In 2nd Corinthians 12:14 the apostle writes that “… children ought not to lay up for their parents, but parents for their children.” Paul was willing to spend and be spent for the church in Corinth, for the members of that church were his spiritual children. In the same way, we who are parents are willing to spend and be spent for our children.
“Parents ought to lay up for their children,” and it is perfectly natural for parents to want to pass on their material advantages.
I once knew a woman of advanced age. As a young woman, she worked as a secretary for about a decade, and then she became a full-time housewife and mother. When she reached the age of 65 she started receiving a small Social Security check every month. She never cashed a single check for her use. Instead she put it in the bank for her children. She told me that “parents ought to lay up for their children,” and she wanted to lay up for hers.
Or what about this. I have a friend who was living in the state of Florida when his first child was born. He and his wife had a little extra money, so they took advantage of a Florida law, and paid their infant sons college tuition at a greatly reduced rate. This year their son will be graduating from college, in Florida, debt free. When it comes to material benefits, “parents ought to lay up for their children.”
It is never too soon to start putting something aside for our children. The parents and grandparents of Baby Boomers worked hard, and we are in the midst of the greatest transfer of wealth in the history of the world. Unfortunately, we are also in the midst of a huge transfer of poverty. Several years ago, I went to a Safe and Sober Prom Night presentation and heard David Daggett give a statistic that frightened me. If a person drops out of high school, there is a 90 percent chance they will spend their lives in poverty. Likewise, if they have a baby, or help to make a baby while they are in high school, there is a 90 percent chance they will spend their lives in poverty. And if they drop our of high school while having or making a baby, there is a virtual 100 percent chance they will spend their lives in poverty. Who then can save them from poverty? Thank-fully, what Jesus said about saving people from wealth in Mark 10:27 is equally applicable when it comes to saving people from poverty. “With people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.”
Of course, this text is not just about laying up material benefits for our children. It is also about laying up spiritual benefits for our children.
What is true of poverty and wealth is also true of sin and righteousness. Both the Bible and life teach that what we are, whether good or bad, we almost invariably pass on to our children, whether we want to pass it on or not.
For instance, the author of 2nd Kings warns that when we serve idols, we sow the seeds of idol worship in our children and grandchildren. In those days, an idol was made from wood, stone or precious metal and was shaped by human hands. Today, we are more likely to worship idols of plastic, silicon and steel that are shaped by robots. Even more dangerous, we worship at the alters of beauty, wealth and power. Bertrand Russell warned against the worship of “that bitch goddess success.” Success just for the sake of success is a terrible mistake. We may climb the ladder of success, and get to the top, only to discover it has been leaning against the wrong wall.
What is the point? Simple either we serve God, and God treats us like children, and the world serves us; or we serve the world, and the world treats us like slaves, and prevents us from enjoying the blessings of God.
Both the Bible and life teachs that we reap what we sow. The prophet Ezekiel reminds us that God keeps steadfast love for untold multitudes, but visits the sins and mistakes of the parents upon their children’s children. When God visits our sins upon our children and grandchildren, God is not being cruel, for God is simply following the same laws he laid down for us in the world. We reap what we sow. Writing in the 6th century B.C., the prophet Isaiah said, “The father’s have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” In the first part of the 20th century, Ann Franke wrote, “Our lives are fashioned by our choices. We make our choices and our choices make us.” I would add only that our choices make us, and our children, and our grandchildren. This is a hard truth; but life is a lot easier for those who learn it. Frankly, if we love our children, the only decent choice is a decent life. In Psalm 103:17,18 we read:
But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting upon those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments.
We want to lay up material benefits for our children, and we want to lay up spiritual benefits for our children. Naturally, above all, we want our children to know they are loved and accepted.
Mothers communicate love and acceptance quite naturally. A mother’s love is physical. It is tightly connected with the mother’s body. Before birth a mother is connected with her child by the umbilical cord. After birth, a mother is connected with her child literally “at the hip.” A mother’s love is expressed when she holds, touches, feels and feeds her children. An old Jewish proverb declares, “God cannot be everywhere so he made mothers.” An old Scottish proverb captures the same truth in more detail when it declares:
Baby has no skies, but mother’s eyes;
No God above, but mother’s love.
