Our family had been in the mission field only a few months when we were delighted by a surprise visit from my major college professor, Dr. Edward Heppenstall. He was intensely interested in every detail of our new way of living, but he was especially interested in our children. "Ralph and Bea, you must take a special interest in Randy and Cherie," he told us. "You must never get so busy with mission work that you neglect your own children. God will never excuse you if you win others, but lose them. They are your first responsibility."
We have not forgotten his words, for a united Christian family is a powerful influence for good in a heathen land. But the minister who loses his own children will always, to some extent, be crippled in his labors to save others.
Sometimes ministers assume that their children are born Christians. Taken to church from infancy, they have practically lived there ever since. Certainly, if any are Christians, ministers' children are! Or are they?
No Born Christians
Paul C. Heubach likes to ask his students: "How many of you were born Christians?" After a large number raise their hands, he says, "No, you weren't. You were born little sinners and reprobates, just like the rest of us!"
Even a minister's child is not a born Christian, for "that which is born of the flesh is flesh." He inherits the fleshly nature of his parents and will often startle them by repeating their fleshly weaknesses.He is born a lawful captive of Satan (Isa. 49:24) and can become a child of God only by a new birth. A minister's child needs conversion as much as a worldly child.
Resistant Strain of Germs
It is true that our children have a tremendous advantage. They are brought up on Bible stories. They hear the doctrines presented often. They have the benefit of all the organizations of the church and church school. But have all these doses of religion actually killed the virus of sin so that our children have a healthy Christian experience? If not, a resistant strain of germs can develop against which all the former treatments will prove ineffective. It will then take extraordinary efforts to save our children.
On their way to heaven our youth must all pass through the Enchanted Land. The atmosphere there is bewitching. Young people fall under a spell of infatuation that dethrones reason and judgment. Here in this land is located Fool's Hill, all overgrown with wild oats. The bewildering intersections and forks in the road are especially dangerous because our young people have to decide which way to go when they are often least able to make decisions. Sometimes the mistakes made in that land can never be rectified. The road to Early and Unwise Marriage has a beautiful entrance there. The superhighway of Pleasure, built at fabulous expense by the world, intersects the King's Highway. A pretty, but wandering path of Ease and Aimlessness is found there; and many a youth has been lost on it, never to reach the high goals and accomplishments that he might have attained. Farther on is the road of Modern Philosophy. Many turn off there with a superior air, only to find themselves lost in the deserts of Doubt and Skepticism.
The King's Highway passes right through this Enchanted Land—a straight, narrow road that leads ever upward. It is the road of discipline, to be sure. But everything worth while in life is found on it: a Christian education, a happy marriage, a purpose and fitness for life, and an abiding fellowship with Christ. How can we make our children see it and follow it? How can we keep them off the other roads?
A Stranger in the Family
It is often difficult to help our children after they reach young manhood and womanhood. Sometimes a youth will rebel against all authority. He wants to cut himself off from whatever would be a rebuke to him in his pleasure-loving course. Since the parents represent standards he is rebelling against, he isolates himself from them. He suddenly becomes uncommunicative, a stranger in his own family. Parents find a great gulf fixed between them and their child, and they know not how to get across.
All this can happen in the best of homes, even in a minister's home. And surely God will help anxious parents as they pray their way through the crisis. But can anything be done to prepare for the stresses and storms of those days when everything that can be shaken will be shaken? Can a sure foundation be built in childhood that will hold firm through the storms of adolescence? Certainly there is much that can be done.
If we can keep close to our children and they feel free to confide in us, we can keep them from much temptation and sin. We must let no wall of reserve build up between us and them.
Mother on the Baseball Diamond
But we cannot come close to our children merely by resolving to do so. Close friendships come by working, playing, praying, and sharing life's experiences together.
A minister's wife I know found that her growing boys could not play a good game of baseball—apparently a serious deficiency in today's world. So every afternoon she crowded into her busy schedule a session of pitching and batting with the boys until they became proficient at the game. The most unathletic mother will find herself a star on the baseball diamond—in the eyes of her children. Father makes an even greater hit.
