Teaching Modern Children from Ancient Principles by Elisabeth Elliot
All the passages below are taken from Elisabeth Elliot’s book “Keep a Quiet Heart” It was published in 1995.
1. “…with All Your Mind” (259-260)
How can parents encourage intellectual pursuits with their children?
A friend who has four boys, the oldest of whom is eight, prints a different hymn and several Scripture verses each week and posts them on a large, stiff cardboard in the breakfast nook. The whole family learns the hymn and verses. She has a chart showing each child’s chores. This may not sound very intellectual, but the orderly doing of household chores forms habits of an orderly life, and orderly lives and orderly minds go together. This same mother bought a microphone and small public address system. She has each child stand up at one end of the living room while the others sit in a row like an audience and listen to him recite a verse, a hymn, a poem, or make a short speech. This teaches poise, articulation, the art of speaking up, standing still, keeping the hands relaxed, etc. The same thing could probably be accomplished with a pretend microphone—an ice cream dipper, for example.
Teach your children to memorize! Their ability to quickly pick up anything you repeat often enough is nearly miraculous. One week when I was with my grandchildren for four days, the seven-year-old and the five-year-old learned to repeat the Greek alphabet almost perfectly in that time. I didn’t make a federal case out of it, but merely repeated it now and then at odd moments. The five-year-old was quickest to learn it, probably because she thought it was fun while her brother thought it was kind of crazy.
Ask questions at the table which will make children think. For example, God answers prayer—does that mean that God always gives us exactly what we ask for? Help the child to find the answers in Bible stories.
Read aloud to children. My father did this for us as long as we lived at home. He would bring a book to the table and read a paragraph, or share something in the evening as we all sat in the living room reading our own books.
Buy a microscope or a magnifying glass. Study a housefly’s leg or the dust from a moth’s wing, etc.
Have a globe on which they can find any country they hear named in the news or in conversation.
Teach them to see illustrations of abstract truth in concrete objects. This is how Jesus taught—by the use of parables.
James Boswell, biographer, tells how when Samuel Johnson was still a child in petticoats, his mother put a prayer book into his hands, pointed out the collect for the day, and said, “Sam, you must get this by heart.” She went upstairs, leaving him to study it. By the time she had reached the second floor, she heard him following her. “What’s the matter?” she said. “I can say it,” he replied, and repeated it distinctly, though he could not have read it more than twice.
Was he a genius at that age? Perhaps. But I think it more likely that his intellectual powers owed much to his parents’ expectations and patient instruction. Expect little and you’ll surely get it.
2. How Much Should Children Work? (256-258)
If you could once make up your mind in the fear of God never to undertake more work of any sort than you can carry on calmly, quietly, without hurry or flurry, and the instant you feel yourself growing nervous and like one out of breath, would stop and take breath, you would find this simple common-sense rule doing for you what no prayers or tears could ever accomplish. (Elizabeth Prentiss)
I have four boys, ages sixteen months through nine years. When I ask them to empty the dishwasher the oldest often says it’s my job. I feel they need to learn to work and help around the house, but why? I’d like a specific reason why he should have to do it. I have nothing against big families, but isn’t it possible that older kids have to do a lot of work because Mom keeps having babies and can’t handle it all? I often feel guilty. Don’t children deserve a childhood?”
Good questions. Let me begin with the last. The idea that a child deserves to play rather than work is a mistake. Play is a natural part of childhood but so is work! It better be. I think I read that we learn half of all we’ll ever know in the first two years! Watch a child who is given a piece of real work that he can do. He is even happier than when at play. When I phoned Valerie one Saturday she was cooking up fifteen meals to put in the freezer. I heard her six-year-old putting carrots through the food processor and he was having a ball.
Now the first question. Why should they help? Try something like this: “Because you are a working member of this family, for a start. The only one who isn’t is the baby. I’m your mother and one of my most important jobs is to teach you to work. I can cook, you can’t, but you can empty the dishwasher, so that’s your job. The Bible says if a person won’t work he can’t eat. I’ll cook for you, you clean up for me. Doesn’t that make sense?”
