Finding creative ways to reach into our children’s hearts is always a challenge for parents. And it’s the heart and mind we want to influence so that when they are on their own, they will make wise choices. A line we repeated often with our tweens and teens was, “Garbage in, garbage out,” meaning, of course, that if they allowed bad language, poor viewing choices, and negative relationships into their lives, that is what would come out.

One night my husband resorted to paying our teens to study the Bible. I know that will probably cause some of you to wince, feeling we were lowering our status as parents to becoming mercenaries. But we only did it once, not because it didn’t work, but because we didn’t want that to be their only motivation. Sometimes a parent gets desperate!

After dinner we offered our two girls, who were both in high school, the opportunity to earn a little cash. They each got a fat concordance and their own Bibles. The assignment was to find as many verses on the heart as they could and write them out. The time limit was 30 minutes. The payment was cheap. (Our youngest, Laura, remembers it being 25 cents. I thought it was 10 cents, and Dad Rainey remembers it as having cost him a fortune. I don’t think they made more than $5 each. Ah, fading memories!)

Surprisingly, they agreed to the terms and got after it, partly to see who could get the most — competition always works with siblings — and partly to make the most cash. But the benefit for us as parents was the interaction we had as a family when they shared the verses they found. And there are many references about the heart in Scripture. They were genuinely amazed at how many.

Equally surprising to them was the variety of descriptions. Among their discoveries was the hard heart, the evil heart, a divided heart, and God’s favorite, a heart wholly devoted to Him. The logical question was what kind of heart did they want and why. The answers may have been perfunctory, but parents can read their kids most of the time. I saw sincere interest and amazement at what they discovered all on their own.

Hearts are the symbol of Valentine’s Day, so take advantage of the emphasis and have a Bible search contest of your own. And you don’t have to pay your kids. You will probably be more creative than we were in finding the right motivation.