The Truth Principal

Buy the truth and do not sell it; get wisdom, discipline, and understanding. Proverbs 23:23


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Preparing Students for Life: Things I wish I could tell my younger self

This year, our focus in elementary will be the school’s mission statement: Preparing students for life; natural, spiritual, and eternal. While our students, families, and staff may hear or read our mission statement throughout the year, we don’t always focus on what it really means in the day to day reality of a Christian education. Nor do we frequently and intentionally talk to the students about it so that they can connect what they are learning and doing in school, with “real” life. So this year in chapel and in our classrooms, we will be taking intentional opportunities to connect our learning with how it benefits students both now and in the future. This also provides a general theme that allows me to speak to students about a variety of topics.

One such topic is responsibility. I think it is the desire of every parent and teacher that our children learn to be responsible and take responsibility for their actions. I would like students to realize that learning is their responsibility and I would like to see parents be more comfortable allowing the natural consequence of poor grades when their child has not given their best effort, rather than rescuing them by studying with them and for them. Or to allow their children to navigate the difficulties of peer relationships, learning to get along with difficult people, developing tougher skin when things don’t go their way, and learning to give compassion and forgiveness, without undue parental involvement. Often, with good intentions, we sabotage our efforts to help our children learn responsibility because we aren’t consistent leaving the responsibilities that are appropriately theirs in their lap.

As I was driving down the road a few weeks ago, the song, “Dear Younger Me” by MercyMe came on the radio. It made me think of all my years in education and what I have learned and how I have grown, and what I wish I had known when I was first teaching and raising my own children. I can’t go back and talk to the younger me, but I can talk to you and share with you some of my thoughts on the things I have learned.  Maybe what I share here will benefit you in your parenting or teaching, in a way that will reach a child’s heart and character, and help them grow into mature, responsible, and independent young adults that will bring honor and joy to their parents and to Jesus.

My generation was the generation that mastered the art of helicopter parenting. We over protected, swooped in to rescue, and made sure to build positive “self-esteem” in our children by repeatedly praising them, telling them how great and how special they were, awarding them for participating, and generally coddling them. The result has been a generation of young narcissistic adults, many of whom are still living with their parents into their thirties, and/or have an entitlement mentality, poor work ethic, and have a tendency to be risk averse. While we love our children, it is our job to raise them to be independent of us, responsible adults who contribute positively to society to the glory of God. We parents are completely baffled by how some of our children are living their lives. “How did this happen?” we ask. “We didn’t raise them to be like this!” …or did we?

James 1:2-4 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,  because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

Have you ever applied this verse to your children? What does James say brings maturity? Facing trials of many kinds. This is not typically our hope and dream for our children, is it? But think about your own life. Hasn’t it been the trials through which you persevered that brought about the growth and maturity in you? While none of us enjoys hardship or trials, and we certainly don’t wish them for our children, God uses difficulties in our life for our good, to produce mature, responsible, and compassionate adults. Some of the wisest, kindest, most patient and compassionate people I know, are people who have suffered greatly, persevering through trials of many kinds.

Similarly, Romans 5:3-4 says, “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” So perseverance through trials also develops character, and character, hope!

I wish I had allowed my children to face and persevere through trials more often, rather than rescuing them. Of course, no parent enjoys seeing their child suffer, and this is why we sometimes tried to shield our children from trials and/or interfered with natural consequences of our children’s actions or behavior. And especially if it wasn’t their fault, we swooped in to rescue them.

