In his classic, The Aims of Education, Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947), the prodigious British educator of last century, wrote that what a child learns from his mother at home before he is twelve years of age will be as important as anything he ever learns in the institution (page 13). We all know that to be true in our own lives. We stand to testify to those who reared us (I was reared by my Aunt Eva, and some of you were reared, like me, by well beloved surrogate parents) and toast their influence upon us today. Yet, sometimes the busyness of our lives, the priorities of our work, can take a heavy toll upon us by the end of the day, leaving little emotional margin for investing our selves into our children’s souls. In short, it is possible for us to shortchange our own children in the very area where we were most blessed. The thought of this horrifies us. It seems criminal. And if you are reading this and feel the sting of that thought, don’t worry. You are not alone. The author of this little column has been there, too. And you know what? Your parents were there, as well. But, somehow they, and we, come to a place where we refuse to be a victim to the tyranny of unwieldy schedules. We prioritize our lives: our God, our families, our livelihood, and, of course, in all of that we must nourish our own souls so we can be spiritually fit to conduct this often rigorous life mission. I don’t have the luxury of space here to elucidate each part of that last statement, but let me turn to the priority of the family. By leaving just a little margin in your life you can find the time to be intentional—and that is the key word, “intentional”—about feeding the hearts and minds of your children with good things each day. I remember in my own family, we used each evening before bed as a time for family devotions. It took only about ten or fifteen minutes, sometimes only five. I read a Scripture or a children’s Bible story, when my son was very young. I commented on it, usually with a story added. We each prayed, including my son. We ended with the Lord’s Prayer, or the Twenty-third Psalm or another portion for prayer. I, also, used the time to teach the system of doctrine of the Christian faith. Over a childhood, using, for example, the Westminster Shorter Catechism (the “Presbyterian catechism”), one can go through the basics of the Christian faith, illustrate them with stories from everyday life, and enliven the time with natural questions and answers. Then, at bed, I read him books. We went through all of the great children’s books. I always tried to read the stories with an accent: a bear might be an over-bearing Barvarian accent, and a fox might have a posh English accent. It was all so much fun for the both of us. Even when he was a young adolescent he still enjoyed having me read to him. I guess it is no wonder that he became a voracious reader and a writer. But, more than that, he heard his mother and his father pray for him. I am convinced that there is nothing more powerful in shaping a child’s spiritual life than hearing her name spoken in prayer by her parents. My beloved, take the time to “teach your children well.” For Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:14 ESV). You will not only fulfill the Lord’s intent for your life, reaping the unsurpassed joy in the deepest part of your own soul, but if care about the Great Commission, then you will be most efficient in this family work; for you will shoot a Gospel arrow through successive generations of your family, scattering sacred seeds of eternal truth that will reap a harvest of souls from your little family devotions, all of them one day gathered to Christ Jesus in the air when He comes again.
Whitehead, Alfred North. “Chapter One.” In The Aims of Education and Other Essays, 13. New York: Mentor, 1958.