The Concordia Publishing House Podcast

Raising Healthy, Christ-purposed Children with Dr. John D. Eckrich

July 21, 2020 Concordia Publishing House Season 1 Episode 2
The Concordia Publishing House Podcast
Raising Healthy, Christ-purposed Children with Dr. John D. Eckrich
Chapters
The Concordia Publishing House Podcast
Raising Healthy, Christ-purposed Children with Dr. John D. Eckrich
Jul 21, 2020 Season 1 Episode 2
Concordia Publishing House

Raising children is sacred and hard work. As a Christian parent, you strive to raise your children with values rooted firmly in God’s will. Setting this foundation places your child on the path to become an effective and fruitful citizen in your home and in your faith and public communities.

But what are the specific values we should be teaching and why do they matter? That’s what we’ll be talking about with our guest today, Dr. John Echrich. John D. Eckrich, MD, is a board-certified internist and gastroenterologist who serves the St. Louis community at large, especially church workers and their families. Dr. Eckrich is the author of Family Wellness: Raising Resilient, Christ-Purposed Children.


Show Notes Transcript

Raising children is sacred and hard work. As a Christian parent, you strive to raise your children with values rooted firmly in God’s will. Setting this foundation places your child on the path to become an effective and fruitful citizen in your home and in your faith and public communities.

But what are the specific values we should be teaching and why do they matter? That’s what we’ll be talking about with our guest today, Dr. John Echrich. John D. Eckrich, MD, is a board-certified internist and gastroenterologist who serves the St. Louis community at large, especially church workers and their families. Dr. Eckrich is the author of Family Wellness: Raising Resilient, Christ-Purposed Children.


Elizabeth Pittman:

Welcome to the Concordia Publishing House podcast where we consider everything in the light of Jesus Christ who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. I'm your host, Elizabeth Pittman.

Elizabeth Pittman:

Raising children is sacred and hard work. As a Christian parent, you strive to raise your children with values rooted firmly in God's will. Setting this foundation places your child on the path to become an effective and fruitful citizen in your home, in your faith community, and in your local civic community. But what are the specific values that we should be teaching our children, and why do they matter? That's what we'll be talking about with our guest today, Dr. John Eckrich.

Elizabeth Pittman:

Dr. Eckrich is a board certified internist and gastroenterologist who serves the St. Louis community at large, especially church workers and their families. In 1999, he founded Grace Place Wellness Ministries, a retreat based program to encourage stewardship of body, mind, and spirit among Lutheran pastors and teachers. He is an author and speaker on wellness topics from a Christian perspective. Thanks for joining us today, Dr. Eckrich.

Dr. John Eckrich:

Elizabeth, it's great to be with you and the CPH family. So, thank you for giving me this opportunity to speak with all of you.

Elizabeth Pittman:

I'm excited to have this conversation. As we were talking before, there are quite a few of us here on the team that we're parents. We have children of grade school, high school age at home. And one of the regular topics of conversation that comes up is, in this world today, we want to make sure that our children are being raised to be resilient and compassionate and faithful. It oftentimes feels like the culture is conspiring against us. What are some of the challenges that you're seeing facing parents today as they're working to raise their children?

Dr. John Eckrich:

Well, I think you're right, and particularly the coronavirus and the civic unrest that we are experiencing has really put a magnifying glass to shine light on all of this sort of darkness that's within our culture and generally within our families. We have such a breakdown of family structure, of family relationships and communications within this country, that we've really seen magnified really probably since the Second World War certainly. I think that's been a very disruptive force in terms of what spills out then into our society and into our church families.

Dr. John Eckrich:

What prompted some of this writing was I was having conversation with one of the sort of leading pastors within our faith community, and I said, "Why do you think that, when we were raised," and we're both in our mid seventies ... "Why do you think when we were raised it just seemed like families were closer and the communication was better?" And he said, "Probably because we ate 21 meals a week together." That really confirmed in my own mind one of the real tension points that I see within our society. We have many families that don't eat any meals together, and that opportunity for that family gathering, that family meeting is so critically important in terms of the very fabric of our families in this country.

