Revive Our Hearts Podcast

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The Power of a Parent’s Influence

Leslie Basham: Holly Elliff reminds moms: Don't grow weary of influencing your children.

Holly Elliff: If at fifteen I surrender my children to their peers as the primary influence in their life, I will not have their heart at eighteen.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of The Quiet Place devotional, for Tuesday, July 3, 2018.

Yesterday Nancy began a conversation with Bill and Holly Elliff. They've been offering practical advice for parents based on the experience they've had raising their eight children. Bill is the pastor of the Summit Church in Little Rock, Arkansas, and Holly is a frequent guest on Revive Our Hearts.

Here's Nancy to pick the conversation back up.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: Well, this is one of those times when we wish that the program was a whole lot longer and that we had a whole lot more time in the studio than what we do today. But Bill and Holly Elliff have been our guests in this series on parenting. Bill and Holly, just thank you so much for letting us peek into your home and your lives and sharing out of that and being with us on Revive Our Hearts today.

Bill Elliff: Oh, we're thrilled to be here.

Holly: Thanks, Nancy.

Nancy: We wish we could go on for a very long time because I've got so many questions that listeners have sent us and said they'd like to hear your counsel on and your wisdom. And so we're just going to take the time we do have and make the most of it. We realize when we do a series like this on parenting or marriage that there are so many types of life situations that we're not addressing.

We can't do it all in one program, or even a few programs, so I understand that there are unique situations that we wish we could address. In other series we will—single parents' homes and hard-to-manage children. We'll talk about what we can in this, but I just want to say we recognize that we're not speaking to everyone's needs.

But what we are saying that applies to everyone in every season of life is that God has grace. In your hard places of life—parenting, marriage, singleness, whatever—you run to Him, you will get grace. That's what you guys keep coming back to when we talk about parenting.

Bill: He's sufficient.

Nancy: He's big.

Bill: Yes.

Nancy: Which doesn't mean it's easy.

Bill: No.

Holly: I wouldn't use the word easy to describe our last thirty-four years, would you, Honey?

Bill: No, no, not at all. I think raising kids, probably as much as anything in our life, has been the issue God has used to push us to Him.

Nancy: It's the hard things in life, generally, that do that.

Bill: Exactly. As you look back, that's the most beneficial moment.

Holly: The pressure of being responsible for your children is the pressure that constantly reveals every single thing in you that does not look like Christ.

Nancy: Right.

Holly: You can't hide in front of your children. You always have little mirrors.

Nancy: You can try.

Holly: You can try, but it won't work.

Nancy: Kids will be glad to point it out to you.

Bill: And everybody else.

Holly: They're very honest. You constantly have someone reflecting areas in your life that are showing up that don't look like Christ.

Nancy: Don't you think it's an important thing for your children to see you being humble about those issues in your own life?

Bill: Well, and being real. I think if you try to create an environment that's just syrupy perfect . . .

Nancy: And that your children are the only ones who need to be corrected . . .

Bill: Right. It's just not reality. I can't tell you how many times I've had to go to my kids and ask their forgiveness and say, "Man, what I did was just really dumb," or "The way that I said that is wrong, and I need your forgiveness." I've said something in front of two or three kids, and I've had to go back and get all of them in a room together and say some things.

Nancy: As your kids get older, do you share with them your own struggles? You've talked in the past, Bill, about how God dealt with you in moral issues.

Bill: Right.

Nancy: Have you shared that with your sons?

Bill: I have, and I think, in just age-appropriate ways. I think God gives you the grace to know they can handle this now or they can't. So you just kind of let that out a little rope at a time to them.

Holly: You guys have made some pacts or covenants together about how you're going to handle certain situations. I remember one time being at the mall and Victoria Secret, I think, was on one side of the mall. I can remember Timothy at about five or six saying, "Eyes, right." And all of our guys turned around and looked the other direction.

Bill: Which we'd taught them to do from old R.O.T.C. training years ago. Eyes to the right . . . and we're going to look away.

Holly: Kids catch things. What happens is, as they watch their older brothers or older sisters making choices that are right choices, it's contagious. So it's not just the parents saying, "This is a right thing," but then it's also the older sibling, Lord willing, saying, "This is a right thing."

It's really funny now to have my older children call me and say, "Are you going to let Jessica have a cell phone at this age? I didn't get one until I was seventeen."

Bill: And then parrot back to us all the reasons that we told them . . . that may have morphed a little bit through the years.

