Time for Your Children About the father-role in raising children in the faith
“Dad, can you help me out with my homework please? I don’t understand this new lesson” sounds the begging voice of the daughter at the table. “I am sorry, I have to run right after supper, I have a meeting tonight, so that won’t work” is dad’s answer. The answer does not give him a good feeling. For this is the umpteenth time that he has to disappoint his daughter. His daughter — without realizing it — adds some salt to the wound by remarking: “This is already the third time this week. Last night a home visit, the night before you did overtime. What good is a father like that? You’re never here! Do you find your work and the church perhaps more important than I am?”
The father does get warm under his collar. He already regularly has the uncomfortable feeling that he falls short quite a bit in the upbringing of the children. His wife often has to do things all by herself. And now the kids are acting up as well.
When they were small and went to bed on time, the children didn’t much notice his absence. But now they need him regularly and he cannot really cancel his appointments. That eats him up.
And the office of elder is calling on him as well. Sister X needs a visit urgently, and he has not been at family Y’s place – where they have multiple problems with the children — for a long while.
When he steps in the car, the uncomfortable feeling from his daughter’s request still echoes in his ears. But, once on the road, father focusses quickly on the upcoming appointment he is heading for: a job interview at work.
The complaint of his daughter recedes to the background for a while. But the next day the feeling comes back again; to be a father who always falls short and who is never at home. He has the feeling that busy-ness often overwhelms him. Before he realizes it, he has filled up his agenda again. How can he ever change this? Can being a father still be called a blessing, or has it become a burden?
The image of the father has not been improved upon in many instances. The above situation sketch is perhaps recognizable for many fathers. For me it comes over as a part of every-day life. This is how you often can be caught between two fields of interest. What is now your calling? Children demand time and attention. Work also demands much of your time. The revenues have to increase. And then on top of this is the pressure from the church. Can you request to be released from your office as elder due to your workload and your family? Or can everything be moved aside for the special service for the Lord?
What surely does not work well is to pour out rivers of critique over busy fathers. For that does not solve the problem. But it does heighten the feeling of discontent in these situations.
This article is about the role that fathers have in the raising of their children, be they busy or not. The route which is followed here is: we look in the Bible, as to which tasks the fathers received? Then we ask the question: what can we deduce from that for today’s fathers? How can they fulfil those tasks beside all the other tasks which are required of them? In conclusion, we mention some practical suggestions.
The First Task
When we open the Bible and focus on the position of the father, then the first thing that we notice is the order in creation. God after all created things in such a way that humanity was built by a father and a mother who received one or more children to care for. God could have done this totally differently. For example, God could have created a world filled with adults right away. But the Lord did not do this. He created children and placed them in a dependent position. In this initially very dependent relationship, the Lord gave the father a position. And, as becomes clear from the Bible, a very special position. For the task of the father is to raise his child(ren) in the faith. In a number of places, the father is called to tell his children of the great deeds the Lord has done (e.g. in Ex. 12:26-27, Deut. 6:1-3, Jos. 4:21-22).
From the description when “Jesus blesses the children” (Matt. 19:13-15), it becomes clear that it was probably the fathers, and not the mothers, who had brought the children to Jesus. The centre of gravity in the task of a father raising his children is in bringing them up in the faith. In Old Testament times it was the father who looked after the spiritual upbringing of his children. The following were matters which children under twelve would have mastered and known by heart:
- the Ten Commandments;
- the main lines of Bible history;
- the confession “The Lord is our God; the LORD is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength”;
- their morning- and evening-prayers; and
- the meaning of the Jewish feast days.
If they met those criteria, they were called Bar-witsma, or Bat-witsma (i.e. son or daughter of the law). Especially the father was responsible for teaching this knowledge. A conclusion which we now can draw, is this: the first task of the father in regard to raising his children in the faith is that he takes the responsibility upon himself for the spiritual teaching of his children.
A Matter of the Heart
Fathers are currently still carrying the full responsibility for the spiritual upbringing of their children. This task fully remains despite the existence of Reformed education and Catechism classes.
