On Being a Child of God
A lot of us grew up going to church every Sunday with our parents. It made Sundays seem special. As a child, that day of the week was like a beautiful song for me—it had its own music, its own voice, its own resonance. No other day of the week could ever feel like a Sunday.
I remember enjoying the whole Sunday experience. Making preparations on Saturday night, so that Sunday morning could be viewed only as "go" time. Bathing—done, clothes—already picked out, pressed, and ready to be put on. Bibles—found and waiting on the table by the door. On the actual day, we'd all get up bright and early while the dew was still on the grass, and we'd eat breakfast. I could barely contain my excitement—getting a chance to wear a dress and shoes that were reserved for Sundays only was exciting business!
Once the morning rituals were over, we'd all get packed into my father’s truck (my youngest sister wasn't born yet, so it was my older sister and I, and our three brothers). If our dad wasn't home from working in New Orleans, we'd all get into a neighbor's car who had volunteered to take us and our mother to church. When we got to church, mother would get us all seated, reminding us to be quiet and to pay attention. We'd listen with the very best of intentions, determined to do our best. It was not always easy, however. Remember, we were children, and sometimes church could be a pretty fun (and funny) place to be.
I remember the thunderous voice of our spirited minister. I remember my younger brother and I giggling when the old woman who always sat in the corner wearing the big hat and the colorful dress would get up to dance and shout. Every Sunday, as if on queue (some people said she did it to show off her newest hat or dress), she'd "get happy" and go to work in the aisle. I choose to believe the best—that the woman was truly moved by and was therefore moving with the presence of the spirit of God!
I feel blessed that my parents taught me and my siblings about God, and that they showed us how much they loved Him. They instilled within us a respect for the Bible and all its wisdom. They wanted us to understand, early in our lives, how important it is to have God and Jesus Christ as part of our identity. They wanted us to know it was a special thing, to be a Child of God.
We saw them modeling their beliefs, their faith in God. We saw them helping our neighbors and giving to others when we ourselves had very little. We saw them taking everyday opportunities to teach us about the goodness of God, whether it was showing us how God provided food for the little bluebirds and redbirds that we saw in the yard every morning, or telling us to ask God to bless our food before meals. Our father was a Mess Sargent in the Army during World War II. He often shared with us stories about how, during battles, his life was spared when the lives of others in his platoon were not. His stories taught us that he didn't just practice his faith; he believed in what it gave to him, and it nurtured and strengthened him in a special way.
The only thing any parent can do is the best they can. Perfect parents and perfect children only exist in 1950’s and 1960’s era television sitcoms.
The hard-to-face truth in life is that life is not always predictable, and it is hardly ever fair. For this reason, being a good parent (or striving to be) does not mean you will have good children. Likewise, being a bad parent does not necessarily mean you will have bad children. Children from troubled homes can rise above both nurture and environment, to excel in their life choices. Likewise, children from good homes can make bad choices that can cause their life to turn out badly.
God does not give mankind any assurances about how any child will turn out. But He does give us the opportunity to gain His wisdom and instruction, and to pass these on to our children.
Faith: A Family Tradition
Our parents went to church because their parents went to church. And their parents went to church because their parents went to church. For generations in our family, going to church has been a way to demonstrate our faith and belief in God. After our dad passed away, our mother did her best to model a lifestyle of obedience to God for us to see, and to emulate. Because when all is said and done, what matters most to a child is what parents teach through their own behavior.
Christianity gave my parents and my grandparents the tools they used to give us a thread of faith; something we could use to weave our own fabric for living our everyday lives. It gave them the spiritual guidance they needed to sustain a loving way of being. For me, it became solid ground on which hope was planted, and on which more faith and more belief grew.
I remember losing my grandfather when I was 10 years old. I watched my mother grieve over the loss of her father. He was a faithful Christian who was one of the founders of the Baptist church in which my mother grew up. A wonderful man who loved his family, it is because of my mother's father that I know the love of a grandfather (my father’s dad died when he was still young). My mother’s father lived until I was 10 years old, and because he did, the ten years that I knew him were ten of the best years of my life.
Visiting my grandparents' home was something we did on very special Sunday afternoons when I was very young. I remember when I was around 3 or 4 years old, my siblings and I would hop out of our dad's truck and race to find our “Paw Paw” so that we could climb onto his lap and brush his hair (he lovingly pretended to always need someone to help him brush his hair). “Get the nits!” he’d say as he laughed and watched us vying with each other for honor of brushing his hair.
My grandfather was a loving influence in my life. He taught me and my siblings a type of gentleness, caring, kindness and true love of family that is rare these days. When he played with us and lovingly teased us about this or that, we knew he was giving us his undivided attention--teasing us because he loved us. He demonstrated his love by giving us the gift of his attention. He and my maternal grandmother were demonstrators, not speakers, when it came to their love. They never said, "I love you," that I can remember, but they showed us they not only loved us, but were proud to have us as their grandchildren. How? By always making us feel welcome and wanted in their home.
They would often go out of their way to show us how much they loved us. I remember when I was around 7 or 8 years old, I left my doll at my grandmother’s house one Sunday after a family visit. Since we usually visited my grandparents on Sunday afternoon, I knew it would be at least a week before I would be reunited with “Babee,” as my doll was called. But for some reason, on one day the next week, I was not in school and my mother and I went to visit my grandmother in the middle of the week. To my surprise, my grandmother had used her old-fashioned foot-propelled Singer sewing machine to make Babee a brand new blue dress! I couldn’t have been more thrilled. To this day, I remember the look on my grandmother’s face as she watched my joy over my doll’s new dress.