I have discovered in recent years two excellent, sensible, and truth-based resources for raising children: John Rosemond, author of Parenting by the Book, as well as many other books on parenting, and Love and Logic.  Here is how a recent article from Love and Logic describes the effects of rescuing children (from their Insider’s Club newsletter from July 27):

  • It is appropriate for parents to rescue children when life and limb is in danger. Also, occasionally, when their youngsters aren’t demanding it, appreciate the help, and don’t make a habit of needing to be rescued. I like this. This is something I sometimes got right. If I sensed my children thought I owed it to them to rescue them, I would not. I tended to help on occasion when I could see they realized it wasn’t my responsibility to do so, and it was appreciated. Then they received it as a gift of grace rather than payment for a debt.
  • When you hover and rescue, you send a message to your child that they are weak and are not capable of solving the problem.  When I was a little girl, I remember saying, “I can do it myself!” And often, my mom would let me struggle through tying my shoe or other activities, allowing me to develop independence and confidence in my ability. With my own children, I too often, sadly, did it myself rather than waiting patiently for them, because it was faster.
  • Kids love and respect adults who are willing to set and enforce healthy limits. Having a good long-term relationship with them depends occasionally on allowing them to be very upset with us.  I still remember being angry with my mom for telling me “no” for something and going to my room and crying into my pillow, “I hate mommy!”. I still feel ashamed thinking about it. But my mom ignored me and never let on that it affected her. She stood firmly by her “no”. I never did that again. Many of my generation could not bear our child being upset with us, and too often, would relent, which sadly accomplishes the opposite of what we think. Our children lose respect for us when we can be manipulated by them.
  • Sincere empathy makes the difference. Sincere empathy allows us to hold our kids accountable for their poor decisions, and helps them own and solve the problems that they create without losing their love and respect. It allows us to discipline without feeling guilty.

I am a problem solver by nature. When my children had a problem, I wanted to solve it. Too often, I supplied the solution. How I wish I had this advice then! Sincere empathy such as “Wow, that’s tough” or “you are facing a really difficult situation” coupled with “what do you think you might do to solve it?” does two things. 1.) The empathy demonstrates our genuine care about the struggle and love for them through it,  and 2.) it puts the responsibility of the solution where it belongs, on them, while demonstrating our confidence in their ability to solve it. This develops the ability to come up with creative solutions to problem solve and, I think, creates safety and confidence talking through possible solutions with their parents, rather than peers.

So, I wish I had “helped” less. I wish I had not done for them, what they could do for themselves. I wish I had more often put the responsibility of solving problems back on my children and students without solving it for them.

I wish I had praised less, and encouraged more.

Let everyone be sure that he is doing his very best, for then he will have the personal satisfaction of work well done and won’t need to compare himself with someone else. Galatians 6:4 (The Living Bible)

I have this framed in my office. There is a lot to be said for the intrinsic reward of knowing you persevered and did well. What helps build perseverance and “stick-to-itiveness” in our children?  In another past newsletter from Love and Logic (from Feb. 17), Dr. Charles Fay describes the difference between praise and encouragement. Phrases like, “That is so great!” “Wow! You are really special!” “I like it so much when you…” “You are so bright” and “Super!” come from my generation’s self-esteem culture. Here are the effects of these words of praise (And I know this may be difficult to swallow! We all have done this for years!) according to Dr. Fay:

  • Praise addicts kids to praise. Many fear losing it if they try something difficult that they might not be able to do in a praiseworthy fashion. This contributed to creating our risk-averse children.
  • Many kids see praise as manipulative. As adults, most of us are wise enough to fear those who lather us with vague accolades.  As kids grow, they also recognize that the praise doesn’t match reality. So you might hear, “Of course you think that. You’re my mom.”
  • Praise creates cognitive dissonance. Kids who feel badly about themselves feel anxious because praise doesn’t fit their sense of self. To relieve the tension, they act out to confirm their view of self.
  • Praise distracts from what really builds self-esteem. Feeling good about ourselves does not come from being told that we are great. It comes from doing great things.

“Feeling good about ourselves does not come from being told that we are great. It comes from doing great things.” Isn’t that the truth? I find this is true with my teachers and staff as well. I often tell them they are “wonderful”, “awesome”, or “the best”. (Yes, I am still learning to break the old habit of “empty” praise.)  But what really has meaning for them is when I specifically notice something they have done and take the time to mention it or write them a personal note. Our children need this as well. So instead of empty praise, Dr. Fay recommends noticing and describing. Instead of “you’re awesome” he says to experiment with encouraging by saying, “I noticed that you ….” He also recommends resisting adding “and that’s great.” Simply notice and describe, especially noticing and describing effort and perseverance. “I noticed that you kept trying even though it was challenging.” He says, “There are few things more encouraging and motivating than seeing that we can overcome difficult tasks with a strong measure of grit. That’s how we really help kids feel good.”

