I love our dishwasher. It is a great dishwasher. It is the kind where you don’t have to clean the plate twice (once before you load it, then while it is running). Is also incredibly quiet. I have been sprayed numerous times when going to put a dirty dish into it, not realizing that it was running (yes, it does have a light, but I would rather take my chances then bend over and look to see if the light is on). I wish I was as good at parenting as our dishwasher is at its job. When it washes cups they are clean, inside and out. I can’t always say I get the same results. Thankfully, I am better than I used to be and Lord willing, I will continue to improve.
You have probably figured out, I am not really discussing cleaning cups you drink from. Jesus got after the Pharisees because of their tendency to focus on behavior and not heart. His teaching, as always, sets us free. He said,
“…First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.” –Matthew 23:26
As parents, and caregivers, we tend to focus on the behaviors (the outside of the cup). Why wouldn’t we? It is the part we can see. “I don’t know what is going on in their little hearts, but I know that Johnny should share. I will make him share. I will teach him that if he doesn’t share, he will lose what he has completely.” And you can because you are bigger. It all seems pretty straightforward doesn’t it. However, consider for a moment that Johnny may not be sharing for another reason. One that wouldn’t even enter into your head (because it is not your head). Perhaps Johnny isn’t sharing because he is afraid. That lesson I was intending to teach becomes a different lesson for Johnny. “If you don’t want to lose what you have, don’t let anyone know you have it.” BAM! Johnny learned the exact opposite of what we were trying to teach. Instead of ending with a generous child, we ended with a more fearful, secretive, hoarder.
I understand that my previous example may not be a common problem, however, it does illustrate the point (which was the whole point after all). Yes, some children will respond to that teaching. Their hearts and minds are enlightened when we correct behavior. However, that doesn’t work for all children and in fact, it doesn’t work for most. If it did, Jesus wouldn’t have had to correct the Pharisees on their teaching methods. When we address behavior, we are addressing what the child does. When we address their hearts and minds, we are addressing who the child is. That is a big difference, and that is exactly what Jesus was talking about it. Address Johnny’s fear and he will share on his own.
Dr. Karyn Purvis said it brilliantly.
“The behaviors are the tip of the iceberg. If I’m a caregiver or a parent and I understand everything beneath the surface I am going to have great success in bringing deep healing to this child. But if I only see the behavior, and not what’s behind it, I have missed most of what my child needs.”
I am grateful that Beautiful and I were given this understanding some time ago. We saw it first with P.C. He is such a larger than life child that it couldn’t help but have been him. The same techniques that we used with our older children were not working with him. We were regularly getting the opposite of what we were teaching and wanted (just so you don’t wonder he is great at sharing). Our hearts were breaking because we knew we were loosing him. We couldn’t reach him with what we were doing. Thankfully, we were given Dr. Purvis’s book, The Connected Child. The truth, set us free.
I know a number of parents, schools and churches that focus on behavior to the point that they almost completely miss the child. This passage that Paul wrote becomes their mantra:
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” – Philippians 4:8.
Please don’t misunderstand me. What Paul says is the truth. And, many of these parents, schools and churches are doing a great job of raising awareness about how we can do a better job with how our faith looks in culture. We just can’t let the externals of excellence become our idol. We cannot become satisfied with good grades, high test scores, beautiful music, poetry, and art. They are all excellent, but they are only the outside of the cup.
When externals become the measuring stick, all kinds of problems result. The parents and caregivers become so used to focusing on behavior, they don’t have the tools to connect to the heart. Older children and adults needing medical assistance to deal with anxiety, or simply abandoning the “values” that were taught are way above norms. Unfortunately, many of the leaders don’t know it because it is not being talked about (at least to them).
True excellence for our children is knowing who they are, that they are loved by us and by their Creator, and they are joyful, content and at peace with that. Jesus told us plainly that when that happens, the rest will take care of itself.
That my friends, is how you do the dishes.