The barn was covered with circle targets, each with a bullet hole in the bull's eye. But the farmer wasn't a crack shot. He just shot first and drew the circle around the hole later. This is the way a lot of our children approach truth. Truth, like the center of the target, is whatever they say it is. It's whatever feels right at the moment or seems convenient for them.
Our children live in a culture that doesn't value absolute truth. And we as Christians aren't exempt from this kind of thinking. According to the Barna Research Group, only 9 percent of Christian teens, for example, believe in moral absolutes. If we want our children to cherish truth, we have to take a look at the subtle messages we send about the importance of truth.
Let's say Kelsey pinches another child and her mother justifies it by saying that Kelsey is having a bad day. If the mother doesn't make Kelsey responsible for her actions and explain that what she did was wrong, she's avoiding the moral truth of the situation. If Casey's father punishes him for lying, but says, "Tell them I'm not home," when he doesn't want to take a phone call, Casey learns that truth in one situation is not necessarily truth in every situation.
As children reach the elementary years, they are exposed to the myriad values of other children. For the first time, they see that their family values aren't necessarily the values of others. They need your help to figure out why you believe what you say you believe and why you live the way you do. They simply will not develop an understanding of absolute, Christ-centered truth without your guidance.
A task this important calls for a lifestyle where truth is lived and honored at all cost. That means:
Being consistent. Make your yes "yes," and your no "no." If Kimberly has been told to finish her veggies before she can have dessert, she shouldn't get dessert if the beans stay on her plate. Kids might appear to bristle under such firm boundaries and expectations, but child development experts agree that children feel more comfortable and confident when they know that the adults around them can be trusted to mean what they say.
Considering the cost of truth training. Modeling truthfulness can be inconvenient. If you drive the speed limit when a police cruiser is behind you, then speed up when it's gone, your kids will notice. If you expect your children to make difficult choices about right and wrong, you have to show them how it's done.
Explaining truth. As children get older, they start to understand that the truth is often complex. In Sunday school, I was telling the story of Jesus' healing of Jairus' daughter. "Was she really dead?" Jimmy asked. "Yes," I replied. "Well, why did Jesus lie and say she was sleeping?" We stopped right there and talked about how Jesus was telling the mourners that life doesn't end with physical death. We have to help children understand the subtle shadings of truth by talking about white lies and half truths.
Being fair. To elementary children, truth and justice are the same concept. This can be tricky because sometimes life isn't fair. Do your best to help your child live honestly even in the face of injustice, and support her efforts to be honest even when doing so might get her into trouble in the short run.
Living differently. Traditions and rituals, for example, help demonstrate Christian differences. Make bold choices and children will notice. So will others around you. People are hungry for truth and are drawn to someone who dares to say, "As for me and my family, we will struggle to live with honesty and integrity."
Marlene LeFever is the Director of Church Relations at Cook Communications. Her most recent book is Flowers from God: Affirmations for Sunday-School Teachers (Cook).
Copyright © 2003 by the author or Christianity Today/Christian Parenting Today magazine.
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