When I was about eight I stole something.
This event ranks as one of the top 10 of all my childhood memories, right up there with nearly drowning. I remember it so clearly. My friends and I had ridden our bikes to the local drugstore (children had more freedom in the sixties) and as we were leaving I saw some penny candies and took one. I'm not sure why I stole it—I certainly wasn't starved for candy. Perhaps subconsciously I wanted to know what it felt like to steal.
It felt awful.
This is my first recollection of deliberately violating one of the Ten Commandments. I didn't know it at the time, but this occasion also marked the beginning of connecting the Bible with my actions. Prior to this momentous event, I didn't really think I was a sinner. My parents praised me for being quiet and well-behaved and I felt superior about not causing trouble. Not like some of my other sisters.
Even at that young age I was proud of my good behaviour. I had all the makings of a gentile Pharisee. But with just one swoop of my hand into a candy bin, the stellar behaviour was wiped out. I could no longer consider myself good. It was a rude awakening to discover that I was capable of stealing.
Growing up, my family was in church every Sunday. Early on I learned about the Ten Commandments in Sunday school and knew right from wrong. How thankful I am that the truth of Scripture was planted in my heart at a young age! It has guided, convicted, and protected me for over 50 years. When the Lord says, “You must not” He's saying “You will harm yourself if you do that.” I believe that others harm us not so much as we are harmed by our own actions. Tragically, people all around us are hurting themselves and the sad thing is they don't realize they're doing it. Hosea 4:6 says, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (NASB). How true that is today.
Instilling God's Word in the hearts of children gives them the foundation for building a life of strong moral character. Knowing God's truth is the firm footing that helps them make wise decisions during the turbulent teen years and beyond. It also is the crucial key for living an abundant life. Psalm 19:7-9 lists the wonderful benefits of obeying God's commands: refreshment to the soul, wisdom for the simple, joy to the heart, and light to the eyes. It is these inner qualities that make life rich and fulfilling.
Recently I read we make up to 5,000 choices each day. Granted most of them are banal like “I choose to brush my teeth” and “I choose to eat breakfast.” But there are also numerous moral choices we make each day. How will our children make the right choices if we as parents and grandparents don't take the time to teach them God's Word?
As a child, knowing God's law wasn't enough. I also needed to know the flip side—God's grace. As we teach God's commands to our children, it's critical that we emphasize His love. They need to know that when they mess up, the Lord is waiting with outstretched arms to extend His infinite grace and forgiveness. Over and over again. No matter how often we fall. First John 1:9 promises, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” The reassurance of knowing that our Heavenly Father's love and forgiveness are limitless brings incredible peace to a young child's heart.
The task of shaping your child's moral character may seem daunting. But don't give up! Remember, you are not alone. The Lord is with you every step of the way.