Relationships 101: Children

Lee Carter

In our current sermon series, Relationships 101, we have been looking at ways we can honor the words of Jesus when he summarized the commandments and said: “Love God, Love Others, and Love Yourself.” 

I’m Lee Carter, wife of lead pastor Craig Carter, and it is my honor to be sharing today on the topic of relating to children.

As Pastor Craig often reminds us, life is all about relationships. The primary relationship is our relationship with God through Christ Jesus. It is a relationship based on love and a relationship that empowers us to relate to ourselves and others based on this same incredible foundation.

My husband has joked many times that he and I had absolutely no clue how to relate to children before we welcomed our first child into the world. When our kids didn’t come with an “operating manual,” we heeded my brother’s advice to “Never let them outnumber you.” 

I’m happy to report that we survived and so did our children. They are now young adults, and thankfully they are still willing to claim us!

Pastor Craig was right to say that we didn’t have a clue when we began as parents, but he missed it on another point … We DO have an operating manual. God has provided us with an “operating manual” for ALL of life and for every relationship through His Holy Word!

In addition to a perfect operation manual, we also have a perfect model: God himself, our Heavenly Father. 

According to scripture, we are to teach our children what we have learned and pass it on to future generations. This is an important responsibility given to all of God’s people, not just parents.

You must be very careful not to forget the things you have seen God do for you.  Keep reminding yourselves, and teach your children and grandchildren as well. (Deuteronomy 4:9)

We do this by recognizing what we have seen the Lord do to and for us, and then we relate to children in a similar manner. Put another way: We love our children the way our Heavenly Father loves us. 

Those of us who are parents have a special responsibility, but all of us have been given the task to teach and relate to the next generation in such a way that we bear witness to our Heavenly Father. 

We must take great care not to inadvertently communicate to others what J.D. Walt calls a “believe and behave” message (believe God, now start behaving).

Throughout scripture what we see is an invitation from God to believe and relate. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t that our behavior isn’t important. But we must remember that we are not in a behavior program with God, we’re in a relationship with Him. 

So let’s look at how we can honor our relationship with God in the way we relate to children. We love our children the way our Heavenly Father loves us when we… 

1. Accept their uniqueness.

One of the most quoted scriptures regarding children is Proverbs 22:6: Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. 

This commonly quoted scripture is also commonly misunderstood. Many people believe this verse means if you raise your kids in a godly way, they’ll live for God the rest of their lives.  But of course, that’s simply not true. Some kids grow up in godly Christian homes but choose to live in ungodly ways. 

This verse is found in the book of Proverbs (not Promises). A Proverb is advice or a wise saying that is generally true. 

The original Hebrew phrase, “in the way he should go” literally means “according to His way.” In other words, teach children according to the way God made them. 

We are called to accept their uniqueness and teach them accordingly. Children are like snowflakes, no two are exactly alike.  

Some children are quiet while some are talkative. 

Some are tentative and some have never met a stranger. 

Some like to sit and read, others can’t seem to sit still. 

Some are good at sports, others love music. 

They all seem to like pizza, and there are some who even like vegetables. 

I could go on and on, and you know this and see this on a daily basis with the kids in your life. Some kids you get, while other kids leave you scratching your head (or pulling your hair out). 

We love our children well when we don’t try to force all of them into the same “box” but instead consider their age and development, their personality, their likes and dislikes, their strengths and weaknesses, their unique needs and their temperament.

Very often our uniqueness and their uniqueness can lead to conflicts and misunderstanding, but it doesn’t have to be this way. We are to accept their uniqueness and lead them according to the way God made them. 

We want our children to be able to declare as King David did: (God) you created me and I am fearfully and wonderfully made!

Even Dr. Seuss got it when he wrote: “Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is youer than you.”

We need to learn to work with children’s uniqueness rather than fighting against it. God not only accepts our uniqueness, He created it!

