I saw an info-graphic on Facebook a few years ago with a system to find happiness. It listed several things to tell yourself, like, “everything will be ok” and “things will get better” and “you are lovable” and “you are strong” and “you can do great things.” Then it summarized the concepts with “We believe what we tell ourselves.”

At first I skimmed past it. I’m not a big fan of positive-thoughts-are-your-salvation type thinking, but that last line caught me:

“We believe what we tell ourselves.”

That’s profound.

It is similar to something we tell our kids all the time in the Quillen house.

When our kids are having a hard time obeying, we ask them to speak truth into the situation. God’s truth.

we act according to what we believe to be true

Speaking the truth into the situation requires training.

When our kids are having a difficult time accepting our answer, “No. You may not have candy at 7:28 a.m.”

Or obeying an instruction,”You need to put away your game and get ready for bed.”

Or finding confidence for a challenging task, like introducing themselves to a new friend….

In moments like these, we tell them to speak truth into the situation. We train them to know they will do what they believe to be true.

How do we train our beliefs?

Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.

These words are so incredibly helpful to me as a mom because they free me to begin teaching my kids things in areas I do not have proficiency without feeling like a hypocrite. If you want to train your heart and mind, begin with others (not on others, but with them). Find someone to join you in the process. If you are a mom (or a teacher!), your kids are right there under your care and keeping needing the same thing & make great accountability partners. If you aren’t a mom, you likely have friends, siblings, co-workers, employees, or potential friends you could invite into this training program.

Start early. Start often.

With our kids we start when they are toddlers by asking them to recite, “My mommy and daddy love me, they take care of me, they choose good for me, so I can trust them,” when they don’t like a decision we’ve made. (We didn’t invent this series of truth statements, we read them in a book – but I cannot remember which one to give full credit. I’ve scanned ever so many of the books we’ve read through the years – when I find it I’ll make sure I let you know. If you know, please let me know!)

Let the process mature.

When they get a little older, we ask them to fill in some blanks. “I know my mommy and daddy love me because they ________ . My mommy and daddy take care of me by ________. My mommy and daddy choose good for me when they ________. So I can trust them now that they’ve told me to ________.”

We get some pretty fun answers to fill in these blanks – it can be very instructive about what speaks love to your kids. We hear things like, “because she makes my dinner” (acts of service); “plays games with me” (quality time); “gets me fun toys” (gifts); “hugs me” (physical affection); “tells me I’m good at encouraging others” (words of affirmation).

This practice also reveals whether they are really doing the heart-work you’re targeting. If a child says, “I know my mommy loves me because she makes me say this stupid stuff,” your child probably isn’t working on their heart. You can meet them there, pray with them for a repentant heart, for eyes to see sin as God sees sin. The “stupid stuff” comments are a teaching moment, too. The “stupid stuff” moments are another opportunity to help kids through real-world moments they’ll encounter their whole lives. Because, let’s be honest here, how often do we express irritation and defensiveness rather than repentance when we are confronted with our unbelief?

Shift the focus to God.

As parents, teachers, or role models, our job is to lay the groundwork for living under authority so the kids in our keeping learn how to live under God’s authority. The reality is we really won’t be there forever. Kids grow up. They move out. They establish lives of their own. Even if your relationships are great and open and they respect and seek your input, they will do a lot of life without you. If Jesus tarries, death with ultimately force the issue.

So, as they get even older, we send them to the Bible to draw some conclusions. We begin to transition from us being their ultimate authority, to God as the authority.

Oh, we’ve told them all along that we are their authority by God’s design. They know we are under authority, too. We’ve taught them that God’s one instruction to kids is to obey and honor their parents, so disobeying us is disobeying him. And we’ve instructed them, verbally, how learning to live under our authority is preparing them to recognize and live under God’s authority. But at some point, we have to make a definite transition to focusing on God rather than us. It begins with changing the mantra to: “I know God loves me because he ________. God takes care of me by ________. God has chosen good for me before when he ________. So I can trust him and obey him now as I ________.”

And now we begin to see what they’ve learned about living the repentant life. Changing the proper noun engages their hearts in a different way. What they really believe to be true about God starts to influence their choices in a different way than when they focused on the steward rather than the king.

It’s an important shift.

Encourage independent dependence.

Then we need to remove the training wheels. Just like teaching kids to ride bikes, when the training wheels come off, we’re still there to help. The goal is for them to enjoy the joy and freedom of riding alone. As we enter the teen years, we need to help our kids apply their faith without us. We need to remove the training wheels, offer instruction, and be there to help with the accidents. Then we need to celebrate as they move from shaky, fearful autonomy to smiling, joyful, look-mom-no-hands stunt riding.

