Saturday, December 18, 2010
"Tell Me a Story!"
My imaginative son absolutely loves to have someone tell him a story, real or imagined. He often requests things like, "Tell me about something bad you did when you were a kid," or "Tell me a story about a good thing you did." He's not satisfied with knowing the actual deed, like, "I accidentally stole a piece of candy from the store once." He wants it in story form, every detail, building up to the good or bad deed and the good or bad consequences that resulted.
This morning it was, "Tell me the story about something good you did, Mom." Even though I wasn't a particularly "bad" kid, it seems like it's easier to comply with his request when he asks for a bad story. When he wants to know the good, it takes me forever to think of something!
I found myself wondering about that this morning as I scrambled to come up with an interesting story. For some reason, those thoughts led me to think about my motives for being good when I was a kid. I realized that I chose to "be good" most of the time solely to avoid getting in trouble, so people would think well of me and to stay in the good graces of all the authority figures in my life.
Now, there's nothing wrong with staying out of trouble or with being thought of well by people. Those are good things overall. But they shouldn't be the ultimate goal. I see now that my thinking was very self-centered and my focus was all off. I should have been doing the right things out of love for God--not to earn my eternal salvation, because that isn't a possibility. But, because my salvation had already been paid for, I should have acted out of love, gratitude and obedience. The Bible makes it clear that God is concerned with our hearts/attitudes more than empty "good deeds."
That concept didn't sink into my head until well into adulthood. Now that I understand it, when I look back on my basically well-behaved childhood, my good deeds don't shine like I thought they did before. Instead, my motives glare back at me. Oh, they don't have to. They, too, are covered by grace. But I allow myself to go back and examine them from time to time. They remind me of something very important:
Children often don't just naturally think with right motives. Their sin nature is a part of them even in the first few seconds we hold those sweet, tiny bundles (it doesn't start during the Terrible Twos--ha ha). If we care about our children acting out of pure motives, we have to teach them that! They won't just know. And the earlier we train them in this, hopefully the easier it is on them later--to do what is right because it is right, not just to avoid unpleasant consequences. There's no integrity in doing well only when someone's looking. We need more integrity in the world!
Thus, I try to always remember to tell Little Mister the whys of right and wrong. If he does something wrong, he has a consequence. But before and after that consequence, I explain that his action hurt God's heart and maybe others' hearts, too. I'm convinced this must be done in a gentle tone of voice, not in a moment of heated anger! If I'm trying to get through to his heart, he's not likely to respond to careless words/tones of voices. After his consequence, I have him tell me what was wrong with what he did, to make sure he understands. Then there are lots of hugs and affirmations of love. Discipline without love comes through as nothing but worthless harshness. Discipline with love, not berating the child, is much more likely to find and help change his heart.
I don't want my son to be one of the many adults I see around me, searching for approval from others and basing their actions on that. But just because I don't want him to be doesn't mean he won't be. His daddy and I are doing our best to raise him well, but he still has his own choices to make along the way. I always cringe when people cling to, as though it's a promise, that Proverb about raising your child in the way he should go and he will not depart from it. The problem with that is that Proverbs aren't promises! When you take a look at the background of the book, it's actually a collection of observations about how things normally work out. Wise, yes. Promises--I hesitate to humanly label them that! Often, a child who is raised to love the Lord will continue to do so throughout adulthood. But it's not always that way. We can't force them to think or believe anything!
So, parents of grown children, I would encourage you to not blame yourself if you have wayward children. Take responsibility for your mistakes, yes. Make things right with them if necessary. But your adult children are responsible for their own choices now. Maybe they have certain strongholds or tendencies because of their upbringing, but they also have the choice to turn to the God who can free them from those things. If their choice is not to, then they are responsible for that!
Those of us who still have children at home, let's make the most of the time we have them! Time is passing so quickly.
Tell your child a story. A true story. About you. Tell them what you learned! :)