The Heart of Your Child

It is vital that you train the heart of your children. However it is popular to ignore this essential process and give in to shallow alternatives. Since many young parents have not thought these issues through I am penning these notes as a guide to parents.

The Heart of the Matter

The most important part of your child’s development is the training of their heart. While we may not be aware of what is going on inside other people, including our children, the Bible tells us that God looks on the heart.

“But the LORD said to Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD sees not as man sees; for man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” 1Samuel 16:7

God’s prophet, Samuel, did what people naturally do. He looked on external things. God accurately accused men of taking notice of external things – “man looks on the outward appearance”. That is why people have to take ‘first impressions’ seriously and why image is such a big deal for worldly people. It should not be so for those who love and follow God, but sadly appearance and image is a major focus of some churches today.

Since God looks on your child’s heart it is essential that you make it a key focus on your attention.

The Heart of Your Child is Exposed by What Comes Out

Jesus had much to say about what comes out of the heart. He said that we are defiled by what comes out of us. He then listed a bunch of things that find their source in the human heart.

“The words which come out of the mouth come from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” Jesus Christ, Matthew 15:18-19

Jesus is pointing here to both the words people speak and the motivations that lead them to do evil things. So wise parents will be attentive to the spontaneous expressions from their children and also from the behaviour patterns the children display.

A winning smile on the face of a child can be deceptive. Sweet words of promise and nicety may be a cover for wrong intentions. In the same way that adults can be expert at this level of deception, some children know how to play up to their parents’ expectations.

Key Lessons For the Heart

The heart is troubled by the presence of foolishness, which Solomon warns us is bound in the heart of every child (Proverbs 22:15). So it is important for each parent to respect the particular process that God prescribes for removing that foolishness. The prescribed process is to use the rod of correction on the child.

Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction will drive it far from him.” Solomon, Proverbs 22:15

Obedience is a key test of the child’s heart. If a child refuses to obey then they have foolishness. So getting the child to promptly obey the parent is a key heart training process. This involves them submitting to the parent’s authority. In that process they learn to fear the Lord, giving respect to God’s requirement that they obey their parents.

Games and Tricks Don’t Train the Heart

Some parents think that they are doing quite well if they get the desired action from the child. But it is not the action that is the most important. What is important, as we saw earlier, is the heart of the child. God does not look on the outward evidence but on the heart.

If you instruct a child to eat their food and the child is reluctant to obey, then a matter of the heart has been exposed. The child’s rebellious or independent attitude is a more serious matter than the nutritional value of the meal.

Many parents, however, become distracted with the external element, getting the food into the child. They can completely miss the much more serious issue of the child’s heart. Clever parents can resort to games to get the child to eat. “Let’s pretend that the spoon is a train and your mouth is a tunnel. Let the train into the tunnel.”

Such games may be fun, but they set the parent and child up for future pain. The child’s heart is left in a rebellious state, even though all the food is eaten.

The same is true when a parent tricks a child into doing the right thing, or fitting in with the parent’s plans. Games and fun, cute as they may be in the hands of clever parents, have no place in testing or training the child’s heart.

The most mature and complete heart training is evident when there is every reason to disobey or to get away with doing wrong, and yet the person insists and persists in doing what is right.

Tough Choices Make for Strong Character

When parents rescue their children from tough choices they undermine the child’s character. Tough choices make for strong character.

The child who must stand by his post, while others get to do fun things, or taunt him, or who is otherwise suffering in order to be there, will develop much stronger character than the child who is given every opportunity to cheat on their character.

False compassion can prompt some parents to remove the tough choices and hard situations from their child’s life. Such emotion is called ‘false’ compassion because it is not true love at all. It masquerades as compassion but it harms the child, so it cannot be real love.

You are Allowed to Play Games

Please note that I am not saying every moment of your child’s life should be a tough moment with tough choices. There is plenty of room for fun, games and play. You are welcome to play ‘aeroplanes’ and fly the food into your child’s mouth or to make cleaning up the room into a fun race against the clock.

