Hannah Hagarty is a writer and artist.She and her husband raise their family of eight kids, one dog, twelve rabbits and too many chickens on the west coast of Florida. They are passionate about seeing marriages redeemed for God’s glory and the church as the answer to the foster crisis. They currently direct life groups for Awaken Church of North Port, FL.
You can follow her on Instagram @hannahhagarty
Sharing our story at a recent marriage conference, my husband Sean and I were recounting a list of the “firsts” that we’ve survived. First among friends to get married, we were also the first to have a child, first to foster, and first to embrace the joyful mayhem of having a large family.
My freckled face had toddled into church at age two and never left. Sean and his mullet met Jesus when he was fourteen. When we married, we knew we wanted our home to reflect something beautiful that we had never seen and did not know how to create – akin to asking a blind man to paint an amazing sunset, having only heard of its existence and seeing only darkness.
It is dinnertime. I plate up food while Sean wrangles the masses with questionably clean hands to the table and begins reading the Word of God. I wish I could tell you that we had mentors to walk us through this journey of building a gospel-centered home or a church that equipped parents well, but mostly we tripped through early years of trial and error, consuming every book and blog we could find by people who were one step ahead of us.
We sing. Off key sometimes, but joyful. We worship; then we eat. Usually, our toddler has finished dinner and is asking for seconds as I hoist him back to the table. I don’t care how many peas get rolled onto the floor for our dog to reject or who is prying a butter knife into the crack in the table, so long as something about these moments and chaotically beautiful days hashing out a gospel-centered home takes root down deep in their hearts.
What are the imperatives for parents and the imperatives for churches in teaching gospel truths to children that we have learned these past seventeen years?
1. As parents, we ought to make the truth and hope of the gospel central to all family life, apparent in discipline, in family worship, in celebration, and in sorrow.
What does this look like for your unique family?
This past month, our kids have extended forgiveness to us as we’ve knelt before them and requested it. They’ve been given correction and their hearts pointed to our mutual need for a Savior. They have watched as I wept with a neighbor who asked what the purpose of life is, and another neighbor stepped into our home and asked us about Jesus. If your home is open, God sends people your way. They’ve hugged struggling friends and cuddled foster babies. They’ve watched their papa walk a few drunk men home to keep them safe and run back inside a store to buy food for a woman on the corner, celebrated the complete work of the cross on Easter Sunday, and stirred a big batch of muffins for the people we stumbled upon living in the woods. We want Jesus to consistently and unashamedly be the why behind the what we do.
2. It is the parent’s responsibility to be intentional about teaching gospel truths.
Gospel-centered homes are not built accidentally.
Several times while Moses is teaching the Israelites the Word of God, he takes time in his teaching to emphatically instruct parents in their responsibility to teach, remind, and keep present in their children’s hearts the Word of God. (Deut. 4:9, 6:7, 11:19) You and I as believing parents – this is our primary role, not the churches.
In our family, we realized that forks full of food in mouths are the only time eight children collectively sit somewhat still. Our dinner table rarely looks like a Norman Rockwell scene and more often like sitcom fodder. As Sean reads, there is no missing Bathsheba from the storyline or lack of uncomfortable questions, and our kids have never been told to be brave like David. It is all there, the gory glory of redemption playing out in the scriptures while peas roll where they may.
Had someone told me in those early days that one day I’d cry with a struggling teenage son, ask forgiveness from a toddler, or learn to breathe deep and care less about a tidy floor for the sake of teaching our children gospel truths, I don’t know what I would have thought.
If you are a pastor or children’s worker, here are suggested ways you can support parents. What an incredible honor your friendship and support have been.
- Preach the gospel.
Oh, that this could go unsaid.
Sermons that convince my teens that the cure for their sin is a little behavior modification, a little try harder and do better, works against us as parents and is contrary to the gospel.
Teach us instead how the gospel permeates into every aspect of school life and home life, how it breathes grace and forgiveness into every relationship, marital, parental, business and otherwise.
2. Equip parents.
As a new wife and mother, I loved the useful resources that were recommended to me. Don’t assume that because someone has a church background that they possess the tools or understanding to build a home that glorifies Christ. I think it safe to assume the opposite. Equip, equip, equip.
My husband and I are big fans of small groups. Do them. Provide childcare for parenting small groups and you’ll be a superstar.
3. Supplement and encourage.
Be an enthusiastic fan of what is happening in the home. We have a fabulous pre-k teacher who is over the moon happy when our kiddo tells her a new verse he’s squirreled away in his little heart. If she breaks it down for him and tells him how it points to the gospel, she is gold in my eyes! If that same teacher hears from him that he lost a privilege for some sort of mischief or trouble, she encourages him with a reminder that Jesus forgives and gives us the strength to move forward – guys, I wish teachers like this for all your churches!
“Tell me what it means, Mama,” five-year-old Benjamin finished reciting a portion of scripture we had been memorizing as a family while I lay beside him on superhero sheets of his bottom bunk. We broke it down together with his little voice filling in bits he’d picked up in Sunday school.
Parents, how great is this opportunity to convey the gospel to our children! Church, how beautiful this opportunity to come alongside parents in this task!