Holly: I had to remind Jennifer and Becca the other day . . .

Nancy: Your older ones.

Holly: My two oldest girls, that cell phones didn't exist when they were that age. So technology does change our lives a little bit. But you kind of have some surrogate parents out there as your older siblings get old enough to have input.

Bill: Nancy, in the last program we talked about the key to a lot of parenting is just embracing discipling of your children as a lifestyle, and we do that in the teachable moments.

But I want to address one other thing here, and that is that it also needs to be in some formal moments. I think there are seasons of your children's life where you set up certain things. For instance, in the senior year of our kids' lives . . . (I don't know what got me started on this. I think it was my third child, I didn't think about it until then. But I just got a little bit more mature, and I started realizing how quickly they slip away.)

Nancy: Senior year of high school you're talking about?

Bill: Senior year of high school. I bought, I think that was David, a nice leather notebook. I sat down and wrote out the twenty-five things I know. I just thought, These are the things that are the anchors for my life. I told him, "David, for your senior gift, we're going to meet at least twenty-five times this senior year, and I'm going to give you the twenty-five things I know." I've done that with each.

Nancy: What kinds of things are those?

Bill: Well, I've tried to put these in memorable statements. For instance: Everything flows from the presence of the Lord. I could preach on that for hours.

Nancy: I've heard you preach it.

Bill: Yes, for hours. But that's a foundational . . .

Nancy: Core conviction.

Bill: Yes, a core conviction of my life. I remember spending a whole day of saying, "God knows the specifics of His will for your life, but if you'll take care of your character, He'll take care of the specifics." And talking to them one day about how we find the will of God.

Nancy: So did you take your kids out on dates? How did you do this?

Bill: Oh, yes. We'd go get an early breakfast before school, and he'd take his notebook, and we'd share.

Holly: You hit the doughnut shop a few times in there.

Bill: Yes, the doughnut shop, I was in there quite a few times, actually.

Nancy: Now, somebody is listening and thinking, There is no way my senior in high school would be willing to go do that with me. They'd roll their eyes and go, "You're not going to preach at me."

Bill: Yes, and they may not.

Nancy: What helps children, as they get older, to have an openness to that kind of input?

Bill: Well, I think, number one (and Holly and I talk about this a lot), you have to maintain your child's heart. That sounds pretty ethereal, but I think by that, it would mean we have developed enough of a relationship that they trust us and they value what we have to say about something. There's a lot of components to that.

Holly: There's a lot that goes into that, and I don't know that I could necessarily verbalize it in one list because it is different for different children. I do know that maintaining a primary place in their concept of who's going to influence their life is huge.

In other words, if at fifteen I surrender my children to their peers as the primary influence in their life, I will not have their heart at eighteen.

Bill: Their hearts will get calloused and hard.

Holly: They won't be listening to me. It will be unpopular to listen to your parents.

Nancy: So, are you going to keep them at home and they don't have friends?

Holly: No. It doesn't mean I keep them at home and they don't have friends. It might mean that my house is the place where their friends come to so that I'm aware of what's going on in their life, what they're talking about with their friends. It's going to mean for sure that I monitor their friends so I know who their friends are.

Nancy: Now, some parents I know, and I'm saying this because I know the atmosphere in your home is one of grace and joy and enjoyment, but I know there are some parents who hear that and say, "You're right. I'm going to control my kids, where they go, what they talk about, who they're with," and they're raising rebels and angry kids who say, "I don't want any of that."

Holly: And, again, I believe if it's about the rule, if it's about "the box" that every child has to fit in, you will end up with angry, rebellious children who don't want to be with you. But if it is about the fact that we have a relationship that is so trustworthy that you know, if you're struggling, I will be there. I will listen to you. I will try to point you to truth. If I don't know what to say, I will pray for you, and we'll ask God to show us.

But, again, if you start trying to do that when they're sixteen or seventeen . . .

Nancy: It's too late.

Holly: I don't think it's too late, but it's going to be much harder.

Bill: Nancy, you asked me how would my senior be willing to spend time with me. Well, honestly, early in our marriage a guy challenged me to keep dating my wife. So for, almost forty years now, most every week we go on a date. And, a little farther into that, somebody said, "Well, if you date your wife, why don't you date your kids?"

