by Robin Jones Gunn
We were caught in downtown traffic when the thin woman approached our car at a red light.
“Please,” she said, tapping on the closed window. “Please, can you help me?”
My husband rolled down the window and we all heard the wail of the baby in her arms.
“I need milk for my baby. Can you give me some money?”
My husband pulled a twenty-dollar bill from his pocket and handed it to her as the light turned green. We drove away and I frowned. What kind of beggar wears that much makeup? How many drivers has she hit up today?
It was our seven-year-old daughter who spoke first. “Do you think she’ll go buy milk now?”
I gave a muffled “humph.” My husband said, “I don’t know.”
“Then why did you give her the money?” our eleven-year-old son asked.
My husband didn’t hesitate before answering. “Because God asked me to be a cheerful giver. I’m not responsible for what she does with the money. She’ll have to answer to God for that. I’m only responsible for my part, which in this case was to give cheerfully.”
Humph. I still wasn’t convinced. It wasn’t like we had an abundance of twenty-dollar bills to hand out. We were on a very tight budget.
Budgets were something our kids knew all about. We sat them down as soon as they started receiving an allowance and taught them how to budget their money. We also talked a lot about responsibility. And as for honesty, we called them into the living room and gave a grand lecture on always telling the truth.
According to all the Christian parenting books, we were doing it right, teaching our children character based on biblical principles. But it was easy to call a family meeting. What I found more difficult was taking advantage of the daily opportunities to teach that seemed to pop up at the most inopportune times.
Like the time I bought two pairs of jeans for our son and made it all the way home before discovering the department store had only charged me for one pair. It was the clerk’s mistake, and I really didn’t have time for another trip downtown. Still, I remembered that honesty lecture we’d given the kids, so after I picked up our daughter from school, I took the jeans and the receipt and tried to pay for the second pair. The clerk didn’t quite know what to do, so she called for her supervisor to intervene. I explained again as my daughter listened. The supervisor sent me to customer service and again I tried to pay.
“Why are you doing this?” the clerk asked. I was beginning to wonder myself. Then my daughter reminded me.
“God would have known,” Rachel said quietly. She tugged on the strap of my purse. “Tell her you’re just trying to be honest, Mom.”
My frustration didn’t immediately evaporate, but I began to understand that I was teaching my daughter something that would stay with her much longer than any talk I gave. Our kids were watching our lives and learning from the choices we made.
Our son is now a tall teenager. He doesn’t have a regular job, but money comes to him in various ways. His last birthday produced some serious income, and he was excited about buying a new paintball gun. The next week at church I noticed him slip a folded twenty-dollar bill into the offering plate.
Quickly doing the math, I realized he’d given twice what a tithe would have been on his birthday money. He wouldn’t be able to buy that paintball gun now.
Stunned and tearfully proud of the way he’d given in such a humble way, I turned to catch a glimpse of his face.
There was a grin across that firm jaw of his, and at that moment he looked so much like his father. What really warmed this mother’s heart, though, was knowing that we had passed on more than a family resemblance.
This true story by Robin Jones Gunn sounded very familiar when I read it. It should have, because the same thing happened to me in the parking lot of a restaurant a few years ago. A woman with a baby blocked my path with her car and began crying hysterically. She said she absolutely had to have twenty dollars immediately and didn’t have time to explain. When I asked again why she needed the money so desperately, she blurted out, “Oh, please help me. I can’t go into the reason. I just have to have it.” I handed her twenty dollars and she drove off crying.
Was I taken in by a scam? Probably. Then why did I cooperate? I didn’t have a child with me to impress or influence, so that wasn’t my motivation. I gave the money for the same reason Robin’s husband handed twenty dollars to the woman with a baby. I was taught by my parents to give to those in need. Generosity is a central feature of the Christian ethic. When Scripture tells us to “give to the one who asks you” (Matthew 5:42), it does not say “give only if the money will be used wisely” or “give only if you know you’ll get it back.” Oh, I know what you’re thinking right now—that it is stupid to allow yourself to be duped, and I agree. But until all the facts are known, I choose to do what appears to be right and let God deal with the other person.
This principle of giving to others is only one component of the strong spiritual foundation we must pass on to our children. Scripture admonishes us to “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6). There is an assumption in that proverb, however. We as parents can’t train a child in the way he should go unless we know which way he should go.
To help with that task, we are providing material in the next week related to what I call a “checklist for spiritual training.” This little self-test will walk you through a carefully conceived, systematic approach to the faith instruction of your children. Many of these items require maturity that they lack, and we should not try to make adult Christians out of our immature youngsters. But we can gently teach them these concepts during the impressionable years of childhood. This may be the most important challenge you will face as parents.
The six scriptural concepts that follow can serve as a guide as you nurture your children—especially during their first seven years. The concepts and supporting questions are “targets” toward which you can nudge your boys and girls. When consciously taught, they will give your children the foundation on which all future doctrine and faith will rest. Bathe the entire effort in prayer and He will guide your paths.
- James C Dobson