Raising Children in the Gospel: Four General Rules
Editor’s note: Church China is one of the most widely read Christian publications in mainland China and is an excellent glimpse into the life and discussions of the urban Chinese house church. Its bi-monthly magazine focuses on different topics concerning the church and theology each month and is widely read among house church pastors and lay leaders. The China Partnership is excited to announce a new partnership with Church China in which we help provide English translations of certain articles for English speaking audiences. We hope increased access to the theological and ecclesiastical conversations of the house church will continue to foster partnerships between the American and Chinese church. In short, we desire to see greater cross-pollination of ideas between the two churches and believe that Church China is an important voice for us to listen to. If you read Mandarin, you can access the full magazine here.
Speaking of parenting, people may have a lot to share. Nevertheless, as Christians, we are aware that there is no certain method or trick to training by which, we can we achieve the goal; it can only be achieved by God, by relying on his promises and his grace. True, in some well-known parenting books, there might be many applicable rules; however, problems arise through practicing these rules, and the Bible is the only one we can always trust. Besides, relentless war goes on between legalism and anti-legalism. For example, when someone succeeds according to “Method A” from a certain book, it can seem legalistic; on the contrary, it can go to anti-legalism, denying everything in the book, including the good parts, when “Method A” doesn’t work. Both sides depart the will of raising children in the gospel. Thanks be to God who gave me two children, and guided me with his unfailing love and faithfulness during the whole time, leading me back to his cross and grace. Below are some thoughts from my own experience of raising children.
1. Parents should keep thinking about the gospel during parenting; hence acquire a deeper understanding of it.
First of all, like other significant events in our life, raising children is not just an experience; it’s a situation that God puts us in, so that we get a better understanding of the gospel. It is particularly important for parents. Only "in Christ" can we get out of our own success and failure, and raise up children according to his will. Therefore, I would like to share and talk about my experience.
My husband and I got married in 2011, and now we have a nearly two-year-old daughter, Leyuan, and a newborn son, Tianguo. Before Leyuan, we had a baby, whom we lost at the end of my first trimester. However, everything the cross brings along is grace; it is called grace, not only when having kids, but also losing them. So said, "Everything above hell is grace.” This experience brought us a tremendous spiritual leap, in which we deeply understood how it felt when God gave up his beloved son for us, sinful people, to complete his salvation. Only after we lost our child did we know his sacrificing love. We were losing our baby unintentionally, while he was giving his son intentionally. If we could choose, as parents, we would choose our own death instead of our children’s. Compared to human’s love, God’s love is such an immeasurable wonder. Thus, we were able to know him more and praise salvation, and rejoice, being grateful and hopeful in it, treasuring salvation and God’s one and only Son, instead of feeling joyful or grieved by having or loosing children.
Likewise, each time when I breastfeed my baby, I came up with tender affection for it. I believe every mother has the same emotion. Surprisingly in these moments, I would think of the church’s history, the scenes of martyrdom, and the feelings of Mary when Jesus was being crucified. Now as a mother, I wondering how I would feel if it is my boy who is going through all of these things.
Through pregnancy, I also have a better understanding of God’s authority. I was very proud; I thought my menstrual cycle and my physical condition were both [healthy] so that getting pregnant again would not be a difficult thing. I thought pregnancy is a simple thing that I could handle and control. I thought I could easily conceive whenever I wanted. After half a year of failing, I had to humble myself. I thank God for giving me this lesson, and I keep reminding myself: I am fool, and he is the sovereign God, because he is the creator.
Therefore, I would like to suggest my dear brothers and sisters, on one hand, don’t feel it is ourselves who can control the chance and time of pregnancy, but hand back the authority; on the other hand, if someone wants a baby, but it doesn’t happen, please go back to God and consider it in him. The lesson of waiting is priceless. Do not complain because of long waiting. It is a great sin of complaining, and God sees it as non-believing.
In Exodus, people complained because of a temporary lack of water and food. The most serious situation happened when Moses was receiving God’s precious laws, while the people did not wait, and made idols before Moses came back. Hopefully, we won’t repeat the same mistake. God makes us wait because there is his wonderful will ahead.
A pastor’s wife waited seven years after marriage until their first child was born. When she talked about this waiting, she said she understood afterwards. First, it was in the very early stages of building the church and there were a lot service. God taught her to pay more attention to the church before building her family. Second, the church was still young when they got married, let alone giving their children a Christian education. If they had kids right after the marriage, the kids would have had education from public school for years, and if there was any carelessness with the children’s education, it is easy to imagine how hard it would be to get them back. She thanks God for not giving her heavy, cumbersome loads. Now she is a mother of three kids.