The tough choices are made at strategic moments and are then built upon. But once the tough moment is past it is time for celebration and enjoyment of life. The problem will come when your child is never challenged to learn and their heart is not trained.

Insist that they Learn

Parents, be diligent to ensure that each of your children has learned to obey you, to submit to authority and to fear God. You will need to remain attentive to their heart, through what they say and how that is backed up by the attitudes and actions.

Insist that they learn the lessons. Don’t give in, just because they are crying, or complaining. There is much more at stake than their temporary responses.

Of Fathers and Sons

We live in a Fatherless World, as I explained in a recent post. So, how do fathers and sons work together to create this fatherless situation? That’s the question I want to explain in this update posting.

Fatherless-ness Defined

Fatherless-ness is the condition of being without the true fathering which God intended. Fathering is a divine calling and privilege. Yet in today’s world men think they can make of it what they want. So they become the kind of fathers that they choose to become, without regard for their divine calling. Most people today have lost sight of the foundations for their lives, so they follow the crowd. If other fathers do things a certain way then that social norm becomes the reference point for most fathers. Then, in the absence of truth to guide fathers to their real calling, they function as something less than a father. That creates a situation of fatherless-ness.

When a child is raised without the high level of spiritual responsibility and guidance that a real father is meant to bring to the child, then the child is fatherless, even if that child has a very present, very pleasant dad in their life.

Dad doesn’t create fathering. God created fathering and calls men to fulfil that mandate. Sadly, most men are either ignorant or irresponsible. They go about providing what they choose to provide in their role as dads. So their children are fatherless.

How Dads Create Fatherless-ness

When a dad is absent the child clearly is fatherless. With immorality rampant many children are born without fathers and not able to determine who their real father is. I spoke recently with a woman who was told by her mum that her dad would have been one of two men who the mum was not married to. Without DNA testing the daughter cannot be certain which of the men is her real dad. But she is at least lucky enough to narrow it down to two.

So the absentee father is one cause of fatherless-ness, but it is not the greatest cause of this problem from the dad’s side of the equation.

The more insidious fatherless-ness occurs when there is the appearance of a father, but the absence or true fathering, as I described earlier. When ever a man fails to be the man that God has called him to be or the father that God has called him to be, then he creates fatherless-ness.

I once worked with a family where the father had virtually no manhood. He acted much like his own children, but he had less intelligence than they did. He held down a menial job and left the running of the home to his wife and her father, who provided the mature male role in the home. The man’s children mocked him openly. He was a joke to them, and yet he thought such a situation was normal and reasonable. Such a man creates fatherless-ness, because he is not functioning as a father in that home.

When a dad lives for himself and raises his children as it suits him, he makes his children fatherless. When a dad ignores God’s authority over him and through him to his children, he makes his children fatherless. When a man abdicates from his manhood and leaves the home to his wife to run, he makes his children fatherless.

Dads create fatherless culture by their failure to be the fathers God created them to be in their child’s life.

How Children Create Fatherless-ness

Children also create fatherless-ness. They do it by rejecting their fathers. When children rebel against the instructions of their father, they make themselves ‘fatherless’. Just as refusing to drive a car, even when you have one in the garage, makes you effectively ‘car-less’, so refusing to honour your father, even though you have one in your home, makes you effectively ‘father-less’.

Children choose to become fatherless when they find that their dad frustrates their will. When the child decides to go against the father’s instructions or pull against his limitations, the child removes their self from being ‘fathered’. So the child becomes fatherless.

When children spend much of their life under the influence of their peers (as is the almost universal experience of western children) it is to be expected that the children will value the peer culture above their parent’s values. The child will be sorely tempted to side with the peers rather than the parents when these cultures conflict. When the child chooses to side with the peers that child replaces the father with the peer culture. The child is then fatherless.

Since the child will likely be determining his or her values from social norms, rather than from Biblical truth or some other external and unchanging reference point, the child will be encouraged to think that their fight for independence from parental control is normal and reasonable. They will have no idea that they have permanently damaged themselves and contributed to the fatherless world in which they live.