By the time you have teens, you are increasingly aware of the brevity of their time under your roof. Even at 13, it’s just five years until they are moving out into a world where they have to make decisions, fight with their own sinful hearts, deal with a fallen world without you being there. Do you remember how fast they went from birth to five? The days crept, but the years leaped, right?

Well, at 13 that’s how long you’ve got left. If they are going to own their faith, it’s time to help them practice ownership. They need to learn to wrestle with God. They need to learn to do battle with their own sin. They need to learn how to recognize the battle, identify the enemy, and follow the Victor. They need instruction, they need care after missteps. They need us to celebrate their fearful first attempts and to delight in their willingness to take risks for the kingdom.

You get that, right? There’s a danger in teaching our kids to say with Jim Eliot, “you are immortal until your work is done.” We need to teach them to have confidence in God and to take risks based on His ability, not theirs. But that means there will be stunt-riding.

They won’t get there if you do the work for them.

So, in their teen years, we often say things like, “What has God done that could encourage you to obey right now?” or “Where in the Bible does God promise to ________?” or “Does the Bible have anything to say about how God has provided for others in this way? How does that change your perspective on ________?” or “If you believe ________ about God, how does that inform your choices about ________ right now?”

You need this, too.

In reality, I have been training myself, too. I find I often need to remind myself, “My Father in heaven loves me. My Father in heaven takes care of me. My Father in heaven chooses good for me. [I’ll admit that part is often the hardest to see]. So I can trust him as I ________.”

That last blank can be filled with daily things, like, “I can trust him as I discipline my kids with patience and grace instead of yelling which I know will get immediate results, but not long-term, God-honoring results.”

That last blank can also be filled with monumental things, like trusting him with the death of a baby, or letting go of a dream, or being called to minister in some place/way I would never choose for myself.

We have been training our kids (and ourselves) to tell themselves the truth of the Bible so that they can make good decisions in difficult circumstances. We have been training them to choose what they will believe when they encounter their feelings and confusing circumstances.

It’s never too late to start.

When we started this process with our kids, oh probably 7-8 years ago, I was right there with my youngest kids. My heart was not trained to recognize my Father’s love, to rest in his providential care, to accept his choices as good, or to trust him with his sovereignty. I still struggle – which is why I keep training.

I’ve talked with a lot of adults who, even in their 70s and 80s, struggle to walk by faith because their hearts are not trained to rest in Christ. Harsh or absent or indulgent parents have left many adults crippled in their ability to see God the Father as good, loving, kind, and trustworthy. Far too many of us accept God is ABLE, but doubt he is WILLING to do good. Or simply fail to see that what he ordains is good because it’s different that what we’d hoped for.

sovereignty divorced from goodness

Confidence in God’s sovereignty divorced from God’s goodness results in a lifestyle of duty driven by doubt that things will work out and fear of what God might do next.

Confidence in God’s constant presence, the goodness of his providential care, and his power to overcome sin and the effects of sin results in a lifestyle of faithfulness driven by gratitude and grace.

We must train our beliefs with truth if we want to act according to truth. We must cement truth in our minds and hearts so we will make choices informed by strong emotions that we have no reason to regret.

We do what we believe.

What we believe drives how we act.

Put another way, our actions reveal what we believe.

Writing this post has exposed a lot of areas in my own heart where I harbor lies, rehearse falsehood, replay failure, and live in fear. I need to repent. I need to search the scriptures to find truth. My heart needs to be reminded that God loves me, takes care of me, and is choosing good for me, so I will trust him in these challenging days.

What about you?

Take some time today to evaluate the choices you are making. What do they reveal about what you really believe? 

Do you act as though speaking truth in love is God’s way to reach the hearts of your children? Or do you act as though yelling is the way to accomplish good behavior?

Do you view interruptions to your day as divine appointments to engage the hearts of others for Christ? Or do you become impatient with the people who interfere with your plans for the day?

Do you continue doing what you know you are called to do with a heart full of fear that God is just sacrificing you like he did Jesus? Do you struggle to see God’s good providence in your current circumstances? Or does your heart cling to the promises in scripture and count it a blessing that God includes you in his plan to suffer for Christ?

Where is God revealing your unbelief?

I’d love to begin this with you. Comment below or email me directly. Let’s re-focus our hearts on the truth we profess. Let’s train our hearts together.