Why Behavior is Only a Symptom


 Ask me to recall the offense and I couldn’t tell you. My eldest, then five years old, earned herself a consequence. In an effort to get her to “think twice,” I thought of a consequence that would get her attention, albeit not necessarily related to the offense.

“No desserts,” I emphatically pronounced to the kindergartener.

Around the midpoint of her term, I overheard one of her classmates gushing about the cupcakes they had in class. What five year old could resist? I didn’t need to ask. She sat quietly while I tried to extract a confession.

My daughter confessed, “Mom, when I noticed in the morning that my friend brought cupcakes for her birthday, I saved a cheese stick from lunch so I would have something to eat too.”

Her response caught me off guard. I was devastated. I can’t imagine the willpower it took for her to reject that cupcake for a left over cheese stick. Yet, she did reject a delicious cupcake in order to obey me. I should be pleased. So, why didn’t it sit well with me?

Proverbs exhorts parents, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).

I made an earnest attempt to influence her behavior. But did my approach accomplish effective training?  How do we best “train” our children?

Turns out, behavior is only a symptom.

God says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (Proverbs 4:23, NIV).

The bent of our hearts determines our course of action. The best training we can offer our children, therefore, is not to simply modify their behavior but train their hearts to revere the Lord. Behavior modification will naturally flow from a changed heart.

My approach changed my daughter’s behavior. But did it mold her heart? Probably not.

The reality is, our children won’t always be under our supervision. How do we incline them to not depart from the narrow path?

Focusing on their behavior will only get them so far down the road. But focusing on the heart will influence their choices throughout their entire life.

That’s because a heart modification reflects a deep level transformation that results in a child’s honest assessment of who they are in light of God’s holiness and their sinfulness.

Parents, we have no easy task training our children in the way they should go. Accomplishing a heart change will require forging discipleship strategies, using every opportunity to teach the Word of God and indoctrinate His truths into the hearts of our children. Planning discipleship strategies  enables us to get us ahead of the game so we don’t find ourselves simply putting out “behavioral fires.”

It’s been years since that day. Our strategies have changed. Recently, we were saying our bedtime prayers and going over the day. My daughter said, “Mom, I am so thankful and appreciate the way you and dad parent. I know you teach me what you do for my good, to mold my heart.”

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