God the Father

Among the various responses that can be suggested in this fatherless world, the most powerful one is to firmly set God as Father in our lives. God is a father, as Jesus pointed out when He taught us to pray, “Our Father in Heaven…” That truth was already given in the Old Testament Scriptures.

“But now, O LORD, You are our father; we are the clay, and you our potter; and we all are the work of your hand.” Isaiah 64:8

“For whom the LORD loves he corrects; even as a father the son in whom he delights.” Proverbs 3:12

“Like as a father pities his children, so the LORD pities them that fear him.” Psalm 103:13

God is not only a father, He is the most perfect and complete, fully functioning father that could ever be imagined. Having God as our father brings into our lives all that our natural fathers were incapable of binging to us. So it is more than a nice idea to have God as our Father. It is an extremely powerful reality that will impact who we are more than just about anything else we could do.

I encourage you to overturn fatherless-ness in your life, but entering into intimate relationship with God as your Heavenly Father.

Disappointed Children

What do you do when children are disappointed? How do you solve their upset if you have let them down in some way? Should parents placate an upset child? Or is this a place for tough discipline? What is your solution?

Children Face Disappointments

Every child faces disappointments along the way. They may want you to be excited about something and you are unimpressed. Maybe you’ve seen or head it before. Maybe it just doesn’t seem important to you. Maybe you think it’s a bad thing altogether.

At other times your child may have special expectations of you which you fail to meet. You might forget a promise you made them or forget their birthday or something special to them. They might catch you out showing favouritism to someone else or being more interested in something else than them.

You may not buy them the present they have asked you for or you just may not have the finances, talent or skill to meet the needs they believe you should meet.

After all, parents are only human, aren’t they? So parents are going to disappoint people, including their spouse and children. So parents bring disappointments into the life of their children through the years.

What Disappointment Does

The Bible teaches us that disappointment has emotional impact. When an expectation exists and it is not met the experience is called “hope deferred”. That is to say that the thing being hoped for has to be put on hold, either temporarily or permanently. The Bible tells us that facing that kind of disappointment makes our heart sick.

Hope deferred makes the heart sick: but when the desire comes it is a tree of life.” Proverbs 13:12

Being ‘sick’ in heart involves the emotions being pained. And since all the issues of a person’s life come out of their heart, having a sick heart can be quite serious. Let me show you how central the heart is in life’s journey.

“Keep your heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.” Proverbs 4:23

So, to make the point clear, disappointment challenges our emotions and that is dangerous, because if we respond wrongly our whole life can be affected. That’s why it is important for parents to take the issue of disappointment very seriously.

Mind you, husbands and wives, friends and associates all need to be attentive to the issue of disappointment. What I am applying here to children works the same in us all, young and old, in and out of the family.

Wise Responses

The first wise response from parents is to see the disappointment. The worse thing you can do in a case of disappointment is to ignore it or fail to see that it is there. If you allow disappointment to go unchecked and unaddressed then you leave the child with a ‘sick heart’ and vulnerable to unwise responses which create ‘issues’ in their life.

Most people are carrying ‘issues’ around with them that have come out of wrong heart reactions to things they experienced in the past. If you help your child deal with disappointment you will not only save them from developing a life issue from the case in point, but you will help them learn skills for resolving other issues that come up along the way.

The next wise response is to nurture the child’s heart. Remember that it is ‘sick’. The child who is feeling ‘hope deferred’ is not trying to be difficult, but is struggling to deal with internal responses that they may not want. They will be contending with hurt feelings, frustration, anger, resentment or other dangerous reactions which spring up within them due to what they have been through.

If you act in anger, using your authority to punish them for struggling with pain, you will only compound the problem.

Nurturing the Child’s Heart

If a person is feeling hurt, rejected, unloved or disappointed they will most likely be helped by a healthy dose of loving care and affection. They will benefit from any reassurance that they are loved and valued.

