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The reality is that we can largely shield our preschoolers from the world out there, but keeping our teenagers from it? That’s an entirely different story. The world they see can be confusing and depressing. If they turn on the TV, they will see adults screaming obscenities or destroying other people’s property in the name of protest. If they read the newspaper, they will read of the latest issue dividing our country. If they listen to their friends, they will no doubt begin to hear the opinions of their peers’ parents coming through. Add all this external input on top of the fact that their bodies are getting bombarded with all sorts of hormones as they begin to make the change from an adolescent to an adult, and it can be easy to understand how this has got to be the most confusing time of their lives.
So what do we, as parents, do?
I wish that it wasn’t this hard. Sin has come and made a mess of this whole world. Ever since the fall (Genesis 3), we have seen despair all through the world. It can be easy to despair as a parent. I know I have felt it. I’m sure most of you have as well. There are things we can do, though; things to help our children and—maybe just as important–to help ourselves too.
#1: Talk with your kids.
I cannot, and I repeat, cannot stress enough the importance of talking with your children. Sit down with your kids and talk about the day. Talk about the latest “viral” discussion that is happening. Ask them what they are talking about in school. Ask them what their friends think about that topic. Ask them what they think. Let them share their concern and their opinion. As their parent, you have their respect (whether they show it to you or not). When you listen to them, you will have a better sense of where they are coming from.
Don’t rush to condemn anything the second they say something false. Instead, walk alongside them and hear them. People always listen better when they have been heard and not when they have been cut off. So after they have made their full thought known, discuss it. Study together and go back to the Scriptures. Read through the Small Catechism and use that as the lens through which you view the world.
#2: Follow Luther’s explanation of the Eighth Commandment.
You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way.
“Explain everything in the kindest way.” Maybe some of you remember it as “Put the best construction on everything.” It can be extremely difficult to follow through on this one. Even more dangerous is that when we choose not to follow this commandment, we risk pointing out the speck in someone else’s eye before removing the log from our own! (Matthew 7:5)
I am not saying that we do not call sin what it is: sin. We must always point out error, especially when it has eternal consequences. At the same time, we must also begin to help our children (and probably ourselves) understand how people come to the thoughts they hold or why they have committed certain actions.
#3: Realize that we all have a log jammed in our eye.
Therefore we have no right to indulge in much bragging and boasting when we step before God. Even if we were members of the highest aristocracy on earth and were prone to take pride in this, before God we would still be nothing but bags of worms or bags of manure, infested with lice, maggots, stinking and foul. Therefore St. Paul says (Rom. 3:23): “All have sinned,” the whole world is guilty before God. And Isaiah (Isaiah 64:6) declares: “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.” (LW AE 22:133)
If I remember or look back on my teenage years, I don’t know if I would be able to consider humility a virtue I espoused. My wife might argue that I still haven’t gotten humility down. But what I do know is that when we look at the world, it can be really easy to feel great about ourselves and puff up with pride with how much better we are than “other people.” If we read Luther above, I think it is pretty clear what we should be thinking about ourselves: “I, a poor, miserable sinner.”
Conveying this to our children will help build the virtue of humility. The world may hate us; we can only love the world back because our Savior continues to love us, those “bags of worms or bags of manure.”
#4: Rejoice together in our Lord!
The fact that our dear God overlooks our shortcomings and shows us mercy; that He has given us life to date, although He would have a full right to cast us into hell’s abyss at any time; that He tolerates us poor bags of maggots in the world and in this vale of tears, which is a true hospital and infirmary for us who are all syphilitic and leprous before God—all this we owe to His mercy and compassion and not to our good works. If these are good, they are so merely because God is indulgent and patient with us. For “if Thou, O Lord, shouldst mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand?” (Ps. 130:3). Thus we realize that we have nothing of which to boast but God’s mercy and compassion which Christ imparts to us from His inexhaustible fullness. (LW AE 22:133)
It is important to remember, and to constantly remind ourselves, that Christ died for the sins of all of the world, not just for a few people. This Lutheran distinctive is known as objective justification. Christ didn’t just die for the people you see receiving the Means of Grace every Sunday. No, Christ died for all. Rejoice in that truth and pray that the Holy Spirit would break through the hardened hearts of those who disagree with us or even those who may persecute us!
Embrace your vocation.
These tips are just that, tips. If there is anything that I learned in my time teaching and coaching, it is that every kid is different. They all learn differently and they all communicate differently. Embrace your vocation of father or mother. Any of us who have kids or work with kids know this isn’t easy, and there are times that you have to do things that are hard and uncomfortable. We must realize that we play an integral part in helping our children form the lens through which they see the world. Our children are going to adopt a point of view. Are going to get it from us, or they are going to get it from the world?
What a great privilege it is to teach our children about their Savior. God’s blessings as you teach your children the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3 ESV).
Martin Luther Quotations are from Luther’s works, vol. 22: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 1-4, copyright © 1999 Concordia Publishing House. Used with permission.
Catechism references are from Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation © 1986, 1991 Concordia Publishing House. Used by Permission.
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