|image courtesy of Karla Cruz via Picasa|
Child [frustrated]: I can't do this!
Adult: OK. Let me help you.
Child: But I can't! It's too hard.
Adult: Let's look at it.
Child: No! I can't DO IT!!
You may experience this if you are a teacher, or if you are a parent helping your child with home work. Or, as with home schoolers like us, the parent is the teacher, and this is just one of a handful of times in a day that the parent and child clash. My poor wife.
How do we engage the child in this situation? Part of me just wants to tell the child to stop whining and toughen up and just get the work done. To a large extent, I can make my child get the work done that she needs to. But as parents, we need to make sure we go beyond behavior, and get to the heart.
What is the heart issue here? I think there are two issues, both related to the core sin of pride -- independence and idolatry.
We know that kids like to prove themselves capable. They are proud about what they can accomplish on their own. Yes, we should encourage them in learning new things, but there is a danger in going too far. We need to be cautious about teaching the child to trust in his own abilities.
We need to remember (and teach) that the Lord is the giver of all gifts and abilities. Additionally, God created us to live in community. In Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, we see that the Spirit gives different gifts for the purpose of unity (see chapter 12). If everyone could do everything, we wouldn't need each other. God's purpose in the church (and in the family) is that of interdependence, not independence. This can also be seen in Deuteronomy 15:11, where God explicitly says that there will be poor people in the promised land, and He wanted the rich to have a way to connect with them. As with wealth, God uses gifts to bring about and maintain unity among His people.
When your child resists help, it is not just a cute show of leadership and maturity. We explain it to our kids that they are "putting up a wall." The teacher (or Mommy or Daddy) is trying to bless them by engaging them, and the child is refusing to accept the help. By resisting a loving, God-ordained authority, the child is actually resisting God. That is pride.
I am all for helping our children learn and use their gifts. But I am concerned about the arrogance that this can breed if we leaders are not actively training them through this process.
When my kids get frustrated because they they either don't understand the assignment or because they try it and get it wrong, it is a wake-up call to me. I see myself all in them. Like me, they desire perfection. God wants us to do our best, but He never demands perfection in amoral situations.
One of the expectations we have for the children at the after school program is "Respect Yourself: Do Your Best." And as I teach this to my own kids as well, it's easy to remember the first part of Colossians 3:23 -- "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart." That part of the verse is a clear directive. But stop there and you miss the reason that we should try our best:
"Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving." (vv. 23-24)
The motivation of the Christian life is not to "do better" and is not to work by our own efforts. The core motivation must be to please our Lord and Savior.
When we get frustrated by our own imperfection, our idolatry is exposed. We are either worshiping our gifts (instead of worshiping the One who gave us those gifts), or we are worshiping others and seeking to gain their approval (instead of the approval of the One who died for us).
Point Them to the Gospel
So, when my child (and yours) gets frustrated by their own imperfection, we need to point them to the gospel. We need to remind them that Christ died for the entire body of Christ, and sent the Spirit to keep the unity that we have through the Cross (Ephesians 4). God wants us to depend on Him first, and also to receive love and help from those that He sends in our lives.
My child's grades, efforts, and behaviors are visible, so it's easy for me to focus on those. However, what's more important is her heart. There is a spiritual battle for her heart and soul. The external behaviors are merely tools that help me discern what's in her heart.
We need to remind our kids (and remember for ourselves) that our purpose must be to honor God in all that we do. The goal is not perfection. The goal is to find rest in Jesus (Matthew 11:28). Since we have peace with God through Jesus (Romans 5:1-2), why should we strive for worldly perfection?