When I was a little girl, my family camped a lot in Oklahoma. One day, we were “mountain climbing” in the Arbuckle Mountains. I was not enjoying it. I found it a bit frightening and was afraid of the critters we came across along the way. About the time we reached the top, a storm suddenly came up and we had to quickly get down the mountain. I became laser-focused on getting down quickly and safely. I remember my dad telling me that I was “a trooper” because of my changed attitude and focus, my perseverance. He noticed. That moment defined me for years to come. I am a trooper, someone who perseveres through trials.

This year, it is my goal to encourage my students and staff, and to empower them to persevere, problem solve, and discover and/or enjoy the personal satisfaction of a job well done.

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

1 Thessalonians 5:11

 


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To Obey Is Better Than Sacrifice

Earlier this week, the Lord brought to mind this verse from 1 Samuel 15:22 (NIV).

But Samuel replied:

“Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
    as much as in obeying the Lord?
To obey is better than sacrifice,
    and to heed is better than the fat of rams.”

I have been thinking about this verse all week. Have you ever really thought about what it is saying? Obviously, it is saying that obedience is important, but as I thought about it this week, I thought about this verse differently than I have in the past.

The context of this verse is during King Saul’s reign. God had sent the Israelites into battle against the Amalakites and He instructed them to destroy everything – every person, every animal – without exception. Though the Israelites defeated the Amalakites, Saul kept the king alive and the Israelites kept the best of all of the livestock. When Samuel confronted Saul, Saul said that they had kept the best of the animals to offer a sacrifice to the Lord. Saul even said to Samuel that he had “kept the Lord’s instructions”. But he really didn’t did he? Obeying most is not obeying all. The disobedience was so great from God’s perspective that it was because of this that God rejected Saul as king.

I’ve always thought of this passage in terms of not obeying completely, but now I’ve been thinking about the contrast of what a situation would look like if there had been obedience from the beginning, as opposed to how it changes when there has been disobedience and then sacrifice. For example, I remember once when we were kids that my brothers were throwing something in the living room and it hit and broke a vase. If they had obeyed and not thrown the object, the vase would not have been broken. Although they were very sorry, and my dad did his best to glue the vase back together, the vase was forever changed. Many acts of disobedience are far more consequential than a broken vase. Disobedience can result in damage to relationships, physical damage, emotional damage, and even death.

What was the purpose of sacrifice except to pay for someone’s disobedience?  While someone might be repentant and sorry for their sin, the damage is already done.  Repentance doesn’t erase the pain or injury that has been caused and would have been avoided by obedience. While the sacrifice or penalty for disobedience meets the requirements of justice, it does not have the same result as if the person had obeyed and done the right thing in the first place. Sacrifices without repentance are a “stench” to the Lord. Sacrifices offered with genuine repentance are a “fragrant offering”, but how much better to not have disobeyed at all!

When I was a little girl, I was very shy. When I realized I had done something wrong, either because I was in trouble for disobeying, or because I had been unkind, I would feel bad, but I was too timid to say I was sorry. So I would try to show that person I was sorry by how I behaved, and I would promise myself that I was never going to do THAT again – whatever it was that caused the trouble. Committing myself to not behaving that way again is in keeping with repentance, and that’s a good thing, but demonstrating by my actions that I was sorry, while it’s at least something, is not the same as confessing what you have done, acknowledging the pain you caused, or asking forgiveness. It was sort of my self-imposed penance or my “sacrifice” to make things right.

I’ve often heard people say that “it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission”.  Isn’t this the same as saying sacrifice is better than (or perhaps as good as) obedience?  You usually hear this in the context of someone wanting to do something they know or suspect they won’t get permission to do. They surmise that if they go ahead and do it and then apologize, somehow the apology makes it OK.  But it is not OK.  Even if they perceive no real harm was done, it damages the relationship.

