(A sermon based on Proverbs 22:6 & Ephesians 6:1-4)
The lifestyle of our families is an active, often hectic one. While the results of our efforts are often rewarding, we nonetheless pay a price for our “busyness.” Unfortunately, many times that price is paid by our family. One area that can suffer is the area of communication. How long has it been since you really talked with your child?
Let us consider some general hopes for the family communication process. It is to be hoped that:
Our children feel free to talk to us. Sometimes our children go through times in their lives when they choose to be uncommunicative. We need to understand their periodic need not to talk. But whenever they do need to talk, they should be able to come to us. For that to be the case, they must perceive a genuine openness on our part.
Some pointers: (1) Tone down the criticism. Children (and adults) make mistakes. If we are unceasingly critical, our children will not feel free to share their problems with us. (2) Adopt a posture of openness. That is, take time to talk with your children and look at them when they speak to you.
With younger children, bedtime is an important communicative experience. As you probably know, it is important to establish a bedtime routine with young children. Part of that routine could be a time of sharing with your child. Chances are that she had some interesting and/or troubling things happen that day, and they need to be talked about.
With all children, dinnertime is an excellent opportunity for communication. The family dinner is usually one of the first casualties of the wars of overtime, church activity, ballgames, hobbies, and dates. Insofar as possible, dinnertime should be a priority for every family member. Communication should take place around the table. Interspersed among the “Pass the potatoes” and the “May I have some more juices” and the “Mom, she’s looking at me agains” should come some legitimate and serious communication.
Communication is an ongoing process. While we can and should have special times of talking, our families should be always ready to share with each other. Our children need our words of support, encouragement, and correction from early on until they become adults.
An important question remains. Why is communication with our children so important? A similar question is, what is the purpose of communicating with our children?
We communicate with our children in order to know who they are
A literal translation of Proverbs 22:6 would be, “Train up a child according to his way…” The Amplified Bible states it this way: “Train up a child in the way he should go [and in keeping with his individual gift or bent]….” You see, the way any child should go must be his or her way. That does not mean that we have no influence or no hand in determining what they way should be. No, if our children know that we love them they will want (sometimes) to heed our instructions.
But if our guidance is going to be effective and informed, we must know our child and that means knowing each child. If you have ten children, each one will be different from the others. If you have one child, that child is unique. G. Campbell Morgan said that it “is God’s regular method” to break the mold: “God made you, and broke the mold. He made every child in my home and broke the mold, and there are no two alike.” Therefore, Morgan said, “You must specialize…. You must discover what the child is if you would train the child” [“The Training of Our Children,” The Westminster Pulpit, Vol. II (Westwood, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, 1954), p. 118].
There is a great biblical truth involved in this: God made each and every one of us unique. Even identical twins are different. Obviously, God takes our differences seriously. He does not deal with me in exactly the same way that he deals with you. We may hear the same things, but we hear with different ears. The various strands of tradition in the Bible are evidence of that truth. Therefore, as parents, we must take the differences in our children seriously. We must talk with them, get to know them, and learn what makes them tick. Only as we get a grip on a child’s individuality can we guide their growth effectively.
We communicate with our children in order to help them know the truth
It is true that our children must find their own way, but two other truths are related to that one.
They must know the truth about their world. When we speak of our children finding their way, it is implied that they must find their way through something. They must find their way through this life; they must also find their way in this life.
Their world is tough. In an old country song, a father tells his son that “the world is rough, and if you’re going to make it, you’ve gotta be tough.” Therefore, this loving father named his son “Sue.” There are better ways to teach our children about the toughness of the world.
We can let them hear. That is, tell them. Tell them what the abuse of drugs and alcohol can do to them. Tell them what pre-marital sexual involvement can do to them. Tell them what being in the wrong place at the wrong time can do to them.
We can let them see. That is, we can show them. I went to Washington, D.C. on a government studies program in 1973. We rode our tour buses around to all the usual sites, the various memorials and stately buildings. But our guides made it a point to take us into the “other” Washington—the slums and run-down areas where the poor of the city lived. They could have chosen to shelter us from all of that, but they did not, and we grew. We cannot shelter our children from the suffering and evil of this world. Is it not better that they encounter it under our guidance so that we can help them to deal with it and learn from it?
We can let them fail. Life is full of challenges and our children will not be able to meet all of them successfully, at least not on the first try. Finding their way is a new experience for them. They must have the freedom to make mistakes and to learn from them. By loving them always and by supporting them always we can tell them that failure is all right as long as it is learned from.
They must know the truth about their guides. By this I mean that they should know that their parents are not superhuman. Finding their way will take patience on their part and frustration is always possible. How helpful it is to them to know that we are still finding our way, too. Moreover, parents must earn their credentials to be the ones who will “train up” our children. Maintenance of authority is something earned. We won’t earn it by trying to appear perfect. We can earn it if our children see us making mistakes and admitting our weaknesses.
We communicate with our children in order to help them know proper values
Values education should begin in the home. We as parents must talk with our children if we are going to teach them of Christian values. What do I mean by Christian values? I offer three examples.
Who you are is more important than what you have. To our children we should say, “You are special because God made you special. God wants you to become his special servant. The most important thing in the world is that you have a relationship with Jesus Christ and that that relationship controls everything you are and do. Everything else pales in comparison; who you are in Christ is the real measure of success.”
Love is our one law. To our children we should say, “The greatest gift is love and God sent Jesus to show us what love is. Love is giving of yourself until there is nothing left. Love is giving to people who don’t care. Love is everything.”
Every person is important. To our children we should say, “Be kind to everyone. Help whomever you can. Everyone in the world is God’s creation. Jesus died for every one of them, so treat them with respect and concern.”
The KJV translates Ephesians 6:4 this way: “Bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (emphasis mine). If we will admonish our children to have these and other Christian values, they will be better people. And this world will be a better place.