“Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” Proverbs 22:6 [NIV]
Spiritual autonomy. The ultimate goal of parenting. We know that our children cannot get to heaven, cannot receive the reward of eternal life, based on our faith. They have to make their faith their own.
This starts at the earliest age of training children in the way they should go. And spiritual autonomy–the ability and desire to do something on one’s own– mirrors the development of physical independence.
While a child is unable to walk, talk or reason, they are absorbing habits and forming reactions to regular actions. At this stage we take our children to church regularly, read simplified Bible stories/verses, sing songs, and pray with them.
When a child begins school, their intellectual and physical development soars. So as parents we look for opportunities to also give them spiritual autonomy. They still can’t take themselves to church at this age, nor would we expect them to. And sometimes, they aren’t interested, though hopefully this is not the case. But can they read the simple stories/verses for themselves now? Encourage them to read these to you and then talk about them. They can certainly choose songs to sing and pray for meals and before bedtime. As they grow we can encourage them to grow in this simple prayer life as well.
And as we guide our children through developing this spiritual autonomy, we need always ask: do they have a personal knowledge of our Savior? Does my child refer to God as my God and mean it? Or does she think of Him as Mom and Dad’s God?
Seed spiritual autonomy now and when our children grow up, they will continue to love God personally.