Balancing Encouragement with Critiques

The other night, I vented to my husband about some doubts and frustrations I was wrestling through regarding one of our children and his learning style. “I don’t want to dumb down the work because he’s having meltdowns, catering to his emotions and laziness, because I know he can do it…he just doesn’t want to. But, he’s accomplished this work for weeks. He’s smart and if I reduce the work load, I will just reinforce the lie that he tells himself, ‘I can’t do this,’ but I also don’t want him to detest learning either. Is this just a phase or should I find a different curriculum?” I let my rambling trail off. We both sat there thinking for awhile and I added, “Don’t mind me; I’m just having a parent/teacher conference with myself.”

Being a home-school mom demands I balance encouragement with criticism. After all, we aren’t just their empathetic mommy, but their teachers. We have to ensure their reading, writing and arithmetic skills, but we’re also encouraged to explore language, art, music, government, historical  and physical education. In addition to their Spanish, Latin, and drawing, I have to find time to go hiking with them, read Scripture, help them memorize the Bible, understand theology, learn how to be a responsible citizen and godly follower of Christ.

I deeply desire my children to persevere, not just give up when situations get hard or frustrating. I want them to roll over the speedbumps of life with an eternal perspective and a grateful heart. But everywhere I look, entitlement, slothfulness, and apathy rule. Our kids are more depressed and discouraged than ever? Coincidence? I don’t think so.

Although busyness soars off the charts, our children often don’t have the right expectations for themselves or the purpose of their lives. Yes, children need a well-rounded education, but all the knowledge in the world is meaningless if we don’t have wisdom–an outlook on life that says, “to live is Christ,” (Phil. 1:21, Matt. 16:26). This life isn’t about me, my accomplishments, my position or power, my stuff, or even my passion. Life is about denying myself and following in Jesus’ steps. If I don’t relay that to my children as of first and foremost priority everything else is dust. Their knowledge and abilities only serve them if they point toward the ultimate goal–glorifying God.

My personality doesn’t naturally incline itself toward encouragement, especially with my family (sad, I know, and a weakness I’m working on). Because I’m propelled by conviction and truth, I am always on the lookout for chinks in the foundation. I don’t want anyone falling through a hole and down into a pit. Therefore, if someone has a deep relationship with me, faulty thinking and misaligned perspective will often warrant an exhortation. Not everyone appreciates accountability and no one likes a prophet, but I’m learning to accept this disdain from others and find my identity and affirmation from the Lord. If He calls me to speak, I’m supposed to do so, whether it’s well received or not.

Recognizing my tendency toward imbalance, I try to supplement my critiques with daily encouragement over my children, more so in their character than in their accomplishments. Hard work over the end product. Patience over personality. Love over selfishness. Etc. “I see Jesus working in you.” “Way to serve your brother!” “You worked so hard on that project. I know it wasn’t easy. Way to persevere.” I’m learning. I have a long way to go.

As much as encouragement is vital, how we encourage needs to be rooted in truth. We’ve all seen confident and determined “singers” perform on American Idol, and then scoff at the judge’s assessment of their nonexistent talent. “My mother said I had an incredible voice. I’ll show you!” We laugh, but we pity them because although they received plenty of “You’ve got this.” they didn’t get honesty and had a false sense of identity. Despite what the culture promotes, a person can’t do anything they want to do. Work hard? Sure. Learn? Of course. But I will never be an opera singer, no matter how much training I receive. I won’t become a doctor. I could go take out a huge loan, go to medical school and maybe…maybe even pass (actually, no, I wouldn’t), but I could never be a doctor. I feel queasy and light-headed at the mere thought of blood.

We need to acknowledge what’s hard-wired into our abilities. When God knitted us together, He didn’t make mistakes. He knew exactly what we would be good at. Life isn’t about remaking ourselves but about discovering what God has already made us to be. And then allowing God (and the wise community He places around us) help sharpen us. 

‪Many today want a Jesus who loves us, but doesn’t change us. We want the love and pardon while we maintain whatever lifestyle we choose. ‬‪Jesus loved and pardoned the woman caught in adultery, then said, “Go now and leave your life of sin” (John 8:11). ‬~Ted Cunningham

My job is to hone the strengths my children possess while weeding out the developing selfishness. I need to be aware of their sin inclinations (pride, selfishness, anger, greed, etc.) and help them become more aware and diligent in fighting it too.

We can say that critiques are the work of the Holy Spirit, but if you read through Scripture, we are called to exhort, restore, admonish, and bring back those being let astray. King David would not have repented if Nathan hadn’t confronted his sin (Pastor Matt Brown).

So, be an advocate, but not just for the what’s already good. Advocate for change. Advocate for the best version of someone and encourage them to keep running the race with joy, gratitude, and humility.

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