Teach children the joy of work by your own example. Let them see that you don’t hate it. Give everybody a real responsibility, starting early. Two-year-olds can empty waste baskets, set the table, pick up toys and put them away, put silverware in the drawer (provide a step stool), hang up their own clothes, help fold diapers, sharpen pencils. Time in teaching is very well spent. I believe that words of encouragement should be the only rewards offered for routine work. Giving money or special treats delivers the message that working is beyond the call of duty.
3. Matthew Henry on Child Training (263-264)
When I was the newly widowed mother of a fourteen-month-old daughter, my mother sent me this quotation from Matthew Henry, an eighteenth-century commentator whom my father had been reading aloud to her that morning in April, 1956:
“Proverbs 19:18, ‘Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying.’ Parents are here cautioned against a foolish indulgence of their children, that are untoward and viciously inclined, and that discover such an ill temper of mind as is not likely to be cured but by severity.
“1. Do not say that it is all in good time to correct them, no, as soon as ever there appears a corrupt disposition in them, check it immediately, before it takes root and is hardened into a habit. Chasten thy son while there is hope, for perhaps if he be let alone awhile, he will be past hope, and a much greater chastening will not do that which now a less would effect. It is easier plucking up weeds as soon as they spring up, and the bullock that is designed for the yoke should be betimes [before it is too late] accustomed to it….
“2. Do not say that it is a pity to correct them, and, because they cry and beg to be forgiven, you cannot find it in your heart to do it. If the point will be gained without correction, well and good; but it often proves that your forgiving them once, upon a dissembled [pretended] repentance and promise of amendment, does but embolden them to offend again, especially if it be a thing in itself sinful, as lying, swearing, ribaldry, stealing or the like. In such a case put on resolution, and let not thy soul spare for his crying. It is better that he should cry under thy rod than under the sword of the magistrate or, which is more fearful, than under divine vengeance.”
The language of the eighteenth century sounds a bit stern. We rarely call our children “untoward and viciously inclined,” but we see other people’s children—in the supermarket, in church, in our own newly decorated living room—who fit that description exactly. Children need a rod, and they need it early. Not a big stick. My parents found that a thin eighteen-inch switch did the trick so long as it was applied at an early age and immediately following the offense. It is important to note Henry’s specifying “a thing sinful in itself.” Punishment for such things should be different from correction for childish mistakes—spilled milk (have him clean it up if he’s old enough), a forgotten chore (have him do that one plus another he doesn’t usually have to do).
One grandmother recently told my daughter a method of persuading children to eat what was put before them. When others had finished and a child was dawdling over his plate, she set a timer for five minutes. If the plate was not cleaned it went into the refrigerator to be presented at the beginning of the next meal. “Worked like a charm,” she said.
4. Teach Your Child to Choose (261-262)
Lars and I had breakfast with our friend Barb Tompkins in Tucson. She brought along two-year-old Katy, who behaved very well throughout most of the meal. She interrupted at one point, and pestered her mother, who said quietly, “Katy, you are not in charge here. But would you like to be in charge of Baby Flo?” Baby Flo was a tiny doll she had with her.
I plied Barb with questions about how she rears her children (she has two older boys also). She said she had been helped by Paul Meier’s book Happiness Is a Choice and had determined to teach her children how to make good choices.
When Katy was about eighteen months old, Barb decided to teach her to stay within the boundaries of their own property, although there was no fence. She set aside a day for this lesson and walked the boundary with the baby, pointing out where she could and could not go, explaining that to step over the line meant a spanking. Barb then sat down in a lawn chair with a book and told Katy she could play. It was not long, of course, before Katy tested the line, then stepped over. In a normal tone of voice Barb called, “Katy, would you come here, please?” That lesson had been learned long before, so Katy came. “Katy, honey, I see you have chosen a spanking,” said the mother, and proceeded to give her one. Then she went over the lesson again, explaining why the spanking had been necessary. It was Katy’s choice.