Dr. John Eckrich:

We've got such inequity in access to resources in this country, which is a huge problem. We have inequity in our justice system, I think that we have seen, again, magnified in the last couple months. And we have significant inequality in access to health care and those resources within our country and a variety of different social services. So, I think that all of these have created the potential and the reality of some real darkness particularly within our society. Again, this pandemic and the civic unrest in our society have really magnified that, kind of pushed it forward.

Elizabeth Pittman:

Well, I think in addition to the darkness that you've described, family lives generally are over scheduled and they're busy, which makes it difficult for parents to be intentional about, if not 21 meals, seven meals or six meals or even one a week where everyone is around the same table, or to have that intentional time. I think busyness leads to fatigue, and it becomes easy to be passive, which isn't healthy for parents. Correct?

Dr. John Eckrich:

Correct. I mean, we are over scheduled, yes, and that over scheduling, the lack of rest within our family life, means that we are kind of constantly bathed with all of these stress hormones. If you look at it even from a physical standpoint, there is no off time in our families. We've got most of the time both parents working now. That's the reality of what's going on. We have the kids scattered throughout the community with all sorts of tugs and pulls on their time as well. So, the fact that we as families don't even have a time to rest, and we know that God built rest into his creation, the incredible renewal and restoration impact of that. So, we've also lost that component of our family life.

Elizabeth Pittman:

You have a new book coming out in a couple of months. It's focused on family wellness. As you talk about the topic, you mention five specific character values that we should be working to instill in our children. Why don't we take a quick overview of the five and then go through them one by one and unpack them a bit?

Dr. John Eckrich:

Sure, absolutely. The first thing I want to say in sort of a preface to that is the fact, one of the key points I'm trying to make in this book is that we're not alone as parents. I think we often think, "Well, I'm the only one facing this issue, or my kid's particular problem, or our family particular issues." And as Christian parents we understand, number one, we are not alone. We have the gift of the holy spirit, number one, and we have the gift of our faith community and the resources like Concordia Publishing House that really are able to bring resources, health, healing, wellness, body, mind, spirit resources into this task that we have, this vocation that we have as Christian parents. So, I think that's really important to understand.

Dr. John Eckrich:

Yes, I think that there are ... I've divided the book into five character values, if you will, and then into five healthy behaviors. The character values that I think are important, particularly as we raise kids in a democratic republic that we live in, are number one that our kids are loving, that they're loving in their behavior and that grows out of them understanding that they're loved by God and they're loved within their family. Secondly, referring to sort of the title of the book, that our children are resilient, which means that they don't become easily discouraged, that they have the courage to try and try again. And because they're forgiven and restored to their relationship with their heavenly father, they're also forgiven and restored within their family structure. So, they can take chances. They can really try to accomplish whatever they really want to accomplish.

Dr. John Eckrich:

The third value is that we have children who are raised with integrity, that they're upright, that they have high moral standards, that they understand what is truth. That's a huge breakdown within our society of is this truthful, is this truthful. But we have God's word that gives us that truth. We have his commandments. We have our confessions, all of those things which really help us in understanding that. The fourth character value is that we have securely purposed children, that they understand they were purchased for a purpose. And they're secure. They know their baptismal identity. They know their identity within their family. This reduces their levels of anxiety. That's what we would like to accomplish with that.

Dr. John Eckrich:

I think the fifth value is to be compassionate, is to be empathetic, to understand and to desire to understand the perspective that other people live in and what influences the way that they react in relationships, and therefore to be compassionate, to have a servant heart, as we [inaudible 00:10:29] So, those are sort of the five character values that I think are important, particularly within a democratic society that we live in.

Elizabeth Pittman:

Each one of them is so critical on its own, and then you add all five of them together, and it really is ... It's formidable.

Dr. John Eckrich:

Yes.

Elizabeth Pittman:

You look at how critical it is for our children to have these values in order for them to face this world confidently. So, let's unpack loving a little bit. Dig into loving a little bit, and then what are some ways that we can instill that character trait in our children, in the home? What are some ways that we can model that for our children?

