Cherishing positive role models

As parents, I think we can all agree with the importance of Proverbs 22:6: “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” The question is, “How do we train?”

This has been what I have most appreciated about Heart to Heart. Parents are sharing their unique experiences on how they have trained their children in the Lord. When I read Proverbs, the word “training” initially brings a picture in my mind of sitting down with my son or daughter and studying Scripture or reading a devotion—perhaps more of an academic experience. However, I’m also quite certain that modeling the application of our knowledge of Scripture is important for my kids and included in the idea of “training” from Proverbs.

By default, parents are natural role models for their children, but we can also rely on other positive role models to reinforce that training in the Lord. I want my kids to see how God’s Word comes to life in what we do and say. I’d like them to see how others bring to life the fruits of the spirit: “. . . love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22).

But who are these people who can be role models, and where do we find them? There seem to be many role models out there in sports, movies, television, or YouTube, but are these the people who consistently bring us confidence in their demonstrations of love for God?

As I wrote this article, I couldn’t help but wonder who my kids would identify as their role models. So I asked them, “Besides Mom and Dad, who would you say are your favorite role models—the people you really look up to?” I asked them each separately and both of them had the same top pick. They chose their Aunt Lori because, “She is so loving and patient and kind to everyone.”

Yes! I couldn’t have picked a better role model, and personally I was relieved that the top pick was not a famous YouTuber or sports hero! Another pick was one of their grade school teachers, Miss Bauman, who has devoted her life to the teaching ministry for more than 40 years.

I’d like to think my wife and I intentionally arranged their role models to be family members or called workers. However, it’s interesting that our kids picked the same people that my wife and I would consider our own role models. Maybe the secret to encouraging positive role models for our children is to be sure we have our own first. Thanks be to God that he provides faithful, Christian people in our lives who we can look to as an example. Let our kids see us cherishing them as well.

Grandma is in heaven

Talking to your child about the death of a loved one is never easy. Death is simply not natural. It’s the result of sin. No sin—no death—and no need to talk about it.

Certainly the circumstances surrounding the death can impact a child and family, but as parents, my wife and I have found that preparing for death is a natural part of our Christian life. Starting with baptism we receive the forgiveness of sins and become heirs of eternal life. Death is defeated! As parents we then have the opportunity to help our children grow in the Word so the Holy Spirit can nurture their faith in Christ and they can be confident of life in heaven. Talking to children about the death of a loved one can then bring us the opportunity to comfort one another and be reminded of the certainty of eternal life in heaven.

Nine years ago my mother, Helen, died after fighting cancer for 18 months. My daughter Kayla was five years old. We lived nearby and had many opportunities to see “Humma” as Kayla liked to call her.

Eighteen months of cancer treatments and a slow decline of health gave us all time to prepare. We would specifically plan “Kayla and Humma” days where just the two of them could spend time together. Kayla was always excited to see Humma, and the door to Mom’s house would always open before we could even knock. Imagine the big smile and hug of a grandmother as she swoops up her granddaughter in her arms. That time was not only important for Kayla, but it also gave my mom a sense of peace knowing that she had the opportunity to have a loving relationship with all of her 14 grandchildren.

The only thing that troubled Mom was that she would not be present at Kayla’s confirmation some day. So mom and I pulled out the video recorder, and we recorded a message that could be played on Kayla’s confirmation day. This last May, Kayla was confirmed, and she had the opportunity to have one last Kayla and Humma moment together.

The day did finally come when the Lord took Humma to heaven. How do you tell your five-year-old that Grandma died? The nurtured faith of a child is simply outstanding. It was hard for me to tell Kayla that her grandmother died but easy for her to remind me that my mom was in heaven. That response can only come by hearing the Word that has been shared at school, at church, and at home from family—including from a very special Humma.

Parenting through the lens of the gospel

It was a Friday night. My wife was at an event for church, and my daughter was at a sleepover at a friend’s house. My son and I had a night off together. We decided to go to a movie and looked at the options. There was one superhero-type movie that I thought looked good. My son thought it looked “awesome!” Then I saw the rating: “R.”

My son asked, “Dad, why can’t we go to an R-movie?”

Is there a difference in how a Christian versus a non-Christian parent might respond to my son’s question? Couldn’t we both reply by pointing out that the movie has sexual contact, vulgar language, and extreme violence and that’s inappropriate for young children? I think we could—and that was part of my response.

