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FIRST-PERSON: Each child is custom-designed

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–The year was 1809. Jedidiah, a middle-aged pastor, shut his eyes tightly to keep his son from seeing them roll. Once again, 18-year-old Samuel was pleading to be allowed to study art at the university. Jedidiah had tried to explain to Samuel that he would probably never make a living as a painter. He would get no respect. How could that be his choice when he could do so much more with his life? He had so hoped that Samuel would become a member of the clergy, following in his footsteps.

But then Samuel, with pleading eyes and a solemn tone explained, “I was made for a painter.” That did it. Jedidiah realized then that there was indeed a calling on Samuel’s life, even as he knew there was on his very own. As a clergyman, Jedidiah supported the doctrine of Calvinism, believing that Christianity was intended to effect a positive change in all of society.

With this in mind, he had completed the first comprehensive geography of North America in 1796. After all, how could anyone share the gospel of Christ across the New World unless they knew where they were going? Jedidiah believed he had been born to spread Christianity. Samuel’s calling may have been different from his, but it was quite the same in its undeniable urgency. Jedidiah felt a new kinship with his son, and he sent him to the university to study art with his blessing.

Ah, what a gift to be made for a painter! It’s incredible to see the genius that explodes on a blank piece of canvas when a true artist holds the brush. Sometimes I think that we see our children as blank canvases on which we can paint a glorified picture of what we want them to be or what we wish we could have been. The truth is that children aren’t blank canvases.

They arrive with certain talents and abilities and personalities, custom-designed by the Creator. Our job as parents is to train up a child in the way he should go. Yes, there is a certain amount of painting to be done on our part. There are plenty of blanks to fill in. The story of Jedidiah and Samuel, however, reminds me that it is all too easy to try to make our children be something they are not.

While our job as parents certainly includes the role of teacher, at the same time it is vital that we ourselves become students. We must study our children so that we can point them in the direction of their talents, natural gifts and abilities — their strong suits. It’s also important to take note of their weaknesses so that we can help them in those areas, lifting them up to God in prayer. A friend once shared with me that he had been praying for God to show him his children’s weaknesses. He said wryly that in doing so, God had also shown him his own. The same goes for me. Often the things I notice as trouble spots for my children are things I struggle with myself.

So we are not only parents and teachers but also detectives. Just how do you break your child’s code and understand how God shaped her and how you can direct her in the way she should go?

— Encourage interests. A child that is talented in music should definitely be encouraged in that direction. Does your toddler love to bang pots and pans together? Put on some music and let him have his own concert! Does he love to draw? Keep him well stocked with paper and other art supplies. See what he enjoys and go from there.

— Understand differences. The Lord often pairs an outgoing mother with a shy child (and vice versa). Encourage that child with some behind-the-scenes roles, and watch her shine as you assure her of her value and importance.

— Get ready to be surprised. Children are constantly growing and changing. Don’t be too quick to put your child into a categorical box. They will develop new talents, God will reveal timely gifts and attributes, and they will acquire additional interests as they experience life.

Parenting is all about surprises. Can you imagine the surprise of Mary and Joseph upon finding their 12-year-old son Jesus in the temple among the religious teachers? If you recall the story in Luke 2:41-52, Mary and Joseph had gone to Jerusalem for the Passover. They have been traveling home for a day when they realized that Jesus was not with their group of relatives and friends. Jesus — obedient, never-any-trouble-out-of-this-kid Jesus — is not where he is supposed to be. They find him “in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions” (Luke 2:46). Sometimes perhaps we are surprised that our children’s gifts and talents, their strengths and weaknesses, reveal themselves before we are ready for it to happen.

Then again, there is a blessing all its own in that of a “late bloomer.” Jedidiah’s son, Samuel, used the creative intellect that was constantly spilling over his canvases to develop the first successful electric telegraph in the United States. He was Samuel F.B. Morse — artist first, inventor second — known by all as the genius behind the Morse Code. His invention made it possible to send messages to all the places on his minister/geographer father’s maps.

His first message? “What hath God wrought” (Numbers 23:23 KJV), which is translated in my NIV Bible as “See what God has done!”

As you go about breaking the code today, remember the One who invented your child will be your best resource for deciphering her.
Powell is the author of the devotional book “Baby Boot Camp: Surviving the First Six Weeks of Motherhood,” available by calling toll-free 1-877-421-READ (7323) or on the Internet at www.rebeccapowell.com.

    About the Author

  • Rebecca Ingram Powell