IT’S AP-PARENT SERMON SERIES
TO EACH HIS OWN – ENCOURAGING INDIVIDUALISM IN CHILDREN
AUGUST 28, 1994
I am sure you are wondering what happened to me. Some of you who have been here before might be thinking, I wonder if this is some sort of visual, is he faking it, is he going to take the bandage off? No. I’ll tell you what happened. Yesterday I was lifting weights and I took LeeBeth, my seven year old daughter, with me to the weight room and I was lifting the dumbbells. As I was taking the dumbbells off the dumbbell rack, one dumbbell knocked another dumbbell, a fifty-pound dumbbell, onto my toes. My big toe is broken in four places, the bone was sticking out through the toenail. Yes. And my second toe, which happens to be the longest toe on my foot, is also broken. With the help of great, great doctors here at the church, one in particular, I am doing much, much better.
It is interesting though, as I was lying down on the floor of the weight room going into some mild shock, with blood everywhere, I called for LeeBeth. And LeeBeth, seven years of age was calm, cool, collected. People around me were going, “Oh, ah,” and saying comforting things like, “You might lose that toe, you know I lost my toe one time, the worst thing in the world. LeeBeth walked over to me and she said, “Daddy, would you like me to call Mommy?” I said, “Yes.” She said, “OK, I will.” So she walked across the weight room, dialed Lisa’s number and Lisa came, calm, cool, collected. And I started thinking about this topic, believe it or not, at this point because LeeBeth is so unique, so different than our other children. EJ is more of a hugger, he is more of someone who would have started tickling Daddy if he was injured. And we have twins, Laurie and Landra, they are two months of age and I can already see the difference in these two. Landra is laid back, like she just got back from Woodstock, you know. She cries like this – waaah, waaah, waaah. Whereas the other one, you talk about intense, the eyes are like this (demonstration) and she cries like this WAAH, WAAH, WAAH. So already there is a difference. And today we are talking about how to bring out the individuality in your children, how to encourage that and how to motivate that and stimulate that. And that is one of the biggest challenges that I face as a parent and I know if you are honest before God, it is one of the biggest challenges that you face.
Proverbs 22:6 is a challenge verse, it is a command in the Word of God, that tells us, parents, in no uncertain terms, that we should bring out the individualism and the unique character qualities in our children. That sounds so elementary, so easy to do here in this nice environment, but applying it, really making it happen in your life, and in my life is a difficult process. Proverbs 22:6 tells us “Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.” And let me say something parenthetically here, if I say something kind of crazy today, don’t worry about it. I am on some pain medication, so just kind of move right along. Let’s jump right in to Proverbs 22:6. This section of scripture, this text, I would say is often the most misquoted and misunderstood verse in the entire Bible. Proverbs 22:6. Here is how most people interpret this verse. They say, if you take a child to Sunday School when they are young, if you teach them how to say prayers before meals, during emergency situations or during a difficult time, and then as they get older, even though they sow the wild oats, kind of go a little crazy, when the grey hair starts to come in, they will turn back to God and live happily ever after. That is how most people discuss and talk about this verse. But that interpretation does not hold Biblical water. Because I know and you know many, many men and women who were brought to church by their parents, and they were there in Bible School, Sunday School, Church Camp School, you name it, but they went wild and they have run from God and run from God and they have never really returned. This verse is talking about the individualism in children.
I want to briefly give you three challenges that we face, parents, if we are going to be about the task of drawing out this uniqueness in our children. The first is, we must, parents, we must discern the uniqueness of our children. If I am really going to be a parent that draws this out, I have got to learn how to discern the uniqueness of LeeBeth, EJ, Laurie and Landra. How do you do that? How do you discern the uniqueness? Let’s jump right into Proverbs 22:6 and look at this phrase, “train up a child”. We are going to take this verse, put it on the operating table and dissect it, kind of like they dissected my foot yesterday afternoon, we are going to do this. The word train. Train. This word is an interesting word. To train means to know. I can’t train something unless I know something and there is two beautiful pictures behind this Hebrew term. The first picture is that of a horse. Training a horse. If you trained a horse back in Biblical times you would put a rope in between it’s teeth to control the horse, to calm a wild horse. It is a word of submission. It also referred to the Hebrew midwife. After birth, she would take her index finger, place it in a little jar of fig juice, put the fig juice around the gums of the infant, start the sucking motion, then give the infant to the Mom, the Mom would breast-feed the infant. A word of control, a word of submission. So we are to train. But we cannot train a horse, nor can we train a child unless we discern and know their uniqueness.
