Wednesday, March 11, 2009

You've Earned a Smiley Face!

A few months ago, Tammy and I were forced to institute a behavior chart for our two boys (see Tammy's blog for more info. on our family). It was a simple chart--four behaviors that we expected from our boys, with 7 empty blocks for each behavior (one per day) to be filled with a potential happy or sad face. 21 happy faces at the end of the week earns them a dip in the prize basket. Every couple of weeks, we come up with new behaviors that we want them to focus on and replace the ones that we feel like they've mastered. Elias suggested that we add "I need to always tell the truth" to the list, after an incident involving lying a few weeks ago. How awesome is it that we now have our children identifying behaviors that they think they need to work on! ...only by the grace of God.

Our kids thrive with this kind of structure. We skipped the behavior chart for a week or two, because things were so hectic, and they began to slip into old habits. But when we reintroduced the behavior chart, they seemed to be happier in general and have been eager to please. The kids are earning smiley faces for their charts. But more importantly, we all get smiles on our faces, as they do.

One of the first behaviors we identified as something our kids needed to work on right away was "I need to be happy with what I have, and not complain." I don't know if all children fall in to the habit of complaining if unchecked, or if our parenting style elicits it from them, or if they've learned it by imitating us, or if it's a part of their DNA (maybe Tammy or I come from a long line of complainers), but it needed to change.

About 1-1/2 years ago our entire family memorized Philippians 2:14-15. "Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe." This was an attempt to bring the authority of God to bear on the issue.

All that to say, our kids tend to complain, and we don't like it!

Tammy and I try not to parent out of convenience, and we don't want to make a rule or chastise our kids just because we're annoyed by their behavior. If we can't explain to them why a behavior is wrong or undesirable, then we probably shouldn't make a big deal out of it, or else clarify the reasoning in our own minds first (a concept echoed in this great parenting book--now a classic at 14 years old). When it comes to complaining, we can specify our reasoning behind the rules we lay down. But whether we could or not, its just so annoying! I hate to hear my kids complain.

Sometimes, when people have hang ups about venting to God, I like to refer them to passages like Psalm 143. David often let God know that he was unhappy with his current situation, and that he wanted something different. I'm glad to be able to lead people to places of honesty before their maker. God can handle your anger, he can handle your griping, he can handle your complaining. You're not going to offend him by letting him know how you honestly feel. David did it, and the classical understanding is that he was inspired by the Holy Spirit as he did. God will hear you when you "cry out" (a concept mentioned no less than 40 times in the book of Psalms).

On the other hand, as a dad, its extremely frustrating when my kids act as if they have nothing to be happy about, when they act as if I'm ignorant of their needs, when they convey a lack of trust in my provision. "Haven't we provided for your needs? Aren't you happy with what we provide? Don't you trust that we're going to take care of you? If you need something just ask--don't whine about what you don't have."

According to 1 Corinthians 10:10, complaining/grumbling brought "the destroyer" on the Israelites, while they wondered in the desert. In other words, to put it mildly, God didn't seem to like the fact that they were skeptical of His provision. Their grumbling had reached a point that seemed to annoy Him, and he was going to do something about it (See Numbers 16-17).

As I reflect on my kids' behavior, I recognize that, as a child of God, I sometimes communicate that I don't trust in His provision, or that I think he's ignorant of my needs. I complain about what I don't have. I complain about the situations I find myself in. I whine to God, I grumble to my wife, I pity myself. That must sound a little annoying to my Father in Heaven; it may even be a little hurtful. He must say (anthropomorphically speaking), "Haven't I provided for your needs? Aren't you happy with what I provide? Don't you trust that I'm going to take care of you? If you need something just ask--don't whine about what you don't have."

I'm reminded, Soprano fans, of an old Ojibwa saying, "Sometimes I go about in pity for myself and all the while a great wind carries me across the sky."

Maybe its time to grow up, use our words, stop our whining, and simply ask God for what we need, balancing the request with contentment over his provision. Hasn't he carried us this far?
Maybe we'll earn a smiley face as a result!

"But godliness with contentment is great gain."
--1 Timothy 6:6 (NIV)


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