Children learn from their parents’ actions. How can you as a parent teach the faith to your kids?
by Rev. Daniel A. Hinton
A recent trip to the dentist with three young boys began, as it always does, with filling out the checklist. Two pages full of questions covered every possible facet of dental health. Is your child allergic to any medication? Is there any history of heart disease in his family? How often do you yourself see a dentist? The last one seemed a bit perplexing. What does it matter whether his father sees a dentist regularly? That won’t change whether he has any cavities or whether he flosses every night.
But that was the wrong conclusion. Asking parents whether they themselves see a dentist provides a deep insight into how important dental health is to them and how likely they are to pass on good dental hygiene to their children. Dentists can’t be there at bedtime to remind children to floss. Dentists can’t go with parents to the supermarket to help parents pick out foods that won’t stick to their children’s teeth. Parents teach these habits to their sons and daughters and make good choices for them until they’re ready to make those choices for themselves.
No father would say, “I personally believe that it is important to brush twice a day, but I’m not going to force that on my son. When he gets old enough, he can decide for himself.”
Parents show children how to care for teeth long before they can understand the interplay between sugar, bacteria, acid and tooth enamel. If they waited until children could comprehend all this, it would be far too late to keep their teeth from decay. So, why can’t parents just wait until their children are ready to decide for themselves how seriously they should take their Christian faith?
It’s far too important to wait so long. As children grow, we teach them lots of things before they are able to understand what they mean. For example, we teach children to wash hands before we teach them microbiology. Parents do not usually wait until their children have decided to believe in the germ theory of disease before showing them how to wash their hands. Parents do not accept their child’s decision to use a dirty rag instead of warm water and soap. There is simply too much at stake. Likewise, parents cannot take a hands-off approach and allow children to piece together their own faith.
Most important, children learn from their parents–especially from their father–whether the faith is important. If a child sees his father and mother praying with him before and after meals, in the morning, in the evening, during times of stress and doubt, in church, in the car and any number of other times, he learns that prayer is an important part of life. If they read Scripture to him daily, he sees that reading Scripture is something grown-ups do. If he sees them receive the Lord’s body and blood, he wants to join them.
Why is all this so important? Jesus says, “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). There is only one way to the Father: through Jesus, His Son.
The world often teaches that there are many roads that lead to God, but Jesus says there aren’t. He is the only way to the Father. Nothing else will do. Because Jesus is the only way to the Father, we teach our children from the beginning of their life about Jesus. It is Jesus who has redeemed them–body and soul. It is Jesus who promises them eternal life. No self-help book or false god can promise that.
Often we are quick to think our children don’t notice what we do or say. Nothing could be further from the truth! Parents are their children’s first teachers. For example, children who are exposed daily to the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer often can say each of them from memory by the time they are two years old. Older children who have attended church regularly for 18 years are far more likely to continue once they go off to college.
Martin Luther addressed his Small Catechism to fathers: “As the head of the family should teach it in a simple way to the household.” Luther had no room for do-it-yourself religion; fathers were to teach the faith to their children. To be sure, faith is far more than knowing facts about God or the Bible. But through teaching and by example, parents can cultivate a life of faith within their children. God blesses those who hear His Word with the gift of faith: “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17).
> Go to www.cph.org to order Time to Pray, a book of prayers concerning the daily challenges young people face today.
About the Author: The Rev. Daniel A. Hinton is pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, Cheyenne, Wyo.