What's the Point?

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I have this terrible habit of buying books. I know it doesn’t sound like a bad habit, but trust me…it is. I’m currently reading five for myself and am in the middle of three that I’m reading aloud to my kids. That’s not to mention the long list of books that are on my “want to read” list that I promised my husband I wouldn’t buy until I had finished my current reads. I can’t help it.  I have a problem. My most recent, impulsive book purchase was a book entitled, How Children Succeed. I’m embarrassed to admit that I grabbed it off the shelf, perused the covers, skimmed part of a chapter towards the end of the book and made my decision all in less than a minute. It’s been an interesting read on how a person’s character rather than their intelligence is what determines success. It is well researched and written, and I find myself agreeing with much of what the author is saying.

I am irresistibly drawn to these sorts of books that sound as though they have discovered the key to raising successful, educated and well-behaved kids. I find that many of them do offer fantastic suggestions about how to teach kids to be less selfish, more focused, better behaved, less likely to end up on drugs or in prison, and I fall for these promises often. My shelf of how-to-be successful parenting books keeps growing (in fact it’s bowing a little at the moment under the weight).Living in a culture that glorifies education, most would not see my book-buying obsession as a problem, and might even pat me on the back for being an avid reader. Yet, I always find myself a little disappointed as I delve into most of these books, because they just can't deliver what they promise- the answer to what makes us satisfied with life.   

Something struck me immediately while I was reading this book on children becoming successful adults. It was their definition of success. In a nutshell, the goal is for kids to be taught and nurtured in such a way that they have cognitive character that affects their choices and behavior and results in graduation from high-school, college and satisfaction in their careers and overall life as adults. It makes sense and is what every good parent wants for their kids. But, I know that while these goals are not wrong, they are also not the point of parenting. Not for the Christian parent.

This is why we, who are following Christ, must always come back to Scripture and place it as the overall authority for how we live, how we parent, and to define our overarching goals for our children. I know from scripture that as a man thinks in his heart, so is he (Proverbs 23:7), that folly is bound up in a child’s heart (Proverbs 22:25), that out of the heart the mouth speaks (Luke 6:45), that evil action, intention and speech come from the heart (Mark 7:21) and that life itself springs from the heart. All of these verses remind us of our ultimate goal as parents. It is to guide and disciple our children’s hearts toward God, because only he can give the satisfaction they desire (Psalm 42). 

Good behavior and the ability to make right decisions that lead to success are not the goal, they are simply by-products of the goal. They are the icing on the cake. The point being, that as our children’s hearts are turned towards worshipping God and pleasing him, their behavior, character, desires and life ought to reflect that orientation. 

~Well-behaved children is not the goal of parenting.~

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It is essential for parents to know what the definition of success for their children is, because that definition will determine how they parent. Knowing what the goal is helps us to know which beliefs, truths and philosophies to follow and apply. When we disregard scripture, and define our goals according to the philosophy of culture, we become parents who are taken captive by “philosophy and empty deceit, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” Colossians 2:8. Looking to scripture will enable us to better determine the difference between cultural parenting advice, and God’s requirement for parents. God will always require us to look at our children’s hearts, rather than at their potential for success and happiness. 

Tedd Tripp writes well in his book Shepherding a Child’s Heart (by the way if you are sucker for  books like me, this one is well worth the time and money spent as he has scripture and a gospel-view of parenting at the center of his teaching. Also, perhaps we should start a therapy group for our book-buying problem? Just a thought...):

Superficial parenting that never addresses the heart biblically produces superficial children who do not understand what makes them tick. They must be trained to understand and interpret their behavior in terms of heart motivation. If they never have that training, they will drift through life, never understanding the internal struggles that lie beneath their most consistent behavior. 

I don’t know about you, but I often ask my children, “Why did you do that?”. They are rarely able to understand why they are motivated to misbehave because they do not understand their own sinful nature. It is our responsibility as their parents and as followers of Christ to teach them about the Gospel and their own personal need for it. Only the Gospel can explain why we do the things we do-it points to our sin nature as the root of our behavior. Whether a child is two-years-old hitting other kids on the playground or fourteen-years-old participating in cyber-bullying, we must teach them that their heart is sinful and they need repentance and forgiveness in order to be changed. Otherwise, the behavior will continue to escalate. There is no other scientific, psychological, sociological explanation that any expert has given or will give that helps us understand that the root of our problematic behavior is sin. Not only does the Gospel explain our sin nature, it tells us the good news of who we need to fix the sin problem! The person called Jesus!

It doesn't matter how successful a person is in life, if they do not accept and know Jesus Christ, they will never be satisfied, find joy or peace. Their relationships will not be fulfilling, their job status will never be enough, and their hope will be clouded with doubt. If we want the absolute best for our children, we must give them Jesus. 

If we choose to deal with the heart, it will require time, attention, energy and a willingness to make conversation with our children more important than our own pursuits. This is hard because it means we must lay down our lives- and that is not popular- but it is so worth it! It is also what Jesus has done for us. I never regret making time to have real conversations with my kids, but every time I push them away to do what I want instead, I regret the missed opportunities to listen to their hearts and share truth with them. 

~We must not give up on discipling our children’s hearts. Knowing God is what matters most.~

My prayer for you and me today, is that we will not be led astray by the current psychological, educational, and sociological philosophy of our day. I pray that we will not put our hope in the false idols of education, behavior-modification, and secular parenting tips, but rather that we will stand fast in the gospel of Jesus and lean on the truth of God’s Word to light the path for us and our children. I pray that our anxiety over our children’s success would find peace in the success of Jesus’ work on the cross. May we trust in him enough to offer him as the answer our children are looking for now, and for eternity. 

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.     Titus 2:11-14

The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes…more to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey…Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.    Psalm 19:8-14

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.   Psalm 119:105