The Most Important Thing to Teach Your Public School Child
- Monday, August 15, 2011
Preparation for a new school year each August is a major job for every parent. Notebooks. Pens. Calculators. A cool-looking backpack. The "right" clothes. The "right" shoes. Or in some districts, uniforms mandated by school policy. A gym bag. Money for a lunch pass. Next-of-kin identification forms, complete with multiple work and cell phone numbers for contact at any hour in case of emergency. Proof of vaccinations. Proof of sports physical from the doctor's office. The list goes on and on.
If you send your child to a public school, you need to arm her with something more, however. The most important thing is not on sale at Target or Costco. The registration people won't ask for it, but you dare not leave it out.
The most important thing to teach your child is what Jesus (quoting Moses) said was the greatest commandment of all:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength (Mark 12:30).
Nothing is more important. Nothing is more foundational. Nothing will steer your child more effectively through the complexities, distractions and temptations of a day at public school. Young people who, of their own free will, deeply love the Lord and care about God's divine perspective can navigate the most treacherous waters with steady confidence.
We are talking about far more than just being a regular church kid. Lots of grade-school, middle-school and high-school students go through the Sunday motions, spend a week at summer camp, sing in the Christmas program, bring a can of green beans to the food drive and maybe even recite the Sinner's Prayer at some point along the way—but the core of their being is not captured by the love of God. Jesus asks for something far deeper.
We can tell this by the effusive way the sentence is worded. It doesn't just say, "Love God." It says to love Him with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and all your strength. Nothing is halfway here. Jesus is talking about a total, all-encompassing embrace of the One who loves each of us more than we can ever comprehend.
All Your Heart
We Christian parents are not interested in raising little robots who can spout off a list of dos and don'ts—if that is all we achieve, the minute some situation pops up that doesn't fit the list, our child will drift and flounder. We are instead in pursuit of their heart. The heart is the center of the emotions. It is where the deepest loyalties reside. We want our child's heart so bonded to Christ that it can't stand the pain of separation.
It is not enough to expect right behavior from our child. We must expect right behavior with a right heart, a willing heart, a yielded heart. In other words, right behavior with a wrong heart is still wrong behavior. Doing the proper thing with a grudging attitude counts for nothing. Only when your child's heart is captivated by God will his behavior at school (and elsewhere) fall into line.
Does this sound impossible? Let us assure you it is not. Don't buy the lie of what society is saying about today's kids. Don't accept that kids are just naturally disrespectful and surly these days. If you accept that as reality, then you will not parent them in a way that achieves anything different.
You can raise children and teenagers who respect you, respect other adults and respect God. You can see your sons and daughters grow increasingly closer to you and to God as the years go by, rather than hardened and disinterested. But first you must believe that it is possible.
We will get into the nuts and bolts of this process later in the chapter. But for now, let's take note of a vital cornerstone for building: We must evidence our own attachment to God "with all our heart."
Do your kids see in you a passion for pleasing the Lord? Do they sense that God is the most precious Person in your life? Do they know that you would never consciously displease Him? Watching how you live out your love for the Lord is how they will learn to love the Lord wholeheartedly.
All Your Soul
Closely related to loving God with our whole heart is loving God with our entire soul. (These four phrases, by the way, are not separate boxes on a table, distinct from one another. They are all intertwined in ways none of us fully comprehend.)
"Soul" is an interesting and somewhat perplexing word. We know it refers in some way to our eternal being, the part of us that lives forever—the part of us that survives the death of the body. The bumper sticker that reads, "He who dies with the most toys wins" is blatantly false. There's a better one out now that says, "He who dies with the most toys still dies!" Our society has always struggled to get the right perspective on material prosperity. We live in the most affluent economy in the history of the world, yet here in the United States depression is rampant, suicide is common and the misuse of prescription drugs is skyrocketing—in other words, our souls are sick. People arrive at the twilight of their years and realize too late that they spent their entire lives chasing a phantom. Jesus said, "What good will it be for you to gain the whole world, yet forfeit your soul? Or what can you give in exchange for your soul?" (Matt. 16:26, TNIV).
