My parents have been visiting us for the last few days. Last night we spent several hours in fun yet intense conversation. When the moment is right, I really enjoy hearing about the past. Their lives, our lives, my relatives etc.. This time my wife and I intently asked them why they think their 4 children are vigorously serving God, have seemingly very blessed marriages, seem to be making good choices with their lives and are still connected in healthy ways to them personally. A few things came up.
1. Over and over my parents have stated (and they seem to really believe it) that the most important thing in the world to them is that their kids are loving and serving God. Do most Christian parents really believe this? Do they affirm it over and over to their children?
2. My parents were not pastors, but they lived lives very committed to their church. They were committed to Sunday services, small groups, classes, helping and serving wherever they could and making sure their children were involved as well. Church was never an option for us. If we had guests staying in our house who did not attend church, they were invited along but if they refused to come, we went to church while they stayed home. Not attending church on Sunday would be worse than not attending school on Monday. Though the church went through it's ups and downs over the years. Though my parents did not always agree with the leaders of the church or what was happening there. They were committed and NEVER criticized. Though Mom admitted last night that sometimes she would pray and pray that the negatives that sometimes went on there would not affect us negatively.
We asked them last night if their was anything they could think of that characterized their friends whose kids did not end up wholeheartedly following Christ. The only thing they thought of was this, "They were critical of the church. They were complainers."
3. We prayed together often in the evenings before bed, we did devotions together often in the morning at the breakfast table. Life in Christ was not a 'once n a while' occurrence in our home. It was authentically lived out by my parents and they genuinely believed in the things they were encouraging us to follow. (Interestingly, my mother took much of the initiative in this area in our home but my father was very much involved as well and it was not unusual to see him reading his Bible)
4. We had family night on Thursday nights. Each family night one member of the family could choose what we would be doing. They would scheme and plan all week and come up with the activity. This is one of my parents fondest memories and they had lots of stories. One of their favourite things was that after we had been doing family night for some time the kids started picking family night activities based not on what they wanted to do but based on what they thought the others might want to do. Games, movies, eating out, going shopping, skating, bowling etc.. The family was very committed to making these nights a priority, other events were cancelled or moved to ensure the family could do family night.
5. We had no TV. We literally did not have a TV in the house. One time the city newspaper did an article on our family because of this. It seemed to be well known to everyone that we were very careful about what we allowed into our home and set before our eyes and ears. Many people thought they were too strict. As a kid, I wanted a TV because I thought it was fun (I did watch TV at others people's houses :-) but I never felt left out at school or like an outsider because I didn't see the latest episode of whatever people were watching.
Before you think, "My goodness, what a weird family, did their lives resemble anything of what normal life is in our day and culture?" The answer would be yes. We had lots of friends, people always wanting to spend time at our house and with our family since it was a fun place to be. We (kids) listened to rock music and tried to wear the cool clothes of our day which we sometimes succeeded at and sometimes failed miserably at. We were a deeply Christian and Biblical family, committed to scripture, holiness and church but we engaged as normal as anyone in sports, fun and life as usual. Maybe the main thing missing from our home that you would have found in other homes was bitterness, anger (rage), spewing of insults etc.. We of course, had our share of fights amongst the siblings but not (as far as I know) that kind that hurt the soul of a person...bruises and bloody noses were quite common though.
6. One question I wrestled with was how much time did my parents spend with us. The answer is interesting. Dad worked a lot and went on business trips a lot. But he was usually home for supper and usually tried to do his work at home after we kids went to bed. Mom did not work but volunteered in so many areas (sometimes with us at school etc.) she was very busy. I don't think they spent an exceptional amount of time with us. They did try hard to prioritize family time and they did have pretty good quality time when they did spend time with us.
7. A few of my own thoughts (my parents did not mention these) are.
They exhibited the fruits of the Spirit in their lives. Their character has made a huge impression on my life.
Stability. My parents marriage, home life, church life, work life, friendships all exhibited stability.
Prayer. My mom prayed so much for us I don't think we had much hope of not following Jesus.
When we rebelled. We did rebel, quite a bit in different stages of our lives. Made some very dumb choices and did some things that deserved pretty severe discipline. My parents downplayed rather than overplayed our behaviour. They did not overreact or shame us.
They looked for what we did well and encouraged us in those things.
They genuinely enjoyed and loved us and told us so. (Though my dad is not overly emotional or physical he still says, "I love you" albeit less often than mom and far more importantly for me, he shows it). We never doubted our parents love and affection toward us.