For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.–Romans 8:38-39

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From Building Blocks to Rollercoasters: A Metaphor for Shepherding

Post image for From Building Blocks to Rollercoasters: a Metaphor for ShepherdingRecently, I had the privilege of contributing to an ongoing discussion at the Domestic Kingdom blog, on pointing preschoolers to Jesus. It was an honor to join the conversation. Be sure to check out the other posts in this series, as well as the many other helpful resources at DK.

One evening after dinner, the older children were completing homework, mom was working in the kitchen, dad was on the computer, and our 5 year old (excuse me, he wants me to point out that he’s 5and a half) was asked to get ready for his shower. He likes the actual shower, it’s the “getting ready” part (gathering towels and pj’s and turning on the water) that he doesn’t like.

So, he asks my oldest daughter if she would help him. She asks him to get them himself because she’s busy with homework. I interrupt in my most instructive mommy voice, and say “You’refive and a half years old and perfectly capable of getting ready for your shower on your own.  Why would you ask your sister to do it, when you can see that she’s busy with her homework. What do you call that? (thinking he’d realize he was being lazy and inconsiderate of his sister’s time).

With a tilt of his head, and a slightly quizzical look, he replies “A favor?”. Well, yeah, from his perspective, I guess he would have thought that. I was so thrown off that he missed my teachable moment (and holding back hysterical laughter), that I couldn’t think of another wise thing to say, so I just told him to obey mommy before he gets into trouble!

This scenario is pretty typical in my home. I start out excited for the opportunity to seize a new teachable moment, but my children have their own agenda in mind, and well, sometimes things don’t turn out the way I plan.

But God’s grace is right there, giving me new moments and fresh opportunities to point my children to Christ.

So, on an ordinary day, how would I redeem that missed moment? Probably after his shower, at bedtime, I’d ask if he remembered the conversation and his response (praying silently that he would indeed remember). I’d explain (now that I know I can’t assume he can connect those dots) how his attitude was selfish and lazy, and remind him of our Bible verse in Philippians 2:3-4 “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” I’d ask him questions about his understanding of those verses and pray hard that he would not respond with something like “I understand my sister was not looking out for my interests but her own!”

Our best parenting practices are laced with sin, and so are our children’s most godly responses to our correction and training.

So where does that leave us as we consider our parenting?

It leaves us in the arms of our dear Savior, depending upon His grace, trusting in His providence working with and for our families in all our interactions, joys, and sorrows.

My daily activities vary with the children depending on their age, but generally this is what we do to add purpose to our days.

Build Blocks & Make Playdough (Shaping Stage: 2 to about 9 or 10) – Blocks and playdough are a new mom’s best friends. They can go with you everywhere! Not only do they keep the kiddies busy, but they encourage creativity and imagination in the early years (like stuffing the playdough in the holes of the blocks, or eating it, or tossing the blocks at the pet dog). Seriously, the early years are the shaping years. It is during this time that their little minds are easily molded and shaped Godward. They want to mimic our every move and we should make good use of this time in their development. From the time they can understand simple directions, we can begin to teach them who God is and the extravagant love of Christ by:

  1. Memorizing lots of Scripture (Numbers 6:24-26Psalm 99:5Proverbs 13:20John 17:3,Ephesians 6:11 John 1:9 are great starters for the wee ones)
  2. Listening to Scripture songs
  3. Learning the children’s shorter catechism, and
  4. Recounting lots of Bible stories to them.

These kinds of activities on a daily basis are our “building blocks”, and God’s Word is the strong foundation (Deuteronomy 6:6-7) on which we place these spiritual blocks that they will later learn to maneuver on their own as they grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ.

Baking (Reasoning Stage: 9 or 10 to about 13) – Easy Bake ovens are fine, but I find the instructions on the Pillsbury box much easier to follow! Plus, I’d much rather bake something the whole family can enjoy, rather than the tiny snacks that are best for one person with the easy bake oven. Baking with my children is highly messy and fun! As they enter the elementary and middle school years, following instructions is kicked up a notch. Growing out of the playdough and building block stages of shaping and learning facts, they are now able to read and follow instructions on their own. If we were baking, I’d ask them “Did you remember to put in the eggs? How long are we to bake our cookies? In the same way, as a parent, I remind them of what should now sound familiar to them (e.g. “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” Proverbs 13:20). But in this new stage, I help them learn to understand and apply what they know by asking key questions and providing prompts (eg. “Are you walking with the wise in this situation, or are you keeping company with fools?). Knowing what the ingredients are is in the shaping stage. Understanding how and when to use them is this reasoning stage.

Ride Rollercoasters (Abstract Stage: 13 through Adulthood) – Roller coasters freak me out! I’m NOT one of those persons whose excitement swells as the rollercoaster eases its way to the edge of what feels like devastation. I definitely don’t enjoy the free-fall, fast paced, frenzy that ensues over the next five minutes as my insides flip flop and my nerves rattle until the G forces release me from their pull. I think raising young adults is a little bit like this. They have the strong foundation of the Word in their hearts, they understand how to apply it to life’s circumstances, but now they need to work through living out what they know and understand (Proverbs 1:5). Life is coming at them fast and furious, and as a parent, I must go along for the ride, no matter how scary it seems to me, and trust that they will safely make it through the twists and turns of life. Their hearts have been shaped by God’s Word, and they have learned to reason from it. Now, we traverse life together and I offer counsel and wisdom to keep them from falling off the tracks.

In all these stages, we have to remember that the best gift we can give our children is the gospel.

During the bulk of these training years, we’re immersing our children in the facts of the gospel and its implications for how we are to live out each day.

– Remember God’s grace: We present various facets of the gospel appropriate to their age and ability to understand, but we must keep the gospel as center. It is the grace of God that brings salvation which teaches our children how to say “no” to the world, and “yes” to godliness (Titus 2:11-12).

– Remember you’re not alone: We should also remember that we’re not alone. God in His grace, has given us His Spirit to grant us wisdom and understanding. He tells us to ask for wisdom and He will give it to us generously (James 1:5). We have the strong, godly leadership of our husbands partnering with us as we raise our children. We also have a community of believers walking with us as we covenant together in our local bodies to raise our children in the nurture and training of the Lord.

I definitely don’t have all this down perfectly (very far, far from it!), but I’m enjoying each stage as we play playdough, bake and ride rollercoasters for the glory of God!