My nephew turned six in June, and for his birthday he requested to fly to Florida to see his cousins. Accompanied by my sister and mother, he flew to Tampa to celebrate with our family. That beautiful Monday morning with the palm trees towering just under the sunshine, we loaded up the car and drove to LEGOLAND in Kissimmee, Florida to celebrate. While my sister and I waited with three of our kids for the Flight Lessons roller coaster, I did what all parents do at some point: I worried about the safety of the ride. The what if’s seemed to flutter in my mind.
As we climbed aboard the flight coaster, our feet dangling beneath our seats, I asked the worker, this doesn’t go upside down right? He assured me that this roller coaster didn’t. All the same, as the coaster began, I reached over and grabbed my son’s arm and held on tight. Let go mama! he politely squealed with excitement. No! I am holding on, buddy. As he wriggled his arm away for the second time with the biggest grin on his face, I acquiesced…but then later grabbed on again. In the event that something did malfunction, I am quite certain my arm would most likely have been a futile safety net. But it did wonders for my conscience.
Isn’t your child’s first (or maybe 200th) time on a roller coaster a bit of a foreshadowing of the rush of feelings we as parents have when our children approach adolescence and then soon after head out the door to college? We work to ensure that every precaution is taken, instructions given and followed, or restated, reinforced, and tried again. Then we send them out the door with friends, off in the car for the first time alone, or out the door to make their own way in life most hopefully in the will and admonition of the Lord Jesus. We watch with baited breath as they are given more liberty and freedom, subsequently tempted, and then wait to see how they will respond. Will they stay the narrow course? Will they detour? Will they fall?
We won’t always be there to hold our sons’ and daughters’ hands and redirect their course or steady their balance. Nor will we be ever-present to point their gaze towards heaven’s rewards and eternity. That’s why we invest in several ways in their lives now, and model certain principles in the everyday that will be ever-cemented in their memory and sewn into the fabric of their beings to prepare them for spiritual warfare in these dark and tempest days.
Here are 5 ways we can equip our children to fight spiritual battles:
1. Recognize our children are already enlisted in spiritual warfare. With age comes understanding and thus choices. Our children make moral decisions every day each time they choose kindness over hatred, truth over telling a lie, obedience over manipulation, humility over pride. Or the opposite is true. When our children were very young we had three house rules: honor God, treat others the way you want to be treated, honor mommy and daddy. As they have grown, we added depth and breadth to these house rules rooting them in a Christian worldview.
2. Help our children put on their spiritual armor. Children need us to live out Deuteronomy 6 and model and instruct them in the way of Ephesians 6. Simply stated, this means we are to teach them the ways of Christ in our everyday moments and then model the instruction of Paul to stand firm with our feet ready with the gospel, fastening our belt of truth, putting on our helmet of salvation and breastplate of righteousness, taking up the shield of faith, and bearing the sword of the Spirit—the word of God. By this we model reading God’s word independently and as a family, through prayer, preaching the gospel and living like we belong to God and submitting to His will—as a family and as individuals.
3. There are many battles being waged in our world; we must preview some of these battles with our children and protect their eyes and ears from others until they are at an age to grapple with the realities of our fallen world. As parents and followers of Christ, we must pray and determine which battles we are going to wage as a family. This always includes our part in following the commands of the Great Commission. However, the particulars of that will look differently for many families. We have fostered in the past and are currently adopting through the foster care system. Our adoptive son is with us now as we await the court adoption; however, this process has been long and arduous and tested our faith and stamina as a family. Additionally, our children know limited information about ISIS and Christian persecution. Our son has more faithfully prayed for the salvation of Kim Jong Un in North Korea than I have prayed for my President! Finally, our children know that a certain business now allows men and women to use whatever bathrooms they choose and as a result at this point, we can decide not to shop there. However, we didn’t use the word transgender in teaching them about our decision to avoid that particular store. We gave them limited information while also modeling convictional practices which promote our Christian worldview. In all these examples we are teaching our children that we have choices to make based on the Truth and directives in God’s word. This will look different for each family as you consider the demographics of your neighborhood and the weakness of humanity seen by your family most prominently in your community.
4. Enlist your local company of believers. We must be actively involved in our local church. Our children need to see and hear the gospel lived out in our homes, and it is equally important for them to hear and see other families, adults, and children, living out the commands of Scripture. I want other godly adults to reinforce what our children are learning at home. They need to understand from an early age that we are part of the larger Body of Christ. Our battles must be waged in the cloak of prayer and at the side of fellow believers. Equally true, we pray for and support our brothers and sisters in Christ and follow the Bible’s command in Hebrews to not give up meeting together, but do so more and more as the day of Christ’s return approaches.
5. Utilize the power of story. Reading aloud to our children as a family is one the greatest gifts we can give them. Stories shape souls. Stories are a safe place to wrestle with good and evil and to watch as characters do the same. Additionally, beautifully written biographies of Christian heroes of the faith, like those produced by Youth With a Mission, inspire us to live faithful lives in the midst of darkness, tragedy, and temptation. Stories, both fiction and non-fiction, open our eyes to the true, the good, and the beautiful. I read recently that we become what we memorize. I believe that is true in part. How can we draw from that which is not there? We as parents have the amazing privilege of imparting wisdom, knowledge, and discretion as well as wonder, truth, and beauty unto our children for a set amount of days. Reading aloud as a family is not only for the ages when our children sit in our lap, it is also for the ages when they can drive themselves. If you haven’t already checked out Sarah Mackenzie’s Read Aloud Revival podcast now may be the perfect time to do so for ideas on book selections for your family.
Parenting is a roller coaster ride. The ups the downs, twists and turns, moments of nervousness followed by rushes of exhilaration. We can be fearful at times, but we must be faithful always. When we have done all that we can, we must stand firm and prayerfully model for our children—no matter their ages—a warrior girded with the belt of Truth, breastplate of righteousness, gospel shoes, shield of faith, helmet of salvation, and sword of the Spirit taking our place alongside the Body of Christ waging battle and working until Jesus comes.
Brooke Cooney is a pastor's wife, mother of two, and foster-mom of one. To capture the eternal in the everyday, she blogs about family, faith, and lessons along the journey at ThisTemporaryHome.com.