I know this sounds so trite and elementary, right? I mean, read the Bible-- it's so obvious. But. Do you actually read your Bible to your toddlers every day? How about your infant? The four-month-old? If so, kudos to you! I wish I'd thought to start that young.
I am not the type of person to be easily swayed by superstitious rituals and mysticism, but I tell you what, even a child who has no sense of what is being read to them (example; the four-month-old, as I mentioned before) benefits from the word of God spoken out loud in your living room (or wherever). Not just a toddler or children's Bible (although I have nothing against them), but the actual, straight up Word. I do not know whether it is the actual sound of the Words of God that affect the child in some Spiritual way, or simply that God honors the obedience of the parent by blessing the child. But I know for certain that I see a different in my children (at a very young age) between days when we meet with the Lord to read His word before our day begins, and days when we simply rush headlong into our work and mutter a hurried prayer for Grace along the way.
I have recently realized that we'd gotten out of the habit of daily devotions (with the kids) over the summer. I'm so thick-headed about these things. It sometimes takes me WEEKS to realize I've bumped the Lord down my ladder of daily activities in favor of Accomplishing Things. Isn't that sad?? Anyway, we're back into it now. And during our morning devotions (first thing! before school or anything!), we are also teaching the children to
Now this one is easy. How do you teach a child to pray? The same way you taught them to smile! You smiled at them, right? That's how they learned, by imitating you. So pray for them, and let them imitate you in that as well:
"Judah, say 'Jesus, thank you for this day.'"
"Deedus, tant you for dis daaaayuh"
"Thank you for the sunshine and the warm weather"
"Tant you for da shunshine and the wever"
"Help me to obey mommy today and kind to Sofi"
"Hep me to obey mommy and be tind to Seezee"
Do this every day! Before you know it, they'll be motivated to pray on their own. Sofi does. She sometimes asks me to pray for things, but she will often bring up something that's important to her in prayer all on her own.
Remember, your job, as the parent, is to establish the habit. God will bring Spiritual reality into those prayers as your children get older. The same way you make them brush their teeth every day even though they have no concept of germs or cavities and they certainly wouldn't do it if you didn't make them. They may not understand exactly what prayer is right now, and they might only be doing it because you're making them and sounding out every word for them, but if they are in the habit of going to the Lord on a regular basis, it will stand them in good stead as they get older.
WORSHIP (I just wrote this whole section and then Firefox crashed and the internet ATE my post. So here's my best attempt to re-create the thought process...)
This is another one of those annoying areas where I realize that poor Judah, the second child, has gotten short-changed. When Sofi was his age we were already teaching her worship songs and simple hymns. I just realized this school year that I'd gotten out of the habit of including singing time in our daily devotions, so.... Have to play catch-up with Judah. He's now learned the Gloria Patri and is working on Amazing Grace.
Let me say again, this is about establishing habit in your child. It may not be the same amazing spiritual high of a Steve Whatsizname concert. Your child may not have the faintest idea of what he or she is doing or saying. The point is, they're doing it. And they'll learn the significance as the get older. When you first start teaching your child to sign "please", they have no idea what's going on. But soon they learn! Right? You don't wait till you can explain what please is before you start teaching them to say it. When Judah sings the Gloria Patri, he has no sense of participating with the saints in a tradition of hundreds of years, but he is doing it. There's a reality to the act outside of his limited comprehension.
The Bible commands us over and over to lift up our voices in praise and by worshiping daily with your children, even before they have any idea what's going on, you're leading them in obedience to Christ.
And now my favorite;
My favorite because it sounds so... wrong *evil grin* I mean "indoctrination" is one of those no-no words in our day and age. Right? It's what the bad guy does the helpless dude tied to the chair. It's also what I deliberately do to my children. Mwahahaha.
In all seriousness, though. Look at the word. Dictionary.com defines it this way:
in·doc·tri·nate (n-dktr-nt)tr.v. in·doc·tri·nat·ed, in·doc·tri·nat·ing, in·doc·tri·nates1. To instruct in a body of doctrine or principles.2. To imbue with a partisan or ideological point of view: a generation of children who had been indoctrinated against the values of their parents.
I find it fascinating that they use the example of children being indoctrinated against their parents values as a sample phrase! How perfect! It makes my point for me. The whole entire world around you is working day and night to teach your children their set of values (or "non-values"). You better be working pretty hard to get yours in there first while you have the majority voice! Take every opportunity! Be corny and exaggerated, if you have to! No one cares.
You see a Hannah Montana poster in Wally World with her outfit leaving little to the imagination? Stop! Turn around! Show the picture to your seven-year-old! Say, "Wow, look at that poor girl! She thinks it's cool to show off her belly. Isn't that sad that know one ever taught her to be modest with her body? Wouldn't she look much prettier and more comfortable if she was wearing a longer t-shirt that covered her belly button?"
You hear your son say "I want to be the bad guy, I want to hit you!" (true story) Don't freak out (talkin' to myself, here, ladies)! Just stop him and say, "No, Judah, you don't want to be the bad guy, you want to be the good guy! You're the Hero, you're gonna rescue Sofi, not hit her!" Create reality for your children with your words.
It's so important. Sooo important. It's the most important part of your job. You can get through eighteen years without teaching them sign language, or co-sleeping or early potty training, home-made baby foods or cloth diapers. You can send them to public school or home-school them. You can teach them five languages or neglect to teach them proper English. They might read at age four, or still not ride a bike by age seven. But I tell you, you've got to deliberately set out to teach and model for them what it means to follow Christ. You've got to do it every day. You cannot just go about your business and expect them to pick it up through osmosis. You cannot leave it to the Sunday School Teachers (poor souls). It's got to be you and you've got to keep it in the forefront of your mind, you've got to...
... teach (these things) diligently to your sons and talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as signs on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
O Israel, you should listen and be careful to do it, that it may be well with you and that you may multiply greatly, just as the Lord the God of your fathers has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey.
P.S. As always, the last three or four posts have been directed at myself, primarily. I need stern injunctions and reminders OFTEN. If any of you benefit from what I've written here, praise God, but I'm not trying to preach to you-- only share a little of what God's working on in me :)