A recent situation with my daughter who has social deficits truly impressed upon me the importance and urgency of this work in new ways. Our family has the privilege of owning a trailer on a seasonal site at a wonderful campground and resort about 2 hours away from our home. We all love to go there to refresh ourselves and enjoy some family time together. Basketball being one of our daughter's favorite sports, she asked to go play at the court which is the equivalent of perhaps one block away from our site. We joyfully and comfortably allowed her to go without an escort as this is a safe, gated community. However, when my husband went to call her home for the evening, he was notified by some other children there that she had left with another little girl and her father. As dark was quickly falling, my husband frantically searched for her around the grounds. More than once he returned to our site panicked, wondering if she had returned on her own. Eventually, she did come back, ear-to-ear smiles about the new friend she had made.
It was clear to me that she had some learning to do. I sternly, but lovingly took her into my lap and impressed upon her how inappropriate it was to leave with someone we don't know, especially without telling her parents first. Over and over we rehearsed what her address is and what she should do in a situation similar to that one in the future. The next morning, when she wanted to take off to be with her new-found friend, we role played together. She told me her address. I extended invitations, and she responded in socially appropriate ways, setting boundaries around what was and wasn't okay. I felt confident in allowing her to go, but I also checked in with the father of the girl she had made friends with. He was very nice, apologetic, and now, informed. We chatted about our girls and built a comfort in looking out for one another's children.
Now if all of this can occur so easily and commonly in the physical realm, what do we suppose happens in the spiritual realm? God gravely warns us in 1 Peter 5:8, "Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour." Shouldn't this call us as parents to be role-playing with our kids on matters of eternal value as well? If we're that worried about a human running off with our child's physical body, shouldn't we also be equally if not more concerned about someone running off with their souls?
Take note of a few things in the story of my daughter's wandering. First, we talked about what is appropriate. God calls us to do no less with His word. "Place these words on your hearts. Get them deep inside you. Tie them on your hands and foreheads as a reminder. Teach them to your children. Talk about them wherever you are, sitting at home or walking in the street; talk about them from the time you get up in the morning until you fall into bed at night. Inscribe them on the doorposts and gates of your cities so that you'll live a long time, and your children with you, on the soil that God promised to give your ancestors for as long as there is a sky over the Earth." (Deuteronomy 11:18-21, MSG) All of us are prone to selfishness and sin unless we are taught what is appropriate in the sight of the Lord. And we are so fortunate to be living in an age where there are countless varieties of children's Bibles and related tools to share with them. We should not let a day go by without making our children aware of what is appropriate.
Second in our handling of her "elopement" (as it is known in the special needs community), repetition was key. How do we have God's word written on our hearts if we don't repeatedly read it, write it, listen to it? Are you aware that the more senses you appeal to, the more likely something is to be retained? Therefore, sharing the Lord's expectations for us, what is acceptable and what is good in His sight, should be frequently shared in a variety of situations throughout daily life with our kids. This makes a lasting impression.
But the most lasting impression made is in the third notable from the story of our daughter - modelling. Rehearsing, acting out of those godly behaviors really sticks with our children. My friend Margo reminds me that faith is more often caught than taught. And the way they catch it is by watching us practice it as well as practicing it themselves. I can assure you that my kids readily remember major flubs I made when they were very young. They also retain things that we did in the light of Christ while they're watching. With us as their safe haven, it's the most comfortable place for them to try out their wings. We can also help them refine their behavior.
Finally, as in the story of my daughter, connect with other parents. None of us is an island. We need the support and cooperation of others who are in the same situation we are in. We need to determine if these relationships are going to build up or tear down what the Father has us teaching at home. We need someone who will report to us how our child is doing when they're out of our sight, so we know if progress is being made.
All of this work is most worthy in building up our children as our godly legacy. And when we invest our time and energy in such pursuits, we prove ourselves to be the right kind of role model.