Flowers and My Boy’s Heart

A few weeks ago I planted flowers in the flower beds of our front yard.  I choose two different types of flowers.  Honestly, I don’t know their names.  One type was white; one was red.  I chose the white flowers because I used the same kind last year, and they flourished in the Texas sun.  I chose the red flowers because they were pretty and contrasted with the white.  I wanted a little variety.

The white flowers have established themselves just as I expected.  They are hardy, healthy little plants, and I’m looking forward to them spreading out as the season progresses.  But, the red flowers look pitiful.  Several of the plants have completely shriveled up and died, some look sickly, and others have struggling, puny blooms.  All of the time and effort I put into planting those once- pretty red flowers had gone to waste–or so I thought.  God had another plan for my flower beds.

Yesterday evening, my twelve-year-old son made a bad choice in a discussion he and I were having.  The choice he made was part of a sinful pattern that my husband and I have noticed in his life.  My son’s sin grieved me, and as I woke this morning I prayed for him and for myself–that I would have wisdom to know how to confront him about it today.  The Lord answered my prayer and gave me an idea.  I ran off to my early-morning exercise class, and then I stopped by Home Depot.  I picked up some flowers–exactly like the original white ones, except in pink and purple.

When I returned home, I left the flowers in the back of the van so that my son would not know I had them.  Then, my husband and I sat down with our son at the kitchen table to speak with him regarding what had happened the night before.  We discussed the sinful pattern we have noticed, Scripture that addresses the issue, and his need for repentance.  Although we are grateful that our son received our confrontation respectfully, we know the sincerity of his repentance is ultimately a matter between him and the Lord.

I then told my son to follow me, and I led him to the flower beds in our front yard.  I asked him, “Which of these flowers look healthy and strong?”

“The white,” he replied.

“How can you tell?”

“Well, they are growing, and they have flowers and good leaves.  They just look good.”

“Which of these flowers are not doing well?” I then asked.

“The red ones.”

“How can you tell?”

“Some of them are all dried up and dead, and the others just don’t look good.  Am I in trouble for the plants?!  Mom, I’ve been watering them like I’m supposed to!” he exclaimed.

“No, don’t worry.  You’re not in trouble for the plants,” I smiled and reassured him.  “But, you have made a good point.  All of the flowers, the white and red, have been watered.  They have all received the same sunshine, and they are all in the same type of soil.  The problem is not with the water, soil, or sunshine.  It’s with the plants.  The red ones are not good plants.  I should’ve never bought them.”

I went on.  “You see, honey, the white flowers are the good choices in your life.  Good choices–choices to do what is right–are blessed and flourish.  The red flowers are the sinful choices in your life.  They are no good.  No matter what other “spirituality” you surround them with, they are just no good.  Sin is ugly, and it must be rooted out of your heart.  Now, what I want you to do is remove every single red flower plant from the garden beds in the front yard.  Take them out, and throw them away.  As you take each one out of the ground, I want you to think how you must remove the sinful choices you have been making from your life and then pray for God’s forgiveness.”

“But, Mom, then those spaces will be empty!”  he said.

“Don’t worry about that,” I said as I inwardly smiled.  “You just tell me when you have taken out the unhealthy plants.”

After awhile, my son came into the house and said politely, “I’m done, Mom.”

“Not quite.  Come with me.”

I took him back to the flower beds.  “Honey, in the Bible when God tells us to ‘put off’ sin from our lives, He then tells us to ‘put on’ what is right instead.  For example, the Bible says, ‘Let him who steals steal no longer, but rather let him work with his hands so that he can give to those in need.’  You need to put off your sinful choice, and begin putting on the opposite good choice.  You need to remove the sin, and plant the opposite godly choice.  So, in the back of the van are plenty of flowers–exactly like the healthy white ones we already have, but in different colors–and I want you to plant them where the red ones once were.  As you plant each new flower, pray that God will make you a man of integrity in all you do and say.”

My son got busy, and soon all of the new flowers were planted.  He was was happy with his work, and I thanked him.  Some of plants were in the wrong places and unevenly positioned, but I decided not to correct that.  Those things weren’t important; I didn’t want to distract from the importance of what he had done–removed “bad” flowers and planted “good” flowers in their place.  I didn’t preach at him anymore, either.  I just wanted to leave him with his own thoughts about the morning’s conversations and experience.

