Tag Archives: example

Stop Teaching Your Children to Be Nice…


You’ve heard it, I’m sure, a thousand times – “be nice!”

Most of us have contributed to the chorus of mothers and fathers bending low, looking their little ones in the eye, and in the face of some conflict with siblings or peers instructing them to, “be nice!”


Webster’s defines “nice” as:

          Pleasing; agreeable; delightful.

         To behave in a friendly, ingratiating, or conciliatory manner.

Those are all “nice” ways of behaving – of interacting with our fellow human beings.

But are they good?

If we consider the messages that these words convey we will start to notice a nasty trend…  At the root of each of them is people pleasing.  What we usually mean when we tell our kids to “be nice” is to give in, yield, capitulate, surrender.

If they are simply defending their own selfishness, then yes, by all means, encourage them to yield to righteousness.  But there are better ways to instruct them in that then simply saying, “be nice.”  Calling out their selfishness is a great place to start.

But all too often, what we want when we tell our children to “be nice” is for them to stop whatever behavior is taking place so that they (and we) avoid conflict.  Have you ever interrupted your child telling auntie that she needs Jesus because you know that auntie is a dyed-in-the-wool God-hater who has already raged in furious indignation over your “arrogance” in telling her how to live her life?  What if God is pleased to use the voice of a little child to disarm her fury and penetrate her heart of stone?

What we do when we tell our kids to “be nice” is interrupt a different lesson that ought to occur.  Even if auntie decides to rage at your little one – isn’t that a good (albeit hard) lesson to walk through with your child?

We know that God often teaches us the most profound lessons through the hardest things.  Why do we want to take those things away from our children?

Following are five reasons I can think of – I’m sure there are more.

We teach our children to “be nice” so that…

  1. Conflicts will either stop or not arise at all rather than teach them how to resolve conflict in a God-honoring way (which is harder, takes more time, and more prayers for wisdom than we ever dreamed we’d need!).
  2. They will be well-liked among their peers.  There is nothing inherently wrong with being well-regarded amongst one’s peers, but if we give the message to our children that this is our goal rather than the pleasant outcome of living with integrity, we have simply begun laying the foundation of building up little Pharisees rather than Disciples of Jesus.  We are teaching them to care more about what others think about them than what God thinks about them.
  3. They will be well-liked among our  Our children see to the heart of this pride with laser-like accuracy.  We might not say it out loud, but we say it loud and clear nonetheless:  “it matters more to mom (or dad) what my friends think of me than the person you are turning out to be.”  (ouch!)
  4. They will climb the social ladders set before them.  There is nothing inherently wrong with being successful in relationships – that’s actually a good gift from the Lord.  But when we teach them that climbing social ladders is important we distort and pervert the true nature of God-honoring relationships. Rather than being willing to invest in the life of the other person because they have value and worth as image-bearers of the Almighty, we actually train them in manipulation techniques; I’ll be nice to you if you give me social standing – I’ll give you social standing if you “stroke” me by being “nice.”  Incidentally, these are the “friendships” that crumble in the face of hardship, but understanding what they are based on makes it clear why they collapse when “nice-ness” is gone.
  5. Because we want them perceived as those who get along, don’t rock the boat, keep things smooth and so on.  We want to save our children from the heartache of trials and tribulations.  We want things to be easy and comfortable for our kids… because that is what we really want for ourselves. (ouch again!)

Our culture has elevated “nice” to a place of pre-eminance.  We demand that “being nice” rule our public discourse.  We demand that “being nice” rule our educational institutions.  We operate in a way that places “being nice” as the highest form of virtue and have ceased to tolerate anything that disrupts the peace and harmony of “nice-ness.”

But is this what the Bible teaches us to value?

In a singular and resounding word – No!

Here is what the Bible says about our expectations of “getting along”:

  • If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.  If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.  Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. (John 15:18-20)

Living as believers guarantees that we will not be well-received.  Let that sink in.

