My childhood memories of Santa Claus often involved me clutching tightly to my mother’s arms and mustering up courage to walk into Santa’s tent where he would sit surrounded by wrapped gifts. I remember clutching tightly to my mother’s hands, unsure if I wanted that experience, yet mustering the courage to keep going. Once inside the tent, I held tightly to my mother, only leaving her side to collect a plastic plate or whatever gift Santa had for the day while looking towards the waiting camera on my left.
Our children’s relationship with God for the most part feels like this. Yes, parenting for faith means we have a responsibility of opening them up to a relationship with God, however, we must realise where our job stops and where their journey with God begins. They should not be forever clutching to us while we ‘supervise’ their relationship and conversations with God. We don’t need to chaperone their interactions with God. All we need do is direct them to God, be available to answer their questions, and offer reassurance when necessary. A perfect Biblical illustration of this is the story of Eli, the Priest and Samuel. Don’t roll your eyes yet. Let’s re-examine that story from a deeper and less conventional perspective. Perhaps we should start by taking another look at Hannah, Samuel’s mother.
According to 1 Samuel 1:3, year after year, Hannah and her family went up to the temple where Hophni and Phinehas were priests of the Lord. Hophni and Phinehas were the sons of Eli who, according to Chapter 2:12-17, committed all manner of atrocities in the Lord’s temple. They slept with the women who served at the gate of the temple and treated the Lord’s sacrifice with contempt. It was clear to Hannah and her husband that Eli was a failed parent. He did not have control of his children and this was public knowledge (see Chapter 2 vs 14). Why did they leave Samuel in Eli’s care? Hannah clearly wanted this child so much that she refused to eat whenever they went up to Shiloh (Chapter 1 vs 7-8). If you are an only child or have known a woman who waited to have her babies, this would make even more sense to you. Yet, Hannah had to keep her promise to God and leave her only (sought after) child at that time (she went on to have other children after this), with Eli. The Bible didn’t record that she had second thoughts or delayed in fulfilling that vow.
You can already discern that Hannah wasn’t ‘leaving’ her child for Eli in that sense. She gave the child to God as she had promised without any reservation. She didn’t worry about the fine details of that decision. They still catered for the boy’s needs and made him a coat every year, but that was about as far as it went. Wow!
What lessons can we begin to apply?
Recognise the Time to Step Aside
God doesn’t need a middleman; He doesn’t need you to mediate between Him and your child. As a parent, don’t make your child’s relationship with God all about you. Make a conscious effort not to present God to them as someone they cannot relate with without your support. Remember my Santa analogy above? Your child does not need to rely on you to say a word of prayer over something they have in mind or a challenge they’re going through. Encourage them to go to God on their own. Let them know that God is accessible to them, wants to have a personal relationship with them, and would rather have them come to Him on their own. Encourage them to have private Bible studies and quiet times or simply have times in the day when they just have a chat with God and expect to hear from him. A good example could be before bedtime after you read them a story, kiss them goodnight, and turn off the lights. They need to know that God understands them at their level, and that they have unhindered access to Him.
When Eli realized God was calling Samuel, he could have told Samuel to stay back in his (Eli’s) room so that when God called him again he would be available to ‘guide’ him through the encounter. He could have waited outside Samuel’s room to find out what the Lord said to him, but Eli waited till dawn to speak with the boy. He gave Samuel the space to have that fellowship with God.
Remember, Samuel had this encounter in the days when the word of the Lord was rare and there were not many visions (1 Samuel 3:1). The people were so thirsty for encounters with God, but here was a young boy having this rare experience, and Eli was gracious enough to patiently guide him from a distance. We can definitely learn from this.
Adopt the ‘apprenticeship’ model
Here’s something else to think about. During the dispensation of Eli, the Temple was the most sacred place on earth and most people could never get in there. The night God spoke to Samuel, the Bible records that he was asleep in the temple (although not in the same room where the Ark of the Covenant was kept, as only the High Priest had access). He was also given responsibilities in the temple. For instance, 1 Samuel 3:15 records that part of his duties was to open the doors of the temple in the morning. The boy was given access to the Temple and hence, the opportunity to serve God and observe the Priests first-hand. It was more like an apprenticeship; it wasn’t even mentorship. Eli could have chosen to do things differently. He could have chosen to let the boy ‘come of age’. The Priesthood was in Eli’s family at the time and Samuel wasn’t even his biological son.
Apprentices learn by doing. Give your child(ren) responsibilities. Set them in contexts where they can have first-hand experiences of what life with God is all about. Allow them to take the lead in bible studies, family devotional times, worship sessions. Encourage them to take on activities and responsibilities in the children’s department in church. The idea is to expose them, as much as possible, to the reality of enjoying a reciprocal, thriving relationship with God.
It’s Okay to Have Expectations
Lastly, expect your children to have their own private encounters with God. Earnestly desire it, pray for it, long for it. Proverbs 10:24b assures us that the hopes of the godly will be granted. So, yes, there is a place for intercession and fervent desire. Doing something with conviction and expectations sets you on a different dimension. You put in more work, you are a lot more intentional, and you do it excitement (not with uncertainty). I believe it was expectation that prompted Eli to allow Samuel sleep in the temple, in close proximity to the ark. Don’t send your children away when you want to pray in the Spirit or have your private devotion, they are never too young. Expect them to always catch something from God. Even when they are not paying attention, leave them in close proximity. In conclusion, your children can enjoy their own love stories with God. It is possible! Be intentional about it and desire it.
Why not create your own affirmation from Mathew 19vs14. Feel free to share in the comment section.