Growing In Godliness Blog
“Are We Giving Our Children Cut Flowers?”Categories: Author: Tom Rose, Parenting
Are We Giving Our Children Cut Flowers?
By Tom Rose
Followers of Jesus Christ don’t have children merely for companionship or to avoid loneliness in their later years or so they can pass on property and the family name. They view parenting as an opportunity to invest themselves fully in the life of a child who will someday become an irresistible manifestation of God’s grace. A child who will grow up to make a difference by exercising his or her unique talents and gifts, and thereby leave his corner of the world more kind and gentle, more spiritual and righteous. That’s our motivation for bearing and raising children – and our challenge.
However, when images of the whole world’s cruelest realities – war, abuse, violence of all kinds – are instantly accessible at the touch of a button or the flip of a page, it’s hard for parents to remain idealistic, hopeful and positive. When the dark side of human nature – the stormy, troubled side – is the pervasive picture of former heroes and heroines of politics, entertainment, and sports, it’s hard to feel supportive and trustful of our fellow human beings. And when our media makes sure nothing is left to the imagination, it’s hard to share the beauty of love and faithfulness within a marriage to the fresh, untouched territory of a teenager’s mind. All these problems seem so big, the people in charge so far away, so powerful, so wealthy, so far removed from our living rooms, our offices, and our schools, one might be tempted to exclaim, “Why even try?”
Feelings of helplessness plague us as parents when we see our younger children – even toddlers – being taught the very lessons that we don’t want them to learn from their peers, the media, and fallen heroes. Yet we know from daily living that the only thing to do when there’s a mess is to clean it up. This cleaning-up must be an everyday task in the way we treat ourselves, our families, our friends and neighbors, indeed, everybody.
That is precisely why God’s divine plan has parents in charge of preventing and/or cleaning-up the mess of our character-starved, immorally littered world and sees children as honoring and obeying their parents (see Eph 6:1-4).
Although the home is the primary place for establishing virtues as well as a good understanding of God’s Word, parents often look to the church for assistance in teaching and instilling spiritual values. Therefore, Bible classes must be perceived by children and young people as preparation for life as they really experience it and for developing a faith that has personal meaning. Unfortunately, sometimes teaching – both at home and in church - falls short of these goals. Thus, it is important to ask, are we giving our young people ‘cut flowers,’ when we should be teaching them to grow their own plants? The result may be that we are training another generation to be keepers of the aquarium, rather than educating fishers of men.
I once knew of a teacher who invited a whole group of people to study the Bible. He told them that he had discovered the most marvelous Truths from God’s Word, and he wanted to share them. He began to describe in minute detail the delights of the Scriptures without ever letting class members ask questions or participate in any way. He told and told and told. Although some teachers (and parents) believe that one will listen to what is being taught and automatically assume responsibility for a desired behavior or virtue, we really know better because “telling” – or handing out ‘cut flowers’ is not “teaching.”
Consider, for example, Susan, a third grader, completing in Bible study class her illustration of the good Samaritan (see Lk. 10:25-37). Her face suddenly takes on a reflective look as she turns toward her teacher and asks, “Does this story mean that I am supposed to help Judy with her math? She always comes to school dirty and wearing a torn dress and nobody wants to be with her.” “Yes, Susan,” the teacher replies, “If you are going to be the kind of neighbor Jesus wants you to be, you need to care for those who are less fortunate than you are.” Susan considered what her teacher had said, then responded, “I don’t want to, but I guess nobody in my class wants to either, so I’ll be a good Samaritan.”
Learners need to sort out and try on their ideas in a safe setting with a caring parent or teacher. That’s really what Susan was doing in the conversation with her teacher. She was actually questioning her understanding of what was required to being a “good Samaritan” and then determining a course of action by seeking the affirmation of the adult. When one realizes, after studying this parable, that there are personal applications for these ideas, they are usually ready to make some changes in their own behavior toward others.
In the above case, Susan learned that this lesson was for her and that there were some things she could do to apply it to her life. This example shows Susan is searching for ways to act on her learning and to do so she must do more than simply talk to her teacher about her discovery. Moreover, she is beginning to assume responsibility for her own learning by living it out on the playground, the classroom, and the neighborhood. Indeed, Susan will find that there are several ways in which she can be a good Samaritan to Judy. She could give her some of her clothes, she could talk to her about brushing her hair and washing her face before coming to school, she could tutor her in math, she could defend Judy when others put her down, and she could work at becoming a friend to Judy.
To write meaningfully on tablets of the human heart, Christians need to allow students both to discover and to internalize Biblical truths - for herein lies the long-term power for committed servanthood. If our instruction fails to excite and to involve our learners, it will likely yield a people trained to be passive observers rather than active participants in learning and in ministry (Ephesians 4:11-16). As young people develop, if structured opportunities for practice and application of one’s faith are weak or non-existent, any commitment to the Christian life may be only superficially formed, and devoid of the pleasure and enthusiasm found in sharing their faith with others.
Parents who truly understand this goal of parenting – to draw out the spiritual potential of each child – will become fully engaged in the challenge. They no longer just live to advance their career and their material possessions. Rather, they seek to build character, value, and vision into young lives. They no longer treat their children as inconveniences to be handed off to anyone who will tend them. Instead, these leaders of the home see the “season of parenting” as the ultimate spiritual challenge, worthy of their best efforts, most fervent prayers, and largest investments of time. In essence, they are parents who will do anything they can to encourage authentic Christian growth in their children. And in so doing, these parents choose to develop a garden with ever-renewing blossoms, instead of handing their child a vase of cut flowers. They know that molding a runny-nosed little bandit into a God-honoring difference-maker is the most stretching, demanding, and, ultimately, fulfilling challenge they face. So they earnestly devote themselves to it.
If we at the Douglass Hills church of Christ can be of help or encouragement to you in such an endeavor, please take the time to reach out and ask us. As God’s Word ever reminds us, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old - he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6