What makes us who we are? How did we get this way? For years scientists, psychologists, and scholars have debated the issue of “nature versus nurture.” Some say we are defined through “nature,” which refers to our genes, our DNA, and our coding. Nature determines things such as eye color, ear size, hair texture, and height. However, it is unknown how much nature plays a part in things such as intelligence, likes and dislikes, and personality.
Others say that “nurture” is the dominant factor. Nurture refers to our environment as a child, our personal experiences, our home life, relationships, etc. These experiences help shape the course of our life and may determine hobbies, interests, or career choices.
The general consensus is that you can’t contribute 100% of our characteristics to nature or nurture alone. The issue is how much influence nature or nurture has in different areas. While nature determines our blood type, nurture is the primary influence on things like language and religion.
Recently, new research has turned the whole nature versus nurture debate on its head. For years scientists believed it only mattered what genes you had or didn’t have. Epigenetics, the science of how the environment influences genetic expression, may change all that. Scientists have been able now to prove that factors like stress, nutrition, and exposure to toxins all play a role in how genes are expressed—which genes are turned off or on. This shows that genes aren’t static but can have different behaviors based on their environment.
A study was conducted on some lab rats in which mothers were observed interacting with their babies. They discovered that some mothers naturally lick and groom their babies more than others. They also noticed mothers that licked and groomed their babies the most wound up with offspring that grew into adults that were less stressed when they were put into mildly stressful situations. The ones that groomed their babies less, however, had offspring that were more stressed out. In order to determine if this was an effect of experience, they switched the babies. What they found was that the experience the baby rats had with their maternal figure made all the difference. It didn’t matter which mother they were born to—it only mattered which mother raised them. Those raised by the less affectionate mothers grew up to be more stressed.
The question then became how these early experiences had such long-term effects. The answer was found in epigenetics. Scientists discovered brain cells in the baby rats with specific genes that get “switched on” when the babies are licked and groomed. The switching on of these genes leads cells to build proteins which help moderate stress responses into adulthood because the genes stay switched on! Their study proved how experiences can influence what the genes are doing, in a way that has a long term effect.
Now, this doesn’t mean that everyone is fated to a certain outcome based on their early childhood experiences. It is believed that experiences later in life can also have an effect on genes. And repeated experiences can even amend or mitigate experiences that happened early on. The point remains, however, that what happens to us as a child stays with us throughout our lifetime.
This new data also suggests that our experiences can produce biological effects which can then be transmitted to the next generation. In other words, if we effect change in the lives and genes of our children it is possible for that genetic change to be passed on to the next generation, for good or bad. All of this information is coming from a secular scientific community, however, and that leaves out one big component—the God factor!
We are not only made up of flesh and blood, but also a spirit inside each of us!
Psalm 139:14 tells us we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” God knew us before we were even formed. He knew what color our eyes would be, our hair, the shape of our chin…everything about us. The Bible declares we were made in the image and likeness of God. And while a baby is innocent in that he or she has no understanding of right or wrong, it is also true we were all born sinners in need of a Savior (Romans 3:23). Everyone is born with a longing in their heart for something more—a purpose in life and something or someone to revere and worship. Left unchecked and unfettered, humanity will veer into a life of sin, chaos, and hopelessness.
“The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies” (Psalm 58:3).
This brings us to the crux of the matter. By nature, we sin; by nature, we are lost; by nature, we are born sinners; by nature, we are drawn to sin! Nature is a strong force and determines many things in life—it can even affect personality traits. Nature does not have the final say, however; especially when we involve the Creator!
“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).
Moms we have a challenge! We have an uphill battle, especially in this generation! We are surrounded by evil, perversion, and depravity! In the midst of a world that will constantly expose our children to values opposite of God’s, we must raise them in a God-fearing and nurturing home. We must take the opportunity to influence our children for good! We must lead them and teach them in the ways of God and His Word. Because here is the other factor we haven’t considered—free will! As our kids mature, they will grow and assert their independence. When they are free to make their own choices, we pray to God they are the right ones. So in the meantime, we have to teach them right from wrong, how to resist temptation, how to be saved, how to pray, and how to live holy!
Our children will never become holy without effort and discipline. In nature, there is a law known as the “law of disorder.” Albert Einstein called it the most basic law of science. Everything in our universe, when left to itself, tends towards more and more disorder. For a mom, you know this is true when you walk into the toy room after the kids are finished playing! If you leave a garden to nature, it will be overcome by weeds. The same can be said of our children. If left to nature without boundaries, they will veer towards a life that is chaotic and out of order.
The Scripture states, “Train up a child.” To train means to instruct; to initiate in the way he should choose or follow. We should begin this training as soon as our children are able to receive instruction.
“When he is old, he will not depart from it.” It won’t be done easily or ordinarily. Even if they do stray from the path, they will have been instilled with the principles of God. We must purposefully nurture them towards God and a life of holiness.