My husband and I are praying for our son, that the Lord would grow him to be a young man wholeheartedly devoted to Him.  Please pray for our son, if you think of it.  But, more importantly pray for the children and young people in your own life.  Pray that God will give you great wisdom to teach them to be holy and to love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength.

This spring, maybe buy a few flowers to plant.  Let at least one die, and then plant another.

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Resolving Conflict, Part 6: Helping our Kids and Ourselves

Sometimes there can be too much of a good thing.  And, I’ve been thinking that having more than six posts on “Resolving Conflict” might be a bit much.  There are so many aspects of biblical conflict resolution that we could discuss, but for the time being I am ready to delve into another topic.  So, if you are interested in further study on resolving conflict biblically, I highly recommend that you visit http://www.peacemaker.net to find some great resources.

In the meantime, I will wrap up this series by sharing with you a handful of helpful “tools” or “lessons” that I regularly teach my children (and remind myself of) to prevent and resolve conflict.  I have condensed them into “sayings” and Bible verses that my children hear me use when confict is brewing (or exploding!).  The following are my top eight.  If you choose to incorporate any of them into your parenting, then just focus on one new “tool” per week as you teach your children to be peacemakers.  I hope you also will find these personally helpful within your own family and other relationships.  (Several of these principles are further explained in The Young Peacemaker by Sande.)

1.  “Overlook, talk it out, get help.”

“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18).  If one of my kids is “offended” or hurt by another, I hold up three fingers and tell my kids that they have three options:  overlook the offense (without holding a grudge), tell the other child that what happened was wrong (ungodly) and ask that they not do it again.  If those two things are done but the conflict is still not resolved, THEN the offended child can come to me for help.  This teaches my childrens: 1) to be gracious, 2) to take personal responsibility in resolving conflict, and 3) not to gossip (tattle) on others.

2.  “What’s in your heart?”

“Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45).  When my children have sinful actions, attitudes, or words, I often probe them to identify what is in their heart that is prompting their behavior.  I also teach them to use biblical terminology for the heart condition.  I firmly believe that unless a “condition” is properly labelled, it will most likely not be properly treated.  For example, if one of my children hits the other, I do not accept his justification that  “Sister took my candy.”  Neither do I assign my own diagnosis, “Oh, he’s just tired.”  Maybe sister took his candy and maybe he is tired, but that does not explain the heart condition from which his hitting sprang forth!  Instead, the biblical terminology would describe his actions as rude, angry, selfish, impatient, etc.  Only once the true “cause” is identified can I guide my child on the path of true repentance.

3.  “Good choices, good consequences.  Bad choices, bad consequences.”

“A man will reap exactly what he sows” (Galatians 6:7).  My kids know what it means when they see my two thumbs up and then immediately my two thumbs down.  Without me uttering a word, they know I am saying, “If you will make a good decision right now, good consequences will follow.  But, if you continue to make the bad decision you are currently making, you will have bad consequences.”  They also know I mean it; mommy means what she says.  If you want your kids to learn that choices have consequences, don’t just do the “thumb thing.”   Make sure you follow through.

4.  “Give preference to one another with honor.”

“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor” (Romans 12:10).  “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind consider one another more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4).  Selfishness.  It is rooted deep in every heart.  When my children are insisting on their own way at the expense of another, I will often say, “Give preference to one another with honor,” or “Consider one another more important than yourselves.”  In order for the meaning of these commands to carry their full weight with my children, I have previously spent time thoroughly discussing these Scripture passages (Romans 12 and Philippians 2) with them.  Teach your children (from Scripture and in their circumstances) to deny themselves and to do what is best for others.

5.  “Is it true, kind, or necessary?”

“Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification, according to the need of the moment that it may give grace to those who hear”  (Ephesians 4:29).  Complaining, arguing, whining, bossing–and all before 9:15 a.m.!  Some days are worse than others, but even on the “best days” children’s mouths (and our own) can cause a heap of trouble.  We have a quick litmus test in our home for determining if something is worth saying.  I often ask, “Is it true, kind, or necessary?”  Yes, it may be true that sister’s haircut is not the most flattering, but is it really kind to tell her that?  Yes, it may be kind to mom, who is resting, to tell brother that she said the both of you could watch another DVD, but is it true?  Yes, I know you are “rather verbal,” but is it really necessary for you to talk non-stop all the way to art lesson and all the way back?  “He who guards his mouth keeps himself from calamity” (Proverbs 21:23).  Teach your children to evaluate and measure their words when they are young.

