On Monday I wrote a post about the time Jesus went missing (Luke 2:41-46). I love how this passage wraps up:
“And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” (Luke 2:52)
Isn’t that what I really want for my kids? Isn’t that the goal of this whole parenting thing? Aren’t I laboring and praying for them to grow in wisdom and favor with God as they grow in stature and favor with man?
When Jesus’ parents finally found him, they asked, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” (Luke 2:48)
And like any 12 year old boy, he had known where he was the whole time. He wasn’t lost. He was surprised that they didn’t know where to look. He said, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49)
I don’t know about you, but when I have been scared by something one of my children has done, and then I find them completely unconcerned, calmly going about their business, my fear often turns to anger. I want them to understand how they have affected me (and others, too, if it makes my point stronger). I want them to explain themselves. I want justice for my angst.
I really connect with Mary and Joseph on the next part… “And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them.” (Luke 2:50)
How often do I ask my children some version of, “What were you thinking?!?” and fail to understand the “saying they speak to me” (a “saying” that makes complete sense to them, by the way).
But then, how often am I really seeking to understand what was going on in their hearts? Perhaps I am more concerned with how their actions have affected me.
The wise mama seeks to understand her child with compassion rather than stand over her child with condemnation.
Isn’t this how God deals with us?
In the garden, Adam and Eve sinned by eating from the Tree of Knowledge. God knew where they were and what they had done. He chose to ask them to come out. He inquired about their actions. He gave them the opportunity to own their sin. But do you remember that their initial response to his compassion was blame shifting and denying responsibility? That’s when God provided covering for their shame and pointed them to the one who would rescue them.
Should my approach to perceived sin in my children be any different? How will I draw my children into a life of wisdom if I do not live in wisdom in front of them on a daily basis?
We have found it helpful to guide our children to escape the power of sin by asking questions and providing vocabulary to talk about sin in Bible words. Different questions meet different needs – we don’t ask all of these for every offense. Even our young children are able to begin to work through these questions, but you can see how growing in wisdom will change the way they answer over time.* Sometimes as we ask questions, we find that they were right in what they were thinking, saying, or doing. It’s a great opportunity to celebrate their victories. I also find these same questions are good for me.
Here are some examples of the kind of questions we ask:
- Can you help me understand what is going on?
- What were you feeling? What were you hoping to accomplish when you…? What did you want to happen when you…? How’s that working out for you? Did it work?
- Is there a different way you could have responded? If you really wanted … to happen, what could you have done differently?
- Is there anything wrong with wanting … to happen?
- When did what you wanted become more important than obeying God?
- What tools has God given you to handle situations like these? So, when you chose to use different tools, you were choosing your ways over God’s ways. Did it work?
- What lies were you believing that led you to do…? What were the thorns that resulted from believing those lies? What are God’s truths that could refute the lies? What good fruit are you able to produce if your heart truly believes these truths?
- Truth is truth regardless of what people say. Did … become true just because he/she said so? Does God know the truth? Even if you were completely faultless here, what really clears your name with God? Is being right in this circumstance enough to make you right with God?
- Have you ever responded like he/she just did? Can you find compassion for them, knowing what it is to be on that side of this dispute?
- Can we stand beside each other and look at the problem and try to solve it? Do you need to “solve” him/her? Are they really the problem?
- What is an XYZ statement you could use to talk to …? (For us, an XYZ statement is: “When you X (offensive action or words), I feel Y (we direct them to a chart of emotion words). I’d rather you Z (a preferred action or words – providing the ‘way out’ for next time).”
When time allows, we have a “do-over.” We actually reenact the offense and give everyone the opportunity to do it right. By requiring the physical replay, we have the chance to train their responses for the next time. We are practicing freedom from the power of sin. We are training them to be escape artists. Like Harry Houdini, we want them to be noteworthy for their ability to escape. We just want them to escape the chains of sin.
After all this, we take care of any needed corrective discipline. By this point I’m calm enough to discipline rather than punish, and usually the child is ready to receive consequences with a contrite heart.
* I have to give a general disclaimer here. Most of these ideas on directing our children are not ours. It is a blend of things I’ve read or discussed. We have been shaped by Stephanie Cook, Tedd & Margie Tripp, Scott Turansky, Brenna Stull, Daniel Goleman, Karen Weber, Ginger Plowman, Judy Maxwell, Ken & Corlette Sande, Charlene Tipton, Tara Barthel, Timothy Lane, Courtney Joseph, Francis Chan, Mark & Robin Dawson, the list goes on… I can no longer sort out from which individual I got which parts – and there is nothing new under the sun – so we have likely heard similar things from many people. The important thing to note is that Mike and I cannot take credit for coming up with this way of directing our children.