There you stand breaking up yet another sibling squabble – tired and frustrated. Because you demanded it, sibling 2 tells sibling 1 that they are sorry. At the top of their lungs. Or maybe instead of yelling their “Sorry” they barely whisper it, or even better, add a little sass and sarcasm to it. Doesn’t matter how it is said, it is clear their heart is not truly repentant. What do you do?
If you have been a parent for a few years, you have quickly learned you can not make a child be repentant no matter how hard you try. No amount of coercing, shaming, yelling, pleading or bribery will make them change their hearts. Only they have the power to make that choice, and only God has the power to reach their hearts.
Our family Bible study is going through the book of James. James is one of my favorite books and this week we studied a passage that I feel is key in training our children how to live a humble and repentant life.
As parents it is our job to help our children walk through conflict. Conflict happens, no matter your age. How you handle conflict matters! We have the perfect training ground for walking our kids through the steps of humbling themselves, repenting and restoration. If you have more than one kid, you probably have nearly daily opportunities to train. The better they get at it now the more successful they will be in relationships later.
The Why Behind the Action
James 4:1-6 points out 4 reasons on why we have conflict with others.
- Pleasures: You want what makes you happy. You are self focused.
- Lust: You desire things you can’t have.
- Envy: You desire things others have.
- Wrong Motives: You ask with selfishness.
When kids are having conflict it is important to pause for a moment and ask them what they are feeling in the moment. What is the root of their emotions? Are they “Me-Focused” instead of “Others-focused”? Do they want something that they are not allowed to have, and therefore they are mad? Do they want what someone else has and are so focused on getting it they will do whatever it takes instead of being focused on being content? Did they just forget to ask for a turn and took matters into their own hands? No matter what they reason it is important to figure out the motive of their actions so you can help them process their feelings in the correct way.
Ask questions and maybe even some follow-up questions to try to get to the bottom of their motives. Sometimes, especially at first, they will not be able to “get to the bottom of it.” That is okay. Maybe circle around back to it the next day and see if they have any insight now that they are calmed down and no longer are in the moment. The more you make this an everyday type conversation the better able they will be able to think through their emotions and diagnose themselves.
James 4:7-10 walks us through handling conflict the correct way. It shows us how to be God and others-centered instead of just self-centered. Let’s dive into these 10 steps by exploring the Greek meanings of the words! (My favorite source is Blue Letter Bible.)
- Submit to God: To obey someone who is in authority over you. In this case to obey God.
- Resist the Devil: To actively withstand, resist or oppose his thoughts and temptations.
- Draw near to God: To turn one’s thought to God and become familiar with Him.
- Cleans your hands: to abstain from future wrongdoing
- Purify your hearts: to be moral
- Be Miserable: to feel bad for what you have done. To realize the effect you had on others by putting yourself in their shoes.
- Mourn and weep: Mourn is to wish you could do it all over again and make a different choice. To weep is an outward sign of an inward feeling. It displays you are truly sorry.
- Laughter to mourning: Laughter is a sign that you are rubbing it in the face of your enemy. Mourning is realizing how you have affected the other person in a negative way.
- Joy to gloom: The gladness it brought you is replaced by the heaviness (gloom) of the effect it had on the other person.
- Humble yourself: to confess your mistake and express your regret for your behavior.
First Things First
Let’s break this down in a way that we can explain it to our kids. The first three talk about what we need to be doing on a daily basis so that we can make the right choices in our relationships. We first need to choose to make God the Lord of our lives and choose to obey Him. (See Family Conversation: Salvation for more on this.)
Next we need to actively choose to resist the temptations of the devil. We need to recognize our impulses and instant reactions as temptations to do the wrong thing. Teaching our children to pause before responding is key. In the pause, teach them to say a prayer and ask Holy Spirit to guide their next step.
Then encourage them that as they draw near to God, conflicts will become easier to work through. In James 4:8 there is the promise that as we draw near to God, He will draw near to you. The second “draw’ means as God draws near to you He will give you His grace and His help. His grace to forgive you when you mess up and His help to help you make wise choices. Praise God we do not have to do this alone!!
The 4th and 5th step are the result of the first three. As we spend time with God and resist the devil we will refrain from making wrong choices in the future and we will live a moral life. You can encourage your children that making a wise choice is possible. They can do that with God’s help. Again it is God who changes your child’s heart. As they spend time with Him, you will see the fruit of that time well spent.
Messed Up-Now What?
Steps 6 through 9 help us know what to do when we mess up either by mistake or on purpose. This is also a great opportunity to remind them that we all make mistakes, no one is perfect. What is important is what we do after we make the mistake. Verse 9 helps us know how to work through the process. First we need to actually feel bad for what we have done. One of the best ways to do this is to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Ask your child to think about how the situation affected their sibling or friend. Or for another angle, how would they feel if it happened to them?
Mourning and weeping is when you reach the point of admitting that if you were in the same situation again, you would choose to do things differently. An important step in this process is getting to the point where you have no more excuses for why you did it and instead have regret for your actions. No matter the circumstances, it is important for our children to learn how to own the part they played in the situation. The only thing you can control is yourself. The concept that two wrongs don’t make a right is key. Even when they are wrongly treated they can choose to respond in a way that honors God.
Steps 8 and 9 are making sure we have an “Others-Focused” mentality. It is important that we treat others the way we want to be treated. In doing that we should not gloat or boast in response to a situation.
To do all these steps well we have to live out number 10. It is in humbling ourselves that we can lovingly interact with those around us. I love how my pastor describes humility. It is knowing who you are, nothing more (avoiding pride) and nothing less (avoiding shame). We need to remind ourselves that God is God and we are not. It is important that we confess and admit that we need forgiveness and we need God’s help to do better.
Keeping all these steps in mind will help us navigate our children’s conflicts. Each step won’t be needed every time, but knowing them all will help us diagnose the root of the problem. It is then that we can reach their hearts and help them draw near to God. Then God can offer them grace and the help they need to make wise choices in the moment both now and in the future.