It’s important, she says, not to label a child naughty or good, but to point out exactly what he did that was naughty, or what he did that was good. When correction is necessary, Barbara tries always to affirm the child in some way afterwards—“I like the way you picked up your toys this morning.”
Barb does not always use spanking for punishment. Sometimes she gives the child “time out,” which means she is put into a Port-a-Crib for a little while in order to meditate on her disobedience. If the child climbs out she has “chosen” a spanking. Barb thinks it is very important that the “time out” place not be the child’s own bed or bedroom. She doesn’t want her children to associate those places with punishment.
During our breakfast together Katy whined for something, and Barb turned to her and said “Katy, you need to make a request.” Katy said, “May I please…”
When Katy pulled a pen out of her mother’s purse, Barb said, “That is not a choice. But these things are—which would you like to play with?”
Lars and I enjoyed that peaceful breakfast. It was peaceful because Barb was calm, firm, cheerful, and matter-of-fact in her asides to Katy. And Katy was happy, too!
5. A Note to Fathers (265)
Are you depriving your son of his sonship? “Hey! Hold it. What?…” Hebrews 12:7 says, “Can anyone be a son who is not disciplined by his father? If you escape the discipline in which all sons share, you must be bastards and no true sons”(NEB). Do you love your son or daughter enough to say no—and hold to it? Would you, by cowardliness that fears to make a rule (perhaps because “nobody else” believes in it), treat your child as though you cared no more about him than you would care about a bastard?
But there are some words of caution. “Fathers, don’t over-correct your children, or make it difficult for them to obey the commandment. Bring them up with Christian teaching in Christian discipline” (Ephesians 6:4, PHILLIPS).
This reminds me of the way in which the Lord teaches us. He is so patient with us who are so “slow-of-heart.” The Shepherd does not make it hard for the sheep to walk in the right paths. He is always trying to make it easier for them, but they balk, they wander off, they don’t listen. Children as well as adults are like sheep. They go astray. Fathers are meant to be shepherds. Don’t over-correct. “You fathers must not goad your children to resentment, but give them the instruction, and the correction, which belong to a Christian upbringing” (same verse, NEB). It’s balance that is needed. Correct them, teach them. Don’t go to extremes. Ask God for wisdom. It’s too big a job for any ordinary human being. Look at God as a Father. How does He deal with us? Try to follow His pattern.
6. A Word for Fathers (229-230)
While visiting Columbia Bible College in South Carolina, I found in the library a little book called Father and Son, written by my grandfather, Philip E. Howard. He writes:
“Do you remember that encouraging word of Thomas Fuller’s, a chaplain of Oliver Cromwell’s time? It’s a good passage for a father in all humility and gratitude to tuck away in his memory treasures:
“‘Lord, I find the genealogy of my Savior strangely checkered with four remarkable changes in four immediate generations.
(1) Rehoboam begat Abijah; that is, a bad father begat a bad son.
(2) Abijah begat Asa; that is, a bad father begat a good son.
(3) Asa begat Jehoshaphat; that is, a good father a good son.
(4) Jehoshaphat begat Joram; that is, a good father a bad son.
I see, Lord, from hence that my father’s piety cannot be entailed; that is bad news for me. But I see also that actual impiety is not always hereditary; that is good news for my son.”‘
In another chapter Grandpa Howard tells this story.
“A sensitive, timid little boy, long years ago, was accustomed to lie down to sleep in a low ‘trundle-bed,’ which was rolled under his parents’ bed by day and was brought out for his use by night. As he lay there by himself in the darkness, he could hear the voices of his parents, in their lighted sitting-room across the hallway, on the other side of the house. It seemed to him that his parents never slept; for he left them awake when he was put to bed at night, and he found them awake when he left his bed in the morning. So far this thought was a cause of cheer to him, as his mind was busy with imaginings in the weird darkness of his lonely room.
