“Would you just behave?”

I must admit that there are a lot of times when I would prefer that my kids would simply do what I asked them to do, for the love of Peter. Please just go put your pajamas on. Do not run around naked after the shower, racing between the bedrooms in your birthday suit. Do not run in the bathroom, slam the door, and then open it up and shout, “AAAAAH!” Do not make monkey faces at yourself in the mirror. Just get the stinkin’ things on. Do not pass Go; do not collect $200.

I am amazed at the number of times I find myself repeating some form of the word “no” for repeat offenses. Phrases I quickly tire of repeating include the following: “No.” “Please stop ____.” “You may not ____.” “I asked you not to ____.”

They may sound something like this:

“Please stop irritating your brother.”

“I believe we talked about this when you first got up, and now that you’re eating your cereal, please stop irritating your brother.”

“You will now get a consequence for irritating your brother while he dresses.”

“Please do not irritate him. The poor guy is trying to eat his lunch in peace.”

You get the idea. I mean, how many times a day do we ask our kids to say “please” or “thank you”? I think it’s likely around 20 or so. That’s per day. My oldest is five, so mathematically, the kid’s heard this literally about 30,000 times — and often still needs a little reminder. This astounds me.

But here’s the thing; I realize that even if I’m successful in getting my kids to obey the first time I actually say something, or if I can alter my daughter’s behavior so she doesn’t irritate the living daylights out of my sons all day, or when I can finally triumph at my son’s regular use of manners of his own accord — whenever that is —

… I really have achieved very little if I’ve just modified their behavior into the right actions, even “godly”-looking actions. In all reality, I’ve corrected a symptom: a behavior. But the disease itself remains unchecked: the heart that caused the behavior.

If my daughter continues to irritate her brother, fact is, it’s because in her heart, she wants to. She wants to see him uncomfortable because it’s fun for her, or because she cares more about what she wants to do than how he feels. Core issue: She’s being selfish. She’s being unloving.

If my son continues to forget his manners, some of it is childishness — developmentally appropriate learning as he practices using what’s acceptable. But sometimes, it’s also because he lacks a concern for other people. (Self-centeredness is actually a developmental trait, too, but I’ve gotta gently, firmly train him in virtue.) Sometimes it’s because he’s rude. Loving people doesn’t involve rudeness. Core issue (when it’s not childishness): He’s being self-centered — again, unloving.

Training my kids like Pavlov’s dogs isn’t something to be praised! A couple of years ago, I read this quote, and it was a major “aha” for me:

A change in behavior that does not stem from a change in heart is not commendable; it is condemnable. Is it not the hypocrisy that Jesus condemned in the Pharisees? … Yet this is what we often do in child rearing. We demand changed behavior and never address the heart that drives the behavior (Tedd Tripp, Shepherding a Child’s Heart, 1995).

I am still learning so much about this. I want kids that just do what I say and just act like I want them to act. They should, after all. I want them to act the way the Bible says — the way God wants them to act.

But what if my kids could do the impossible and get all of that stuff right, but it came from a heart like my own, self-righteous and proud of its own achievement of “greatness”? Or what if my kids did everything to be compassionate people to the point that everyone felt loved by them, but my kids actually didn’t —  inside — love them? “If I give away all I have … but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:3).

To tell you the truth, when I avoid confronting heart issues, most the time it’s because I am L-A-Z-Y. It takes too much work, and at that point, I am so mad or tired of this that I want my kids to obey or the fur is gonna fly. But I don’t want to create little angels who inside are filled with “dead men’s bones.”

So now I’m asking more questions and taking more steps to get to the heart of things. And in the end, it’s not me who can change those hearts. It’s God. And trust me — with my kids, it’s a God-sized task.

Author’s note: For more resources that help identify heart issues, I like guest blogger Ginger Plowman’s “Wise Words for Moms” calendar-style scripts for moms, and her book “Don’t Make Me Count to Three.”

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  1. Pingback: Right on!