Helping Little Hearts Overcome Sin

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*Note: This article is based on the doctrines of original sin and total depravity.  To learn more about these doctrines, click here.  
A few years ago, while my husband was in seminary, I took a biblical parenting class.  I was pregnant at the time and blissfully ignorant of all the challenges to come.  But under the tutelage of one remarkable woman, Dana Stinson, I crammed life lessons into my heart like money under a mattress—tucked away for a rainy day.  In the years to come, I have pulled the lessons out repeatedly.  One, in particular, is worn with use.  Ironically, it is the very first lesson she taught us.

On the first day of class Mrs. Stinson warned us that there is a great temptation in parenting to excuse away a child’s sin.  Often this is done through labeling a child (she’s just shy, he’s just active).   It can also be done euphemistically by calling defiant behavior “stubborn” or manipulative behavior “emotional.”  And who hasn’t used circumstances to excuse a kid’s sin now and then?  (She’s exhausted; he’s hungry; it’s way past nap time.)  All of it may be true—maybe she is shy, emotional, hungry, and tired.  But she is also sinful.  And ultimately, she is refusing to share her toys not only because she is tired, but because her sinful heart loves self more than others.

Mrs. Stinson taught us that sugar-coating a child’s sin is no favor to the child.  If you really want to help little Johnny overcome sin and mature in godliness, you have to be willing to call a spade a spade.  So for our first assignment, we had to observe a child (if possible, our own) and identify the chief sins this child was drawn to.  Then, we had to create a plan of action to help the child overcome his or her greatest sin struggle.  The assignment was so helpful that I thought I’d share it, in hopes that it might benefit your household as it has ours.  Here’s what to do.

Step 1: Identify your child’s chief sins.

Everyone is prone to some sins more than others.  For instance, one person may struggle with aggression while another battles passivity.  Children are no different.  Each has a unique make-up and will be particularly drawn to various sins in various seasons.  To pin-point your child’s chief struggles, start by pin-pointing the chief behaviors you see.  The easiest way to explain this process is to give you a case study.  Suppose you notice that your toddler’s primary negative behavior is tantrum-throwing.  The question is what sin is behind tantrum-throwing?  Or to re-phrase it, why is tantrum-throwing sinful?  First, it defies authority.  (Think about it—a tantrum is a reaction to the mandate of an authority figure: it’s time to go, you have to eat your broccoli, you may not wear your batman mask to school…).  Secondly, a child throwing a tantrum is seeking to control not only the situation, but the authority figure making the unpleasant mandate.  Ironically, while seeking to control everyone else, the child is evidencing a lack of self-control over his own emotions.  Overall, we can characterize one chief sin—pride.  A child throwing tantrums is saying (or screaming), “I want everyone and everything to revolve around me right now.  I want to be the authority, I want to be in control, and I want to do whatever pleases me.”  This is a serious sin!  Which means it’s also a serious opportunity for gospel truth and training.

(A word of caution here: Sometimes you will notice a negative behavior and be unsure whether it’s sin-related or development-related.  For example, unlike her classmates Suzie may never sit still.  It’s possible she’s capable of sitting still but choosing to disobey her teacher, or it’s possible she’s struggling with this developmental milestone.  In my opinion, if you’re unsure, you should err on the side of grace and treat it as a developmental issue.  You can still create a plan of action to help her learn this important skill, but your plan will rely more heavily on practicing and coaching, not disciplining.)

Step 2: Create a plan of action.

Typically a plan that I create includes prayer, dialogue, practice, modeling, and discipline.  Using our case study regarding temper tantrums, here’s an example:

