Read an Excerpt
PARENTING IS HEART WORK
By SCOTT TURANSKY, JOANNE MILLER
David C. CookCopyright © 2006 Effective Parenting, Inc.
All rights reserved.
What Is the Heart? (Part 1)
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More than 750 verses in the Bible use the term heart. It's where longings grow, secrets are kept, pain is felt, plans are devised, commitments solidify, and character is developed. In short, the heart is a person's center, the deepest spot in one's life.
When you talk to yourself, you're doing work in your heart, sorting out issues, synchronizing them with other priorities and values, and preparing responses. Discouragement is felt in the heart, as well as anxiety, fear, and anger. Peace, joy, and love also produce their fruits in the heart.
Instead of working on the heart, many parents settle for simply changing their children's behavior. After all, you can see behavior and, most of the time, you can control it. The heart is a mysterious place over which you have little control. The work of understanding it, though, pays off well as you help your children make lasting changes. You experience greater closeness, and children develop maturity.
Before we can help you change your child's heart, you must first understand a little more about what it is, how it works, and what makes it tick. We want to help you understand how the Bible uses the word heart and then apply that understanding to your relationship with your children. Hold on; there's a lot here. Don't get bogged down—just let yourself experience an overview of what God's Word teaches about the heart.
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The heart is where we fight internal battles as we try to make sense of life.
The Bible talks about nine different functions of the heart. We'll discuss five in this chapter and four in the next. You'll find this reading stimulating as you develop new ways to work on your child's deeper issues.
1. The Heart Is a Wrestling Place
First and foremost, the heart is where we fight internal battles as we try to make sense of life.
For example, Jesus knew the teachers of the law were struggling inside with the fact that he forgave the paralytic. In Matthew 9:4 he said, "Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts?" Mary was intrigued by all the events of Jesus' birth, and the Bible says in Luke 2:19 that she pondered all these things in her heart. When the two disciples on the road to Emmaus realized their surprise guest was Jesus, they reflected on the experience by saying, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?" (Luke 24:32).
When experience, teaching, and values need to be integrated into our lives, it happens in the workshop of our hearts. Information comes into our heads constantly, but much of it just stays there. Only what moves into our hearts becomes part of our lives.
When eight-year-old Jordan tells himself, "I'm no good. No one wants to be with me. I'll never get it right," he's filling his heart with negative images of himself. Rebecca feels good in her heart because she refused to join those who were disrespectful to their teacher. Jack's mom can see a heart problem because he scowls and complains whenever she asks him to do something. In their hearts, children wrestle with and come to conclusions about life and its challenges.
This deeper part of a person's life is often a mystery, leaving parents confused about how to effect any significant change in their children. Recognizing that the heart is a wrestling place gives parents the motivation to relate to their children on a deeper level.
2. The Heart Is the Place of Commitments and Determination
After the wrestling, children reach conclusions that turn into decisions and commitments. Jesus told the expert in the law that the greatest commandment is to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart" (Matt. 22:37). Paul encouraged the believers in Antioch to "remain true to the Lord with all their hearts" (Acts 11:23). Moses told the people, "Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day.... They are your life" (Deut. 32:46–47). Proverbs 3:5 says, "Trust in the LORD with all your heart." Each of these verses is a call to commitment.
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Commitments provide purpose, meaning, and direction.
Commitments provide purpose, meaning, and direction. Without these, the heart lives in continual turmoil, tossed around by fear, anger, or anxiety. Often, a continual problem with negative emotions indicates the need for some major heart work. Children need to understand more about life and how to process it and even adopt new teaching into their value systems.
Five-year-old Jerry decided he was going to help in Sunday school. Each Sunday when he got to church, he marched right in and looked for ways to help the teacher. Dad could see he had a commitment to help, and it affected the boy's whole Sunday experience. Dad looked for ways to encourage Jerry's heart commitment. Ralph, age fourteen, was determined to save money for a remote-controlled car. Mom told us, "He set his heart on getting that car and spent hours earning the money." Martha was committed to her friends but not to her schoolwork, requiring some major heart shifts to get her commitments into proper balance.
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As parents, we long to connect with our children in meaningful ways.
Sometimes parents are encouraged by the commitments they see their children make, and other times red flags go up, warning parents to take action can become so focused on what they want that they get angry when they can't get it. Helping our children adjust and balance their commitments is part of the heartwork necessary to develop maturity in their lives.
