As a young child, my memories of Santa Claus often involve me clutching tightly to my mother’s arms and mustering up courage to walk into Santa’s tent where he would sit right in the middle of wrapped presents. I remember clutching tightly to my mother’s hands, unsure if I wanted that experience, yet mustering courage to keep going. Once inside the tent, I held tightly to my mother only leaving her side to collect a plastic plate or whatever gift Santa had for the day while looking towards the waiting camera on my left.
Our children’s relationship with God for the most part feels like this. Yes, parenting for faith means we have a responsibility of opening them up to a relationship with God, however, we must realise where our job stops and where their journey with God begins. They don’t need to clutch unto our hands while we ‘supervise’ their relationship and conversations with God. We don’t need to chaperone their interactions with God, all we have to do is direct them to God and be available to answer their questions and reassure them. A perfect Biblical illustration to this is the story of Eli, the Priest and Samuel. Don’t roll your eyes yet, let’s look at that story from a different and more in-depth perspective but first let’s step back a bit to Hannah, Samuel’s mother.
According to 1 Samuel 1:3, year after year Hannah and her family went up to the temple where Hophni and Phinehas were priests of the Lord. Hophni and Phinehas were the sons of Eli who according to Chapter 2:12-17, committed all manner of atrocities in the Lord’s temple. They slept with the women who served at the gate of the temple and treated the Lord’s sacrifice with contempt. It was clear to Hannah and her husband that Eli was a failed parent. He did not have control of his children and this was public knowledge (see Chapter 2 vs 14). Why did they leave Samuel in Eli’s care? Hannah clearly wanted this child so much that she refused to eat whenever they went up to Shiloh (Chapter 1 vs 7-8). If you are an only child or have known a woman who waited to have her babies, this would make even more sense to you. Yet, Hannah had to keep her promise to God and leave her only (sought after!) child at that time (she went on to have other children after this) with Eli. The Bible didn’t record that she had second thoughts or delayed fulfilling that promise.
You can already discern that Hannah wasn’t ‘leaving’ her child for Eli in that sense. She gave the child to God as promised without questions. She didn’t worry about the fine details of that decision. They still catered for the boy’s needs and made him a coat every year but that was about as far as they went. Wow!
What lessons can we begin to apply?
Recognise the Time to Step Aside
God doesn’t need a middleman; He doesn’t need you to mediate between Him and your child. As a parent, don’t make your child’s relationship with God all about you. Make a conscious effort not to present God to them as someone they cannot relate with without your support. Remember my Santa analogy above? Your child does not need to rely on you to say a word of prayer over something they have in mind or challenge they have. Encourage them to go to God on their own. Let them know that God is accessible to them, wants to have a personal relationship with them and would rather have them come to Him on their own. Encourage them to have private Bible studies and quiet times or simply have times in the day when they just have a chat with God and expect to hear from him. A good example could be before bedtime after you read them a story, kiss them goodnight and turn off the lights. They need to know that God understands them at their level, and they have unhindered access to Him.
When Eli realised God was calling Samuel, he could have told Samuel to stay back in his (Eli’s) room so that when God called him again he would be available to ‘guide’ him through the encounter, he could have waited outside Samuel’s room to find out what the Lord said to him but Eli waited till dawn to speak with the boy. He gave Samuel the space to have that fellowship with God.
Remember, Samuel had this encounter in the days when the word of the Lord was rare and there were not many visions (1 Samuel 3vs1). The people were so thirsty for encounters with God and here was a young boy having this rare experience and Eli was gracious enough to patiently guide him from a distance. We can definitely learn from this.
Adopt the Apprenticeship model
Here’s something else to think about. During the dispensation of Eli, the Temple was the most sacred place on earth and most people could never get in there. The night God spoke to Samuel, the Bible records that he was asleep in the temple (although not in the same room where the ark of the covenant was kept as only the High Priest had access). He was also given responsibilities in the temple. For instance, 1 Samuel 3:15 records that part of his duties was to open the doors of the temple in the morning. The boy was given the access and the opportunity to serve God and observe the Priests first-hand. This can be likened to an apprenticeship, not even mentorship. Eli could have chosen to do things differently. He could have chosen to let the boy ‘come of age’. The Priesthood was in Eli’s family at the time and Samuel wasn’t even his biological son.
Apprentices learn by doing. Give them responsibilities, set your child(ren) in contexts where they can have first-hand experiences of what life with God is all about. Allow them to take the lead in bible studies, family devotional times, worship sessions. Encourage them to take on activities and responsibilities in the children’s department in church. The idea is to give them much exposure to the idea of enjoying a reciprocal, thriving relationship with God.
It’s Okay to Have Expectations
Lastly, expect your children to have their own private encounters with God. Earnestly desire it, pray for it, long for it. Proverbs 10:24b, assures us that the hopes of the godly will be granted, so yes, there is a place for intercession and fervent desire. When you are doing something with conviction and expectations, it sets you on a different dimension. You put in more work, you are a lot more intentional and you do it joyfully (not with uncertainty). I believe it was expectation that convinced Eli to allow Samuel sleep in the temple, in close proximity to the ark. Don’t send your children away when you want to pray in the Spirit or have your private devotion, they are never too young. Expect them to always catch something from God. Even when they are not paying attention, leave them in close proximity.
In conclusion, children can enjoy their own love stories with God. It is possible! Be intentional about it and desire it.
Written by Ogechukwu Umeokafor (xtralargeshoes)