This week, as I am wrapping up our theme of obedience, I want to help my students see that obedience is always better, to obey is better than sacrifice. I want to help them see the “before and after pictures” of decisions to obey in contrast to the “before and after pictures” of disobedience followed by sacrifice, apologies, repentance, restitution. Doing the right thing is always the better choice. Disobedience brings pain.

Yet none of us obeys perfectly do we? By God’s grace, Christ came to pay the ultimate sacrifice for our sin, bringing both forgiveness and reconciliation.

But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.

Romans 6:17-18


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God’s Living and Active Word

As I write this, I am sitting in the Wichita airport, waiting for my flight back home. I have been visiting my family to attend the funeral of my aunt, my mom’s only sister. It was a wonderful time with family, remembering a life well lived to the glory of God. I’m at the age when I have many loved ones already in heaven. It makes you consider your own mortality and realize how fleeting this life is. I think of this life as a “qualifying race”. It is when we make our choice whether we will live for Christ or reject Him, and when we prove our love and devotion. We sometimes live as if this is THE life, but it’s not. THE life is in eternity. Not that this life is not important; it is. But it pales in light of eternity.

While I have been here this week, I have also been reading through the gospel of John with a friend. We read a chapter a day and meditate on it and share our thoughts daily through email. While I have been here, we have read John 3-6. In John 3 Jesus talks to Nicodemus and the importance of eternal life and how it is obtained (by believing in Him). Yesterday, in John 5:28-29 I read, “Don’t be so surprised! Indeed, the time is coming when all the dead in their graves will hear the voice of God’s Son, and they will rise again. Those who have done good will rise to experience eternal life, and those who have continued in evil will rise to experience judgment.” (NLT) Yesterday, as we buried my aunt, I was also at the grave of my sweet mother, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. What a precious verse, knowing all of these precious family members will be reunited with me some day!

If you read the Bible faithfully, no doubt you have had this experience. It seems, wherever you are reading in God’s Word, it was meant for you that day. Hebrews 4:12 tells us that God’s Word is living or alive and active. When I find God’s Word reaching out and speaking to my particular situation, I think of this verse. His Word is not some dead old manuscript. It is alive and active! It is always and continually relevant because it is truth that comes from an eternal, unchanging God. Those who live by it, know this is true.

There was another part of John 5:29 that I pondered yesterday. “Those who have done good will rise to experience eternal life, and those who have continued in evil will rise to experience judgment.” This should alarm us! We have loved ones who we know have rejected Christ. Today, in John 6:44 it says, For no one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them to me, and at the last day I will raise them up.” We should both be sharing the gospel with those who don’t know Christ and praying that the Father would draw them to Him. When you gave your life to Jesus, didn’t you have a sense of being drawn to Him? I fear we lack concern and urgency with the lost.

I want to challenge myself and you, to continue to read God’s Word daily, listening to His voice, and unabashedly and lovingly sharing truth with the lost souls around us.

At this point many of his disciples turned away and deserted him.  Then Jesus turned to the Twelve and asked, “Are you also going to leave?”

Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life.  We believe, and we know you are the Holy One of God.”

John 6:66-69


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The Importance of Context

Today, on my way to school, I was thinking about a writing program that I would like one of my grade levels to consider for the future. It would be a bit “out of the box” for some of the teachers because, instead of studying writing, grammar, spelling, and vocabulary all as separate subjects, it teaches them in one – writing. Grammar is learned alongside the writing assignments, in context. Spelling is learned alongside their writing, in context, and so on. That’s what got me thinking about the importance of context.

I remember years ago listening to a sermon and feeling very frustrated because I couldn’t figure out where the preacher was headed or what the sermon was about. He had provided no context. The preacher seemed to want to keep it a mystery until the end – maybe for some grand finale. The problem was, without context, nothing made sense. It was as if he was arguing his point, but you had no idea what the argument was about. By the time the point of the sermon was finally revealed, much of the value of what had been said had been lost.

