Thursday, February 12, 2015

Love and Serve God: Learning to pray for our children

I guess I’m a bad mom. I don’t know but it seems that’s what the world would have me believe.

I’ve encountered a few situations lately where people have expressed surprise verging on disapproval with my parenting style. I need to make more of my daughters’ decisions for them. I need to control every aspect of each situation they enter. I need to manipulate outcomes to guarantee my girls’ success. I need to map out every moment of their time and their future so they’ll have an amazingly successful career.

I think this is the problem – when Jimmy and I left the hospital after the birth of our first child, I forgot to pick up my pair of hovering helicopter wings on the way out.

Here’s what did happen in my life around that time, though. In early 1998, I found out I was pregnant with our first child. At that time, I read the Bible and prayed at our kitchen table each morning. From the time of that first positive pregnancy test, my prayer life added a new dimension.

I began to pray for each of my children to love and serve God. That was it. I wanted God to be real in their lives and I wanted help for Jimmy and me to raise them that way. God was real to each of us; the only way we could fail as parents was if we neglected to pass that along to them.

I’ve learned some things about what it means to love and serve God in the past 17 years since that first prayer. If we’re all still around 17 years from now, I’ll have some more things to share because I’m still learning. Also, I think these things apply to all of our relationships – not just how we relate to our children.

To love and serve God

God made you special and He loves you very much

This line actually came from Veggietales, a children’s video series who enjoyed their highest popularity in my daughters’ younger years.

The point for us, however, wasn’t only to teach the girls that God feels this way about them. Even more, we wanted them to learn God feels this way about everyone. Every person has a unique, inherent value because God made them. We don’t classify by race, age, gender, or any of the other categorizations where people like to set one group apart as superior to another group.

Some of the stories I remember that weren’t an issue because of the way my girls’ thought… A fourth grader can play with a third grader even though they aren’t the same age. It’s ok if you’re white but you want to pick out a black baby doll or if you think a black boy is cute. A new kid on the softball team needs help learning how to play – why would someone make fun of them?

We can’t love and serve God – as adults or children – if we don’t recognize this. We put people down because of how much money they have, how hard they work, where they live, how their family behaves, and other nonsense. As long as we do this, we’ll fail to see that God loves and serves each and every human on the planet and calls us to do the same.

Learn to learn

This is my primary goal in choosing to homeschool our daughters but it applies in all aspects of life.

God created an amazing environment for us to live in – it abounds in artistic creation and scientific discovery. It’s full of ideas, truth, art, and logic that all weave together to make the human experience. If our life’s goal is to learn information to pass a test to make a grade to get into a school to get a certain job, then I can almost guarantee we’ll miss out on the beauty of the artistry and the wonder of the science.

At some point we decide we can stop learning; for some, it’s after high school or college graduation. Others wait until they have a graduate or doctoral degree before they stop learning.

Loving and serving God, however, is to realize that we can never stop learning. As children, we can learn to learn so our life may become a pursuit of God’s truth, a discussion of ideas to implement it into the world, an ability to create as He created, and a capacity to research and discover all of it.

Grown up in a grown up body

Children are born with three parts – a body that interacts with its environment, a mind that interacts with other people, and a soul that interacts with God. As parents, we need to raise all three parts to adulthood.

Decent nutrition and shelter will help the physical body grow to adulthood all on its own. The mental functions of the mind aren’t so easy though. The spiritual soul is even more difficult but for now, I’m going to focus on the mind.

We had a 9 year old friend of my daughters over recently. We were going to buy Subway sandwiches for lunch so I asked her what she liked. She didn’t know; she said her mom always orders for her. I asked, “What kinds of meat do you like – ham, turkey, beef, or salami?” She didn’t know what any of the meats were because she’d never had to make a decision for her own sandwich.

Many adults are children in grown up bodies. It’s important for children to make their own decisions. They start young in deciding which clothes to wear or which lunchbox to buy. They learn skills that help them as they grow and their decisions become more complicated… Should I cheat on this test? Should I go out with this guy? Which car should I buy? What classes should I take? Where should I go to college? Should I marry this girl? Should I serve God on the mission field?

This isn’t only about decision making though.

My daughter wanted banana cut up on her Rice Krispies this morning. I’ve been teaching her how to use the knife and cut it herself but she told me she doesn’t like to get her hands slimy from cutting it. My answer was simple, “Yes, but when you’re 35, I’m not going to come over every morning to cut up your banana so your hands don’t get slimy.” She smiled and proceeded to cut her own banana.

We can’t make all their decisions for them; likewise, we can’t do everything for them. We often do because we do it better, faster, or safer. From cutting bananas to balancing their own checking account, they’ll never learn if we don’t allow them to try. Yes, they’ll mess up along the way. Sometimes we learn more from our failures and mistakes than we do our successes!

Part of loving and serving God is to function as responsible members of society. We make decisions and accept the responsibility for the outcome of those decisions as we also seek God’s guidance in the process. We accept our failures as learning opportunities for greater success in the future.

So what’s my point?

I don’t know; goodness knows I don’t have all the answers when it comes to parenting. I guess I’m only wanting to explain my lack of hovering helicopter wings. I want to raise children who recognize the value in all people. I want my children to try and serve those people rather than expect to be served. I want them to learn how to learn about what fascinates them and praise the God who created whatever interests them most. I want them to be responsible adults who can help society rather than drain it. I want them to love and serve God.

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