6.  “Seek and grant forgiveness willingly.”

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).  “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9).  When my children have done something sinful toward another and they have shown they understand and are sorrowful for their fault, I have them humbly seek forgiveness from the person(s) they have offended and confess their sin to the Lord.  Their apologies are to be specific, admitting the specific sinful behavior and heart attitude: “I am sorry for ________.  Will you please forgive me?”  (I don’t allow a scowling, under-the-breath, arms-crossed, “Sorry.”)  When confessing their sin to the Lord, I also teach them to ask for His grace and strength to do what is right in the situation.  Learning to graciously grant forgiveness to the offender is also important.  I remind my children of the forgiveness we have received from God through Christ.  The parable of the “Unjust Servant” in Matthew 18:21-35 is a great word picture for this!  There is so much to be said about forgiveness–this short paragraph here cannot do the subject justice.  (Maybe “forgiveness” will be a future blog series?)

7.  “Make a Wise Appeal.”

“Honor your father and mother so (which is the first commandment with a promise), so that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth” (Ephesians 6:3).  This tool works well with children who have already consistently shown they are submissive to parental authority.  The wise appeal is a privilege that can be used by children (usually older) who have proven themselves to be generally faithful in obeying their parents right away, all the way, and with a right attitude.  If you give such children a command or instruction that they do not want to follow, instead of complaining, whining, or stomping out of the room, they may say, “Mom, may I make a wise appeal?”  Sometimes, because of the circumstances, you will say “no.”  But, there may be times who you allow a wise appeal.  The wise appeal sounds like this:  “Mom, I know you want me to _________ because __________.  Instead, I would prefer to _________ because _________.  Would it be alright if _______________? (This last blank must include a solution to the parent’s original concern.)  So, for example, “Mom, I know you want me to empty the trash right now because it stinks and you want it out of the house before company arrives.  Instead, I would prefer to finish my Wii baseball game because there is only one half inning left.  Would it be alright if I empty the trash as soon as the game is over since company won’t arrive for another half hour?”  Giving older kids this self-controlled and honorable way to discuss your instructions and their obedience helps to prevent conflict and gives them an excellent opportunity to develop communication skills when appealing to an authority.

8.  “Are you loving God and loving your neighbor?”

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. . .  You shall love your neighbor as you love yourself. . . ” (Matthew 22:37-40).  Quite frankly, as a mother, sometimes there is just too much to think about.  All that we juggle in a day can be absolutely overwhelming.  We can’t remember where we put the keys, checkbook, or the brand new toothbrushes, let alone all of the Bible verses that address the issues that each of our children face.  When all is said and done, the instruction we give our children should boil down to what Jesus said were the two greatest commandments–to love God and to love one’s neighbor.  So, it is not uncommon for me to ask a child causing or responding to conflict, “Is what you are doing or saying loving God?  Is what you are doing or saying loving your neighbor?”  These questions quickly cut through the blameshifting, denial, and justifications that children (and we) use to deflect fault and responsibility in a conflict.  Loving God and loving those made in His image is God’s desire and design for us.  We were all made for the purpose to glorify–and love–God in all that we do and say.  Teach your children this overarching truth for life, and you will have taught them well.

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Resolving Conflict, Part 3: Where the Battle Rages

As a little girl, I fought a battle.

I, the picture-perfect piano student of several years, threw a tantrum one afternoon at a piano lesson that shocked my unexpecting teacher.  Once my outburst of wailing, complaints, and threats quieted down, she calmly said, “Well, Cheryl, if that’s they way you feel, then you don’t have to take piano lessons any more.”

Ahh.  Finally . . . or so I thought.

Later that evening during an “emergency” private meeting with my piano teacher, my parents explained, “Cheryl is neither wise enough nor old enough, at ten years of age, to make the decision that she will no longer take piano lessons.  It’s not her decision.  It’s ours, and she will continue.”

