Issues of the Heart
I remember the first time I heard another mom refer to her toddler’s sinful nature. I had never considered naughty behavior in this light before! I had to wrestle with whether I was even comfortable with such a reference. After all, we were talking about her baby who couldn’t have even been 18 months old! Sinful nature? That seemed so harsh. But the more I wrapped my brain around that, the more I realized the truth in it. We are born into sin and we need a savior. The sooner we recognize that truth in our own children, the sooner we can gently begin pointing our children to their savior. The word, gently, is key here. Romans 6:14 says “we are no longer under the law but under grace.” Why is it then, that we hold our children under legalistic rules? So many rules and a consequence for every one of them does not leave much room for grace and mercy.
If we can recognize our children as the adorable little sinners that they are, an extension of our own sinful selves, then we can begin to model grace and mercy. I believe God gave us children to illustrate His love for us. Having a child fills us with an overwhelming and sacrificial love that we didn’t know we were capable of. When we experience that, we get a glimmer of the way in which God loves us. It is in this way then, with grace and mercy, that we should lead our children to Christ. The book Shepherding A Child’s Heart, by Ted Tripp, is an amazing resource. The premise of the book is that we as parents should not be focusing on the outer, perceivably well-behaved child, but rather on raising a child that embraces Christ, desires to be Christ-like, and thereby grows in relationship with Jesus Christ.
Intentional or not, you are the most influential model of Christ that your children will see. So choose to be intentional. Model compassion, grace, forgiveness, and mercy. Model the fruit of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
I remember being a young mom listening to a speaker at MOPS. This mom was sharing how she taught her kids responsibility. When little junior forgot his water bottle for soccer practice; he went thirsty for one day and never forgot it again. When he forgot his homework assignment; he missed recesse and learned about consequence. Well, that all may be true, but everything about it rubbed me wrong. Where was the compassion? Where was the grace? Where was the mercy? And I determined, at that very moment, to be the opposite of that mom.
As mom you have the incredible job of raising children that will eventually become adults who can function in society. Of course, you want to teach them responsibility and I believe chores, allowance, consequence and discipline all have their place in raising children. However, I think it is equally important to sprinkle all of these with grace. If one of my kids had an unusually busy schedule, homework, or simply had a friend over, I liked to bless that child by doing his/her chore. It didn’t happen everyday but it happened often. And I didn’t mention it. I just want the atmosphere to be that our family is a team and we pitch in and help each other when we see an opportunity to do so. My husband is a very generous person and modeled that for the children. All of my kids had jobs in their teen years and through college. They know how to save money but they are also generous with one another. They loan each other money without a thought, knowing it will be returned as soon as possible and they each have paid their debts in a timely fashion.
The point is, you can raise responsible kids without being a drill sergeant. Not only did I want to model the fruits of the spirit but I wanted to model some very practical methods for being successful in life. Model preparedness. For instance, as I folded the laundry, I would make three little piles of soccer clothes in my room so the kids knew where their gear was for practices and games. Before leaving the house, I would ask each child if he was wearing his shinguards and cleats and was carrying his water bottle and ball. Before leaving for the beach, we would all go down the mental checklist together to see if we had everything we needed, be it sandtoys, sunblock, towels or lunches. While packing for trips, I would make a checklist for each child’s suitcase for that child to complete and then with each child I would go over the list and look through the suitcase making sure everything was indeed, included. Over the years, these things eventually became second nature and my kids learned how to do it all on their own. Did this always work? Of course not! I remember I took the kids on a trip two hours from home, only to arrive and discover one child left the house without shoes! I didn’t get angry though as I, the mom, had failed to check my preschooler’s feet. Off we went to the nearest Target, purchased the cheapest flip-flops I could find, and set out to enjoy our trip.
I guess what I am trying to say is that you have this overwhelming opportunity to cover your kids in grace and mercy! Just as Christ covered us! Demonstrate forgiveness, demonstrate grace, demonstrate mercy. These can NOT be earned. They are gifts that we have the privelege of choosing to lovingly bestow.
Yet, I have often failed miserably and not used grace. I’ve lost my cool and my temper more times than I ever want to admit. However, on many occassions I have gone back to my kids to ask for forgiveness. So while I completely blew it in the whole “model self-control thing”, rather than beat myself up over it, because it is past, I now choose to think of it as giving them the opportunity to practice forgiveness!
So, issues of the heart begin with examining our own hearts as moms. Am I like that MOPS Speaker, trying to create perfect little people and hiding behind the “Let Them Learn By Suffering The Consequences” mindset? Or am I demonstrating responsibility, with a hearty helping of grace and mercy, by gently prodding my children into adulthood by modeling it for them?