An apology is a good start. This shows the child that the parent did not intend to hurt their feelings. It teaches the child that we can all take responsibility for our actions, which is something you will want your child to do too.

As mentioned earlier, nurture is not achieved by being angry or reacting negatively to the child’s hurt feelings. You are going to be their parent for the rest of your life, so why in the world would you want to make a difficult situation worse? Surely you will want to build quality bridges into your child’s heart, forging a strong, life-long bond of affection and care.

So go ahead and nurture that relationship. Take care to build those bridges. While your child is feeling a little raw and sore their feelings are more easily able to be spoken into. Cold, unfeeling children are harder to build close relationship with than those who allow you to see their emotions. So capitalise on the soreness that they are feeling to touch their emotions and link their heart with yours.

Hold Your Ground

Another important thing for you to do, that will greatly benefit your child in the long run, is to hold your ground. Some parents feel they have failed if they upset their child. Those parents may go out of their way to placate the child by giving in to the child’s demands. This is not healthy for the child.

If you give in to your child’s upset feelings you teach your child that they can get their way by expressing emotion. You are training them to sulk, cry, complain, exploit and give in to hurt, and so on. Such processes do not work in the real world. So don’t lead your child into lifestyle habits which set them up for failure and further pain.

Responding properly to life’s disappointments is a skill we all need, for we will continue to face our share of unhappy moments. Anything can turn out to be worse or less than we wanted, from the weather to our health, or the performance level of others, or ourself. A mature person handles those disappointments with purpose and wisdom. You want your child to be a mature person, so help them face the disappointment and come to terms with it.

Don’t crumple in the face of your child’s disappointment, but show them how to embrace their situation, even though it is less than they want.

Coming to Terms With Disappointment

In order to resolve disappointment a person needs to work through the various feelings which erupt from their chest. So coming to terms with disappointment is a tailor-made process, customised for the child’s individual emotional responses.

Some children readily become resentful. Others embrace despair. Some feel worthless and rejected, while others retreat into their own world of self-reliance. There are many possibilities.

A wise parent will seek to understand the issues emerging within the child and then escort the child through the appropriate steps to resolve whatever that is. I suggest that my Steps to Release, which I discuss in other posts, will help.

Certainly forgiveness toward those who let the child down will be important. Accepting their lot, even though it is less than they wanted is also important. Repenting of wrong reactions is also very valuable. So too is expressing faith in God, recognising that God knows the end from the beginning and can be trusted to sort things out, even if they are disappointing.

Deal with Disappointment

The bottom line is that parents must be ready and willing to deal with the disappointment which they create in their children. But remember not to respond with intolerance, anger or frustration at your child’s hurt feelings. Instead, help the child deal with their personal struggles so they grow strong in facing this reality of life effectively. God bless you as you do.

Little One 2

Here’s another parent-child dialogue in the on-going Little One series. This is a made-up scenario which is speaks into situations which often emerge in families. I pray that it help you get a grip on how to work through these things and bless your family.

I know I upset you today and I upset you yesterday too. You may feel like I’m always upsetting you. So let’s have a little talk about all that and see if we can sort it all out.

Yesterday you became really upset with me because I said “No” to something you wanted. You felt hurt and disappointed and you saw me as the one who made you unhappy.

Then today I rebuked you for your bad mood and I became cross with you. Now you are feeling even more upset with me. You are sure that you would be happier if I wasn’t in your life.

That makes me very sad, and it makes God sad too. So it’s very important that we sort this all out. I think we have both been wrong in the way we handled this and so I want to apologise to you. Let’s work through this whole mess and clear all these bad feelings up.

Yesterday you asked for something that you were very excited about. Although it sounds exciting to you, I know, as your daddy, that this is not good for you. It’s one of those sugar-coated traps which people think will make them happy but which bring problems into their life. Because I love you and it is my job to protect you, I had to say “No” to your request.

