No one can truly know another’s heart. We try, but as humans we simply do not have that ability. For that reason, we are often confused or disappointed by family and friends. This can be especially true of children.
Children come into this world as clean slates. The Holy Spirit may have written the knowledge of God into their hearts, but their minds are blank pages upon which the world writes a story that becomes their life. The first people to write on those pages are the parents, or in today’s world, the parental figure or figures. It is from these sources that children learn about good, evil, trust and betrayal. It is from these sources children learn about love, hate and indifference.
Certainly, children learn from other sources. Modern society is information rich, and it bombards them from all sides. Children learn from friends, grandparents, teachers, babysitters, Sunday School teachers, and their smart phones. Still, what they learn from mom and dad is often the most meaningful and permanent. A humorous tale told in a country-western song by Rodney Atkins makes this point clearly.
The song, “Watching You,” is the story of a father who makes an important discovery about the way his son is learning. Unfortunately, he first realizes there might be a problem when his son uses an expletive most people would be horrified to hear coming from the mouth of their four-year-old. In this case the horror is compounded by the fact the little boy tells his dad he learned the word from him, and how he wants to grow up just like dad.
Many parents have likely experienced something similar while raising their children. It is also likely, the parent involved reacted in a manner similar to the father in the song, “Where did you learn a word like that?” Of course, if other parents heard the child’s utterance, the comment may have been something akin to, “I can’t imagine where he (or she) learned that.”
A child’s eyes, and its ears, are important learning tools. It is through their eyes children see if words match deeds. It is through their eyes children observe body language and facial expressions accompanying the words used. It is through their eyes they see how one person treats another. It is through their eyes they have the opportunity to see the world God created. Parents can easily forget what this means.
Children, no matter how much one loves them, become a part of one’s environment. Once they are old enough to entertain themselves for significant periods of time, other priorities can make a parent forget a child is watching.
A child may be playing quietly in one room while parents are busy with their day in another. The fact the child is playing does not mean it is not watching. Even if a child is focused on the newest toy the child’s mind can be a sponge, unconsciously soaking up words, actions and behavior. That is the lesson of “Watching You.”1
One would hope most fathers, certainly fathers who profess to be Christian, would avoid intentionally using foul language in front of their children. The unfortunate reality is if one uses inappropriate language at all, it will slip out at times. If it slips out in front of one’s child, all the apologizing, rationalizing and excuses in the world will not make a child forget it. If this is true, the question is how does one avoid winding up in this position.
The song offers hope to the errant dad it depicts. Later that day, the father gets down on his knees and prays for wisdom and help in raising his son. That night his prayer is rewarded by seeing his son praying just as fervently to God. When asked, his son says he learned to pray from watching him. The father is likely relieved and comforted from the news. If only it were that simple.
The story in the song is cute and touching. The little boy is watching his dad and learning what it means to be a man. A man who makes mistakes, but knows the Lord. A man wanting the best for his child. That is likely the intent of the song, but the reality might be different.
The father in the song could feel he is off the hook. Sure, his son learned a bad word from him, and he might learn a few more. Yet, he learned to pray as well, and seems to understand God is important. After all, the father is no saint, and Jesus died for his sins. God’s grace can handle this little problem.
One can argue that cussing does not make one a sinner. Perhaps, someone who uses expletives regularly is a bit uncouth, but does that make him, or her, a sinner? That is something others can argue at another time. It seems the father in this song clearly felt he was leading his son astray, and he wanted to change. He asked God to help him be a good example. That should be the prayer of any Christian parent without regard for the severity of the transgression.
Children learn bad habits from their parents. They might learn to cuss, they might learn to lie, they might learn to judge others, they might learn to covet, and the beat goes on according to Sonny and Cher in the 1960s. Of course, they will learn bad habits from other sources, but the ones they learn from parents will be the hardest to overcome.
We are all sinners. Still, as Paul clearly states in Romans 6, one cannot continue to sin, expecting grace to bail one out. Accepting Jesus the Christ as our savior did not turn us into saints, and we must work on growing closer to Christ. One proof of our maturity and growing closer to Christ is change that others can see in us. This is especially true when it comes to parents.
Children naturally put their parents right up there next to God. A loving, faithful and worshipful father makes it much easier for a child to believe in and see a loving, faithful and worship worthy Father. A parent who relies on God’s grace instead of working hard on himself, risks leading children astray, and makes the child more vulnerable to the temptations of this world.
Every parent should ask, what do my children see while watching me? Do they see someone working to become closer to God, and being a light in the world? Or, do they see someone who lives one way on Sunday and another the rest of the week?
Have you asked that question lately, of yourself?