Another way in which we love our children the way our Heavenly Father loves us when we…

2. Affirm their value.

Everyone wants to feel important; but it is especially true of children. Our Heavenly Father is the perfect illustration of a parent who affirms his children. 

What is the price of two sparrows – one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it.  And the very hairs on your head are all numbered.  So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows. (Matthew 10:29-31)

God values us and we, in turn, value our children and those around us. My children are more valuable than … my career, my hobby, my newly cleaned kitchen floor, finishing my to do list, etc. 

We can affirm the worth of children by imitating God’s behavior toward us in three important ways:

First, pay attention to them. Our Heavenly Father is so attentive to us … down to the last detail of knowing the number of hairs on our heads.

I tell people all the time that “your mind and your feet should be in the same place.” This is to encourage them to be fully present. In other words, spend time with your kids, and when you do, your attention and your feet should be there also. You will enjoy your children more and they will know how special they are to you.

Second, show affection to them. In the book of Hosea, we read a beautiful description of God to his people: I drew them to me with affection and love. I picked them up and held them to my cheek. (Hosea 11:4)

We want to show affection that is appropriate to their age, to the setting, and to our relationship with them. Appropriate signs of affection are important. 

Third, express appreciation to them. God says, “You are precious to me. You are honored and I love you.” (Isaiah 43:4)

When did you last tell your children: 

“I’m proud of you” ?

“I’m glad you’re here” ?

“You’re pretty special” ?

“I’m glad you’re back, we missed you” ?

“Thank you for…” ?

“You did a great job when…” ?

“I noticed your kindness when you…” ?

As an educator and school counselor, I’ve worked with hundreds of children, parents, and teachers. I can tell you that this is a practice that adults tend to do pretty well with young children, but as children get older the focus often shifts. Instead of the child’s strengths, adults often focus on what a young adult isn’t doing and on their weaknesses (or “areas of growth”). 

Whatever you focus on tends to grow, right? This is especially true of children and young adults. It is so important we express appreciation for who they are and what they do, calling forth the best in them. 

Providing our children with attention, affection, and appreciation consistently and constantly will help them know they have value to you – and ultimately to God!

A third way we can love our children the way our Heavenly Father loves us is to… 

3. Trust them with responsibility.

Jesus said, “Whoever can be trusted with a little can also be trusted with a lot…” (Luke 16:10)

We grow by being given responsibilities. This was the Lord’s approach during his time here on earth. Jesus took 12 men, invested in them, gave them greater and greater responsibility along the way, and then He returned to Heaven leaving the message of salvation of the world in their hands. Aren’t you glad they learned to be responsible?

Nothing will bring out the best in your children faster than believing in them enough to give them age-appropriate responsibility.

Teachers understand this and assign classroom responsibilities for kids to complete (line leader, supply collector, door helper, teacher helper, etc).

Parents do this by doing the very same thing at home. Kids can be responsible by being mama’s helper at dinner time, letting them dress themselves, feeding the dog, making their own appointments, watching over siblings, maintaining their car, managing money, and so forth. 

We teach them and they learn by doing. This takes time, intentionality and patience, but it is so with it!

This is one of the most important lessons I received while serving in the Air Force. In the military, you train and then you’re given responsibility. Then being responsible begets more responsibility. That process starts in Basic Training. Every military academy and ROTC program operates under this process. You would be amazed at how much responsibility is given to young people (teenagers) to teach and lead each other.  

In the military you also learn that no matter what the work is, you are a vital part of the “mission” and people are counting on you! Isn’t this what is communicated throughout Scripture?

When our children are young we have responsibility for them but as they grow that changes into having a responsibility to them. One of our responsibilities is to avoid making them dependent upon us.   

Fear is one of our biggest hurdles. We want to protect them from making mistakes and from experiencing failure. But failing is a part of life and it provides valuable lessons. When you overprotect, you communicate that you don’t trust them and don’t believe they’re competent. 

We want to let our kids know we trust them and prepare them for life. 

