Last weekend our family had a discussion on Diligence and I posed the question: What is the difference between diligence and thoroughness and can you have one without the other? This led to a discussion on having the right response at the right time, or the possibility of having a good response at the wrong time. Is good character, at the wrong time, still good character?
Let me explain – diligence is a good thing – it means to give all your energy to complete the task at hand. If we don’t show diligence we are lazy, but if we show diligence on a project that is outside of our goal – it is wasted diligence, and if we saw it for what it was it would be distraction or procrastination. In a family this could look like a child cleaning their bedroom when it is school time. Cleaning their bedroom is a good thing and yet it isn’t the right thing at this particular time of day – they have chosen diligence at the wrong time.
I remember helping one of my children through the idea of too much happy! There is happy, joyful loving life, and there is being so loud you become disruptive and draw attention to yourself. Happy is good, but in excess it is giddy and selfish.
We would generally say that being scared is a negative thing – if we are so fearful of things that we are incapacitated, unable to do the things that we have been created for, that is not a good thing. But if we are so without caution, then we become reckless. There is a balance between being bold and being cautious; both are positive responses in circumstances but in differing circumstances they could be inappropriate and negative.
Characater is about doing the right thing at the right time
It is about having the right balance; about doing the right thing, or responding the right way, at the right time.
As parents we often deal with the negative responses –
- We see lying and we teach about the importance of being truthful, and yet we also need to teach the importance of tact, graciousness, gentleness.
- We see idleness so we teach initiative but we also need to teach responsibility and thoroughness (because you just can’t jump from one initiative to the next).
- We see unreliability so we teach responsibility but need to balance that with humility and gentleness (so that they don’t ride roughshod over other people).
As my children have grown older I have seen great value in us talking about the vice (the wrong choice), and the balancing virtues, not just the initial virtue. Imagine the frustration when your child blurts out “Look at the fat man mum!” and you say “Shhhh, darling, we don’t say things like that, that is not kind.” And all they can think of is – but mum I’m just being truthful! When we can be aware that we have balancing traits to work with, we increase our toolbox to help our children choose appropriate responses in life.
One lesson we had to teach Joshua and Jessica was how to play sport with good character – sport is not the place to step aside and let the other person have a go, no, often it is about blocking the other person. But at the same time, they needed to be fair, play to the rules with strength and determination, and win or lose always be encouraging and cheerful.
Another one is stranger danger – we want to teach our children to be friendly, or to obey those in authority, but we must teach them protective behaviour as well – we need to teach them discernment and courage. They need to know that friendliness and obedience isn’t always the right response in every situation.
Training our Children’s Hearts
The challenge for us, the parents, as we teach, train and guide our children in making good responses in life, is to see what is going on for what it really is. It is easy to make excuses for rude behaviour because they are, well, just being honest! Or they are just happy today. Or we make excuses for things not being done: at least the bedroom is tidy, or at least they are even here. And in making those excuses we enable them to be rude or disruptive, we enable them to have incomplete projects and carry an attitude.
As we help our children do the right thing, at the right time, we will be able to address these issues of balance. Living life is not a sequence of cookie cutter responses – when this happens, I will do this, when someone says this, I will reply thus. Instead we need to give our children a heart for other people, and a desire to live to glorify God in all that they do.
When we are in the situation of “Help, what do I do with my child?” we can consider these questions
- How can I help my child to love this person? Or
- How can I help my child love God, and live to bring Him glory?
Answering these questions helps us get beyond the list of to-do’s for parents, beyond the list of character traits, beyond the list of traditional expectations. The answers to these questions will help us address the issues with our own individual, unique children and help give them the balance to the choices they need to make.
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