You felt upset because I refused the thing you were looking forward to. This is called “hope deferred”. Your hope was frustrated and that made you feel sad on the inside. However, as you grow, you will have many times when the things you want and look forward to are blocked in some way. You need to trust God and learn to enjoy what you have, whether it is everything you want or none of the things you want.

You also need to forgive the people who upset you, whether they were being mean or even being good in their actions. So, you need to forgive me for upsetting you and disappointing you.

God has your life under control and He is ready to give you every lovely blessing. First, however, you need to trust your heart to Him, and do what is right.

Because you didn’t do that yesterday you stayed in a bad mood. You even tried to be surly and to make me unhappy by your attitudes. What you were really doing was trying to punish me for making you unhappy. The Bible teaches us that we are not to punish people, but to let God do that. If what I did was wrong it is up to God to sort that out. It is not your job to try to punish me by your actions or attitudes.

I became annoyed at your bad attitude and I became more and more frustrated with you. I also felt upset that I couldn’t deal with the problem properly. And so I became cross with you. I shouted at you and upset you even more.

I have been praying about what happened and God has shown me that I was wrong. I saw your bad attitude and did not deal with it properly. I just became more and more annoyed. What I am supposed to do is to discipline you properly and without any bad attitudes in my heart. I am supposed to smack you when you disobey me and upset God. Instead I decided not to discipline you, since I had already upset you. But that only led to more problems.

I then became frustrated, annoyed and angry with you. And so I rebuked you and shouted at you, out of anger and not out of love. I ask you to forgive me for being angry and annoyed and for not disciplining you properly.

We both have things to learn as we go along. God is raising you into a person who is mighty in spirit and who will go and do His will in ways I could never imagine. God is also challenging me about my compromises and the weaknesses in my heart that lead me away from His perfect wisdom. So, together, we are growing into maturity and victory.

I’m going to pray with you now, helping you to ask God to forgive you for not trusting Him and for not giving your problem to Him. I’ll also get you to make sure you have properly forgiven me and anyone else who has annoyed you.

I have told God that the next time something like this happens, that I will follow His instructions and give you the discipline He prescribes, rather than being too weak to do what is right. You won’t like that, but it will bring the best fruit in us both.

I love you. I thank God that He placed you in my family and gave me the challenge to do what is right. You are destined to become one of the great servants of God in the whole earth. My job is to follow God’s instructions, because I love Him and I love you, so that you don’t end up unprepared, or weak, like I am. I want you to become a much better person than I am; one who is able to follow God faithfully and fearlessly, without the compromises which mess up my life.

Let’s pray together and tell God we are ready to take the journey that’s ahead of us.

Sacred Nakedness

The on-going current issue of child nude photos intended for display in a Sydney art gallery prompts me to clarify again the Biblical position regarding nakedness. Sacred Nakedness is the term I am now using to help us recognise the moral issues behind this debate.

It has long been suggested that nakedness is something which mature adults should have no problem with. Adults are well informed about the differences between male and female physiology and married couples can enjoy open sexual intimacy and share their nakedness without shame or recourse. So, it is suggested, it is prudish and childish to make too much of nudity and nakedness.

Advocacy for the open display of nudity, at least to adults, goes along the lines, “We’re all adults here. If you’ve seen one naked body you’ve seen them all. There’s no need to be ashamed of the human body.” Evolutionary influences add to the debate such thoughts as, “Clothing is a recent invention. We are just a ‘naked ape’ and we can display our unclothed bodies just like other animals do.”

Then come the big guns of mockery and intimidation, such as, “How Victorian and prudish to be ashamed of the human body. We should celebrate our bodies and be unashamed to display what nature gave us.”

So goes the sales pitch. That’s why people who anchor their beliefs in cultural voices become confused on this issue. Instinctively their conscience warns them that nakedness is not such a casual issue. Life experience signals that nakedness is indeed a deeply moral issue. Yet these other voices of cultural reasoning challenge our instinctive perceptions.