Dr. John Eckrich:

Well, I think as with all of these, again as a preface, I've designed this book to understand that healthy children grow up in healthy families. We as parents are the primary and the most important model that we can have with these characteristics and these healthy behaviors within our children. So, the fact that we demonstrate to our children in various different ways this idea of an unconditional love, and that begins within our faith, because we understand that Jesus unconditionally loved us. Because of Jesus, God unconditionally loves us, because of Christ's sacrifice.

Dr. John Eckrich:

So, in everything we do, whether it's again at mealtime, having prayers before and after meals, having Christian literature within our homes, with our Bible being very central to our life, with the catechism of our ... With religious literature, with singing of hymns and songs around the dinner table, focusing again around mealtime, regularly attending worship and letting our children understand the importance of that as the reset, as the restoration point for them in their daily lives. I think all of these things are sort of practical ways that we build this language of love, this vocabulary of love within our children.

Elizabeth Pittman:

You alluded to something as you started that is ... I wanted to underscore it, because you had a quote in your book that I loved. I underlined quite a bit when I was reading. You say, "Children absorb what they observe far more effectively than what they hear." Then you go on to say, "Parents and their cohorts lead by acting from the foundation of their own healthy behaviors, rather than merely lecturing or reacting to the children's behavior." I see that in my home all the time. The kids will call us out if they don't see us walking the walk. If we're just throwing words at them, they won't respond. So, I think what you say about the modeling part is so important.

Dr. John Eckrich:

Well, and the fact that your children are calling you out on it means that you've instilled in them some values from your faith, from your Christian faith. So, they do understand truth. They do understand the differences between right and wrong. Believe me, I think that there's a huge portion of our society that don't have those anchors within their life, in their personal life and in their family life. So, good for your children.

Elizabeth Pittman:

I'll let them know that you said that.

Dr. John Eckrich:

Absolutely.

Elizabeth Pittman:

Well, and I think when so much of culture today is saying you can choose your own truth, it's more important than ever for us to point our children to the unshakable, unchanging truth that we have through our lord, and that requires energy and persistence on our part.

Dr. John Eckrich:

It really does. It's so difficult. It's so difficult. By the way, having grown children myself, that's a process that's continuing on today. It just goes on and on throughout.

Elizabeth Pittman:

Well, I suspect that once a parent, always a parent. At least, that's what my folks would definitely say. You're never done parenting.

Dr. John Eckrich:

Exactly.

Elizabeth Pittman:

So, well, let's go on to resilience, which again so timely for the world we're living in today with the challenges facing our children. We want our children to be strong and resilient and face these challenges and not shy away from them. So, what are some of the ways that we can help develop a healthy resilience in our kids?

Dr. John Eckrich:

Yeah. I think it is as a parent to be an encourager, to look for opportunities to encourage your children, perhaps to look for what gifts they've been given by God. Some of our kids are natural athletes, and others are not. Some are great communicators, and others are not. Some have the gift of music or the arts, and others are not. So, I think it's important, while we want our children to be well-rounded, it's important to be observant of what gifts God has given them and then to encourage them, to find opportunities for them to express those gifts, to see the value of those gifts and what they can bring to the family and to society in general. So, I think those are really important.

Dr. John Eckrich:

I think one of the other things that's helpful is to actually write to your children in cursive, if they can read it these days. That's sort of an old, difference topic, but ... Write notes to your children. Write encouraging notes to your children. I have some particularly to my daughter, and she will periodically take a picture of those in her mid thirties, upper thirties, and raising a daughter of her own, and say, "Do you remember when you wrote this little note to me, this little handwritten note?" I think that's a marvelous way to give something of permanence to your children for them to refer back to, and it's just ... I think it's important.

Dr. John Eckrich:

The other thing is to clarify the difference between behavior and who they are as a person. I mean, all children and all adults misbehave. That does not have to define who they are as people. So, you can discourage behavior that you feel is not productive or appropriate but still be an encourager to the child. I think that's really important.

Elizabeth Pittman:

What dangers do we run into as parents if we set unrealistically high expectations for our children?

Dr. John Eckrich:

Yeah. We know that you have to set expectations that are age appropriate and that are maturity appropriate for your child, because there's nothing that will make them feel worse, I think, than to fail in the eyes of their parents or their grandparents. Unfortunately what that leads to is shame and hiding and that sort of very unhealthy emotional behavior and spiritual behavior, if you will. So, I think it's a great point. It's really critical to provide age and maturity appropriate goals for them to try to attain.