My parents made arrangements for me to take a six-week break from piano.  No lessons.  No practicing.  No mention of music.  Nothing.  I was now free…or was I?  I still remember my conscience gnawing at me–my heart was convicted.  I was meant to play piano.  I knew it, but I wasn’t going to let anyone else know that I knew.

The day came for me to return to piano lessons with the same teacher.  To make a long story short, I refused to go.  Stubbornly, I would not leave my bedroom.  Somehow my mother coaxed me out of my room, but then I began clinging to the walls of the hallway.  My feet would not budge unless my mother methodically placed one in front of the other.  The poor woman!

Finally, I defiantly ran down the hallway and crouched in the dining room corner.  I still remember my mother looking directly at me from the dining room entry and stating in a firm, even tone, “Cheryl, there is a lot more than piano going on here, and I am going to win.”

My mother wisely knew that piano was not my ultimate problem.  She also knew that my behavior could not be blamed on fatigue, allergies, or vitamin deficiencies.  I wasn’t under-medicated or over-medicated, bored or overly-stimulated, gifted or not gifted.  I didn’t have a syndrome or disorder.  She didn’t label me with one of of the plethora of “conditions” now available to explain a child’s lack of obedience and self-control.  My mother could have made any sort of excuse for my disobedience and disrespect, but she didn’t.  She knew better.  She knew where this conflict began.  She knew where the battle was raging–in my sinful heart.

Where the Battle Rages

We will not be able to biblically resolve conflicts if we do not first biblically understand the origins of our conflicts.  The Bible rhetorically asks these two questions, “What causes fights and quarrels among you?  Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?  You want something but don’t get it.” (James 4:1-2).  Yes, our conflicts originate in our hearts.  Our circumstances merely pull back the veil of what is hidden inside.  The English theologian John Owen (1616-1683) referred to this internal battle in Sin and Temptation, “There are many outward temptations that beset men, exciting and stimulating them to do evil.  But the root and spring of all these things lie in the heart.  Temptations do not put anything into a man which is not there already” (9).  In The Young Peacemaker, Sande explains, “Most conflicts happen because people make choices to get their own way.  These choices usually come from selfish desires that are rooted in their hearts” (47).  These selfish root desires include self-pity, greed, pride, fear of others, laziness, envy, jealousy, etc., and these types of sinful desires and motivations lead to sinful choices.  We struggle for what we want, and often conflict with others results.

For example, our hearts are like garden beds.  The quality of the vegetables grown is directly affected by the quality of the growing conditions in the beds.  Good growing conditions produce good vegetables.  Mediocre growing conditions produce mediocre vegetables.  Likewise, godly desires in our hearts lead to godly choices, and ungodly desires in our hearts lead to ungodly choices.  A self-centered person will be filled with pride, envy, selfishness, etc., and their words and actions will actually display these things.  On the other hand, a God-centered person will display words and actions that directly result from the fruit of the Spirit in their hearts, such as “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).

The Battle in My Heart

So, back to my story . . . Did I eventually make it to the piano lesson?  Yes.  Do I remember anything during the piano lesson?  No.  Why?  Because the lesson I had to learn that day had nothing to do with piano; it had everything to do with my heart.  Was my heart going to be ruled by my sinful anger and defiance? Or, was my heart going to be ruled by my Savior?  Was I, in humility, even as a child, going to obey His Word?  The battle raged in my heart.  Ultimately, I did not win–God did.  By His grace, He gave me a mother who knew that my struggle was internal, not merely external.  By His grace, He used her that day to teach me a very important spiritual lesson for life:  Do the godly thing, no matter how I feel.  By His grace, I learned to submit my heart to what the Lord had for me that day–obedience and respect for both my mother and my piano teacher.  If I had held on to the sin in my heart, the conflict would never have been resolved.

The Battle in Your Heart

The conflicts we experience begin in our hearts.  Maybe the other person has a heart problem.  But, you probably do, too.  Ask God to reveal your sinful desires, attitudes, or motives to you.  Confess your sin of the heart to Him and to the other person you have offended.  Ask God to teach your heart how to glorify and honor Him in your situation.  Pray and meditate on Scripture that pertains to your heart issue.  And through it all, cling to His promise that “a broken and contrite heart, He will not despise”  (Psalm 51:17).

For books and resources from Peacemaker Ministries, click HERE.  I also highly recommend the book Idols of the Heart by Elyse Fitzpatrick.

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