As I hold this newborn child in my arms, tears rolling down my face, I realize I have no idea what to do next.…
Last week my wife and I welcomed our new baby into the world. We are now a family of four, with a newborn, a three-year-old, and two exhausted parents … but we wouldn’t have it any other way.
I experienced a phenomenon after my first daughter was born, one that is playing out exactly the same with our second arrival: I started praying a whole lot more. As I hold this little one in my hands I am overwhelmed by the responsibility of it all: helping teach her right from wrong; helping shape her intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually; guiding her in what love means and looks like in the context of a family and a marriage; helping her figure out who she is apart from everyone else except God; etc.
These are the things I think about when I am up helping with that 3:00 a.m. feeding, and they often have me break down in prayer. Nothing helps you recognize you aren’t in control more than adding another life to your family. (As if having a three-year-old didn’t challenge that notion already!)
With both of my daughters, I have come to realize how much I want them to grow up to know and love the Lord. Not just knowing about God, although memorizing Scripture and knowing the stories and singing the books of the Bible songs aren’t bad things. But I want my two girls to know God deeply, intimately, and profoundly, where God becomes their source of life, hope, strength, and mission.
Teaching our children to follow God is one of the most profound tasks we are given; indeed, it is our primary mission field. As a minister, I often think about my ministry in terms of “outside” and “others.” I do evangelism, meet people where they are, build relationships and cultivate friendships, and share my faith with people around me in (hopefully) meaningful, life-giving ways. Yet if I do all those things well to the neglect of my family, I am not certain I could call myself “successful.”
Deut 6 tells us that we are to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (6:4). Deuteronomy then goes on to state that we are to teach our children to do the same. How do we do that? Well, we are commanded to talk about our faith at home and on the road, from the moment we get up until we lie down, whether sitting or eating or walking or just being. If we have to, we tie it around our heads and nail it to the doors of our houses. If we want to develop faith in our families then it needs to be part of the rhythm of life for the family. I mean, Prov 22:6 holds true, doesn’t it? “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”
Oh, the joys of ripping proverbs out of context.
Recently, I sat with two godly parents who lament the fact that none of their children are following Jesus currently. Did we do something wrong? Did we damage or destroy their faith? Is it our fault? They trained up a child … and watched them depart.
I grew up with five friends in my youth group; we did everything together. Our parents were good friends and had similar ages, similar backgrounds, and similar parenting styles. (Indeed, they all helped parent the others’ children when we needed it!) The six of us were inseparable: we hung out together, played together, laughed together, struggled together, and went to the same youth group activities and Bible classes together. We were the best of friends from elementary school until we graduated and all went off to separate colleges. Of the six of us, two of us are still followers of Jesus. Did these parents do something wrong? Did they destroy their children’s faith? Is it all their fault?
Sure, train up a child in the way he should go and he won’t depart from it … except that it happens all the time.
So, I sit in the hospital room holding this new life bundled up in my arms with tears streaming down my face with no idea what to do next. How do I raise Lydia (and Hannah) to be women of God? How do I show them love, encouragement, grace, and correction? How do I model a life of love, joy, and peace? How do I instill in them a love for God that consumes their heart, soul, and strength?
Honestly, I don’t know. I don’t have any clue. I know I want to train up my child and teach them to love the Lord … but I am wrestling with what that means. Here’s what we are doing so far:
We pray. We pray together as a family. My wife and I pray for our daughters when we pray together. We invite our daughters to pray at meals and before bed. We create a rhythm of simple prayer that is incorporated into our lives.
We read. One of my favorite memories from childhood was reading Bible stories with my parents before bed. We do the same thing with our daughters now. We let them “read” the stories with us (since Hannah has many of them memorized.) Sometimes we go in order; sometimes we let her pick the story. But we always talk about it.
We engage. Both of our daughters are named after characters in the Bible, and we have been reading those stories intentionally so that they know where their names come from. My three-year-old can tell you the story of Hannah’s prayer if you ask. We invite her to engage with the stories.
We question. This isn’t something deep or profound at the moment. But Hannah has recently asked things like, Where is God? and What is God like? and Why do we pray? (Actually, I take it back; those ARE pretty profound!) But we want our home to be a safe place where our family can ask tough questions, wrestle with faith, doubt and discover, and fall more in love with God through that process.
We pray some more. Like I said, I pray far more now as a dad than I ever did before!
And we are learning to trust in God. I believe God loves my children more than I do. I am going to have to trust God to take care of them and guide them because I can provide love, guidance, and encouragement, but in the end it will be up to my daughters and God as they journey together in faith.
I would love to hear from others out there in all stages of life, whether new parents or seasoned veterans, people whose children have never fallen away and people whose children struggle with faith. We all have stories to share, and we are all called to help one another as part of the family of God.
Know that you are in my prayers as you raise your children, and I pray that we are in yours.
Daniel McGraw is the senior minister of the West University Church of Christ in Houston, Texas. He is married to Megan and has two daughters, Hannah and Lydia, who teach him more about the love of God than any of his theology degrees ever has. He is a passionate, but wholly average, runner.