“After loving good-night words and kisses had been given him by both his parents, and he had nestled down to rest, this little boy was accustomed, night after night, to rouse up once more, and to call out from his trundle-bed to his strong-armed father, in the room from which the light gleamed out, beyond the shadowy hallway, ‘Are you there, papa?’ And the answer would come back cheerily, ‘Yes, my child, I am here.’ `You’ll take care of me tonight, papa, won’t you?’ was then the question. ‘Yes, I’ll take care of you, my child,’ was the comforting response. ‘Go to sleep now. Good night.’ And the little fellow would fall asleep restfully, in the thought of those assuring good-night words.
“A little matter that was to the loving father; but it was a great matter to the sensitive son. It helped to shape the son’s life. It gave the father an added hold on him; and it opened up the way for his clearer understanding of his dependence on the loving watchfulness of the All-Father. And to this day when that son, himself a father and a grandfather, lies down to sleep at night, he is accustomed, out of the memories of that lesson of long ago, to look up through the shadows of his earthly sleeping place into the far-off light of his Father’s presence, and to call out, in the same spirit of childlike trust and helplessness as so long ago, ‘Father, you’ll take care of me tonight, won’t you?”‘ And he hears the assuring answer come back, ‘He that keepeth thee will not slumber. The Lord shall keep thee from all evil. He shall keep thy soul. Sleep, my child, in peace.’ And so he realizes the twofold blessing of a father’s goodnight words.”
That story, says Grandpa, came from his own father-in-law, my great-grandfather, Henry Clay Trumbull. I have a hunch that Trumbull was that little boy, and the father my great-great-grand-father.
7. Serious Play, Careless Work (252-255)
When I was a kid we rushed home every afternoon from school, burst into the house to make sure Mother was there where we wanted her to be (she was), and then collected the kids on the block to play Kick the Can or to build playhouses out of wooden greenhouse boxes. Equipment didn’t cost us a cent. Adults didn’t have to supervise us or drive us anywhere or coach us. We just played. We were kids, and we knew that after-school time was playtime—until it was time to work (practice the piano, set the table, clear the table, do homework).
Something has changed. Educators have gotten terribly serious about play and terribly casual about real physical work. Billions of dollars are lavished on developing crafts which nobody really needs and forms of recreation which people have to be taught to like. We’ve got “toys to grow on,” computer games, play groups, playgrounds. Tiny tots who would have been happy with a few Tupperware containers and some spoons are given fancy mechanical toys that do things, and taught that if they make huge messes with finger paints they’re being creative, which they didn’t know they wanted to be.
I’ve seen Indian children playing in the river, climbing trees, sliding down mudbanks. But at the same time they were often catching fish or finding wild honey, fruit, or edible snails. They had no toys to play with but they had a marvelous time (at the age of three or four, mind you) building fires, sharpening knives, whacking away at the ever-encroaching weeds. Nobody told them what to do. Child’s play naturally turned into useful work. My little three-year-old Valerie was as adept at these activities as the Indians—learned just as they had, by daily observation of adult men and women at work, then by imitation. A girl of ten could weave a perfect hammock; a boy of ten could handle a blowgun and bring home the “bacon,” i.e. a bird or monkey for supper. A lot of what they did mattered, and they had much more fun than children who spend a good part of their childhood doing things that don’t matter very much to them or anybody else.
Aren’t children nowadays often getting far too much of the wrong kind of attention and not nearly enough of the right kind? Does it really make sense for kids of six and seven to be so frantically serious about organized sports and to be geniuses at computer games, but to have no idea how to amuse themselves without a coach, a team, a uniform, an arsenal of weapons, or an expensive and complicated piece of electronic equipment—not to mention daily transportation to and from the athletic field, park, ice rink, anywhere but the back yard? Must they be rounded up, herded, instructed, shouted at, praised, coaxed, and hovered over by adults who are paid money to pay attention to the poor little hooligans in order to keep them out of the adults’ hair during “working hours”?
