Shaping a Child’s Life

It is an ongoing, fascinating truth to me how things shape our lives. Small things, seemingly insignificant things, big things, and horrifying things weave themselves into who we are and what we become. Experiences can be capsuled in a moment of time as short as the snap of your fingers and yet lives and relationships, feelings and frustrations, are all molded by such instances.

I was visiting with a man who was in his early forties. He was married with children and was telling me what a difficult time he had with his father. It was not something that had just come about, but was a lifelong experience of hurt, animosity, misunderstandings, and a bad relationship that continued to that day, he said. He told me, “So often, I’ve wanted to talk with my dad about why I feel the way I do, but he doesn’t want to know. There are about five times, moments in my life, that have affected me so much that I just can’t get beyond it.”

I asked him, “If you don’t mind telling me, moments like what?” He described two incidences that happened to him in his relationship with his father. I began to understand what he was talking about. He told me when he was a four- or five-year-old preschooler, he went with his dad to a nearby town on some kind of business. They went by somebody’s house. A woman came out and stood at the car window, talking to his dad. The young boy paid little attention to the conversation, but what he did remember was that after a few minutes they left and his dad said, “Don’t say anything about this to your mother.” While the little boy didn’t think anything about it and didn’t remember anything his dad and the woman talked about, he did remember his dad’s instructions to him. It was etched in his mind — don’t tell your mother about that woman.

Years went by and finally one day when he was in elementary school he thought to ask his mother about that woman. His mother and father were divorced by then, and the mom began to tell her son that she was now the woman in his dad’s life. Suddenly the memories from that preschool experience came to life in the little boy’s mind, and he was deeply hurt. In his forties with his own children, that pain still afflicts him.

The second incidence took place upon the death of his mother’s dad. He loved his grandfather and was struggling, as we all do with the loss of a treasured relationship. His grandfather had become his father figure. He and his mother lived nearby. The grandfather spent time with the boy, loved him, helped him, and encouraged him, and now his heart was broken that his granddad was gone.

What he remembered, though, was that his father came to the funeral. The boy, by then in grade school and growing up, was standing by the casket holding his grandfather’s hand. His dad came alongside him, put his arm around him, and said, “Son, I know you’re going to miss your grandfather, but I will be here for you.” After the funeral, weeks and months and then years went by. He never saw his dad, never heard a word from him. That moment has never left his mind nor his heart. “I will be there for you,” his dad had said, but he wasn’t.

Always looking back and seeing his dad in a position of being a deceiver and an undependable man shaped — and misshaped — his relationship with his father. When Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it,” that has a lot more to do with living than just lecturing or dropping a kid off at church.

All of us moms and dads need to be reminded often that children see even when we don’t think they’re paying attention. Children can sense when we are disingenuous. Children carry the sadness, when we don’t even realize we’ve disappointed them in some way. The training of a child takes place internally and externally. It involves all the senses. It is affected by all we say and do — and what we don’t say and do — as well as the spirit with which we do it. They feel an uneasiness when they don’t understand what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.

It is only by the grace of God that we can train up a child, bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and focus their attention on the things of God that we clearly understand from His Word. We can help our children see glimpses of that truth, in the reflections they catch from our own lives.

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Jim Futral

Executive Director-Treasurer