Implanting Love for Jehovah in Our Children’s Hearts
AS TOLD BY WERNER MATZEN
Some years ago my eldest son, Hans Werner, gave me a Bible. He wrote inside the cover: “Dear Father, May Jehovah’s Word continue to lead us as a family on the way of life. With gratitude, your eldest son.” Parents will understand how those words filled my heart with thankfulness and joy. Little did I know at the time what sort of challenges we as a family would still have to face.
I WAS born in 1924 in Halstenbek, some 13 miles [20 km] from the German port of Hamburg, and I was raised by my mother and grandfather. Having served an apprenticeship as a toolmaker, I was drafted in 1942 into the Wehrmacht, the armed forces. What I experienced during World War II while fighting on the Russian front is too dreadful to put into words. I came down with typhoid fever but was sent back to the front after treatment. In January 1945, I was in Lodz, Poland, where I was badly injured and put into a military hospital. I was still there when the war ended. In the hospital and later in the detention camp in Neuengamme, I had time to think things over. I was troubled by these questions, Is there really a God? If so, why does he permit so much cruelty?
Shortly after being released from the detention camp, in September 1947, I married Karla. We had grown up in the same town, but whereas Karla was a Catholic, religion had played no part in my upbringing. The priest who married us suggested that we at least say the Lord’s Prayer together each evening. We did as he said, without really knowing what we were praying for.
One year later Hans Werner was born. At about the same time, Wilhelm Ahrens, a colleague at work, introduced me to Jehovah’s Witnesses. He showed me from the Bible that wars would one day cease. (Psalm 46:9) In autumn 1950, I dedicated my life to Jehovah and was baptized. What joy I felt when one year later my dear wife also got baptized!
Bringing Up Children in the Ways of Jehovah
I read in the Bible that marriage was originated by Jehovah. (Genesis 1:26-28; 2:22-24) Being present at the birth of our children—Hans Werner, Karl-Heinz, Michael, Gabriele, and Thomas—strengthened my commitment to be a good husband and father. Karla and I were thrilled at the birth of each of our children.
The 1953 convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Nuremberg was a momentous occasion for our family. On Friday afternoon, during the talk “Rearing Children in the New World Society,” the speaker said something that we have never forgotten: “The greatest inheritance that we can give our children is the desire to be servants of God.” With Jehovah’s help, Karla and I wanted to do just that. But how?
To start with, we made it a practice to pray together as a family every day. That impressed on the children the importance of prayer. Each child learned early on that we always prayed before a meal. Even when they were babies, as soon as they saw their bottle, they bowed their little heads and folded their tiny hands. On one occasion, we were invited to the wedding of one of my wife’s relatives, who were not Witnesses. Following the ceremony, the bride’s parents invited the guests home for some light refreshments. Everyone wanted to start eating straight away. But our five-year-old Karl-Heinz did not feel that this was proper. “Please say a prayer first,” he said. The guests looked at him, then at us, and lastly at the host. To avoid any embarrassment, I offered to say a prayer of thanks for the meal, to which the host agreed.
The episode reminded me of Jesus’ words: “Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings you have furnished praise.” (Matthew 21:16) We feel sure that our regular and heartfelt prayers helped the children to view Jehovah as their loving heavenly Father.
Our Responsibility Toward Jehovah
Teaching children to love God also requires regular reading and study of his Word. With this in mind, we had a family study each week, mostly on Monday evenings. Since the oldest and the youngest were born nine years apart, the children had very different needs, so we could not always cover the same material with all of them.
For example, for the children of preschool age, we kept the instruction fairly basic. Karla considered just a single Bible text with them, or she used the pictures in Bible-based publications. I still have fond memories of being awakened early in the morning by the younger children climbing into our bed to show us their favorite pictures in the book The New World. *
Karla developed a knack for patiently teaching the children the many reasons we all have to love Jehovah. That may sound simple and straightforward, but, in fact, physically and emotionally it was almost a full-time job for both Karla and me. Still, we did not give up. We wanted to write upon their tender hearts before other people who did not know Jehovah started to influence them. For this reason we insisted that our children be present for the family study as soon as they could sit.
As parents, Karla and I recognized the importance of setting the right example for our children in the matter of worship. And whether we were eating, gardening, or going for a walk, we tried to strengthen each child’s relationship with Jehovah. (Deuteronomy 6:6, 7) We made sure that each child had his or her own Bible from an early age. Furthermore, upon receiving magazines, I wrote the name of each family member on his or her personal copy. Thus the children learned to identify their own literature. We came up with the idea of assigning the children certain Awake! articles to read. Following our Sunday lunch, they explained to us how they understood the material.
Giving the Children the Attention They Needed
Of course, things did not always go smoothly. As the children grew, we discovered that implanting love in their hearts required us to know what was in their hearts already. That meant listening to them. Our children sometimes felt that they had something to complain about, so Karla and I would sit down and talk things over with them. We introduced a special half hour at the end of the family study. Anyone was allowed to say quite openly whatever he or she felt.
For instance, Thomas and Gabriele, our two youngest, felt that we as parents were showing favoritism toward their eldest brother. At one session, they spoke up and said: “Dad, we think that Mom and you always let Hans Werner have his way.” At first, I could hardly believe my ears. However, after considering the matter objectively, Karla and I had to admit that the children had a point. So we put more effort into treating all the children the same.
