Just outside my office door I could see some toes sticking out. For our family it had been stressful time. At home we were trying to take care of two children while care for our 10 day old daughter who bad been hospitalized. At this moment we were making phone calls and packing bags with the anticipation of transferring our daughter by ambulance to another hospital several hours away. I knew I had to investigate those toes though, because they weren’t normally there. What I found was our oldest child, who is three, crying.
Kids often cry, but this was different. It was not a cry of anger for not getting his own way. It was not a cry of a frustration because his younger brother was in his way. This was a quiet cry of sadness that prevented him from even talking. So I scooped him in my arms and we sat on the couch for a few moments, but he never could get the words to tell me what was going on. I could only surmise that the tenseness of the situation had reached him, despite being so young there was a degree of comprehension that conveyed the seriousness to him.
While stress was peaking in our lives, God had allowed it to be an opportunity of closeness between father and son. Seemingly inconsequential, we spent a few moments together that were profoundly important. Not only were they important for us, but they opened up an understanding about the fragile heart of a child.
There are lessons to be learned. For a young child who is still trying to grasp much, how do you make sense of those serious moments in a child’s life? For me it was an opportunity to think through just how important it is to guide a child’s heart, not only for this moment in particular, but also in preparation for the future. As parents, there are three overarching areas that must make its way into the shepherding of our children:
- The Discipline & Instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4): Speaking to Fathers, Paul writes that they should bring their children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord, which comes from the teaching and application of His Word. They will not understand or respond to the world apart from understanding the of the Lord’s teachings. Therefore, there is great necessity to guard the child’s heart by filling the mind with His word and truth.
- The Love of the Lord (Deuteronomy 6:6-7): The discipline and instruction of the Lord is meaningless if not accompanied by a love for the Lord. Even more, it is a love of the Lord that directs the paths of a child. One’s love for the Lord will be the final consideration in decision-making, valuation, and obedience.
- The Gospel of the Lord (Mark 16:15): Finally, a child’s heart must be shepherded with the gospel. A constant saturation of the gospel accompanies the discipline, instruction, and love of the Lord. The gospel and its application in a child’s life will affect who they are and how they face all circumstances, both in this temporary life and in eternity.
These three points seem simplistic, as they are meant to be a constant part of consideration and application in every believer’s life at any age. How important can they be and what impact can they have if they infiltrate the lives of our children at such a fragile age? Certainly they cannot grasp all the serious circumstances, but seeing how we model gospel application in our lives during those times will certainly impact theirs.
I would argue that these points compromise much of how we are to love our children. While the gospel transforms our lives, it also transforms the way we love. Love takes on a different form because it looks not at temporary or outward expressions and appearances only, but considers the greatest effect for the greatest term. In other words, our love is transformed from a temporal state to an eternal status. How do you love someone eternally? By caring for their soul. Together these three points guide us towards the greatest demonstration of love that cares for the soul because it is motivated by the greatest love for God.
For some good books on parenting and caring for children, I would recommend the following:
- Parenting by Paul Tripp
- Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd & Margy Tripp
- What is Family by Edith Schaeffer