Deuteronomy 6:7 reads: “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” This is preceded by what is written in verse 6: “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.” That must be the starting point for fathers: the words of God must permeate your heart. This not only means passing on the “technical announcements” about God and his service. But, fathers, show your children that God’s word and his service is a matter of your heart. What your heart is full of, your mouth must speak of.
And if you, as father, look in the mirror regularly, ask yourself the following questions and try to answer them as honestly as possible:
- What do I talk about with my child(ren)?
- Is the matter of the Lord a matter of my heart?
- Does my child notice this?
- Do I allow my child to look into my heart?
- And if they look into my heart, what do they see?
Could Reformed education (unwittingly) have caused fathers to have given over part of the spiritual upbringing to them? Emotionally you could easily say to yourself as a busy father: Bible stories, they’ll learn that in school. So, I can ease up on that a bit…
This can and may never be the purpose of Reformed education. And by the way, this is also not the purpose of Catechism classes. Just imagine, that Catechism classes would be the sole teaching that the children would receive beside the worship services. But of course, fathers must show interest in the Catechism classes of their children. And they may point out to their children the fact that Catechism is proof of God’s love for them. He wants to draw them closer, and obviously fathers want to send their children to Catechism classes.
A second conclusion we can draw from reading the Bible is: God asks fathers that they open their hearts for him and his word. And that they themselves speak about this from heart to heart with their children, at every occasion.
God lets himself be called by the name of Father. In Psalm 103:13 the Lord God compares his love for us with the love a father has for his children. His Son Jesus Christ has taught us to pray to the Lord God as “our Father” (Matt. 6:8, 9). Through Jesus we may say that we are children of the Father in heaven. Jesus has earned that for us.
For an important part, human beings derive their image of God from their parents and other educators. That is how we have obtained our image of God and it still works like this with our children. For example: if you are strict and inexorable/relentless in the upbringing of your children, then your children will translate that through to their image of God. If you are a father filled with love and patience, then most often the children will see the Lord God like that as well.
A father plays an important role in how the child forms an image of God. But why specifically the father? That has to do with the fact that in the child’s imagination father is the big and strong man. If he is at home, then you feel safe. That is what a young child feels. What an impression does it make then when the father says: “Child, I cannot do this by myself. Dad cannot do everything. Dad can only do this with God’s help. God has to also protect me; I can only live through him.” Especially when the father shows that he depends on God in heaven, this will have a tremendous influence on the experience of faith of the child.
You would be more than happy to give faith to your child. But that is impossible for fathers (and for mothers). The only One who can do that is the Lord God. It is from him that earthly fathers have received their faith.
You may let yourself be used as an instrument by the heavenly Father to bring the children to him. Just as Jesus said to his disciples (Matt. 19:13-15): “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them.” With these words he also warns us as educators: Do not stand in between your child and me. Be the connecting link, the pass-through hatch of my love. Show your child the way to me.
A third conclusion which the Bible lets us draw, is this: Fathers, model the image of God in the upbringing of your child.
Wrath and Blessings
In two of God’s Ten Commandments the fathers are mentioned. They also demand attention in the scope of this article. It is remarkable that both commandments have a special add-on. The one commandment contains a pronouncement of wrath and the other commandment contains a promise. Both commandments deal with spiritual upbringing.
In the second commandment the fathers appear for the first time. In this commandment it is about how the Lord God is to be served. Do this accurately, the way I want it, and not just how you see fit. If you go your own way in this, know then the consequences that this has: it will resonate till the fourth generation. This is how God’s wrath is poured out over idiosyncratic behaviour of the fathers. So, to be a father is not a matter without obligations. It demands accuracy in modeling how to serve the Lord. The Lord God uses this to tell the fathers: “Pay careful attention then as to how I want to be served. And pass that on and model that for your children.”
