Stress will bring out the best or worst in us. All you need do is place people in an extremely difficult situation to discover what is in their hearts. In wisdom literature, Solomon advised readers to “guard your heart above all else, for it is the source of life” (Prov. 4:23).
Jeremiah prophetically redirects the contemporary adage “let your heart be your guide” by exposing the untrustworthiness of the heart. He states, “The heart is more deceitful than anything else, and incurable — who can understand it? I, the Lord, examine the mind, I test the heart to give each according to his way, according to what his actions deserve” (Jer 17:9-10). Luke records Jesus’ perennial words penetrating below the surface of our ‘grin and bear it’ society. Jesus says, “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). No matter how hard we try to emotionally fake it until we make it, the heart cannot remain hidden.
Tony Evans once said, “The heart is like a tea bag. If you want to know what’s on the inside, place it in hot water and the contents will spill out.” COVID-19 has turned up the heat in all our lives. Most parents rarely spend 24-hour periods occupying the same space with their children. Many families are stressed out because of cash problems, clashing personalities and confusing policies handed down from national, state and local leaders. COVID-19 is helping reset my parental compass for the glory of God and good of my children. I revisited an old book by Ted Tripp titled Shepherding a Child’s Heart to aid my journey.
Heart work is hard work
Tripp explains, “The heart is the control center of life. All behavior flows from the heart … what comes out in the words and actions of your children reflects the abundance of their hearts. Correction and discipline, therefore, must be concerned with heart issues.” In other words, we can no longer tell children “go to your room” without speaking God’s Word to their hearts during moments of correction, especially when rooms provide in-house sanctuary from other COVID-19 household members.
A disciplinary isolation edict may very well backfire when parents hear the child offer the unexpected Chick-fil-A refrain, “My pleasure.”
Indulge me for a moment as I illustrate this comical dialogue:
Parent: Go to your room!
Child: My pleasure.
Parent: What did you say to me?
Child: I said, “My pleasure.”
Parent: Don’t get smart with me!
Child: I was trying to be respectful — like the kids at Chick-fil-A. You always appreciate them, right?
Who do you think won this exchange? I would argue neither party was victorious because the focus was solely on behavioral change rather than heart work.
That raises the questions, “What was the issue that caused a need for correction in the first place? Why did the parent choose behavior modification over biblical transformation?” On one hand, the answer could be convenience. On the other hand, there might be biblical illiteracy in play.
Tripp suggests, “To shepherd your child’s heart into a biblical understanding of behavior, you must know the terms the Bible uses to describe the thoughts and purposes of the heart.” Tripp provides a plethora of passages for us to meditate on and memorize, hiding God’s Word in our hearts, so that we avoid sinning against God and our children by simply applying behaviorist principles when conflict arises.
For example, when our children are bickering over space or access to an item, we must remember anger is “a whole-personed active response against a perceived evil” as Robert D. Jones explains in Uprooting Anger: Biblical Help for a Common Problem. We cannot think short-term by simply declaring “Stop!” We must allow scripture to cultivate whole-personed righteousness for long-term benefits.
In this situation, we might apply passages like Prov. 15:1; Matt. 5:22; Rom.12:19; James 1:19-20; 4:1-2 to remind our children that unbridled anger is an improper response to the sacrificial death of Christ since He absorbed God’s wrath on our behalf (Rom 5:6-11). We must take time to verbalize prayers that confront de- monic spirits in the unseen world.
I hope each parent can maximize these COVID-19 days by checking our hearts to shepherd their hearts.
Curtis Woods is associate executive direc- tor of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.