We all have non-Christian friends who do a great job of instilling basic morals and values in their children. After all, everyone has a natural knowledge of God’s law and can use that in their parenting as they train their children to not hurt others (or watch others do so in a movie), steal, lie, etc.

But as a Christian parent we have something more! We not only have God’s law, but we have the gospel as well. We know that there is no way we can keep the law perfectly, but Christ did for us—and gave his life to pay the penalty for our sin. By God’s grace we are forgiven and are heirs of eternal life. Everything we do now is not merely motivated by God’s law. The law has been fulfilled by Christ’s sacrifice. Now what we do comes out of joyful response to the gospel message.

“Dad, why can’t we go to an R-movie?”

We can! But, let’s think about how we can show our love to God—by watching a movie filled with sexual contact, vulgar language, and extreme violence? Or, staying home together with a bowl of popcorn and watching Star Wars? We chose Star Wars—and I ate most of the popcorn.

These teachable moments of gospel opportunity are always before us. Let’s admit that we likely err on the side of being more law-based than gospel-based in our parenting. It’s natural, but it’s truly at the root of what sets us apart as Christian parents. Remind yourself of your overwhelming thankfulness that despite our sin and imperfections, the Holy Spirit has led you to know Christ’s love. Now it’s our opportunity to demonstrate that thankfulness in the lives of our children.

Those little white lies

I’m sure you’ve had a moment when you have “caught” your son or daughter twisting the truth of a story to avoid a consequence, especially regarding school and homework. I had one of those opportunities the other night when I needed to remind my kids about the importance of telling the truth about their homework deadlines. As soon as I finished talking with them, the phone rang.

It was a friend of mine whom I hadn’t heard from in probably three years. After a great conversation, he asked if we could get together the next weekend. Can you see where this is going? Yes, in front of my daughter I gave him an answer that was perhaps not completely accurate. One of those, “We are busy this weekend,” responses.

As soon as I hung up the phone, I heard, “Dad, what are we doing this weekend?”

I blew it! My heart moved up into my throat. Should I try to twist the weekend story so I don’t look like a complete failure as a parent? Should I try to walk away and pretend I didn’t hear her? Could I quickly get my wife to help me create a cover story? What to do!

Surely my “little white lie” is not on the level of Abraham passing off his wife as his sister. And what about Peter—denying he even knew Christ, three times! My weekend excuse can’t be that bad, right?

Who are we kidding? It’s a lie. Clear failure on my part to keep God’s law perfectly. It was intentional deception just like Abraham and Peter. It was a failure with my friend and a failure with my daughter. No excuses.

It’s the same thing that we all complain about in our society. Who is telling us the truth? Have you watched any political debates recently? You know what I mean. It makes me wonder if Pontius Pilate’s question to Jesus, “What is truth?” might have been an exasperated response to the politics of his time. Was he exasperated with the lies, betrayals, and inconsistent stories?

We want so desperately for our children to be different. We want them to reflect the love of God by speaking truthfully. We want them to be trusted, successful, and honest. We don’t want them to grow up to live dishonest lives—existing by adding one lie on top of another.

Yes, my weekend story to my friend was a failure, but it gave me the opportunity to demonstrate confession and admit that I made a mistake. It also gave me the opportunity to talk about Christ and the reason we have and need his forgiveness—something I did not emphasize earlier when I was lecturing my kids.

We are forgiven! God’s grace abounded in my family’s failures that evening. It won’t be the last time, either.

Family balance is important

I’m happy to share some thoughts on how my family has adjusted to the myriad of activities and opportunities for our kids. First, though, I want to point out that I believe every family is different and there are no right or wrong answers. I can’t recall ever hearing a magical number of activities that are recommended or required for kids. I think we can all agree that the number of options for activities has exploded.

This is really going to age me by saying this, but back when I was a kid in Lutheran elementary school, it seemed my athletic options were basketball and softball. I also played baseball in a community little league. The only other activity or group option that I can recall was Lutheran Pioneers or Buckaroos. Furthermore, I rarely remember having practices for my teams in grade school. I’m sure we had some, but I really don’t think they were three nights a week.

