As believers, everything about our lives should say, “Welcome.” We are encouraged to practice hospitality often, to welcome others into our homes, beyond just the front porch, for times of refreshment, fellowship and friendship. In fact, it is so central to the life of a Christian that it is to be used as a standard for whether or not someone is qualified for church leadership (1 Timothy 3:2)! It begins with how we extend hospitality to our own children.
In Romans 12 Paul tells us: “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. He then continues through the chapter, listing some things that reflect what it means to be in God’s good, acceptable, and perfect will, with verse 13 saying “Practice hospitality.” Showing hospitality to others, especially our children, is not just a nice idea, it is a requirement if we are to live in God’s will; it is an act of worship to God.
Jesus repeatedly warned his disciples of this truth. Several times in the Gospels, it is recorded that the disciples argued over who was first in the kingdom, even asking Jesus who was greatest, hoping, I am sure, that He would list their names. Imagine the surprise they experienced when He told them that the one who serves is the greatest and then, calling a little child, said that unless these grown men became like little children they would never enter heaven! He reminded them that not only were they welcoming Jesus when they welcomed children, but if they harmed any child, they were in danger of eternal punishment.
Jesus set the tone for all of us regarding the importance of children in His kingdom, in His order of life. They are not the ones to be set aside and out of the way in our churches, placed somewhere so they don’t disturb the “real worshippers.” Children are not the ones who should be taught to always go to the end of the line or to sit at the “children’s tables.” Children are not the ones to be treated with disrespect and told ”children are to be seen and not heard.” They are not to be trained as dogs or frightened into compliance with “disciplinary” weaponry. Instead, Jesus “took them in His arms and began blessing them, laying His hands on them. (Mark 10:16).
One day, as I chatted with a woman who was cutting slices of cheesecake to be served at a church potluck, my nine-year-old son, hungry and anxious to eat, spied the dessert table and bounded up to us announcing “Oh, boy, cheesecake, my favorite! I can’t wait to have some!” The woman turned to both of us and announced, “This is for the adults but there are plenty of other choices for the children.” Crestfallen, my son looked at me and blinked back tears, feeling both rebuked and belittled. Then, as if to add insult to injury, the woman turned to me and said, “Karen, would you like a slice?” I nodded and held out my dessert plate, and then turned and said, “Here, Joe, you can have mine,” leaving the woman irritated and speechless. If we really believe that our children are fellow believers, if we see them baptized and share around the Lord’s Table with them, then why do we have a different attitude when it comes to showing hospitality to them?
Why should our standards for hospitality toward those inside our family be different than our standards for others, especially other adults? Though most passages in Scripture direct hospitality toward strangers, why would we show any less care and affection toward our children? We prepare for our guests, we anticipate their arrival, we provide our best food, a clean house, and a comfortable bed at night! We use our best sheets and towels, the ones that match! We prepare food they will like and if we know they don’t care for certain foods, we don’t say, “You will finish this or you will be eating it cold for breakfast.” Just imagine saying that to your visiting pastor or missionary! We don’t think, “We will wait until they go to bed and then bring out the best dessert.” A child will know he is welcomed in your home when he receives the royal treatment reserved for guests!
Since hospitality usually involves offering food to others, it is especially important that we consider how we offer food to our children. It is baffling to me how this has become such an issue with parents. Not long ago I read the testimony of a mother who thought she was properly “training” her children by making them eat all sorts of things they didn’t like. It wasn’t a matter of having children try new foods…that is something all good moms do…but this mom believed it was important to train her children to like everything she thought was good for them, even to the point of making one of her children eat Brussels sprouts “at least a hundred times” though the child found them horribly distasteful!
The fact is, when it comes to children having particular opinions about food, this is one area where it is really important to listen to our child’s likes and dislikes and not force him to eat. Many times children will react negatively to the idea of eating a particular food, only to find out later the child is, indeed, allergic to that food. When children are born, they have approximately 250 taste buds on each of the papillae on the tongue. By the time someone has reached middle age, there are less than 90 on each. You see, some foods really are repugnant to children for good reason! Many teen and adult eating disorders can be traced back to children being forced to eat either foods they didn’t like or to clean their plates even though they felt full. But most importantly, ask yourself how you would like to be forced to eat foods you personally hated!
Some moms believe that by making a child eat foods he dislikes, she is training him to be thankful for what the Lord provides. But thankfulness is a heart response, one that comes by knowing who God is and one that comes by His grace alone, not by punitive measures. As we disciple our children and demonstrate by our own examples what genuine thankfulness looks like, we can trust that God will impress on their hearts the desire to worship Him with a thankful heart. While we may force our children to eat everything on their plates, believing we are training them to be thankful, we might really be teaching them to be great Pharisees, outwardly conforming but inwardly becoming bitter because we treat them in ways we would not treat others who share around the table with us! We might even be sending the message to them that they aren’t equal members in the body of Christ.
Author Anne Ortlund, in her book Children are Wet Cement, tells of her vivid memory of going out for lunch with her family every Sunday after morning worship and how her father always allowed the children to c choose from the adult side of the menu rather than from the children’s selections. She said that that simple act made her feel valued as a fellow believer in Christ and opened her heart to receive spiritual truth from her parents. The “pattern of this world,” as Romans talks about, is to not value children as the precious image bearers of Christ that they are, but rather to see them as little extensions of ourselves or as projects that are to be made in our own image.
excerpt taken from The Joy of Relationship Homeschooling ~ when the one anothers come home