Sunday afternoon rest time was interrupted by the sound of shattering glass. The noise was quickly followed by my two oldest children running inside to tell me that their sister threw a rock at the house and broke a window. After surveying the damage and making sure no one was hurt, I took my five year old daughter by the hand, pulled her inside and said, “What have we been talking about all week?” She looked up at me and said, “Controlling myself.”
Multiple conversations, consequences for disobedience, discipline, prayer — we had covered all of these things throughout the week, as I tried to teach her about self-control, how to respond when we don’t like something, and asking Jesus to help her. It clearly hadn’t made her change.
We have zero control over the decisions our children make.
Oh, how we try. We store the crayons and scissors out of reach, put their drinks in sippy cups to avoid spills, and remind them about what can happen when they jump on the furniture. We hover over playtime, choose which sports they play, what clothes they wear, and which friends they have. Our bookshelves are filled with the latest theological resources for children. We memorize catechisms and Bible verses, praying that these good intentions to train our children to love God will produce in them a fruit of righteousness.
So, what happens when the crayons end up all over the wall, the milk gets dumped on the clean floor, the teenage girl wants to date the wrong guy, or our kids decide to reject the God we trained them to love? We make stricter rules. We have longer conversations. We grow anxious, tired, fearful, and spiral into shame, thinking that we must be doing something wrong.
Our responsibility as Christian parents is to train and nurture our children in the wisdom and fear of the Lord (Deuteronomy 6:6-7). Rules, boundaries, and consequences are a necessary part of this. Yet, no matter how faithful and consistent we are in shepherding our children, we can’t control the outcome.
I’ve always prayed for my children to desire obedience, and I still do. But recently I’ve altered my prayer to include, “God, help them to hate their sin.” Not just the consequences — it’s obvious they don’t like those. I want them to be so aware of God’s holiness that they can’t stand offending him.
How can we help to cultivate this hatred for sin?
We must show them the glory of God (Romans 3:23).
God’s Glory in Creation
Our dining room window looks directly east, so every morning, when I pull back the drapes, we watch as the sky turns from dark blue, to orange, to red, to pink. I started paying closer attention to the sunrise as the weather got colder, and the kids would look on as I walked outside in my slippers down the street, to capture what I could on my phone. It wasn’t long before they were pointing at the sky and asking me to take a picture of the ‘cotton candy’ they call it. We talk about beauty and God’s good design in creation. We marvel at his handiwork.
Directing the eyes of our children to God’s beauty in Creation is a simple way to teach about his character. We can point to the sky when we’re driving around town and talk about God’s love and faithfulness that reach to the heavens (Psalm 36:5). We can watch the birds and tell our children about God’s care for us (Matthew 6:26). On a cloudless night, we can look at the stars and remind them about God’s covenant promise to Abraham (Genesis 15:5). We can stand at the edge of the water and teach about God’s power over the waves (Psalm 89:9).
A few weeks ago my nine year old daughter yelled from the backseat, “God paints something new in the sky every day.” She was watching the sunset as we drove to church that night, no longer needing me to point out God’s glory. She could see it on her own.
We can’t control the decisions our kids make, but we can show them how to stand in awe of our Creator.
God’s Glory in the Bible
One Sunday morning during the sermon, my daughter turned to me and said, “There’s a second Adam?” At the start of the service she was drawing pictures of aliens and spaceships, but by the middle of the sermon, her ears were tuned in, and I had an opportunity in that moment to tell her how Jesus fulfilled what Adam failed to do. She was blown away by this concept, and although I know she doesn’t fully understand, she was beginning to see God’s glory as it’s revealed in the Bible, through the person and work of Christ (Hebrews 1:1-2).
Before we attempt to give the word of God to our children, we need to be students of it so that we can appropriately teach it (2 Timothy 3:15). We need a firm conviction that God’s word is true, powerful, and valuable for life and godliness (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Out of our belief and delight in God’s word will flow words of life to our children.
We’ll be moved to read it to them, and with them. The Holy Spirit will guide us with good questions to ask our kids so we can gauge their understanding. We can invite their doubts and questions, pray with them through their unbelief, and allow them to wrestle as we seek to explain to them the mysteries of Christ (Colossians 1:27).
We can’t produce faith in our children, but we can point them to God’s word and trust that it will be living and active in their lives (Hebrews 4:12) and that it won’t return void (Isaiah 55:11).
God’s Glory in a Changed Life
Right before my youngest son turned three, he had a habit of stomping his feet when he didn’t get his way. When I corrected him one day, he said, “But you do that, Mommy.”
Unfortunately, he was right. I sometimes respond to disappointment or disobedience with a quick stomp of my foot, and he noticed. Our children will mimic our behavior, for good or for bad.
The truth is that we will fail. We’ll have moments when we respond wrongly to our children, our husbands, and our circumstances. Instead of excusing our sin or refusing to acknowledge it, we can display God’s glory to our children when we stop, confess the wrong we’ve committed against God, and them, and ask for forgiveness.
Cultivating a hatred of sin in our children will happen as they watch us hate our own sin.
We are powerless to change the hearts of our children. But we can turn from our own sin and walk in the Spirit (Galatians 5:16). As we do, the fruit of the Spirit will flow from us (Galatians 5:22-23), and we’ll be showing our children the glory of God through a changed life.
Feeling powerless over the decisions our children make doesn’t have to make us fearful or anxious. Instead, we can pray that our children will join with the prophet Isaiah who said, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5).
May God’s glory overwhelm our children’s hearts and may they respond to him in faith and repentance.