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BIBLICAL WISDOM FOR PARENTS

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I’M STRESSED ABOUT MY CHILD’S EDUCATION

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SV316

Ruth Wan-Lau


introduction

The Academic Race

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mma is only 3 years old and isn’t due to go to school for another 2 years, but she is already attending English classes every week. “It can’t be helped,” explains her mother, Michelle. “She needs to learn to read soon, otherwise she’ll fall behind.” Isaac, 9, attends three different tuition classes just for his Chinese. Each week, he goes for tuition class, has a home tutor help him with composition writing, and sharpens his oral skills online with a university student in China. 1


Claudia, meanwhile, is going for more examcramming classes in the lead-up to her primary school final exams, which will determine the secondary school she goes to next year. The 11-year-old’s mother, Angeline, has just cancelled a family holiday. “I want my daughter to get into the best school, so I signed her up for extra classes,” she says. In many countries, there is strong pressure on children to do well in school. In Singapore, for example, it is common for pre-schoolers to attend extra classes, and even more so for older children. Some parents, like Michelle, send their kids for classes from as young as 3. Others, like Isaac’s parents, send their children to as many as three tuition classes for each subject. As a result, many children have little time to play or rest. They stay up late, overloaded with schoolwork, tuition homework, and additional work given to them by their parents. But many parents say they are doing all this only because of the competitive environment that their kids are growing up in. “Everybody in my class is stressed,” confides 12-year-old Joel. “Our teacher told us that our exam scores will affect what jobs we get, which will affect how much money we earn, which will affect how well we do in life. Everybody felt like giving up after hearing that.” 2

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As parents, we want the best for our children. We want them to have a bright future and to succeed in life. We cannot do much to change the system we live in, so we use all the resources we have to ensure that our children get the best opportunities. Isn’t this what loving our children means? However, while wanting the best for our children is natural, we can fall into the dangerous trap of overdoing it. As Christians, we want to please God in everything, including how we guide our children through the academic race. To avoid getting carried away, it’s good to anchor ourselves in the Word of God—and indeed, to God himself. So let’s take time to reflect: just how much emphasis does God want us to place on academic studies compared to other priorities? What does He say our first priority for our children should be? What does He say about how our children should study? How can we manage the fears we feel? Let’s explore this together. Ruth Wan-Lau

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contents one

Children are God’s Gifts .

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two

Parents are God’s Stewards

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Education is about God and His Creation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

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four

Resting in God’s Rule . five

Living Out God’s Wisdom .

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EDITOR: Chia Poh Fang, Amos Khan, Leslie Koh COVER DESIGN: Mary Tham COVER IMAGE: Shutterstock INTERIOR DESIGN: Mary Tham INTERIOR IMAGES: Shutterstock All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION® Anglicized, NIV® Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. All rights reserved © 2019 Our Daily Bread Ministries Printed in Indonesia


one

Children are God’s Gifts

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hen you look at your child, what do you see? “I see a mouth to feed.”

“I see myself.” “I see someone who is going to be better than me.”

Children are many things to their parents. But the Bible helps us see our children for who they really are: Children are a gift from the Lord. (Psalm 127:3 nlt) For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in 7


my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. (Psalm 139:13–14)

Our children are from God himself. He created each of them lovingly and gave them to us as precious gifts to treasure. Every child is uniquely created by God. Let’s take a moment to marvel at this deep biblical truth: Every child is a unique and eternal soul—one of a kind. There are no copies in God’s world, not even among twins. In all the expanse of time—past, present, and future—there is only ever going to be one of your child in this whole universe. So, how can we apply this biblical truth to the academic race?

Avoid comparison Understanding that every child is unique helps us avoid one of the most lethal traps of parenting—comparison. Although our children may look like us, and may share our temperament or mannerisms, they are not us. It is not helpful to compare them to ourselves. Similarly, we should avoid comparing our children to other children, be it their siblings or their peers. Comparing can lead to much unhappiness. Esther felt her heart grow anxious as she listened to her colleague, Jessica, exclaim: “My daughter, Mei Ling, is 8

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attending a great tuition class for science. She learnt special exam strategies and scored the highest marks in her class!” Esther wondered if she should send Daniel, her son, for the programme. “Mei Ling is a top scorer in Science!” Esther told Daniel when she got home. “You should be more like her!”

