Parenting is hard work, but it is also “heart” work.
Parenting is a full-time, high stakes job. We are faced with many decisions every day. One of the biggest decisions we make is choosing between focusing on the heart or focusing on behavior. Because behavior is what we see, it is often where we spend most of our time and energy.
But behavior is not as important to God as it is to us. God cares much more about our heart. But this is not something that I think. This is something that I know. How, you ask? Because the Bible tells me so:
Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left . . . One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:32-33,39-43
In my opinion, there is no other story in the Bible where salvation by grace is taught with such clarity. The man was a criminal, punished for his crime. He deserved to die and he knew it but he asked for grace and he got it. He didn’t have to do anything to earn it– he couldn’t; he was nailed to a tree. All that mattered to Jesus was the condition of his heart. And the man’s heart was humble, repentant and faith-filled. The heart is important to God.
Do we care as passionately about our children’s hearts as we do about their behavior? Do we want to modify the outside or the inside? The heart is the focus of Jesus’ work and it needs to be our focus as well.
So the next time you are tempted to discipline in order to get immediate relief from a problematic behavior, pause for a moment. Ask yourself,
“What heart issue is being manifested in this problem?”
“Is there a way that I can address it with love and truth?”
“How can I gently cultivate the soil of her heart to hear the truth?”
But be wary of using emotion to coerce (“Stop that. You are making God sad”) or harshly reprimanding while using a Bible verse for support (“The Bible says to obey your parents. Now knock it off!”).
This is not easy work – our own hard hearts often get in the way. But the one who saved a dying criminal promises us this: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26).
Will you join me in praying daily for hearts of flesh in ourselves and in our kids?
That is something worthy of our time and energy.