A previous post brought forth a few comments. One of those comments was a concern with something I had written about not using the Bible to ‘teach character’. You can read the original post here. I really had meant to address this much earlier than this but time has gotten away from me. Even now, I will be doing a rush job with writing this response but I did want to write before we go on holidays and get back in the New Year. I will try to clarify my thoughts on ‘character’. As always, feel free to agree or disagree. All I ask is that you be polite as you let me know your thoughts. I absolutely love it when people ask me to clarify my thoughts or writing. It helps me to more fully process and consider things. So thanks to Pure and Sensible for bringing her concern to me and asking me to clarify. I really appreciate that.
I previously wrote
I can see some characteristics of God in people: strength, courage, boldness, humility- these are characteristics I want my children to learn?I don’t believe it always has to come only from Scriptures. In fact, I wonder if sometimes that can have a negative affect. I don’t teach my children character traits from the Bible.
Pure and Sensible wrote
Interesting POV. (I personally haven’t read LOTR and unfortunately, I don’t know what FOTR means, but I will keep this in mind as my children get older.) Precious woman of God, I’m mostly concerned and a bit conflicted inside about your thoughts of the Bible and character issues. I’m not saying that I totally disagree with what you said about teaching character traits from people. I love to read fictional stories and biographies for character lessons and use them quite often. And I definitely think that teaching character without modeling isn’t effective, if not useless. But, without the Word of God? You said, “I don’t teach my children character traits from the Bible.” I uphold the Bible as Truth and believe in training up my children using Scriptures. I want to teach God’s ways, not man’s opinions, and the only way to do this is to know Truth (by reading and applying the lessons learned from the Bible – being doers of the Word, not just hearers). God never changes, but man does. I probably just completely misunderstood the point you were trying to make. And I apologize in advance if I am misunderstanding you – I really do not want to offend you. I believe I’ve been to your blog before and have found it quite enjoyable.
I don’t use the word of God to teach a set rules/code of behaviour but I will proclaim the message of God and trust that the Holy Spirit will teach them what He wants to teach them. Their salvation is not dependent upon me teaching every character trait. It is dependent upon God! I can’t teach someone into salvation. What is the point, the goal of teaching the children? Is it that they become fine, moral, upstanding citizens or to usher them into the presence of the Almighty God? Two different issues and two different ways to go about it.
I teach character through modeling- real life- being an example. I use fiction and other good books. I use the lives of other people and other real life situations. I don’t use the word of God but I allow the Holy Spirit to use God’s word to teach me. Sounds like I’m being picky with words? I don’t mean to be…there is a difference.
The Bible is our greatest teacher for all things, including character. No doubt about that. But, how do I present it to my children? How do I learn best in my own life?
I believe that in the younger years, it is more appropriate to teach direct character as a code. Do this, don’t do that, work hard, be generous, be honest, etc. We are teaching knowledge of character and also instilling many character traits as habit. However, older children need to be handled differently. 😉 As do resistant children. I do not have my children copy out passages that deal with a particular character trait. There was a time when I did. But what was my goal? What message was I trying to teach them? The nature of God, and of His great grace or how to please Him by my actions? There was a time when I studied character like that…almost like a mini unit study. I found it was good for me in building knowledge of character but not necessarily wisdom or understanding of that character trait. I guess it comes down to that age old question: Why do you do what you are doing? How are you doing it?
As we read through the Bible, we will come to many direct and indirect character teaching points. Proverbs is a great example of direct teaching. The life of Joseph or Esther is an example of indirect teaching. Proverbs are especially good with young children and also adults who are already desiring to follow God’s word. But, if and when I get to a point where I want to reach a child’s heart…to bring them to the foot of the Cross…to see them come to know the Father God directly for themselves then there is that time when I stop talking about morals and conduct and ‘should do’s’. A time when we focus our learning on the nature of God without learning all about us and our response. The Cross is the power of God unto salvation, not a good, moral, polite, well mannered life. Then again, we also spend more time and energy learning about the nature of God than the nature of man…for it is in understanding the nature of God, and what he has done for us, that we can rejoice! The study of God, the nature of God will, I believe, do more to teach character to our children than any character curriculum.
The path to heaven is not through a moral code. Diligence will not see my child saved into the kingdom of God! No matter how diligent or generous or hard working or honest (or insert relevant trait here) they are. Character will not save a person from their sins. Only the Cross of Christ can do that. So what should I spend more time and energy on impressing upon my children?
I’ll try to give a real life example
We read about the life of Joseph and his many trials. I don’t focus on what character traits he does or doesn’t display at this point. We do see God’s providence in all his life and circumstances but we see this because we have the benefit of hindsight- a panoramic view. Sometimes, we need to try and see this in our own life as well. So at this point, ‘I don’t teach character’. Maybe it’s also good to remember the ages of my children at this point. 😉 Naturally I write from the position of having older girls and I can forget what it was like when I had a house full of toddlers. Something may happen in our life or the life of my child. She might struggle at work with her boss. I might casually say,
“Oh, I’m reminded of Jospeh and how he was in a situation where he didn’t choose to be, yet he was respectful toward his boss nevertheless.” Now that’s all I’ll say! She has studied the life of Joseph. I don’t need to elaborate any more than that. I’m very aware that whatsoever learning my children dig for themselves is often when true understanding occurs, rather than just head knowledge. I’ll plant the seed and allow her to ponder that. I do not have to be the Holy Spirit in her life. He can do that and teach her what He will. I don’t need to lecture her or tell her the same lessons that I have taught her for years…it can just build a resistance or resentment in their heart. But again, this is with my older children. She is nearly 17 and having been homeschooled her whole life, she has had much one-on-one teaching. 😛
Having their heart turned toward me is the most important key. Without their heart, all the character training in the world can still just mean that they’ll rebel against me and/or God, but in an outwardly polite way!:roll: Character must come from the heart. If the message of the Cross, if our salvation isn’t what compels us toward strength and depth of character then what is the point?
How does God parent you? How has your character grown and developed over the years?
Through life experience and drawing nearer to God, learning about His nature or by learning about the how, why, where and when of a character trait? I try to parent my children as God parents me, especially in the years as they are growing more toward adulthood. Knowledge of character is one thing and that can be taught. True depth and strength of character is more caught than taught.
A dangerous notion that I have tried to steer away from presenting (directly or indirectly) is that by our efforts, we can obtain salvation. Because we can’t. We can never go further than or beyond the Cross. It is the centrality of our faith and I don’t want to teach my children any different.
So I assess my teaching: What do I spend more time and effort on teaching? Good character, habits, behaviour or the Cross of Christ? What do the children hear that I believe is most important?
I don’t want to give them the notion that God is a doddery old man, sitting up there somewhere, waiting with a big stick to send me to hell because of my character traits – for the narrow way isn’t about behaviour, manners or character- it’s about the Cross of Christ.
On the other hand, I don’t want to send the message that grace is cheap- because it wasn’t. If it is that cheap, then maybe it isn’t grace at all. So having been shown grace I am free to show grace to others. I am not bound by sin.
I have asked my children, “In your opinion, what do you think is most important to Mum? Homeschooling, God, academics, character, being good, softball, Internet or books?” Well, only try asking your children this if you are brave…you may not like their answers! 😉 😆
Character is all good…but it should also be a fruit of the Spirit- a fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives, not a moral code or set of behaviour that we strive for. Again, it comes down to motive. What is our motive for desiring strong character? If the hope is to please God, then we will fail. If having been shown such great and marvelous grace, we are compelled to display more Christ-like qualities, then let us be imitators of Christ- and this will see us naturally grow in strength and depth of character.