Your children need (particularly the larger your family is) personal time with you. And so one of the ways we've done that is, we just go on dates. It may be going to the grocery store. It may be going down and getting a Coke at a local restaurant. But it's spending time all along the way.

And I think another thing is, just having fun together as a family.

Nancy: And you guys do that splendidly.

Bill: Oh, we have major fun. Yes, we look for ways. We probably over fun. But I think that's vital.

I honestly have done some things that probably were not tremendously financially astute in order to give my family some great memories. We go on vacations, and we've scrambled around to do that.

Nancy: But you've also spent thirty-two hours in a car with those kids.

Bill: Yes, singing songs.

Nancy: So it doesn't have to be high priced.

Bill: Absolutely. But I think you've got to have fun together. You've got to enjoy your kids, and they feel that you enjoy them.

Nancy: That's why your children love being at your house. Everybody loves being at your house.

Bill: Well, there's food there.

Nancy: That's key!

Holly: Well, I think, too, that we are intentional about getting time together as a family—whether two kids are home or six kids are home or fourteen of us are home—we're intentional about that. So we might say, "Friday night we're all going to go do something together," or "Saturday morning we're eating breakfast together." So they know that time, then, is set apart.

So if they grow up doing that, it's not so weird as when you suddenly say to them as a teenager, "We need to have family time."

Nancy: "We're going to meet twenty-five times this year."

Holly: Another thing that has been really valuable in probably the past three, maybe four years, is that we have established a family thread, a family line of communication.

Bill: In social network.

Holly: Yes, in social networking.

Nancy: So it's on Facebook?

Holly: Yes, it's on Facebook.

Bill: It's a private thread.

Holly: And so Josh, who is our computer guy . . .

Bill: Guru.

Holly: . . . set it up for us. What that means is somebody can post. Like, probably three times this week I got messages that said, "I really need you to pray for me right now. Here's the deal: Just found out my roommate is moving out."

Nancy: And the whole family is seeing that, but nobody else?

Bill: It went to the whole family, and the whole family commented on it.

Holly: Right, no other people see it. It's to our whole family, and so all day long that family member is getting text messages or Facebook messages from everybody else saying, "Hey, Josh, I'm going to be praying about that," or "Have you thought about this . . .?"

And so now, even though we have kids in three different states, there is a network in our family that is the core place that you go to first—apart from the Lord. There is a family network, and you know that if you post something, there's going to be people out there praying for you, instantly lifting you before the Lord, and it is so valuable to me to know that, to know how to pray for my kids.

Nancy: And they're staying connected to each other.

Holly: And they stay connected to each other. So when we get together, whenever that happens, it's not like we've been apart for months. We're all together, and people know what's going on in each other's lives.

Bill: You know, Nancy, I think the issue of time is so critical and so overlooked by most families. So they go to school, and they get the invitation to be on this ball team and that ball team, or this play and that deal, and other things, and we look up, and our kids . . .

Nancy: . . . are grown.

Bill: They're grown, and we have gone through weeks and months and never even had a meal together.

We honestly made very hard, deliberate decisions about how many things our kids were going to be involved in when they were younger because we thought we want time with them. They need to be together. We need to be together as a family. We want flexibility to be able to do certain things together. If we just kind of fell into the normal patterns of our society . . .

Holly: . . . our kids would have never known each other.

Bill: They wouldn't have. But it was so good that I'll never forget it. Our oldest daughter, when we were making decisions about college, said, "I want to go to (this college an hour away) because I want to see my brothers and sisters grow up." She couldn't bear the thought of being disconnected from the family. That's a healthy thing. That's a biblical thing.

But for our listeners today, I think if you sit down and really evaluated all the things that our kids are involved in and then took that before the Lord and said, "Now, God, what things do You want them involved in?" That doesn't mean they're not in sports. Our kids have done things. They've been in plays, and they've done stuff, but we think of that in the whole context of the family.

Listen, we're discipling them about how they're going to raise their families.

Holly: That's right.

Bill: It's not just their personal life.

Nancy: And their values and what they're going to spend their time on for the rest of their lives.

Bill: Exactly—for the rest of their life, so we've got to model that. We've got to make hard decisions. Sometimes they don't understand that, in the younger days of their life particularly. But that's where you've got to be a big boy or a big girl and just say, "We're going to make this decision, and you'll see in time that this is going to be valuable for us."

Holly: I know that some moms are sitting out there thinking, Our family is not like that at all. I didn't grow up like that. I don't have a husband that will help me do that. And you may be feeling a little hopeless right now about that.

