Mrs. Miersma is the wife of Rev. Thomas Miersma, missionary in Spokane, Washington.
Royal children are children of the Word, children who must develop in their abilities to listen and speak and to read and write with understanding. Since they are stewards of the abilities and talents that their heavenly Father has given them, we as parents and teachers will encourage the development of their talents with a view to serving our Father King. We wrote of talents, not so much with an eye to differences of natural endowment, but from the perspective of abilities that, though they vary, we all have the calling to develop and use in God’s service. One of the most important of these abilities is listening, speaking, reading, and writing with concentration and understanding. This ability, barring unusual handicaps, is one that we should develop in ourselves and our children, perhaps more than any other.
Beyond the obvious necessity of learning to follow spoken and written instructions in order to function in the home and society, the foundation of all our life is the Word of God, in written form in the Bible, and in audible form as the Word preached. We are people of the Word because our faithful God, our Father and King, has chosen to reveal Himself to us primarily by means of spoken and writ- ten language. For creatures such as we are, there could be other modes of revelation: images, music, emotional expressions, and physical expressions, including touch, taste, and smell. While God ordains such things as sacrifices, a physical land, a tabernacle or temple, and the sacraments to reveal truths about Himself and His relationship to His people, He always does so in conjunction with the Word, at first spoken, then written down as He commanded. Any other mode of revelation, including the creation, can only be understood by the Word. This particular mode of revelation in the form of spoken and written propositional truth is reflective of the kind of God our Father is. “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24).
Already in the opening chapters of Genesis, God speaks, and by the agency of His Son, the Word, the world is created. InGenesis 3 we learn by inference that Adam must have been in the habit of communing with the “voice of the LORD God,” in the Garden of Eden. We see no image or visual representation here but communication by means of the voice, implying language. After the fall, God comes to man, giving him His promise in word, and continuing, faithful to His promise, to reveal Himself to His people by His word.
Of particular note in connection with developing the abilities of our children is the familiar passage in Deuteronomy 6:6-9: “And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.” For purposes of these articles, we note a number of things: 1) the words, which God puts in (literally upon) our hearts, may be taught diligently (emphasizing the idea of repetition) and talked of; 2) we are to live in them in every part of our life; 3) they stand at the heart of our life in the home. It is by means of spoken and written language that God has commanded us to conduct this instruction.
If this be the case, then the development of the abilities of language in our children is of paramount importance. There is considerable evidence that the means by which our children learn, especially when they are young, will have a powerful effect on the actual physical development of their brains and thus on their ability to deal with language, including the ability to listen, comprehend, process, and analyze the spoken and written word. An excellent book on this subject, for those who are interested in reading some of the evidence in this regard, isEndangered Minds: Why Children Don’t Think and What We Can Do About It, by Jane M. Healy. In it she explores the effects of visual media, especially television and videos, not only on children’s abilities to read and learn, but on the actual way in which the brain develops. If we want to teach our children the Word that is in our hearts, we will want them to develop the best possible abilities to read and listen with understanding. Especially in our children’s early years, television and video watching will play a very minimal part, if any, in this instruction. The American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends that children under the age of two watch no television at all, and after that no more than two hours a day of “quality videos and programming.” While we do not take this organization as the authority for our home life, their recommendations do warrant some serious consideration. I think most of us have observed not only the mesmerizing effects, but also the tremendous drawing power of television, especially on children. But the chief damage of television is that it displaces real life experience, conversation, and reading.
What are some positive things we can do with our children that will prove very beneficial in developing their ability to listen and read with understanding? Engage in conversation. Teach them to memorize, or, better yet, memorize with them. Read books aloud with them—not just until they are able to read for themselves, but as a regular part of family life that continues into adolescence. These activities will not only play a useful and important part in the instruction that God commands in Deuteronomy 6, but will complement and reinforce each other.
Conversation is a general term that brings to mind a number of different ideas. To some it means all or most of the speech we use on a daily basis, talking about the immediate necessities of life, the weather, etc. To others, perhaps, it suggests a relaxed evening with friends sharing experiences and ideas. In its richest and most enjoyable form, conversation is an opening of the heart to one another, a sharing of ideals, aspirations, and reflections. When we converse with one another in this way, striving to season our speech with salt, bringing it captive to the obedience of Christ, God uses it to lift our hearts and refresh us on our pilgrim’s pathway. Certainly conversation will not always be on this plane; yet one of the very reasons for which God gives us the gift of speech is that we may by it encourage and bring comfort to one another.
