My daughter shared this FB memory recently and when she did, I replied that it really does sum up our youngest son's character and heart. Jace was at a baseball game, and his team was taking the field when his youngest niece called out to him from the dugout. She needed a hug. He left his teammates, returned to the dugout and took the time to give her a very intentional, sincere hug. When I look at the picture, she is folded into him with a sense of peace and security that reminds me of how we should allow ourselves to fold into the arms of our Heavenly Father.
Despite his youth, his facial expression and body language radiate his total engagement in the moment with her. He is not hurried or impatient. His eyes are closed and he is simply intent on reassuring her that she is valued, she is precious and she is loved. If his teammates or peers are yelling at him, or teasing him, he doesn't hear them and doesn't care - at this moment in time he has a laser focus to meet the need of the one who called out to him. I would like to believe this is how God responds to us when we call out to Him as well. Despite whatever might be going on in the world, He shuts it all out and simple comes to meet us right where we are - just as we are.
This picture was taken several years ago. Today, I pray that our son always stays this sensitive to the needs of others. I pray that he always remains brave and bold enough to be different and to prioritize love and people first over the “stuff” going on in the world around him. I pray that all the women in his life, those already known and those not yet known, always feel safe, secure, honored and protected by him. I pray that he touches the world around him with grace, compassion and kindness. I pray that this little boy would grow up to be this type of adult man, and that he would exemplify God first and always in his character, words, and deeds. I pray that his newly-added-to-our-family sister, and his nieces/nephews, would find him to be a person of character and integrity so that he may serve as an example to them. I pray they feel secure enough to turn to him, and when they do he speaks with Godly wisdom into their lives. I pray for him these things and more, because the character traits I want to see in him won't develop on their own.
Character in our children doesn't happen by accident. The formation of character has to be an intentional, disciplined course of action we choose every single day of their lives. As their parents, God's Word instructs us in Proverbs 22:6, "Train up a child in the way they should go: and when they are old they will not depart from it." "IT" being the training and instruction of their youth. I relate that to military training (Lots of Marines in our home, remember?). My husband joined the Marine Corps at 18 years of age. He is now 50 and the habits and traditions of the Corps are firmly ingrained in his lifestyle and character. He still rises early every day, despite being retired. He has to exercise in some of fashion, literally every single day, or he is grumpy. He is task oriented and must feel a sense of accomplishment or the day has been wasted. He still walks like a Marine, it is part of his physical stature, and those years of service are evident in his thinking and even his speech. My 18-year-old husband did not become a Marine by accident, he didn't fall into the character and qualities of the Corps - they were taught to him, disciplined within him, and he was mentored throughout his time in the Marine Corps. The Marine Corps started training him at 18 yet the impact and influence of that training will be evident in him for life. The statement, "Once a Marine, Always a Marine," is grounded in truth.
How much more ingrained in the character of our children should be the nature, speech, and characteristics of God? If we are training our children as God instructs us to do, then it will take consistency, diligence, commitment, and intentionality. They need us to discipline them, instruct them, refine and mold them, motivate and inspire them, disciple and mentor them in the ways of God. Part of Jeff's training in the Marine Corps was to learn the language of the military, the terminology and nuances, the history and traditions, the acronyms and symbolism. The same applies with our children and the Lord. However, if
God-speak is foreign to us, how can we ever expect it to feel natural rolling off their lips. Our language must be so God infused that it flows naturally within our daily conversations that our words are saturated with our affiliation with Him. No one who ever knew my husband would doubt his affiliation with the Marine Corps - even more so should our speech be marked and our identity intertwined with our relationship with God. And just as my husband showed a natural pride of service in his commitment to the Marine Corps, so should our relationship and service to the Lord be something that we carry with pride of affiliation as well. Not because we are so wonderful - but because we are proud to willingly love and serve someone so worthy of honor beyond ourselves.
The Marine Corps put my husband through the paces in Boot Camp, so much so his mother almost didn't recognize him upon graduation. I remember thinking there was no way I wouldn't identify my own son at his Marine Corps graduation - no way he could change that much and blend in with the other Marines that well. Guess what? I was wrong - it took some real study to pick him out of the graduates all lined up in ceremonial style. They had been refined, and their old personal traits were trimmed away and their stature and bearing reshaped into that of a United States Marine. The same should occur with our children and God. Part of training them involves us trimming away the natural sin nature they possess to refine their stature and bearing into one that would resemble and reflect the character and nature of God. That is work! It was work for those Drill Instructors at Boot Camp, and it is work for us as parents. But the end result is amazing and of great value!
Throughout his career, and even now in retirement, my husband has cultivated relationships that both inspired him and also mentored him. He also took on the mantle of mentorship to those that sought him out as well. That same camaraderie should exist spiritually as well. We need to create that with our children, and we need to work hard to facilitate that spiritual mentorship and discipleship for our children. No, you may not want to add one more thing to an already busy schedule - but yes, Awanas, Sunday School, Youth Group, etc. are THAT important to the developing character and spiritual development of your child!
Pastor Lenny (former Marriage and Family Pastor at Catalyst Church- Jacksonville, NC) once spoke to the Camp Lejeune MOPs (Mother's of Preschoolers) group. He stated that we needed to have at least five people, other than ourselves and our spouse, who would willing accept the honor of pouring into our children regarding spiritual matters. He encouraged the moms present to prayerful contemplate building that circle of five to surround and support them in the spiritual development of their young ones. Pastor Lenny instructed that the church alone cannot teach children the character and nature of God lived out in the surrounding world, they must see it, hear it, breathe it and live it with us and through us on a daily basis. And they need to have the spiritual connection facilitated by people outside their parents who believe in them, have relationship with them, and who they hold in high regard. That spiritual mentorship, over time, will build spiritual wisdom, confidence and strength within them - and it will help them when times get tough. Just as Jeff had Marine mentors, who helped steer his course within the Corps - our children need spiritual mentors where they can turn for counsel, support and direction grounded in the Word of God.
Godly character does not happen by accident - it happens by design. What are your building plans for your child? What is your blueprint for their spiritual development? Do you have one? Have you ever even thought about it? It's not too late! It's never too late! Start having that conversation now.
(If you haven't guessed, I am pretty passionate on this topic - I'll probably share more on it and I would love to hear your ideas and thoughts as well.)