Did you know that traditional wedding vows list parenthood as one of the primary purposes for which matrimony was ordained? To quote: “[I]t was ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his holy Name.” From the earliest days of the church the Christian faith has upheld marriage and parenthood as central to God’s purpose for humanity. So we must ask: If parenthood is part of our purpose, then what is the purpose of parenthood?
In short, God designed the home as the primary place that children receive spiritual instruction and, as we discussed earlier, experience the tangible embodiment of spiritual realities. So we define the target of spiritual formation in parenting and grandparenting as follows:
Parenting Success: Those blessed with the gift of children and grandchildren are called to inspire and nurture Christian faith and godly character in the next generation as life’s highest calling (Deuteronomy 6:6–9, Psalm 78:1–8).
Real success can only be achieved through discipline. That’s why the Christian tradition has a long history of emphasizing what have been called “spiritual disciplines.” Spiritual formation at home is a little-by-little, long-term process rather than a one-time event. We cannot overemphasize the importance of this point for parents and grandparents.
Anyone who has ever tried to teach a young child to ride a bike understands this principle. It would be crazy to place your three-year-old daughter on an adult bike and give her a shove down the driveway. No matter how much you cheer “You can do it!” she will crash and cry within a matter of seconds. Instead, you buy her a small bicycle with training wheels so she can get the feel for riding in safety. Once she’s gained confidence you will likely remove the training wheels. But you still run alongside or behind her, letting go of the seat only a few seconds at a time and allowing her to take a few harmless falls onto the grass. Not until you feel she has had enough experience within the relative safety of your guidance do you relinquish control to her wobbly instincts.
We need to apply this same perspective to a child’s spiritual formation. Our goal is much bigger than getting our sons and daughters to pray a one-time prayer of salvation. As important as it is to guide our children through that step when they are ready, the job is by no means complete. They have only begun the wobbly ride of lifelong faith.God intends moms, dads, grandpas, and grandmas to consistently guide children toward their God-intended purpose of becoming like Christ. A large part of that process, as we will discover, is to nurture a bias toward right belief and to help them acquire a taste for right character—both of which require patient, diligent, intentional effort over the long haul.
Hammers, pens, and families all have a clear definition of success, which is to fulfill the purpose for which they were made. That’s why we define spiritual formation at home as the process of intentionally fulfilling the God-ordained purposes of marriage and family life.
We unpack more about spiritual formation in parenting in Chapter 2 of ‘It Starts At Home’.
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