29 Ways to Affirm Your Children – #27

27.  Teach your children to serve others.  One of the inherent dangers of all these affirming efforts is an unhealthy pride that can infiltrate your family.  How do we tell our children they are special without puffing them up?  How do we affirm our kids, but not spoil or coddle them?  How do we teach “everyone makes mistakes” while at the same time expecting them to improve and do their best in every endeavor?  Welcome to the balancing act called parenting.

So much of our parenting wisdom goes into finding the balance between love and control, between fairness and generosity, between reward and punishment, between activity and margin, between giving an allowance and making our children to earn their money.  And finally, today’s topic:  the balance between affirmation and an attitude of humility.

The answer is not to lessen the affirmation.  The answer is to raise the humility.  And we do this by teaching our children the importance of love and the service that flows from it.  Love one another is the greatest commandment of the New Testament.  In the book of I Corinthians – specifically chapter 13 – we learn that love trumps knowledge, love supersedes our gifts and giftedness, and love is even greater than faith itself.  Love is the answer to pride, strife, envy, and disharmony in both the home and the church.

Teaching our children that love trumps knowledge, gifts, and faith is not only biblical, but practical as well in preparing them for the mission in life that God has for them.  Our son, Josh, was not taken aback by the decadence in the residence halls of the secular university he attended known for its art and music programs.  He had been taught that all people are worthy of our love and this helped him overcome the fear of such an in-your-face experience.  He and his wife, Erica, are now teaching their children what serving out of love looks like.  Our daughter, Elizabeth, befriended her manager at her first job in Boston.  He is a gay man who is curious why Elizabeth is the first professing Christian he has known who was not mad at him.  Our daughter, Annie, and son-in-law, Matthew, moved their family to Burkina Faso, West Africa to follow a specific mission God has for them.  Their desire to serve their new neighbors, motivated by love, was stronger than their fear of sickness and loneliness.  Our daughter, Bethany, walked through the contaminated and flooded streets of India aware of her natural phobia of germs, but overcame her fear by the love she had for the destitute, dying and demented she was going to serve.  Our son, Joe, served as a counselor to incoming freshmen at Texas A&M, overcoming his inclination to shyness by love for the new students and a desire to give back as he had been blessed by his Impact experience.

I am not sharing these things to build up our own family.  I am trying to make the point that when you teach your children that all people are loved by God and worthy of our love, it prepares them for the path God has for them in their adult life.  “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Gal 5:13).

29 Ways to Affirm Your Children – #26

26.  Reward effort, not results.  Early in his navy career, former President Jimmy Carter applied for service in the U. S. Navy’s nuclear submarine program.  Here is his account of his interview with Admiral Hyman Rickover, head of the program at the time:

It was the first time I met Admiral Rickover, and we sat in a large room by ourselves for more than two hours, and he let me choose any subjects I wished to discuss.  Very carefully, I chose those about which I knew most at the time – current events, seamanship, music, literature, naval tactics, electronics, gunnery – and he began to ask me a series of questions of increasing difficulty.  In each instance, he soon proved that I knew relatively little about the subject I had chosen.  He always looked right into my eyes, and he never smiled.  I was saturated with cold sweat.  Finally, he asked a question and I thought I could redeem myself.  He said, “How did you stand in your class at the Naval Academy?”  Since I had completed my sophomore year at Georgia Tech before entering Annapolis as a plebe, I had done very well, and I swelled my chest with pride and answered, “Sir, I stood fifty-ninth in a class of 820!”  I sat back to wait for the congratulations – which never came.  Instead the question:  “Did you do your best?”  I started to say, “Yes, sir,” but I remembered who this was and recalled several of the many times at the Academy when I could have learned more about our allies, our enemies, weapons, strategy, and so forth.  I was just human.  I finally gulped and said, “No, sir, I didn’t always do my best.”  He looked at me for a long time, and then turned his chair around to end the interview.  He asked one final question, which I have never been able to forget – or to answer.  He said, “Why not?”  I sat there for awhile, shaken, and then slowly left the room.

That question became the thought-starter for President Carter’s autobiography, Why Not the Best?, and is a question I have asked myself many times.  I have also posed its positive form to our kids on several occasions, “Did you do your best?”  Not every child is a straight A student, but every child can give their best effort.  Not every child is a stellar athlete or musician, but they all can give their best.  Reward them for their effort.

One of the reasons we rewarded effort over results at our house was because the results are often outside our control.  This is a lesson I have learned in life many times over.  When I worked for a large oil company, I had a particular good year and received a top level performance review.  It also happened to be a year when the oil industry in general was in a downturn and my excellent performance translated into a minimal pay raise, not the results I had hoped for based on my efforts.  But the macro-economics of the situation were outside my control.

Our children face the same challenge.  Our son, Joseph, was a pitcher on his high school baseball team.  He was very accurate and did a good job of keeping the ball down in the strike zone.  But every once in awhile, a good hitter would drive one of his pitches over the fence.  I told Joe many times, “Your job is to keep the ball low or on the corners which you do extremely well.  The pitch location is all you can control.  You have no control over how good the hitter is or how hard they hit the ball.”

Reward your children for what they can control, for what they give their best effort to.  This fits the reward we will each receive from our heavenly Father.  “Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor” (I Cor 3:8).

29 Ways to Affirm Your Children – #25

25.  The importance of physical touch.  We know, both instinctively and through child development research, that babies who are held, hugged, and kissed are generally more emotionally healthy than those left for long periods of time without physical contact.  And long before a child understands anything about the meaning of love, they experience and feel love through our physical touch.  A hug, a kiss, a touch all communicate an affirming love to your child, a feeling that is only accentuated if physical touch is also their primary love language.

But with or without the love language impact, the value of touch cannot be overstated.  As children get older the forms of touch change, but the basic message of love continues to be communicated through our touch.  That teenage boy who backs away from a hug may just need a touch on the arm, a pat on the back, or a good old-fashioned head lock.  As with our laughter topic, if you were raised in a household where physical touch was not a common expression of love, you may need to work harder to break the chain and bring the value of touch into you home.

And I hope it goes without saying that Dad needs to be sensitive to appropriate touch as their daughters grow up and develop.  A hug, a kiss on the forehead, a squeeze on the arm all say, “I am there for you.”  They never reach an age when touch is not needed.  Just make sure your daughters are affirmed by your touch, not alarmed by it.

Jesus’ healing ministry was constantly accompanied by physical touch.  “Jesus took [Jairus’ daughter] by the hand and called, saying, ‘Child, arise!’  And her spirit returned, and she got up immediately” (Lk 8:54-55).  “Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes; and immediately they regained their sight and followed Him” (Mt 20:34).  “Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, ‘I am willing; be cleansed.’  And immediately his leprosy was cleansed” (Mt 8:3).

Jesus’ touch was also a way to experience His blessing.  “And they were bringing children to Him so that He might touch them … And He took them in His arms and began blessing them, laying His hands on them” (Mk 10:13,16).  We bless and affirm our children through physical touch.