We hope that we can seek God’s will and obey him. God is almighty. Giving children is absolutely not hard for him. It all depends on God whether we have a baby or not. The essential point is to learn the lesson he gives us: to wait, to submit, and most importantly, to be content from and only from his salvation.
During parenting, my own sinful nature is often exposed as well. God disciplines us, and God is holy; we discipline our children, yet we are the same sinful people as them. But I often only look at the speck of sawdust in the children’s eyes and pay no attention to the plank in my own eyes. Sometimes it is them taking me through grace and making me ashamed, rather than me disciplining them.
For instance, my daughter usually expresses dissatisfaction by crying and screaming. There were times when I truly upset hearing it, so I took the same action as she did. Because I’m a grown-up, my voice is louder and covers hers, so that she was terrified by my move and thus cried even harder. Sometimes after I “roared,” I regretted it, shedding tears, and praying in my heart to God for forgiveness. Sometimes, however, I could not stop and my daughter forgave me first. She talked to me with a smile while there were still tears on her face. Then ashamed, I genuinely hugged her and asked her to forgive me. It reminds me how rebellious I was for years, but still the heavenly Father accepted me with his patient and gracious love; but as a mother, I didn’t live as an example out of God’s request. How contrite my spirit feels!
There was a time when I parented my kids for my own honor. To exalt my righteousness, there were wrong ways and contents coming up, because my heart was already unclean. While meeting together at church, for example, there were conflicts among the children in which parents ought to intervene. Part of me was not only for discipline, but for showing how good I am at parenting. Later, I regretted this deeply, since it was indeed harmful to my girl, treating her as the sacrifice to honor myself without any love for her or God, but only with love for myself.
All of these are keeping me aware of how broken I am at parenting and any other aspects, so that I humble myself and live a life of depending on God’s grace. Otherwise I wouldn’t think it was God; I would think I have the ability. It is good to have these experiences so that my sinful nature will be revealed, so that I will come back to the cross for strength, and raise children “in Christ” with hope.
2. Only God’s honor, only God’s grace.
Differences exist among children’s personalities and stages. Discipline can be built into some children by training in a certain way, but some cannot. If we only stick to the dogma, one would lose heart of having God as the Lord and arbitrarily believe raising children is a doable task without God’s promise and grace. It is necessary to keep this in mind - do not take certain successful examples as templates. Especially if one has a relatively good experience within a pastor’s family, it is very important to humbly admit that it is the fullness of grace that given free of charge by God. Otherwise, it not only ignores the differences among children, but also brings “spiritual pressure” to other families.
We should not make our “parenting achievements,” which to be precise, is God’s merciful grace, another’s weakness. Christians do not have to be bothered by some positive examples, because each child is distinct and perfectly suitable for their family. They are elaborately created by God, and they are his exceptional rich grace. We just keep our faith before him.
Lately I heard there are people who believe it is not spiritually right to raise children without following some certain parenting book. This undoubtedly deviates from raising children in the gospel. Nowadays, there are more and more “second generations in belief,” and we are paying for more and more attention to Christianity education, but Christian parents should be more alert that only salvation in the cross is what we exalt. In Galatians 6:14, it says: “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Furthermore, parenting does not get any better along with parents’ spiritual growth; it only depends on God’s grace. When I look back on my rebirth, I know there is no credit for my own work. The salvation is completely outside of me. The goal of Christian education is to first let our children have a new heart that has been forgiven by Christ, so that they can be the people of God. Over this, parents have no power. Therefore, it is all God’s grace, when children come to Christ and admit Christ is Lord.
Nevertheless, the Bible tells us we should pass the salvation of the Lord on to our descendants, and try our best to “lead” them to the Savior (Psalm 78), bringing them up “in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). For that reason, we should put the responsibility of being parents in the right place, and guide parents that it is not depending on their own ability to raise up children, but on the faithful God, based on his covenant and promises, on the gospel which he completed in Christ, raising up children with firm hope.
3. Start with God’s kingdom and his righteousness, and believe he is in the same boat with us.
It becomes busier after having kids. But everything God gives is for people to know him better and be closer to him. Thus, parents shouldn’t stop getting close to God or serving God by making excuses such as limited time and energy. When I was single, sister Lydia who preached the gospel to me once said, “If one cannot be content with God when he or she is single, he or she cannot be content with marriage.” Indeed, as now I believe, if one cannot be content and satisfied with God and passionately serve God when he or she doesn’t have children, he or she cannot be satisfied either after having them.
