Chip Away at Your Children's Spiritual Growth
My husband loves to tell the story of speaking with a World War II veteran almost 20 years ago. Mark was working at Oppenheimer Funds, advising and serving clients with their mutual funds. He got a call one day from a man in his 80s who, Mark quickly found out, had well over a million dollars in his account.
Would you like to know the secret to his financial success?
He put away $25 per month starting from the age of 18. That’s it. Nothing aggressive. No getting rich quick. Just small, slow, steady deposits each and every month.
It reminds me of what my Crossfit coach says during seemingly insurmountable workouts: Chip away at it. Just chip away.
It’s the principle of how you eat an elephant: one bite at a time.
It’s the “daily drip of obedience” that my friend’s mentor admonished him to pursue.
We humans are drawn to get rich quick schemes, to lose 10 pounds by this weekend diets, to the express lane. Like moths to a flame, we love instant gratification, magic formulas, and silver bullets. But we know silver bullets are rare. We know the truth is that real growth comes in one small, right decision after another.
And so it is with bringing up children in the Lord.
Late Easter (yesterday) afternoon I received a photo by text from a friend. It was of one of my teenage daughters leading a Sunday school class of toddlers through the twelve Resurrection Eggs. My friend said the kids were captivated, as she told the story of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection using the eggs and the little figures they each contain.
I immediately texted another photo back to my friend. It was of me about eight years ago doing the same thing: teaching the resurrection story to some young children, using the same eggs at our church in Okinawa.
Every Easter since my first daughter was born, I have used the Resurrection Eggs on Easter morning to tell my own children, as well as the children of our church, the story of Jesus. Each time I go through the story it only takes about ten minutes. There’s nothing fancy—no video or song or take-home craft. Just some eggs, some figures, some Bible knowledge, and a young, listening audience.
Apparently my daughter has been listening, because without prompting from me or anyone else, she grabbed the eggs and did exactly what she has seen me do every Easter of her life. My small, steady investment paid off.
This story is a simple one, but it’s one of many, now that my girls are all twelve and above, Mark and I keep witnessing the dividends of our small, but repetitive, investments. It has been in their outspoken refutation of a secular TV show, and their conversations with one another about what modesty is and what it isn’t, and their robust conversation in the car about how Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament laws (all three of these things transpired in the last week).
You must believe me when I tell you that we have never done a whole lot in the way of spiritual formation with our kids. I can tell you honestly that is has just been one small bite every day. We’ve chipped away, unimpressively, at their spiritual growth.
Our routines have usually consisted of the following:
asking the girls to keep some kind of Bible reading plan that they maintain on their own
watching 10 minutes of global news together about four times a week and discussing it from a Biblical worldview
me reading a chapter a day (about 4/7 days a week) from some kind of spiritual formation book out loud (see my “Book Reviews” for ideas)
praying together about 4/7 mornings a week for our family’s needs, missionaries, unreached people, our neighbors, and others
eating most dinners together, praying as a family at dinner, and discussing my husband’s sermon or what’s going on in the world or in their own lives
attending church (and serving) together every Sunday no matter what
Mark reading them a story before bed (about 4/7 times a week), praying with them, and often striking up a deep conversation about once a week
These few and simple tasks add up to mere minutes a day. They are routine and rythymic, but they are not deep or impressive in any way. And, as you can see, none of them happens every day. We aim for general consistency, but know that perfection is not at all realistic.
And I’m seeing now that these small things make an impact. These seemingly insignificant habits have formed some significant things in my daughters: some solid theology, an ability to critique pop culture and media, a capacity to apply a biblical worldview to the news, an awareness of Bible stories and the so-what behind them, an understanding of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection, and a desire to teach the Bible to younger children.
God, in his mercy, has seen fit to impress one little truth upon another in their lives. Our tiny, but frequent (not perfect! not even daily!) investments are paying off. This is not to say—at all—that my girls have arrived. It is not to claim that they’ve made it to Christian maturity. There are still so many ways I look forward to seeing them grow. This is only to say that God has been faithful to us, in spite of our weak offerings, our imperfect skill, our laziness, our quick-get-this-done mentality at times.
Like the millionaire on Mark’s phone call, setting aside a little something on a consistent basis has added up over time. Be encouraged. Your children are listening. Your children are absorbing. Your small monthly payment is going to pay off in a big way in the decades to come.
Don’t believe the hype—you don’t need a silver bullet, a glossy kids program, a magical summer camp (though those can be sweet added bonuses). You just need a commitment to put in small amounts of time, consistently over time, and God will take care of the rest.
And then you’ll likely find yourself on the phone one day with a younger parent asking you how you became a millionaire in the spiritual formation of your kids. You will be able to tell them then that it was nothing fancy. You just protected and deposited a small amount each month, you chipped away at it, you took one bite at a time.