Warning: This post contains no formula for raising “good” kids who won’t embarrass you in front of your church friends.
So, I guess the people who like character “training” and systems of behavior reinforcement just don’t care to chat about it, because the comments and emails about my last assault on this homeschooling stronghold went mostly positive, with an asterisk. (Actually, it’s more likely that they just don’t read this blog. Few do.)
While those of us in this community of, like, fourteen readers plus me seem to be in agreement that score-keeping is not the way we should show our children how to follow Christ, some readers were feeling hung out to dry, as if there were a great, blank space behind the curtain we just ripped down, with nothing to replace it. There’s no need to feel abandoned, though I guess I understand how we might. Here we’ve been thinking that great results are ours for the obtaining, and now we’re starting to see that, while we might through rigorous effort teach our children to feel good about acting good, we can’t even regenerate a wilted piece of lettuce, let alone the souls of our babies.
We knew that, of course, having our Bibles handy like good Christians ought to, but we had been behaving as if it weren’t so.
It was kind of surprising to me how many mothers said something to the effect that “I see what you mean, but I don’t know what to replace this kind of training with. I don’t know how to lead my children without relying on these outward things.” It surprised me, because the answer is contained within the question.
It’s not up to you to make your kids holy, so quit meddling!
Hold on a minute, though. We have instruction from scripture to discipline our children, and teach them not just what not to do, but what to do. So I’m not suggesting that being a spiritually involved parent is the same thing as meddling. The difference is in what scripture says is the right way to teach them, rather than systems and traditions that satisfy our fleshly desire to prove that we and our children are getting it right.
And what does scripture say? The same thing it has always said, teach your children to follow the Way, not as a school subject, or a means of gaining favor with God, or a way of obtaining earthly reward, but as Truth, which must not, even in the absence of approval or reward from others, be abandoned. Teach them only that
“…thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.”
And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.–Deuteronomy 6: 5-9″
These words shall be where? In thine heart. Let your focus be in your own heart, parents, not your children’s hidden selves, the motives of which your eyes can’t discern. We can teach our children the truth without manipulating their behavior by simply following what scripture has given us to do.
Read them the Word.
…Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. –Romans 10:17
But they’re so small they can’t understand the Word, you say? Oh, ye of little faith. Of course they can’t.
They didn’t understand their names, or the words “I love you” the first time you said them, either, but you still used them until they did. You used these words because they are true, not because they could understand them! Likewise, read them the Word every day. Keep reading until they do understand it. There’s no magical moment at which it is now, finally, at long last useful to rely on God’s Word to teach them. Lean not to your own understanding in this, waiting for the day that you’re able to see that they can understand it.
Saving faith comes through the hearing of the Word. So do that.
Apply the Word. Again, even when they don’t understand–or when you think they can’t understand–everything you are doing with the Word in your daily life will grow them. Of course, this requires you to be knowledgeable in the Word yourself. No one else, and certainly no character curriculum, can do that for you.
Building a foundation is a brick-by-brick process, and you will not see the whole wall built all at once. That doesn’t excuse delaying the laying of the first lonely brick, just because you don’t know when the next one will be ready. Apply the Word early, and daily, and with faith that it will accomplish its purpose.
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, And do not return there without watering the earth And making it bear and sprout, And furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it. –Isaiah 55:11
Discipline them. Yes, progressive parents, even in the New Covenant, we have both the authority and its attendant duty to punish wrong-doing in order to model the eternal truth of God’s wrath toward sin. What is the most common argument against the love of God? The one I hear most, or at least very near the top, is “A loving God would never send someone to Hell over something so paltry as (insert sin of choice here).”
I suspect that people who can’t believe that love has anything to do with punishment do so because they have so rarely experienced consequences for sin from their own parents. At this stage of our dying civilization, I think that applies to a huge percentage of American “Christians”, as well as unbelievers. Because their parents were so reward-oriented, self-esteem building, works-encouraging, and extremely unwilling to punish (or even look for) wrong-doing in them, they remain unconvinced that there could even be any consequences if God really loves them. This is also the reason they so gleefully usher sinners into Hell, not only failing to warn them, but instead applauding them for embracing the sinful nature which “God gave them”.
They don’t believe in the reality of Judgment. Is that what you want for your children?
Disciplinary correction is not meant to be “behavior modification” or negative reinforcement, but is symbolic of the eternal wages of sin. We don’t discipline to get “results” or for revenge, but so that when the bad news of Hell and Wrath is presented, the Good News that Christ has made a way to save us from it will be believed as well.
(This is also why, if you’re feeling vengeful at the moment of offense, you shouldn’t discipline yet, but run away to your prayer closet and get clear of your own sin before you confront your child’s. Discipline must be cool-headed and fair, because it is not against us that our children sin, but against God. But it must not be neglected for the same reason. We have no right to overlook our children’s wrongs just because we are sinners ourselves. We’ve been placed in a position of authority, and that’s not for our own sake, or our own ends, but for His. But that’s another blog post.)
Finally, and most importantly, simply and without anxiety trust the Lord for your children’s salvation. The thing I think some are really having the most trouble grasping, is that this anxiety we have, this need to prove holiness is the leaven of the Pharisees that Christ warned his disciples about. It is failure to trust the Holy Spirit to provide not just physical bread, as the disciples were wont to do, but the Living Water that regenerates.
The trouble with this “trust” thing, for those who walk by sight, is that it seems so pitifully, helplessly passive. But it’s not passive. It’s an active waiting and hoping for the good that God has promised us. It’s a prayerful watching, and dutiful teaching, day after day.
The answer to misbehavior and sin is not to hover over our little ones, nervously trying to either catch them in sin or find them acting, for once, in good ways so that we can reinforce every positive or negative action, but instead to simply trust God to soften their hearts, and to clean the insides of those little cups, so that then the outsides will be clean also. Whether He does this before they turn all your hairs gray is–I’m sorry to break this to you, my friends–not within your control.
But don’t worry. Instead, believe.
Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household. –Acts 16:31
Now, I have seen regenerate parents produce heart-breakingly unrepentant children, but as long as there is life, there is hope. So keep praying and hoping, no matter how old they are. Just Christ, and nothing more, is your hope for that child.
Despite all of our worry, the Gospel is sufficient to replace the dead letter of the Law that we had been teaching, and that many of us had been raised on ourselves. The hearing of the Word is sufficient to raise our children’s souls from the dead, just as it has done for all of the other saints. Your daily attention to the truth is sufficient. Don’t let the simplicity of the Truth trip you up. Pharisees are the ones who like to complicate things, and I think we all have a little bit of that inability to believe that it could possibly be that simple. You don’t need to add anything to the Word–no charts, stickers, badges, records, journals, rewards, or any other kind of proof that the Holy Spirit is working. He just IS. Believe this, and have peace.
So, to make a very long blog post short, we should parent the way same we should live. By faith. And if you have none of that, then this is going to seem like some woefully scanty advice, in which case, I guess you should go buy a character curriculum to fill in the gaps.