And this phrase says train up. That means train up, the direction up means toward God, for the glory of God, not to the left, not to the right, not anything that looks down, but to train up a child. This word child is not talking about an infant. It is talking about any person, parents, who lives under your roof. Any child, they might be three to twenty-three, who is still under your authority, you should train up them. So train up a child.
Let’s think about this word discern. How do I really discern their uniqueness? For years child development experts said, you know what, all children are alike and they called this “the lump of clay theory”. They said children are kind of like a lump of clay and you have this lump of clay and you can mold them, shape them and make them into anything you want them to be. Kids will be kids. Today, though, child development experts are saying what the Bible has been saying for thousands and thousands of years. This lump of clay theory, again, is a joke. These lumps of clay have abilities, aptitudes and little wills and minds of their own. They are different. They are unique. Just think about your own children. One came into the world with a smile on his face and an olive branch in his teeth, the other one might have come into the world with a smirk on his face and a cigarette between his teeth. The difference, it is just phenomenal.
How do you, though, draw this out? How do you discern it? This past week I took a men’s retreat to a place called Port O’Connor, Texas. How many people have been to Port O’Connor, Texas, raise your hands. Oh, hands are going up everywhere. Thank you very much. God bless you. We were in Port O’Connor and for the day we went out on a boat and did some fishing and also we did some wildlife observation. The guide we were with, by the name of Joe, was an expert in wildlife. He pointed out fish, plants, birds. He talked about their characteristics, their habitat, what they liked to feed on. We were blown away. We were amazed at how much this guy knew. How did he know so much? Because he had studied wildlife. He sat back and observed wildlife. Parents, it is time that we take a tour, a childlike tour, observe our children, understand our children, actually write down their unique character qualities, and feeding patterns and gifts, and aptitudes so we will know them. Just because you conceived them, carried them and brought them into the world and put clothes on their backs and food on the table doesn’t mean you know your children. It doesn’t mean that. So, parents, discern your children’s uniqueness.
Also we have to affirm their bent. We have got to affirm our children’s bent. I like what Chuck Swindoll said. Chuck Swindoll said, “Hey, your baby’s got the bents.” That is a weird term, isn’t it? Bent. Let’s talk about it. Going back to Proverbs 22:6. “Train up a child (and here is the second phrase) in the way he should go.” In the way he should go. This word way, in the Hebrew, means bent. It comes from Psalm 11, talking about a bow and an arrow. You know a bow has a certain bent to it, doesn’t it? When people looked for wood to make a bow from during Biblical times, during the time this was penned, they wouldn’t just walk out and say, oh, there is a nice tree and it has a couple of really good looking limbs, I think I will break that limb off and make a bow out of it, it will be great for hunting and shooting wild game. They didn’t do that. They searched, they searched, they searched until finally they saw a tree and they saw a limb with the grain growing properly, they saw that natural bent already, they would cut the limb down and use that as a bow. You see in the literal Hebrew, this verse is translated like this, train up a child according to his ways. Every child has a bent. They have, again, a talent, an ability that other children don’t have. And parents if we are going to affirm their bent, we have got to discover their bent. In other words, we have to bring it out. How do you bring out that bent? How to you realize it? You have to expose your children at a very, very early age to a number of challenges, opportunities and avenues. And as you give them these challenges, opportunities and avenues you have got to watch what really puts wind in their sails, what really fires up their feelings, what turns them on. And when you see that, you ought to think, whoa, I think that might be their bent, that might be their thing.