  1. PRAYWe will pray for and with our child, asking Jesus to help her value other people, obey willingly, and develop self-control. Specifically, we will pray Philippians 2:4 and Proverbs 29:11 over her:
    • “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” 
    • “A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control.”
      .
  2. DIALOGUE—In calm moments (while working on a craft or going for a walk) we will dialogue about the following issues related to tantrums:
    • Why Mommy and Daddy sometimes say “no”
    • How to respond when Mommy or Daddy says “no”
    • Everybody’s desire to throw tantrums (including parents)
    • Why throwing tantrums is sinful
    • Jesus as the only hope for helping us not throw tantrums
    • The consequences of throwing a tantrum in our household
      .
  3. PRACTICE—We will role-play right behavior, giving our child the opportunity to experience success.  Example: I will say, “Let’s practice doing the right thing.  Here, pretend you’re playing with Mommy’s cell phone.  I’m going to say, ‘No don’t play with this.  Please give it to me.’  Then you say, ‘Yes ma’am’ and give it to me, okay?”  (I discovered that my kids absolutely LOVE this game.  They smile widely, hand it over, and proudly say, “Yes ma’am!”  Then we dance around and applaud their great behavior.  We practice with a variety of situations—they may pretend they’re playing and I tell them it’s time to go…etc.)
    .
  4. MODEL—We will relate to our child in his struggle against sin by modeling repentance and speaking in biblical categories.  Every outburst will be called a “temper tantrum,” including Mommy and Daddy’s outbursts.  (I cannot count the number of times I’ve yelled in frustration, then later apologized to one of my kids and admitted that Mommy had a temper tantrum, that Mommy is a sinner, and that Mommy needs Jesus.  Apparently, it’s easier than I thought to model repentance because I so frequently blow it.  No need for role-play with this one—the real thing is happening all the time!)
    .
  5. DISCIPLINE—Every time we see a tantrum beginning we will respond the same way:
    • Bend down on her level, look her in the eye, and tell her to close her mouth.  “You can do it, close your mouth!  You don’t have to have a temper tantrum—you can obey Mommy!  Close your mouth!”  If she successfully controls her emotions and obeys then we CELEBRATE!  (“Yay!!  What a wise choice!  Let’s thank Jesus for helping you!”)
    • If she continues to cry, immediately enforce disciplinary action we discussed with her in “dialogue” phase.
    • Talk it out.  “Why did Mommy discipline you?”  (Because I threw a temper tantrum).  “Is it sinful to disobey Mommy and have a tantrum?”  (Yes)  “What would you like to say to Mommy?”  (I’m sorry.)  “I forgive you and I love you.” (*hugs and kisses)  “Let’s ask Jesus to help you not have temper tantrums.” 

Now that you’ve seen a sample plan, I have one final thought.  If I could, I’d flash it across the screen in neon lights, (but since I don’t know how to re-write HTML code, I’ll settle for capital letters): ONLY JESUS CAN CHANGE OUR CHILDREN.  Developing a plan is not about taking the salvation or sanctification of your child into your own hands.  It’s about trusting God to save and sanctify your child, while being intentional in your shepherding.  The Bible tells us to raise our children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph. 6:4).  This is just one way to do that.  It is a method of training, but Jesus is the hope of change.  There are two opposite temptations constantly alive within me—one is to ignore my children’s sin and hope it goes away.  The other is to play God and attempt to micro-manage their souls.  Neither is the answer!  And neither is a fun way to live—constantly in denial or constantly under pressure.  The answer always was, always is, and always will be CHRIST IN YOU, THE HOPE OF GLORY!  (Col. 1:27)  Hallelujah!  That is great news for this mom.

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35 thoughts on “Helping Little Hearts Overcome Sin

  1. Anne Wenger

    Thanks for such practical counsel out of your education and experience. You are an excellent teacher. And, yes, Hallelujah! Christ in us, the hope of glory! Even at any age!

    Reply
  2. Jim Neill

    Jeanne-

    That was a great read; entertaining and insightful even for someone like me who’s not raising kids. You have a gift for writing and a clear voice of your own. Sharing your first hand experience and giving specific examples is generous and I’m sure it offers solace as well as some concrete ideas to parents who are also experiencing their own challenges.

    Another passage I would guide you to:

    Graffittians 2:4

    The pen is mightier than the sword, but some pens are mightier than other pens. Wielding a “Sharpie” or the dread “Marks-A-Lot” against property other than one’s own is a misguided expression of the otherwise commendable creative urge. A parent’s response to such scribblings, regardless of their literary or artistic merit, should leave an indelible impression on the “artist” that while it may be true metaphorically, the world is not literally one’s canvas.
    :-) Much Love,

    Jim

    Reply
    1. jeanneharrison Post author

      Ha ha! Thanks Jim! It took me a minute to realize what you were talking about…probably because I’ve blocked it from my memory! :) Unfortunately I still have a professional graffiti artist in the house…now all I need is you and Jennifer on stand-by to bail me out! You guys are THE BEST. Much love.

      Reply
  3. Ms. Von

    I very much enjoyed what you shared about training our children in godliness! I kind of knew this as a young parent and new Christian, but I also dominated and tried to control, which of course has its own consequences and regrets. I am saving this post in the hopes that one day the Lord will give me the wisdom and grace to share it with my first grand child’s parents as I implement the very same truths.

