispering a very pointed question into my heart: Why should I expect Kate to one day love God’s Word and to daily seek Him through scripture, if I do not make it a priority for her now?
It’s such a simple concept, and I’m embarrassed it took me so long to get there. But on that day, I made a choice. I would show Kate how to know God by practicing it with her. We began “mommy and Kate special Bible time,” and every morning, before the tv came on, we read the Bible together and prayed. Let me be clear, this was not a long, drawn-out process or some spiritually powerful experience every day. But it was a new routine that showed Kate the importance of putting the Word before the world.
There have been different seasons in our lives since those quieter days three years ago (and in case you’re trying to do the math and are really confused, our son is adopted!), some seasons where we have been better about practicing this discipline with Kate, and some seasons where we have just not done a great job at it. But the roots our feeble, often imperfect efforts have established in her heart are deep.
Just before Christmas break, Kate came to me with a request. We’ve been dealing with some heart issues lately, and she asked me to read the Bible with her every morning — for “mommy and Kate special Bible time” again — to help her make the right choices. Just this morning, she woke up before her brother and sister, crawled on my lap, and handed me my Bible so I could read to her. This is not a reflection of me, but of the Holy Spirit’s work in Kate’s heart.
One thing I’ve learned about discipling our young children is that it’s usually much simpler than we make it out to be. Nurturing the hearts of our children is not a sprint; it’s a marathon. Our goal isn’t shallow roots that sprout up quickly and die, but deep, healthy roots that are firmly established in God’s rich, fertile soil.
Resources to Help
When we teach our kids about spiritual discipline, we show them how to call on the Lord, where to go for answers, and why we believe what we do. We model these things for them, but we also practice the spiritual disciplines with our children. Living in the time in history that we do, we have the advantage of many wonderful resources to help us along the way. Here are a few our family has used and loved:
Tim Keller’s wife, Kathy Keller, wrote the New City Catechism to help families teach their children the foundations of the Christian faith. You can buy the book, which we have done, but you can also download their free app. By setting the app to children’s mode, each question and answer has been set to a catchy and enjoyable song. Our kids have loved learning these songs, and we have loved knowing truth is being firmly planted in their hearts.
Another great resource our family has enjoyed is The Ology, a beautifully illustrated book that teaches systematic theology on a child’s level. This is a book we have read and will read again with our children.
The IMB and NAMB both put out different prayer cards or calendars to guide Christians in ways to pray for local and foreign missions. Our family goes uses the cards to pray for a specific missionary or people group at meal time each day. This provides us an opportunity to talk with our children about missions and to pray for those who have not heard the gospel.
The Jesus Storybook Bible and The Biggest Story are two other books our children have enjoyed reading, and we as parents have appreciated the simplicity of these books in explaining the message of the gospel.
These are just a few of the resources, but the most powerful resource of all is at our fingertips everyday — Scripture itself. It is important to read from the Bible to our children, showing them this is the greatest and only authority in our lives. All of these are resources are wonderful, but nothing will ever top the infallible Word of God.
If I could go back in time to my pregnancy days with Kate, I would tell myself this: in most situations, there is often no right or wrong way to parent, so long as we parent in love and guided by scripture. Thirty years from now, the result of breast or bottle will be negligible in your child’s life. But the time we spend nurturing or neglecting the hearts of our children, this impact will be lifelong. We will never regret teaching our children to seek the Word before the world. And as we nurture their hearts, we release our fears and trust the Holy Spirit to do His life-giving work.
“My son, be attentive to my words; incline your ear to my sayings.
Let them not escape from your sight; keep them within your heart.
For they are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh.
Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.”