3. The Heart Is Where We Feel Close to Others
In Acts 4:32, the early disciples "were one in heart and mind," a statement of their unity. Jonathan's armor-bearer expressed unity with his boss by saying, "Do all that you have in mind.... I am with you heart and soul" (1 Sam. 14:7).
In the end times, God will restore closeness in family life. Malachi 4:6 says, "He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers."
On the other hand, people also can feel distant from others in their hearts. Michal, David's wife, didn't like how he was worshipping the Lord and "despised him in her heart" (2 Sam. 6:16).
As parents, we long to connect with our children in meaningful ways. When children are young, those special moments happen regularly, even daily. You read a book to your four-year-old every night, he leans on your arm, and you cherish those times of closeness. He's ready to believe everything you say. You play a card-matching game on the floor with your five-year-old, and she laughs and says, "You're fun to play with, Mommy." You correct your six-year-old, and he cries that repentant cry and wants a hug—and tears come to your eyes too, because you know you've connected with his heart.
These special moments of heart connection also happen with older children, but, in many families, they come less often. A fourteen-year-old gets a positive school report, giving her dad an opportunity to affirm her hard work. Her smile confirms he made the heart connection he'd hoped for. A seventeen-year-old gets fired from his job and wants to talk about it. His mom listens for a while and can tell her son appreciates her acceptance. You take your teenage son and his friends to the beach and try extra hard to relate in ways that don't embarrass your son. At the end of the day, one of the kids says, "Your mom is cool," and your son gives you that look of approval. You know you connected at heart level. The closeness you and your children feel (or don't feel) is a heart function.
4. The Heart Is Where We Experience Emotions
People usually recognize that the heart and emotions go together. In fact, some people see this aspect of the heart as the only one. They don't realize how many other parts of the heart affect a child. Many families ignore emotions or view them as a nuisance. Emotions affect children more than they realize, and it's important to put them in proper perspective and plan to deal with them in family life.
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"do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid" (John 14:27).
Jesus told his disciples, "Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid" (John 14:27). In Colossians 3:15, Paul wrote, "Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts." The Mosaic law says, "Do not hate your brother in your heart" (Lev. 19:17). The king saw Nehemiah was troubled and said, "This can be nothing but sadness of heart" (Neh. 2:2). Proverbs 17:22 says, "A cheerful heart is good medicine."
Kyra, age six, struggled with fear. She was timid around others, hesitant to try new things, and afraid to go upstairs by herself. Mom had tried to coax her, sometimes gently and other times firmly, with little success. We began working with Kyra's heart. She had developed certain heart responses to life's challenges, believing she'd fail or get hurt in most circumstances. Together with her mom and dad, we explored her fears, taught her about trust and confidence, and then practiced some risk-taking activities. We taught her how to pray through her fears, and she memorized several Bible verses about trusting God and accomplishing things with his strength. Mom enrolled Kyra in a community soccer league, encouraged her to pay for something at the store, and sent her on "missions" to stretch her courage.
At the same time, Mom and Dad were careful to avoid pushing their daughter too far, condemning, or communicating undue frustration with what they perceived to be slow progress. After several months, improvement was obvious. Kyra was changing on a heart level, causing outward adjustments as well.
Joel's dog, Skippy, died. Joel, age thirteen, had raised that dog from a puppy. They had played together, slept together, and Joel had taken care of him when he was sick. Now his beloved friend was gone. His heart was broken; the pain was intense. He spent the next few days bouncing between lashing out at those around him and sitting quietly and introspectively. His heart was working hard to absorb this unwanted new experience: life without his friend.
Mom was patient with Joel, giving him space to grieve and work things out. She initiated conversation with him often and looked for ways to comfort him. Sometimes Joel used his sadness as an excuse for being unkind or disrespectful, but Mom made it clear that grieving was okay and meanness was not. Over time, Joel adjusted to life without Skippy. Mom's approach was successful because she considered Joel's heart during that time.
5. The Heart Is Where Temptations and Desires Develop
With commitments, determinations, and emotions all converging in the heart, it's no wonder temptation germinates there.