Don’t get me wrong – we’re not to go looking for conflicts, strife, and persecution.  They’ll come along just fine on their own – trust me.  And when our troubles are caused by our own foolishness or wickedness, we need to own the consequences, repent, and learn the lessons we can from them.

But in the course of living lives defined by the transformation of the Gospel within us – lives marked by Spirit-given gifts – we will not always be perceived as being “nice.”  And as parents, it’s our job to prepare our children for the blows that will come as a result of being a disciple of Jesus.

Standing against sin will always bring with it trials of various kinds.

Rather than teaching our children to “be nice” how about if we use words like these as each situation demands:


    • Loving.
    • Kind
    • Strong.
    • Of good courage
    • Forgiving.
    • Merciful.
    • Truthful.
    • Patient.
    • Gentle.
    • A man/woman of integrity.
    • Compassionate.
    • Humble.
    • Generous.
    • Wise.
    • Someone who stands up for the widows and orphans among you.
    • Holy.

Each of these things will require you to take the time to explain them to your children according to their understanding.  You will need to show them, for example, why avoiding a difficult conflict is not actually good for the other person – even when confrontation opens us up to false accusations and gossip.  You can help them see how God is providing an opportunity to enter into the sufferings of Christ by allowing them to experience insults, and malicious claims against them the way Jesus did before he was crucified.  You can help your child learn to bear the weight of other’s sin in this way because Jesus did it for him – and you will be, at the same time, helping your child to love his Savior all the more as the realization of the cost of the Cross becomes clearer to him through his own suffering.

We are not called to be people-pleasing, ease-and-comfort seeking survivors of this world.  We are called to be God-glorifying, disciple-seeking, victorious citizens of the next.  Let’s help one another teach our children how to do the same.


Through Gates of Splendor – Goodbye to my friend…



I’m far away from home right now – in a place that is as beautiful as it gets – but my heart has carried around the grief of loss ever since my daughter called to tell me that Elisabeth Elliot passed away two days ago.  As I watched a most spectacular sunset over the Pacific Ocean tonight I was enthralled by the colors and indescribable beauty that is almost commonplace here, but I kept thinking about how much more dazzling and exhilarating it will be to see the Glory of the Almighty Maker of the Universe.  Splendor is a good word, and Elisabeth Elliot has just been ushered through the Gates of Splendor that she often talked about.

While I can celebrate her release from the pain and toil and struggles of this life, I do grieve the loss of her.

You see, she was my friend.

And while I always felt like I was her friend – she didn’t know me.

But she was my friend.  I knew her.  I knew her life because she openly talked about it in her books and on her radio show.  I knew the parts of her heart that she was willing to share, so openly and plainly, through the same means.  And I knew she was my friend because every time I heard her on the radio she told me so – she said, “You are loved with an everlasting love. That’s what the Bible says. And underneath are the everlasting arms. This is your friend, Elisabeth Elliot,” and I believed her.

As a young mother I read her book, Discipline, The Glad Surrender, and I was instantly sure that this woman could very well become my spiritual “mother.”  I grew so much from the perspective she lovingly shared.  I saw things in new ways.  And I was helped in the practical, ordinary things – from ordering my day to include time to know God to getting the laundry done.  I didn’t grow up in a Christian home, and no one showed me how to be a disciplined disciple, but my friend, Elisabeth helped.   In fact, she helped decide the name of this blog, for it was through her counsel that I learned that there is great honor shown to God in doing the ordinary things in our lives well – as if we were doing them for him, for indeed we are.  And God continues to surprise me with great depths of insight into his character and love through the very ordinary, common things in daily living.

Later, I learned what a Christian home might look like through the Shaping of a Christian Family.  Desperately seeking an older, wiser woman who would be willing to mentor me through the intensely difficult terrain of disciple-ing our young brood into godly men and women, yet finding few who wanted or dared to take on the task, there was my friend, Elisabeth, always there with wisdom and practical tips alike.  She taught me to be patient, but persistent with my darlings.  She showed me that I wasn’t raising children, but men and women.  She reminded me that the condition of their souls was infinitely more important than their behavior on any given day.  And she taught me how to be an older woman to the younger women around me.

