In a culture that praises academic success, outward appearance, and performance on the sports field, how do we communicate to our children that it is their heart that matters most? As I wrestled with this question, there was another one that I was convicted to answer first…
Is it their heart that matters most to me? And if the answer is yes, am I spending more time nurturing their heart than anything else?
In 2015 we moved from Malibu to Nashville. While in California, I had two jobs that significantly shaped my outlook as a mother without me even realizing it at the time. The first was as a Speech-Language Pathologist in a school for children on the Autism Spectrum. The majority of these students did not have the skills needed to thrive in Kindergarten and as I transitioned from the workplace to being a stay at home mom, the question of kindergarten readiness slowly crept into every thought. I found myself working extra hard to make sure my boys had the skills that had been missing in the students I served and loved. This looked like circle time, reading every chance we got, and using all of my spare time to play and make sure they were surrounded by a language rich environment! All good things, but it had become the main thing which left me feeling really weary of striving to meet a never ending goal.
But another job I had was also shaping my thoughts. As a resident director at Pepperdine University I was charged with the overall well being of college students, making sure their spiritual, emotional and physical needs were met. I witnessed some students walking in a deeper faith than me and I was so encouraged, while others who grew up in a home that loved Jesus, no longer knew where He fit into their daily lives.
During moments of solitude (usually during naptime) another question was on repeat in my mind,
“How are your children’s hearts being prepared, for a life of love- love of God, his word, and others, after they leave your home?”
I began to pray Psalm 139:
“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
Have you ever felt that fierce tug-of-war battle going on inside? As children of God, we know the desire that is supposed to be in our hearts, but is that the desire ruling our head and actually affecting the way we parent and the schedule we keep? For me, the answer was no.
How do we re-center?
“But seek first His kingdom, and His righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.”Matthew 6:33
I knew something needed to change, and over the course of the next few months my mom, who spent her lifetime as an elementary school counselor, helped me map out a plan to focus on ONE character trait of Jesus a month. No more stressing over activities just to keep the kids busy or target a random academic skill. I wanted to intentionally point my boys to Jesus by nurturing their heart and mind to be more like Him, every chance I was given!
Character Builds Joy
This journey of Character Builds Joy, started in 2018 and as usual, what I thought was being developed to address a need in the hearts of my children was really changing mine. I have realized that four things really seem to have a major impact on keeping my focus on my boy’s heart and keep me from not being as easily distracted by the things of this world.
1. Calling character by name!
If we want our children to have a heart like Jesus, they need certain language and vocabulary! More than just being nice or good, don’t we want them to be humble, gentle, faithful, and forgiving- overflowing with love and joy!?
What would happen if we began to pray that God would reveal opportunities to call attention to our children’s hearts more than their accomplishments or behavior? Could we learn to call out the perseverance they used to make it through a difficult task instead of only focusing on the outcome. Could we learn to not only talk about how aggressive they played on the court but about the humility they used when they passed the ball rather than taking every shot for themselves. When our children are complimented for their appearance, could we affirm the compliment while reminding them that Proverbs says those things come and go but a heart who fears and loves the Lord is to be praised.
For me, moments of correction is a great time to call out the missing character trait instead of only focusing on the unwanted behavior. “I’m seeing anger where there should be a heart at peace, greed instead of contentment, and harshness instead of gentleness.” With help from the Holy Spirit we can train our eyes to see not only the behavior but also the heart!
As we speak these character words to our kids, they begin to realize that this is what we value, this is what is really important! Too overwhelming? I have found that choosing one character trait each month helps keep my focus as the enemy tries to distract me away from the heart and onto their performance. We see what we are looking for, so if we are looking for moments to call out their heart, we will find them!
2. Memorizing Scripture
The second way we can show our children that it’s the heart that matters most is by memorizing Scripture- Hebrews 4:12 says
“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword…discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
We aren’t with our children all of the time, but we can help them write God’s word on their heart so that it is always with them, leading them along the right path. Choose a verse centered on a character trait and practice is together daily.
Use a specific time to have pre-readers use pictures to learn a memory verse while older children write it in a journal. Some days, my kids act like this is not their favorite thing to do. If this happens to you, don’t be disheartened, we know that memorizing scripture is a gift we can give them to guard their hearts, and this is what we care most about!
Talk about the verse and show your children how the Holy Spirit uses it by asking questions like, “Was there a time today/this week that this verse popped into your mind?”
We know that we can’t do this on our own. We need the power of the Holy Spirit to transform our children’s hearts and our own! Something we can do with our kids is letting them hear us pray for their heart. In Nancy Guthrie’s book, Praying through the Bible for your Kids, she asks the question, “Are your prayers for your children being shaped by the kingdom of this world or the kingdom of God?”
4. Asking the Heart Question
Lastly, we can intentionally show our children that it’s their heart that matters most, by asking the heart question. In 1 Samuel 16:7 Samuel is looking to anoint the next King of Israel when the Lord says to him,
“Do not consider his appearance or his height…The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
When kids start focusing on things other than the heart such as who runs the fastest, who knows the most, who’s drawing is the best, use these moments of comparison to remind them of what matters by asking the heart question which is…
“But what does God see when He looks at you?”
“He sees your heart. Your heart of…” (and call out the character you see!) “courage, kindness, compassion, self control, etc.”
But be prepared, if you say this enough, your kids will begin asking you the heart question. When my boys hear me compare my abilities, my house, my clothes to other moms they look at me and ask the heart question, “But mom, what does God see?”
I am grateful that the teaching we think our children so desperately need, is commonly the thing our hearts need most.
Repetition is the key, let’s focus on the heart so much that when our children leave the nest the pressure is off to do a certain occupation and look a particular way because they know and believe that it’s their heart that matters most!