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    Thoughts on Moral Virtue {Part III}

    August 12, 2008 by Brandy Vencel

    I feel the urge to have a disclaimer starting off. This is because I’m going to talk about attempting to raise good, morally virtuous children without ever having done so. It should go without saying that my thoughts are based on what I’ve read in Scripture, observed in the world around me, and picked up from wise older women. Since my oldest is only six, we have yet to know whether we have succeeded with any of our children.

    All of this to say that this post is not intended as childrearing advice. It is simply a bit of sharing about what I’m learning right now and how this change what I do and how I do it.

    While my sister-in-law was here, one of our most interesting discussions {to me, anyhow} was concerning the idea that children are real people. In our culture they are often thought of as inconveniences or burdens on the one hand, and really cute accessories on the other. Building the habit of thinking about them as people with souls can be a challenge.

    As I was thinking about this fact–that my children are real, actual people with thoughts and feelings and wills of their own that deserve respect–my son had a day. Poor guy actually has a lot of days. But he had one shortly after the conversation. His day was mostly filled with failure. He had encountered lots of discipline. Now, granted it was his own fault. He didn’t want to let things go, he allowed himself to blow things up out of proportion, and though we all tried to stop him, he plowed down that road determinedly.

    And at the end of the day he seemed beaten down. He was also discouraged by other factors which were outside his control.

    My heart had been pondering what to do with him all day long. To go back to the abstinence discussion from my first post, there were two potential responses to such a day that might fit. One would be to use reason and fear. I could have, for instance, told him all the bad things that would happen if he continued in his ways. We moms have wild imaginations when it comes to our children. I could have told him a tall tale about how if he never learned to submit, he would never be a good employee and he would lose his job and become homeless as a grownup! Some of this could be true. It certainly might be true of a percentage of the population of boys who act in such ways.

    Another response might be the specialness response. I could have told him how smart he was and how his smartness makes him too good for such foolishness. I could have told him that he really is, deep inside, special and sweet and he should act accordingly.

    Both of these responses might be true, and they might even be effective. But they didn’t necessarily seem Biblical. Or, to say it another way, I was sure that the Bible had better advice that scaring my son into obedience, or building up his pride.

    God inspired Si and I separately to each try something new with our children. I would call it a two-pronged approach, except that such a title sounds far too formal compared to what is actually happening in our home now. We are simply trying to add some new things into the mix that we think will encourage moral virtue in general, and build up our son in particular.

    Reading His Word

    It was heart-warming to hear my son begging his father to read Scripture to him before bed last night. I think he knew that Si would be tempted to take the night off since it was late, we were all tired, and we parents still had a two-hour project ahead of us {unpacking the office, if you must know}.

    “Daddy!” I heard him say. “I love Scripture! I love Scripture! Please read me at least one chapter! Just one chapter…”

    The Bible says that fathers are to bring up their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. It dawned on me that usually parents are strong in one area and weak in the other. We are strong on discipline overall. We are scheduled, organized, consistent in responding to misbehavior, etc. Though we are far from perfect, discipline isn’t necessarily our problem.

    But instruction? Well, in the midst of the move, a lot of things fell to the wayside. Our children had had a long break from instruction, and we were beginning to reap that.

    But really, it goes beyond this. If we want to consider what it takes to raise morally virtuous children over the long haul, a good verse to look at is:

    How can a young man keep his way pure?
    By keeping it according to Your word.
    Psalm 119:9

    Scripture guards our hearts and minds. If a man wants to pursue moral greatness, he must be fully immersed in Scripture. And yet here we were, expecting a youthful form of morality without grounding them enough in Scripture.

    With our son, Si began a nightly time of reading, just the two of them. We have done family worship time in the past, but sometimes certain children will need special attention, I think. This is one of those times for our family where one-on-one discipleship will be key.

    Commending His Works

    What God has shown to me is that I need to encourage my children in a way that is distinct from the world. This doesn’t mean that I never tell them when they have done a good job. We all need feedback. But I’m questioning whether some of my past actions really strengthened my children morally or even emotionally.