Is anybody paying attention to how a child works? Is it assumed that if asked to rake a lawn he’ll do it halfheartedly? Will he sweep the garage in silent fury or will he rejoice in doing a thorough job of it? Will she scrub a sink till it shines and know herself to be a useful member of a household? School teachers desperately try to teach children, who have never really labored with their hands to do schoolwork—not a very good place to start, it seems to me. If a child is not given to understand that he has a responsibility to help make the wheels of home run smoothly—if he is not given work which matters, in other words—why should he imagine that it matters very much whether he cooperates with teachers and fellow students? His parents have failed to give attention to a vital matter. Their attention has been elsewhere—on their own interests, jobs, amusements, physical fitness, or only on the child’s health and a misguided notion of happiness which leaves out work altogether. If the “quality time” his father spends with him is limited to amusements rather than work, small wonder the child assumes nobody really likes work. His choices in how to spend his time, like his preferences in food, are taught at home—by observation of parental attitudes.
The jungle Indian children I knew learned without formal lessons of any kind. They were with their parents more or less all the time—everybody sleeping around a single fire at night, boys hunting or fishing with their fathers by day, girls planting and gathering food with their mothers. It was hard work to survive. They took responsiblity to collect firewood and keep the fire burning. Very rarely did a parent even have to tell a child, let alone nag him, to do his job. It was expected and the kids met the expectations. Nobody over two had much leisure, but they had a lot of fun. I’ve never seen people laugh so much. It was a peaceful life, a life without anything like the severe stresses and conflicts we have created for ourselves. Wouldn’t it be lovely to go back to all that?
But how are we supposed to do it? We don’t live in the jungle. Children have jungle gyms instead of real trees to climb; plastic swimming pools instead of a clear flowing river; sliding boards instead of mudbanks. The work necessary to keep everybody alive and fed and clothed is done where they can’t see it. So far as children can see, it usually has nothing to do with being fed and clothed but only with money. Their parents (often, alas, both of them) tear off somewhere in the morning and come home at night exhausted, having spent their day at who knows what. The newspaper, dinner, and TV take up a chunk of what’s left of the day. Football, the child learns by observation, is vastly more important than anything else in the father’s life. It takes precedence over everything, rivets his father’s attention, something he himself has never managed to do. So he, like his father, seeks escape from home and the responsibilities of home.
Is the situation irremediable? I don’t think so. Surely we could eliminate some of the frustration and discontent of “civilized” family life if we took our cues from the “uncivilized” people who work almost all the time (and enjoy it) and play very little of the time (without making a complicated chore out of it). Happiness, after all, is a choice. Let your child see that you put heart and soul into the work God has given you to do. Do it for Him—that changes the whole climate of the home. Draw the child into acceptance of responsibility by starting very early. Expect the best. If you expect them to oppose you, to “goof off,” to be terrible at two, rude at ten, intractable as teenagers, they won’t disappoint you.
It takes longer, of course, to teach a child to do a job than it takes to do it yourself—especially if you have not given him the chance to watch you do it fifty times. It takes sustained attention—the sort of attention a child desperately needs. He can’t get too much of that. He needs to be convinced that he is a necessary and very much appreciated member of the family.
What about the sacrifices? We’re going to have to make some if we mean to correct our mistakes. Instead of sacrificing everything for money and sports, which most people seem ready to do without a qualm, we may have to sacrifice money and sports for our children. We will certainly have to sacrifice ourselves.
But, of course, that is what being a father or a mother means.
8. Home-schooling (245-246)
When my daughter Valerie Shepard was home-schooling three of her five children (the other two were preschool age), I asked her what she had discovered about the advantages of home-schooling. Here is her answer:
1. The children have more time: to read (aloud and silently); to learn responsibility by doing chores at home; to play (without adult direction) and use the imagination; to listen to and enjoy each other; to learn obedience.
