A number of years ago, I can remember one child running home to let me know that the other child had thrown a rock through the window of a neighbour’s house. Another neighbour’s kid dared my child to see if he could hit the window with the rock. My child was always up for a challenge and the rewards would be great – the thought that they may well become a hero to the other neighbourhood kids. The result was different than expected. Sure, the rock hit the window and shattered it but the outcome at home was something they hadn’t thought through very well. Sure, the house was vacant and due to be knocked down for development but it was still someone else’s property. After that incident, we decided that we would help our child to gain some leadership skills and wisdom so that they didn’t automatically follow the other neighbourhood kids.
Several years on, I was with this child at the shop yesterday buying tent pegs. The cashier rang it up as 7 pegs. From where I was standing, I glanced at them and it looked like 7 pegs. This child quipped up and said that they had put 8 pegs there. In that moment, I was excited that this child was honest and had grown in their wisdom.
In the Cambridge English Dictionary, wisdom is described as “the ability to use your knowledge and experience to make good decisions and judgments”. Synonyms of wisdom include sageness, insight, acuity, common sense, foresight, acumen, clear sightedness, judgement, discernment. Discernment is defined as “the quality of being able to grasp and comprehend what is obscure; an act of perceiving something; an ability to judge well.” The definition also stresses accuracy, as in “the ability to see the truth.” To be spiritually discerning means to have wisdom and the ability to tell the difference between truth and error.
The Bible, especially in Proverbs, but also elsewhere, has lots to say about wisdom. It even personifies wisdom in Proverbs 1:20-33 saying that wisdom is someone we need to get to know. In the New Testament, the Bible talks about Jesus being wisdom from God (1 Corinthians 1:30) and that the more we get to know Jesus Christ, the more wisdom we will have. Unfortunately, just gaining knowledge and applying reason to knowledge to solve problems doesn’t always work.
Proverbs 7 & 8 are Bible passages that I have been meditating on lately. Two key statements are:
Wisdom will pour in when you hate evil.
Wisdom is more precious/valuable than gold or silver or jewels.
The following are ten practical strategies that we have implemented to help our children in the process of becoming wise and discerning.
One of our more frequent prayers is asking God for wisdom and discernment for all family members. We also call each family member’s spirit to attention and bless it with wisdom and discernment. James 1:5 says that if we lack wisdom, to ask God for it.
- Model being wise and discerning.
Children learn and act on what they see us doing, not what they hear us telling them. Deuteronomy 11:19 says to “Teach your children, talking about them (the commandments) when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up”. It is a process, not a one-off event. In our family, we are constantly chatting about various character issues and wise decisions we are trying to make, about events and actions and what could have been done differently. I caught up with another home schooling mum recently and she commented that they are concentrating first and foremost on their children’s character development before their intellectual development. I love that you need to instil the character stuff first in your children.
- Reflect on choices made.
At various times throughout our day, we often reflect on choices we have made and why. Chatting this through helps show our kids that being wise and discerning is a process and we can improve.
- Practice, practice, practice.
As a Coronary Care Nurse, one of my roles was listening to patient’s heart beats and chest sounds. We could discern many things from heart sounds and lung sounds. To be good at noticing the very subtle differences, we needed to listen to hundreds so that we knew what was normal. Then, if we ever heard an abnormal sound, we knew immediately by the sometimes extremely slight difference from normal. It is similar with bank tellers and counterfeit notes. They don’t learn using the counterfeit notes. They learn from practicing with normal bank notes and having an intimate knowledge of the real thing and then spotting the difference when they come across the counterfeit. A knowledge of the true, helps them identify the fake. In developing spiritual discernment, if our kids know and obey God’s Word and are able to distinguish His voice, character and will, then they will be able to distinguish good from evil. Practice hearing God’s voice with your children.
- Read great stories and examples of when people have made wise choices.
We read a lot of biographies of great Christian men and women. Often they have faced some incredible choices. I know these stories have impacted my kids in huge ways, without me needing to tell them. We often talk about different ‘heroes’ we have read about and what they did and why. Often I will stop reading a story at an exciting part and ask my kids what they would do next if they were that person in that situation.
- Talk through potential situations and examples.
One of the many things we do is talk through certain situations and ask what they would do if they were in that situation. Evening meal times are a great time for this. We also make up a Family Discussion Jar every year (and often give these jars away to family friends for a Christmas present) with slips of paper folded inside. On these slips of paper, we have various questions eg
- ‘Someone has stolen your bicycle. At the police station, you are shown a similar bicycle but it isn’t yours. Do you claim it?’.
- ‘You see your best friend shoplifting. What would you do? Would it be different if it was a stranger?’
- ‘Guests come to visit. After they leave, you discover a $50 note on the sofa where they were sitting. What do you do?’
Talking through what actions you would take in various situations means that if you are faced with a similar situation in the future, then you have already thought out, at some time, possible wise action to take.
- Help them ‘save face’.
Over the last few years, there has been much publicity around telling your teenager to text you the letter ‘X’ if they ever need you to come and get them out of a situation and they want to ‘save face’. If they are feeling unsafe or realise that it is not safe or good for them to be somewhere, they are encouraged to text you ‘X’. You immediately call them and tell them that you are coming immediately to pick them up as you need them at home. That gives them a ‘way out’ in front of their friends. As my daughter has emphasised to me, it also means that they don’t have to tell me why they needed to be removed from that situation so I would not be allowed to ask them that.
- Help kids develop delayed gratification.
This means that when they want something badly and now, they will be prepared to wait for the better. Thus, in situations when they are with friends and unwise decisions are being made, they will have learnt to stop and check and wait.
- Be aware of who your kid’s friends are and who they are spending time with.
Several years ago at church, one of my kids was with hubby and my child’s friend when they noticed a $5 note on the ground. This friend picked it up. Hubby suggested it would be wise to give it to this boy’s dad as he is on the leadership team. This boy immediately said “No, it’s mine now” and thrust it into his pocket. This was a great learning example for my child when we later chatted about why we didn’t encourage sleepovers and prolonged play times with this boy. Wisdom plays out in how we spend our time and money, the lifestyle decisions we make, people we are friends with and big and small decisions.
- Listen to older wise people.
Ask them questions. Listen to them as they share their journey – the good, the bad and the ugly. Invite older wise people around to your home for a meal with your family and have a time of them sharing and asking them questions. Never underestimate the impact it will have on your children and yourself.
One thought we keep in mind is a family motto we hold to. Failure is not getting something wrong. Failure is actually not having a go in the first place and not doing the right thing. Life can be messy. One huge way that most people learn is by making mistakes. As long as we reflect on our mistakes and learn from them, they can be a huge launching point in becoming wise.
I would love to hear what you do in your family to encourage and help your children develop in wisdom and discernment. Please feel free to comment below.