My grandson Anderson and my son Richard just ran a half marathon in the heat of Portland for one of Anderson’s 12 tasks. Richard had tried to practice in Rwanda during his month-long teaching time there but he was clearly dragging as they passed the 12 mile mark. Anderson, on the other hand, was like a pony in the paddock eager to race. The two of them had joined a pace group who set the run for the time they wanted. It was ambitious to think they might keep up but they did well for most of the time. When Richard saw that Anderson had plenty of get up and go still left at the 12-mile mark he urged his son to go on ahead. Anderson raced on and beat the pace group by four minutes.

Sometimes our kids have what it takes to outdo us even at their young age. That is something to be celebrated. Anderson has also rallied his school and neighborhood to raise resources and equipment for a refugee serving organization. He has been tasked to journal and publish the recent trip across the US taken by the family. He is a well-rounded young man ready to accomplish a little more. 

As parents, we are tasked with stimulating our children on to love and good deeds and as they enter the teens they may still have some level of confidence in who they are and in what they want to do. Others will start to unravel as they face the diversity of intellectual, emotional and relational challenges coming their way from school, the neighborhood or even the church.

How do we speak the truth in love in a way that will keep them confident in who God designed them to be? Some children try to earn love through external goodness but there are things inside that give us pause as we see certain character traits emerging. Proverbs reminds us that the way we think at the core of our being is the way we will be. It is this projection we want to pay attention to. It is a mercy of God that we can use the gift of discernment to impact them before these traits lay buried too deep to shape for their long-term benefit. These traits often surface in the unguarded moments.

Ephesians 6:4 warns us about our own heart condition before we engage with theirs. We are to train and instruct them in a way that won’t exasperate them. Ephesians 4:15 tells us that as we speak the truth in love we will grow mature in our life and faith.

This balance of speaking truth motivated by love is a key to reaching and sustaining your child’s heart. As a parent, we can easily be driven by our own self-serving hidden motives and agendas which we try to transfer onto our son or daughter through the tasks given, the excellence or effort we expect, the outcomes achieved. Speaking truth can become a subtle manipulation by the things we say and don’t say to drive across our point. Scripture warns us about the deceitfulness of our own hearts for a reason.

My own laziness or business may drive me to lay out something I want my son or daughter to accomplish for my benefit rather than theirs. A task that is agreed on may require significant investment of time and energy and that may impact my expectations of myself and my child. If I want my son or daughter to learn about finances, sexuality, generosity, hospitality, stewardship of the earth or acceptance of those from other ethnic or social backgrounds, I may compromise what I have to do to get the most out of that task for my child.

Pay attention to the intensity and volume of your voice when you communicate. Think about the expression on your face and the body language you demonstrate. Only 7% of communication is through words and the rest from tone and body language. Be aware of what your child is hearing and understanding about your relationship from how you communicate truth from the heart. 

Silent treatments that shame can be just as devastating as a volcanic verbal outburst that shatters the heart. Jesus tells us to learn from him because he is gentle and humble of heart. This is the character we want to establish in our child through our own expression of it. Our kids need to see that we will patiently, gently, consistently, humbly, prayerfully and faithfully be there for them in both their successes and their failures. Everything is a learning experience. Sometimes for them and sometimes for us.

We want children with open hearts so we learn to act in ways that allow that vulnerability and openness during the years when so much can close them off to us. Gentle and wise questions at teachable moment can serve to be the channel to accomplish what is needed.

The tasks we give ourselves are as important as the tasks we give our child and the way we communicate before, during and after those tasks is crucial to the positive, healthy, long-term quality of heart we will see develop in the one we cherish. May God guard the heart of our children as we speak the truth in love to them throughout their lives. 

You may not need to run a half-marathon to test the quality of your heart’s endurance but there may be other ways to strengthen the core of who we are in our effort to become the person we are designed to be. Our children will only benefit as we do.