Every year, Lim Chien Chong writes a letter to his sons, Joshua and Elijah.

On their birthdays, he pens a two-page reflection of what has happened in their lives over the past year.

He recounts how the Lord has been good to them, tells them how they have been a blessing to Mum and Dad, thanks the Lord for them, and expresses his hopes for them.

The letters come with photographs of key events, carefully curated by his wife Sue San.

Over the years, the annual letters have formed a “journal” of their lives.

His sons like the idea, reports the Teaching & Resource Director of Singapore Youth For Christ. “It makes me feel good,” one told him.

And so far, he adds, they haven’t asked him to stop.

The joy that his sons, who are now teenagers, get from reading their father’s letters reminds Chien Chong of the joy all followers of Christ should get from reading the Bible.

“It’s our Father’s words to us,” he says. “We are reading the Bible in the context of the relationship we have with our Father.”

But Chien Chong doesn’t depend on the annual birthday letter to communicate with his sons. He is always looking for “seasons” to engage Joshua and Elijah—whenever they arise.

Being always ready to seize the moment to communicate God’s truth with his sons, he says, is rooted in Paul’s instructions in 2 Timothy 4:2: “preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.”

He adds: “The challenge is to engage them when they want to talk, or when there’s an opportunity to relate with them. When they are ready to communicate, we must be ready too.”

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When to Talk to Your Children

For Chien Chong and Sue San, one of the best times to talk about their day is just before the children go to bed.

This is something both try to do with their children every night. “Those are usually their most receptive moments, especially when they are younger. It’s when they are most talkative and we can review the day,” he says.

But there are also other times when his sons want to talk to him just after he comes home from work, for example.

Parents should not miss such valuable moments, he says, even though they may be tired after a long day’s work.

“That’s why we need to save some of our energy for our spouse and children,” he says. “If you’re exhausted before you go home, and that’s the time they want to engage you, then you’ll miss the moment.”

By the same token, parents need not fret if their children are not always interested in talking, or if they themselves are not always able to engage their kids.

For example, Chien Chong doesn’t start a conversation with his sons on the way to and from school, because they’re usually either too sleepy or tired. “But if one of them suddenly starts to talk about something at school, I’ll be ready to catch that moment.”

“We need to save some of our energy for our spouse and children. If you’re exhausted before you go home, then you’ll miss the moment.”

Ephesians 6:4, he says, reminds him that parents are to bring up their children “in the training and instruction of the Lord”, which implies that they need to invest time, energy, and creativity into this task, and pray to the Lord for strength and wisdom too.

Engaging Without Judgment

When engaging his children, Chien Chong tries not to do it on his terms every time.

Instead of grabbing every opportunity to lecture them on the dos and don’ts, he tries to hear them out so he can bring across the lesson in a way they can understand.

The challenge, as he puts it, is to find a way to draw the child into a conversation and not shut him down, to relate to him on his own terms, and most importantly, to avoid coming across as judgmental.

Once, while driving home with his family, Chien Chong and his wife found themselves in a conversation about teenage pregnancy.

“Sometimes, young people make a mistake on the spur of the moment,” he recalls telling his sons. “If you can, don’t ever walk that path.”

The moment he said that, Chien Chong immediately realised that he needed to balance that warning.

The challenge is to find a way to draw the child into a conversation and not shut him down, to relate to him on his own terms, and most importantly, to avoid coming across as judgmental.

While it was important to be clear about right and wrong, he felt that he might have come across as judgmental and unsympathetic.

“Oh, no,” he recalls thinking. “If one day they fail to live up to my expectations and instructions, what will they do? So I added, ‘But if something does happen, I want you to know that you still need and have the Lord to help you through, and we will love and support you anyway.’”

He adds: “Sometimes, we put direct or subtle pressure on our kids, ‘You’d better not mess up.’ So they think, ‘If I mess up, I better not tell them.’”

It is a principle that Chien Chong sees in Ephesians 6:4: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children.” This verse, he believes, also shows how parents should not discourage their children and leave them frustrated.

Taking Part in What Our Kids Enjoy

Frank conversation, however, is possible only if parents spend time to build rapport with their kids, says Chien Chong. This has enabled him to have conversations with his sons even about tricky topics like teenage pregnancy.

That’s why he takes pains to do things with his sons, like playing basketball and computer games with them—even though he’s not always very good at it.

“Kids will appreciate our efforts to join them in the things that they enjoy. They may not tell you they appreciate it, but they do.”

Sue San, too, looks out for things that Joshua and Elijah like to do.

Once, when the Harlem Globetrotters were in town, she bought tickets for the whole family—and sat through the game even though she had no interest in basketball.

Both Chien Chong and Sue San are well aware that boys prefer doing things rather than talking all the time.

“That’s their language,” he says, “and kids will appreciate our efforts to join them in the things that they enjoy. They may not tell you they appreciate it, but they do. Perhaps they don’t feel that they need to say it, so we think they don’t. But I think they’re aware of what we’re doing.”

Bringing the Bible into Everyday Things

Beyond engaging his sons on important topics, Chien Chong also takes pains to bring lessons from Scripture into daily life, such as using the language of the Bible in family conversations.

For example, when correcting his sons, instead of focusing on the punishment they will get, he’ll say, “If you do this thing, you will displease me as a father.”

That, he believes, reflects what Paul was trying to say in Colossians 1:10, when he urged believers to please God in every way.

“It is not just because we fear punishment, but more importantly, because we don’t want to displease Him,” says Chien Chong. “I try to talk to my kids the way God talks to me.”

Once, when his younger son broke something, Chien Chong allowed the older boy to make amends for his brother by replacing it.

He then explained to them that this reflected how Jesus atoned for us. “If the one is prepared to right the wrong for the other, I told them I would accept his ‘sacrifice’, just as God accepted Jesus’ sacrifice for our sake,” he says.

On another occasion, Chien Chong paid for something else his sons broke, but explained to them that nothing was free; every mistake had to be paid for by someone, just as our sin cost Jesus His life.

“This is just one way I try to build the truths of the gospel into our conversations,” he says.

Involving Other People

As much as Chien Chong is ready to “seize the moment”, he is also not too hung up on it, knowing full well that there will come a time when his sons prefer to talk to their friends.

“We are learning to accept it as a new norm, and to think of other ways to engage and support them,” he says.

For that reason, he and his wife take pains to involve other people in their relationship with their sons.

“There may come a time when we cannot get through to them. That’s when hopefully their cousins, the different uncles and aunties, and other adults in their lives can serve as arbitrators,” he says.

Ultimately, says Chien Chong, parents must always look to God for help.

“Psalms 127:3 teaches us that ‘children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him.’ If we truly acknowledge that children are God’s gift, then we will definitely need His grace and wisdom to nurture this gift.”

Chien Chong’s Tips for Connecting with Your Children

  • Reserve time and energy to connect with your children.
  • Be ready to “seize the moment” when your children want to talk.
  • Don’t try to force them into conversations.
  • Listen to what they say—don’t just lecture.
  • Ask them what they think about a situation—don’t just jump to judgment.
  • Assure them of your continued love and support, even as you teach them about right and wrong.
  • Look for opportunities to apply biblical principles and ideas to everyday situations and incidents.
  • Involve other adults and relatives in your relationship with your children.
Leslie Koh spent more than 15 years as a journalist in The Straits Times before moving to Our Daily Bread Ministries. He’s found moving from bad news to good news most rewarding, and still believes that nothing reaches out to people better than a good, compelling story. He likes eating (a lot), travelling, running, editing, and writing.
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