“He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city.” Proverbs 16:32
Not too long ago, a sweet mom brought her two children along to our meeting in a coffee shop. They were sweet children, but they were all over her and ran her ragged! Later, I described the situation to my older children, and asked them what they thought we had done differently that had prevented them from behaving quite so crazily as littles. It was humorous to hear how opinionated they were, as each reminded me how intentionally we taught them to be patient and to wait their turn–because they all remembered it the same way. We were (and are!) strong believers in a concept I call self-government–probably a Victorian character quality that I read about along the way in a book about the principle approach to life.
Self-government is defined this way: a person learns to command himself, his impulses, his work habits, emotions, intellect, and talents, and to rule over his will in a productive way. Children can begin this at a very early age, and I have found it to also be of utmost importance to adults–as one cannot be a mature believer unless one has mastered self-government, self-control and patience--or is at least growing in that direction.
The idea behind self-government is that all of us have power and authority over our own lives. This power comes from within, and can help us master problems, surmount obstacles, and use our self-will to achieve great things. Self-government doesn’t mean working out life in the flesh without the power of God, but affirms that we have a moral character that can be strengthened by our will, through practice. The person who has cultivated this kind of strong character is useful and productive in every area of life.
This quality helps a believer exercise faith, courage, and perseverance in the midst of trials. It is what helps a pianist to practice long hours, an athlete to exercise rigorously in order to become a champion, a missionary to master a language and remain faithful in a foreign country until there is a multiplying ministry, a wife to bear up with grace when married to an immature husband, a mother to continue over and over to practice patience with a sick or rebellious child–the unseen power of governing life by mature, faith-based choices as opposed to temporary, self-centered feelings.
Self-governing isn’t the natural default of a child’s behavior, of course. We taught it to our children intentionally. We can see the biblical principle for self-government in this passage from Deuteronomy: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants.” (Deuteronomy 30:19)
God tells the Israelites to obey Him, and if they do, they will be blessed. If they don’t obey, they will be cursed–there were consequences to their decisions. In life all choices have consequences. Our children need to understand that they will reap what they sow.
I used to say to my children over and over again, “Daddy and I cannot make you into great people. You have the power to determine how strong you become by how you exercise your will. We can train you and teach you how to be good and how to be righteous, but you have to decide to obey, and you have to decide that you want to become a person of godly character. God made you such a wonderful child, so I hope you will decide to do your best to become all that you can be. It is in your hands. It is yours to decide to respond, but I am praying and hoping that you will.”
When we appeal to our children’s hearts for excellence and choices of good behavior, then we are giving them the will and desire to be excellent for themselves. Their desire comes from within and their motivation is from the heart. But if we train them behaviorally by always forcing them to do what we want them to do because they might get a spanking or some other kind of threatened discipline, their motivation is to avoid spanking or harshness, not to please God or to please their parents by having a good heart and responding in obedience.
My desire as a mom is that my children would internalize all the precepts we have taught them over the years. I want them to love God and obey Him because they earnestly love Him and desire to please Him. This foundation will carry them throughout all the decision-making processes they will face for the rest of their lives.
If you have the desire to go deeper today, feel free to complete the reflection and application below:
• "I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants.” Deuteronomy 30:19 It’s our job as mamas to set before our children life and death—and to encourage them to choose life! What are you doing to draw your children toward life?
• “Like a city that is broken into and without walls is a man who has no control over his spirit.” Proverbs 25:28 What a frightening picture this was at the time this scripture was written! A city without walls had no protection; no vantage point to watch for enemies; no means of defense. And so we are, when we have no self-control. Is self-control an area in your own life that could use some work? How can you build your own “city walls”?
• Do you tend to try to motivate your children’s choices through behavioral training, or through reaching their hearts? How can you change the way you instinctively respond to your children? Spend time in prayer asking the Lord’s help in this area.
10 Gifts of Wisdom came out of my desire to define areas for moms that will prepare their children to flourish in the world. Without training, a child flounders and searches how to live life well. So many young adults I know have never had the kind of training that lends strength and vision and confidence in character and so they are subject to each whim or opinion that comes out on the internet.
Education of morals, habits, character and faith determine the foundations upon which a life will be built. Strong foundations lend themselves to vast structures. Make a plan today about how you will build those foundations into your own life and that of your children!