Elizabeth Pittman:

I think setting the expectations at a healthy level gives them the opportunity to succeed, and then stretching them sometimes, but making it safe for them to fail, where they don't feel that they should be ashamed for not meeting a task. But I think they need to learn how to fail when it's safe.

Dr. John Eckrich:

Yeah, absolutely. I think our emphasis should be not on the goal necessarily but is on the trying. It's on the effort. So, we want children that-

Elizabeth Pittman:

Absolutely.

Dr. John Eckrich:

... are trying and trying again, and that they understand that that's what's of value to us as parents.

Elizabeth Pittman:

I regularly tell the boys when they're trying something ... My youngest will get frustrated and will quickly throw his hands up in the air and say, "I can't do it." You just have to try. Just keep trying. Don't give up. And you learn a little bit more each time you try.

Dr. John Eckrich:

Those traits start very young. I can see it in one- and two-year-old grandchildren, the importance of that encouragement, even feeding themselves or simple things, things to us, but they're so challenging at different ages.

Elizabeth Pittman:

Right. Let's move on to integrity and raising honest children who take responsibility for their own actions.

Dr. John Eckrich:

We live in a blame society. It's so easy, and this is a constant theme that we're seeing within even with all the unrest that's going on today in our civil life. But the fact that we blame, always blaming others for whatever is going on, whatever failures we have, whatever difficulties we have. It's important to teach our children to make responsible decisions and then live with the consequences of those decisions. Sometimes, particularly for our teenagers, those consequences can be dire. They can be auto accidents. They can be injuries. They can be legal problems. They can be school problems. It is important to try to help them work through that to understand that they will need to deal with the consequences of decisions that go awry, and then again to be continuously loving of them as a person, to be reinforcing that as a person, and then to guide them, teach them how to make better choices perhaps with better values, better goals in mind. I think those are important.

Dr. John Eckrich:

Again, they can start in very young children, giving children either/or choices, for example. Either you can have broccoli, or you can have green beans. Both of those are healthy, but maybe your choice is not jello and pizza or something like that. Then age appropriately building up and giving children options and choices also does help to build integrity and honesty in them. And leading an honest life yourself and a respectful life as a parent. Kids observe the way that we respond at a sport setting. I mean, how many of us have been on a soccer field or football field or baseball field and seen a disrespectful outpouring of emotion from a parent? Or maybe we've done that ourselves. Kids are sponges, and they observe that. So, if they see a parent acting responsibly and respectfully and honoring, that makes a huge impact on the way that they then respond as well.

Elizabeth Pittman:

Do as I say, not as I do will not cut it with kids.

Dr. John Eckrich:

No. No.

Elizabeth Pittman:

Not at all.

Dr. John Eckrich:

Again, they will remind you of that one way or another.

Elizabeth Pittman:

Yes, they will. Absolutely. If not with words, with their own actions. How about secure, Christ-purposed children?

Dr. John Eckrich:

This really has to do with helping them understand their identity. I really think it begins with understanding their baptismal identity, that there was a huge price paid for them, for their eternal soul and their body and mind, all things that are their being. And their purpose within the family, their value within the family, what they bring to the family I think are extraordinarily important ways that we kind of help them understand the importance of that purpose that should be filled out within their lives.

Elizabeth Pittman:

My children are fortunate to be at a Lutheran school here in St. Louis, and one of the things I love about that school is that they reinforce what we're teaching at home. Every day, the children are reminded that they are a child of God, loved and saved by Jesus, and that forms the core of their identity.

Dr. John Eckrich:

It's really huge. It is the core. It is the core for our children and how that lives out within our family life, within our faith family life, and even into our community and in the challenges that that sort of core identity holds within our community, which is sadly becoming less and less aligned with a lot of those Christian principles. But it really reinforces for us the importance of teaching that at home, teaching that at school, and opportunities within our churches. If our kids are in public schools, the same thing, the same principles in our afterschool programs, for example, that many of our public school children have opportunities to attend as well.

