I attend a monthly “homeschool moms support group” with ladies from my church. We have small prayer groups, have discussions or guest speakers on various topics, and usually someone shares a short devotion with the group. This year, the 5-10 minute devotional for each month was supposed to be on a character trait we were learning about or working on with our children.
Here, (with a few edits) are some thoughts I shared with the group tonight:
Last fall, I signed up for this month’s devotional slot with the idea that we would, by now, have learned so much as a family about various character areas. After all, I was armed for the year with resources to really make “character study” a priority. Although many moms selected a character quality to speak about when they signed up, I didn’t choose one ahead of time since I assumed I might like to pick the best from what we studied this year.
Now it’s time for a reality check. I bought a Bible study on Proverbs months before our current school year started. But after a couple weeks of use Miss M, my third grader, thought the “fun” word puzzles were stressful, and just couldn’t wrap her mind around the idea of reading the same verse or short passage several days in a row. She said, “That’s crazy, mom!” So, the Proverbs Bible study was put on the shelf to save for another year. It’s a great product — just not the right thing for her right now.
I thought the “We Choose Virtues” cards were so cute when I saw them on various homeschooling blogs I read. Each character quality or virtue has a “kid” that represents it, along with a verse and a catchy phrase. But, always looking for the frugal option, I bought a small version of the cards (the flash cards) not realizing that this size of card didn’t have any instructions or ideas for teaching about the virtue like this bigger version did. I just couldn’t really make very good use of the cards, so most of these small cards got lost in the mess of our school room. Again, a great product (especially if I would have had the larger cards with teaching ideas), but the reality was different than the dream.
At a conference last year I bought a few resources from Doorpost books. Just like the “We Choose Virtues” program and the proverbs Bible study, I think these are great resources too. I bought a couple things we decided just weren’t quite the right fit for us, but I was really excited about this Bible study in particular about various qualities we can “put on” from Colossians 3. But, when I actually tried to present this material to the kids, it was a bit of a flop. I don’t think this is the book’s fault – probably more my lack of skill in the style of teaching it required, or the place I tried to fit it into the schedule. But, whatever the case, despite how much I liked the material, it just didn’t get done.
So, when I realized a few weeks ago that this devotional talk was looming over my head, all I could think of were the negative character qualities I have seen my kids exhibiting. I’m sure this never happens in your homes, but I just thought about all the ways my kids think of themselves instead of their siblings or of others. All the times my kids yelled or hit or threw a toy at one another in anger instead of using words to work out their conflicts. All the times my kids whined and complained or even screamed and threw a fit about schoolwork or chores. And then there is my lack of character growth to consider. I thought about all the times I got angry with my kids or lost patience with them as they did all of the above and more. I thought about all the times I chose laziness or fear or complaining instead of hard work, trust and joy. And I seriously considered backing out on sharing tonight. I know that God does not view me or my kids through a lens of failure. His grace abounds. But what wisdom do I have to share?
Even though we failed to complete the character curricula that I purchased, I have been trying to make sure the kids read or listen to the Bible each day. Miss M reads the Bible on her own, and most days the boys like to listen to the audio Bible app on the iPad. But one day recently the internet was down so the app would play audio. Instead we snuggled together on the couch and picked up where we left off in 1 John with chapter 4 (I’m going to read starting with verse 7, NLT):
7Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. 8But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.
9God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. 10This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.
11Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. 12No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us.
13And God has given us his Spirit as proof that we live in him and he in us. 14Furthermore, we have seen with our own eyes and now testify that the Father sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15All who confess that Jesus is the Son of God have God living in them, and they live in God. 16We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love.
God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. 17And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world.
18Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love. 19We love each otherb because he loved us first.
And I realized, that when I look back at what overall “character quality”, if you want to call it that, that I’ve been dwelling on most with my kids is love. Doesn’t it all come down to that anyway? – “The greatest of these is love” and “Love God and Love your neighbor”
As my kids fight with each other or refuse to do their chores or act selfishly, I’ve been trying to bring it back around to love. Do your actions show love toward your brother? What would be the most loving thing to do in this situation? How can you go out of your way to show love to someone else right now? Can you ask God to give you Spirit-filled help to love this person right now?
In considering questions like these, I’m hoping my kids and I can grow in love for one another that honors God and, as verse 12 said from 1 John 4, “brings His love to full expression in us.”
I know I can tend toward being a “box checker” spiritually, and it wouldn’t surprise me if some of my kids had personalities that tend in that direction too. There are a lot of good things about character curriculum products, but I could see how they could also lead us to feel like we had “checked off a box” of patience or honesty or diligence because we memorized a verse and catch phrase and completed an activity.
I’m not sure what we will do in future years to help our kids grow in character in terms of using a curriculum or Bible study, but at least for the moment, I’m feeling like we can’t go wrong with asking ourselves and our kids, “How can we show love in this situation?”, and praying for the kind of love that we can only have with God’s help.