Yesterday one of my sons pitched a fit and threw a cup in the sink and yelled at his mom in angst.
Last weekend another one of them kicked a friend out of our house because they were “being mean”.
I recently had a conversation with a parent who was upset that their teen was choosing to ditch “good friends” for troubled ones.
Surely we all know what we want to tell them. We know how to fix their choices and get them set straight. I get it. In fact, the truth is, I’m not upset with my kids who didn’t throw cups, showed grace and forgiveness to their friends, and have essentially chosen to make some solid choices. So it makes sense that the dominant response, especially when we’re dealing with children making bad choices, is to tell them to “change your behavior.”
However, as I met with my cup throwing son in our one-on-one today, our conversation was not about “not throwing cups”. Yes, we talked about it. But no, my ultimate goal was not to get him to stop doing it. I mean if I get my kid to find a different outlet for his anger, that’s great. But not throwing cups is not what i’m after. I’m not trying to raise a “good kid”, I’m trying to raise a “Godly one” and they’re not the same thing.
In fact, just last week I met a parent who told me that their kid loves the 5th and 6th grade ministry at our church, but they often can’t make it because they go to the early service and their kid is too tired from sports to go. I promise you, the reason it’s not a big deal to them is because their kid is “making good choices”. But if and when the tide ever turns, they’ll be wishing the foundation was deeper than “good kid”.
On a similar note, I once had a parent tell me their daughter didn’t need to be in our “dating series” in youth group because “she wasn’t allowed to date anyway”. In other words, she can’t date now so she doesn’t need it. She’s not making bad choices with a boyfriend so the issue is null and void. The only problem is, when she eventually is out of the house and chooses to date- regardless of the rules set up for her at home- the real question will be, “Upon what foundation will she make her choices and at what point will ‘because my parents said so’ no longer cut it?”
If our goal is merely “behavior modification”, then good choices is what we’re after. However, if our goal is raising kids who reflect the Image of their Creator, then good behavior is a response, not an end in and of itself.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m pro good behavior and I’m not happy when I or my kids make bad choices. However it’s a subtle lie that if someone’s life “looks good” that all is well. My experience says that, “It is totally possible to be morally right and spiritually dead.” In fact, Jesus famously said that you can even be used by God to perform miracles, and still not be in connection with God. If that doesn’t freak you out, I don’t know what will.
If you want to know the bottom line for me, it is this: More important than making good choices, is knowing why their choice was good in the first place. I want my kids to own why they make the choices they do, more than know what they should be doing. That is why my one-on-one today was not about what my son should do different, but about why it matters in the first place. Once we understand that our goal is honoring God, then our behavior can be applied accordingly.
To that end, I want to model a life that asks this question at ever turn: “How can I honor God in that?” My prayer is my own kids and the students I work with in youth ministry will learn to filter everything they do through that one question. I’m not trying to raise up “good kids”, I want to raise Godly ones and that is less about the choices they make, and more about their heart that motivates them.
Oh that God might grant me the grace and wisdom to know how to do that.