Exhortation, Fourth Epiphany

What kind of guidance should we give our children? We often focus exclusively on all the things that they may not do. That is a perfectly sound approach, especially for younger children. After all, we worship and serve a God whose first words to newborn Israel were “Thou Shalt Not.”

At the end of Ecclesiastes, Solomon offers a different sort of guidance. Speaking specifically to young men, he urges them to rejoice, to let their hearts be pleasant, and to follow their desires during the vaporous days of youth.

Solomon is not urging young men and women to indulge sin. But he gives relatively few boundaries. Remember that you will die and that your life is a vapor. Remember your Creator, the omnipotent generous God who made you and gives you all things. Remember that God will bring everything you do to judgment. Remember these things, Solomon says, and follow your heart’s desire.

We as parents are anxious that our children avoid sin, so we refrain from giving this kind of open-ended permission. But if our children’s hearts are gripped by the brevity of life and the coming judgment, then encourage them to “follow the desires of your heart.” If their view of the world is shaped by a deep sense of their Creator, then don’t worry about telling them to “follow the sights of your eyes.”

By all means, teach your children the 10 commandments and all the other “Thou Shalt Nots” of Scripture. But don’t neglect Solomon’s teaching: Teach your children that they are creatures of a loving Creator; teach them about death; teach them that God is judge. Then let ‘em loose.

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