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Working through our kids’ natural gifts

My three teenagers experience a fair amount of worldly success in academics, sports, and music. This is not a bragging moment; it is simply an acknowledgement that God has given my kids a range of abilities, which are gifts they can’t take credit for in the same way they can’t take credit for their natural hair color. (Curious about this? Check out Letter 14 in Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis.)

So, for those who are used to consistent success, what happens when they encounter something they’re not naturally good at?

Well, first, we simply accept those weaknesses. Society, in the name of well-rounded kiddos, places an awful lot of pressure on them to do everything. In reality, it’s refreshing to say, “We’re not even going to worry about that.” Not pressuring them to strive for things that aren’t in their wheelhouse gives them a chance to celebrate others’ success and gifts.

Then, after our kids accept their weaknesses, we encourage them not to completely accept their weaknesses (and not just because we’re trying to mess with them!). The parenting cliché “You don’t have to be the best, but you need to do your best” is a good one to use here.

Kids can’t just blow off math or English because it’s not their gift. Certain skills do need to be learned. Plus, with so many things, kids are accountable to a team or a group, so they need to work on their portion of the robotics project or practice free throws or rehearse their music. People are counting on them to contribute. This is where character is built. As kids struggle, they learn perseverance, determination, empathy, and humility. They learn that there is often a greater sense of satisfaction that comes along with hard work than from accomplishments that came easy.

Mainly, it boils down to giving thanks. We give thanks for the natural gifts God has given our kids. Then we give thanks for the lessons they learn as they work through their struggles.

Linda Buxa and her husband, Greg, have two daughters and a son.

Start by listening

“I’m no good at anything!”

“Sam is the best. Why can’t I be like him.”

“Everyone else can do it but me!”

Do these words activate your parent panic alarm? These phrases and others like them are a common and normal part of the growing process. However, as a parent I feel the need to spring into action and do something. My child feels like he/she is not good at anything. No way! This can’t happen! My natural instinct is to argue, “You are good at many things.” Enter kid response: “No, I’m not.” Followed by my educated, all-knowing parental response, “Yes, you are.”

Perhaps in my panic of seeing my child hurting in some way, this “No, you aren’t/yes you are” approach could turn into more of an argument than anything else. I have found it a little (maybe a lot) more challenging for me to take a more unnatural approach during times like this. In fact, I have had to tell myself to STOP—and just listen. An expression of feelings associated with not excelling in a certain area can first be acknowledged—then argued with (kidding about the arguing). Here’s my secret template.

“Sounds like you felt a little (insert feeling word here) when (insert event here) happened.”

It feels a bit unnatural to me, but I have found that if I do not give our kids an understanding of how they feel, nothing else I say seems to be heard. It makes me think of the accounts in Scripture when Jesus sat with the woman at the well or walked along the road to Emmaus with the disciples. He seemed to join them and express his understanding before teaching them a new way.

So what’s next? I’ve joined my child and expressed an understanding of how he feels about not excelling in a certain area. Now it’s time to debate, right? Set this child straight and tell him what he is good at and he will walk away with new confidence, right?

Maybe sometimes that approach is needed. Maybe it helps at times to minimize a mistake or encourage hard work and practice. Maybe sometimes it is an opportunity to acknowledge the effort and not the end result. Lots of helpful approaches can be used at different times and special situations.

As I keep my radar up for a teachable moment, one thing I tend to be on guard for in my kids is the sense that Mom and Dad will only love me if I am the best. Wrong! I think there may be a sense of that conditional acceptance in all of us at times. This becomes a great opportunity for a reminder of God’s unconditional love. He loves us all with our successes and failures. That’s how we as parents try to use that as our guide. While we were still sinners (failures, broken, not good at anything), Christ died for us. There was nothing we had to do to earn God’s love. It is unconditional.

As parents, we can remain watchful for opportunities like this to express understanding when our kids experience disappointments and do not excel in a certain area. Let’s ask for the Lord’s guidance to help us use the best tool of redirection at the right time and always be aware of the moments we are given to remind them of God’s unconditional love.

Dan Nommensen and his wife, Kelly, have a teenage daughter and a pre-teen son.

Raising gentlemen

Sometimes we forget that Jesus is both strong and gentle.  

The One who shouted down the wind and waves—“Be quiet!”—also let little children clamber onto his lap for a blessing. The One who started crying at the sight of his beloved Jerusalem also strode into the Court of Gentiles and started slinging a whip, toppling tables, spilling coins, driving out the merchants who didn’t belong there.  

It’s a good reminder that a Christian man can be both strong and gentle, recognizing that strength is not brutality, and gentleness is not weakness.  

I still like the old term “gentleman.” I want to raise up sons who are gentlemen, whose gentleness is actually strength wrapped in wisdom. My picture of a gentleman is based on my gentleman father.    

A gentleman knows he’s physically stronger than most women, so he opens doors for them, carries the heavy boxes, and walks on the curb side of the sidewalk for their protection. Dads, let’s model these courtesies. Moms, let’s sometimes say, “I need somebody’s muscles for this bag”—even if it’s not that heavy. 

A gentleman knows when he has to get physical—as Jesus did. Sometimes brutes only respond to brute strength, and a man has to defend himself, his friends, family, or country. Moms, if God made our little boys the wrestle-on-the-floor type, we can let them exercise that instinct. And if God made them more inclined to defend others with words than wallops, we can let them exercise that instinct.  

A gentleman cries. Let’s never say, “Big boys don’t cry” if crying is exactly what a situation calls for. If we have an overly sensitive child on our hands, though, one who cries at the drop of a hat, well, that’s a whole different article.   

