As we raise our children, we must keep our eye ever focused on their hearts – the “wellspring of their lives.” Everything they say and do emerges from that source, and while it’s easy for us to focus on our kids’ actions (i.e. their misbehavior), that’s ultimately the wrong target. Even if we succeed in teaching them to act well, if they have wrong motives and impur hearts, we will only have trained them to become hypocrites. Clearly not our goal.
The role of communication is vital here. I’ve been impressed by Ginger Plowmans’s focus on our need as moms to draw out the cause of our children’s behvaior by asking them heart-related questions. If, when I ask my son why he was naughty, he responds with “I don’t know,” he really might not know. “Due to his age and inexperience with discerning matters of his own heart, he doesn’t fully and completely understand why he hit his sister, ” Plowman writes. She advocates helping him dig deper into his heart to find the answer by using some probing questions. “Each answered question enables the child to better understand his own heart and his need for Christ’s grace and redemption. And each gives me the opporunity to use God’s Word to train him according to his struggle.”
The role of the Bible is central here, and we must use Scripture to teach, instruct, and train in righteousness. A friend’s recent parenting incident beautifully illustrates the effectiveness of honing in on pertinent verses for the purpose of training her 6-year old daughter in righteousness. “Telling her what to do or not do was not bringing about heart or behavior changes. So we posted a pertinent verse on the wall and memorized it together, and when she’d start to misbehave, I’d remind her of the verse and she would quickly stop.” (My friend used Phil 2:3-4 in this case, but different scenarios would call for different verses.)
As my friend pointed out, for us to expose our kids to the Word and help them grow in understanding their hearts, we “need to be very intentional about picking an issue to be addressed or a principal to be taught and then looking up related verses,” arming ourselves in advance to best address the issue. I’m realizing that as I pray for my children, I need to be diligent about lifting up specific character issues and asking for God to provide wisdom and direction in how best to to biblically address the issues they’re grappling with. (Helps in this are available, Ginger Plowman’s book being one, and a specific verse-driven and more extensive pamphlet being another, which I’ve yet not seen or read).
At the end of the day, my prayer for my kids is that their hearts would grow to be like that of King David when he prayed: “My heart says of you, ‘Seek his face!’ Your face, Lord, will I seek.'”