In the fifth commandment, the Lord God calls upon the children to honour their fathers and mothers. Obeying this commandment leads to a promise. Paul says about this commandment in Ephesians 6:2, “this is the first commandment with a promise”. The promise is: that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
But how does this promise tie in with the task of the fathers (and mothers)? The parents have received the task to tell their children of the great deeds the Lord has done, and to point to him for their lives. They have the task to show their children who the Lord is. And by the children accepting this with a believing heart they are assured of eternal life.
A fourth conclusion is that the fathers (parents) are to model accurately to their children as to how to serve the Lord in all they do.
What do these things now mean for every-day life? Especially in a time when much is already demanded from the fathers. Below are a few suggestions, not meant as a prescription. I hope that fathers will benefit from these:
- In the first place: fathers are to endeavour to especially be believing fathers. To live close to the Lord. A piece of iron is made magnetic by stroking it repeatedly in the same direction along a magnet. In some way this also applies to your faith. Always move alongside the word of God. Search for it.
Take time for your daily Bible study in order that more and more fibres of your existence will move toward God. Let yourself be filled with his greatness and his grace. The wind does not blow this into you. Personal Bible study can really help you on your way in this.
- Beside personal Bible study, prayer is a vital element for fatherhood. In prayer, a father shows his dependency on God. Could you be a good father for your children without prayer? A prayer for your children, but also a prayer for yourself as father. How could you take on such a responsible task without him?
- Raising children in the faith starts with providing for your child’s safety and security. If your child is still very small you cuddle it. That is how you offer safety. Then your child learns to give themselves in trust to someone else. Even at a later age your child still craves that human touch, as proof of your love for them. This can be done by putting your arm around them. And, if your child rejects that, by some play-fighting.
- Raising children in the faith demands unconditional love for your child. Just as God loves you and your child unconditionally. That means that you continue to say (and think): “Child, I love you.” Also when your child perhaps does something which troubles you greatly, or with which you cannot agree at all. You can then talk to him about his behaviour and perhaps punish him, but the love remains!
- It is important to continually be open and straightforward about the matters that concern you, especially in the realm of faith. That requires knowledge of faith on the one hand, but also to be brave. That is not easy for every father. And yet, it is worth trying. Much transferring of faith happens through emotions. (“Let those words be in your heart!”). Also, when you sometimes have doubts of faith, you may show your child that you are not a faith superhero. “Dad can only do this with God’s help. That is why I pray every day. That is also where the strength came from for people like Moses and David.” Your dependency on God will then become even more clear.
You can also show true reality by being vulnerable when you have to. That is possible by e.g. admitting to your child that you made a mistake, when you judged a situation wrongly, when you should not have used that word, when you were too strict, when the punishment was too severe and not in relation to the violation, etc.
- Father and mother and the children make clear arrangements, which can give a lot of clarity: Which times apply to the family?
- For raising children in the faith, it is also very important that the relationship between mom and dad is good. That is something to work on continually. How does dad deal with mom? Does he show love and respect to her? But also: how does mom speak about dad, when he has to leave for the umpteenth time, to attend a council meeting?
- It is good to regularly ask yourself why you do certain things. What is your goal in life? How does your spending of time agree with this? What has the greatest priority: your career, your fun times, or serving the Lord?
For example: when you have been elected to the office of elder, then you profess that God has called you to serve as elder. He will also prepare you and equip you for this. But this calling and this promise also apply to your child-raising at home. Perhaps you have to explain to your child that you have to leave again tonight, as God has given you a task to do. Then the child will notice that you are taking the service of God seriously.
But the other way around is also possible: brother or sister, tonight I am at home with my family, that is where God calls me to be at this time. I will make an appointment with you. Do not send someone down the garden path or make up silly excuses (“when the phone rings, tell them that I am not at home”). You are better off by being clear in these circumstances.
A father’s first responsibility lies in the raising of his child(ren) in the faith. He made that promise before God when his marriage was solemnized and when his children were baptised. The Lord God calls the fathers in his word to be faithful in this. In making the good choice each father may expect to be blessed.