Every so often there will be a parent who sends his child off to school with the admonition, “I don’t care what grade you get in reading or in math…but be sure you get an ‘A’ in Bible!”
This is inconsistent training. This is what makes other parents react by saying that Bible need not even be in the curriculum. Schools are there for the training of our children in the mental academics of society today and our mental life, too, is fundamentally spiritual. Parents—though they may use schools—remain responsible also for the mental training of children.
It may sound frightening to parents who feel they are not natural “students” to be told they are responsible for the mental training of their children. And so it becomes essential to clarify what we mean. Just what does “mental training” of our children include? And the answer is that this means basically two things: (1) training in the skills needed for communication and (2) training in submitting every thought to God. We’ll discuss these two points rather briefly but hopefully enough to make them clear.
I. Training in Communication Skills
Training mentally means training in the skills of communication. Not only is communication the means by which the mind is developed to start with, but it is the means by which the mind continues to develop and is also that which makes the development of the mind worthwhile. There are four areas of skills involved in communication: listening, talking, reading and writing.
How, now, is the development of these skills a parent’s responsibility?
A. Communication and Teaching of this Skill Begins at Birth. Intelligence is not merely “natural gifts” from pre-birth but “acquired gifts” gotten through training which may later, by grace, be multiplied through personal self-discipline and diligence.
From a purely “natural” viewpoint, even apart from spiritual godliness, intelligence is developed through communication. The mother who loves her baby and who expresses this love through physical tenderness and in talking to her child is, usually unwittingly, giving her child the foundation of mental I.Q.
Various studies have strongly supported this fact. In one study, several orphaned children in an institution were given to retarded teenagers to be raised; these retarded children loved their orphans so much that these orphans all attained normal intelligence, far exceeding the other orphans in the same institution who were raised by busy adults of good intelligence. Another study compared the intelligence of two groups of tribal children, those from uneducated mothers and from educated mothers; it found that when children reached school age, the children of the uneducated mothers far excelled the others in intelligence…and the reason was, once again, that the educated mothers gave their children less personal attention, less time, less love.
So you see, parental intelligence is not the main issue in teaching intelligence and communication skills to the child. The issue is 90% love! It is love, shown in personal attention, time spent with the child, talking with the child that makes children develop mentally.
B. Parental Training in Communication Continues as the Child Matures. It includes at least these aspects:
1. Talking with the child about every part of his life.
2. Listening to the child and encouraging him to talk about his life.
3. Reading to the child and encouraging him to read. We shouldn’t limit this to stories but should read broadly in all areas, including school textbooks. How many parents read occasionally with their children from a science book or history book or encyclopedia? If your child doesn’t show a natural interest in reading the BEACON LIGHTS, for another example, perhaps you can encourage him by sharing your reactions to certain articles, or even reading together!
4. Helping the children to write and encouraging them in any writing which they do which is worthwhile. At home, write Thank You notes and letters and diaries, to start with.
Some parents skip the schools, keep the children home and do all of the mental training themselves at home. This is fine to a point; sometimes this is the best way. But if the parents can’t do it all alone—and most parents cannot—then they must instead be constantly encouraging the children as they develop mentally in school beyond what the home can teach. Communication skills, the basis of mental skills, are a spiritual necessity.
(Note: if you are thinking lots more could be said here, you are so right! This is only a skinny skeleton of ideas that could take a large book to develop.)
C. So far, I have ignored the spiritual aspect of this mental training. Even non-Christian books explore the ideas written so far.
But for the Christian parent, This mental training is all spiritually motivated and controlled.
First of all, the various communication skills are all taught from the motivation of true love, godly love. We speak to our children and we train because we love God from our hearts and this love of God must be expressed in our speech. We train our children because we love them also and our love for them must find expression in speech. Between covenant parents and their children there can be a rich fellowship of communication, a sharing which is unknown in the world. Such sharing is spiritually natural within the covenant.
Such love, if it is genuine, always works also towards excellence. Love is not motivated by competition but rather wants to give its very best, no matter how this compares with others. This is also why a parent may not, as we said at the outset of this article, encourage his child in Bible study while permitting sloppy work in other areas of his life. God is Ruler in all of my life and I must in everything do my best out of love for Him and for others.
II. Second, spiritual training mentally means that we constantly submit every thought to God.
It means that we continually ask of everything we think, “Is this what God thinks? What does He say?” We check whether our thoughts are correct by comparing them with the Scriptures: we scrap them when they are incorrect: we change our thoughts to match God’s thoughts. We have no right to think and say and write anything we please but must conform in all things to His standard. This makes Christian writing more difficult than non-Christian writing, for a non-Christian can write anything at all and feel acceptable! But while a Christian’s speech and writing may take more effort to be acceptable, it is also oh! how much more worthwhile! If done in faith, it is accepted by God Himself! It will last for all eternity! “Only what’s done for Christ will last!”
Does this idea frighten you? It is an awesome truth…but truth for all that. For the truth is also that no one, not one among us can understand everything perfectly. Although we are called to try, always try, to understand all things in the light of God’s Word (thinking God’s thoughts after Him), yet we can never do this perfectly. So this frailty on our part becomes also one of the mental ideas we teach our children. We do our best—yes, our very best—and leave to God the final results. He can take the weakest sincere effort and multiply it to great strengths. The worst spiritual training we can give our children is the pretense that we know everything, for then we’re living a lie! But God promises to bless all our honest efforts to the final glory of His Name.