    His blessings to you and your family!

    Ms. Von

    Reply
  4. Amy

    And this is why I still miss being able to walk up or downstairs to spend time with you!! God has blessed you with wisdom and the ability to teach (whether through writing or in conversation) and I miss learning from you! By God’s grace you’re doing such a good job at mothering! Your intentionality is convicting and challenging to me and I can’t wait to implement these things in our home. Thanks for sharing what you’ve learned. I think I will share this with some women in my church. Love you & miss you!

    Reply
  5. A Friend Who Was Once Where You Are

    My heart aches and sympathizes as I read this. I understand where you are coming from. I am a believer, a sister in Christ, and heard much of the same teaching for many years. God has shifted my paradigms, and I am walking in love and grace.

    I hope you’ll take time to read this article, and examine the whole website. When we know better, we do better.

    http://www.littleheartsbooks.com/2013/08/24/bridge-over-troubled-watersparenting-a-problem-child/

    Reply
    1. jeanneharrison Post author

      Thank you for the kind way you’ve presented a different view. I took some time to look at the website and found some great things in it. Overall I don’t think that method of parenting best reflects my personal convictions at this time. But thank you for taking the time to write in and share. As a fellow sister in Christ I rejoice that I am also walking in love and grace, and Jesus is directing us both in this beautiful & challenging calling. Best of wishes to you!

      Reply
  6. Ruth wells

    Hi, just wondered how the views expressed in your thought-provoking post fit with Jesus’ teaching that we should be like children?

    Reply
    1. jeanneharrison Post author

      That is a great question. Jesus made the remark that we should become like little children a couple of times in the gospels. One of the times the disciples were arguing about who was the best and the other time they were preventing kids from coming to Jesus (Matt 18:1-4, Luke 18:16-17). In context, I think He was pointing to their humility/innocence (compared to the glory-hungry disciples) and also to their faith, and the fact that they are precious to Him. I’ve blogged some about childlike faith and my desire to become more like a child again (see here). I don’t believe these passages were meant to convey that children are perfect or sinless though. The Bible says all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Rom 3:23), inheriting our sin nature from Adam (Romans 5:12ff). I believe that the first step in helping a child develop soul-saving faith is helping them recognize their need for a Savior. Hope this makes sense–I appreciate you writing in.

      Reply
  7. L. Bean

    “Then, we had to create a plan of action to help the child overcome his or her greatest sin struggle.” And here I thought it wasn’t possible to overcome sin apart from the work of the Holy Spirit within me. I guess I just need to try harder and develop a plan of action. At the end of your article you totally contradict the whole preceding thoughts when you say in bold letters no less, only Jesus can change our children. Then what was the point of all the steps? This mode of teaching would tend to emphasize works salvation and a constant striving to be “good enough,” which we can never be. It is grace, only grace. Teaching children in the way you describe creates either self-righteousness or a feeling of failure, never being able to measure up.

    Reply
    1. jeanneharrison Post author

      I understand how it could seem this way, and certainly never meant to contradict the truth that Christ alone is our hope for overcoming sin. I see how a “plan” can sound works-based, and I truly don’t want to convey that. When our professor gave us this assignment she was simply teaching us to be intentional. Eph 6:4 calls parents to bring their children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Jesus is the One who empowers and enables us to do that, He is the One who touches our children’s hearts and bears fruit in their lives, and I believe Jesus uses the instruction and discipline of parents toward that end. The reason I tell my children so often that I, too, am a sinner in need of grace is because I want to always emphasize the grace of God. And grace shines brightest when we recognize the sinfulness He died to save us from. I hope this clarifies my intentions a little.

      Reply
    2. jasonbuffin

      The Holy Spirit uses ordinary means like plans and discipline in order to change us. It’s no surprise to rely on Jesus to change our hearts even while we enact a plan to change. There is nothing contradictory here. Some of the ordinary means that the Spirit uses are preaching, evangelism, written word (Scripture), and even plans of action. As Jeanne already said, the plan is meant to show that we are deliberate about our desire to change while we pray for Jesus to make that plan effectual in our heart.