Let me encourage you to just start with tiny moments with your child. Even if you're a single mom, and you're working all day, you can still have tiny, sweet moments with that child. It comes by just being intentional—maybe pulling them into your lap when you get home from work.

Before you turn on the TV or the Internet, spend some time just listening to that child. Find out about their day. Share with them about your day, about things that were good, things that were bad. Ask them to pray for you. They need the responsibility as well of realizing they are your family.

So don't give up on the pursuit of that. Even if your marriage doesn't look like ours or your life story is different, it does not mean . . . It means that you can still be the one who breaks that chain in your life story. You will break it and teach your son or daughter to do the same thing so that they will look back without regret one day when they're raising their kids. So it's never too late to start making that change in your family.

Bill: God's ideal is a husband and wife that love each other and love the Lord and love their kids, but that's not always where we find ourselves.

Nancy: It's a broken world.

Bill: I have had so many people, adults, tell me, "My dad was gone, or he was an alcoholic, or he did this, or my mother did this, or whatever, but I had a mother who loved me. I had a grandmother who spent time with me and invested in me." It was their salvation.

Nancy: Yes.

Bill: That one lifeline can be the highway of hope that comes to that child.

Nancy: And you know, a single woman who doesn't even have her own children, or a married woman who is not able to have children, can be that lifeline for somebody else's child.

Holly: That's right.

Bill: It's an unbelievable investment.

Holly: We have single women in our church who are now serving as foster parents, or they do respite care for other foster parents, to give them a break. And what's happening is God is pulling out of them those natural things He's placed there to nurture, to give life. He's enabling them to mother those children in a right way even though they are not their biological children. God is using them as an instrument in that child's life.

Some day that child will look back, and they may not remember their name, but they will remember that there was a woman who told them about Christ, who shepherded them in the early years of their life. That woman, then, becomes an area of influence in the history of that child.

Nancy: Yes.

Bill: Our kids have never grown up with their grandparents close. Both of our parents lived in different cities. There was a godly, senior adult couple who decided they wanted to bless us and our children, who came over. I don't know, Holly, two or three years, maybe even longer than that.  Every week they brought a big basket with a red checkered table cloth. They said to Holly and myself, "Go away. Go have a date."

So it was wonderful for us, and they had a special meal prepared for the kids, played games with them. Our kids will never forget that investment. One night, that godly man led my son Joshua to Christ. So you can have an unbelievable effect on the lives of other families.

Leslie: When you get involved in helping and encouraging families, you have no idea how big the results could be. Bill and Holly Elliff have been talking with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth about the value of investing in the next generation in your own home and in the homes of others. Bill and Holly believe that children are a gift from God, and they have lived out that belief as the parents of eight.

We live in a world that doesn't fully embrace the idea that children are a gift. Are you getting your ideas on your family more from popular opinion? Or are you surrendering your family to the Lord and seeking His will? Bill and Holly will challenge you with questions like these in a booklet they wrote called Turning the Tide.

I hope you'll get a copy and consider what God's will is for your family. We'll send you the booklet when you support Revive Our Hearts with a gift of any amount. Ask for it when you call 1–800–569–5959, or visit

Well, tomorrow Bill and Holly will continue their practical advice for parents. How can you effectively tell your children about the gospel? How do you guide them in finding a spouse? They'll address questions like these tomorrow.

Bill: God wants you to know His will more than you want to know it because His reputation is at stake. And so if you'll pursue Him, that's going to happen. God has put in your life some counselors, and the first two are Mom and Dad. We are protectors, and we're responsible, so we're going to be in this thing. We're going to laugh with you about it. We're going to cry with you about it. We'll pray with you about it.

Leslie: I hope you'll be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth sees children as a gift from God. It's an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

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About the Teacher

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has touched the lives of millions of women through Revive Our Hearts and the True Woman movement, calling them to heart revival and biblical womanhood. Her love for Christ and His Word is infectious, and permeates her online outreaches, conference messages, books, and two daily nationally syndicated radio programs—Revive Our Hearts and Seeking Him.

She has authored twenty-two books, including Lies Women Believe and the Truth That Sets Them Free, Seeking Him (coauthored), Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together, and You Can Trust God to Write Your Story (coauthored with her husband). Her books have sold more than five million copies and are reaching the hearts of women around the world. Nancy and her husband, Robert, live in Michigan.