Parenting is gift giving.
Every day parents give their children an abundance of precious gifts. We provide food, clothing, and shelter, as well as transportation and education, in addition to intangibles like guidance, sympathy, boundaries, accountability, kind words, and so many more. These provisions are gifts of love, a duty that is a delight, and every mom and dad feels daily, moment by moment, the great weight of calling and sacrifice that makes these familiar gifts so meaningful and eternal.
Unbelieving parents, of course, give their children abundant gifts, but Christian parents give gifts to their children in direct response to the love and sacrifice of Jesus Christ. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9). And as we bestow gifts on our children out of this abundance, we imitate our great God and show forth His grace and goodness. “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” (Matt 7:11). Our Heavenly Father, who “makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust,” is the ultimate gift giver (Matt 5:45). “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning” (Jas 1:17).
Do you view your parenting as gift giving? What gifts are you giving your children each day? Parents are uniquely positioned to guide, shape, and mold their children like no one else. We can give them not just the tangible gifts of food and shelter and the intangible gifts of guidance and support, but we can lavish on them the surpassingly precious gifts of formation and transformation, shaping their very hearts and character for a lifetime. We can be, in the inimitable words of Paul David Tripp, instruments in the hands of the Redeemer.
The Bible variously pictures this process. Psalm 127 gives us the image of shaping our children to be weapons. “Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them” (127:4-5). St. Paul in Ephesians 6 uses one of the richest, most culturally laden Greek words at his disposal to describe what parents to when they raise their children: “bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord” (6:4). The word Paul uses here, translated “training,” is paideia. We train up our children into a culture, an all-embracive environment in which they learn to honor the Lord in all things, to love what He loves, to hate what He hates, and to glorify Him from the toes up.
Kevin Clark and Ravi Scott Jain amplify this concept:
The word the Greeks used for education was paideia, which meant not only learning intellectual skills, but also the transmission of the entirety of the loves, norms, and values of a culture. They understood that whatever the adult-parent generation cherishes and worships will be the culture it transmits to the children. [. . .] The paideia of the Lord is discipleship unto Christ for the flourishing of His body, the Church, which imitates and participates with him who gave himself up for the life of the world. Parents are called to teach their children in this paideia of the Lord” (The Liberal Arts Tradition, pp. 211, 213).
And this is why you, Providence parents, have partnered with our school. We are yoked together, pulling our children deeper into “discipleship unto Christ for the flourishing of His body.” Simply put, you have your children in a classical Christian school so that we can teach them how to live for Christ in all of life.
We trust in God’s grace and the work of the Holy Spirit to make the work we are doing effectual. We want them to possess and display strong, authentic Christian character, to add to their “faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Pet 1:5-8).
Every trip to school is a passage toward heart training, character development, virtue formation, maturity boot camp. It includes the three R’s, but the three R’s – as well as all other intellectual skill development – is really the course through which the paideia runs. And the fruit that the paideia bears is the real gift we are giving our children.
What virtues do you want to flourish in your children? Let me encourage you to identify them, talk about them with your spouse, make them the subject of your prayers, discuss them with your children, and parent in light of them. Make these virtues the real gift you’re giving your children as you shower them with gifts each day.
Further, make these virtues the topic of conversation when you speak to your children’s teachers. Sure, you’ll talk to your children’s teachers about assignments and grades, due dates and deadlines, successes and failures. But make the real subject the growth and character of your children in the midst of these things. Ask concerning your children:
- Do they show reverence for the name and person of God, or do they display carelessness about spiritual things?
- Do they display grit and perseverance, or do they easily give up?
- Do they humble themselves and ask for help, or do they stubbornly persist in error?
- Do they show contentment and gratitude, or do they habitually grumble and find fault?
- Do they take responsibility for their learning, or are they passive and lazy?
- Do they own their mistakes, or do they blame others for their weaknesses?
- Do they demonstrate kindness and courtesy with their words and attitudes, or are they self-centered and rude?
The list could obviously go on. Let’s be determined, with God’s help and favor, to gain a heavenly perspective, to see beyond the mundane, and to give our children the gift of growing virtue. Heaven forbid that we give them the mere gifts of food, clothing, and shelter and rest content. God is calling you, Providence parents, to give your children the gift of paideia, and He is able and willing to enable you to do so by equipping you with His gifts: the wisdom of His Word, the power of prayer, the leading of the Holy Spirit, the community of the church, the riches of the classical tradition.
G. K. Chesterton famously wrote, “The most extraordinary thing in the world is an ordinary man and an ordinary woman and their ordinary children.” I’m so glad we are partners in this extraordinary venture that we call education and that has such eternal consequences.