At times, I punished the children hastily or unfairly. On such occasions we as parents had to learn to apologize. After that, we approached Jehovah in prayer. It was important that the children recognize that their father was ready to say I’m sorry to Jehovah and to them, our children. As a result, we had a warm and friendly relationship with them. They often said to us, “You are our best friends.” That made us very happy.
Working together as a family promotes unity. To this end, everyone had regular chores. Hans Werner was assigned to go to the stores and buy provisions once a week, which normally meant that along with a list of items to purchase, he was given some money. One week, we did not give him a list or any money. He asked his mother about it, and she told him that we did not yet have any money. Well, the children started whispering among themselves, and then everyone got hold of his money box and emptied it onto the table. “Mom, we can go shopping now!” they all exclaimed. Yes, the children learned to come through in an emergency, and that drew the family even closer together.
With age, the boys began to take an interest in girls. Thomas, for instance, got very interested in a 16-year-old fellow Witness. I explained to him that if he was serious about the girl, he had to be prepared to marry her and to take responsibility for a wife and children. Thomas realized that he was not ready for marriage, since he was only 18 years of age.
Making Progress as a Family
While they were still of tender age, one child after another joined the Theocratic Ministry School. We listened carefully to their assignments, and we were encouraged because we saw the children’s own heartfelt love for God. Circuit and district overseers who occasionally stayed with us related experiences from their own lives or read to us from the Bible. These men and their wives helped to cultivate a love of full-time service in the hearts of our family.
We looked forward to the conventions. They were a key factor in our efforts to implant in our children the desire to be servants of God. For the children, it was a special moment when they put on their lapel cards before traveling to the convention grounds. We were touched when Hans Werner got baptized at the age of ten. Several considered him to be too young to dedicate himself to Jehovah, but at the age of 50, he told me how thankful he was to have been serving Jehovah for 40 years.
We showed our children that a personal relationship with Jehovah is important, but we did not press them into dedication. Still, we were pleased when the others also progressed to baptism in their own good time.
Learning to Throw Our Burdens on Jehovah
Our joy knew no bounds when, in 1971, Hans Werner graduated as a member of the 51st class of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead and was assigned to serve as a missionary in Spain. One by one, the other children also spent some time as full-time ministers, which made us as parents very happy. At about this time, Hans Werner gave me the Bible mentioned at the start of this article. Our happiness as a family seemed complete.
Then we discovered that we needed to cling ever more closely to Jehovah. Why? Because we saw some of our grown children encounter problems that seriously tested their faith. For example, our dear daughter Gabriele was not spared tribulations. In 1976 she married Lothar. He became sick shortly after the wedding. As he got weaker and weaker, Gabriele nursed him until he died. Seeing a healthy member of the family get sick and die brought home to us how much we need the loving hand of Jehovah.—Isaiah 33:2.
Privileges in Jehovah’s Organization
When I was appointed congregation servant (today called presiding overseer) in 1955, I did not feel ready for the responsibility. There was much to do, and the only way to keep abreast of the work was to get up at four o’clock some mornings. My wife and children were a great support, making sure I was not disturbed in the evening whenever there were still things to care for.
Nevertheless, as a family, we spent as much free time together as possible. Sometimes my employer let me use his car so that I could take the family out for the day. The children enjoyed the occasions when we studied The Watchtower in the forest. We also went hiking together, sometimes singing songs to the accompaniment of my harmonica as we walked through the woods.
In 1978, I was appointed substitute circuit overseer (traveling minister). Overwhelmed, I prayed: “Jehovah, I do not feel that I am able to do it. But if you want me to try, then I shall do my best.” Two years later, at 54 years of age, I transferred my small business to our youngest son, Thomas.
Our children were all grown, which gave Karla and me the opportunity to do more for Jehovah. That same year, I was appointed circuit overseer and assigned to a section of Hamburg and the whole of Schleswig-Holstein. Because of our experience with raising a family, we were able to show particular understanding to parents and their children. Many of the brothers called us their circuit parents.
After ten years of accompanying me in the circuit work, Karla had to undergo surgery. And in the same year, physicians discovered that I had a brain tumor. Hence, I relinquished my service as circuit overseer and underwent brain surgery. It was three years before I was again able to act as substitute circuit overseer. Karla and I are now in our 70’s, and we are no longer in the traveling work. Jehovah helped us to see that there was no point in clinging to a privilege that I was no longer able to carry out.
Looking back, Karla and I are thankful to Jehovah for his help in implanting a love for the truth into the hearts of our children. (Proverbs 22:6) Throughout the years, Jehovah has guided and trained us, helping us to carry out our responsibilities. Though we may be old and infirm, our love for Jehovah is as young and as alive as ever.—Romans 12:10, 11.
^ par. 15 Published by Jehovah’s Witnesses, but now unavailable.
[Picture on page 26]
Our family, walking alongside the Elbe River, Hamburg, 1965
[Picture on page 28]
Some members of the family at the international convention in Berlin in 1998
[Picture on page 29]
With my wife, Karla