As mothers, we hold a lot of power and ability to influence our children. Consider these mothers in the Bible:
Jochebed, mother of Moses
Through her cunningness and wisdom, Jochebed saved Moses’ life and secured a job as his nursemaid. In those days it was not uncommon for mothers to nurse their children up to the age of six. As a young child at Jochebed’s feet, Moses learned who he was and about his heritage. Although he spent years in Pharoah’s court surrounded by Egyptians, he never forgot the words of his mother. He would eventually defend a beaten brother, and arise to be the man who led all of Israel out of bondage.
Rebekah, mother of Esau & Jacob
The Bible tells us that Isaac loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob. As Isaac was approaching death and his eyes were dim, Rebekah concocted a plan to help Jacob steal the blessing of his father from Esau. He listened and obeyed his mother and received the blessing. Although Jacob was later blessed, it created a huge rift in the family. Esau wanted to kill Jacob and was so bitter he went against his parents wishes and married outside of their faith. Jacob had to flee for his life, and for years they were estranged! All because of a mother’s favoritism and choice to deceive her husband.
Mother of Shem, Ham, & Japeth
Noah and his wife had three sons who all grew up and married. Over the course of several years, Noah was building the ark. Many mocked and made fun of him for following God’s instruction without any evidence of the horrible flood to come. No doubt Noah’s wife spent many hours teaching her boys that the word of the Lord was true and to be heeded above all else. We see that when the floods came, all three of the boys and their wives joined Noah and his wife on the boat! Not one of them chose to stay behind, even though no other human on earth chose to get on board. What a huge testament to Noah’s wife and the influence she had on her boys!
The widow of 1 Kings 17
This lady was a single parent raising a son all alone. She is poor and preparing a last meal for herself and her son with no hope in sight. Along comes Elijah and he requests something to eat and drink. When she explains her situation, he says, “That’s okay—make me a cake first, then use what’s left for you and your son. I promise the flour and oil will not run out.” So this single, widowed, mother chooses to model faith for her child and also to bless the man of God. Just like God promised, she never ran out of flour or oil again!
Eunice, mother of Timothy; & Lois, grandmother of Timothy
I Timothy 1:5 tells us Timothy’s faith came to him through these two godly women. Even though his moment of conversion came through the preaching of the Apostle Paul, he was ready to receive it due to years of godly influence by these women. Timothy’s mother was a Jew and a believer, but the Bible says his father was a Greek. Jews were not to marry a pagan or one outside their faith. We don’t know for sure how their union came to be, but it’s clear that Timothy was being raised by two parents of opposing beliefs. Eunice, with the help of her own mother, taught and trained Timothy in all the ways of God and His Word. She acknowledged her own mistakes, but encouraged Timothy to live fully sold out to God. Timothy became a great man of God and ministered to the needs of Paul, who called Timothy his “son in the gospel.” He eventually became a pastor of a church in Ephesus.
These examples show us the power of a Mother’s influence! You are the nurturers of future generations. You quite literally hold the future in your hands. Mothering is one of the most significant occupations most of us will ever hold! Our impact can last for generations. We must nurture our children toward God.
“I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase” (1 Corinthians 3:6).
Paul understood that “nature and nurture” both contributed to the growth of the Corinthian believers. Paul preached to them and Apollos provided follow up. Paul and Apollos were the nurturers, but the story doesn’t end there. Paul points to an internal and eternal influence when he states, “God gave the increase.” Because only God can transform the inside of man and change his heart! Only God can forgive sins and fill us with the Holy Ghost. God chooses to use us as nurturers to lead people to Christ!
As mothers, our children are an important responsibility. We are responsible for their spiritual growth at a young age. This is where nurture has an edge over nature! If we lead our kids to the Creator, He is the one who has the power to change their nature! He can sanctify, redeem, renew, forgive, mold, shape, and change! If we do our part, God can and will do the rest! Your influence can determine the course of your child’s life and everyone they will come in contact with in their lifetime.
“For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous!” (Romans 5:19).
What if, because of your teaching and influence, your child answers their call to be a missionary? How many will be saved? Conversely, what if you drive them toward worldly pursuits and they miss their calling? Although God may send someone else in their place, what will become of your child’s salvation and purpose in life?
Romans 11:29 tells us the gifts and calling of God are without repentance. One of our responsibilities is to help our kids find their gifts and calling, as well as teaching them the ways of God. We do this in the same way we teach them everything else in life, by example and instruction. We teach our children common everyday things that make them into strong, functioning, clean, and hygienic adults! In like manner, we should teach them how to pray, fast, be faithful to church, worship, pay tithes, seek God’s will…our kids will get it. They will learn if we parent with purpose.
The nurturing we provide through spiritual guidance can change their very nature! Nurture your young children, your adult children, and your grandchildren. Lead them to the One who has the power to change their nature!