Elizabeth Pittman:

When our children recognize that they are loved and saved by Jesus and they begin to look at other people as children of God, loved and saved by Jesus, I think it leads into your fifth core value of compassion and how children gave be raised to be compassionate individuals.

Dr. John Eckrich:

I think the core of compassion is empathy, is understanding, trying to understand and being desirous, wanting to understand the perspective that other people are living in, the circumstances that other people are living in, trying to understand why my little classmate responds so vehemently to circumstances which would seem to me to be so obvious and so simple. When you try to look at life through somebody else's eyes, it does affect the way that you then respond to them. I have my colleague at Grace Place for many years, David Ludwig, who has also written for Concordia Publishing House, but he also kind of expresses this as living as we rather than living as me. You're compassionate when you look outside yourself, when your energy is flowing outward rather than when your energy is always focused on yourself and flowing inward.

Dr. John Eckrich:

And even St. Paul addresses this in Corinthians. He talks about the two terms, sort of organizing principles, psychikos and pneumatikos. Paul says our old being, our old self, before our baptismal identity, with the spirit is one of psychikos, really turned inward, looking inward. You understand that out of that term comes psychology, psychiatry, sort of dealing with the aberrancies and the abnormalities within really the way that God created us. St. Paul says the spirit, when the spirit comes into us in baptism, the anointing of the spirit, we get to live a pneumatikos, breathing outward, that our energy is flowing out into each other. That's what we're really called by the spirit. That's the way we're called to live. So, helping our children understand those principles are really important.

Dr. John Eckrich:

I do think that helping children understand that joy, real joy in life, comes in living outward. Really, you become a very sad and unhappy person if your energy and your thoughts and what you do, the way you behave, is focused inward instead of outward.

Elizabeth Pittman:

And we can certainly use more and more joy-filled, outward looking people.

Dr. John Eckrich:

That's true.

Elizabeth Pittman:

What is the connection between these core values and the wellness behavior of our kids?

Dr. John Eckrich:

God gives us this body, mind, and spirit to be able to serve him, to love him, and to serve those people that God puts in our life paths. In order to do that, we need to live in a way that stewards those gifts of body, mind, and spirit. Even from the scientific, let alone Jesus life, which we can certainly talk about, but even from the scientific, medical community, we know that there's at least five core wellness behaviors that do in fact steward body, mind, and spirit well.

Dr. John Eckrich:

Those behaviors are, number one, to have movement as a part of our daily life. It doesn't necessarily mean exercising, going to the gym, but to build physical movement into our daily living, taking every opportunity we can to move physically, the way we prepare our meals, or the way that we get from point A to point B, that those are filled with physical movement and we know the importance of that for our physical being.

Dr. John Eckrich:

Secondly, and those who are meatatarians out there won't necessarily like to hear this, but a plant-based diet, or what we call a plant slant to our diet. We know that God created us actually to have a plant slant to our diet. He doesn't give us meat until after Noah in terms of consuming for energy, til after the flood. So, our body is really set up physiologically to handle plant-based nutrition the best, the most effectively. Excessive amounts of meat ... Meat is great protein, and some type of meat's good fats and things, but generally meat brings more deleterious effects into our system than staying with plant-based food. Even in terms of looking now with the pandemic, immunity is so critically tied into colorful fruits and vegetables in our diet.

Dr. John Eckrich:

We touched on it, but the third point is rest, the importance of rest. Not only do we need good and solid sleep every night, but we need to take these pause points within our personal life and our family life and our community life to just slow down, to let all of those stress hormones that we're living with, the epinephrines and the adrenaline and cortisol and all of those sorts of things, to let those settle back down into a normal state, rather than continuously bathing our body in all of these stressors. So, to do that, building in times and rest. Wonderfully, they can be combined with time in God's word or prayer or meditation. All of those things are extremely helpful to our life, from infancy on.

Dr. John Eckrich:

The fourth really has to do with putting your faith and your family first. Even scientific studies, the National Geographic has done this wonderful study on people that live long and happy lives, and what it found is that those people put faith and family first, that our faith life and our family, our relationships, our close relationships are critically important to our wellbeing of body, mind, and spirit, and support both our physical beings, our thought processes, our emotions, and our spiritual life when we're surrounded in that faith community.

