When my children were babies and toddlers, I talked a lot. I named constantly, pointing out flowers and bugs, describing emotions and defining terms like obey and share. I wrestled to explain things simply so that they could understand. Every year I added more ways to anticipate what was going on in their heads, and figure out how to explain what was good and beautiful and true.
Now that they are teenagers, I’m having to rethink how often I need to define and name! I named goodness and badness for so long that I can forget they don’t need the whole lecture every time they are out of line. Developing a good habit takes longer than learning about a good habit. My children already know that showing mercy is better than taking revenge or being impatient. They may not need a long discussion about what mercy looks like; but they might need a nudge to help them notice their own behavior and put mercy into practice.
These nudges make the assumption that my children in general want to please their parents and God. They’ve heard the lectures already. They have the Holy Spirit living inside them, but they don’t always recognize when he is working in their lives. That’s true in my life. I need those nudges, too. I don’t need a lecture every time I sin, and I don’t need thirty minutes of self flagellation to work up enough grief for repentance. Repentance is often a thirty-second realization I’m out of line, a prayer of sorrow and request for help, and a step in the right direction.
I thought about my ways,
And turned my feet to Your testimonies.
I made haste, and did not delay
To keep Your commandments.
A question is sometimes the best way to help our children start this process. Even a single word or phrase can recall a number of past discussions that can lead them to do right.
- Are you showing mercy to your sister?
- What are you telling yourself?
- Are you distracted?
- Be kind!
Every one of these examples in our house is like a weblink connected to countless past discussions. Your family probably has similar words that act as pointers to large ideas and discussions you’ve had.
A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold
In settings of silver.
Like an earring of gold and an ornament of fine gold
Is a wise rebuker to an obedient ear.