Thursday, April 21, 2016

Instilling Virtue, Not Rules.

I remember feeling devastated. Filled with an incredible amount of frustration and tangled emotions, sitting in the middle of my floor, crying quietly. My mom came in and tried to console me. I will never forget what she said: "I'm sorry, Sweety. You have always wanted to do the right thing, to follow the rules, but not everyone else feels that way or acts that way."

It was a sweet moment for us and a moment of revelation for me. I had never known this about myself. Even now, as I find myself disappointed with others, I come back to what my mom said, trying my best to let compassion guide me in understanding the motivations of other people.

As I talked about in one of my recent posts, I am also pretty critical of others by nature. If I'm not careful, this causes me to separate and distance myself from people I spend too much time criticizing. It also puts craziness inside my head and I start my overly detailed lists of should's and should-not's. Sometimes, it's really good to learn from other people, to see their mistakes and try to avoid them. But, life doesn't work this way all the time. We cannot live by a gigantic set of rules in the hopes of everything turning out the way we want.

Life is not a recipe. You cannot create a formula where you add in good stuff, take out bad, and know for a fact that your circumstances will turn out the way you want. We are deceived to think we have this kind of control.

Our love of control is not a topic I want to deal with today. Instead, I want to address the idea of being ruled by rules vs. being ruled by something bigger.

I've used this verse before, and I will probably bring it up over and over again, because it really is that good.

"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." Philippians 4:8

While this verse gives us wonderful ways to direct our minds toward goodness, unless we let these things direct our hearts to God, they will fail us.

We cannot give our children a simple list of ways not to live, or even incredibly specific ways to live, and leave it at that. We cannot tell them to get an education, treat others well, buy a house, attend a good church (though that is now scratched off the list by the majority), get married (again, not necessarily), have kids, and your life will be worth living. We cannot tell them not to do drugs, not to rape women, not to have sex (well, only what seems like a decent amount of partners), not to cheat, not to be abusive, and expect them to live a fulfilling life. There are not enough rules on the planet to keep everyone in line, well fed, and content. Take a look at the history of humanity if you need further evidence.

A few years ago, after yet another school shooting, I read an article about the behaviors preceding most of these shootings. Surprisingly, there was almost always quite a bit of evidence in the shooter's life to prove they willfully intended to harm others. Gory descriptions of killing people in homework assignments, weird tales told to friends, plans in their journals, or disturbing conversations online: all right under the noses of their parents, or even evident to teachers at school. Immediately, I thought we should make some laws regarding when teachers have to report this kind of behavior in students. Admittedly, it might be a good idea, but God also convicted my heart about my response. We cannot fix the world by making more laws the same way we cannot fix our hearts by making new rules.

So what is the fix? How do we help make things better? I cannot give you an answer that does not revolve around following Christ, as His is the only truly unique historical response. He fixed the problem of sin by conquering death, by taking an undeserved punishment upon himself to give the undeserved an eternal blessing.

But still, how do we use what we know to put ourselves on the right path? How do we teach our children in a way that guides them toward true goodness? We instill virtue. Although, this gets complicated when the entire globe has varied levels of morality. You can't simply choose your own idea of what is virtuous or decide for yourself what counts as good and noble. You need some tool for discerning good from evil, a tool that is not motivated by culture, upbringing, or vague ideas of decency. The only way to come to the root of all goodness is to find the one who established it.

If you believe we come from monkeys, lizards, or some method of hit-or-miss genetic mutations, you cannot find a solid base of morality. You can choose according to your ever-changing culture, your family heritage, or the desires of your heart, but you will not be able to logically impose your standards of decency on others. However, if you believe we were made in the image of an eternal presence, the God of creation, the only Holy being in existence, you have His word as the only guide for moral living.

I'm not going to touch on biblical interpretations, or cultural relevance, but if you want to get to the root of solving evil in our world, and in your life, you'll need to get to the root of where evil comes from and how to stop it. We instill virtue in our children by instilling the only true goodness there is and weighing the rest of the world against it. We don't shelter them from knowing about the atrocities in the world, but always bring them back to weighing them against God's standard, the same impossible standard we can never meet. This is where we see our need for Christ and we taste the freedom available to us.

There's no way around it, the world needs Jesus. Rules can help us maintain peace, order and safety in the midst of a world that rejects Christ, but they cannot change hearts, as the apostle Paul thoroughly expresses all throughout Romans. No matter what schooling-method you embrace, your children will have to decide for themselves whether they will live according to their own rules, follow someone else's rules, or if they will follow Jesus. It's all or nothing, and you have the opportunity each day to steer your children toward following Jesus, or following something else.

By God's grace I have steered my children His direction without much thought at times, but we need to make this distinction in our minds and be intentional in our family leadership. Attending church and living a moral life are not enough to equip our children with the skills needed to survive this catastrophic place. Let Jesus fight evil for you, and enlighten your children to that process. Allow your children to wrestle with understanding how seemingly good people can do bad things, and teach them about how the bible addresses our sin and repentance.

This is what they really need. Not more playdates, not more math, not more musical exposure. Go deep with your children. This means you must plunge the depths of your sin (which is frightening and awful), but when you come back up and side with Christ, you always come out victorious. Then go again, and again, and again with your children. This is the greatest experience you can give them, allowing them to see your sin and your willingness to fight it. This is how they will see what virtue really is, and they will know exactly Who gives it. They will see you fight to receive it and have the confidence and courage to fight as well. What better gift is there?

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