Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Learn to Discern by Virginia Knowles

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Learn to Discern:
To Know and Do What is Right and True
by Virginia Knowles
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This article is part of a chapter from The Real Life Home School Mom: It’s a Life in ReVision.

Learn to Discern: To Know and Do What is Right and True


One reason we home school our children is to teach them discernment: to know and do what is right and true! We want to pass along our faith and family values, and not leave them vulnerable to everything else out there. We realize that discernment is not just about making isolated moral choices (like what movies are appropriate to see) or following rules to avoid negatives. It is also living by positive principles set down in Scripture and being able to listen to the Lord for specific life direction in fulfilling the destinies to which he has called us. We each have to discern not only right from wrong, but the “priority best” for us from among many “good” opportunities. Here are several ways we can teach our children discernment.

Teach your children to evaluate what they learn and what they choose by Scripture. For a Christian, the Bible is the ultimate authority in life – not what culture or experts say. We should all learn to “set our minds on things above, not on earthly things” and remember that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” My daughter Mary (age 20) commented after going to a New Attitude conference on discernment, that “gray areas” where the Bible is not specific are not excuses for sloppy thinking. If we search it out, we can find Biblical solutions for each decision that we face. James 1:5-8 assures (and warns) us, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” (ESV) It’s not enough to simply learn the truth – we need to apply it and to continually renew ourselves in it, claiming it as ours in Christ. “…Test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.” 1 Thessalonians 5:21 (ESV)

Teach your children the Bible! Even if you don’t get into complex discussions with your little ones, you can always introduce such basic concepts as “you reap what you sow” (what might happen if you do this…) and “do unto others as you would have them do to you” (how would you feel if…). Make sure they are especially grounded in the nature of God and the nature of man. God is powerful, pure, holy, just, good, and kind, while man is naturally deceitful, selfish, unfaithful, and proud. Knowing this helps us to trust and obey God’s way of doing things, and also to be wary of everything else in the world that has been corrupted by man’s sinful nature.

Encourage your children in their own personal walks with the Lord. Help them to establish a consistent and meaningful devotional time of Bible study, prayer, and worship. As they mature, look for a deeper understanding of the concepts. Learn to draw out their hearts, and see how their knowledge is affecting their lives, their attitudes, and their choices. Encourage them to cultivate an attitude of humility and teachability so they can seek wisdom.

Teach your children to closely guard their own emotions. As I have watched the home school movement for the past twenty years, I have been grieved to observe the faith and virtue of countless young people shipwrecked by three very powerful emotions: bitterness toward parents (which results in outward rebellion or passive rejection of their values), pride (they know it all and don’t need any counsel or accountability) and unwise romantic attachments (which can sway someone into thinking or doing things that ought not to be thought or done). Feelings are sort of like the moon – they have a tidal pull (on our attitudes and choices) and they sometimes eclipse the sun (block our vision of truth), but they should also reflect the sun (show God’s glory in our lives). You may find appropriate times with your children to share your own experiences of dealing with your emotions so they can remember they are not alone, and perhaps find some strategies for handling their own feelings. You can also work at communicating regularly and lovingly with your children so you can be aware of the challenges they are facing. They should know that you are a safe person to talk to, that you won’t be overly shocked when they share something with you, and that you will work through issues with them in a healthy manner that preserves their own God-given dignity.

Allow for different maturity levels among your children. Learning discernment is a gradual transfer of responsibility from the parent to child as their ability to reason develops. A newborn has no discernment at all, but by the time our offspring have reached “adult” age, we expect them to be making prudent choices most of the time. However, there is no abrupt cut-off at age 18; young adults still need parental input and guidance, although our goal is to launch them into independence. We all need accountability, even as older adults. I actually welcome my children making observations about my choices, as long as they are halfway respectful about it. They might say, “Mom, why are you watching that TV show? It’s not very edifying!” or “Mom, don’t you think what you just said was gossip?” Fair enough! Our lives are open books, aren’t they? And speaking of that, you may wish to share examples of how God has guided you through your decisions in life, such as in relationships, finances, schedule, educational options, career, ministries, health care, etc.