      Reply
  8. Kelli

    I’m completely overwhelmed with my son right now. Thank you for the insights. My husband is a truck driver and only home the first 3 days of the month. During the first week he is gone I feel like things are going well but after that my son gets a “can’t touch this” attitude. When it is time to get on his level he stares through me with complete apathy and I feel like he is thinking “whatcha gonna do, woman?!” I needed this today. :)

    Reply
  9. Seasoned Parent

    It is awesome how your love for your children and your desire to be the best possible parent rings so clearly in this post! I love the idea of role playing correct behavior. That’s brilliant! My heart goes out to you, but then at the same time, I see how you are making one of the worst mistakes I made when my kids were young, and I feel compelled to offer a different perspective, hoping that it is well received and not painful. (It isn’t to correct, but to ask you to consider.)

    It is simply this: do not discipline emotion or displays of emotion. Anger isn’t sin. Crying isn’t sin. When Jesus knocked down tables in the temple, it wasn’t a temper tantrum. (I dislike the term “temper tantrum” which reclassifies anger as sin, when the bible says that it is okay to be angry, but not to sin in our anger.) In fact, that story about Jesus is a great way to show our kids that even Jesus got angry and chose to show people how angry he was. Anger is okay and it is okay to let people know when we are angry, especially when a decision doesn’t seem fair. The language to use with young kids is: “I can see that you are angry. Anger is okay. It is hard to hear ‘no’, but your anger does not change that the answer is no and that now you must obey.” Then offer a hug and love them in the midst of their bad feelings and help them to obey.

    I strongly believe that when a child is melting down because he or she is tired, hungry, thirsty, etc, the only person deserving of discipline is the parent (but there is grace for them, too). The parent should immediately check to make sure that she has met their basic needs. Remember Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs”? This lesson is crucial! Our basic physical needs must be met first, and after that safety. Part of safety is knowing that it is safe to express whatever emotion we are experiencing without fear of punishment. When we meet our children’s basic needs, they will thrive. There may be times of outright rebellion that we need to discipline, but overall the home should feel safe, free from punishment, a safe place to grow, explore, try new things, and make mistakes.

    Reply
    1. jeanneharrison Post author

      Big thanks for the kind-hearted tone of this comment, the encouragement, and the insight. I really like the “I can see that you are angry…etc.” statement–I am going to use it. I completely agree with you about the importance of discipline, NOT punishment. You make a very interesting point about emotion. I’ve never disciplined my children for being sad, feeling jealous…etc. In those instances, we talk about it. I also agree that anger in and of itself isn’t sin. If my child made an angry face, I wouldn’t send her to time out. But in my experience, children who are angry often sin in their anger (maybe they defy authority by screaming “NO!” or hit another child…etc.) In those cases, I do believe in discipline. If it’s near nap time, certainly I’m more gracious in it, but I do like to point out to my kids that being tired isn’t an excuse for sin. In a perfect, pre-Fall world, when I’m exhausted I wouldn’t yell at them…and vice versa. I desperately love my kids and want to meet ALL their felt needs, but there will be times when I’m not around to meet a felt need (for instance when they’re school-aged.) In those instances, I want to teach them to rely on God’s grace to help them honor Him despite their situation.

      I really do take your comment to heart–I think it was presented very well, and you have given me things to think about. I know I’m far, far, far from a perfect parent (something I blog about often!) One thing Christ has given me peace about is that as I grow and make lots of mistakes, He is still in control and committed to sanctifying me. Thank God!

      Reply
  10. Carol

    Good moral theology teaches that for an action to be sinful there must be cognition (knowing) and volition (willing). Until a child reaches the “age/stage of reason”, there can be no sin.

    There is only immature behavior, which will remain immature without adequate socialization by the parents and other positive influential relationships. Socialization requires consequences, which means holding the child responsible. Requiring responsibility is very different from guilt-tripping which can destroy a child’s self-esteem making him/her more vulnerable to negative influence from peers or others. Insisting that the our children accept responsibility for the consequences of their behavior and teaching them to transform their mistakes into learning experiences builds self-respect making a child less likely to betray who they are as beloved children of God, who loves them unconditionally and accepts them in spite of their imperfections, but who also loves them too much to leave them that tragic state.

    The rule-keeping approach necessary for very young children who do not have the neurological maturity to understand the reasons for modifying their behavior should never become a substitute for character-building moral formation in older children.