There is a commercial currently on TV for a phone service. The young man hears that his parents are going to “have a kid” before the line goes dead due to a dropped call. He imagines all kinds of things about a new little brother before his parents are able to reconnect to let him know that they are going to “have a kid mow the lawn.” Context is everything!

Teachers know that our students learn best when we tell them what they are going to learn about before we teach them. Students learn and understand everything better in the context of how it fits with the world around them. Context provides us with background knowledge to connect with new information. It adds depth to our understanding.

Context is critical in the Kingdom of God, too. I think one of the most important examples is the Old Testament. Reading through the Old Testament is so neglected in our daily devotions, except for maybe Psalms and Proverbs, which we find more agreeable, perhaps. But reading completely through the Old Testament gives you a much bigger picture and understanding, both about who God is, but also who we are. Time and time again, the people God has made turn against Him – they break His laws, worship false gods, and do whatever their flawed, sinful hearts suggest. Yes, they do get judged. Should that surprise us, given their actions? What should surprise us more is God’s readiness, even eagerness, to forgive and restore this broken people to the status of His beloved, chosen, blessed people. The Old Testament foreshadows the need for and coming of a Savior. Without the Old Testament, the New Testament loses context and depth of meaning. The Old Testament provides context for the New.

God’s Word gives us context for everything in our lives.  God’s Word helps us understand how everything fits together. It gives us truth that we can live by because it IS true. It teaches us why there is evil in the world, it teaches us right and wrong, how to treat each other, how to please God. It teaches us who we are – image bearers, yet fallen and damaged. It teaches us how to be made new and be reconciled to God. It gives us hope. The more we know and understand God’s Word, the more consistently we can live our lives. Having a biblical worldview is essentially living in the context of God’s truth. Sadly, we often live inconsistent with what we say we believe or know to be true.

Do you teach your children to obey rules, yet they witness you breaking them? Do you teach your children not to lie, but they hear you lie to your spouse or your boss or a friend? Do you teach your children to trust God, but they see you worry and fuss and try to solve things yourself? Do you teach your children to apologize and ask for forgiveness when they do wrong, but they never experience you doing the same? Whenever I see a parent choose not to honor a school policy while they are on campus, usually because it is inconvenient, I cringe to think what they are unwittingly teaching their child who is watching. We are providing context for our children. What are your children learning from the context you provide?

All your words are true;
    all your righteous laws are eternal.

Psalm 119:160

 


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The Troublesome Commandment

As you already know, my theme with my students this school year is obedience. In the next couple of months, I will be talking to them about the Ten Commandments. I think we would all agree that keeping the Ten Commandments is God’s requirement of all of us. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus took the commands a step further as He pointed out that obedience was not just a matter of action but also the heart. While we are not saved by keeping the commands, keeping them demonstrates our love for God and teaches us how to treat Him and each other in a way that honors Him.

A few months ago, Relevant magazine posted an article about “The Most Ignored Commandment”. You can read the article here. I knew what it was before I read it – the 4th commandment about keeping the Sabbath. Exodus 20:8-11 says:

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work,  but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns.  For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

When I was a little girl, this commandment was still taken seriously. Are you old enough to remember blue laws?  They prohibited certain businesses from being open on Sundays. We still had a culture that respected all of God’s Ten Commandments. This is no longer the case today as our society has become increasingly secular and hostile toward God. We don’t need to rely on cultural laws to keep God’s commands. He has already required it of us. It is up to each of us individually to obey His commands.

Even from the beginning there have been many interpretations of how this commandment is to be obeyed even though, if you read the command, it seems straight forward. The Pharisees and teachers of the law had many rules to ensure the Sabbath was kept, yet Jesus made it clear when they accused Him of breaking the Sabbath, their legalism was completely missing the mark.  “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27) The Sabbath is for our good!

In my family growing up, we always went to church, but keeping the Sabbath didn’t end there. We usually took a nap after lunch and then we spent time together as a family. We were not allowed to play with neighbor kids on Sunday. My parents thought the day should be different from other days – filled with church, rest, and family activities. I didn’t really like the rule of not playing with neighbor kids, but we were allowed to play with each other and, looking back, I appreciate what a blessing our family times were together and I’m thankful they taught us to respect the Sabbath.