If you’re dealing with adult children: Respect that they are responsible for their life and use your godly wisdom and discernment to intercede for them in prayer. As you pray for them, God will also guide you in how to best love and support them.

It is God’s plan for us to entrust our children with responsibility, and when we do that we also have the opportunity to… 

4. Correct without condemning.

The Bible teaches that correction is a form of love. 

For the Lord corrects those he loves, just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights. (Proverbs 3:12)

If you love your children, you will correct them; if you don’t love them, you won’t correct them. (Proverbs 13:24)

I don’t have to tell you that children aren’t perfect. No one is. So it’s important to learn how to correct in a godly way. How do we correct children without condemning them?

Or as James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family put it: “How can we shape their will without breaking their spirit?”

First, never correct in anger

Don’t exasperate your children by coming down hard on them. Take them by the hand and lead them in the way of the Master. (Ephesians 6:4)

When we correct in anger it becomes more about us and our emotions than about them and their behavior. And anger begets anger. When this seems to be happening, I suggest a cooling off period. This will give you an opportunity to model a healthy way to deal with anger and delay making any decisions.  

If there is only time for a pause, take a deep breath and ask yourself a question to help guide your response and not just react in anger. An example: “God, what does love look like here?” 

It’s also vital that you watch your words. Ephesians 4:29 tells us: Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 

Words are powerful and can be used to build up or to destroy. The words you say have the power to echo in a person’s life forever. Every word you use is a word you choose, so choose wisely and lovingly. That includes the words we say TO people and ABOUT people. 

I invite you to reflect on this scripture on a regular basis to identify any way in which you may have spoken that was not helpful, beneficial, or wholesome. This intentional practice will bear incredible fruit in your relationships. 

Correction is a challenging area for everyone. You’re going to blow it from time to time and when you do… Repair as needed, apologize, correct your error, and move forward.

A final way we can love our children the way our Heavenly Father loves us is to… 

5. Love them unconditionally.

Romans 5:8 tells us:  God proves His love for us in this, While we were still sinners, Christ died for us!

What did we do to merit such extravagant love? Absolutely nothing!

In the same way, we are to love our children, not because of anything they have done and even in spite of what they have done. 

Your kids will mess up. They will fail at times. Your children will test your love.

They need to know you love them anyway.  How do you show them?

Forgive them. 

Be kind and loving to each other, and forgive each other just as God forgave you in Christ. (Ephesians 4:32)

Loosely translated this means: Give them a break just like God through Jesus, cut you a break. 

Aren’t you glad God’s love for you and me is so great He is willing to forgive us even when we’ve hurt Him greatly? Having been forgiven, we are to go and do likewise and forgive others. Nothing demonstrates love any more clearly than receiving forgiveness!

How else do we demonstrate unconditional love?

Never give up on them. 

Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. (1 Corinthians 13:7)

Love never gives up. It always believes in the person being loved. This is true even when… 

The student you’ve stayed after school to tutor wises off to you. 

The child you tucked in bed and went to every dance recital gets into drugs, or makes other bad choices.

A child you love yells, “Get out of my life! I hate you!”

Love always forgives and never gives up. 

You must be very careful not to forget the things you have seen God do for you.  Keep reminding yourselves, and teach your children and grandchildren as well. (Deuteronomy 4:9)

When you raise and work with children of any age there is so much that is out of your direct control. That can leave you feeling ill-equipped, anxious or afraid. I get that. 

But there is something you directly control that has lasting impact: It’s HOW you relate to them. I can think of no better model to follow than almighty God and how he loves His children.

We love our children the way our Heavenly Father loves us when we: accept their uniqueness, affirm their value, trust them with responsibility, correct them without condemnation, and love them unconditionally.  

If you don’t know God, you can begin a relationship with Him today by trusting in His saving goodness shown us through His Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. If you do know God, will you commit to relating to children (and others) the same way Our Heavenly Father relates to you?