The rough-looking teen’s tough veneer had softened. I detected tears in his eyes.
“No one has ever said anything like that to me.”
Just minutes before, I met this teen in a line at our local amusement park. After a brief conversation, I dug a little deeper and asked Jared what he was good at. “Are you kidding?” He seemed angry. “Look at me.” Violent tattoos, tattered dark clothes, a defiant countenance and multiple piercings on his ears, nose, eyebrows and lips were suggestive of a hard life.
I asked if he was good at lying. “I’m great at it,” was his curt response, as if he wished the conversation would end.
“So you’re creative, and have a good memory,” I said with a little smile.
“What d’ya mean?” he was quick to ask. I had his interest.
I continued my questioning. “So you’re good at that — how about skipping school?”
He smirked a little. “Yeah!”
“How do you get away with it?” I continued.
He seemed proud. “Me and my friends distract the door monitor lady for each other and then take turns about who gets to leave that day.”
“So you’re a good planner, you treat your friends fairly, and you’re all willing to sacrifice for each other. Add to that list your creativity and good memory and I’d say you’re a pretty talented guy. Imagine what might happen if you used some of those talents in ways that were more helpful to you and others, and less trouble!” My words were heartfelt, not tongue-in-cheek or manipulative.
So were Jared’s, as evidenced by his soft tone. “No one has ever said anything like that to me.”
Seeing people from God’s Perspective
When people hear a list of misbehaviors like Jared’s, it can be easy to get distracted by trying to “straighten him out” and fix the problems. But the starting place to capture Jared’s heart and attention was not to dwell on and try to solve his failures, but to identify the talents God gave him, even if they were evident only in his struggles. This kind of encouragement opens even the most challenging of kids to hearing more about how God designed them.
The key to disciplining with God’s perspective is to view my children (and myself!) as both sinners AND as God’s miraculous workmanship. We are created in God’s image and for His purposes. Then I can begin to see my kids as capable of great things, in spite of their current misbehavior.
Even when kids like Jared get in trouble, they often use their talents to do it. If our typical response to misbehavior is simply punishment, children often grow discouraged, believing they are trouble-makers, not talented people.
If we truly want to help our children learn and grow into the purpose for which God created them, we need to be intentional about teaching them valuable character traits — both proactively before misbehavior, and even when they’ve just misbehaved.
What’s Your Ultimate Goal?
Many times when we work with parents we ask them, “What’s your goal when you discipline your child?” The most common responses parents give are:
- To make the bad behavior stop.
- To get our kids under control.
- To teach right behavior.
Stopping a misbehavior and teaching the right behavior is not necessarily a bad goal, but it focuses only on what’s immediately wrong. If you want your kids to grow a heart that values what’s right, it’s important for us to notice and affirm whatever is good—even if it’s hidden behind what’s wrong.
When we look at Jesus’ ministry we see his powerful ability to look beneath the surface of people’s problems with a vision to leverage their challenges to draw them into the kingdom. Jesus didn’t treat misbehavior/sin with an eye to just correct it, but with the goal of changed hearts.
Saul the Pharisee was a prime example of this. A persecutor and murderer of Christians, Jesus met him on the road to Damascus. Instead of doling out strong punishment to Saul for his hideous acts, Jesus met him with grace, knowing that God would use Saul’s talents to build the kingdom. So powerful was Saul’s experience that he went away from the encounter with a new mission. He became the apostle Paul, arguably the most important missionary in all of history.
Paul learned to use his same gifts of zeal, determination, and leadership—the gifts that made him so effective at putting Christ-followers to death—to bring true Life to the world!
As parents, we can draw our kids into God’s purposes when we step back, look beneath their immediate misbehaviors, and see the talents used to misbehave with a vision for how God might use those talents for good.
- Consider what it means that God has created you and your child to walk in the good works already planned for you (Ephesians 2:10).
- What misbehavior does your child struggle with, and what might be a gift beneath that misbehavior? If this is difficult to answer, find more information in 12 Misbehaviors and the God-Given Gifts Behind Them.
- Can you think of times when God used that strength to be a blessing to others?
This post is part of a series giving an overview of our Discipline That Connects with Your Child’s Heart principles.