For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. – Ephesians 2:10
It must be well over eighty years ago that my grandfather stated that "every child is a thought of God." This means that we cannot and must not try to mold children according to our own ideas and wishes.
Few parents and educators even consider what God might have in mind for a particular child. But it is God, and not we, who created our children. He has a plan for each one, and our children will become themselves only if they are allowed to develop according to his will.
Too often, we think in human terms of success – about a sound and lucrative career or an honorable profession. We think we are doing our children a service by steering them in these directions, when in fact our meddling with God's plan risks harming their souls and stifling their inner growth.
Helping children discover their calling in life is perhaps the most difficult and challenging task we will ever face. Every child is unique, and even in the same family the differences between children can be astonishing. Yet if we listen to the advice Jesus gives us – to seek God's kingdom first, and to trust that everything else will then fall into place – we will not be disappointed.
My parents never pressed me or my sisters to pursue any particular field. Rather, they tried to awaken a social conscience in us – to feel the need of mankind. They also tried to instill in us a love for humanity – a compassion that embraced all of the masses, and which did not focus on the salvation of a select few.
We grew up during World War II and the suffering in Europe was constantly on our hearts and minds. In fact, we had no real chance for higher education, but our parents still insisted that we learn to work hard, both physically and mentally. They knew that this foundation would serve us well whatever we might end up doing.
My own hopes for the future changed continually. At first I wanted to be a farmer like my father, but he then befriended a lawyer and so I changed my mind. Later I thought about becoming a baker, or even a cowboy. In the end our family moved to the United States and I studied business. Even then, I remained in that field for only ten years before becoming a pastor.
Of course, all parents want their children to shine. They want credit for having done a good job of raising them. But we are mistaken if we measure people by their college degrees, salaries, or positions. God cares nothing for all of these things. He looks instead for souls that long to be close to him, and who yearn to spend their lives alleviating the misery and suffering of the people around them.
Bringing up children in this way requires constant prayer and attention. How do our children relate to others? Are they sociable and outgoing? Do they weep when others weep? And can they rejoice when others are happy?
Instead of pushing our children into the academic fast-track, we ought to teach them the prayer of Saint Francis, whose works are remembered almost 800 years after his death. It is this prayer that will save us, and save our children:
Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace!
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master –
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled, as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
In pardoning that we are pardoned,
And in dying that we are born to eternal life.
From Why Children Matter by Johann Christoph Arnold.