A gentleman respects others. This plays out in a number of ways.  

  • A gentleman gives others room to speak. He doesn’t need to dominate, filling rooms with his mansplaining and withholding praise for others. Instead, he’s a leader who listens. Dads, you can help by leading that way yourself and by refereeing the kids’ verbal tussles: “Hey, don’t interrupt each other . . .” “Try saying, ‘Yes’ first. Find points of agreement before you disagree.”  
  • A gentleman cleans up. Moms, we need to rein in our instinct to pick up every vagabond sock and clean up every mess because it’s faster. Let the lads take responsibility for themselves.  
  • A gentleman has good manners. He looks people in the eye, shakes hands firmly, and says, “Please.” He doesn’t start eating until everyone has their food, and he knows how to chew with his mouth closed. This isn’t pretension. It’s respect for others.  

Finally, a gentleman keeps his word. He’s trustworthy. He has integrity. The whole world can depend on the word of a gentleman.   

Your picture of a gentleman might be different than mine. That’s okay. Hopefully we all agree, though, that our boys can be both gentle and strong, just like Jesus—the One who said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” and also “Learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart.” 

Laurie Gauger-Hested and her husband, Michael, have a blended family that includes her two 20-somethings and his teenage son.  

Balancing strength and gentleness

Teaching our kids to find a balance between strength and gentleness is tough, because there’s a tension, isn’t there? On the one hand we’d like to see our kids strong—leaders making use of their gifts. On the other hand we want them to understand the value of gentleness—a humility, putting others first.  

As Christians we know to look to God’s Word for answers, and what we find is very satisfying. Whether we’re talking about the strength side of the scale or the gentleness side, it’s not about us; it’s about God. That takes the pressure off. 

For example, a child who is strong in an area tends to gain a level of notoriety. If the child takes credit for the strength, there is a lack of gentleness toward other children who don’t have that strength. There is an unspoken condescension, a misunderstanding that she somehow achieved things on her own to be better than other kids. God’s Word tells us that our talents and abilities are gifts from God, and it is God who should receive the glory. A child who properly understands this can be strong and gentle, humbly thanking God for opportunities, and acknowledging that other kids, through their own strengths or even weaknesses (2 Corinthians 12:9-10), are equally blessed with opportunities to glorify God. 

A child’s acts of gentleness can also be flawed. He may figure that niceness should earn him niceness in return. If that doesn’t happen, the child might decide there is no longer any advantage to being nice. The Bible teaches that since God has shown us undeserved love in forgiving our sins against him through Jesus, we are called by God to show love to friends and enemies alike. A child who properly understands this can be gentle and strong, showing the grace of God even in the face of resistance. 

As parents it’s beneficial to regularly be in God’s Word ourselves and with our kids to really grasp God’s strength as well as his grace and how it affects our lives. The Bible is full of good examples, but perhaps the best place to start is with Jesus himself, our perfect model of strength and gentleness. His Sermon on the Mount offers a great perspective.  

Remember how it felt to be kids dealing with social pressures? We can pray that God through his Word would help us relieve our kids’ stresses by teaching them that they aren’t alone when it comes to demonstrating strength and gentleness. Rather, God through Jesus has blessed us with the privilege of sharing his strength and gentleness with others. 

Adam Goede and his wife, Stephanie, have four children ranging in age from 5-12.  

Finding strength in gentleness

How wonderful it is to have the opportunity to teach gentleness and strength to our kids. However, I have to admit, I wonder how my wife, Kelly, and I are fostering gentleness and strength in our kids within a culture that seems to encourage one over the other.  

“Be strong!” “Be assertive!” “Teach your kids not to cry!” “Don’t give in!” “Win at all costs!”  

Gentleness can be seen by some as weak, vulnerable, or cowardly. Kelly recently witnessed this at our local drug store and shared it with the kids and me when she got home. A customer in line ahead of her became verbally abusive to a cashier when an incorrect amount was accidently charged on her debit card. The customer accused the cashier of intentionally trying to steal money and provided some extra choice words to enhance her position. Kelly noted, though, that the cashier was cool, calm, and gently responded to the customer to acknowledge her concern, reassure her, and make the adjustment or refund—and even thank her for shopping at the store as she left.  

When we talked about the event, I asked, “How did that cashier not get angry?” I think that the cashier was using more strength than the customer in that instance.  

We can appreciate our culture’s understanding of strength—but we shouldn’t use it as an excuse to be abusive and go well beyond appropriate assertiveness. As we consider the example of Christ Jesus and are motivated by his love for us, a simple act of gentleness can be an unselfish act of love that so many people are yearning to see.  

Consider the strength it takes to, “Do nothing of out selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3,4).  

The amazing thing about this is that the strength it takes to be gentle and unselfish is given to us by God—it’s a natural result of our faith and love for him. After thinking about Kelly’s experience, I can now better appreciate the essence of a gentle response in the face of what some view as a “strong” approach. I can’t help but apply this to my own parenting and my temptation to sacrifice gentleness for strength or control.  

I’m convinced that experiences similar to what she saw in the store are all around my kids on the episodes of the latest Netflix series, in school, or on the “funny” YouTube video shared by friends. These poor examples of others being strong or selfishly stronger than others won’t teach appropriate boundaries or proper assertiveness to our kids, but they can be opportunities to give to others what is so desperately needed—an example of strength in gentleness as a result of a loving faith.   

Dan Nommensen and his wife, Kelly, have a teenage daughter and a pre-teen son.