J.C. Ryle continues to teach us–centuries after he penned his paper “The Duties of Parents.” In this eighth section of his paper, he makes the simple command:
Train them to a habit of faith.
And by faith, he means something other than what we might expect. He does not mean faith in Christ (though he certainly would tell us to do that too!). Rather, he means to train them to have faith in us, as their mother or father.
What’s he getting at? Hear him out:
“I have heard it said by some, that you should require nothing of children which they cannot understand (and) that you should explain and give a reason for everything you desire them to do. I warn you solemnly against such a notion….No doubt it is absurd to make a mystery of everything you do, and there are many things which it is well to explain to children, in order that they may se that they are reasonable and wise. But to bring them up with the idea that they must take nothing on trust, that they, with their weak and imperfect understandings, must have the ‘why’ and the ‘wherefore’ made clear to them at every step they take, — this is indeed a fearful mistake, and likely to have the worst effect on their minds.”
Children, from a young age, learn to ask “why?” whenever they are commanded to do something. Explanation and reasoning can be appropriate and helpful at times, but often our child’s “why?” is not rooted in a desire to understand the logical reasons behind our command. Rather it is rooted in a lack of trust in us–or in a desire to disobey (albeit somewhat passively). If we are constantly defending or explaining our reasons behind our commands, our sense of “authority” will be lost on our children. They will only obey when things make sense to them. Then, if we are not able to give “good” or “convincing” reasons (according to their subjective scale, of course), then they will feel no need to obey.
Tedd Tripp, in Shepherding a Child’s Heart, tells us as parents to make sure that from a young age our children obey us:
- without challenge
- without excuse
- without delay
We must teach them to respect us as loving authorities in our lives and call them to obedience, even if they do not understand our reasons or our heart in the matter. By teaching them to obey and trust us in this manner, we are setting an example in their minds for how to trust their heavenly Father as well. They might not always understand His ways or receive a full explanation of His interactions with them, but they must still learn to trust Him. If we do not want them persistently questioning and undermining God’s authority, we must not let them do so with ours.
The words “because I said so” can be said with anger and frustration. They might have rolled off your tongue that way before….But, if said in a loving way, they might be just the medicine our children need to be cured of the age-old sin of distrust.