Now we could fill this page with nothing but structured activity options through school, church, the community, summer sports camps, etc. Our temptation as parents, and on the part of our kids, is to be involved in more than we can handle. Perhaps there is even a bit of worry as parents that if my children are not taking advantage of the plethora of activities that other families are, maybe my kids won’t grow up as well-rounded adults.

Good friends just signed their son up for the community lacrosse team. Now that sounds fun! I didn’t even know that opportunity existed. Should I mention that to my son?

With no easy answers, how do we make decisions on the activities? To be honest, my wife’s and my efforts usually fall on trying to limit participation rather than seeing our kids overinvolved in too much. Here are a couple priorities we try to keep in mind.

Priority #1: Love
Probably the most important thing we have tried to do is make it clear to our kids that their participation and success in any activity is not something they need to do to get our love. God’s love for us through his son was unconditional. We don’t need to perform—or be the best—in order to receive God’s love. What we do as Christians is simply a demonstration of our love for God. So in that light of Christian joy and freedom, priority #1 is that the activity the kids choose can be seen as just another way to show love for God and not a way to win mom and dad’s approval. That comes free!

Priority #2: Balance
This can get tricky. As adults it seems balance in life can be hard to find, and our own activities and responsibilities feel overwhelming at times. I guess if our kids watch us closely and learn from us, are we teaching them to live a balanced life or a life filled with stress and anxiety as we move hastily from one thing to the next, getting short and angry with one another because we always feel late and behind?

I think family balance is important. People tell us that these times when the kids are young will go by fast. I definitely agree! Our family needs time. We need time to simply be together, go for a bike ride, watch a movie, and even do some chores together (or maybe I wish we’d do more chores together!). This is time to just be with one another and nurture our relationships. It’s the time needed to teach and show them God’s love. If the outside activities infringe on the family connectedness, then it’s time for us to pull back.

Looking back in my life, with comparatively few activity options, what did I do with all my time? I wasn’t bored. I have great memories of participating in unstructured activities with friends and family. I’m certainly not calling for us to bring back “the good ‘ole days.” I think all the varied activities offered are amazing now, but developing a few simple priorities has helped our family maintain balance.

How can I help train my children?

Our kids attend a Lutheran elementary school where they hear the Word of God every day and see it applied in all aspects of school. Sometimes I find myself getting a bit lazy when it comes to fostering spiritual growth in my kids or creating opportunities for the Holy Spirit. The Lutheran elementary school does such a good job already! However, I’m pretty sure Proverbs 22:6, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it,” was not written solely for the teachers at school, but for me. It’s my job! So how can I help train my children?

The first thing that came to mind was to have a nightly family devotion. I searched and read reviews about devotion books. I made my selection, and one night I pulled out my new devotional book. The kids said, “Oh, that’s the one we use are using at school.” Not fair! I started reading it anyway. It was obvious that my kids were listening in school (good thing) because after reading the title of the devotion, they’d say, “This is the one where . . .”

Experiences like these have really led my wife, Kelly, and me to focus on discovering new and varied ways of helping our kids grow spiritually. We are always searching for different ways to complement the exceptional work done by our pastors and teachers.

Nightly blessing has been an important practice in our home. Every night we spend time singing our bedtime prayers, talking to God, and then blessing one another. That regular time of prayer and blessing has become a cherished time.

How about the morning? Since I leave for work at the crack of dawn, I’m not home to help send everyone out the door. My grandfather always said, “Never leave the home without prayer and Scripture.” So I printed out about 50 different passages, and I attach one to the door before I leave. When Kelly and the kids leave they read the passage together or take it along and read it in the car to help focus their hearts on the Lord for the day.

One more idea. A friend of mine recently wrote a devotional “book.” It’s not a traditional devotional book but more of a family thanksgiving journal. Our family is now coming together at some point during the day and sharing what we are overwhelmingly grateful for. We are recording this in a thanksgiving journal, and it allows us to intentionally focus our thoughts on God’s blessings. There is plenty out there that is negative, and I know it clouds our appreciation for the abundant blessings of each day. We are finding a way to train ourselves to watch for blessings, record them, share them with one another, and allow this process to lead into a casual discussion of thankfulness. We don’t do this at the same time every day. I’m less concerned with making a “devotion time rule” and more concerned with using this as a casual but consistent way to demonstrate the love we have for our Lord with each other.