The Bible reminds us that every child is unique. Every child has different strengths and weaknesses. Not every child is strong in all subjects, skills, and disciplines. When we compare our child to others, we may end up trying to fit him or her into a pre-determined mould. Avoiding comparison will enable us to set realistic expectations for each child’s academic journey. It will save us unnecessary anxiety if we keep in mind that we cannot expect every child to do equally well in every subject.

Your child is a gift, not a product Most of us would object if someone suggested that children are like consumer products. But could we be in danger of treating them that way? We demand full satisfaction from the products we have purchased. If we are unhappy with them, we reject or try to upgrade them. And when we are happy with our products, we like to brag about them, because good products reflect well on their owner, don’t they? Could we be treating our children the same way? When our children do not perform, do we feel unhappy

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with them? Do we say or do things that might make them feel rejected? Do we try to “upgrade” them with extra classes? When they do well in school, do we show them off? Do we want our children to do well because it reflects well on us? The Bible tells us that our children are not products, but persons. They are eternal and unique persons gifted to us by God. Instead of adopting a mentality of achievement—“I will be happy only if you (my product) perform to a standard that satisfies me”—let us put on the mentality of stewardship. Parenting is a stewardly privilege—each child is a unique gift from the Lord—and in the next chapter, we will discuss the first priority of parenting.

Reflect 1. How can I remind myself every day that my child is a unique and eternal soul created by God? 2. How can I refrain from comparing my child to me, his siblings, or his peers? 3. In what ways might I be treating my child as a product?

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two

Parents are God’s Stewards

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enjamin!” Carol hollered, “Get your shoes on!” Her 4-year-old son was late for his maths enrichment class. Carol dropped him off at class, then picked him up after it ended. “Do you have any maths homework?” she asked him on the way home. Benjamin nodded. Before dinner, he was made to watch an hour-long video showing Chinese words on flash cards. “I will test Benjamin on the flash cards after he finishes his maths homework,” Carol thought to herself. “I really want him to get a head start!” As parents, our day is often fully occupied with the 11


needs of our children. Even when we are not physically with them, their needs and the responsibility for their well-being occupies much of our thoughts. Did he take his nap today? Why does she keep falling sick? What can I do to make him less strong-willed? How do I get her to stop throwing tantrums? Why can’t he sit still in class? Should I send her for extra classes? Why is he so careless during tests? How can I motivate her to study harder? We worry because we love our children and want the best for them. But taking care of their practical concerns is not the chief end of parenting. The Bible reminds us parents with startling clarity what our priority should be:

Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. (Proverbs 22:6 esv)

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. (Deuteronomy 6:5–8)

The Bible tells us that our first priority in parenting is to teach our children to love the Lord with all their heart, soul, and might. This ultimate aim is not to be overshad12

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owed by other concerns, including academic ones. But what does teaching our children to love God look like on a daily basis?

Put God before academic concerns It means putting God first in the use of our time and resources. For example, we could share the gospel story with our children—not just once, but regularly. Helping them to understand who God is, what He has done for us, the impact of sin, the need for repentance, and the saving grace of our Lord Jesus Christ is among the most vital spiritual treasures we could leave our children with. We should pray for and with our children regularly, about every area of life, and teach them godly values, such as through regular family devotions, serving together in church, and by setting an example. Putting God first means proactively carving out and protecting time and energy to plan and execute such spiritual pursuits, and not allowing our children’s daily schedules involving school and enrichment activities to overwhelm or overtake our spiritual priorities.

