Disclaimer: Although this post discusses parenting and children, I encourage those who are not parents to also engage with these ideas as members of our wider church community.
As a young mother, I find myself astounded by the impossibility of my son’s existence. Fathoming the glory of God’s creation, as embodied by my son, stretches the limits of my human understanding. His faith in Justin and I to to parent our little one, to provide care and love for His creation, overwhelms me. My mother has said that I will never fully grasp the beauty of my child; she hasn’t become any less astounded by her children's existence over the nearly 30 years she has been a mother.
Apart from the incredible fact of our children’s existence, there are many aspects of parenthood that can overwhelm, confound, bring us to our knees, or have us crying tears of joy and love. The responsibilities that come with parenting are myriad, but, in my humble opinion, the responsibility of leaving the right footprints for our children to follow is one of the most important.
As a mother, one of my favorite sights is that of my husband walking beside our son, watching him slow his pace so Beren can keep up with him, Beren’s tiny feet thumping against the ground with gusto. I love seeing their shadows mirrored beside them. I love listening to Justin telling Beren what they are walking past, what they are seeing, asking him questions Beren is too little to answer, but that Beren loves all the same. Every moment with his daddy, and for Justin, with his son, is priceless. I love this sight for many reasons, and I have often found myself drifting back just a little, enough that I can watch them together. Given my bookish ways, though, I cannot help but see the symbolism there for Justin as a Christian father. Beren is still small enough to need physical guidance and help to walk his path, but soon enough, before we are ready, he won’t need it anymore. Instead he will need guidance of a different sort.
In Deuteronomy, God gives Moses the Ten Commandments. After sharing them with the Israelites Moses continues:
“5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” Deuteronomy 6:6-7
As parents, we are entrusted with the lives of our children, and with the development of their lifelong faith. Of course, they as individuals have their own responsibilities and decisions to make in coming to know and embrace God. Yet, even though we are not the ultimate deciding factor in their faith stories, God has given us the imperative, the command, to love Him so fiercely, to live His way so wholeheartedly, that we inspire in our children their own desire to love and follow God all the days of their lives.
Moses reminds us that the way we live, the footprints we leave in our wake, have the power to lead our children to God, or to mislead them in other directions. The Ten Commandments provide a blueprint for parents of what to avoid and what to embrace. We are encouraged to love God with everything we have, and to live lives that demonstrate that to our children. We are to talk about our faith, our love of God, often, daily, and to live lives that do the talking for us when we do not have the words.
In particular, the idea of doing this as we walk along the road, strikes me as vital in today’s hectic world. Modern, secular America pulls us in countless directions, and even when we strive to live lives that are less influenced by secularism, we can still feel pulled in too many directions at once. When we navigate those mountains of time and responsibility, of obligation and choice, we are leaving behind footprints for our children to follow when they scale those mountains themselves.
We are, by our nature, imperfect and destined to make mistakes. It is absolutely vital that we talk openly and clearly with our children about those missteps as often as we do about the correct steps. If we say one thing, and do another, the resulting confusion can have our children following our footsteps in circles that lead them nowhere. Our children need to know what it means to be human, to make mistakes, how to learn from them, and what compass we should be using to make better decisions next time. For us, as Christians, that compass is Christ, our Lord. We need to set an example of what it looks like to admit sin, seek repentance, and reorient ourselves with our compass.