The most effective teaching tool, as we have seen, is in the modeling provided by parents at home. Children are amazingly perceptive of the things they witness in their parents' unguarded moments. This was illustrated for Shirley and me when our son and daughter were eleven and sixteen. We had gone together to Mammoth, California, for a ski retreat with another family. Unfortunately, our arrival coincided with a huge blizzard on that Thursday, confining us to the lodge and frustrating the kids beyond description. Each of us would take turns walking to the window every few minutes in hopes of seeing a clearing that would set us free, but none came. Friday we were also socked in, and Saturday's storm absolutely buried our cars in snow. By that time, the two families had big-time "cabin fever," and even our dog was getting antsy.
With the dawn on Sunday morning, wouldn't you know, the sun came streaming into our condo and the sky was a brilliant blue. The snow on the trees was gorgeous and all the ski lifts were up and running. But what were we to do? We had made it a lifelong policy to go to church on Sunday and had chosen not to ski or attend professional athletic events on what we called "the Lord's day." I know many Christian people would disagree with that perspective, and I have no problem with those who see it differently. This was simply the standard for our family and we had lived by it throughout our married life. We have always taken literally the Scripture that says, "Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy" (Exodus 20:8-11).
Admittedly, skiing on Sunday is not tantamount to work, as prohibited in this Scripture, but it is a day set aside for another purpose. Furthermore, if we skied that morning, we would be requiring ski-company employees to be on the job. Right or wrong, this is what we have believed. But what was I to do in the present situation? Everyone wanted to hit the slopes, and to be honest, so did I. Shirley and I were going bonkers cooped up with all those bored kids. Therefore, I gathered our family with our guests and said, "You know, we don't want to be legalistic about this thing [smile]. I think the Lord would forgive an exception in this case. It's such a beautiful day outside. We can have our devotions tonight when we get home from skiing, and I think it would be okay to go."
Everyone was jubilant, or so I thought, and we proceeded to dress for the outing. I finished first and was upstairs fixing a do-it-yourself breakfast when Shirley came and whispered to me, "You had better go talk to your son." He was always my son when there was a problem. I went to Ryan's bedroom and found him crying. "Goodness, Ryan, what's wrong?" I asked. I will never forget his answer.
"Dad," he said, "I have never seen you compromise before. You have told us it is not right to ski and do things like that on Sunday, but now you're saying it's okay." Tears were still streaming down his cheeks as he talked. "If this was wrong in the past, then it is still wrong today."
Ryan's words hit me like a blow from a hammer. I had disappointed this kid who looked to me for moral guidance. I had violated my own standard of behavior, and Ryan knew it. I felt like the world's biggest hypocrite. After I had regained my composure, I said, "You're right, Ryan. There's no way I can justify the decision I made."
At my request, the two families gathered in the living room again and I related what had happened. Then I said, "I want you all [our guests] to go ahead and ski today. We certainly understand. But our family is going to attend a little church in the village this morning. This is how we spend our Sundays, and today should not be an exception for us."
Members of the other family, both children and adults, said almost in unison, "We don't want to ski today either. We will go to church with you." And so they did. That afternoon, I got to thinking about what had happened. The next morning, I called my office to say that we would not be returning until Tuesday. Our friends were able to change their schedule too. So we all went skiing on Monday and had one of the finest days together we have ever had. And my conscience was quiet at last.
I had no idea that Ryan had been watching me on that Sunday morning, but I should have anticipated it. Children get their values and beliefs from what they see modeled at home. It is one reason why moms and dads must live a morally consistent life in front of their kids. If they hope to win them for Christ, they can't afford to be casual or whimsical about the things they believe. If you as a parent act as though there is no absolute truth, and if you are too busy to pray and attend church services together, and if your kids are allowed to play soccer or Little League during Sunday school, and if you cheat on your income tax or lie to the bill collector or fight endlessly with your neighbors, your children will get the message. "Mom and Dad talk a good game, but they don't really believe it." If you serve them this weak soup throughout childhood, they will spew it out when given the opportunity. Any ethical weak spot of this nature—any lack of clarity on matters of right and wrong—will be noted and magnified by the next generation. If you think that faith and belief are routinely absorbed by children, just look at the sons of the great patriarchs of the Bible, from Isaac to Samuel to David to Hezekiah. All of them saw their offspring fall away from the faith of their fathers as the years unfolded.Book: Bringing Up Boys
By Dr. James Dobson