LeeBeth, she is seven years of age as I said earlier. I was talking to her the other night and I was asking her this question. I said, “LeeBeth, what do you like to do more than anything in the world?” And she said, “I like to draw and I like to paint.” And I said, “Well, LeeBeth, how do you feel, (remember last week we talked about the feel question, see I am learning too) about painting, how do your really feel when you are drawing?” And she said this to me, “Daddy, I feel proud of myself.” Ding, ding, ding, ding. The bells and whistles sounded in my brain because that is probably a bent that LeeBeth has. I’ll continue to observe her, I’ll continue to watch her, I’ll continue to bring her into situations that I can see her bentness, but that was a clue.
Not only is it important just to see the bents and to recognize them, we also have to affirm them. I’m talking about we have to bring those bents out. We have got to say, you are special. Brag on them. Brag on their bents. I think it is revolutionary to look your child in the eye and say this. “You know what, you are so unique, your personality is so special, you see, God wired you up the way He did for a reason and if you give your life to Jesus Christ, then God wants to reflect a unique character quality from His personality through you.” And when children understand that, when they grasp that fact, they will love it and they will own it and it will shoot them into a life full of direction, a life full of velocity and they will be able to hit the bullseye. We did the bullseye there on the outline for a reason. I hope you got the picture, talking about the bend and the bow, you see that? You will be able to hit the bullseye with them.
But parents we make mistakes as we look at our child’s abilities, as we affirm their bentness. And here are the mistakes. First of all, it is unfair when you compare your children with other children. Don’t do that. Don’t compare. You remember in the Bible, Joseph’s father, the guy compared and contrasted. He said, “Oh well, Joseph is my favorite.” It tore the family apart. Don’t do that. It is hard for a type A personality father, someone who is competitive, someone who is really driven, to affirm an introverted, shy child. It is hard for a superwoman, a really go-getting Mom to affirm the uniqueness of a shy, introverted daughter. That’s tough. And if you say it is easy, you are lying to yourself and you are lying to God. And I will give you a Biblical example of it.
A husband and a wife by the name of Isaac and Rebecca, remember those folks, they had some children. And I can identify with them because they had twins, Esau and Jacob. Esau was the outdoors man, he loved to read SPORTS AFIELD and go hunting and take his four-wheel drive chariot out in the countryside. He liked to dip Copenhagen, man. An outdoorsman, I mean, he was the man. And his father loved him, it was natural for his father to pat him on the rear, to say, “You are it, man, you’re just like me, a chip off the old block.” And they would tussle and kind of hit each other now and then. Yeah, they were tight. Esau is my man. But you see his twin brother, his father couldn’t relate to him because you see, Jacob liked to cook. He liked to hang out in the kitchen and do things that real men didn’t do. He liked the arts. Talk about a messed up family. I rest my Biblical case. Parents, it is unfair to compare.
Also, parents, another mistake is this. You knock your children off their course when you force them to do things you want them to do instead of the things they want to do. And how I see parents doing that. My, my, my. You see, it is important, parents, listen to me now, do not miss this, it is important to affirm them, to discern them, to see their uniqueness, to talk about their bentness, to see, for example, that LeeBeth has an ability in art, but you don’t want to freak out. We have too many freaked out fathers and mesmerized mothers. Go to a soccer game, Little League, five and six year olds. Go right here to a pageant, a recital, watch Mom. Go to a Little League baseball game. Dads and Moms are losing it. “Oh, go honey, you are the best, I can’t believe you are so great.” Fathers, with a knee brace on, “Well, you are going to make it. I know one day you will wear the blue and silver of the Cowboys.” And we put all of this pressure on them. And here our children might show a little bent toward ballet, a little bentness toward Little League baseball. And Moms and Dads, they lose it. I’m going to live my life through my son. I’m going to live my life through my daughter. You have got to have the balance. You have got to pray for God’s amazing grace, and you have got to take a step back. Provide them with the tools, provide them with opportunities, celebrate them, coach them, affirm their bent, but don’t freak out. Don’t freak out. We have got to do something else, our third challenge. And this is a tough one here. They are all tough. You see, some of you are thinking, OK, Ed, you have done this series now, this is the third week, right. Now this series lasts eight weeks and some of you are thinking, you have got five weeks left, wow, and you mean parenting is this hard, it merits eight weeks. Well, yes, it really merits fifty-two weeks. It is tough to do these things. It is tough to discern their uniqueness, it is tough to affirm their bent. And this next one is really tough. Are you ready? You have got to learn their language. You have got to learn their language. And if you want more information on this next point, you buy my series entitled WHAT’S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT? But I want to brush through it because it is so very important.
