SPIRITUAL CHILD NEGLECT
I remember the exact words God gave me as I pondered what He was showing me about my spiritual responsibility toward my three boys. God loves to speak to us in a language that we understand, and with my background in Social Work, He used the term “child neglect” to help me better interpret what He was telling me. Imagine walking through the city streets one day and seeing young children who clearly looked like they had been abandoned and malnourished for days. To make matters worse, the clothes they have on cannot protect them from the elements of the weather. What will your first instinct be?
While the image I just described might seem like a far-fetched story because you may be thinking, hey Jane, we are in America not Africa and they are no kids who are malnourished or walk around half clothed. Unfortunately, most kids experience this daily regardless of their location. Child neglect is a concerning issue. It describes the failure to provide a safe and healthy environment with adequate resources for a child’s growth and development. “Neglect is frequently defined as the failure of a parent or other person with responsibility for the child to provide needed food, clothing, shelter, medical care, or supervision to the degree that the child's health, safety, and well-being are threatened with harm.” (childwelfare.gov)
As parents, we are entrusted with the role of providing our children with the physical and emotional needs they require to become responsible members of society. We understand that it is unacceptable for a parent to be able to provide for their child’s physical needs but refuse to do so. The issue of child neglect is so important that there are legal ramifications for it. But when it comes to spiritual needs, many parents have neglected their responsibility as spiritual providers. And just as there are legal ramifications for natural child neglect, there are also spiritual consequences when we neglect our responsibilities to them in this area. While the government may not legally charge parents with spiritual child neglect, there are consequences beyond the physical law.
Let’s discuss why spiritual child neglect isn't acceptable from a Christian perspective. If we neglect our responsibility as spiritual leaders in our homes, there can be serious consequences. First and foremost, it hinders a child’s spiritual growth with God, which could lead them away from living a life according to His will. Secondly, when children do not learn about spiritual matters at home, they may turn towards less reliable sources outside the home, such as social media or friends who don't have a strong faith for guidance, which could lead them astray spiritually. Lastly, it can cause lawlessness, ungodliness, and deep resentment towards others or even God, which may take years for a person to overcome or possibly never heal completely.
“It is far easier to shape a child than to repair an adult.” (Dr. Tony Evans)
As parents, it is such an exciting and humbling experience to provide for our children's physical needs - giving them shelter, food, and clothing. Yet, only a few parents apply this same kind of attitude toward their child's spiritual development. Teaching them about God, His word, and the root of our Christian faith requires a time commitment that, sadly, most parents aren't always willing to assume.
Just as we would never neglect our children physically or emotionally, we should not neglect their spiritual needs. Providing our children with spiritual guidance is indeed one of the greatest blessings parents could ever give them and is a vital role we must assume as parents if we are to raise up a generation of wise and faithful followers of Christ. We must recognize that raising kids involves much more than providing food, clothing, and shelter—it includes spiritual guidance and teaching kids about living according to God’s will. We must strive each day to fulfill this important role for our kids to develop strong relationships with God now and into adulthood so that He can work through them for His glory!
If, physically, children suffer negative consequences when parents shirk their responsibilities, how come we tolerate it in God’s kingdom? Now, think about the description of that young child described above and imagine that scenario when a parent refuses to provide a child with the spiritual nourishment their soul needs. In the spiritual realm, most parents have children with no roof over their heads, are malnourished, completely unclothed or half naked, unsafe, and walk barefoot because their spiritual needs are not being met.
We can buy expensive shoes, clothes, food, education, electronic gadgets, and so on for our children. But, if they lack spiritual provisions like feeding them with God’s Word, giving them proper clothing through prayer (armor of God), building a canopy (shelter) of God’s presence over them, and such to balance their physical needs, that can make us spiritually negligent parents.
As parents, we are privileged and responsible for providing these spiritual provisions to our children. It is so easy for parents to either put all the responsibility of providing the spiritual nourishment their child needs on the church or believe that it is solely up to God. While it is true that both the church and God play a vital role in a child's spiritual journey, we, as parents, also have a responsibility to plan and be intentional about providing spiritual nourishment to our children. In the same way, when children are young, they depend on their parents or caregivers to supply their physical needs; they also rely on their parents to provide for their spiritual needs. If parents neglect that area, children will be vulnerable to the harsh elements of the world.
“Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come.”