The eternal destiny of every parent and every child is too important to assume that God will welcome us all into His heaven one way or another. Don't consign this crucial matter to the church, the youth pastor, the parachurch ministry to students (like Young Life, with whom we happen to work), or some evangelist on television. Make sure a salvation decision is made by every person under your roof, because it is truly a matter of life or death.
All Your Mind
One of the most important armaments you must give your children as you send them out the door to the public school is a relationship with God that fills all their minds. If the foundation of their faith rests on the good feelings they have while standing next to you in church, they are in trouble. If they don't know in their mind why they love God, if they are not "prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks [them] to give the reason for the hope that [they] have," and to "do this with gentleness and respect" (1 Pet. 3:15-16), they will be sitting ducks for any antagonistic teacher. When teachers and classmates ridicule anyone who has the audacity to believe in a sovereign, loving God, your kids won't know what to do or say.
What chance does a kid have against an "expert" unless that kid knows in his mind what he believes and why he believes it? It is not enough to counter with "My mom and dad said so."
The older your child gets in the public-school system, the more important this becomes. Certainly by middle school, the challenges to your child's faith will begin to come fast and furious, and will only intensify in high school. Then some evening you'll be sitting at the kitchen table with your son or daughter, looking over the slate of possible courses at university the next year—courses with titles like "The Problem of God" or "Perspectives on Science, Faith and Reality." You will sense by the way the course descriptions are written that some of these professors are just licking their chops in anticipation of exploding the "foolish myths" the next class of naïve freshmen will bring along from home.
Only the son or daughter whose mind has been stocked with what God thinks—and who has come to love those reliable, unshakable truths—will be prepared "so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand . . . with the belt of truth buckled around your waist" (Eph. 6:13-14). The love of God will be not only emotional and relational but also logical and intellectual.
Love is not merely a warm, fuzzy feeling associated mainly with Valentine's Day. Think about it: Our love for our spouse encompasses far more than that. We love the person we married for reasons of the mind as well as the heart. We are convinced that this person is the right partner for us—in fact, we made a conscious, well-considered, "left-brain" decision to live the rest of our earthly life with our spouse. So, to "love with all the mind" is not a contradiction in terms; rather, the mind enhances love, making it real, something of substance.
All Your Strength
What does it mean to love God with all our strength? If the first image that pops into your brain is Hercules with bulging muscles, put that aside. Instead, think about a high-school football game under the lights on a Friday night. Three quarters have been played—the fourth and final is about to start. If you're watching the Clover Park Warriors (the team I help coach), you'll see my players holding up four fingers as they stride toward the scrimmage line. By this, they're not trying to advise the clock operator. They are instead signaling to themselves and their teammates—This is it! Fourth quarter! Here we go—give it everything you've got. Even though they're tired, even though they might be a little dinged up, now is the time to dig down deep and fight with every remaining ounce of strength.
As we coaches often say, "Leave it all out on the field." Don't bring one iota of energy back to the bench when the final horn blows. Make us have to carry you to the locker room if necessary.
This kind of endurance is a picture of what it means to love God with all your strength. We want our kids to love God when it feels right, when things are going well—but also when life stinks. We don't want the Sunday "high" to fade out by Wednesday or Thursday. We want our children to love God through it all, straight on through the weekend, the semester, the week of final exams and every other challenge that comes their way.
The Bible says, "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up" (Gal. 6:9). This is a crucial part of loving God.
Originally posted in August 2008.
Next time: The Pritchard's share how they taught their kids love for God in From Theory to Practice
David Pritchard is a nine-year veteran of Young Life youth ministry. He currently serves as area director in the south suburbs of Tacoma, Washington, and as camp manager of Young Life's largest summer camp. Kelli Pritchard has degrees in secondary education and in social work. The Pritchards have been influential in the lives of dozens of young people in their home and lead weekend parenting conferences. They are also cofounders of a community action group to work for improvement in the local school district. Learn more at http://www.pritchardministries.org/
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