Call Out the Strengths in Your Child
Naming children is a big deal. We spend months trying out different combinations and making sure the initials don't spell anything weird and debating with our spouses until we land on just the right combination. Names are powerful, especially all of the subsequent names we give our children along the way.
I just finished reading the story of Gideon found in Judges 6. The part of this story that always surprises and encourages me is that Gideon is literally hiding from his enemies when the angel of the LORD appears to him and says "The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor." Mighty man of valor? Do you imagine a mighty man of valor cowering in a winepress while his enemies devour his land?
But God sees the sum of us. He doesn't see in part; He sees in full. Fear might have filled a large part of Gideon's heart but God saw through that fear to the valor that He Himself had planted in Gideon's heart when He knit him together in his mother's womb. Gideon represents a man who is on his way to being a man of faith, and God, in His mercy, addresses him by his strength.
I think there is a lesson for us parents in this story. Those of us who are honored with raising children and instructing them in the ways of the Lord can get stuck in the rut of focusing on the things that need improvement: The toddler who is throwing fits...the pre-schooler who still isn't potty-trained...the child whose tone is disrespectful. For each of us, there are so many areas that need work and yet God demonstrates a different strategy here. God doesn't show up and say "Hey, Much Afraid, act like a man because I'm going to use you in a mighty way!" Instead, He addresses the valor that is deep within Gideon's soul and He calls it to come forward.
I have seen this play out in our own family. My middle son is very generous. I wrote him a story for his 4th birthday called "The Boy With the Giving Heart." You can download it here. I didn't write it with a hidden agenda, I just loved the generosity that I saw growing in his heart and I wanted him to know that I saw that and that I thought it was special. I have been surprised, however, by the power that story has had in his life. By naming the strength I saw in his heart, he has owned it and has grown up into it even more-so.
Our words are very powerful in a child's life. My dad, who coached track for many years, recently told my oldest son that he thinks he's going to be a good runner. (He apparently has the body for it.) Well...you should just see the way my son runs now! He was always a good runner but now "Runner" is a title that he owns and he is motivated to grow and train to become the runner his Pappy thinks he can be.
Of course, the opposite is also true. We must be very careful not to say things like "(sigh)...you are just like your dad" when he does something that irritates you. Or, "Hurry up! You are always the one making us late!" These types of negative words can be adopted as identities as well. Let's not name our kids Slow-poke, Debbie-Downer, or Scaredy-Cat. Or even worse - Stupid, Lazy, Screw-up. Even in jest these names can take up residence in a child. Let's give voice to the best parts of their developing character.
I have caught myself referring to my 14 month old daughter as "Stinker" or "Sassy". There is nothing inherently wrong with those nick-names except that when I say them what I mean is that she is "Annoying" or "Difficult" or "Trying". Hmm...what is the flip side of those characteristics? Wouldn't it be better for her and for me if I described her as "Smart", "Strong", or "Determined"? All personality traits have a strength and a weakness - it is the job of the parent to call out the strength.
1 Thessalonians 5:11 says "Therefore encourage one another and build each other up..."
We just got back from my sweet nephew's 3rd birthday party. In our family, before we sing "Happy Birthday" someone says a few kind words about the birthday boy (or girl). This year his daddy talked about how he sees so much joy in his 3-year old heart and how he loves how smiley and loving his son is. Now...with a speech like that from his dad, don't you think my nephew is going to smile bigger and brighter than he ever has before? His daddy just gave him a new name - "The Boy with Joy in His Heart" and with the Lord's help, that little boy will grow into that beautiful name.
One last example that comes to mind is found in Matthew 16:18 when Jesus gives Simon a new name. After his shameful denial of Jesus, we might be tempted to think his name was fitting. Simon means "reed-like". But again, this is not the approach the Lord takes. He doesn't name his weakness, he calls out his strength "And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it."
What strengths do you see in your children? Call those strengths by name and watch those kids rise up to wear them proudly.