I will never forget Mother's Day 1997. Ironically, it was the first day that I took responsibility as a father — sort of my first Father's Day. My oldest son, Jared, was born two days prior, and now it was my role to safely transport both babe and mother home.
As we gathered up all our stuff that day, checked out of the hospital and then piled into the car, a heavy weight came over me. As I was driving, slowly and carefully, this huge obligation to look out for and take care of this little guy hit me like a ton of bricks. I came to the sobering reality that if things did not go well, it would be my fault! It was a tense and nervous drive the whole way home that in some ways has continued to this day and with two other kids later.
In Deuteronomy 6:4-9, we find a passage that was designed to lay out the goal of parenting, "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. 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." This passage is the Jewish "Shema" and is a prominent one in the Old Testament of the Christian Bible as well. In a very clear way it communicates the goal of parenting: establish the sacred truth of God in your children's lives.
"Impress" these vital teachings "on your children." Impress means to tell, repeat or diligently teach. Parents need to make some things clear to understand. As the old proverb says, "As the twig is bent, so grows the tree." And in the same way, Francis Xavier, the great Catholic educator once said, "Give me a child until he is 7 and anyone else can have him for life." Children at a young age are impressionable, and fathers and mothers need to take the initiative in what impresses these precious little ones.
According to the Holy Bible, what do we impress on our children? Deuteronomy 6:4 says that, "The Lord is one." The Lord is the one and only God, there are not many but one. There is someone so important in our universe that he demands our acknowledgement and reverence.
Impress them to "love the Lord" with every part of their being, heart, mind and soul. This is the first and greatest commandment. There is one so important that as we grow to know him, we should trust him more and more and relinquish control of our lives to him. Impressing on your kids "loving the Lord" demands cultivating it in one's own life.
How do we impress these teachings on our children? The Lord directs us in this passage that these foundations are to be the subject of conversations at all times in our relationships. Talk about them when you sit at home, when you are on a stroll, on the road, and at both breakfast and bedtime. It is so true that we impress when we least realize it, as most of what we convey is "caught, not taught."
We are all busy and life can get away from us. Work, hobbies and other time-takers can divert attention from the investment to lay a family foundation centered on God. I want to suggest three practical steps you can take to pass on these sacred truths. No. 1: Reading the Bible and praying regularly with your kids. Pick a time to read a passage of scripture and ask God for help. It could be during breakfast, after dinner or right before bed. You could read through one of the Gospels and tell the stories of Jesus or begin with Old Testament narratives. No. 2: Committing to a local body of believers. I like to say, "It takes all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people." Find a Bible-centered church that fits your personality as a family and commit. We do not have to teach our kids to be consumeristic — that comes naturally! But we have to teach them to commit and serve others. No. 3: Interweaving God discussions and life. Take the stuff that you are regularly reading about from the Bible and hearing at church and weave it into your lives.
Happy Father's Day all, and may your families grow and prosper as you pass on the sacred truth of God.
Norm Byers is the lead pastor of Genesis Church, with two locations meeting Sundays at 9:30 a.m. at Petoskey High School (use back entrance) and 11 a.m. at Boyne City Elementary. Visit us at www.genesiswired.com or Twitter @normbyers.