2. Parents need not deprogram or re-teach values the child hears for seven hours a day. They have the child’s full attention at any time of the day and can give him full attention; he is not absorbing two different value systems daily.
3. Children learn to love each other more. They do not look down on one another in favor of their peers, or in wrong adulation of older children. This society teaches that among children “older is better.” That’s not right. Having them at home all day allows them to be children without having to “grow up” in the wrong ways.
4. They learn to be servants of one another. The family is a microcosm of the Body of Christ.
After I asked Val to write this I had the fun of trying it out myself. Val and Walt went to South Carolina (taking their nursing baby Colleen) and I had the other four for five (very busy!) days. There was a schedule of chores posted in the kitchen. Daily I reminded them (seldom more than once). The nine-, seven-, and five-year-olds took turns setting and clearing the table, emptying the dishwasher, folding laundry, sweeping the kitchen. Walter (the oldest) and Jim (not quite three) took out trash, the girls cleaned the bathroom. All but Jim made their beds.
School began at nine with Bible reading, singing, prayer, all four joining in. Jim sat on the floor and played while the others studied. Christiana finished her kindergarten work by ten or so, Walter and Elisabeth worked till nearly lunchtime.
Every afternoon there was Quiet Hour. This was a lifesaver for Granny. The three older children were expected to be in their rooms for an hour. They did not need to sleep, but they were to read or find something quiet to do alone. (Not once did we have any altercation about Quiet Hour. It had always been a part of their lives, and they liked it.) Jim and I lay down together, I read him a Beatrix Potter story, and he fell asleep.
Since we had no car, four of us wallked to the grocery store every day, while Walter rode his bike. It was an interesting string of people, Elisabeth hugging (for example) five pounds of flour, Christiana batting things with a box of Saran Wrap, Jim lugging a bag of apples, Granny with a loaded brown bag.
We had poetry readings (Jim memoriized with no effort at all) and singing. Everybody learned “Chattanooga Choo-Choo,” by mistake, as it were—I meant for them to learn “Praise the Savior” but somehow that one didn’t stick so easily, alas! Walter and Elisabeth practiced the piano and played vigorous duets for the rest of us. We made bread and organized drawers and closets and sorted clothes and toys for give-away and picked violets and had a marvelous time.
I should confess this—on the evening of the first day I wasn’t sure I’d survive the week. When Val phoned I asked, “How do you do it?” “Mama, I just doo what you taught me: don’t think about all you have to do, just do the next thing!” I needed to be told what I have often told others, and it worked.
Home-schooling is demanding to say the least but worthwhile. If you are considering trying it, you might want to get Mary Pride’s The Big Book of Home Learning: The Complete Guide to Everything Educational for You and Your Child (Crossways).
9. A Child Learns Self-Denial (249-251)
0ne of the countless blessings of my life is having a daughter who actually asks for my prayers and my advice (and heeds the latter). She phoned from California one morning, describing the difficulties of home-schooling three children in grades six, four, and one, when you also have a four-year-old who is doing nursery school and a two-year-old, Colleen, who wants to do everything. And since Evangeline Mary was born, a nursing baby now claims attention as well. How to give Colleen proper attention and teach her also to occupy herself quietly for what seemed to her long periods? Valerie was deeply concerned over whether she was doing all she should for that little one.
I reminded her of the women of Bible times—while probably not home-schooling her children, an ordinary village woman would have been working very hard most of the time, carrying heavy water jars, grinding grain, sweeping, planting and cooking while tending children. This was true also of the Indians with whom Val grew up. An Indian mother never interrupted her day’s work to sit down with a small child and play or read a story, yet the children were more or less always with her, watching her work, imitating her, learning informally. They had a strong and secure home base, “and so have yours,” I told her. “Don’t worry! You are not doing Colleen an injustice. Quite the contrary. You are giving her wonderful things: a stable home, your presence in that home, a priceless education just in the things she observes.”
