Have you ever met a really self possessed person? A guy or gal who just knows who they are and who they are not and they are ok with it? A person who they have nothing particularly special about them but because they are so good with who they are and what they have that they are fascinating?
I love these guys, their self confidence blows my mind. Their contentedness makes my constant state of fidget seem borderline insane (I am tapping at least one foot at all times). I always think that the Apostle Paul is one of these people. Just totally aware of who he is and gives no thought to what others think of him.
It is my great desire that my children grow up to be one of these people and I am doing my best to get them there. Do you know what I believe is the greatest contributor to this goal?
Letting them be unhappy.
Seriously countercultural, right? Your goal is for your children to be unhappy, you monster!
Not exactly, my goal is not to make them unhappy. I don’t need to set out to do that, life takes care of that naturally. We are born with the desire to please ourselves at at every turn and that is not possible.
Not getting the unicorn with a rainbow laser shooting horn you want is enough to make a little one unhappy, particularly if it has been a long day. Unhappiness just happens to all of us.
But we have a choice when we see our kids unhappy, to jump in and frantically try to fix it or when appropriate sit back and let them decide what to do.
Since our goal is to teach them to be content regardless of the circumstances, I allow them to feel the unhappiness when the unicorn doesn’t come on their birthday and try to guide them through the process of coming to grips with that. That guidance will be different depending upon the problem and the age of course.
The harder the disappointment and bigger the unhappiness, life again can be really hard, the more guidance they are going to need going through the time. The point though is to not to pretend that life is supposed to be perfect – Jesus said in this life we will have trouble and He means it. If we totally shield our kids from the relatively little troubles that come during their early lives what do they do when the big ones come?
Maturity comes with learning to deal with both the good and the bad of life and still lean on the joy of Jesus. Life is not always about getting what we want, but it is good.
In Bible terms, we have a choice individually and when we are teaching our kids. Do we starve the flesh that we are born with and love to indulge and feed the Spirit and teach them to do the same? Or do we feed the flesh with whatever it wants, starving the Spirit in the process.
Paul lived a life of getting what he wanted before he met Jesus on the Damascus Road. He wanted to be the big fancy Pharisee, student of the most famous teacher of Israel and generally thought to be awesome. When he got that, his flesh was fed to the limit, what was he doing? He was directly opposing Jesus, persecuting Jesus and killing Christians.
After meeting Jesus, Paul was whipped, beaten with rods, stoned, jailed, shipwrecked and was constantly on the run…he got none of what the flesh craved and yet he was content. He learned through Jesus to be content no matter the circumstances. He had the joy of Jesus and His salvation, with that nothing else really mattered.
Now, I am not suggesting shipwrecking anyone – Dad, what is all that wood doing in the baby pool out back? – just allowing children in a way that is appropriate for their age deal with things that make them unhappy. When things are not going perfectly to not immediately jump in and fix it. Allow them to work through it. Point them to Jesus as they work through it and teach them how to be content. Like a toddler learning how to ask for things at the dinner table, don’t give over what is requested until they learn how to handle asking in a polite manner.
Encourage them to grapple with the difficulties of life and be ok with not getting their way until they figure out how to do it.
We all have to do that on a daily basis so why not train them how to in a Godly way. So that when they leave home, they do not hit a wall of reality where they can’t comprehend how mom and dad are not there to fix their bad performance appraisal at work.
If you are successful in allowing small dosed of unhappiness and they learn the contentment that Jesus offers regardless of the circumstances, they will never truly be without the thing that the Bible says is our strength – the joy of the Lord. Happiness is fickle and fleeting, the joy of the Lord is eternal.