Using the seeds of their faith, my parents and grandparents gave me what I needed to help guide me through childhood and beyond, to adulthood. Because of the foundation I received early in life, because of the demonstrations of faith that my parents and grandparents gifted me with, the Word of God has helped to guide every aspect of my life. Today, it influences my ethics, how I treat people socially, my ability to cope with stress, how I go on after the loss of a loved one, and how I handle the daily ups and downs of my life.
The foundation I received as a Child of God gave me God’s commandments and rules help to guide decisions I make every day. These Commandments influence my choice of friends and people I allow to come into the intimate spaces of my life. They influence my value system—what I see as right and wrong, as well as my ideas about justice and equality. Knowing and respecting the word and the ways of God gives me an inspired foundation for living a truly blessed life.
According to an article I found on Wikipedia titled "Church Attendance," developed countries are seeing declines in the number of people attending church. Research, it said, attributes the decline in church attendance to such things as "lack of motivation, negative media coverage of religion, and boredom during the services."
The article also stated that the country of Nigeria has the highest church attendance in the world, and Russia the lowest.
Since I was born and raised in Mississippi, I was not at all surprised to learn (according to an article I found on gallup.com) that in the United States—at least as of 2009, Mississippi had the highest number of people attending church weekly or almost weekly.
Do you feel it is important for parents to take their children to church?
Paying It Forward . . .
Just as my parents and grandparents showed love and patience toward my siblings and me when we were children, as adults, we are all children of a loving and patient Heavenly Father. Our Heavenly Father waits on us, His grownup children who are still growing in knowledge and understanding of having faith in God.
From paying attention to how God helps us grow as Christians, I can see ways all of us can help earthly parents in their challenge. God wants us to help one another in our personal journey on earth. In the Bible, Titus 2:1-8 teaches us how God desires we live and help each other learn the way of living He has ordained for our lives. This scripture says:
“But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine: That the aged men be sober, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, in patience. The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things . . . ."
It is a good thing, I believe, to give children the lessons for life that are contained in the Christian Bible. Just as parents teach their kids, when they’re young, not to touch things that are “hot,” God's word teaches us. Sometimes, however, even against warnings, children will touch things that are hot—and they will get burned. It may sound harsh, but when God's adult children choose, through free will, to do things that are contrary to the teachings of God, if they are blessed to live through their poor choices, the Bible provides lessons demonstrating why the alternative they chose had to lead exactly where it led. Just as when a disobedient child touches a hot stove and gets “burned,” disobedient adult Children of God can also get "burned" as a result of making choices that are against God’s way.
Because they believed in redemption and repentance, my parents taught us that because they may have made mistakes in life did not mean their children were doomed to make the same mistakes.
By sharing with us stories of redemption from their lives and from the Bible, my parents let us know they did not expect to see their mistakes carbon copied by their children. They taught us that children can learn a lot from hearing their parents admit their own mistakes. They taught us that children can learn from hearing about what their parents learned as a result of making their own mistakes.
They taught us that forgiven Christians do not hold on to the past, allowing it to shut them off from the possibilities of the present day. They taught us that forgiven Christians live in the present, having no predisposed ideas about what is possible for them, based on things that happened in the past. Instead, as forgiven Christians, my parents taught us to put our hope and faith in the teachings of God, so that when we were older we'd have a God-guided blueprint for living a life that is just as filled with hope as it is with possibilities. Using what they knew, as a result of their Christian faith, they taught us that life is a set of choices and alternatives for children, just as it is for parents.
The Family That Prays Together . . .
I'm proud to say that I am still a Child of God. It seems to me that a lot of people, even some who truly believe in God and Jesus Christ, are a bit embarrassed to make this statement today. I'm not. As an American who is free to believe and to worship as I please, knowing and saying that I am a Child of God is not just a way to embrace two of our most liberating freedoms, it is a way to boldly and to humbly reconnect with who I am, and what I hold to be the most important truth of my life.
I am blessed that my parents wanted me to grow up knowing God. Church was a good place for me to go on Sunday. It wasn't just a way to practice rituals to demonstrate my faith and belief in God. It wasn't just so that we could understand why we said grace together before eating our meals, and it wasn't simply so that we did not question why they wanted us to get on our knees every night to say a prayer before lying down to sleep. Our parents didn't just "take us to church," they gave us church. They talked about God with us, showing us that He was alive in them.
Colossians 3: 16: "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God."
Our parents shared with us experiences from their own lives, explaining why they believed what they believed, and how their faith had seen them through many troubles.
Hebrews 10: 24-25: "And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near."
By giving us church, our parents gave us a special kind of joy that can come only from unabashed, heartfelt worship of and service to God.
Psalm 150: 1-6: "Praise the Lord! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens! Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his excellent greatness! Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp! Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe! Praise him with sounding cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals!"
By giving us church, our parents gave us a permanent connection to lifelong learning resource. I am blessed to have accepted the gift my parents gave to me as a resource with unparalleled benefits; ones that far exceed anything made possible through the gaining of any other kind of knowledge, and/or by the obtaining of any other form of education.
Timothy 2: 15: "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth."
© 2013 Sallie B Middlebrook PhD