Conversation is the way in which we have communion and fellowship with each other, reflecting in the lives of our homes the communion and fellowship that we have with God. It would seem that the ability to converse would arise naturally in the life of a Christian home. Yet Satan is hard at work here to destroy this means by which our children will grow, not only in this communion and fellowship, but also in their very ability to learn from written and spoken language.
There is the obvious impediment of our sinful and selfish human nature. Conversation with our children requires effort on our part, giving up something of ourselves, giving our time and attention, developing a genuine interest in their concerns. This is especially difficult when we are tired, busy doing something else, or preoccupied with our own affairs. How easy it is to feign attention and fail truly to listen.
Then, we are so busy. Fathers must work long hours to provide for their families. With large families, even with our many labor-saving devices, the work of a mother in the home demands what seems at times almost ceaseless work. Yet we must all confess that at least some of what makes us “busy” is the time we waste on other things. You know your own weakness. We can become too busy with social or sports activities. Even extra church and school activities, good in themselves, sometimes make us so busy that we have little time left for communion and fellowship in our own families.
Because of these hindrances, we must look for and try to make opportunities to converse with our children. One of the most important of these is the family dinner table. Even non-Christians recognize the value of family meals, and some are trying to return to the practice, but many families eat very few meals together at home. With mothers employed outside the home, many families eat out, or consume fast food before the television set. Many do not eat together at all because of conflicting schedules, each family member heating up his individual portion or the children are fed first so adults can enjoy the meal together (understandable on an occasional basis). We can fall into these practices too.
Bowing in prayer together, eating together, sharing the experiences of the day, striving to see them together in the light of God’s Word, comforting one another, finding a place of love and acceptance, and worshiping together are elements that characterize the covenant family table. When our children are very young, this may seem idealistic, but as with many other aspects of our family life, we continue to strive after this ideal, and we do grow in it. As our older children mature, they will set an example for the younger. God will bless our striving after this ideal in His time and way.
Mothers with very young children can start from a very early age to sit down with their children to eat even when the whole family is not present. Lead your children in prayer and close the meal with a Bible story or verse or a song. Sitting down with our children and staying with them at the table until the end of the meal will teach them a number of valuable things: they will learn that meals are a gift of God to be recognized as such with thankfulness, but they will learn also that meals together are about more than eating—they are about fellowship and communion as a family.
Another opportunity for conversation is when we work together. Having children take turns working with mother or dad in cleaning up after meals, doing yard work, learning repair skills or cooking, working puzzles, or building models together are all opportunities for conversation. Going for walks together is one of the best ways to enjoy time for conversation, especially as children get older, because many things that normally distract us are removed. Bedtime can be a time for conversation, perhaps not a lengthy time, but a few minutes can mean a lot for our children. It is difficult, especially in larger families, to put our children to bed, as opposed to sending them to bed, but what a beautiful way for our young children to end their day, enjoying fellowship and communion with father or mother, briefly discussing events of the day, having confessed sins and prayed together, knowing peace with God and one another.
Conversation begins when our children are very small. They will talk about what seem to us very little concerns. But the more our children find in us a listening ear and reflective answers that help them not only to grow in vocabulary and thinking skills, but also to grow spiritually, the more they will converse, and the higher the “level” of conversation will rise. All the “Why’s and the “What’s that’s and the recounting of what seem to us obvious facts of the preschooler will, by God’s grace and the God-given means of loving parental guidance, develop into thoughtful conversation.
It is tempting simply to lecture and “tell it like it is,” and certainly there is sometimes a place for that. Yet as we often find in ourselves that it is only as we formulate our thoughts into spoken or written words to others that we truly begin to understand the matter ourselves, so it will be for our children. Encourage your children not only to relate their experiences, but also to explore the reasons for things and the spiritual implications of their responses. Encourage them to talk about stories they read, or that you read together, to evaluate the actions and thoughts of the characters. Beware of being too quick simply to tell them “the right answer.” Tell stories of your own, about the struggles you experienced when you were growing up, about your accomplishments, but also about your failures, showing them thereby how to evaluate their own experiences spiritually.
There is a rich reward in store. Your children will grow in their ability to use and understand language, to grasp the importance of spoken communication without images, an ability that will help them in the classroom, in listening to the preaching, in attending and participating in their young people’s society and as adults in Bible studies. But the richest reward is that you will hear amazing things from the lips of your children. They will confess their faith and their walk in the truth to you, not in a formal declaration, but by the way they relate their experiences, by the way they evaluate what they see in the world about them, by the way they sometimes even correct you by their evaluation of these things. Every covenant parent whose children walk in the truth will attest to this fact. We will say with the apostle John, speaking of his spiritual children, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth” (III John 4).