Rethinking Behavior Modification

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By: Starr Cliff

It has hit me in a new way recently,  that of the four people in that photo right there,  I can only modify the behavior of exactly one of them. Me. I can shape,  nudge,  model,  correct and discipline those other three,  but ultimately it’s up to each of those human hearts how they will act and what words they will say.

I’m trying to be ever mindful of the following: When I start to feel like there is not enough gentleness in this house,  rather than trying to figure out how to make my kids lose a bad attitude… maybe I just need to spend that energy on myself. On the self-control and prayer and consistency that it takes to be gentle in the midst of harshness. When I worry my kids are being selfish,  with their time,  their energy, their stuff – maybe instead of discussions and lectures about self sacrifice, maybe they just need to see me get up off the couch and serve with a happy heart. Choose a game with them over Facebook. Read a book with them instead of watch TV. That’s so much harder for me than just having a conversation (let’s be honest, lecture) about behavior, but so much more effective.

To teach my children kindness, I must use kind words. Not lectures about being kind. To teach them gentleness, I must actually be gentle. Not nag them to stop being hard on each other. And some days that seems like an impossibility. With a day full of “that’s my spot”, “you took my glass “, “it’s my turn”……… I finally explode “ENOUGH! WE WILL NOT YELL AT EACH OTHER IN THIS HOUSE!”

Modeling behavior really is everything, isn’t it? I know, intellectually I mean, that to speak harshly and loudly to my kids when they are being disrespectful to each other makes zero sense.To rant and rail at how horrified I am at the level of disrespect in our home does not bring down the tension level. Not even a teeny bit.And yet…. Sigh.

I’m grateful that my kids are quick to forgive, and we can even laugh about those ironic outbursts later, but I’m ready for them to happen a whole lot less.

Creating a peaceful, happy home.  It really does begin and end with a peaceful, happy mama.

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NYC Christmas Day 2014

What I Used to Care About

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Woah, the past 12 months have been a blur. Much of what I’ve had on my heart to write, my brain has smartly kept me from posting publicly. Much of where my mind has been in this season of transition, has been written with ink on paper in a journal that I’ll treasure for the memory of God’s changing work done in my life.

In the spirit of what I’ve seen, heard, and experienced over the past few months; here is a working list of things that matter less to me than they did a year ago. Not that they aren’t still important to me as an employee, father, or husband, but I’m learning that I don’t share the enthusiasm for perfection in these areas that I used to.

My platform.

Written words that people read.

High maintenance relationships.

My reflection in a mirror. 

My internal criticism of myself.

What new people think of me.

Traveling without my family.

Email. Facebook. Twitter. 

Overthinking the past.

Loud music.

My internal criticism of others.

Organizing too far in advance.

Non-Fiction books. 

The most surprising thing I have learned about insecurity is that insecurity makes you selfish and self-focused. Ironically it is the opposite of what I thought I was. I thought I was being sensitive to the needs and perceptions of others, but I was only sensitive to others because of how it impacted me. If my boss didn’t praise me for a project, I assumed that I must have done something wrong. Never mind that he might have a hundred other priorities that day. The fact that he didn’t take the time to praise me must mean that I had done something wrong. If a friend didn’t return my phone call, she must be upset with me. It couldn’t be because she had an insanely busy day and didn’t have a chance to call me back. Insecurity’s goal is to keep us fixated on ourselves, wallowing in our “I am not enough” fears.

Developing Faith with Catechism

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My kids are learning so much. The three of them range in age from 9 to 12 and are tackling subjects like: Electricity, Comparative adjectives, Geology, Pre-Algebra, Revolutionary War history, and have written papers on the men and women of history like Pocahontas, George Washington, and even the ancient math-whiz Archimedes.

So much learning, so much content and yet this is only the beginning.

They’ve had to learn how to use the multiple remotes in our living room, that the milk goes back in the fridge after a bowl of cereal is poured, and that you never hug your mother early in the morning before their teeth are brushed!

