We experienced a milestone as a family late this morning. We had a swallow study at the hospital. It’s a fascinating procedure. Owen ate and drank barium-laced food and drinks while a technician, speech therapist, and radiologist watched a live x-ray picture of the chewing and swallowing. They wanted to be sure that Owen—a kid who had a tracheostomy until he was four years old—was able to chew and swallow safely. This was his best swallow study yet. He’s getting stronger and more coordinated. And, over time, it’s getting safer and safer for him to eat table foods.
As I watched Owen’s skeleton chewing a barium cookie, I chuckled and thought, “We know this kid both outside and inside.” For us, that’s literally true. We know every square inch of his body both outside and inside.
I pray that it’s also a spiritual truth.
What do I mean by that?
Parents—us included—know all about our kids’ outsides. We observe and scrutinize constantly. And, let’s be honest, so much of our parenting focuses upon questions like these: Are they playing well with their friends? Are they sitting up straight in church? Do their socks match? Are they using their manners? Are they getting good grades? Are they behaving? Are they disobeying? Are they acting out inappropriately?
All “yes” or “no” questions. All focused upon externals.
What would happen if we spent more time focusing on our kids’ insides? What if we examined the underlying causes for the behaviors we witness? Why are they acting out? Is it because of fear or guilt? Why are they struggling in school? Are they coping with a learning disability? Are their friends teasing them? Why are they rebelling? Is it because they are crying for attention or validation? Why are they refusing to go to practice? Is it because they fear failure when it’s game time?
Questions of this type could be difficult to answer. They require time, careful thought, and prayer. All of them hinge entirely upon the relationships parents have cultivated with their kids, relationships in which the truth can be spoken in love, relationships of trust, relationships of faith.
Why is it so important for us, as parents, to commit to knowing our kids outside and inside?
When we focus exclusively upon our kids’ outsides, their behaviors, we create little legalists. We raise conformists, performers who learn how to look good on the outside while pride and rebellion reign on the inside.
When we focus on our kids’ insides, their hearts, we establish a context in which grace can flow freely. We get to partner with the Spirit in shaping their little hearts, turning them toward their Father.
That’s the entire goal of parenting.
By the way, if we’re struggling with where to begin, we can take our cues from our Heavenly Father. After all, isn’t he more concerned with our insides than our outsides?