    Reply
  11. Benjamin

    Seasoned Parent, good thoughts. Generally speaking, I do not think we can compare Jesus’ anger at the temple with a child’s anger over not getting what he or she wants when he or she wants it. For starters Jesus was perfect. So his motivations for being angry at the temple were more than right. Not only was it the right action it was pleasing to the father because he was correcting people for dishonoring God in the temple. When a child gets angry and explodes because the child does not get a toy it is not a good motive or right action before God. There are times that we consider a child’s desire for food or sleep but this does not justify the motivation of the heart thereby deeming a “temper tantrum” as righteous anger.

    Carol, Psalm 55:5 says, “Behold I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” As a follower of Jesus, I believe that children are born sinful. For more on original sin you can go to,http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/articles/what-is-the-biblical-evidence-for-original-sin. Just because I believe children are sinners does not mean I believe they go to hell. Because there is a sense in which children do not understand the gospel in order to be saved. But that does not mean that children do not understand the difference between right and wrong. So as a Christian parent it is right to train children by disciplining their sinful behavior. Discipline has the hope of pointing them to the Savior Jesus Christ. So for instance, I believe that a 4 year old has the cognitive ability to realize that he or she is lying or being defiant when he or she is not supposed to. The child not only has understanding but the will to carry it out. As a christian parent this is a good time to instruct and discipline.

    Reply
    1. Carol

      Benjamin, we believe by faith, as you point out, that Jesus is “without sin.” He is also “truly/fully” human. Therefore, *sin* cannot be intrinsic to our humanity, but is a disorder, an aberration, a betrayal of our true humanity. What we lost in the Fall through a desire for autonomy, independence from Grace, was our unconditional trust in God’s unconditional love and the intimacy dependent on that trust.
      The Eastern Churches have always defined man(kind) by the Original Blessing, being uniquely created in the image with the potential for godlikeness, not by the affects of the Fall, our species’ universal alienation from God, self and others.

      In Orthodox theology, the two words “image” and “likeness” are not used interchangeably as they are for Roman Catholics and Protestants. For Orthodox Christians, “image” denotes the powers and faculties with which every human being is endowed by God from the first moment of his existence. “Likeness” is the assimilation, the growth process to God through virtue and grace. We call this growth process “theosis.” For Western theology, man was created perfect in the absolute sense and therefore, when he fell, he fell completely away from God. For Orthodox theology, man was created perfect in the potential sense.–Fr. George Nicozisin

      The theological perspective of Eastern Orthodoxy is theocentric, not
      anthropocentric as it is in the Latin/Western Churches. One of the more promising developments in the contemporary Western churches is the rediscovery of gift of Original Blessing bestowed on us from the moment of our creation when God “breathed” his life directly into us.

      Which do you believe: 1) original sin or 2) original blessing?

      1)Original sin doctrine basically says we are born sinners because of the sin of Adam and Eve.

      2)Original blessing says what God created is good, we can make poor choices(sins) but we can learn from our mistakes and encourage each other to be better people.

      See:

      http://www.basden.demon.co.uk/xn/orig.blessing.html

      http://www.patheos.com/blogs/carlgregg/2012/04/paradise-lost-or-outgrown-genesis-3-original-blessing-and-original-responsibility/

      http://scalambra.wordpress.com/2012/03/20/matthew-fox-original-blessing/

      “Death and sin are inseparable cosmic realities in fallen creation, because
      ‘through one man sin entered into the world, and through sin death, and thus
      death passed unto all men’ (Rom. 5:12). According to the prevailing
      patristic exegesis of that passage, then, it is this universal mortality that
      makes personal sinfulness inevitable. Dominated by suffering, fear of death,
      and insecurity, man came under the power of an instinct for SELF-protection
      and SELF-preservation. He began to struggle for his OWN survival, at the
      expense of his neighbor, even if this survival could be only temporary (and
      therefore illusory), since ‘death reigned from Adam to Moses, even upon those
      who did not sin as Adam did’ (Rom. 5:14).”– Orthodox theologian John Meyendorff

      ****

      The realization of the Divine quality of kenotic love is the perfection of the created order. It is not attainable on the human or any other level apart from a participation in the Divine life. Scripture witnesses to God as Sustainer as well as Creator. A deistic desire which separates Judeo-Christian moral *principle*–ignoring or denying the need for an empowering theistic Presence as the immanent accessible Source of *goodness*—is the source of the corruption of all idealistic religious and secular good intentions. Predatory survivalism triggers predatory survivalist responses and the *good intentions* become the justification for moral compromises, motivated by a certain hope that *the ends [will] justify the means.* However, in practice, means inevitably determine ends, they do not justify them. The desire for an autonomous perfection, craving an intrinsic ontological perfection apart from the actively sustaining presence of Divine Love which, unlike human love that is merely attracted to the Good, has the power to create Goodness, is a self-defeating aspiration. It is a repetition of the relational dynamic between God and Man revealed by the mythical Genesis account of the Fall of Man.

