When No One is Listening
The Most Important Work
“Children are not a distraction from more important work, they are the most important work.”
This quote has been attributed to C.S. Lewis, and while it is something we believe he would have certainly agreed with, there seems to be some doubt as to its authenticity. However, the topic of this post is not who penned the line, but its message. It is slightly hyperbolic, but only slightly. As parents we owe no higher obligation to anyone, outside of God Himself, than to our children. Their well-being, their shalom, is paramount to our efforts as parents. Which is probably why it’s so difficult.
Are Children Listening?
As the parents of very young children (3 years, 18 months, and a third in the oven), we experience the burnout of making a concerted effort to disciple our children in the deep truths of Christ and His Word. The biggest problem is that most children don’t seem to listen. They seem ambivalent, sometimes even antagonistic towards our attempts at discipleship. Why would we want to interrupt their Frozen role-playing game or their intricate dollhouse soap opera for a seemingly abstract and otherwise “boring” moment of truth or reflection from Mom and Dad?
Because they ARE listening. This post isn’t a guide to show other parents how “we” do discipleship as a family. No two children are alike. No two families are alike. The command to disciple our children is clearly objective (Deut. 6:6-7; Eph. 6:4), but the more subjective component of discipleship is the “how.” We are simply here to plead with you, fellow parents: Don’t give up. They ARE listening. When you sit down for family devotion time and one of your children interrupts you because they MUST have a drink or death is imminent, keep pushing through. When you seize a moment of the day to teach them a truth about God, His character, or His Word and you get the cold shoulder in response, they heard it.
And just when you think it’s all in vain and you wave the, “wait until their older” white flag, they’ll surprise you. We’ve been teaching Emma (our oldest) very basic, one-sentence truths as part of our discipleship philosophy, and one of them is, “Jesus is alive.” Sometimes we take it a bit further and add a little more complexity. Currently expats in Asia, our children have had the opportunity to garner exposure to different worldviews. In our particular context Buddhism is a fairly prominent one. So we tell Emma, “Buddha is dead, but Jesus is alive. That’s why we worship Jesus.” Emma never really responds and most of the time she barely acknowledges that we said anything. We just thought she didn’t understand and it simply didn’t fit her interests at the moment. Weeks later, we happened to be at a Zen Buddhist temple which features an enormous and prominent bronze Buddha statue. Amidst the haze of burning incense and people bowing in prayer, Emma loudly declares, “Buddha is dead, but Jesus is alive!” My (Brian’s) first act was to look around to see if anyone understood enough English to realize that our three-year-old kid just declared their present activity futile, but my second act was to think, “She’s listening….”
Entrusted to Us
Most of the time the Lord doesn’t give us such an epiphany. But, sometimes He does. Neither of our daughters has given us such a clear indication since then, and our discipleship efforts are still mostly filled with intermittent resistance to “devotion time” or a blank stare after sharing a glorious truth about God.
But they ARE listening. So parent, don’t stop reciting the Bible to your children with gladness and sincerity. Don’t stop showing them sunrises and sunsets as examples of the Lord’s creative beauty. Don’t stop showing them that good food, laughter, music, and play are joys in life that are shadows of the greatest Joy. Don’t stop taking moments of sadness and solemnity as a reminder (as is age-appropriate) of the grim reality of sin and the brokenness of our world. But don’t stop there. Show them the endless love, hope, and complete reconciliation that can be found and experienced only in Christ.
Their souls have been entrusted to us. Do not waste such a glorious burden. But don’t despair, because they’re listening to you, parent.