As you guard your children’s hearts on that journey with them, you will as a follower of Christ open their eyes to life that will never end. That’s the ultimate joy of lifegiving parenting.
by Clay & Sally Clarkson, author of The Lifegiving Parent: Giving Your Child a Life Worth Living for Christ
Whatever comes into your children’s hearts is what will define them and determine the course their lives take. That is why there may be nothing more important for you as a lifegiving parent than guarding your children’s hearts.
Your job as a heart guard is not complicated—it is to keep your children on God’s “good way” and path of life so they will know and experience the very life of God in your home and family. That path is as old as the Bible’s story and as new as the latest relationships, appetites, or influences looking for a place in your children’s hearts. You are the gate that either opens to let them in or closes to keep them out, depending on which path brings them to your children.
When you guard your children’s hearts so they let wisdom and goodness in and keep folly and evil out, you not only direct them into God’s life but also set their courses on paths of righteousness.
Your children need your protection in three major areas: relationships, appetites, and influences.
Kids today have so many relationships—through the neighborhood, church, school, sports, activities, even online—so the responsibility to guard your children’s relationships, and to build yours with them, can seem overwhelming. But both must be done, even if hard decisions and sacrifices are required, in order to protect them from foolish and unwise companions who could steer them away from you and God’s path.
Young children are not fools as described in Proverbs, but their adult parents and young adult siblings certainly can be. The immature and untrained children of foolish parents can act foolishly and unwisely, reflecting their parents’ misguided values and beliefs. Always let your children know that your home is a safe place to bring any child, whatever their family situation may be. Don’t discourage them from reaching out to other children who need a godly influence, yet at the same time guard their hearts from emotional attachments that could become a source of negative influences.
Wisdom is the ultimate protection your children need from you, and one expression of that is preventing them from being harmed, directly or indirectly, by foolish adults—those who do not or will not believe in God, who are amoral or immoral, and who are deliberately or unknowingly false teachers. Many of these people might be friends, coworkers, and neighbors, and their children may be your children’s playmates, schoolmates, and companions.
You may rightly want to be a witness for Christ or a positive influence on them and on their children. However, those biblical motivations must not be allowed to supersede your primary biblical responsibility to guard and protect your children’s hearts. Even one spiritual, physical, or psychological wound can create a pothole in your path of parenting or, worse, lifelong scars on your children’s hearts. Remember that you are the wise one with whom you want your children to walk, and they need you to be wise in how you help them navigate their relationships.
When we hear the word appetite, we naturally think of a physical need for food. In Scripture, physical appetites are analogous to spiritual appetites—the desires that control our spiritual longings and choices.
Children have appetites, just like adults, but with one big difference—they do not have the discipline and discernment at their young ages to control their appetites maturely. As parents, our best defense against appetites for things that will not feed our children the life of God is to train their appetites for the things that will. In Paul’s words, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things” (Philippians 4:8). By preventing the negative, mediocre, and empty things of the world from capturing their appetites, we can make room for the positive, excellent, and lifegiving things. One of the most rewarding aspects of parenting is giving our children what is best for them and seeing them fix their hearts on what is good and ennobling.
But you won’t become an effective lifegiving parent who both guards and trains your children’s appetites unless you remember one thing: Your children will acquire appetites for the lifegiving things of God primarily because of what you value, not because of what you want them to value. If you want them to desire things that lead them to the life of God, then you will have to show them what that means by your own appetite choices for lifegiving media, music, reading, and all the rest. They need to see you applying Paul’s list of “whatever” values to your appetites, not just using it to control theirs. That kind of positive modeling may be the most effective way you can guard your children’s hearts.
Guarding your children’s hearts is all about protecting them from the negative forces that can shape their lives and prevent them from experiencing God’s life—interpersonal forces (relationships), personal forces (appetites), and extrapersonal forces (influences). As a lifegiving parent, guarding and protecting your children’s hearts from negative influences will require your full-on attention and engagement. You’ll need to be part sentinel, part sleuth, part shepherd, and part spiritual samurai—watching over, figuring out, caring about, and battling with the challenges of heart-shaping influences.
Some of the sources of influence that can quietly shape your children’s hearts, minds, or spirits include: personality, popular culture, personal passions, education, physical appearance, mental issues, medical issues, fears and insecurities, birth order, disabilities, skills and abilities, gender, and intellect. These kinds of influences are not by their nature bad. However, any influence, or some aspect of it, can potentially develop into a source of negative thoughts and attitudes, and it is from those that you need to protect your children’s hearts.
The reason you should be aware of what is influencing your children’s hearts is simply because children are very influenceable. They do not have the maturity or discernment to understand or deal with every influence that comes into their lives. But you do. By the Holy Spirit within you, you can help your children make sense of what they are feeling or thinking and put it in the context of biblical truth. You can help them trust God, or you can trust God for them. You can also discern an influence that is creating unhealthy attitudes or beliefs and provide instruction to counter them. It is simply another way to guard your children’s hearts—keep out the bad and let in the good.
When you step onto your path of parenting, you are beginning a journey to lead your children into the best life you can give them—life with God, who has come to walk with us as Jesus through His Spirit. As you guard your children’s hearts on that journey with them, you will as a follower of Christ open their eyes to life that will never end. That’s the ultimate joy of lifegiving parenting.
The Lifegiving Parent by Clay & Sally Clarkson
In today’s world, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and even paralyzed by the constant flow of parenting advice. We’re flooded with so much practical information that we wonder if we’re choosing the right way. And we may be missing the one thing God really wants us to give to our children: His life. God doesn’t include a divine methodology for parenting in the Bible, but He does provide principles that can enable any faithful parent to bring His life into the life of their home.
In The Lifegiving Parent, respected authors and parents Clay and Sally Clarkson explore eight key principles—heartbeats of lifegiving parenting—to shed light on what it means to create a home where your children will experience the living God in your family. Now parents of four grown children—each with their own unique personality and gifts—Sally and Clay have learned (sometimes the hard way!) that the key to shaping a heart begins at home as you foster a deep and thoughtful God-infused relationship with each child. Filled with biblical insight and classic Clarkson stories, The Lifegiving Parent will equip you with the tools and wisdom you need to give your children much more than just a good Christian life. You’ll give them the life of Christ. (Don’t miss the companion piece, The Lifegiving Parent Experience!)