A Sure Test of Worth

There is a skill that every father needs to learn and then be able to teach his children. It is essential for effectively sharing the love of Christ with your family and others.

Without this ability, you and I will leave people with the impression that we think we are more important than they are. The absence of this is particularly evident at social gatherings. The ones with it are a pleasure to be around, while the ones without it are boring.

If you don’t develop this skill, your wife may doubt that you really care for her. If you don’t practice it with your children, someone else may steal their hearts away from you.

Jesus was a Master of this. In fact, He amazes me every time I read that He did it. Sometimes I cannot understand why He did this, other times it was pretty obvious. What is this skill?

I commented briefly about it in last month’s Corner from Mark 9:21, when Jesus asked a boy’s father, “How long is it ago since this came unto him?” Jesus is God, and He knows everything. Why did He ask the question? Was He seeking a confession or some information He did not know? I believe Jesus asked the father the question because He wanted to draw the father into a conversation in order to reveal needs in the father’s life.

Jesus was accomplished in the art of asking questions. Why is the ability to ask questions so important in life? First and foremost, it communicates worth to the person you are asking because it says that what they are thinking is important to you.

To my shame, there have been times when Teri was describing a situation to me and “in all my great wisdom” I’ve quickly figured out the solution to her problem. I’ve interrupted her with answers she was seeking. However, what I really did was to communicate that she wasn’t as important as my time. I had given her a swift answer so I could get on with other things. Jesus could have quickly healed the father’s son mentioned in Mark 9:21 without any communication, but He didn’t. He took what time was necessary to get to the heart of the matter, which included growing the father’s faith as well as delivering the son.

That is why questions are so important. What if I were to wait until Teri finished describing to me her problem? Then, what if I asked her a few questions to verify that I understood the situation, gleaning additional clarification as needed? Wouldn’t this communicate that I care about what is important to her and am putting her interests first?

Another example might be the times I’ve been out all day and haven’t had a chance to speak to Teri. Finally I come home and ask her about her day, how she is feeling, or if she had any problems. Aren’t I telling her that I love her and that she is important to me by asking the questions and being attentive to her answers? Who am I communicating is the most important if I’m only interested in telling her about my day?

The same is true with our children. Communicating heart to heart involves asking our children questions about their struggles, their likes and dislikes. It is an excellent way of showing genuine interest in them and getting to heart issues.

We cannot effectively witness to someone without asking him questions. It is very difficult to communicate the love of Christ while “verbally shoving” something down someone’s throat—and that is what a constant stream of words does.

Consider the following examples. “Jim, you need to be saved so you won’t go to hell. You need to confess you are a sinner.” Or, “Jim, where do you think you will spend eternity? Would you be interested in learning what the Bible has to say about it?”

“Donny, I have seen you being very mean to your sister, and it better stop.” Or, “Donny, I’ve observed you having some conflict with your sister lately. Would you tell me about it? Has she offended you in some way? Shall we talk about it?”

It will help a child throughout his life if he learns how to ask good questions as a means to get to know others. Think how common it is to spend time with someone you don’t know very well. What better way to get to know something about that person than by asking questions?

Years ago, our evening family altar time was interrupted by a knock on the door. Nathan, then thirteen years old, jumped up and said he would see who it was. He stepped outside and didn’t come back in for quite a few minutes. When he finally returned, I asked who had been at the door. He said it was one of his lawn-mowing customers. I asked if there was a problem, since he was gone for so long. Nathan said, “No Dad, there was no problem, we just got started talking.” The gentleman Nathan was talking to was probably fifty years his senior, but because Nathan is skilled at asking questions, he was comfortable talking to just about anyone.

We have found communicating through questions to be essential for our monthly visits to the City Union Mission. The men we “visit” with are often not refined in their social skills. Carrying on a conversation can be quite difficult at times. Questions that require more than a simple “yes” or “no” answer are the primary arsenal for chipping away the hardened outer layers of these men.

Questions are a surgeon’s tools for getting to the heart of man. When guided in a gentle but purposeful fashion, they will unlock a great treasure. They can bring to light hidden hurts that have been long buried. They can be the key to discovering deep waters. When I sense a closed spirit in Teri or the children, loving questions will uncover issues that I need to address or offenses I have committed.

How can we teach our children to gracefully employ the art of communication though questioning? Practice with counsel makes one skillful. Fellowshipping after church or with dinner guests provides wonderful opportunities for children to practice their communication skills. Encourage your children beforehand to think of questions they can ask. Then have them practice the questions with you prior to the guest’s arrival. That way you can help them learn what is appropriate to ask and how to be gentle with the questions.

I suppose the most difficult aspect of asking questions for a child is learning what is appropriate to ask and what is not. Questions about the guest’s physical appearance are always the most risky. One we have learned to shy away from is, “So when is your baby due?”

There are some dangers with questions. As I just mentioned, some questions are inappropriate because the relationship or an assumption can prove false. Questions can be blunt, insensitive, demanding, or too many. Our tone while asking is very important and often will tip the scales toward appearing caring or toward being pushy and demanding.

Teri and I are amazed at how often we encounter people in social settings who will never ask a single question about our family or us. It isn’t that we are dying to tell them about ourselves, it just makes the conversation much easier and more pleasant. By their not asking any questions, they appear to be interested only in themselves, and we run the risk of appearing nosy after asking them question after question.

I would encourage each dad to evaluate his communication skills in questioning. A good place to start is by asking your wife if she feels you show interest in her. Do you ask her about her day, her needs, and her cares? If you aren’t doing this, repent of your selfish focus. Then begin to ask your wife and children questions to communicate that you are putting them first and caring about them. Make this ability to use questions a priority in your life, and then teach it to your children.

