Teaching While We Live Life
I imagine the parents of Moses’ day felt anxious and ill-equipped when he told them to impress God’s commandments on their children and all that task implied. Like you, their brains were bursting with other responsibilities in addition to impressing God’s law on their kids.
What else was on their minds? Besides their role as religious educator, these parents were making a major move from the wilderness to the Promised Land. They were packing up and heading out to a new land. Not a new home in a nearby neighborhood; not a new nook in a friends’ neck of the woods. They were moving to a new country that was already populated by pagan residents. Now that’s a move!
Big changes were happening all around them, and these moms and dads needed to teach their kids the faith even while they handled a major life hurdle.
Several years ago, my husband and I moved to a different neighborhood in our city. The new house was 2.4 miles from the old one. It was a six-minute drive that has taken ten years to unpack. The stress of our move doesn’t begin to compare with the transition the Israelites underwent. Even so, we were overwhelmed.
Parenting doesn’t exist apart from daily life. We raise our kids in the faith while we have a difficult season at work; while we have a trying season in our marriage; while we battle the flu; while money is tight and cultural morals are loose; while we care for aging parents; while we serve on committees with long meetings and long-winded members; while we clean the house and cook supper; while we referee sibling rivalries; while we stare at a tear-streaked math sheet; while they win the part and lose the race; while they lose the part and win the race; while we blast advice about bullies and beauty and brains; while we deal with IEPs and ADHD and children on the spectrum and learning disabilities and physical and behavioral problems; while we mourn.
We teach our children about God while we live life with His help.
When and Where Do Parents Impress God on Their Kids?
And that’s exactly how God intended it. After Moses instructs the Israelites to impress God’s commandments on their children, he tells them when and where to do it: “Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:6–9). In other words, we teach our children about God while we live daily life.
It’s in the routines of daily living that we impress God on our kids. Whether we’re shuffling them out of the house to catch the bus; shuttling them from the field to the dance studio; cooking supper and cleaning house; woodworking or knitting, God can be impressed on our kids during the daily rituals of life.
When You Sit at Home
Think about the times in which you sit at home with your kids. Mealtimes come to mind—especially when the kids are small and not scattered across town involved in various activities. How might parents engrave God on their kids around the dinner table? Taking a moment to pause and give thanks is an easy way to remind kids to honor the one true God. Establish a predictable pattern of prayer.
Give kids an opportunity to pray. Our middle child always gives a genuine prayer of thanksgiving for our two dogs and cat—of course, not for his brothers or parents! But he’s talking to God and learning to give thanks to the one true God.
Other prayer times won’t be so predictable. Seize the opportunity to pray with your kids when the need arises. Maybe your son is worried about an upcoming test or your daughter is having some trouble with a friend. Pray on the spot. You might be in the car or folding laundry.
We can impress God on our kids while we’re in our homes by watching television shows and listening to music that have the qualities listed in Philippians 4:8: “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
When You Walk Along the Road
Today, this is drive time—minutes and hours spent in the car. How do we engrave God on our kids while we navigate highways and byways? Through old-fashioned conversation. That doesn’t mean we strap them in and lecture our captive audience for eighteen miles, but we can make the most of any opportunity for conversation. Sometimes, it seems that kids ‘open up’ while being chauffeured by mom and dad. After a sour soccer practice or a terrible test or a fight with a friend, hopping into the car with mom or dad who has a solid faith will give kids confidence. They are loved by you. They are loved by the one true God.
It’s no secret that transporting teens and transporting toddlers is as different as driving a sports car and driving a minivan. They represent two very different passengers. Parents impress God by employing different methods. Toddlers and infants might respond to Bible songs about the walls of Jericho or Father Abraham. They are always up for a loud and lively, big on hand motions, and high on the silly spectrum sing-a-long. Teach them songs about God right away. Toss in a memory verse. Find other creative ways to help your kids soak in the good news of God’s love.
When You Lie Down
Establish a bedtime routine. Consider closing the day with a bible story and prayer. Invest in a kids’ story Bible. Invest in many. A father once asked me to suggest a Bible for his toddler. I gave him one of my favorites. He came to me about a month later and said, “We finished reading that one. What else do you have?” I had a list, but I encouraged him to keep reading the one he already had. A kids’ book of Bible stories is meant to be read over and over and over again—to the point where the pages are taped and kids will know the stories by heart and cherish them. Involve kids in bedtime reading. Ask them to select what story they want each night. Act it out or have them read or fill in certain words and phrases.
When You Get Up
Our family, probably like yours, is pressed for time during the school year. I send my kids off in the morning with a quick prayer. We choose one verse for the school year and memorize it. The kids recite it most days before they head out the door. Both of these take about one minute of our morning, and there are many mornings that we miss it. I’m not jamming toast with a spread of deep theology down their throats. Instead, they’re feasting on God’s Word as part of their daily diet. It’s a manageable bite. They’re starting the day acknowledging that a good and gracious God watches over them and loves them.
Tie and Bind
God’s Word should be weaved into the fabric of our lives. In Old Testament times, Jews would bind little boxes to their wrists and foreheads. Passages of Scripture were tucked inside each box. They also posted boxes, called mezuzahs, on the doorframes to their homes which signified that the entire home took God’s Word seriously.
None of this happens automatically. It takes intentionality on the part of parents, and daily reliance on the Spirit for wisdom.
In the Real World
We could talk about making a schedule—impressing God at home when we sit together, drive together, and go through our morning and evening routines. But maybe it’s better to talk about being intentional about impressing God on our kids. Some of that time will be planned—maybe prayer and conversation during dinner or Bible story at night or an early morning send-off Bible verse. Other times will not be planned at all, but since we are intentional about impressing our kids with God, we’ll be able to seize the moment and respond to opportunities to talk about God. This will look different for kids of different ages.
Impressing our kids with God should be manageable, not overwhelming. It should flow out of the natural rhythms of a life lived in tune with the Spirit.
Study: What does the Bible tell us about the parents to whom Moses is speaking? How long had they wandered in the wilderness? Would some of them have remembered life as slaves in Egypt? Where were their children born?
Reflect: What struggles or limitations do you face right now that make impressing God on your kids more challenging?
Apply: How did you impress God on your child(ren) yesterday? When and where did you impress them? List one way in which you will impress God on your child(ren) today and tomorrow.