Dr. John Eckrich:

The last is really sort of tied in to the fifth aspect of our character lives, but it is to live missionally and again to find opportunities in our behavior to live outward in service to others. That is life giving to us as an individual. It's live giving to our family, to our faith family. The importance of outbound ministries, for example, within our faith community is so critically important to the life of the church. I think as we see perhaps a refocusing of life within the church, we're also going to see the importance, again, of this living outward as the church and how that begins in the hearts and minds of every one of those members of our faith family, including our children.

Elizabeth Pittman:

It's also important how it all works together for the good of our kids. In addition to parents, you referenced this early. You mentioned that parents are not alone in this. As we round out the discussion, what role do our grandparents and our extended villages play when it comes to helping raise these healthy, resilient children?

Dr. John Eckrich:

I think the first is a realization of the importance. Let me just address grandparents, but I think I can apply this to all of those other helps that we have. We as grandparents are important to the family. I think that that's been lost in many parts of our society where we have oftentimes great distances between the members of our family and their parents and grandparents, even though we do have some wonderful tools like internet now to communicate. Our grandparents are integral and important.

Dr. John Eckrich:

Secondly, that as grandparents and as aunts and uncles and members of the faith family, we are helpers to the parents. We are not the parents. That's been difficult for my wife and I to wrestle with, being older grandparents, but it is so critically important that we understand our helper role but not our primary role in those settings. Then I think we as grandparents can add just so many wonderful aspects on to life. We can be the guardian or the transmitter of the legacy, particularly the faith legacy. We can be the keeper of the videos and the keeper of the scrapbooks and the keeper of the pictures and remind children of their place in the succession of the family, but how integral they are, how much we love them.

Dr. John Eckrich:

I will never say that grandparents shouldn't spoil their grandchildren. They should. They should. But they should within the rules of the parents, in terms of gifting them or taking them places, taking the grandkids places. But it's really important to seek the permission, I think, of the parents, or at least certainly follow the parameters or the guidelines of quantity and quality of all of those sort of things I think are kind of really important. Then the other thing is don't confront your grandchildren's parents in front of them. I think there's a challenge to do that. But I think your grandchildren are best served by really understanding a united front in terms of their raising. I think that's really important.

Elizabeth Pittman:

I've enjoyed watching my kids with my parents, and in particular my oldest and my dad have spent a lot of time together in recent months. They're very similar in many ways. But I've noticed this camaraderie, and my dad said, "Well, we have a common enemy: the parents." So, it's been kind of fun to watch them bond and, all in good nature, but teasing me. They're having a grand old time, but they're having fun and they're making some wonderful memories and building a really strong relationship, which is very cool as a parent to watch.

Dr. John Eckrich:

That's the bottom line to this whole parenting thing, I'm convinced. All of these various strategies and outlines and things that we've talked about, but you need to make parenting and grand-parenting fun. In the end, your kids will understand very quickly whether this is a task and a drudgery or whether this is fun. And they pick on that very, very quickly. I think there's nothing more joyful and more healthy when a family is able to enjoy each other and to have fun together and to have that bond of making things fun.

Elizabeth Pittman:

I think that's a great point to end on. Fun and joy are things that we should look forward to having in our lives, and especially in our families. It's fun to laugh with your family and to know that you enjoy each other's company.

Elizabeth Pittman:

We are so glad that you were able to join us today. There's a lot of great information in your book, Family Wellness: Raising Resilient, Christ-Purposed Children. If you'd like to learn more about Dr. Eckrich's book, please visit cph.org/familywellness. That's cph.org/familywellness. You'll be able to dig into some more information and read an excerpt and learn some more great information that Dr. Eckrich has provided. So, thank you very much for your time today.

Dr. John Eckrich:

Thank you.

Elizabeth Pittman:

We'll see you next time. Thank you for joining us on this episode of the Concordia Publishing House podcast. I pray that this time was valuable to your walk with Christ. We'd love to connect with listeners on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter at Concordiapub. Visit cph.org for more resources to grow deeper in the gospel.