“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” -Galatians 5:22, 23 NIV
Goodness is not like the other fruits of the Spirit for it is the quality of being that encompasses the fundamental nature of an individual. And since the fall we humans are anything but good. That is why Jesus wanted to make sure that the man who called him good was indeed understanding that absolute goodness resides in God alone
“A certain ruler asked him, Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life? ‘Why do you call me good?’ Jesus answered. ‘No one is good—except God alone.’” -Luke 18:18,19 NIV
When God lives in us through the Holy Spirit he brings this quality into our lives and so grants us the ability to participate in his goodness. Good deeds come from a good heart, otherwise we are just attempting to keep a set of rules or demonstrate good manners. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for good manners, especially when it comes to what we teach our children. Good manners are like oil in the machinery of society; they make all our relationships run more smoothly. But let’s not mistake social etiquette for goodness. Manners are external and when there is no social pressure to reinforce them they will fade like the spring grass in the heat of summer. But goodness is an internal quality and will remain even when there is no external motivation. A good person will always do good, even when it is not socially or personally advantageous. No strait-jacket of rules or regulations will ever change a heart, only the transformational work of God can do that! As parents, what we want is for our children to be good, not just well behaved. To accomplish this we need to be much more focused on their hearts.
“For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.” -Matthew 15:19 NIV
For example; you hear your children using foul language so you immediately step in and tell them in no uncertain terms that kind of talk is not permitted. You see a look of compliance on your child’s face and walk away feeling like you’ve solved the problem, right? Wrong!
“A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.” -Matthew 12:35 NIV
In this verse Jesus gets to the heart of the matter. Good produces good … evil produces evil. When I was a young man I was in a Christian music group and it was my job to set up the lights for every performance. One performance after we had been on the road for quite a long time I was attempting to set the lights up for the instrumentalists and was having a rough time of it. As I was focusing the lights one of the band members yelled up at me that they couldn’t see their music. Well, let’s just say I was not very gracious in my response. Later that evening my conscience was bothering me so I went up to the complaining band member to explain the trouble I was having and offered a weak apology. What they said has stuck with me. They told me that people are like toothpaste tubes; whatever is inside will come out when squeezed. I was squeezed and out came unkind words. If we fill our hearts with lovely things then when we are squeezed out will come goodness. So in the situation of the child’s foul language we need to ask the question what’s going on inside my child that would produce such talk and then we need to speak to that condition?
For sure it is much easier to regulate our children’s behavior than nurture their hearts. But if all we do is focus on actions then we’re doomed to play a never ending game of “whack-a-mole” with their unacceptable behavior. If the heart condition hasn’t changed then the behavior will also not change.
So how do we nurture goodness in our child? Here are some thoughts:
- Pray: Remember that God is the one who will ultimately give your child the gift of a good heart.
- Model: Talk to your child why you do what you do. Help them see how your decisions are based upon your desire to please God. This will be challenging because most of us don’t think this way too often.
- Discipline and correct: When your child does something that goes against God’s heart talk about it with them. Tell them what you desire for them and turn to the Scriptures for instruction and correction.
- Be patient: This is God’s work in God’s time and we are merely his instruments. Your patience will communicate to your children that you are trusting God for their growth and that he loves them even more than you do.
One last comment and warning; Rearing children is a developmental process. One does not enter into a moral/ethical discussion with a four year old about playing in the street. What they need to understand about that is you are the boss and you said no. Teaching children obedience is very important to their moral development. But as a child grows up we need to make sure that they are understanding the reasons for their obedience. This is where we can discuss the implications of their decisions and their choices. Rearing a child is more art than science. You need to become a careful observer of your child and look for times when they can assimilate wisdom. But let me be clear … they should be making almost all of their own decisions and managing their lives by the time they leave for college. Otherwise prepare the room in your basement because you’re going to have a long term occupant!