My family moved when I was seven. Like a typical seven-year-old girl, I didn’t get bogged down in the moving details. I simply walked into a new world of expansive spaces, country roads, long-needle pine woods, and acres of mango trees.
Zorro arrived in this world shortly after I did. That meant the storing of oats and alfalfa hay and sweet feed for months at a time. My father packed the grains in large metal barrels inside a tool shed at the back of our new property. We called it a tool shed, but it was actually a huge concrete-block building as large as the main house, with high ceiling rafters that extended from side to side. There was even an office and bathroom on one end.
I loved romping around the shed because it was filled with power tools that my dad had purchased from a retired machinist. This meant I had an ample supply of odd-sized blocks to play with, scattered around the floor as discards of whatever project had currently caught my father’s fancy. For me, these little treasures served as potential doll beds and school furniture (which I’ll get to in a moment), and anything else my small imagination could dream up once I had a hammer and nail in my hand.
As I created my pretend worlds on the floor of the tool shed, I breathed in the the scent of alfalfa, orange, and molasses, a combined fragrance of the hay and feed, producing a kind of country-comfort blend of sensory memories for me. Sweet feed is coated in molasses and has a special scent all its own, attractive to horses but also to small, furry, undesirable creatures as well. So add to this picture five cats. My parents viewed them as utilitarian necessities—alpha predators for the home-front—not so much pets. I viewed them as students in my classroom.
After six-and-a-half hours of sitting in a real classroom, I would come home and dig through my doll clothes for suitable cat attire. Then I would herd the less-than-willing felines out to the tool shed and set up wood-block desks, a small blackboard, and cardboard walls. Once my pupils were dressed in their wardrobe essentials, what might be described as well-ventilated but ill-fitting outerwear, class would begin.
Usually, reading would be our first subject. This they endured. Reading would be followed by writing, a subject with which all five struggled as I’m sure you can imagine. By the time we got to arithmetic, my students were ready to draw the red line. Furry tails quickly twitched back and forth, an indicator that class was about to end abruptly. Then suddenly, all five students would bolt toward the walls, claw their way to the top, and run for the nearest exit. There I would stand, alone, sneezing in a whirlwind of fur. To my chagrin, no cat would be seen or meow heard for the rest of the day.
I shared with a friend recently that if I could go back in time as an observer of seven-year-old me, I could pretty accurately predict what I’d be doing as an adult.
“That girl is going to be a teacher,” I would say. And I would be correct. The seeds of the adult can be seen in the child. I believe this is a part of what Solomon desired we take away from Proverbs 22:6: “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”
For the Glory of God
First and foremost, this verse teaches me to parent my children for eternity. There is a broad road to shun and a narrow path to enter.
As I’m training my children in the way they should go—the Way of the Gospel—I can also look at their gifts and talents, areas that I can cultivate and shower with encouragement, because these are things God has entrusted to them in order that they might bless others.
It’s easy to view gifts and talents as ends in themselves, but the Bible points us in a very different direction—whatever we do, even when we are young, is to be done for the glory of God. Our gifts and talents are gifts of God’s grace, and grace is always on the move towards others.
Extending God’s Grace
We, as well as our children, grandchildren, and Sunday School children are God’s image bearers, fearfully and wonderfully made. If we look carefully, we can see unique qualities and abilities in each child with whom we interact. Encouragement can be a powerful motivator in a child’s life, helping them over the bumpy spots of skill development, such as hours of violin practice with little improvement to show for it. Practice can seem mundane to many children, even useless, yet over time it can lead to mastery. Faithfulness in the small things translates into excellence.
Encouragement is a way of extending God’s grace to another person in a way that points their heart towards the Lord Jesus Christ. I’m praying that God will give me eyes to see those areas of special ability He has given to others, especially His covenant children, in order that I might be an encourager along their path to usefulness in the Kingdom and blessing to the world.