Personal Gleanings from the book “Instructing a Child’s Heart”
by Taneil Lawton
I have failed as a parent again; instead of keeping my words and tone calm and collected I have yelled at my child. I have used words that were both manipulative and mean. My child yelled back at me, glared, and then I became defensive. All I wanted was for her to acknowledge that I was right and to behave how she should—that being a respectful, honoring way —towards me as their parent!
I am so glad that my children behave in public. So when we are at a homeschool function or at church, people think that I really have it together. My children know how they’d better act, or else! Especially around all those homeschool parents who will judge my whole family by the outward actions of one of my children. Let’s not mention that my son bit another boy during a homeschool event.
Have you had these types of thoughts as a parent? They don’t have to be exactly like the above scenarios, but you know the thoughts, actions and heart attitudes. “I am glad my children aren’t like so and so” or “they better not hang out with so and so because they are a bad influence.” What we fail to acknowledge is that the problem doesn’t lie with someone else, but with our own heart, and with our children’s hearts.
In Tedd and Margy Tripp’s book, titled Instructing a Child’s Heart, they pack a powerful message into 187 pages. What is that message? It boils down to one word: “gospel.” Do you realize that if all we do as parents is behavior training and never address the heart in our discipline, then we are doing ourselves and our children a great disservice? The gospel must be the root of our discipline, because it is the heart that is at the root of our sin. The only way that the heart can be changed is through the gospel. You can change the behavior and even get your children to look good in public, but if it doesn’t reach the heart then there is no lasting change.
There must be formative instruction for the heart to be changed. What is formative instruction? Tripp explains it as instructing our children about what to believe, how to think from the Scriptures, and how to live. The gospel is at the core of this instruction. Our everyday life and home is the classroom. He goes on to say that I, as the parent, must actively teach my children, AND live in a way that shows that God defines my life. I know this in my head, but it takes the power of God working on my heart on a daily basis to allow me to live out what I am trying to teach my children. It also takes TIME and energy to instruct my children in this way. A discipline issue that I choose to address by yelling at my child might take 1 minute of my time. However that same discipline issue may take 5-10 minutes to talk through with them using formative instruction. This is because formative instruction involves asking them probing questions and instructing them in what the Word of God says. No, it doesn’t always have to take that long, but at first as you try to probe your children to try and figure out their heart motives, it does. Other times, and with teens, it may take hours.
I realized, once again, that my own spiritual life is going to greatly affect my training of my children. If I am not disciplined to do the basic disciplines of the Christian life, those of prayer, time in God’s Word, attending church, etc., then I will greatly fail in the formative training of my children.
As parents, we must get to the heart of the behavior. Addressing only the behavior is simply behaviorism and will not make a lasting change. Why do so many “good” homeschooled children change so drastically after graduation and after they leave their parents’ house? I would argue there wasn’t a heart change, just behavior modification as they grew up. Heart change is the only thing that will make a lasting change. The only thing that will allow for that heart change is the gospel.
This book focuses on the centrality of the gospel and how we must point our children to the gospel every time we discipline them. Don’t misread that last statement. There is a place for physical discipline. However, it must always be pointing back to the gospel and be appropriately related to an offense. Doling out a discipline simply to try and make a child understand you are the one in charge will be destructive and will not facilitate a presentation of the gospel. As a parent, I need to take TIME to sit down with my child and find out what they are thinking and feeling, helping them to figure out what their heart attitude was during a situation. Then I can explain that I also sin and struggle just like they do, and that I am here to come along side of them to help them overcome their heart struggles. This is a great way to present the grace found in the gospel, and the forgiveness that is offered in Christ through the gospel. They will still reap the consequence of the action they have sown, but it is now done in a way that gives them hope that they can change and they can, by the power of God, change their heart attitude.
One quote from Instructing a Child’s Heart that really stuck out to me is as follows: “We usually think of good communication skills as the ability to effectively formulate ideas into words. But the finest art of communication is not the ability to express ideas; it is the ability to understand the person with whom one is speaking.”
As I seek to understand my child and help them to understand their heart, then I can communicate the gospel to them. How often do I lecture my child and never give them the TIME to tell me what they are thinking and feeling so we can really get to the core heart problem. If they don’t feel heard by me, I doubt that they will want to hear the gospel from me.
Instructing a Child’s Heart is an excellent book that points the parent back to the gospel. It challenged me to take the TIME I need to instruct my children to live for the glory of God. I was also challenged to examine my own life and make sure I am doing the basic disciplines of the Christian life so I am prepared to face my own sin, so that I can better help my children to recognize and deal with their sin. I highly recommend this book if you are serious about making the beauty of the gospel central in your home.
You can find out more about Tedd Tripp and other resources he offers at Shepherding the Heart.