Parenting Inside Out – Clarify Your Focus

inside-out-core-diagram

Parenting is hard work. Even when we intend to do best, it is easy to slip into patterns that are less than productive and even unhealthy. Someone referenced the above diagram online, attributed to Dr. Meg Meeker from the Strong Parent Project, and I instantly knew I needed to evaluate the way I spend my time, energy, and focus as a parent.  I picked up a copy of one of Dr. Meeker’s books (which I found wonderful) and dug in.  One of the things I am working on is to shift the focus of my parenting away from false finish lines and toward the stuff that matters most.  Our culture often measures success in terms of external factors. We spend a lot of time as parents talking about grades, sports, clothes, and other things in the outer circle.  As a youth pastor, most of the concerned parents I talk to are worried about such things.  They don’t like their daughter’s boyfriend.  They are concerned about their son’s grades.  They want to know how to navigate the drama with their teenager’s social circle or how to help them succeed on the sport’s field.  Yet our kids would be better served and prepared for life when they leave our care if we shift our focus to their inner world. We need to shift our parenting from our child’s outer circle to their inner circle. Their outer circle consists of things like, school, sports, friends, and work. Their inner circle consists of your child’s morals, beliefs, character, and faith. These are what will last in your child’s life when school and friendships and sports have faded. And most importantly, when you’re not there to parent them anymore.

Here is a complication in this – behavior can be corrected in the moment, while character can only be cultivated over time.  You can hold a teen accountable for their behavior immediately (What would have been a better choice?).  Character changes slowly.  Character develops intentionally, but it does so in an almost invisible process.  We need to do the hard work of shaping our children internally: their virtue, their worldview, and their core beliefs.  I am talking here about fighting for their hearts and shaping them as people, not controlling their behavior. This means that TIME is the most important resource you have to manage as a parent. We are only given so much of it, and we cannot manufacture more of it. The psalmist was on to this when he wrote Psalm 90:12 “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”  In a song about the frailty of the human condition, we find this prayer.  This is such good advice for parents, regardless of where we are in the journey.  My own kids seem so young, and I often assume I have all the time in the world, but the truth is much more sobering.  If we blink, we might miss it. They just grow up. Time marches on without your permission. I do not have all the time in the world, so I must learn to spend the time that I have with my children wisely. The truth is that my kids and yours were on their way out the door the minute they were born.  God entrusted each of our children to us so that we can form their character, their hearts, and their attitudes. These things are ONLY cultivated over time.  So we don’t have any time to lose.

Sports are great.  School is important.  Still, when we focus on their internal world, the external concerns will take care of themselves.  When we focus solely on the external realities, the internal priorities are neglected and underdeveloped.  We will end up with young people who have had every opportunity yet have shallow and underdeveloped character. More than anything, this is about changing your mindset and your focus.  You still need to give teens boundaries; you still need to give them guidance.  You still want to provide them opportunities and hope they end up happy and successful, but your focus needs to be on their internal world.  Focus on the heart.  Shepherd the heart.  Shape the heart.  Win the heart.  This happens through attention, affection, and protection.

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Thank God for Summer – Echo Middle School Series

Our Middle Schoolers are preparing for the welcome relief of summer vacation, so we thought we would address what is already on everyone’s mind and see what we can learn about God in the process. Summer vacation is an American institution, at least for now. Summertime is the season for pool parties, camping, fireworks, backyard BBQ’s, camp, sleeping in, and more.

One of the best (if not the best) parts of summer is that there is NO SCHOOL. Freedom and fun are measured not in days, but in months. Where you normally have to give 7 hours of your day to sitting in class and learning, you now have those hours back! Think about the possibilities: you could read a good book, have a movie marathon with friends, get a summer job, or serve your church and community. Having time to recharge is something very much in line with the heart of God.

In Genesis 2:1-3 –, we find the story of God resting after the work of creation. After God created the heavens, the earth, and all the creatures that inhabit it, He took a break! Get this picture: God working hard, then kicking back and enjoying what He created, even delighting in it.

In Exodus 16:21-30, Moses is trying to teach people about the importance of taking a break. Six days a week, they can work and gather and toil. The seventh day, their work should be done so they can be with God and relax. They are having a hard time understanding this; so God reminds Moses that the idea is a gift, not a burden. Jesus makes the same argument in Mark 2:23-28 .

So how do we follow the command of God to rest? How do we make “sabbath” a reality in our busy lives?

Learn the power of the word “no.” What a powerful word! This is a lesson that I am not sure people teach much around this area. You cannot do everything. You cannot accept every invitation, join every club, play every sport, be a part of every activity. Human beings are not meant to run all the time. We are meant to have downtime and to recharge. We can easily get so busy and our schedules can become so complicated that we miss out on opportunities to meet with God. The only way to simplify our lives is to stop doing so much. Between homework, sports, dance, karate, FBLA, Odyssey of the Mind, Future Problem Solving, and babysitting jobs, you will have no time for family and no time for God. Saying “no” should also apply to setting boundaries on certain things. For instance, just because your phone is ringing, it doesn’t mean you need to answer it. Don’t become a slave to your phone, calling, texting, and chatting until you are tired and worn out.

Learn to slow down. The pace we live it is just too fast. We have all this technology that is designed to save us time. We can travel much faster, communicate with anyone anywhere instantly, and we have a huge number of gizmos at our disposal to make life easier and save us time – yet we are very “time poor.” We live at a faster pace than at any other point in human history. We spend less time with family, and less time with God. This pace is not good for our soul, it makes us stressed out and fatigued. The only answer to this is to deliberately slow down. If that means doing less, then we need to seriously consider it. You might say: “But I am in middle school, my life is not that crazy!” I would disagree. I have had enough conversations with students trying to find time to live and not being able to fit it in. This summer, slow down a bit.

Learn to take a break. This sounds like something that is nice, but not really that important. This idea is very important to God. The idea of “Sabbath” even made it into the Ten Commandments, right next to commandments about murder and adultery. In God’s eyes, practicing Sabbath is something very moral. This is not hard to udnerstand: think of how much better we could treat others if we were well rested? Think how much better our world would be if everyone was well rested? Sabbath is important because it is closely tied to our ability to embody key virtues like patience, temperance, prudence, and justice.

How do we apply this “Sabbath” idea today? Go get ice cream, have a movie night, take a nap, play a board game with your family. Since we all have busy families and busy lives and busy schedules, focus on finding “Sabbath moments.” Remember: the heart of this law is to allow us to reconnect with God and to recharge. So, what about taking advantage of drive time, or maybe instead of crashing in front of the TV or Xbox, you can spend some time with the Bible or listen to some worship music? What if you did something special as a family this summer, and started a family Bible study?

*Questions for discussion with your teenager:
-How do you feel about the pace of your life?
-Why is it hard to say “no” to good things?
-What do you notice about my character or behavior when I don’t have enough “down time?”
-What are some creative ideas for our family to better practice “sabbath?”