Make time to remember God Putting God first also means ensuring that our children have time to remember Him in. Committing time to learn about God and to fellowship with His people in church—instead of filling the weekend with extra

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classes—may seem difficult. But this is part of God’s plan for all creation. Spiritual development and refreshment are an essential element of our spiritual journey. Note, however, that the responsibility for our children’s spiritual development does not lie with the church. Passages such as Proverbs 22:6 and Deuteronomy 6:5–8 speak directly to parents. Both passages also reveal what we are to teach our kids. God has given us the duty to instruct our children, first and foremost, about sacred matters, not about their studies. There is a saying, “If we don’t teach our kids to follow Christ, the world will teach them not to.” In the midst of the academic race, we need to remember that our first priority is a sacred one—teaching our children to know Him and love Him. Perhaps some of us may feel that taking charge of our children’s spiritual growth is a tall order. But God does not give us this task without equipping us properly. As we go to Him to surrender our fears and worries, and as we grow in own walk with Him, God will enable us to carry out our sacred duty of teaching our children to know and love Him each day, even through our mistakes.

Reflect 1. What are some things I can do to emphasise godliness over academic achievement? 14

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2. How can I carve out and protect time for gospel sharing, prayer, and devotions with my children? 3. What can I do to make meeting God’s people a priority for my family?

Do not frustrate, but model God’s love Teaching our children to love God also means relating to them in accordance with God’s instruction: Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4 esv)

Paul exhorts us to consider the mental and emotional well-being of our children. Yet it is all too easy to forget this in the academic race. “What kind of results are these?” Jacob shouted at 10-year-old Gareth, who had just brought home his exam scores. “Are you really that dumb? You better study harder!” he threatened. Gareth burst into tears.

When we place unreasonable expectations on our children or place an unforgiving emphasis on high performance, we create a sense of rejection in their hearts, which may then lead to bitterness and anger. But God’s Word reminds us: Do not provoke your children to anger. Do not make them bitter. Do not make them feel rejected.

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Instead, we are called to imitate God in the way He loves His children and has mercy on them. Like God’s love, our love for our children should not be conditional and based on performance. Instead, we are to be “compassionate and gracious . . . slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness” (Psalm 86:15). As recipients of God’s grace, are we showing the same grace to our children in the academic race?

Reflect 1. What can I do to guard my children’s mental and emotional well-being, and not add to their stress? 2. Have I given my children the impression that I will love them less if they don’t do well in their studies? How can I reassure them that I will love them no matter how they do? 3. How can I show God’s mercy and love to my children every day? What would it look like, sound like, and feel like?

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three

Education is about God and His Creation

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hat is it about the academic race that makes parents so stressed?

Some will point to the fast-paced, competitive society we live in, where standards are high and everybody competes for the top spot. Children are under great pressure to obtain flawless grades—on top of stellar extra-curricular achievements—to get into better schools so that they can ultimately secure better jobs later on. Others will point to schools continually raising their academic standards. “The maths is so hard—I don’t even 17


understand my daughter’s maths problem sums any more!” says Dinesh, father of 8-year-old Julia. Still other parents say the methods of assessment make it harder for students to study on their own. “The exams test things that are not taught in class. That’s why we need so much tuition,” says Su Ching, mother of 12-year-old Elliot. There is no denying that most of us can do little to change the society we live in. These are significant external factors that contribute to our stress level. But the Bible points out that the key factor is internal: our sinful hearts.

Is education our idol? They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. (Exodus 32:8)

When we read of the Israelites worshipping the golden calf they made, we may say to ourselves, “I would never bow down to a golden calf!” But what if the golden calves of today are not visible? What if idols of today lurk inside our hearts and minds? The things we turn into idols may not necessarily be bad things in themselves—they could be good things that we have turned into ultimate things. They could be legitimate goals that we have turned into ultimate goals. There is always a struggle inside us; our sinful, idolatrous hearts 18

