Raising Children in the Gospel: Twelve Specific Suggestions
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.
Proactively prepare for marriage and parenting while you are still single. It takes years of learning and training to take secular jobs, let alone the roles of husband, wife, father, and mother of a family with godly values! One does not naturally become husband or wife after getting married, and one does not naturally become father or mother after having kids. These should be assessed according to God’s standards. Of course, it is not too late to learn for parents, as long as the Lord has not come yet; his “slowness” is the opportunity to repent.
1. Family worship.
This is a very essential aspect. Leading all family members to the Lord and reasserting that Christ is the head of a family makes us realize that families are not relegated to human beings, and reminds us to look upon God in hard times. The content and style of family worship can be various. In our family worship, we sometimes share scripture and sometimes read good sermons. Most knowledge that my children have about the Bible, worship songs, and prayer comes from family worship. Regarding this issue, it is suggested to read the article “Christians’ Family Worship” in “Church China” vol. 49.
2. Pray for children.
This includes regular prayer before meals, prayer during family worship, and prayer before bed. As well as in some special situations, especially for pastors’ families, it is crucial to pray constantly for God to protect the children, considering that pastors are in the front line of spiritual war, and their children may be easily disturbed. Some children may not be used to praying at the beginning, but it is ok, just keep praying.
Before, our daughter could not wait during the pray before meals; but it is necessary to let her cry and make her wait during her parents’ prayer. Now, our girl will wait quietly while we are praying. Previously, she only liked to listen to worship songs during family worship and started to cry during prayer; after a certain period, she now listens carefully to our prayers. Before, she cried when she heard us praying for her before going to bed, because she didn’t want to go to sleep; but now, she calmly listens to us praying and goes to bed afterwards.
3. Keep regular contact with spiritual elders in the church, not only to acquire spiritual support, but also to learn about their experiences with marital relationships and parenting.
Don’t be afraid to “bother” pastors; quite on the contrary, they are working hard for believers' spiritual growth and they will be pleased to answer your questions. It is a good idea to write down their suggestions after each conversation, and it will be a great help in the future. Besides, a record of their precious experiences and methods of serving is a greater wealth for children than only taking care of their physical needs.
4. Read some books on parenting and general medical knowledge beforehand.
This includes the books embedded with Christian education, such as Parenting by God’s Promises, a book of Joel R. Beeke, which has already been translated [into Mandarin] and published. Another choice is Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids with the Love of Jesus [by Elyse Fitzpatrick]. As a reminder, there are many parenting books on the market, but it does not mean the more the better; they should be screened from a spiritual point of view. If you are not sure, please ask the pastors for help; otherwise, it equals to taking spiritual poison.
5. Practice relying on and honoring God.
It is important to have the peacefulness of being present with God, and to realize that children are given by God and he will definitely take care of them. Even miscarriage is [in] his care. In July 2012, the second day after knowing I was pregnant again, I had a fever. I could have been more nervous since I already lost my first baby. But surprisingly, I had peace in me. I didn’t go to hospital, and I didn’t take any other extra care, because I knew it is not me who can conceive, but rather it is God’s gift. Even if I had any more accidents, the peace of being with him, and the eternity he has promised, would never be taken away. I didn’t go to the hospital for checks, because everything was in proper condition. I just handed everything over to God.
We prayed to God for favor in the on-call doctor’s eye. When I went to the hospital to deliver, I told the midwife that I am a Christian, and she took extra care of me, and comforted me, encouraged me, and even stayed in the hospital extra time until my baby was born. When the chief doctor said I needed a C-section because my baby’s head was too big, the midwife said to me, “You have God on whom you can rely.” We are indeed thankful for God answering our prayer. We are more grateful because I found favor from the same midwife when I was delivering my second child. It was during the daytime, and she was on call. Again, she stayed an extra three times more, because she knew me.
It is not because I had children successfully that I tell the story of grace, but because of God’s exceptional mercy. When I was on my way home that day, my tears couldn’t stop falling. Thinking of the sins I had, but still coming home with my child each year, I knew it was not something I deserve. The only thing I deserve is hell. (I share my stories because I want to be thankful with you, not to promote my personal experience. Everyone has a different experience during pregnancy, and the way God protects us is different. The most important thing is having peace and faith in him, relying on him, and praising him, no matter the circumstances.)
In the year we had our daughter, we had financial difficulty for a variety of reasons, but the wealth in us of relying on God had never been so enormous. Being occupied with the church’s business, I often forgot my pregnancy. I did feel tired, but I knew it deeply that instead of being sustained from diet and rest, my strength came from inside, because “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Without meeting together, without serving, the spirit gets worse, and becomes focused on children, instead of Christ. It is like the third example in the Parable of the Sower whose ending was dreadful.
6. Try to stay in the city where your church is located, during the delivery and after confinement, in order to keep your spiritual strength.
Before delivering, my parents-in-law suggested that I come back to their city where they had connections in the local hospital for a lower medical price and more convenient help; however, we turned down their suggestion. The first consideration was that I could not be separate from the church, or I would be weak. The second concern was that my husband and I could not accept a separation for such a long time. We worked together with each other, sharing our tasks in church business, experiencing joy and weakness together, holding family worship together, and these are resources of strength. Separating for a long time does not go along with the instructions of the Bible (1 Corinthians 7:5).