When I read Through Gates of Splendor, In The Shadow of the Almighty, and other books I learned of her losses – and how she saw God rooting out the sinfulness in her heart through them.  “Who talks like this?” I remember thinking.  My friend, Elisabeth, did, and I wanted to be that kind of woman.

I heard her speak once – I honestly don’t remember what the talk was about.  But I do remember this one thing that she said.  She was talking about growing older and the challenges that come with each stage in life.  She said she’d overheard some younger women in the restroom talking about her saying what a “nice, godly old woman she was.”  A little amused at their perspective of her, it gave us all a good chuckle. But then she went on to describe how these two women immediately started talking about one of their friends in a cutting and unkind way.  Ever looking for a teachable moment, she said to all of us, “Ladies, if you want to be godly older women, you’d better start by becoming godly younger women right now.”  I was thankful I hadn’t been one of the women in the restroom that day, but I knew it could have easily been me on any other day.  The lesson hit home and I took her seriously.

Some of her most lasting lessons to me were things she quoted often (and I have followed suit):

“When you don’t know what to do, just look around and do the next thing.”

“Leave it all in the hands that were wounded for you.”

“If you believe in a God who controls the big things then you have to believe in one who controls the little things as well.”

“When asked how he got up every morning very early to pray my grandfather responded – ‘I get up!'”

(sorry all – I don’t have my books at hand to tell you where those quotes are from – and some of them may be paraphrased for I’ve used them over the years – but they are all from Elisabeth Elliot.)

I wrote to my friend Elisabeth, after reading The Shaping of a Christian Family for the third or fourth time, and told her how much it had helped me – us.  I told her how much I appreciated that she had been willing to share not just the seeming successes in her life, but the reality of the struggles – and that that had helped me, too.  I told her that in reading her books I knew that God was teaching me many of the same lessons, but because I had read about her struggles I was looking for his purposes in the pain and the struggles rather than railing against them.

She wrote me back a hand-written note to tell me that my note was encouraging to her.  Imagine – I encouraged Elisabeth Elliot.  But isn’t that how God works – one friend encourages another and together we build each other up?

I’ve read many more of Elisabeth Elliot’s books over the years.  I’ve passed them on to others, given them as gifts, and encouraged others to read her simple, straightforward words.

I know she wasn’t perfect – no friend is except One.  But I valued her a great deal.  I am sad that she is no longer with us, but rejoice that she is in heaven with Jesus.  I’m sure she is rejoicing with many saints who have stories to share with her similar to mine.  What a lovely reward for a life lived in faithful service to her King.

I am indebted to this woman who God used in such a profound way in my life.  I still hope to be like her – faithful to the end and used by God in the simple living out of an ordinary life.  I know she will be sorely missed, as she was greatly loved.

Praying for her family and friends – all of us – who have lost someone dear.

Emily Makes a Speech


Surprising in its spontaneous simplicity, Emmy, a mentally challenged young girl made a speech the other day that made adults cry and children celebrate.

My youngest four kids are involved in a competitive speech and debate league and Mondays are “club” days.  Emily – Emmy is no stranger to us.  She has been cheerfully tagging along with her big sister for months playing with dolls or games or wheeling her friend Cari around in her wheel chair while the club members work on their speaking skills.  Cari doesn’t speak, but Emmy normally keeps up the conversation with basic and repeated phrases.

“What are you going to do today?” is usually the first thing Emmy says to me when she sees me.  “What are you going to do tonight?” is what she normally says when it’s time to go home.  She doesn’t always listen for the answer, but she always asks.

But this past Monday something was very different.  Our youngest club members (our “Juniors”) were having their big “competition”.  All of these 6-11 year olds were dressed up in their very best “tournament attire”.  They had all practiced and memorized their 5-10 minute speeches.  There was palpable energy and everyone enjoys watching them give their speeches and giving them helpful feedback.  There was excitement and Emmy knew something was up.