Give your children a vision for the future. What kind of men and women do they want to be? Do they realize that the choices and habits they are making now affect their future in vital ways? I liken this to packing a toolbox. If a plumber or electrician or carpenter goes off to a job and doesn’t have the appropriate tools (drills, wrenches, nails, etc.) then he is ill-equipped for his job. If our children go off into life without the tools of diligence, wisdom, purity, respect, and other virtues, they will be ill-equipped to deal with what life throws at them. So their job is to pack their life toolbox now and prepare for success. They need these character qualities now, anyway, not just as adults!

When you do see your children making wise choices, be sure to tell them! This can help guard them from wanting to give up, and they will be motivated to repeat the good things that you have appreciated in them.

Remember that you are a gatekeeper. You decide what comes in and out of your home, and where your children go. You need to provide wise leadership to your children in choosing friendships, books, music, movies, hobbies, group classes, and other things that may influence their attitudes and choices. Please remember that not everything that is labeled Christian is reliable or consistent with your family’s standards and values. There is a lot of religious crud out there! An author who has written one good solid book might be totally off base in another. The same thing goes for magazines, musicians, public speakers, etc. Be aware and beware! Here are a few tools to help you safeguard your children:

♥ For children’s literature reviews from a “family values” home school mom perspective, visit http://bookangles.com/info/titles.htm
♥ For music and video game reviews, visit http://www.almenconi.com/
♥ For movie reviews, visit Focus on the Family’s http://www.pluggedinonline.com/
♥ For free Internet filtering, http://www.k9webprotection.com/

Be the parent! You have the right to say “no” to whatever you think might harm your children, while at the same time allowing them increasing flexibility to make their own choices under your guidance. Let your children face the consequences of their choices, especially as they get older. Experience can teach what lectures often can’t.

Provide worldview training. Show how Christian thinking compares with other belief systems and ideologies. There are many books, workshops, and camps available to Christian families. Some authors to look for are Dr. Francis Schaeffer, Lee Strobel, David Noebel, R.C. Sproul, and Jeff Meyers. You could ask one of your pastors to teach a worldview class to home school students or to the church body at large. Our own church is using The Truth Project DVD series (http://www.truthproject.org/) produced by Focus on the Family. Summit Ministries (http://www.summit.org/) also has good materials and events.

Choose academic resources consistent with a Biblical worldview, such as those which teach creationism. Be sure to check out the Creation Studies Institute web site at (http://www.creationstudies.org/). Answers in Genesis (http://www.answersingenesis.org/) has built a new state-of-the-art Creation Science Museum (http://www.creationmuseum.org/) in northern Kentucky.

Teach your children to think clearly and thoroughly. Train them to pay close attention to what they are studying, rather than doing the mere minimum to get through an assignment. (The Charlotte Mason methods of oral and written narration can help them with this.) Help them to search out the deeper themes in literature, rather than just recalling details. Keep track of current events and trends (culture, politics, etc.), and evaluate them in light of the truth of Scripture. Teach logical thinking skills, such as spotting fallacies in reasoning. Help them write out a pro-con list and/or brainstorming pages when they are making decisions.

Show your children that they can’t always judge a situation or a person by first appearances or impressions. Discernment requires getting the whole picture, not depending on stereotypes or snap judgments. We don’t have to be afraid of truth or of stretching our perspective, and we can still learn something valuable even from those who might hold a different view of things than we do.

Remind your children that being discerning sometimes requires making difficult, inconvenient or unpopular choices. Encourage them that the eventual rewards (not always immediate) are worth it. They may have to stand alone when all of their peers (even home schooled ones) are doing something different. They may have to set aside their own desires to defer to the needs of others. They may have to delay instant gratification so they can obtain a more lasting or valuable future benefit.

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