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are prone to taking a good endeavour—like education or wanting a bright future for our children—and turning it into our main goal, to be pursued at all costs. When education is our idol, we will become disproportionately angry when our children fail and overly proud when they succeed. When education is our idol, we will be unbearably insecure or overly confident when we compare our children to others. When education is our idol, we will make it our number one priority in life to ensure our children succeed, even if it means compromising spiritual priorities. We cannot serve both our idols and God. Jesus made it clear that we cannot serve two masters: “Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other” (Matthew 6:24). Building on Jesus’ fundamental point that we cannot serve both God and money, Sir Francis Bacon once said, “Money is a great servant but a bad master.” We could also say this: “Education is a great servant but a bad master.” Has education—and our desire for our children to succeed—become our idol? It is easy for our hearts to persuade us that we do not have any idols at all. Yet, Scripture reminds us that “the heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure” (Jeremiah 17:9). God repeatedly calls His people to flee idolatry and worship Him alone. This is a lifelong process and it starts

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with us asking God to reveal our own sins to us, as David did in Psalm 139:23–24: Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Reflect 1. What idols grip my heart in the academic race? 2. What can I do to turn from my idols and submit daily to God?

Can we see education differently? Although we may stop turning education into an idol, the academic race, school system, and exams will not disappear—unfortunately! But we can transform the way we see education, and how we deal with these stresses. The first question Jennifer used to ask Amos when the 14-year-old came home from school was, “Do you have any homework?” These days, she intentionally asks a different question: “What did you learn about God’s creation today?” When she first asked Amos that, he laughed out loud. “What kind of question is that, Mum? I had English, Chinese, mathematics, biology, chemistry,

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and history classes today! Don’t we learn about God only on Sundays?” His mother smiled. “No, Amos. All those academic subjects are about God’s creation!”

Education gives us the precious opportunity to marvel at God’s creation and God the Creator. As Psalm 19:1–2 says: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge”. All academic subjects provide an opportunity to learn more about God. Through languages, we learn about the diversity of races and cultures God has allowed to flourish around the world. Through mathematics and science, we learn about the orderliness of creation and how it has been masterfully engineered and fine-tuned. The study of plants and animals points to God’s creative handiwork. The study of history points to both the dignity and sinfulness of humanity. And the list goes on. God is a visual artist, musician, mathematician, scientist, engineer, and so much more. In short, education is not just about grades—it’s about God. When we turn education into the pursuit of exam grades, we lose the opportunity to help our children examine God’s creation and link it back to Him. When we see studying as merely lessons to sit through, we lose the chance to give our children the best lesson of all: that God is the Lord of all creation, and indeed, the Lord of the academic race.

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Reflect 1. In what ways might I be communicating to my children the idea that education is all about exam scores? 2. How can I have more meaningful conversations with my children, and help them to see that education is about God’s creation and God himself?

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four

Resting in God’s Rule

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awn bowed her head. Her son Mark, 9, had

been careless in his English exam, and had received a “B” grade when it could have been an “A”. Dawn was anxious, but she remembered Paul’s words in Romans 12:2. “I don’t want to conform to the pattern of this world. I want to be transformed by the renewing of my mind,” Dawn found herself saying out loud in prayer. “I don’t want to overreact. But Lord, do I just let Mark continue being careless? Won’t that just encourage him to have a poor study attitude? What should I do, Lord?” 23


What does it mean to see God as the Lord of the academic race? Is it just praying for our children and leaving them alone? Biblical wisdom suggests otherwise. There are three ways we can help our children put God at the centre of the academic race.

It means studying for God Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord. (Colossians 3:23)

Right now, our children’s primary occupation is to be students. We can thus encourage them by showing them how they have a much more meaningful purpose for studying than simply achieving top marks. God’s Word speaks to them this way: They are to study for the Lord. Take note: this means our children are not to study for us, to meet our expectations. Nor are they to study for themselves, for self-glory. Instead, their ultimate goal in studying is this: to glorify God. If our children do well in school, we may be tempted to pat ourselves on the back or give all praise to their abilities. But it is God who deserves the glory. After all, He created our children and gave them their abilities. And if they struggle academically, the first person we should turn to—with our children—is God, our source of strength and wisdom. Our children should not be defined by their grades. 24

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Instead, they should be defined by God, a loving and personal God who created each one of them uniquely, and who has a plan for all His children, no matter how they score in exams. Keeping this in mind will help us keep our perspective when our children get what we perceive as less-than-ideal exam results.