As a result, my husband and I have asked again and again for hearts that keep Christ at the center, and faithfulness that keeps God’s family first. (Gifts come second, and faithfulness comes first place, because 1 Corinthians 4:2 says, “Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.”) People have weakness. Without constant praying, without relying more on God, after having kids, parents regard them as the center and their spiritual condition keeps getting worse. Matthew 6 and the Lord’s Prayer always remind me to seek God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness first. When we value God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, all things that are needed will be given by Lord. Physical demands are not as important as our children being in eternal heaven in the future with the Lord. This is what pleases God, so that God will surely take care of us and our children.
As a result of my husband’s working place, our church and my family are in two different cities. Thus, we took our daughter along every week when she was between two and fifteen months. The commute included bus, train, subway, and it cost three hours for a single journey. If it was not God who protected us with his strength, we could never hold on to it. My daughter was also specially protected by him and never got sick because of the travel, which could not be achieved by our care. I was a new mom, and I didn’t have any experience; it was God’s protection.
Here is a testimony. Once when we were heading to the church, it was very late and cold. I held my sleeping daughter in the bus. It was warm in the bus, so she ended up in sweats. Thinking of the freezing wind we were about to walk into, I felt pained for my daughter and started complaining. Why is there nobody picking us up for all these commutes? When the bus past by a plaza, looking at the bright lights, I was also lightened up by Holy Spirit. I asked myself, for what do I commute? For what do I come to this city? For the Lord. As it is for him, he’s picking us up and welcoming us by himself, so why do I put expectations on people? Isn’t the welcome from the Lord Almighty higher than a welcome from thousands of people? Can’t the Lord who divided the Red Sea also protect us? Having these thoughts in mind, I gently cuddled my daughter, and the self-pity from human feeling was replaced by comfort from God. And I felt happy for my daughter for whose parents were able to serve God.
The verses of the Lord calming the storm particularly comfort, encourage, and help me as well. Parents all know that there is no still child. Other people see kids when they are quiet and only parents experience how hard they can cry. There were lots of these moments when my daughter grew up, and some of them have no explanation. When she cried extremely hard, these specific scriptures came up in my mind, which helped me understand that he is with us on the same boat, taking charge of everything, and the storms are allowed by him, or even arranged on purpose for our benefits. Hence, I do not fear any storms. It is still easy when they are young. There will be more tests and snares, but holding his promise, that he will be with us on the same boat, we do not fear. God’s word is powerful, and only by relying on it can we overcome all the hardships.
4. Keep Christ as the center of family.
Parenting and marital relationships are inseparable from commitment and faithfulness to the church, because only by receiving love, wisdom, and grace from the Lord, can we raise our children under his instructions. Considering my husband serves in the church, I need to take up more housework and responsibilities taking care of the children. But saving time for him so that he has more chances and time to get close to God, to take care of church events, to offer sermons, and lead high-quality family worship, is more important than doing housework.
It does not mean that husbands can take service as an excuse to avoid housework. It means as a wife, I truly hope my husband can be the spiritual leader of our family, and have more wisdom and love from God to guide and protect his wife and kids, because love comes from God. Hopefully, we sisters encourage our husbands to grow in God’s word and commit to church service, so that the marriage becomes more solid with better spiritual quality. In addition, people who have pastoral experience will know better how to depend on God when pastoring their own children.
Furthermore, when kids are young, mothers need to put more effort into their daily care; however, when they grow up and know how to express, think, and argue, it is important, in my opinion, for fathers to communicate with them. As the head of a family, fathers are the pastors of the family. They should communicate to kids with spiritual wisdom, solving all kinds of questions and curiosities, guiding them to God. As a matter of fact, husbands’ knowledge of God is essential. This is my own understanding, and each family has a different situation, but the general rule is this - families should keep Christ as the center.
 “The Legacy of Sovereign Joy” has a good response to the issue.
 Some parenting books focus on behavioural training, which might be a good reference, but behavioural training does not directly link to the relationship between human beings and God, namely the salvation of soul, and the construction of spirit. Therefore, it cannot be a judging rule of being spiritual or not by performing behavioural training or not.
 Some personal sharing about God’s protection: still, back to God’s salvation, “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32) It doesn’t automatically mean that God takes good care of the children when they don’t get sick, or vice versa; it could be our own fault that makes them sick or even getting worse. In this case, do not deny God’s care, but regard it as a test and construction of faith. In Ecclesiastes, it says, “There is a time for everything…” I would like to summarize it: When children were still babies or in illness, they need extra care. We do need to put extra attention on them, but it does not mean stop serving; it means having a different balance. About taking care of both church and family, it is suggested to read the first point of “Some Reminders of Taking Up One’s Cross,” “Taking Orders,” and “The Road of the Cross for Disciples,” Church China, Vol.1 Jan. 2015, (2015) 51:20-21.