When the girls were little, I adopted a tradition from my mom’s Mennonite background. I would bake Zwieback (little rolls) on Saturdays to serve on Sunday so I wouldn’t have to cook on Sunday. Doing this not only made it possible to work less on Sunday, but it also created an eager anticipation about the Sabbath and made Sundays extra special in our family. We also tried to ensure all homework was done before Sunday arrived. It was a way for the children to rest from their work and set the example for them later in life.

Now the kids are grown and gone. Because I work full time and then spend my weekends trying to do laundry, shopping, and cleaning, I find this a troublesome command. I haven’t quite figured out what keeping this command looks like in my season of life. I know I am not alone in this. Many Christians, if they think about this command at all, are confused about how to obey it in their present circumstances, whatever they may be. We have let meaningless activities crowd out what is really important and our children have quickly discovered that God is not our priority; we haven’t shown them by our example that He has preeminence in our lives.

I am not sure what keeping the Sabbath should look like for me, but I am sure that it should look better than what I am currently doing. So I am asking God to show me what I need to do to keep the Sabbath.

This is my challenge to myself for this new year:

“If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath
    and from doing as you please on my holy day,
if you call the Sabbath a delight
    and the Lord’s holy day honorable,
and if you honor it by not going your own way
    and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,
 then you will find your joy in the Lord,
    and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land
    and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.”
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

Isaiah 58:13-14


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Ponderings on Giving Praise

I have been reading Dr. John Townsend’s new book, The Entitlement Cure: Finding Success in Doing Hard Things the Right WayIt is excellent so far. As described in an earlier blog post, Entitlement Christianity, I am saddened by the entitlement culture that has also infected believers. It is evident everywhere.

In chapter 2, subsection entitled Praise and Reward Problems, he lists six problems that are worth thinking about.

  1. Praising what takes no effort.
  2. Praising what is required.
  3. Praising what is not specific. 
  4. Praising what takes an ability and creates an identity.
  5. Praising what is not based on reality.
  6. A lack of warmth.

These are all things we commonly do that can cause problems of entitlement in our children. Dr. Townsend suggests that rewards and praise are most effective when they focus on an achievement that took time and energy, and that involves the person’s character or internal makeup.

When a girl is praised for her beauty, she may infer that it is her beauty that gives her value, and therefore, if she loses that beauty, she may not be lovable.

If we reward or praise our children for what they are required to do, they will have no sense of duty or work ethic. This is also where they get the sense that they should be paid or rewarded in some way for every little thing they do, leading to entitlement. Praise should be reserved for the actions that go “above and beyond the call of duty.”

When we praise in general, non-specific terms, it is meaningless. Dr. Townsend compares these to empty calories. Our brains cannot make use of vague praise such as, “You are amazing!” Amazing at what?

As I was reading this chapter, I realized how important it is to focus praise correctly. Is your child an A student? Do you praise him for his good grades? If you do, he will come to believe his value is based in his grades. What is going to happen if a day comes when he hits an academic challenge and cannot make an A? What if, instead of focusing on the A, you focused on his hard work that got him there? “Son, I am so proud of how hard you work. Your diligence has really paid off!” Maybe he will then begin to value the character traits of hard work and diligence or perseverance. Do you see the difference? It’s subtle yet powerful.

When I was a little girl, we camped a lot. I remember during one camping trip, my dad rounded us up to go “mountain climbing”. We were camping near the Arbuckle mountains in Oklahoma. So we headed up one of the rocky hills. I was not a happy camper (pun intended)! I was afraid of heights and critters. As we neared the top, it began to rain. We had to head down the mountain quickly and carefully to get to safety. I was completely focused on getting down safely and my dad commented to me, “You’re a trooper!” That brief comment had a profound impact on me. Whenever I encountered difficulty and was tempted to give way to fear, I would think “I’m a trooper” and I would focus on persevering through the trial. What a gift that day was!

