June 13, 2012

The "Very Best" for our Children

 Parents want to provide the “very best” for their children. They long to give them the educational advantages, positive experiences, and material possessions that they perhaps lacked in their own lives while growing up. These are understandable and well-meaning intentions—but do we always know what is truly the most beneficial for our kids? Is it possible sometimes to be misled or confused about what is actually in their greatest interest, particularly long-term?
The folly of allowing a child to consume a diet composed entirely of sweets, for example, is obvious to most people, but many of the choices we need to make for our children are not so clear-cut. We want to prepare them for both this life as well as the life to come, but the question is How?
Listening to the “Experts”
Advice on child rearing is easy to come by. Books and articles written by professionals in the field fill bookstore and library shelves. But is the counsel they give always right, or can it be misleading and sometimes even outright wrong?
Consider the advice that the famous child-rearing expert of the 1950s and 1960s—Dr. Benjamin Spock—purported. At one point he instructed mothers to lay babies on their stomachs when putting them down to sleep. We now know that this was bad advice, because the practice was shown to be one of the major causes of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).1 There also are many other claims that Dr. Spock made that are disputed by professionals today. So where can we go for truly reliable instruction?
Numerous dependable sources of information are available to parents, from professional experts in the field of child rearing to friends and church members whose experiences rearing their own children can be very helpful to newer parents. The only indisputably trustworthy source, however, is the Word of God.
2012 1516 page26Learning From the Best
God has provided excellent guidelines on the topic of child rearing through the example of the life of Jesus. He could have selected any number of settings and circumstances for the incarnation of Christ. Surprisingly, however, God chose to place His Son in a humble home with parents who homeschooled him and trained Him as a common tradesman. To most of us this background seems inappropriate and inadequate to prepare the Messiah for His role and mission, but there were good reasons for these choices. Ellen G. White explains: “The parents of Jesus were poor, and dependent upon their daily toil. He was familiar with poverty, self-denial, and privation. This experience was a safeguard to Him. In His industrious life there were no idle moments to invite temptation. No aimless hours opened the way for corrupting associations. So far as possible, He closed the door to the tempter.”2
Had Jesus been born into a wealthier class He may not have had these valuable advantages. He was assailed by temptations as we all are, but this setting was ideal for preparing Him for His ministry.
In a university graduation address the world-renowned surgeon Dr. Ben Carson said that many individuals do not share the advantage he had of living in poverty with a mother of strong Christian values. He said that growing up in a humble environment helped him to value his education and appreciate the suffering of the unfortunate.3
Well-meaning parents can greatly disadvantage their children by giving them too many of the “good things of life.” This can sometimes lead to a person becoming self-absorbed or prideful because they didn’t need to exercise self-discipline or experience many hardships or disappointments.
Practical Training
Christ’s vocational training was also a valuable part of the preparation for His mission. The mode of delivery was humble and dependent on the leading of the Holy Spirit: “God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty” (1 Cor. 1:27).4
Apprenticeship training as a tradesman to fulfill the mission of the Messiah doesn’t seem to make much sense at first, but Christ was not the only one whom God prepared for leadership through humble means. The Bible tells us that other leaders of God’s people, such as Joseph, Moses, and the apostle Paul, were also placed in lowly stations in life as they learned to serve God and others. The positive results of these methods become apparent with time. The act of Christ washing the feet of the disciples, for example, was a mystery to them at first, but later it bore fruit as the disciples assimilated lessons of humility and true conversion took place.
Christ worked as a tradesman until He was 30 years old. This is particularly significant when we consider that even as a child He understood His mission. He revealed this by His explanation to His worried parents when they couldn’t find him after three days of journeying home following the Passover in Jerusalem: “Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?”5 Jesus asked them.
There were good reasons for Jesus to spend so many years of His life in the carpenter shop. Practical experiences are valuable in the training of youth because they require effort, patience, and self-discipline, which are essential ingredients for physical and spiritual well-being. The Scriptures are filled with passages that advise us to avoid laziness (Prov. 6:9-11; 10:4, 5; 10:26; 12:27) or the lack of self-discipline (Prov. 13:4; 18:9; 20:4; 21:5; 24:16). Ellen White wrote, “An ordinary mind, well disciplined, will accomplish more and higher work than will the most highly educated mind and the greatest talents without self-control.”6
Learning to master the art of self-discipline develops essential skills for the faith experience. These are the very qualities that Christ developed through His experience in the carpenter shop. We can see that at the end of His life they are perfected, and in His agony in Gethsemane He pleads for the cup to pass from Him, but concludes that “nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.”7
We often are misled into believing that a person studying for the professions has no real need to develop practical skills, but consider this advice:
 “The benefit of manual training is needed also by professional men. A man may have a brilliant mind; he may be quick to catch ideas; his knowledge and skill may secure for him admission to his chosen calling; yet he may still be far from possessing a fitness for its duties. An education derived chiefly from books leads to superficial thinking. Practical work encourages close observation and independent thought. Rightly performed, it tends to develop that practical wisdom which we call common sense. It develops ability to plan and execute, strengthens courage and perseverance, and calls for the exercise of tact and skill.”8
Other positive outcomes from the development of practical skills are numerous and include the providing of emergency resources for earning a living, the learning of valuable skills for mission efforts, and balance in one’s lifestyle. Practical knowledge gives you options for repairing things around the house yourself or fixing mechanical problems with your car. You can even learn to grow and harvest your own food.
God’s Methods
Our children will benefit from the same methods that God chose for His Son. There is ample evidence that humble and practical methods are effective. It is my prayer that these methods not be ignored by parents, teachers, and leaders, but that they will realize the important role these methods play in rearing our children for God.
1 Erlanger Health System, “Dr. Benjamin Spock: Child Care and Controversy” (2011). Available online at www.legacy.com/ns/news-story.aspx?t=dr-benjamin-?spock-child-care-and-controversy&id=278.
2 Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1898), p. 72.
3 Dr. Ben Carson presented this graduation address at Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, Tennessee, in 2005.
4 Bible texts are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
5 Luke 2:49.
6 Ellen G. White, Christ’s Object Lessons (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1900), p. 335.
7 Matt. 26:39.
8 Ellen G. White, Education (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1903), p. 220.

Ray Carson, Ph.D., teaches welding, woodworking, and architectural and computer-aided design drafting at Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, Tennessee. This article was published June 14, 2012.