Helping Kids Understand, Recognize, and Face Temptation
A tearful friend recently shared about her child’s struggle with an issue. Her face fell as she relayed how her child had succumbed to temptation. My heart broke for the mom and her sweet child, both of whom I dearly love.
And then I got mad.
Mad at the enemy, mad at a world that teaches us that following our desires is good (NOTE: I am NOT saying all desires are bad. Read on for more explanation). And I got mad in general at how easy it is for us to give into desires that have negative, far-reaching consequences.
Over the last few weeks since that conversation, I’ve been contemplating the issue of sin, temptation, and how we can encourage our children to overcome.
Before we get too deep into this, we should start by defining sin. What does it mean? At its most basic, the word means to miss the mark or make an error, like missing a bullseye in archery. So, basically sinning means lacking in perfection.
With that in mind, we can say with confidence that all of us humans fall into the category of “sinner.” I love how the Message translation of Romans 3:23-24 puts it:
We are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us.” But thankfully, “Out of sheer generosity [God] put us in right standing with himself … by means of Jesus Christ.
Thanks to the grace of Jesus, we don’t have to let sin defeat us. We’ve ALL made mistakes and have succumbed to some temptation or other, all the way back to our common roots of Adam and Eve.
Remember what God said to Adam? “You can eat from any tree in the garden, except from the Tree-of-Knowledge-of-Good-and-Evil. Don’t eat from it. The moment you eat from that tree, you’re dead.” Genesis 2:16-17 MSG
That was the boundary. God gave Adam a ton of things to eat and enjoy, just not from that ONE tree. God, as the creator, had the right to put down that boundary. Adam didn’t have to like it, but as the one who was created, he didn’t get to make the rules. God makes the rules. If we are going to get anywhere in this battle against temptation, that is an essential concept to acknowledge. God created the universe. He makes the rules.
I love the way The Message translation of the Bible narrates Eve’s temptation, that first moment when sin entered the world. The serpent came to Eve and twisted God’s words: “God knows that the moment you eat from that tree, you’ll see what’s really going on. You’ll be just like God, knowing everything, ranging all the way from good to evil.” Genesis 3:4-5 MSG Satan was saying to her, “Come on, Eve. It’s delicious. It’s what you want. It will give you power. You can be your own god.”
When I was younger, I would read that story and get judgy: Why did Eve have to do that? She knew better. If only she hadn’t sinned, the rest of us would have it easy.
But let’s be real. Eve was up against a heavy weight champion in the temptation business and she got knocked out in one round. And, as Jesus said, let s/he who is without sin cast the first stone. We’re all up against that same devious deceiver. We’ve all eaten some sort of fruit we weren’t supposed to, and like Eve, have dealt with consequences. We are presented with tempting fruit all the time.
Our kids face this stuff all the time too. And we need to be real about it, especially with them. We must be willing to have honest conversations about our own temptations and about how we deal with them, both when we have dealt with them successfully and when we have failed. And how we recover when we fail.
Furthermore, as moms, we must lead by example. We can’t expect our kids to follow rules if we aren’t willing to do the same. For example, if we expect our teen drivers to follow the speed limit then we need to follow it too. Does this mean we have to be perfect? No, but we should take an honest look at our own hearts and be real about how we define sin and how we deal with it.
Throughout the ages, people have gotten very creative in dealing with this issue of sin. Adam and Eve tried hiding and blaming. Other popular tactics include avoiding God (not that it’s really possible), blaming others, pretending we didn’t know it was wrong, lying, and more.
We also take creative license with theology. We invent extra steps, rules, regulations, and/or take scripture out of context. We find ways to feel holier than thou and shame “those other people and their sinful ways” (which is the sin of pride, BTW). We also ignore or outright reject parts of scripture, claiming things like, “I only believe this or that part of the Bible.”
This is sin, too.
We try to manipulate the boundaries God put down for us, which in the end really only harms ourselves, doesn’t it?
Sin puts up a shame barrier between us and our loving Father.
Jesus has overcome our guilt through his sacrifice, yes and amen, and we are thankful for his grace, but when we choose to willingly and willfully step into sin, we distance ourselves from God. This is again where we as moms have to be willing to get real with ourselves, with God, and with our kids.