      Interrelatedness and interdependence is a fundamental law of creation. The whole is always greater than the sum of its parts and the western *scientific* attempt to gain a greater understanding of fundamental realities by breaking them down into discreet functioning *parts* has diminished, not increased our wisdom. The emphasis on discreet mechanical functions over organic wholeness has produced a mechanistic world view that has not only dehumanized our species; but, for the first time in human history, also threatens to “de-nature” our species. The objectively verifiable reality that biological life is essentially organic, preserved by dynamic interrelated processes acting together to achieve a sustainable balance, is challenged by the modern mechanistic scientism with its reductionistic conception of discreet parts defined independently from one another.
      The 60’s hedonistic pursuit of immediate pleasure and avoidance of pain as the governing behavior choice over the traditional stoic principle of deferred or minimal necessary gratification in favor of long-term maximized gain represented the rediscovery of a lower sentient animal nature that had been lost to many in the West through the process of industrialization that has contributed much to material prosperity; but at the expense of the intangible psychological/spiritual quality of life. The higher nature of a moral person made potentially possible within the human species through a more highly evolved consciousness with the power to motivate the will to a goodness that transcends mere selfish survivalist instinct remains largely dormant in the practice of contemporary Western society. The yearning for transcendent meaning and value in life, intrinsic to the Divine Image stamped indelibly upon the spirit of man renders hedonistic sentience a source of ultimate conflict rather than satisfaction. Excess always leads eventually to disgust when the tipping point of ultimate satisfaction has been reached and exceeded.

      ***
      Unfortunately, many Eastern Orthodox faith communities in Western nations have lost touch with the Apostolic and Patristic Traditions that distinguish them from the Latin/Western churches, but here is a summary of many of the differences that deepened after the Great Schism between the Western Church in Rome and the Orthodox Churches in the East:

      Four Walls Separating Us from the New Testament
      Four crises separate Western Christians on the one hand from the New Testament writers and Eastern Christians on the other. If we understand these crises and the effects they had, we can attempt to “roll them back” in our minds and understand the New Testament more clearly.
      The New Testament is in Greek, which has a large philosophical vocabulary that Latin lacks. Ecumenical councils used Greek as the working language; then they made an official translation into Latin for use in the West. Many of the most heated debates were about which Latin words best conveyed the meaning of the Greek resolution they had already agreed on. Because Greek philosophical concepts had to be translated into Latin legal concepts, theology in the West took on the character of codified law after the West lost Greek. To this day, Orthodox theologians reason like rabbis, while western theologians reason like lawyers.

      East and West
      West
      • Western Christians are obsessed with not being saved by works
      • Western Christians deemphasize ascetic disciplines and exercises
      • Spirituality becomes a set of mental acts
      • Salvation is rescue from hell
      • The emphasis is on the cross
      • Determinism enters some parts of western Christian theology

      East
      • Works express faith, faith gives birth to works
      • Eastern Christians engage in fasting and other spiritual disciplines
      • Spirituality involves both mind and body
      • Salvation is transformation into glory
      • The emphasis is on resurrection and transformation
      • Determinism never entered Christian theology

      West
      • Western theology is primarily an intellectual discipline by professors
      • Western theology is over-systematized

      • Western theology is based on a legal model Western theologians debate like lawyers

      East
      • Eastern theology is primarily a mystical pursuit by monastics
      • Eastern theology is not as strictly systematized; for example, the number of sacraments is not set and is not controversial
      • Eastern theology is based on a philosophical model
      • Eastern theologians debate like rabbis

      West
      • Western churches became guarantors of theological schools of thought
      • Western church membership is often contingent on fine points of doctrine
      • Some western Christians believe that definite beliefs are incompatible with tolerance
      • The atmosphere arose in which anyone could start a church

      East
      • Eastern theology, while holding more strictly than western theology on basic dogmas, is tolerant of differences of opinions on finer points
      • Eastern church membership is contingent on commitment and behavior
      • Eastern Christians have no difficulty maintaining definite beliefs while remaining tolerant.
      • There was nothing corresponding to the Protestant Reformation and there is no proliferation of sects within the mainstream