Reflect 1. How can I encourage my children not to study for me or for self-glory, but for a bigger purpose—to glorify God? 2. How can I help my children avoid defining themselves by their grades, and instead trust in their identity in God?

It means being hardworking We can encourage our children to study “with all [their] heart” (Colossians 3:23). This means being diligent. As Proverbs 13:4 says: A sluggard’s appetite is never filled, but the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied.

The Bible does not command our children to produce top grades, but it does exhort them to be diligent and put in their best effort. Encouraging our children to be

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diligent does not contradict our desire to put God at the centre of the academic race. In fact, it is pleasing to the Lord for our children to adopt a responsible attitude towards their studies. In other words, our goal as parents is to encourage our children to be their best, not to be the best. If they are doing their best, we should be proud of them even if they do not top their class.

Reflect 1. Do I praise my children only when they do well in school? How can I remind myself to praise them for doing their best? 2. How can I encourage my children to be diligent in their studies?

It means trusting God with our children’s future Seeing God as the Lord of the academic race means we can trust Him with our children’s future. Whenever we are gripped with anxiety—about our children’s grades, about what school they will make it to, or whether we have done enough to help them—the Bible points us back to God. God’s Word reassures us that He 26

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is the ultimate security for us as well as our children: Whoever fears the Lord has a secure fortress, and for their children it will be a refuge. (Proverbs 14:26) Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6–7)

We can banish anxiety and stay calm in the face of stress because God is our refuge. We can commit all things to prayer, trusting that He who secured our eternal future in Christ Jesus is more than able to secure our life on earth, and the future of our children. It is easy to grow anxious when we chat with our friends and hear about whose child got into an elite school, or which tuition class is the best. Anxiety can arise in our hearts even though we try our best to fight it. Before we know it, our trust in God has evaporated completely. That is why the call to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2) is a daily process. When panic strikes, when anxiety comes, we can run to Him and remember how we are called to fear the Lord more than we fear the world. Fearing the Lord means recognising His lordship over our lives and those of our children. It means acknowledging that we cannot engineer our children’s future

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perfectly. It means surrendering our own insecurities and trusting in Him. Ultimately, it is the Lord who guides each of us. We don’t have perfect knowledge, perfect power, or perfect control. But He does. God will never let go of His children. He is a help and shield to those who fear Him and trust in Him. We can prayerfully commit our children’s academic journey to Him, knowing that He loves them much more than we ever could.

Reflect 1. How much do I trust God with my children’s academic journey? What can I do to grow this trust? 2. How can I continue to fear God as I plan my children’s time and resources?

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five

Living Out God’s Wisdom

H

ere is a summary of what we have explored so far:

1. Children are gifts from God. 2. Each child is uniquely created by God. 3. Therefore, we should refrain from comparing our children with others. 4. Children are persons, not products. 29


5. It is our stewardly privilege to guide and coach them. 6. Our first priority is to instruct them to know God and love Him. 7. We must set aside time and resources to put God first, above our children’s academic schedules. 8. We must ensure our children have time to rest and remember God. 9. We are not to provoke our children to anger by rejecting them and allowing bitterness to grow in them. 10. Harbouring idols in our hearts may be a key reason why we feel stressed about the academic race. 11. God calls on us to surrender the idols we have, whether the idol of education or the idol of success. 12. Education is a wonderful opportunity to learn about God’s creation and God himself. 13. He is Lord of the academic race. 14. Our children are to study for God, not for us or themselves. 15. Studying for God means we give God the glory, we turn to Him for strength, and we remember that grades don’t define our children—God does. 16. Studying for God also means studying diligently. 17. The goal is for our children to do their best, not to be the best. 30