We must acknowledge that we have a real enemy. A crafty, wise, devious enemy who is very good at his job. We are in a battle, and he will continue to fight us.
In Galatians 5:17, the Message translation uses the word “sinful self-interest” and “selfishness” to describe our sin nature. This is the nature that rages against surrendering to God’s ways and wants us to be true to ourselves. If I were true to myself and the cravings of my “self” right now, I’d be face down in a chocolate cheesecake, probably in a diabetic coma. And that’s just for starters.
This desire to follow sinful self-interest and selfish desires will lead us into trouble. Crossing boundaries God has given us will also lead us into trouble. Entertaining thoughts that are sinful will definitely lead us into trouble. If we aren’t real with ourselves that we’re in a battle, then we might have already lost. So, we must talk to our kids about this battle.
To be strong in this battle, we must pray for God’s wisdom for ourselves, for our children, and with our children. Paul offers up a wonderful prayer in Colossians 1:9-12 that focuses on praying for God’s wisdom, understanding, and discernment:
“Be assured that from the first day we heard of you, we haven’t stopped praying for you, asking God to give you wise minds and spirits attuned to his will, and so acquire a thorough understanding of the ways in which God works…” MSG
We must stay stay close to God in prayer and stay in God’s word. One of Eve’s problems was she lacked an understanding of God’s word, so the serpent easily led her astray. I know as moms, sometimes finding time for Bible study is a challenge. Something I’ve started doing lately is having my Bible app read to me in the mornings while I get ready. The most important thing is to find ways to keep putting God’s word into our hearts for us and our kids. If we don’t make time with the Father a priority, our kids won’t either.
The word of God is our weapon against the enemy’s attacks.
This is part of the core of what me must teach our children, not just in words but again by example. We must surrender to God and what he says. And to do that we must know His Word. This is what the battle comes down to so often. Do we do what we want, or do we do what God tells us is right? Do we surrender to his Word or to our own leading? Oh, so hard and painful sometimes. Again as moms, we must lead by example. And I think talking with our kids about not only the struggle, but the blessing on the other side of surrender is a part of helping them.
Paul speaks of this difficulty so eloquently in Romans 7:15-20. And the truth is, on the other side of that surrender, there is blessing. So much blessing. I think that is another important thing to discuss with our kids. Surrender to sin in the moment is easy, but usually the consequences on the other side are negative. Conversely, surrendering to God’s word and turning away from temptation in the moment is HARD, but on the other side of that “hard” is peace. Helping our kids take the long-term view can be a powerful weapon in the fight against temptation.
In order to surrender, we must trust God. He is good, but sometimes when we really want something, it’s hard to trust in His goodness. So often it comes down to whether I trust God enough to let go of what I so desperately want. I sometimes don’t trust him to give back, or I just don’t trust him to fulfill my needs (not always the same as my wants).
Does doing all this mean we will all successfully avoid all sin and our kids will never fall into temptation? No. In fact, I recently had a discussion with a mentor-friend about this very topic. Her son is nearing his forties and has just now started turning away from a life filled with following temptation. She said for a long time she had read the following verse with the wrong mindset:
Proverbs 22:6 “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” ESV
She’d thought of it as a promise that if she did all the “right” things that her son would always stay on the narrow path of avoiding temptation. But as she took another look at the verse, she noticed the word “old.” She said our lives are a journey and sometimes we all must experience pain and time running away from God in order to understand just how much we need him. As her son ages, she sees him coming to an understanding of his need for God. It has taken so much time, but slowly, she is seeing the seeds planted in his heart as a child start to grow. She said to stay in the fight and pray, always pray.
There is not a 100% sin-proof vest that we can put on or put on our children, but that doesn’t mean we throw our hands up and avoid the topic all together. I think through honest conversation we can at least give our children some tools to understand the nature of temptation. They can have some tools to learn how to turn away from it when they leave our nests. It doesn’t mean they won’t struggle, and we can’t control what our children choose, especially as they become adults. But we can stay in the fight and continue to pray, trust, and hold tight to the Father no matter what. What a comfort that is!