Matthew 6:21 says, "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Psalm 37:4 says, "Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart." Solomon's "wives turned his heart after other gods" (1 Kings 11:4). Paul wrote, "My heart's desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved" (Rom. 10:1).
Clearly, desires aren't always bad; in fact, many human longings are good. Knowing the difference, however, can be a challenge at times. Of course, we all wish our children would desire the right things and avoid tempting situations. One mom saw her eight-year-old daughter was easily swayed by her friends. She looked for ways to help her daughter take a stand for righteousness. She talked with her daughter about what was right and wrong in various situations and helped her see what temptation is and how she was making some dangerous choices by giving in to her friends. The girl responded well to her mother and began to look for ways to stand for what's right.
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It's important to discipline children for wrong behavior, but that's not enough.
A twelve-year-old asked his mom why she doesn't get angry when she gets cut off on the road, giving Mom a perfect opportunity to talk about how she lets it go so she doesn't have to harbor the anger. She knew he needed that message, because he'd been treated unfairly at school and was tempted to act out his own anger. He listened and pondered what she said. Mom watched the wheels turn in his head and knew she had just connected somewhere deep inside her son.
You've read about just five functions of the heart, but we hope you're already seeing yourself and your child on these pages. To command a child to "stop having a bad attitude" may draw attention to the child's problem, but it doesn't usually address the heart issues the attitude represents. Excusing a child's disrespect by saying, "At least he does what I tell him to do," focuses on behavior and misses an opportunity to do some deeper work.
It's important to discipline children for wrong behavior, but that's not enough. Children often need help processing much of what they're wrestling with on the inside. Their feelings may dominate their decisions. They may long for closeness but not know how to get it. God has placed parents in a position in their children's lives to help this process.
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Parents are in a god-given role of teaching their children every day what it means to respond to god.
Sometimes a well-meaning Christian will say something like, "I don't think it's possible to work on the heart. That's God's job. Children who haven't yet committed their lives to Christ can't change their hearts, so asking parents to do so is just a waste of time." Although it's true that supreme heart change takes place through the gift of salvation, God has given parents the responsibility to till the soil and teach their children how to respond to God's continual work of grace in their lives. The Bible uses the term repentance to describe the personal responsibility we all have to change our hearts. God expects people to respond to him, and he calls them to repentance regularly in his Word. Parents are in a God-given role of teaching their children every day what it means to respond to God. When you understand your potential as a dad or mom in your child's life, you can understand the huge spiritual opportunity and responsibility God has given you.
The more you focus on your child's heart and consider a heart-based approach to child-training, the more ideas and solutions you'll discover. You might even want to take time to read each of the passages mentioned in this chapter and imagine yourself in the particular situation. See how God addresses the hearts of those he works with and how significant change takes place.
Both from personal experience and from thousands of families we've worked with, we find that parents must change first before their children will change. How you work with your children makes all the difference between progress and hitting a brick wall. We've watched parents make significant adjustments in the ways they parent—with amazing results. As you consider the heart's functions, try to look at specific ways you're presently working with your children. We'll give you several more pointers in the chapters ahead.
Thank you for the things I can learn from my children. Sometimes, Lord, my heart issues get in the way of my parenting. Please give me insight into my own life and make me a clean vessel for your use. I look forward to what you're going to do in my children's lives. Please give me hope through even small glimpses into their hearts. Amen.CHAPTER 2
What Is the Heart? (Part 2)
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God created the heart to be a person's central processing unit. When working correctly, the heart enables children to mature and respond to life in productive ways.
Notice how the next four heart functions contribute to a child's independence. Parents often wish their children would have the maturity to deal with life with less parental involvement. If the heart is in the right place, God uses it as a guide to keep a person on track and moving in the right direction.
6. The Heart Experiences Guilt and Conviction of Sin
When Peter preached on Pentecost, people "were cut to the heart" (Acts 2:37). When David cut off part of Saul's robe in the cave, 1 Samuel 24:5 (KJV) says his "heart smote him." David experienced conviction again when he counted the fighting men (2 Sam. 24:10). In Psalm 51, after he sinned with Bathsheba, David prayed to God, "Create in me a pure heart" (v. 10) and cried, "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart" (v. 17).
Excerpted from PARENTING IS HEART WORK by SCOTT TURANSKY, JOANNE MILLER. Copyright © 2006 Effective Parenting, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of David C. Cook.
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