Consider these obvious signals that nakedness has a sacred and moral quality. Imagine a person choosing to turn up at work stark naked for the day. If nakedness is such an over-rated issue, made special only by outdated, prudish ideas, then why does such a situation raise so much concern? Is it not true that most people in that workplace will be distracted, some being sensualised and others being offended? Is it not true that the parents and family of the naked person will struggle with their actions and the family of the others who turn up at work will hold concern for how their family member will be affected by working around someone who is naked?

While some ‘enlightened’ people will assert that they have no problem with their child, spouse or friend showing off their naked body, the vast majority of people, including those of no apparent moral convictions, will find such nudity distracting, inappropriate, embarrassing or otherwise out of order.

We each know, at a societal level, that the open display of nakedness is socially inappropriate, even if we can’t articulate why.

Here is the reason why nakedness is not for public display. Nakedness is sacred. Nakedness is a personal, private gift given us by God, signalling our special place as God’s creation, made in the image of God. The animals are not made with that unique quality and so their bodies do not have sacred nakedness. Humans are made in the image of God and are given a conscience which alerts them to the sacredness of their nakedness. Exposure of nakedness causes shame and is a violation of our moral being. While it is possible to become desensitised to our conscience, such cavalier attitudes do not change the reality of our creation. Neither do philosophy classes, protestations by ‘artists’, demands that we be ‘grown up’ and ‘realistic’, etc.

It is possible for people to push past their pangs of conscience and become hardened liars, thieves and even killers. So the evidence that some people can be arrogantly hardened in their stance on nudity is no case for arguing its inherent value. A gang or thieves celebrating their freedom to steal without pang of conscience has not changed the fact that theft is wrong.

Shaming ourselves by exposing human nakedness is not ‘enlightenment’ but rather it is the journey into darkness. Professing themselves to be wise and elevated, libertines become fools and debase themselves. They throw away their sovereign uniqueness and reduce themselves to animal status.

Ancient Greco-Roman art did not change our created reality. Michelangelo’s statue of David did not change our created reality. The modern addiction to pornography, nudity and immoral living does not change our created reality. Appeals to the cause of ‘art’ and ‘free speech’ do not change our created reality.

I remind you that from the earliest record of human experience, Genesis Chapter 3, we are shown that humans have a conscience about their naked bodies. Adam hid himself because he was naked. I remind you that Noah’s married adult sons, who knew all about what naked bodies looked like and could make every claim to being ‘adult’ in their choices and actions, took pains not to see their father’s naked body when he lay in a drunken sleep in his tent. Instead of thinking that nakedness was of no consequence these men carefully covered their father’s nudity, ensuring that they did not see it themselves.

Every human body possesses Sacred Nakedness. When we make public display of the naked body we are rejecting our own sacredness and the dignity which we have by divine mandate. Those who have no respect for God, and thus are happy to demean and debase themselves, wish to undermine us all. Any and all displays of nudity and nakedness debase our human dignity. Artistic expression is not above our moral realities. It gives no authority to those who wish to act outside God’s moral requirements.

The naked children photos are an attack on the dignity of us all. They are base in their moral impact. They are an offence to humanity in general and the innocence of children in particular. It does not matter what the pose or the level of sensuality implied or aroused by the images. The violation is not principally based on the age of the children or the suggestive nature of the images. Any and all display of the naked body is at its core a violation of human conscience, because it is a violation of our divine personal preserve, our sacred nakedness.

For the record for those who may protest the need for exposure within medical procedures, even in the context of medical treatment, which at times necessitates medical evaluation of people’s private nakedness, we should maintain the dignity of sacred nakedness, rather than allow callow attitudes toward that which violates the conscience.

The child nude photos issue is not a debate about the bounds of art. It is not a fuzzy issue with competing claims and counter-claims. It is a time to focus on our abandonment of foundational reality. It is time to remind ourselves of the moral boundaries which God has imposed on us. It is time to stand for what is wholesome and healthy, in the face of those who wish to drag us all into their own violated state.

Note: I posted an earlier review of this subject under the heading Nudity, Purity and Sex, May 31, 2008.