Last but not least, if a husband and wife are not in the same place, it brings difficulty to raising children in a proper way. Putting aside the father’s feeling of missing the children, a more critical issue is that the farther, as the authority of a family, cannot be present. If either part of the couple is missing during the first several months of a newborn baby, especially when staying with one’s parents as in Chinese family culture, the baby will most probably receive excessive care from the grandparents. Their intention is good, but it provokes children to excessively focus on themselves and thus their sinful nature expands. This is not a good thing for their growth. Therefore, I sincerely suggest brothers and sisters to try to stay at the place where your church is, although it might be pricey. Spiritual support comes before the material.
7. Pay particular attention to “postpartum depression.”
After delivery, due to the sudden reduction of estrogen, women may experience emotional fluctuation, and physical and spiritual depression, which will affect the family relationship. After delivery, wives should consistently rely on the Lord, and overcome depression through prayer and God’s word. There is a painting in our bedroom that says, “Be joyful always. Pray continually. Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18). Prayer is the secret of conserving yourself and your family. Wives’ devotional status is essential. If it is inconvenient to read during the postnatal period, a possible way is to listen to the audio Bible to fill your heart with God’s word.
8. Have faith in God’s supply.
Here I mean breastfeeding. Do not give up breastfeeding easily. It is crucial to have a peaceful mind. The more anxious one feels the harder to breastfeed. A peaceful mind comes from faith in God. God’s supply is sufficient, unless there is a physical condition. Besides, pray on behalf of the baby before breastfeeding. It is a way of finding favor before God. To pray is a privilege, and it is right to use this privilege for your baby. When it cries, pray with it, and ask God to calm you down.
9. Don’t over-emphasize children’s skills in some things.
For example – walking, talking, or eating independently. Don’t compare [your children] to other kids either. Every child is unique. God makes some grow faster and some grow slower, so why do you bother? As Christians, we should value more the construction of their inner lives and characters.
10. Train children to be familiar with the Christian marks as soon as possible.
For example, during family worship, read the Bible to them and tell them the Bible stories, teaching them worship songs, paying special attention to the word “Bible” and the mark of the “cross,” as well as other words in the Bible. When they start talking, you will see that the “output” is proportional to the “input.” Children’s memory is beyond our imagination. Our daughter is now very familiar with some Psalms and the melodies of some worship songs. When we sing, she listens carefully. Occasionally, she will also sing these songs. She particularly likes the Bible stories as well, and repeating the names and places from the stories every day. She repeats the simplest as well as, in my opinion, the most important prayer: “Save me, Jesus.” Furthermore, when they grow up a little, it is a good idea to invite them in some service together, and make them realize their roles as servants as soon as possible.
11. Discipline children in grace.
This might be the hardest part of parenting. As I mentioned in the first part, I feel guilty about it. I realized that when it comes to discipline, the first intention should be taking care of children for God, instead of for oneself. They are God’s children, not mine. So do not discipline them for one’s own desire (including anger release and self-honor), so that we might be able to grow together with our children by experiencing God’s grace. Second, I often remind myself that I am a sinner, a sinner under grace, so that I can treat my children with the love that God gives me when they make mistakes. Third, be patient in guiding them, as well as setting rules for them, and stick to it. We have strength when we think of the Lord’s patience with us. Sometimes, it needs two to three months or even longer for children to correct a mistake.
The Bible says, “Love is patient, love is kind” (1 Corinthians 13:4), thus parents should set an example for children. A child, who can experience his parents’ love, can also easily experience God’s love; therefore, it is important to make children feel and believe that parents love them, when they are still young. Only those who are loved have the ability to love others. There is a need for the rod, as well as gentleness and firmness, to discipline children. Do not discipline children when you are in anger, because they will imitate grown-ups and pick up wrong ways of expression. For instance, when parents yell at children in anger, they will copy this rude way.
We need to keep in mind that when parents have a disagreement on parenting, please do not blame each other in front of the children. Firstly, it is important to respect each other; secondly, the authority of the parents should be built up in front of the children; and thirdly, it will bring out their sin of egocentricity when blaming each other in front of them.
12. It is suggested to not let children watch TV, animation, or play on a PC or cell phones at early stages.
The first reason is that it is harmful to their eyes when their vision function has not been fully developed. The second reason is that it influences their ability to think independently, as well as the process of exploring, resulting in them only following the scenes on the screen. Christian parents should focus on their hearts. To build a rich inner world, jittering, colorful screens that bring excessive stimulants to children’s fragile minds, are full of disadvantages. Sounds (parents reading stories, audio books, etc.), music, letters, painting on paper, and nature, are the favorable materials for building up children’s minds. There are people who say the best education for children is: “Letters before pictures, sounds before images.”
The third reason is that those media usually are the podium of the enemy. When children have no spiritual ability to distinguish, it will severely obstruct the gospel if they have access to these media. (Therefore, my husband and I both agreed no TV or cable in the living room.) When kids getting older, parents can choose some videos about Christianity to watch with them, and explain to them. I prepared some books for my child, in order to boost her reading ability so that she can acquire the ability of self-learning. Now, when she is at home, her favorite activity is reading books. In addition to worship songs and the Bible, we play some audio books for her. There are classic children’s books and literature masterpieces available online. Listening gives children feelings in the heart, and the room for imagination and thinking.