With all of this memory work happening in their brains, where do we begin faith conversations? How can I capitalize on their impressionable minds with something that ties them to this faith that our family holds dear? How do I make the truths of the Gospel something they can quickly recall and use when it fits their everyday life?

Devotions are a great place to start, but with late Elementary and Pre-Teens I want them to have a great foundation that we can build devotions on as they mature and age. I’ve found something that works great for our family, and the brains of the three growing kids in our house. Catechism. That’s right, you read that correctly. Catechism.

The word “catechism” comes from the Greek word katācheō, which means “to teach, to instruct.” The word is used in Bible passages like Luke 1:4 and Acts 18:25. It can be used for any kind of teaching or instruction, but it came to refer to a specific type of teaching very early in church history. In the early church, new converts were taught the basics of Christianity by memorizing a series of questions and answers. A catechism is just that–a series of questions and answers that teach Bible truth.

For example, here are some of the catechisms we’ve learned this year; and there are many more that we will learn in the weeks, months, and years to come.

Who made you and everything? God made everything and me.

What is God like? God is our holy and almighty Creator. He cannot be seen, but he has made everything we can see.

Why did God make you? God made us to enjoy him and show his glory to others.

What is the gospel? The gospel is the good news that we enter God’s kingdom through God’s cross by God’s grace.

Why does God tell us, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy”? So we will rest in God and remember finished work of Jesus.

We’ve added a few catechism’s to the kids weekly spelling lists. We’ve added them to whatever vocabulary words they are learning, and I’ve thrown them into a few special “get rewarded with ice cream real quick” scenarios I create on a whim. There are many different catechisms out there, but our family settled on the wonderful NorthStar Catechism developed by my friends at Sojourn Church. You can go download a PDF of all of them and even order yourself some playing cards sized ones right now!

I think it’s pretty well stated what catechism is, and when you read over the details of them all you’ll quickly understand what they are communicating and preparing in the hearts and minds of your children. However, for clarity let me state what they most definitely are NOT.

They are NOT just another way to beat my kids over the head with more learning. They are easy to memorize, easy to learn, and fit perfectly alongside all the other things our kids have learned. If you think your own kids are not smart enough to memorize these, then you’re not giving them enough credit. It has worked for us to add catechism to what we were already asking our kids to memorize. You’ll find that they’re just different enough from what they normally memorize that it’s fun and unique.

They are NOT a way to guarantee faith in our kids. The catechisms won’t do much for their souls if learning the Catechisms aren’t marinated in their hearts by engaging in impactful spiritual conversations with their parents and others that love them. The cards are oftentimes a starting point for us, they are not the end point.

They are NOT separate from God’s Word. God’s Word is perfect and each catechism we take the time to make it clear that these answers (and many of the questions themselves) come out of the Bible. The foundation is God’s Word, and anything I can do to help bring that to the center of my kids lives, is key.

There are so many ways to teach our kids faith, and the challenge for us as parents is to find ways to make faith relevant, real, timely, and catchable to our kids. I know that the day will come when they have to decide for themselves who they will serve, but it’s my duty to help them get the right picture of what you are believing when you believe in Christ for eternity!

Things that Matter More

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Woah, the past 12 months have been a blur. Much of what I’ve had on my heart to write, my brain has smartly kept me from posting publicly. Much of where my mind has been in this season of transition, has been written with ink on paper in a journal that I’ll treasure for the memory of God’s changing work done in my life.

In the spirit of what I’ve seen, heard, and experienced over the past few months; here is a working list of things that matter more to me than they did a year ago:

The places I visit.

The friends I keep.

The stories I’m telling.

The questions I’m asking. 

Silence.

New friendships.

Advice from trusted friends.

Time alone with my wife.

Time together with those that believe in me.

Adventures with my children.

Red-letter words in the Bible.

Resting on weekends.

Memories that last beyond the picture taken.

Written words that nobody reads.

Conversations that last longer than they used to.