I exhort the elders among you to tend the flock of God that is in your charge, exercising the oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you do it -- not for sordid gain but eagerly. Do not lord it over those in your charge, but be examples to the flock.... And all of you must clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another, for God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. -- 1 Peter 1b-5
Yesterday was a day of thinking hard about my children's faith. Throughout the day, one message after another removed the fog that has been surrounding me lately.
I have been struggling with how to teach my children (ages 6, 9, and 12) more about God. My husband is agnostic. And, rightly or wrongly, only time will tell, we have allowed our children to choose whether to go to church or not. They do sometimes, though not as often as I would like. And they enjoy Vacation Bible School during the summer. But they don't get very much formal Christian education on a regular basis. I have, at various times, attempted to teach them about God (to varying degrees of success), but I know I need to do this more often.
Figuring out exactly how to do this for three very different boys has been one of the hardest things I have ever had to do! My oldest son is more of a doubter, a questioner. He wants proof, but at the same time he is inspired by the little miracles that have happened to other people. His faith, however, will only ever blossom, if he is allowed to doubt. The more I push, the more he resists. My youngest son has the faith that Jesus tells us we all should have. He prays easily, loves to read different children's Bibles, and tries to put into practice the teachings he has learned. My middle son more often now expresses the doubts of his older brother, though I also see in him a desire to simply know what it is all about. With each son, I must have a different approach.
So, I have been sorting out in my mind, over the last few weeks, once again, what it is that is essential for them to learn and how best to get that across. I have been very slow at doing this. I know this is supremely important, and I hear God telling me this needs to be done. Yet, I am hesitant, and continue to stall and make excuses. In part, this is because, at least with the two older boys, I fear their resistance. I want them to embrace what I tell them, but I fear that they won't.
When I read the passage above, I was puzzled by the phrase "exercising the oversight." So I found a website, bible.cc, that has many different translations of the Bible. The Aramaic Bible in Plain English provides the following translation: "Shepherd the flock of God that follows you and give care spiritually, not by compulsion, but with pleasure, not by defiled profit, but with all your heart." This translation helped, offering much needed guidance, as well as conviction.
But even before these readings, my day had started rather unusually. Around 9:30, a couple of Jehovah's Witnesses came to my door. They wanted to talk to me about raising children. They asked me about my experiences and shared a little of theirs. As we talked, they expressed their surprise and pleasure at finding someone else with a strong faith in God. They gave me a pamphlet about raising children, and showed me one of the pages which illustrated three families: one in which the children were carbon copies of the parents, one in which the children were rebellious, and one in which everyone was encouraged to be themselves. They said, "We must give our children the freedom to be themselves, just as God gives us the freedom to be ourselves." I found this very comforting. Their visit felt like a blessing, that God had sent them to me with this message of encouragement.
Later in the afternoon, looking for something to do on an unusually cold day, I took my kids to see the only family movie they hadn't yet seen: a documentary called, "Happy," by Roko Belic. The movie explores what makes different people around the world happy. My 12-year-old thought there ought to be a law against being forced to go to a movie he didn't want to see, my 9-year-old thought it was interesting, and the 6-year-old found it very tiring. Though the venture was not the all-around success I had hope it would be, maybe some of its insights will stick with them. Not surprisingly, love, compassion, friendship, helping others -- these intrinsic things make people happy. A special insight for me came from the Dalai Lama, who said, "The most important thing you can teach your children is to love."
Watching this movie reminded me of why I wanted to teach my children about God in the first place. I want them to be happy. I want them to know that God loves them. And I want them to love God in return. I want them to have a strong personal relationship with God. I know what a difference this has made in my life.
So, now I know that I need to keep this purpose in mind: their happiness. Perhaps then I will be able to shepherd this flock that God gave me, "not by compulsion, but with pleasure."
Dear God, thank you for the blessings of this day. Love always, Pam