    If I constantly tell one of my little girls that she is beautiful, I have set her up for disappointment, as beauty fades with time and cannot be relied upon. If I console a little boy by assuring him that he is smart or strong or talented, I set him up for hubris and pride, which can only lead to moral failure, and never that ultimate virtue of fortitude I mentioned in Part II.

    However, if I teach my children to esteem not themselves, but rather their Maker, I have offered them a true source of strength. I have planted that seed of conviction that God is real, and He is good, a foundation for morality and goodness. If, at the end of the day, I say that the day was good, not because of what we accomplished, or because of the wonderful things we did {like hitting a homerun at the game}, but because God has made it {and aren’t we amazed and how well He did so?}, I offer them true contentment.

    Every day will not hold a victory. Every day will not bring us success. But every day is full of God’s glory, and therefore every day can be rejoiced in. This is where children will learn to find not only their moral strength, but also their emotional strength. God, there during the dark valleys, leading them beside peaceful waters, will be their Source.

    Commending His works to them becomes foundational for moral, spirtual, and emotional growth. In short, it encourages maturity.

    End Note

    So that night, with a discouraged little boy by my side, I decided to take a new approach. It felt a little awkward, as it wasn’t something I had much practice at. But I assured Him that God is good. I never spoke of the failures of the day. Instead, I tried to find the points of light that both of us could delight in together. Isn’t God good? we said together. For a few brief moments, we reflected on His gifts.

    When I left him that night, he seemed more contented and peaceful than any evening past when I tried to shower him with a thousand praises, rather than teaching him to praise his King!

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  • Reply Brandy August 13, 2008 at 3:59 pm

    Ellen, This is (again–I say this a lot, I know) why I love blogging. Blogging: Where the readers keep the author from getting too extreme or myopic! πŸ™‚

    All of that to say: YOU ARE RIGHT. Cause and effect is throughout the Bible, but especially Proverbs. And that is significant seeing as Proverbs is full of training, or at least training of an older child or a youth.

    There are probably two reasons why I went this direction. The first deals with motivation. I would like my children (and myself) to obey God from love first and foremost. After that, I think it is wonderful to learn that His laws and ways make so much sense. I’m not saying that folks who approach this differently are wrong, but we usually tell our children they must obey. After that, they can ask why. This way, we focus on the heart of obedience first, and the reason second. But they really do get a reason, as long as asking for the reason is not actually a way of trying to get out of obedience.

    Maybe I just have really manipulative kids. πŸ™‚

    As far as praise and disapproval, I think that this is an area where I personally have struggled. It’s not the idea of feedback that bothers me–everyone needs to know how they’re doing now and then. It was that, in regards to praise, I think there were times when it was excessive (and coming from many places other than just us) and built up pride. This is especially dangerous with an intellectually gifted child who is tempted to begin to believe he knows everything and is smarter than everyone. And then I think my expressions of disapproval, at the same time, had begun to make my children suspect that my love was conditional. Maybe I was too emphatic. πŸ™

    Okay. Now I’m wandering. πŸ™‚

    For now, I’m trying to tone the old things down a bit while working on developing the new parenting skills where I think I was weak. In the end, I think we’ll balance back out, with the new thing incorporated and complementing the old.

    Thanks again for knocking a bit of sense into me. πŸ™‚

  • Reply Ellen August 12, 2008 at 10:38 pm

    So, yeah, I guess I main point that related to your post was the “scaring him into obedience” could be Biblical, depending on the context. Shoulda put that in there the first time… =)

  • Reply Ellen August 12, 2008 at 10:37 pm

    As usual, great post. I think I see where you’re going with this, and I agree. But… =) There are tons of practical warnings in Scripture that emphasize cause and effect. Proverbs is chock full of them, especially the lengthy warning instructions of a father to son. That can’t be the main motivation, and in our culture, we focus on it FAR too much, but it does have a place in discipline.

    But what can I say? I tell my kid he’s being “good” or “ugly” all the time. But I’m dealing with an 18-month-old, so praise and disapproval have to be rather obvious and less nuanced at the moment. =)

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