Volume 15, Issue 4: Childer
We cannot recall most of what shaped us. We are made and formed by our memories, particularly the ones we
The most formative years of a child's life are the first four or five. But most of us have just a handful of
conscious memories dating from that time and before. And if we were to evaluate the most important events of our early
years based on what we could consciously recall, we would no doubt come up with a very skewed evaluation indeed.
From my early years, I can remember losing my hat in San Francisco Bay, an army truck going by our house in
Japan, watching the same house shake in an earthquake, and a few other odds and ends. I could not arrange these
memories in any kind of chronology, or explain how any of them affect me today. All the things that affected me the most
are things I cannot recall at all, even though I was there at the time, being duly affected.
Now I have the privilege of watching this happen to another generation. We saw it first with our own kids, and
we are now watching it happen with our grandchildren. My oldest grandchild is now five years old, and if I were to
die today, it is possible that he might have a memory of me. And yet I have known
him for years now.
At the same time, these are the years when much of the concrete is being poured and shaped. What are parents
to do with this? The first thing is to realize that "memories" cannot really be engineered. Photos and home videos
can seem to be helpful, but they can also hinder. By the end of this process you are not sure if you remember the event,
or just remember the picture.
This does not mean parents should throw up their hands in despair. Parents should pay a great deal of
attention to family memories, but they have to realize that the
content of the memories is beyond their capacity to control. I
have noted this principle elsewhere. Parents can scrimp and save thousands of dollars to spend on a vacation with the
kids that no one really remembers. "We
went to Arizona? Nuh uh." But then twenty years later, a father is pleased
and chagrined to discover that the whole family remembers the time they stopped in a small town in Nebraska for
ice cream cones, and dad slipped and fell in the river.
But even if the contents of the memories were controlled, it would probably be very little help anyway.
Parents should be far more concerned with how
their children remember than with what
they remember. Trying to regulate what your children remember is like trying to have them recall the exact route they took on their first real bicycle
ride. They almost certainly don't remember that, but they still know how to ride a bicycle. How it is still done is far
more important than what was done the first time. Focusing on the content of a particular memory tends toward
nostalgia and sentimentalism. Focusing on how we are to remember lines us up with the Scriptures.
So how should children be taught to remember? There are two key elements of this. First, they should learn
that memory is given to us so that we can be thankful for all the benefits that God has given to us. "Bless the Lord, O
my soul, and forget not all his benefits" (Ps. 103:2). We remember in order to give thanks, blessing the name of the
Lord. Now this heart of thanksgiving is the essential thing, and not an itemized content list. Does it matter to God that
one child recalls the Thanksgiving dinner that he ate the week before in order to thank God again for the rolls, the
sweet potatoes, the turkey and the gravy while his younger brother thanks God for the turkey, the stuffing, the rolls, and
the jam? Different people will remember different things, but the point for all Christian people is to remember them
with gratitude. Teaching children to remember, therefore, should be done so that they recall in order to give thanks.
The focus of the parent should be on whether
the children are giving thanks, and not so much
what they are giving thanks for.
We also remember the past in order to prepare for the future. "Now all these things happened unto them
for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come. Wherefore let
him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall" (1 Cor. 10:11-12). This is why children should learn the
spiritual lessons found in the story of Noah's flood, the destruction of Sodom, the sorrow that came to the entire family
when their favorite uncle deserted their aunt, and the epic spanking that the oldest son got just last week. We
remember history in order to equip ourselves to remember the laws of God when we need to. Our natural tendency is to
think that we are winning battles when we are not even in them yet. We think we are overcoming temptation because
the temptation isn't tempting. But telling the stories of God's judgments and deliverances in the past is the biblical way
to prepare ourselves to remember as we ought to. "I will therefore put you in remembrance, though ye once knew
this, how that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed them that believed
not" (Jude 5).
A child who learns to tie his shoes when he is four might not remember that day at all. But he still knows how
to do it.