The demands on Val, as on any mother of small children, are pretty relentless, of course. She does all the housework with the help of the children (a schedule of chores is posted on the refrigerator). People usually gasp when I tell them the number of my grandchildren. “Wow,” said one, “it takes a special woman to have that many children.” Special? Not really.Millions have done it. But it takes grace, it takes strength, it takes humility, and God stands ready to give all that is needed.
I suggested to Valerie that perhaps she could define the space which Colleen was allowed to play in during school time, and make it very clear to her that school time was quiet time for her brothers and sisters. When Valerie was Colleen’s age she had to learn to play quietly alone because I was occupied for a good portion of every day in Bible translation work, or in teaching literacy and Bible classes in our house. She knew she was not to interrupt except for things I defined as “important.” At that time there were seldom children of her age to play with, and she had neither siblings nor father, yet she was happy and, I think, well-adjusted. (For a certain period we had the added difficulty of living with a missionary family of six children under nine whose mother felt obliged to be more or less available for her children every minute—they were thought too young to learn not to interrupt. It was not an ordered home, and the mother herself was exhausted most of the time.)
Does this training seem hard on the child, impossible for the mother? I don’t think it is. The earlier the parents begin to make the laws of order and beauty and quietness comprehensible to their children, the sooner they will acquire good, strong notions of what is so basic to real godliness: self-denial. A Christian home should be a place of peace, and there can be no peace where there is no self-denial.
Christian parents are seeking to fit their children for their inheritance in Christ. A sense of the presence of God in the home is instilled by the simple way He is spoken of, by prayer not only at meals but in family devotions and perhaps as each child is tucked into bed. The Bible has a prominent place, and it is a greatly blessed child who grows up, as I did, in a hymn-singing family. Sam and Judy Palpant of Spokane have such a home. “Each of our children has his or her own lullaby which I sing before prayer time and the final tucking into bed,” Judy wrote. “That lullaby is a special part of our bedtime ritual. Whenever other children spend the night we sing ‘Jesus Loves Me’ as their lullaby. What a joy it was on the most recent overnighter to have the three Edminster children announce, We have our own lullabies now!’ Matt, who is twelve and who can be so swayed by the world, said, ‘Mine is “Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross.””‘
The task of parents is to show by love and by the way they live that they belong to another Kingdom and another Master, and thus to turn their children’s thoughts toward that Kingdom and that Master. The “raw material” with which they begin is thoroughly selfish. They must gently lay the yoke of respect and consideration for others on those little children, for it is their earnest desire to make of them good and faithful servants and, as Janet Erskine Stuart expressed it, “to give saints to God.”
* * *
Surely it was not coincidence that my friend Ann Kiemel Anderson called just as I was finishing the above piece. She had just received little William Brandt, her fourth adopted son. The others were four and three years old and ten months. She was thrilled, and not nearly as exhausted as she expected to be, thankful for the gift of the child and for the gift of the needed grace and strength for one day (and one night) at a time.
“But oh, Elisabeth!” she said in her huskily soft voice, ‘when I had only one, I thought I knew all the answers. There is nothing so humbling as having two or three or four children.”
I needed that reminder. Jim and I had hoped for at least four children. God gave us one, and that one gave me hardly any reason for serious worry, let alone despair. She was malleable. What “worked” for her may not work for another child, but I offer my suggestions anyway—gleaned not only from experience as the child of my parents and the parent of my child, but from observation of others. My second husband Add Leitch, whose first wife had died, had three daughters. “If I’d only had two, I could’ve written a book on child training,” he once told me. One of them proved to him that he couldn’t.
10. Teaching Children (238-239)
How many times between the ages of three and ten do children have to answer the only two questions adults can think of to ask them: How old are you? and What are you going to be when you grow up?
