“hey, what are you doing?” I said, trying not to flip out.
“Papa, the bible says to treat others as you want them to treat you. Thomas punched me so he must want me to punch him”
4Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God is one LORD: 5and thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. 6And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be upon thine heart: 7and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. 8And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be for frontlets between thine eyes. 9And thou shalt write them upon the door posts of thy house, and upon thy gates. (Deut. 6:4-9).
Have you ever noticed how many ways scripture tells us to remind ourselves and how many teaching aids scripture prescribes, regarding the fundamental truths of the faith? We need so many ways because teaching our children and ourselves is hard. It’s especially hard when the world around us in many ways rejects what we are trying to teach. I don’t want to whine about the culture though; I want to talk about teaching our kids the faith.
There are endless books, and books that feel endless, about how to raise our children, how to teach them, how to help their sleep patterns, their relationships to their siblings, how to feed them well, make them balanced renaissance people capable of writing a sonnet while winning a marathon. Some of them even have a thing or two of value to say. The Bible also has many passages about how to raise kids and live as a family.
Here’s the thing. The well-worn quote attributed (most likely wrongly) to St. Francis (“Preach the Gospel, and if necessary use words”) applies wonderfully to our children. Kids watch their parents and grandparents (and I would dare say that young dads are still watching their dads and young moms are still learning from their moms) and they learn what behaviors are permitted.
Of course they will do some things out of their fallen instinct, like my boys instinctively punching each other over who gets to put their feet on an ottoman, but on the whole they will learn from what they witness. My wife and I try to live out the biblical call for women to respect their husbands and for husbands to show love for their wives and for parents to not exasperate their children. The description is of a respectful, caring environment, the sort of environment conducive to passing on the story of love and mercy we encounter in the bible. It requires accepting standards and working towards achieving them, it might not be popular but it’s the way forward for most families.
The bible knew marriage (and the child-rearing that went with it until recently) was a difficult thing, that’s part of why there are so many references to do with divorce and so many references to do with how spouses ought to behave towards each other. The bible also knew that teaching the faith to the kids would be a challenge, then and now.
This week I am taking heart in the fact that the bible knew these things would be hard, and yet it also knew they would be worth the effort, that they are part of God’s plan and that they somehow reflect the trinity.
“God doesn’t like when brothers fight and tells us that when brothers do fight they ought to sit down together and figure out how to get along” (Matt. 18:15).
And we live to see another day.