She came to me after things had already started and said, “I want to go in there” meaning she wanted to go into one of the rooms where kids were giving speeches.   It’s courteous to wait until a speaker is done before entering the room and I was in the middle of something, so  I said, “Emmy, we’ll have to find the Junior’s coach, she’ll tell you when you can go in.”  Then she said, “I want to make a speech.”

I wasn’t sure what I was hearing.  “Uhh… OK, we’ll still have to find the coach.”

I needed to finish what I was working on so I didn’t get right up to help her find the coach – but that didn’t matter – Emily found her.   “I want to make a speech,” she said again.

Emily had found the coach in the midst of an “Impromptu” round – a competition where students pick a topic out of an envelope and have to make up a 3-5 minute speech on the spot.  Emily chose “cookies”.

Her speech was only a little about cookies – it was really about what Jesus means to her.  It was a little disorganized and didn’t follow all the “rules” we set up for speeches, but it was beautiful.

Emily simply loves Jesus and knows that He loves her.  Her determination to participate with all the other kids was remarkable.  At the beginning of the year she hardly spoke to anyone and here, a few months later, she was standing in front of peers telling them about her life with Jesus.

Emmy came out of the room beaming.  “I made a speech,” she told me in her straight-forward, halting way, but that couldn’t hide the fact that every muscle she possessed was smiling.  The adults standing around were truly happy with her, but then the younger kids started coming out of the room.

“Emmy gave a speech!”  “Emmy got up and spoke!” was the repeated news.  THEY were just as happy as she was!  Emily couldn’t stop smiling, but several of us got teary.

God reached out to our little speech and debate club on Monday through a child society pushes to the side.  He showed us that His work in her life is real and meaningful.

And He showed us that His work THROUGH her life is effective and powerful.

Emmy’s mom wrote us thank-you note the next day, but it is we who are the ones who need to give thanks.

Thank you Emmy for a great speech, but thank you the most for showing us a little bit of God’s glory.  You’re a treasure.

Teach me


I finally found my sewing machine out of pyramids of boxes and set it up.  I got it out amidst the boxes because birthdays and Christmas were looming and one teenage son in particular wanted me to make some bow-ties for him (a Dr. Who fan, and who doesn’t love bow-ties??).

Immediately every child wanted to use the sewing machine, which brought a flood of memories back – how many hours had I sat with one child or another on my lap showing them how to make something three-dimensional out of flat fabric with this wonderful monster?  “Teach me to use the sewing machine, mommy,” was a refrain that was oft repeated down the years, always while I was actually trying to make something.

“Teach me to write,” “teach me to play the guitar,” “teach me to cook” – I’ve heard these things many times from my children and others.  Perhaps it has happened, but I really can’t recall a time when someone asked that other than while I was in the middle of actually doing the thing that they wanted me to teach them.

Being around someone who can do something that we can’t do – but that we want to do – begs the request, doesn’t it?

We’re in Luke 11 at church and the first verse forces me to ask the question, “Am I the kind of example that begs people to ask me to teach them the most important things?”  The disciples knew that Jesus was a pray-er.  He had been praying in their midst all along, and now they wanted to learn to pray the way he did, “Lord, teach us to pray,” they asked.

Do those around me ask me to teach them to pray?  Do they ask me to teach them to study the word? Do they ask me to teach them how to love God and others?

I’ve shown these things to people – done them in front of others to be sure – but does my life display such a commitment to them that others want to know God the way I know God?  It is easy to think, “well, everyone has the Bible – anyone can see Jesus’ example and that’s better than anything I can offer anyway.”  But is that as it should be?  Hebrews 13:7 says this:  Remember those who led you, those who spoke to you the Word of God.  Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.

It’s never too late to imitate Christ.  It’s never a losing prospect to ask the Giver of all good gifts that our lives will so radiate His glory that others will be utterly drawn to it.  It’s never too late to live in such a way that someone, somewhere comes to you and says, “Teach me.”