The second question may seem innocuous, but is it? In the first place, many children may be distressed at being required to make a choice which is far beyond them. In the second place, it implies that the choice is theirs. This can lead to great confusion later on. The child will grow up physically, but spiritually he will not have begun until he learns that Jesus died not only to save him from sin but in order that he should live not for himself but for Him who died (see 2 Corinthians 5:15 and 1 John 3:16). If a young person has been taught from childhood that he ought to “be something” without at the same time being shown that nothing is better than being God’s servant, he may be preoccupied with ambitions and ideals he has gotten solely from the world. If his conception of “where it’s at” has nothing to do with the Kingdom of God, he is in for trouble when it comes time to discern the Will of God. He will be setting limits to his obedience, defining the terms of his service. “For My sake” is a concept children can grasp much earlier than we generally suppose. A little boy wrote to me that he was learning to lay down his life for others. To him this meant that sometimes when he would rather play he lay down beside his little sister to help her go to sleep.
Pray that God will show you how to teach your children that life is meant to be lived for God. “You are not the owner of your own body. You have been bought, and at what a price! Therefore bring glory to God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:20, PHILLIPS). Help your child to understand that the Lord is his Shepherd, and he is a little lamb. The Shepherd will gladly show him the right pathway if he is willing to follow.
11. Family Prayers (223-224)
When I was a child my father and mother gathered the six of us in the living room after breakfast every morning for family prayers. First we sang a hymn, omitting none of the stanzas, accompanied on the piano by one of our parents. It was in this way that we learned a good bit of solid theology without any conscious effort. I must emphasize that it was hymns and old gospel songs we sang at home. There was not much place then for choruses or gospel ditties.
There are some young families who still do this today. Judy Palpant of Spokane, who had heard me tell about our family prayers, writes, “Our children know that you were the inspiration for our three-year-old tradition of singing a hymn with our family devotions. We sing the same one each morning for a month. Tonight was the first time we tabulated the number of hymns we had learned. The children were impressed! Let me assure you that many new words and truths have been impressed upon their hearts and minds as we have discussed the themes and words of our chosen hymn. Our many guests at breakfast (especially when we were in Africa) were often blessed by the singing of a hymn. My husband’s parents were visiting us when we were singing ‘Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us.’ That hymn was sung at their wedding. During the Easter season one year we were learning ‘When I Survey the Wondrous Cross on Which the Prince of Glory Died.’ A missionary from Kenya underlined the words ‘Prince of Glory’ for us by sharing some insights with us. Thank you for this idea which has enriched our family as well as our guests.”
A reader asks, “At what age were the children when your parents started family prayers? How long a passage was read?” I think they must have begun as soon as the first child was born. I am Number Two, and I can’t remember a time when we did not have family prayers. All of us were included, the smaller ones sitting on laps. My father read from Hurlbut’s Story of the Bible (wearing out three hardback copies!), just a page or so each morning. In the evening after dinner he read the evening portion of Daily Light, which is pure Scripture (King James Version). The hymn came first, then reading, then (in the mornings, because we were not around the table then) we knelt to pray, my father leading, all joining in the Lord’s Prayer to close.
This question from another reader “How can I encourage my husband as the spiritual leader of the family to have regular family devotions?” This is one I am often asked. If he is a Christian I would hope that he is willing at least to listen to his wife’s suggestion. Many men believe their wives are “more spiritual” than they, and feel justified in leaving spiritual training of the children up to them. This is a mistake. The father is the priest in the home. He is the head of his wife. It is his God-given assignment to take spiritual leadership. No matter how brief and simple the devotional time may be, there is no calculating the power of its long-term effect on the children. They learn very early the place God has in their parents’ lives.
My father was a very simple man—humble, honest about his faith, but reticent in the extreme about speaking of it. We had no such thing as “sharing times” in our family. It was rare for us to converse about spiritual things, especially personal experience. But we knew our parents prayed in private, read their Bibles, and prayed and read aloud with us. It was routine. But it mattered. It matters to me now. I hope perhaps these words of testimony may nudge some of those reticent Christian fathers to take courage, take the bull by the horns, and say, “I’ve learned something. It’s important. More important, maybe, than anything else we do in this house. We’re going to start today.”