Educating the WholeHearted Child: Chapter 4 (part 2)
This chapter continued to convict my spirit and challenge me in my parenting, particularly the pages on discipline. It is such a temptation to seek a formula for parenting that will ensure that the end result will be wise children who walk with the Lord. Yet even with our oldest being only 6 years old, it is quite clear that formulas just don’t work when it comes to nurturing a little person uniquely created by God. Why is it then, that when facing a parenting dilemma, my first thought is to run to a book? (And not THE Book, either.)
“If my first impulse is to think about which proven method of discipline will achieve the results I want with my children, then I am probably not thinking about trusting God to change my children’s hearts… If I want my correction to impact my child’s heart, I must first, before anything else, ask God, the heavenly parent, to be involved in the process with me” (page 64).
I’m ashamed to admit it, but this thought never even occurred to me until I started reading Heartfelt Discipline, also by Clay Clarkson. When I came across this idea, however, it really impacted me. I’ve written before about my “word for 2014” being PRAY, and this is one of those areas of life where I want to be more consistent about coming before the Lord prior to making decisions or taking action. I want my children to leave home remembering it as a place where they experienced the grace of God and the joy of obedience, not just a lot of rules and punishment for disobedience. What better way to pass on grace to our children then to go first to the grace-Giver? “Grace ensures that your correction begins with the ‘inner man’ of your child. That is the real goal of spiritual discipline–to change your child’s heart so their behavior is changed from the inside out” (page 64).
That’s what I really want: changed hearts, not resentful obedience. These words were on my heart today as I dealt with one of my children who has been particular stubborn and slow to obey lately. Eric and I have been at a loss for how to parent him in a way that touches his heart and makes him want to obey. So this morning as he stood there scowling at me, refusing to pick up even a single piece of laundry after I had asked him to sort a small basketful, I set aside my own frustration and the desire to just threaten punishment in order to get him to obey. I let go of my own agenda and opened myself up to direction from the Lord. What was going to reach this little one’s heart? What was going to help him choose to do something he didn’t want to do?
I called him over to me, put my arm around him, and tried to get him to talk to me. Why didn’t he want to help fold the laundry? No answer. So I decided to talk about the heart issue. We’ve just started using We Choose Virtues so we’ve been talking about choices we can make and what it means to obey. I reminded him of Proverbs 20:11, which says, “Even a child makes himself known by his acts, by whether his conduct is pure and upright.”
Then I asked him, “What do you want people to know about you? Your ‘acts’ tell people about what kind of boy you are. Do you want to be a boy people look at and say, ‘Wow, he’s really stubborn and doesn’t obey his mommy. He just stands there scowling.’?” He stared into my eyes. “Or do you want them to say, “Look how obedient he is! He’s so quick to do what his mommy asks!’?” He nodded his head. (And inwardly I sighed in relief knowing at least he cared a little!)
I decided to try to make it a game. I told him, “I’m going to count to 10, and I want you to see how many pieces of laundry you can get sorted before I’m finished, okay?” He just stood there glaring at me with his infamous furrowed brow.
So I called him back over to me and basically repeated the same talk again before sending him back to the basket. This time he managed to get 3 pieces of laundry sorted before I got to 10. I chose to ignore the fact that he had done it slowly and still had that pout on his face. Instead, I praised him for choosing to do it even when he didn’t want to and told him, “Let’s try it again. I bet you can get even more this time!” He got 8.
Now my other helper was itching to get in on the game so we let him take a turn. It took two more rounds of counting to ten, but all the laundry got sorted and the bad attitude dissipated. They both even managed to get their own laundry folded and put away without a single word of objection or nasty look.
Would it have been faster to just punish him? Undoubtedly. Yet I certainly wouldn’t have reached his heart that way. This took a lot longer, but it left all of us feeling content. My son felt the satisfaction of knowing he had chosen to obey and that I was proud of him for making that choice. I felt relieved that I hadn’t responded emotionally but had let the Holy Spirit guide me. I didn’t stop and pray (though next time I might try doing so out loud), but I did keep my own impulses in check so that I could walk in His power. (And the laundry got sorted, which certainly makes me happy!)
I don’t always handle this kind of situation very well, but I would much rather be a spirit-led parent than a flesh-led parent. The Clarksons’ words have been “ringing in my ears” since I read them last night: “When you confront and correct your children’s wrongdoing, think about how Jesus would speak to them. He would be gentle, but authoritative; loving, but truthful; gracious, but firm” (page 65). That’s what I long for. That’s what I want my children to experience. And so I will keep trying to turn to Him first, to trust in Him to help me learn to “parent in the power of the Holy Spirit” (page 64).
Each Mentoring Monday I share my reflections on what I’ve been learning from my “paper mentors.” I am currently joining in a book discussion of Educating the WholeHearted Child by Clay Clarkson (with Sally Clarkson). If you want to join in, visit our Facebook discussion group page.