      West
      • Western Christians see a dichotomy of spirit and matter
      • Western theologians attempt to apply empiricism to theology
      • Western theologians agonize over the existence of God
      • Western theologians have lost, deemphasized, neglected, marginalized, or explained away the supernatural and miraculous
      • Western theologians no longer have coherent answers for many practical religious questions (such as during bereavement)
      • Western churches outsource the treatment of religious problems, such as bereavement, to secular therapists

      East
      • Eastern Christians see a dichotomy of God and creation
      • Eastern theologians are largely unaffected by modernism
      • Eastern theologians do not agonize over the existence of God
      • Eastern theologians systematize the transcendent, the miraculous, and the mystical into their theology, without a concept of ‘supernatural’
      • Eastern theologians have coherent and helpful answers for most practical spiritual problems (such as during bereavement)
      • Eastern clergy, monastics, and lay experts have resources for spiritual direction, moral direction, and bereavement counseling; thus they do not outsource religious problems to secular experts.

      See:

      http://www.theopedia.com/Great_Schism

      http://www.fatheralexander.org/booklets/english/history_timothy_ware_1.htm#n4

      Reply
  12. mother of 4 great adults and 6 growing grandchildren

    Good stuff, mostly. I think it is important to recognize that not all parents are healthy enough to implement this system. For example, some parents might not yet fully grasp God’s grace and they end up emotionally abusing their child while thinking they are doing the right thing.

    It is also important to acknowledge that children can be very different (as are child/parent combinations) and methods of discipline that are good for one can be harmful for another. There is a lot of good advice on child rearing. Yet, it is important to remember that every person is imperfect, both advice givers, and advice hearers. “The best of men, is at best, a man” We need to be discerning with whatever we read/hear, sermons included! I think the most important thing is to go constantly to God for wisdom and direction as to how He wants us to parent this child.

    Reply
  13. Keren

    I, too, appreciate some of the things said here, and appreciate you adding your word of caution. However, I want to bring a question up, that I think is often confused in conservative Evangelical and fundamentalist parenting paradigms.

    You state, “In my opinion, if you’re unsure, you should err on the side of grace and treat it as a developmental issue. You can still create a plan of action to help her learn this important skill, but your plan will rely more heavily on practicing and coaching, not disciplining.”

    Here, I wonder if perhaps you are using “discipline” solely as a euphemism for “spanking” or “punishment?” I realize this may be perceived as being picky, but taking it to extremes is problematic, and this word often means only “spanking” or “punishment” when used in some Christian circles. Discipline is a far-reaching concept, one that stems from the word “disciple,” more than it actually has to do with spanking or corporal punishment.

    Seeing it such, I believe coaching would actually fall into that realm–coaching your child through the proper way of showing emotions or having them work to improve a failed action *is* discipline. (In fact, the idea of coaching should actually comprise a good bit of our parenting, rather than just viewing discipline as reactionary.)

    My other words of caution, would also be, like “Seasoned Parent” shares, that we don’t conflate showing emotion with sinful emotion. The two are very different, and the way that our children begin to show emotion is something that will need gentle guidance all along the way. I grew up in an environment (though it was more the teachings of my school, church, and associated colleges, etc… than it was my parents) that taught emotions other than happy were wrong, and it is very, very difficult to continue to overcome that paradigm even now. And as a parent, it is also difficult for me to allow my children to express emotions without me believing it is something that should not be permitted at all.

    As mother of 4 stated, “For example, some parents might not yet fully grasp God’s grace and they end up emotionally abusing their child while thinking they are doing the right thing.” Spiritual and emotional abuse are very subtle. Most of us who are doing it have ourselves first been manipulated by seemingly Christian and spiritual teachings (where written or spoken), and it is easy to perpetuate such teachings without even being aware that our own thinking is trapped.

    Parenting is hard work no matter how you go about it. Living and loving other people is hard work no matter how you go about it. May God give us all grace to live in such a way that others will observe “by this shall all men know you are my disciples, that you love one another.”

    Reply
    1. Carol

      I can identify with you on the repressing of emotions issue.
      *Detachment* is part of spiritual formation in many Western Christian denominations. Traditionally it meant detachment from egoistic self-interest since narcissistic or narrow self-interest blinds us to justice for others, not “objective” in the empirical Cartesian sense of without subjective feelings or intuitive “knowing.” Detachment traditionally meant disinterested, not dispassionate. Jesus certainly had very strong feelings, weeping over Jerusalem’s refusal to accept Grace, anger at those who used religion for personal financial gain and then there is the Gethsemane Prayer. . .