Children have no natural affinity for work, especially solitary work. But they love working with father or mother. How often they watch us and say, "That looks like fun, Daddy. May I try it?" "Let me do that, Mommy." If we do not repel this interest (it takes patience to let awkward fingers help) we can teach our children real lessons in pride of workmanship and the joys of accomplishment. Most of all, we will be binding them to us with close ties of comradeship.
But it is the spiritual ties that bind us closest to our children. It is in Christ that the sweetest emotions and deepest loves are nurtured and expressed. And yet we often have the greatest reserve in this area.
Parents—the Child's Greatest Stumbling Block
When we hear our children fighting over whose turn it is to wash the dishes or empty the garbage, we ought to be concerned. "Oh, that is just normal behavior for children," someone says. Of course it is —for all of Adam's children. But we want them to be God's children, and that is not normal behavior for children of God. How much our children need to develop kindly, unselfish personalities! But in this area, the most potent factor is example, not teaching. The greatest stumbling block to our children is the discrepancy between our teaching and our practice. When we are irritable, impatient, and selfish, we hurt our children more than we realize. They may think subconsciously, "What good is mom and dad's religion anyway? I can't see that it has done much for them!"
Of course, a bighearted parent will apologize to his child when he has lost his temper. But how much better if we parents could have that consistent loveliness of character that has such magnetic power with children!
I think of Hudson Taylor, the great missionary to China a century ago. " 'He was just beautiful with little ones,' " wrote one of his hostesses. " 'He took each child in our home, and kneeling with them apart, presented them one by one to his heavenly Father for definite blessing. . . . Two of those children are now engaged in missionary work, one in India and one in China.' " —DR. AND MRS. HOWARD TAYLOR, Hudson Taylor and the China Inland Mission, p. 493.
We had a guest in our home recently who did the same with our children. His beautiful, Christlike personality has moved us to pray for more of the spirit of God in our family.
"I Had a New Body!"
I can't forbear inserting here a little incident that occurred while I was writing this article.*
Cherie, just turned eight, came running up to my desk. "I've been having such wonderful answers to prayer lately," she said. First she told of how the rain had stopped on Sunday's picnic. Then she added (and these are her own words: "Yesterday I closed my eyes and asked Jesus to give me a new heart. And do you know, when I opened them again, I felt as if I had a new body! Now I don't want to fight with Randy any more!" She has been unusually sweet and thoughtful since that experience.
One of the greatest things parents can do for their children is to teach them to love the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy. When I was young, my mother read the Junior Bible Year and much of the Conflict of the Ages books to us. Mother was an excellent reader, and as I read the same passages to my children, I can recall the very inflections of her voice. I remember being deeply moved by such stories as the crucifixion of Christ and the martyrdom of Huss and Jerome. When I was about twelve years old, I began to read these books for myself. I have precious memories of times alone with The Desire of Ages on Sunset Hill. I loved my evenings in that quiet spot with God. The following year, spent with my aunt and uncle in their delightful rambling farmhouse, I always cherished the last hour of the day. For while the wind howled outside, and the frost was thick on the windowpanes, I was propped up cozily in bed, reading The Great Controversy. I learned to love the sacred writings before the years of rebellion came in my life. I had some real conflicts then, times when I was at sword's points with Heaven; but the Lord always called me back to Him again, most often through the beautiful entreaties of the Spirit of Prophecy.
Now my husband and I want to pass on the same precious heritage to our children. They may not have a sudden conversion, accompanied by violent emotions. They are not brought suddenly from darkness to light as the worldling; but their experience can be as a light that shines more and more unto the perfect day. They need to he converted many times, each one a mountaintop experience higher and more inspiring than the previous one. Our children can learn to read great books and commune with God in prayer. They can develop sweet, Christlike personalities. They can be stirred by the call of God to them.
God help us bring our children safely through the crisis years.