The Power of Habit in Teaching Our Children About God
The colossal calling of parenthood is made up of zillions of seemingly insignificant events. Often it feels as if one blurry moment, phase, or season flows into the next before we can even make sense of it. My husband and I make rules and set boundaries and try to enforce them consistently. We try to remember that our aim is to orient our children’s hearts to be Christ-centered, rather than just seeking outward behavioral changes. But then time passes, and we see no fruit whatsoever. When obedience does occur, it often feels like our children are simply trying to avoid the consequences of misbehaving.
Are our efforts making a difference? Are the heartfelt talks, Scripture memorizations, and family devotions penetrating the hearts and souls of our little ones—or are we merely going through the motions? Well something happened recently that reminded me of what I am called to do as a mother and how the habits we create in our homes can—by God’s grace—make a life-changing impact on the hearts of our little ones.
One of Those Sunday Mornings
Attending church together as a family is something I look forward to every Sunday. But one week I could tell it was going to be one of those Sunday mornings. In the few hours between waking up and leaving for church, it felt like my husband and I had run a marathon—getting breakfast on the table, showering and dressing three small children, refereeing arguments, correcting bad attitudes.
By the time we settled into our pew, I had already snapped at the kids, rushed them out the door, and was short with my husband. If there was ever a Sunday I needed to hear God’s word, it was that Sunday, but I just couldn’t focus. My children seemed to have made a pact that they were going to be the neediest children on earth that day. There were bathroom breaks, endless requests, and my personal favorite—good old-fashioned whining.
I thought, why am I even here? I haven’t heard two consecutive lines of the sermon. My kids aren’t hearing a thing. Nothing is sinking in for any of us. I should have just stayed home and watched the Food Network. I looked around at all of the other children sitting through the service with their halos on, and I was discouraged. Obviously, I was doing something wrong and failing my children. I left church that day feeling incredibly irritated with my children and myself.
The Power of Ritual and Habit
But God, in all of his goodness, decided to open my eyes the following Sunday. We had made it (alive) through the service, and it was time for the Lord’s Supper. Holding my cup of wine, I noticed that my three-and-a-half-year-old daughter had filled the lid to her water bottle with water and was eagerly awaiting the moment when we would all partake together. It was the cutest thing I had ever seen. At her age she couldn’t fully understand what Communion is, but she wanted to partake in the ritual she had seen performed every Sunday since she was born.
In that moment, I was able to connect the dots. Our children won’t always understand what we are doing for them—or with them—the first, second, third, or maybe ten-thousandth time we do it. But it doesn’t mean that nothing is happening. There is power in ritual and habit.
Shaping Hearts and Minds to God’s Glory
The fact is that taking our children to church each Sunday to worship the living God—rain or shine, good attitudes or bad—is shaping their hearts and minds about what is important. Maybe we hear the whole sermon or only a couple of lines. Either way, God blesses us for our obedience to him. Our kids absorb things, even subconsciously, that God can use in their lives.
So, I just want to encourage all of you parents. We may not see the fruit of our labors today, but we serve an all-powerful God who often uses very ordinary means to accomplish his work. Continue to be steadfast in your efforts to point the hearts and lives of your children toward him. What an amazing opportunity we have as parents to help shape the habits of our little ones while they are still under our care.
Shepherding a Child's Heart by Tedd Tripp