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18. We should be proud of them when they put in their best effort. 19. We can trust God with our children’s future. 20. Fear the Lord and trust in Him daily, for He is our help and shield in the academic race. There is no guaranteed formula for getting through the academic race. Every family has different circumstances, and every child is different. However, the Bible provides eternal and unchanging wisdom that we can all take to heart. Of course, it is possible to get through the academic race without God. Our children may even win the race with excellent results. But will they have received the most valuable treasure in life? Stefanie will always remember the day her daughter, Kayla, received news that she had secured a full scholarship to Stanford University in America. Stefanie had devoted her very best—in time and resources—to Kayla’s education. However, her heart broke when Kayla announced to her at the airport, “Mum, I don’t believe in God any more.”

Indeed, what good is it if our children gain the whole world, but lose their souls (Mark 8:36)? Should we get so caught up in our children’s academic race that we forget God’s first priority for our children—to love Him? As parents, we have been given the privilege of stewardship

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and a sacred responsibility to teach our children. So let’s step back and ponder: What is the one thing I definitely do not want them to abandon? What is the one thing they absolutely need in life? A living and growing relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ! Of course, as we face the stress of the academic race, we may be swayed and momentarily forget to keep an eternal perspective. To help us persevere in fearing and trusting God, here are some things you can do:

Search your heart regularly 1. Reflect: Meet God regularly and set aside time for Him and His Word. Think about the reflection questions in this booklet, and journal down your thoughts. Revisit these questions regularly. 2. Pray for yourself: Ask for God’s forgiveness if you have not been following biblical wisdom in taking your child through the academic race. Ask God to show you the changes you need to make, such as in spending your time and resources wisely, focusing family conversations on God, or conveying the right attitudes to your children. Ask God to teach you to be obedient and to trust in Him. 3. Pray for your child: Ask God to help your children discover His creation through education, to study for Him, and to do so diligently. 32

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Be intentional 1. Flee temptation: Flee from situations that may tempt you to get caught up in the academic race. For example, avoid situations or conversations that may make you unnecessarily anxious. 2. Change: Ask God to help you change your outlook and priorities, and let Him renew you through His Spirit and Word. Ask Him to help you change your tone and choice of words as you speak to your child, and your actions and decisions regarding your child’s academic journey, one day at a time (Romans 12:2)!

Be accountable to 1. Your spouse: Work together with your spouse on making biblical wisdom the foundation of your family life. The reflection questions can be a useful tool. 2. Your community: Find other Christian parents who can give you spiritual support and hold you accountable. Pray and share your experiences regularly. When we fully surrender our fears and expectations to God, there will be less cause for anxiety. We will be able to trust that no matter the outcome, God is in control of our children’s future. Some children will do well academically. Some won’t. Some children will excel in particular subjects and struggle in others. God lovingly created our children;

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each of them is a unique and eternal soul. Our goal as parents is for them to know God and love Him with all their heart, mind, and soul; we can teach them to see education as learning about God’s creation, to study for God, to study diligently, and to do their best. As we continue to do our best for our children, let’s not do it at the expense of our first priority—teaching them to love God and put Him first. We need to keep in mind the ultimate goal, which is to help them nurture their personal love relationship with Christ. As we journey with our kids, we can show them that we too need God’s wisdom to get through the academic race. Learning to deal biblically with this race can be a journey of spiritual growth, both for our children and ourselves. May our children see our dependence on God, and in turn, surrender their lives to Him. Lord, I acknowledge You as the Creator of my children. I thank You that they are uniquely and wonderfully made, and You have a plan for each of them. Show me how I can teach my children to love You with all their heart, soul, and might. Help me to set aside time and resources to put You first. Help me to carve out time for my children to rest, so that they may remember You. Lord, take away the idols in my heart, and help me to see education as an opportunity for my children to marvel

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at Your creation and discover Your wonderful handiwork, so that they may study diligently in order to glorify You. I pray that they will do their best, and I pray that I will continue learning to trust You. Please be my help and my shield. Use everything, even the mistakes that I make, to point my children to You. And finally, I pray for them to have a personal relationship with You, the living God, above all else.

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