I've seen this happen over and over again in my life and the lives of others. If we don't teach and train our children, the world will gladly teach them for us. As a dad, there are countless life lessons I want my children to know before they set out on their own. Here are six that I see as essentials.
1. It's not all about them.
Starting at a very young age, our kids have been taught about the "two most important things."
First, love God. Second, love others.
This simple truth is the foundation of our faith and must be "caught" by our kids at an early age. If they miss this essential life lesson, the teen years will be rough ones. This is not to say that they will always be perfect angels for us. However, if they understand that their primary life mission is to love God and others, they will less likely fall into the teen mentality that the world is all about them, and with Facebook around, this is not always an easy thing to do.
2. Embrace hard work and challenges.
In the age of crazy advancing technology, it seems that "hard work" has gotten a bad rap. I love technology as much as the next guy. However, as a dad, I don't want my children growing up without experiencing some physically challenging work. As I have personally learned over the years, hard work and sweat are great teachers. There is something special about working hard towards a goal and nailing it. Whether it's doing household chores, pursuing some fitness-related goals, or tackling a mentally tough puzzle, our children need to develop the discipline and fortitude to see something through to completion-especially when it's hard. Also, don't forget to celebrate the achieved goals along the way, or as important, celebrate the efforts even when a goal is not attained. It's the effort that counts most!
I love this quote by Ted Roosevelt: "A soft, easy life is not worth living, if it impairs the fibre of brain and heart and muscle. We must dare to be great; and we must realize that greatness is the fruit of toil and sacrifice and high courage... For us is the life of action, of strenuous performance of duty; let us live in the harness, striving mightily; let us rather run the risk of wearing out than rusting out."
3. Character comes first.
This will be a difficult one. Our world today, including most educational and athletic systems teach and reward just the opposite. Let's face it. The "heroes" and role models of today are typically the over paid athletes and movie stars that rarely uplift character as the most important thing about a person. Pick up any magazine today and you'll quickly see what the world values: self-centeredness, outward appearance, money, stuff, and self-indulgence.
We must resolve to teach our sons and daughters that God looks first at the inner person and not the outer appearance.
4. Be quick to listen and slow to speak.
James stresses this point to the early church, and we need to hear it just as much. I've been blessed with five children, two still in their primary years and three young adults. If I could turn back the clock, I'd reinforce this extremely practical tenet that touches all relationships in life—seek first to listen and then to speak. I've never regretted when I have listened more intently to my wife and children before uttering my response. Unfortunately, we live during a time when people just want to be heard and are seldom taking the time to listen to one another. While social media isn't the cause of this issue, it's fueling the fire.
If our kids grasp this simple but profound truth, they will cultivate a trait of discernment in a world that often listens too little and speaks far too much.
5. Mistakes and failures are opportunities to grow.
I shared in a past blog 3 Things Your Child Needs To Learn About Making Mistakes that I want my kids to know when they make a mistake: 1. Own it; 2. Learn from it; and 3. Grow from it.
Given none of us walk on water, we'll never get it all right. We all make mistakes. The sooner our kids get this, the better off they will be. Mistakes and failures will always be a part of our lives. What's important is how we respond to them (by the way this is why character is so important). As parents, we need to stress and celebrate our child's attitude and efforts and not necessarily the outcomes. My kids know this truth well ... we give it our best, and God holds the results. Do your sons and daughters know this?
6. Forgiven and forgiving.
So much of our walk of faith comes down to this ... yet while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. That same grace and mercy God has shown to us needs to be given to others. Knowing that we will always be in some state of sinfulness, this is a must in every household. As parents, we need to set the example. We have a saying in my family—"mess up, fess up." It's a daily process of making things right with God and each other.Interwoven with all of these truth lessons, is the ever present opportunity to share and build the gospel into the lives of our children. I love the very practical command found in Deuteronomy 6—to speak the truth of God into the hearts and minds of our children throughout the daily activities of life ... the "by the way" principle. Never forget that our children are hard-wired by God to follow our example. The road our actions forge today will likely become the path our children take tomorrow. Never underestimate the power of your example.