Five years ago Lisa and I went to Korea on a mission trip. We had a fabulous experience and we really developed a love for Korean food. We traveled through the countryside of Korea, and got to see Korea the way most people don’t see it, on the back roads, going to public schools and speaking and doing mission work, etc. I was able to attempt conversation with the Korean faculty and the Korean students. But guess what? You know, I don’t speak Korean. They didn’t speak “American”, and I got to a point of frustration two or three times, cause I would be speaking and talking and sharing the Lord with them and I wanted to talk and speak their language, but I couldn’t do it. And they just kind of looked at me, smiling, with kind of a blank stare, and I am sure they thought I was an idiot. But talking louder didn’t help, you know how you do when the other person doesn’t understand what you are saying. Our children, and if you have three kids, or four kids like me, or five kids or eight kids, our children all speak a specific language and they want to receive and understand a specific love language from their parents. And I highly recommend Gary Smalley’s books on this topic. What love language to you speak, Moms and Dads?
I will give you another little test. How many of you are huggers? You don’t want to say it, but you just hug when you express love. Raise your hands. Wouldn’t it be great if we could move all of you like on the front three or four rows and let you just have a hugathon, just hug and hug and hug. How many of you like to tell someone, verbal, you don’t necessarily hug first, you want to say honey, I love you or you are special to me. How many talkers do we have? Wow a couple. This is a hugging church. Some people express love by just giving opportunities, my father is a lot like that. He will just give us a couple of airline tickets; “Ed, take a friend and go to this exotic location.” And that is Dad communicating his love to us. How many people do we have doing that, giving opportunities? A few. That is kind of a rarity. How about time? Some people communicate love by just saying, I’m going to hang with you, we are going to relax right here. I’m going to kick back with the old hurt leg and that just shows I love you. Time. How many time people do we have? How about gift-givers, you know the gift-givers, people who communicate love through trinkets and toys and things. OK. Here is where we have to know what we are doing, parents.
For example, let’s say we have a teenage daughter and her language of love is hugging. She needs that affirmation. She needs to be held. And Dads, we don’t hug this daughter in a meaningful way. When she gets to be thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen years of age, this scares me to death. She longs and yearns for that physical touch and she will end up falling into the arms of the first guy who just looks at her, winks at her or whistles at her. And often that ends up in a horrible, horrible scenario. We have got to learn this language.
Not only do we have to learn it, we have to understand how to communicate it. And one thing I love about God, one thing I just praise the Lord for, is He is our perfect, heavenly parent. You can take this outline today, just go through it, the discernment, the affirmation, the learning the language, and that is what Jesus does for you and me. He affirms us, He discerns us. And think about this love language. Think about Jesus. What does He do? He touches us, He hugs us through the power of the Holy Spirit of God, doesn’t He? He spends large blocks of time with us. He is omnipresent. You talk about giving us opportunities. He says everyone of us has a unique calling and He says that “I have come that you, Ed, might have life and have it more abundantly.” You talk about a gift. He died on the cross for our sins. And it goes on and on and on. So just mirror Jesus Christ. Think about His attributes, think about His parenting qualities and you will become a great parent. But, parents, what I really want you to get from this message is the thing about the bow, is the thing about the bentness. I want you as you apply these three principles to think about a bow, to think about your child as an arrow, a projectile and you bend it back and as you apply these three principles of uniqueness you will let it go and this arrow called your child will go straight toward the target, it will do this, it will hit the bullseye. It will hit the bullseye. It could be a guy, a girl, it will hit the bullseye. And my prayer for you, parents, and my prayer for myself, for Lisa and I, is that we will be about the business of becoming parents who know how to shoot those arrows called LeeBeth, EJ, Laurie and Landra to the target in a unique way for the glory of God. What do you say, parents? It is time that we do it.