The weather here in Wisconsin was absolutely perfect today. There was an early morning chill giving way to a beautiful watercolor sunrise as it continued to warm away the icy dew and cool morning fog that dressed the gentle valleys in hilly Waukesha. The morning radio ads were already fall-themed, and you could almost smell the pumpkin spice in the air (quite literally for me, since I was sipping a Pumpkin Spice Latte (heretofore known as the PSL)).
*By the way, don’t be fooled by the nice reflection on this morning. I still had raging allergies and wrote this while oozing snot and blasting out sneezes like a clogged leaf-blower. Walt Whitman must have never has that problem.
You’re probably just getting back from dropping your kids at the door, waving goodbye as they get on the bus, or hugging them before they catch a ride with their buddy/neighbor/sibling. The house is quieter than it has been in three months. You sip your chosen beverage from your porcelain mug and reflect on the sweet emotions as the din of summer memories fades and the slightly bitter sting of new memories with friends and teachers being made without you.
It’s the first day of school, and depending on what grade your kids are going into, they could not wait. My children were up and having a dance party and asking when they could leave at 7:15 this morning, so it’s pretty obvious my two oldest are going into first grade and kindergarten. My wife, on the other hand, has a bit of pregnant glow to her. It was going to be just her and our two youngest (3 years and 7 months) for the first time since the beginning of June. It has been a long three months for our household; crammed into our 1200 sq. ft townhouse on the top of Madison Street.
For many, unlike Tina (my wife), life will continue on as usual. You are going to show up for work at the same time, you will have the same expectations, same routines, same deadlines, and the same co-workers. However, for your kids, spouses, and your kid’s teachers life has just taken a drastic change. A new year has just been ushered in that starts with high expectations, maximum energy, and a full box of 96 crayons. Let’s not forget that although life goes on, things are way different and it is time for you to dial it in for the school year.
It can feel, especially for weary moms, that today is the end of three months of grueling work. It has been. The summer is not an easy time, especially with young children that need naps and constant attention. However, parents, your kid’s teachers view today like a baseball player views reporting to Florida or Arizona, and you should see this as your Opening Day. It’s a new season to teach and train up your kids in the way they should go.
The start of fall and the first day of school is like a bizarro spring season. A new opportunity to love and parent your children has blossomed and it is your (difficult/fun) responsibility to see it flower in the schoolyard, classroom, practice field, study hall, and in your home. Summer may be over and you don’t have to see your kids every waking second, but your responsibility to parent them has become a whole new ballgame.
Deuteronomy 6:5-9 says, “Love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. These words that I am giving you today are to be in your heart. Repeat them to your children. Talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them be a symbol on your forehead. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” Moms and dads can takeaway three big slabs of meaty wisdom from this giant hunk of theological prime rib (mmmmm, beef) as we see our kids off to new adventures in education.
“Before we even train our children to love the Father, we need to have a relationship with Him ourselves.”
We see God instructing us to tell our children about Him and what He has said. But we have nothing to tell our children if we do not have a relationship with the Father. Verse six says that these words are to be in our heart, and out of the overflow of our heart comes how we speak and how we act. It will be impossible for us to repeat God’s words to our children if they are not flowing from a heart in intimate connection with the Lord. Before we even train our children to love the Father, we need to have a relationship with Him ourselves.
Jesus, in the gospel of John, makes this point as he connects our relationship to Him as a vine is connected to the branches. He says, “Remain in Me, and I in you. Just as a branch is unable to produce fruit by itself unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in Me,” (John 15:4). Jesus is the Vine, and apart from the vine there is no way for the branches to produce fruit. When we do not remain/abide/stay connected to the vine, we are unable to produce fruit, in the case of this illustration fruit stands for good works and righteousness. Consequently, there is no way that fruit will have seeds that will be able to reproduce the next generation. If we not connected to our God, there is no way His words and His ways will be seeded to our children.
“[Parents] are called to foster an atmosphere of discipleship with [their] children.”
Secondly, when we have that upward connection and deep abiding love of God, we are to teach our children to follow in our footsteps to remember God’s words and to imitate our lives in living out these things. Verse seven says to repeat them and to talk about them often. Verse nine says to write them on your doorposts and on your gates. Our home is not supposed to be a retreat where our kids can live their own lives, but a sanctuary where God the Father is valued, talked about, and remember in how we relate with one another and live life together. We, as parents, are called to foster an atmosphere of discipleship with our children.
Too often we expect little of our children and assume all they can ingest of God’s word is small snippets on Sunday mornings and in cute Bible stories and videos. But our kids long for their parents to include them, and what better way to teach our children than to allow them access into our hearts to hear, see, and imitate what we value most. A disciple is defined as a learner, someone who learns from someone with wisdom and knowledge. When we teach our kids God’s word and His ways in the rhythms of everyday life, we can confidently expect our kids to grow up loving the Lord with all their heart, all their soul, and with all their strength.
* A careful aside. I realize that teaching the ways of God and discipling your kids is not a guarantee that they will always follow the Lord, that is why I say “expect our kids” to love God. Think of those who walked with Jesus. One denied him and ended up being one of his most prolific disciples. Another one was responsible and in charge of the money, and he ended up using that money to sell Jesus to those who wanted to kill him. There is no guarantee that our kids will walk with Jesus all their lives, but we can do our best to create an atmosphere where they have every opportunity to learn about Him, grow as a disciple, and ultimately make our faith their own. And God is great, so we are not in control anyways. He holds the fate of our children in His hands, not us.
“Their lives out in public are a reflection and a continuation of their life with you.”
Lastly, when our family loves God and walks with Him, naturally that will radiate out into our relationships with other people. Verse seven says tells us to, “[talk about these words] when you walk along the road.” Verse nine says, “write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” We are to remember God on our travels and adventures outside of our home, and to take our faith in Christ beyond the doors and the boundaries of what we call home. The walks of discipleship and teaching our children the ways of God do not stop when we enter the public realm. Their lives out in public are a reflection and a continuation of their life with you.
Jesus Christ call his church to not be an inclusive community, but to be a beacon of light that we let shine before other people (Matthew 5:14-16). Even when Jesus addresses the love we are to have for one another, it is in reference to our love sending us out into the world to love others (John 15-17). As a nuclear family, just like the church family, this is our goal when our kids board the bus and cross the threshold of their local school. We want their love to head outward and to show the love of God to other people.
Pray for your kids, their teachers, their classmates, the principal, and the staff. Start things out on the right foot this year and launch your kids into their classrooms with God’s words, your example, and Jesus’ mission in order to see your faith translate and incarnate in the halls of their schools. Do not fear; God is glorious, and His Spirit will help them as they seek to love God and love others as they compute denominators, memorize vocab, and smash away on their keyboards and iPads to the glory of God.
Enjoy this first day and intentionally seek to pray that God will use your family to make a difference for His glory in your schools this year.