As an employer, my staff want to know when I am pleased with them. I find myself too often saying, “You’re awesome!” Although well intended, it is empty praise, too vague to be meaningful. Every Christmas, I write a short note to each of my employees. I try to identify something about them that I appreciate and I try to be very specific. I often hear that they value these words of encouragement almost as much or more than the gift that accompanies it. After reading this chapter, I realize they need a steady diet of these true and specific, character-based words of praise. So now I am trying to focus on specifics. I want both my staff and students to know what I value and appreciate about them.

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.  

Philippians 4:8


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Perception and Reality

“Perception is reality.” How often have we heard or said those words? Is it true?

As an elementary principal, I occasionally hear from an angry parent about an incident that occurred in the classroom or at recess. The scenario usually goes like this: The student gets in the car at the end of the day and bursts into tears when Mom says, “How was your day today?” Naturally, the parent is alarmed by the story that the child proceeds to tell about what happened and how mean or unfair a classmate or teacher was to them. The parent’s emotions go into overdrive and they send an email to the teacher or to me telling about the horrible way their child was treated and demanding that something be done about it. Let me just say, before I go any further, that this is not a judgment. This is simply a description of what most of us do when we feel our child has been wronged. We love them and want to protect them.

When I read such emails or encounter the parents and hear the story of what happened, I can understand the parent’s outrage. I have learned over the years to listen carefully and empathetically, realizing that as far as the parent knows, the account they are relating to me is true. I also have learned to withhold judgment and to refrain from making decisions about what should be done until I am able to investigate further, speaking to all involved. I don’t do this perfectly. If I am caught off guard by a parent, I am just as susceptible as they and may jump too quickly to a conclusion as well.  Frequently, after thoroughly looking into a matter, a completely different picture begins to emerge. Why is that? Is the child lying? Well, sometimes they are, but sometimes it is simply a matter of perception. An accidental bump is interpreted as “on purpose”, the teacher’s firm response was interpreted as “she doesn’t like me”, and so on. The child may be truthful in telling their side of the story, but the truth lies in “this is how it seemed to me” rather than being a factual account of what happened.  Once the parent hears the story, they interpret it as well, which can add to the unintended distortion of the truth as they tell it.

Everyone involved in the situation believes their perspective to be true. They act on their perception as if it is – which is why we say, “perception is reality”. In that moment, that’s how it appears. We act on what we believe to be true at the time.

There are several things I think we should take into consideration if we are to approach life from a consistent, biblical worldview. We are all fallible and because of this, our perceptions, however honest we try to be, are flawed. This should cause us to use more caution before digging in our heels or laying blame. We should wait to draw conclusions until we hear all sides of the story. We should extend the benefit of the doubt to each other.

Usually, after a matter has been investigated and all of the facts are laid out, the truth comes into focus. When that happens, shouldn’t we adjust and change our perception so that it fits the truth? Shouldn’t it matter what the actual intent of the person was or what their rationale was for doing what they did? Shouldn’t we ask for forgiveness when we have jumped to a faulty conclusion and hurt someone as a result?

I think it should matter when we find out our perception was inaccurate. The truth should change our perception rather than letting our perception define what’s true. This is hard when we are still feeling the emotion of what we thought was true. It’s even more difficult when we allow our pride to prevent us from acknowledging the truth. While it may be popular in our culture to believe everyone has their own “truth”, each equally valid, we know this is a lie. God is the one who defines truth. He IS truth. As His followers, truth should matter. When we find we are in error, we should adjust our interpretation of what we saw or heard or thought so that it lines up with what is really true – what is real.

If we did this well, we would withhold judgment until all of the facts are in. We would not jump to conclusions. We would be quick to extend grace and forgiveness to those who had jumped to conclusions, understanding all too well how often we had done the same. We would give each other the benefit of the doubt more. When we discovered we had misjudged a situation, however innocently, we would be quick to acknowledge our error and adjust our feelings and attitudes based on what we now know to be true rather than what we thought.  “Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Teach me your ways, O Lord,
    that I may live according to your truth!
Grant me purity of heart,
    so that I may honor you.

Psalm 86:11