At various points there are news items that focus on the answer to the title’s question. Those news items often look at externals like climate change, educational opportunities, career potentials, governmental policies, and more. Depending on your viewpoints and values, these will have importance to you.
As a mother, grandmother, former teacher, ministry leader, and professional counselor, I believe we need to step back to a more significant level of consideration…the child’s heart.
Most of us have heard Proverbs 22:6 (KJV):
“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”
The key word in the verse is train. It means to teach through practice and instruction over a period of time or to cause growth in a particular direction. A major challenge to the effort is the amount of time and consistency it takes in an era where busyness reins. Some of that busyness connects with the goal to train, but often the choices are ones we may not give enough thought to in consideration of what it will result in. Busyness has become so much a way of life that too many of us sail along without much thought of how much time is passing.
It’s no wonder we are somewhat startled when our son or daughter is off to junior high, high school, or college. We were so busy doing so many things that we could not really stay in touch with how fast time was passing. I think it happens to us all.
It’s important to consider that every child comes into the world hardwired with a need to be noticed, appreciated, and known. Most of us get that because those needs don’t end in childhood and how well they are met in childhood has a direct impact on how we function relationally as adults.
The list of hindrances to meeting those needs of a child beginning at birth onward is a fairly long one, but one of them is that the adults in their lives must not be so busy they do not have time or energy to notice, acknowledge, and encourage. Our new devices that allow us a vast array of ways to connect don’t really accomplish that; they can only support what happens when we are “in person” with that child.
We miss so many opportunities when our children are toddlers. We can mistakenly think the way to pass on these needed relational nutrients is by taking quality time to play with the children and affirm them when doing so. That is not a bad thing, but with time constraints there are limits there for many adults. The place we can really put good things into the heart of a child happen in the dailyness of life.
Instead of having the child play or watch a DVD or TV when you have a chore to do, invite them to be with you while doing it even if you fear it will slow you down. (It might slow you a bit, but the payoff will be worth it.) When you are sorting laundry, talk through what you are doing and in no time they can help sort that with you. Why? You are conveying that you really want to be with them, showing them they can contribute at a very early age, developing something that will give them confidence and competence because they are capable. Those are big foundational building blocks. It is doubly good because we are not just telling them something, but we are showing them and being with them to do it. That covers all those three needs that are hardwired into a child’s heart.
A new Harvard study also shows that these children will become more responsible and successful as adults. That’s a great thing to pass on to the next generation. It also helps us accomplish the responsibility to steward a child before the Lord to be able to live without us.
What we call our children is also something we need to be aware of. I have heard far too many adults share about names they were called as children by parents or other adults that have had difficulty shaking to be clear about who they are.
My children are well into adulthood, but I still love it when I get to introduce them and say, “This is my son, David,” or “This is my daughter, Elise.” I am still expressing my claim and relationship with them much as God did with Jesus when He spoke the words: “This is my Son, whom I love.”
Jesus offered the same love and acceptance to those who were with Him during His ministry on earth. He offers it to us still and there is nothing more powerful than having the truth of that woven into the fabric of our being. It moves us beyond performance, pleasing behaviors, and into a solid secure relationship that equips us for facing each day even when the day is hard, disappointing, or painful.
I want to close this post with some words by Kenny Luck in his new book, Dangerous Good that point to some key reminders:
“That is the power of unconditional and sacrificial love being recognized, received, and responded to be someone. It creates a spirit of thankfulness and stewardship to honor the sacrifice. By contrast, fear of somehow losing God’s love by what you do or don’t do inevitability devolves into performance for God’s favor and love. That is when our spiritual life hits a slippery slope God never intended.”
The Lord doesn’t want us to forget to live and pass on the truth of Paul’s words in Romans 8:38-39 (ESV):
“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”