Her angel sees the Father’s face,
But she the mother’s, full of grace;
And yet the heavenly kingdom is of such as this.
There is no substitute for the kind of love a mother gives. No young child can survive without some mothering from somebody. Children have to be hauled about, and fed and changed. A child needs his mother like a fish needs water and trees need sunshine Likewise, every child—whether a baby or an adult, is challenged to the depths of their being by the loss of a good mother. In his book, “From Wild Man to Wiseman,” Richard Rohr says that:
When a good mother dies, it feels to the child—even the adult child, like God has died, because our mother is our first clear God image and she is our Divine security.
And what about a Father’s love? A father’s love is different from a mother’s love. For a child, the father is the other person in the house. A father’s love is not so immediate and physical as a mother’s love. It exist at a greater distance. A father does not have to love his children; a father must choose to love his children. A good father decides in our favor. He picks us out of the crowd, and picks us up, not just physically but emotionally and spiritually.
I think it is interesting that in most primitive cultures, God’s love is almost always perceived as feminine. People worship a mother goddess. But the religion of the Bible is different. In the Bible, though the God we know as the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is not a sexual being, God reveals God’s Self to his children in the way that human Fathers reveal themselves to their children. For instance, when God choose Israel to be his people, he picked them out of the nations of the world, and lifted them up out of slavery in Egypt to claim them for his own. God gave them an identity. Thus in Deuteronomy 7:7 Moses says to the people:
When God set his heart on you and chose you, it was not because you were greater than other peoples, you were the least of all the peoples. It was simply for love of you that God chose you.
Every person wants God to love them freely, without qualification. That is why Nathaniel said to Jesus, “Show us the Father and we shall be satisfied.” And that is why Jesus said, “If you have seen me you have seen the Father.” Jesus wants us to know that the Father loves us like he love us. And every child wants his or her father to love them freely, without qualification. Listen carefully. If you remember nothing else from this sermon, remember this: When a child gets a father’s love in abundance, whether that child is male or female, they enter life with confidence and energy. We want to do great things, and we have the energy to get them done.
By contrast, when children—especially men, don’t experience the love of the father, and there is no father substitute—like a step father who steps in to love them, or a mentor such as a Scout Leader or teacher, disaster follows. Let me give you an example.
Father Richard Rohr, whom I have already mentioned, tells the story of meeting a Catholic sister who worked in Peru’s central prison. During her first year at the prison, as Mother’s Day approached, the inmates came to her and asked her for Mother’s Day cards. No matter how many cards she gave them, they were always asking for more. As her first Father’s Day at the prison drew near, anticipating a similar rush, she ordered several cases of Father’s Day cards. Several years later those cards still in her office, for not one prisoner asked her for a Father’s Day card. Then she realized why.:The men in the prison had no real father figures in their lives.
As fathers and grandfathers, and as friends of the family, and as those those who love and work with children such as teachers and pastors, men must pay careful attention to the children in our care when they are young. We must pick them out of the crowd, and find ways to “pick them up” (psychologically and spiritually) and make them feel special. The opportunity is passing quickly. By the time our children are teenagers, they will care more about the opinions of their peers, than the opinions of their parents and grandparents and teachers.
The truth is that all children are easily reached—though some take more reaching than others. In his book, “The Road Less Traveled,” Scott Peck says that we spend time with what we love. Children know this instinctively. When we spend time with our childen, they know we love them.
Years ago, I had a friend who had a young son who was born with a tragic illness. He knew he would have limited time with his son, so he treasured every moment. He had a little poem hanging over his desk that summed up his attitude:
What shall you give to one small boy?
A glamorous game, a tinseled toy?
A pocket knife, a puzzle pack?
A train that runs on some curving track?
A picture book, a real live pet?
No, there’s plenty of time for such things yet.
Give him a day for his very own,
Just one small boy and his Dad alone,
A walk in the woods, a romp in the park,
A fishing trip from dawn to dark.
Give him the gift that only you can,
The companionship of his “old man.”
Games are outgrown and toys decay,
But he’ll never forget If you give him a day.
Naturally, though we may have to vary the activities, the same approach works with our daughters. The apostle said that, “Parents ought to lay up for their children.” Ironically, when we do that, we find that we are also sowing the seeds of our own happiness.
Worth Green, Th.M., D.Min.