Whenever I see parents in discussion forums talk about when to start teaching their child their ABCs and 123s, I do ask myself if I’m doing the right thing by delaying formal instruction to my daughter. Time and again I have been pressured to drill letters and numbers on my little girl after seeing “milestone” posts from eager parents about what their child can now do or perform.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I have not tried teaching her ABCs and 123s. But my husband and I have made the conscious effort to delay formal instruction because, first of all, our daughter is not ready for that yet. K truly loves play—just like most kids her age—and I won’t take that away from her at 28 months. Second of all, we have committed ourselves as parents to prioritize rearing her up in the instruction of the Lord through catechism, while we seek, by God’s grace, to model a life of Christian conduct and character; but sinners still, saved only by the grace of God. So while I understand that education is very important, I have to constantly remind myself that in the long run, academic pursuits (and accumulation of wealth) are vain glories when compared to the surpassing riches of knowing Christ. The apostle Paul understood this rightly when he wrote in Philippians 4:3ff:
…I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
I’ve recently committed to take 30 minutes in a day to just read—on top of our bedtime stories—and sing with my little girl. But more than that, I’ve committed to be more active in helping her memorize her catechism while she is still quite impressionable. Yes, she may be behind in her ABCs and 123s when compared to other toddlers her age. But I know that she will eventually catch up, maybe even sooner than I think. For now, I take comfort in the words of John Angell James when he said (emphasis mine):
[T]he chief end of every Christian parent must be the spiritual interests, the religious character, the eternal salvation of his children. Believing that they are sinful and immortal creatures, yet capable of being redeemed through the mediation of Christ—his highest ambition, his most earnest prayer, his most vigorous pursuit should be engaged for their eternal welfare. His eye, his heart, and his hope, should be fixed on the same objects for them, as they are for himself, and that is, upon eternal life. This should be the nature and exercise of his concern—“I am desirous, if it pleases God, that my children should be blessed with the enjoyment of reason, of health, of such a moderate portion of worldly wealth, and worldly respectability as is compatible with their station in life—and with a view to this I will give them all the advantages of a suitable education. But above and beyond this, I far more intensely desire, and far more earnestly pray, and far more anxiously seek, that they may have the fear of God in their hearts, may be made partakers of true religion, and be everlastingly saved. And provided God grants me the latter, by bestowing upon them his grace, I shall feel that my chief object is accomplished, and be quite reconciled to any circumstances which may otherwise befall them; for rather would I see them in the humble valley of poverty—if at the same time they were true Christians; than on the very pinnacle of worldly grandeur—but destitute of true piety.” Such should be the views and feelings and desires of all true Christian parents; religion should be at the very center of all their schemes and pursuits for their offspring. This should be the guiding principle, the directing object, the great landmark by which all their course should be steered.
The Prince of preachers, Charles H. Spurgeon, also gave a stern warning to us parents:
Parents sin in the same way when they omit true religion from the education of their children. Perhaps the thought is that their children cannot be converted while they are children…
Let us expect our children to know the Lord. Let us from the beginning mingle the name of Jesus with their A B C’s. Let them read their first lessons from the Bible. It is a remarkable thing that there is no book from which children learn to read so quickly as from the New Testament! There is a charm about that Book which draws forth the infant mind. But let us never be guilty, as parents, of forgetting the religious training of our children; for if we do we may be guilty of the blood of their souls…
But these little ones with bright eyes, and prattling tongues, and leaping limbs—why should they come to Jesus? They forgot that in those children, with all their joy, their health, and their apparent innocence—that there was a great and grievous need for the blessing of a Savior’s grace. If you indulge in the novel idea that your children do not need conversion, that children born of Christian parents are somewhat superior to others, and have good within them which only needs development, one great motive for your devout earnestness will be gone.
Believe me, your children need the Spirit of God to give them new hearts and right spirits—or else they will go astray just as other children do. Remember that however young they are—that there is a stone within the youngest heart—and that stone must be taken away, or be the ruin of the child! There is a tendency to evil in every child—even where as yet it is not developed into act, and that tendency needs to be overcome by the divine power of the Holy Spirit, causing the child to be born again.
Dear Christian parent, what is your utmost desire for your children?