      Emotions, like almost everything else in this less-than-perfect life, have a dark or shadow side and should not always be expressed; but they must always be “owned” rather than repressed. The OT prophets, especially Jeremiah the Weeping Prophet, expressed their negative emotions without restraint to God. Sometimes even going so far as to curse the day they were born, which was not exactly being grateful for the gift of life. What made them faithful is not that they were always grateful and positive about God’s gifts, but that, even in their darkest moments they turned toward, not away from God, and were confident enough of his Unconditional Love to be completely honest in their relationship with him.

      The Psalms, too, express some rather “impious” [by contemporary religious standards] emotions.

      #
      “Passion, it lies in all of us. Sleeping…waiting…and though unwanted, unbidden, it will stir…open its jaws, and howl.

      It speaks to us….guides us….Passion rules us all. And we obey. What other choice do we have?

      Passion is the source of our finest moments. The joy of love…the clarity of hatred… and the ecstasy of grief.

      It hurts sometimes more than we can bear. If we could live without passion, maybe we’d know some kind of peace. But we would be hollow, empty rooms, shuttered and dank. Without passion, we’d be truly dead.”

      –Buffy the Vampire Slayer!

      Reply
    2. Dana

      Are you saying that spanking =punishment? Spanking can be a form of correction and part of the coaching, disciplining process but does not have to equal punishment. My parents spanked for correction, but never for punishment. In your own words, “I realize this may be perceived as being picky, but taking it to extremes is problematic.” :) ~ Grace

      Reply
  14. NanaMinby

    Beautifully put! Reminds me of Tit. 2 — God’s grace teaching (coaching) us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live sober, righteous and godly lives. Grace isn’t just overlooking a sin, but coaching, correcting, and disciplining the will to deny ourselves and to live godly lives!

    Reply
    1. D.S.

      ?? — “Grace isn’t just overlooking a sin” — ??
      Ah-ha! Now I understand why it sometimes seems I speak another language. We do! My understanding: God doesn’t overlook sin! If He did, there would be no need for his GRACE! I didn’t begin to appreciate His grace until I began to comprehend the magnitude of my sin.

      Or perhaps the difference is how you and I define “overlook.”

      However, the second part of your sentence is most definitely not grace. “coaching, correcting and disciplining the will to deny ourselves and to live godly lives.” This may be the heart response to receiving grace. When we understand what His grace has done for us, we naturally love Him because He loves us. In other words, it is a work of grace, that is, a response to God’s grace. It is not itself, grace.

      A caution is in order. The same behavior, “coaching, correcting, and disciplining the will to deny ourselves and to live godly lives” can be prompted by works-mentality. That is, the same behavior can be godly or ungodly. The former evidences the Holy Spirit at work and the latter is flesh-driven. In this, we can easily fool others, and be fooled by others. We can even fool ourselves about ourselves.

      Reply
  15. Kat

    Thank you for this post, especially the clear advice on how to help kids overcome their sins. As a teacher in a Christian school I’ve been pondering this very thing. I teach my precious five year olds about loving Jesus and expect them to act like Jesus, all the while knowing they are sinners and I have to help train them knowing that. I’ve been looking for advice on how to do this!

    Reply
  16. Erin Roneree

    To the author. I just want to commend your humility in answering some of these comments. I felt “anger” welling up in me as I read them on your behalf, but your answers to these folks were filled with grace and humility. God bless you and thank you for the post.

    Reply
  17. Kristina

    I wonder if we were in the same class! I took Mrs. Stinsons seminary wives class in (I think) January 2008. I found out right after the class was over that we were expecting our first baby. We were hoping for this and nearing the end of seminary. I’m so glad I took that class, I too still glean from the wisdom she passed to us. One thing I use (when I think of it) is the creative forms of discipline that she used, like having your child repeat something (action or words) to reinforce obedience. My kids actually enjoy it, similar to the dialoguing. That class also exposed and confronted my bend toward being permissive. I’m just so thankful for that 6 week class! Thank you for sharing this.

    Reply
  18. Carolyn

    I’ve been checking in on your blog since I started my journey of being a mom over a year ago. Your nuggets of wisdom and truth are so precious to me! So grateful to have a mom, several years ahead, sharing these with me :)

    Reply

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