I have found the art of asking questions one of the most important skills I have. I must give credit to two people in particular. One was a man who taught a sales seminar I attended in 1982 on being successful in sales. The other person is Teri’s mother. She is gracious and skillful in interacting with others, and I see much of this is due to her ability to ask questions.

Dads, may we be ready instruments in our Lord’s hands through our communication skills and equip our children to be the same. These children will then be comfortable in social situations and will bless you.

A Mother’s Influence

At the opening of our church’s mother/daughter banquet, the mom who was the banquet coordinator shared with us her love for gardening. This enjoyment of gardening began when she was just a little girl and would be included in her grandmother’s daily garden time. Her grandmother talked to her and gave her appropriate tasks to do. All of this was the beginning of a lifelong pleasure in many aspects of gardening.

When I was a little girl, we frequently visited my grandparents for periods of time during the summer. Those summer days at their house were filled with pleasant memories. Beside my grandparents’ driveway was a bed of flowers they called moss rose. These flowers bloomed with a variety of colors all summer long. Can you guess what my favorite summer flower is? Yes, every year I ask Sarah, our gardener, to please plant me a crop of moss rose.

I don’t like to garden. For me, working in a garden is hot, dirty, and backbreaking—totally devoid of any pleasure. Perhaps, though, if my grandmother had been a gardener who loved her gardening, I would have picked up from her that same feeling toward gardening.

While my grandma, with her hay fever and asthma, could not garden, she did love to bake cookies. We never visited her home without finding several containers of freshly baked cookies in the pantry. Meme passed that same enjoyment of baking on to my mother. My mother has passed it on to me, and now it is effortlessly being handed down to my girls. When there is a quiet, rainy day, one of my first thoughts is, “What a great cookie baking day!”

The purpose of these stories is to encourage us to consider how critical it is that we cultivate good memories in our children’s minds. Consider my delight in moss rose flowers. My grandparents didn’t even know that the flowers they liked so much would become my favorite as well. This simply happened because of the love and sweet memories from those summer visits with my grandparents. I believe these are valuable lessons for us as Christian mothers and homeschooling moms as well. We have the incredible ability to influence some of our children’s likes and perhaps their dislikes too.

I remember when my seventh-grade son was beginning kindergarten. We had a half hour set aside each afternoon to do math together. Almost before we started our first day, he had decided he didn’t like math. Each day he would complain that he didn’t like school and didn’t want to do the work. This was the beginning of my fourth child’s homeschool career!

I must admit to feeling rather powerless against this early level of grumbling. We were not doing difficult work. He was using manipulatives in addition to do one workbook page each day, plus I was sitting right with him. Math just didn’t get any better than that!

I knew I could give him consequences for his murmuring that would cause him to stop. However, I also realized his feelings would probably still be there; he just would not be vocalizing them. I saw this as an opportunity to influence his attitudes toward his school time.

When Joseph would start griping as we began our math work, I counterattacked. “Joseph, I want you to know this is one of the best parts of Mommy’s day. I love doing school with you. I like to have some time for just you and Mommy to be together. You know math is very important, and you will use the math you are learning in some way or other almost every single day. I am so happy that I can be the one to teach you how to add and subtract. This is a special time each day for Mommy.”

It wasn’t the first day I looked Joseph in the eye during math and said those words to him, nor was it after a week, but very gradually, I began to see a change in his spirit. He complained less and less about joining me for math. He perked up and put forth more effort into his work. Finally, there was our day of triumph. After once again sharing with Joseph my joy in spending math time with him, he responded with, “Mommy, I really like this time, too!”

Steve shares with our children how his mother taught him to like to work. She would tell her children over and over that they would be working all of their lives so they might as well learn to enjoy it. Those words may not sound terribly profound, but they were said often enough and pleasantly enough that they impacted Steve’s life. He is a man who learned to enjoy his work—in all the various forms it takes.

Moms, our attitude toward homeschooling is going to affect our children’s attitudes toward their studies now and toward homeschooling their own children. If we grumble and complain about the burden of homeschooling, are short-tempered and irritable with them during school, and look forward to school time being over, what attitudes will they pick up from us?

I believe our children will acquire many attitudes from us toward not only homeschooling but also the daily routines of life. Scripture says, “Pleasant words are as an honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones” (Proverbs 16:24). When we have a smile on our faces, a happy lilt to our voices, and pleasant words coming from our mouths, our children will automatically be drawn to having good memories of their days in our home. It is likely these memories will actually determine some of their future likes and dislikes.

I know how easy it is for me to fall into the habit of focusing on myself and my workload. Sometimes with being a wife, mother of eight children, homeschooling, homemaking, and other ministering, my tasks can look overwhelming. If I start to complain and murmur about my jobs, my children quickly pick up on my negative attitudes. It is entirely possible that if these attitudes were the habit of my life, my own children could decide not to homeschool their children because of the burden Mom portrayed homeschooling to be in her life.

Are we being hypocrites to act pleasantly and cheerfully toward daily tasks we really don’t care to have to do? Philippians 2:14 tells us to “Do all things without murmurings and disputings. . . .” I see making the choice to have a good attitude toward what we don’t like as choosing obedience to God’s Word. We should certainly pray for the Lord to work in our hearts so that our positive attitude comes from a heart that is truly pleased to do what we are called to do. However, if that heart is still struggling, choose not to let it show on the outside.

Proverbs 25:11 says, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.” We moms have such tremendous potential for positive influence on our children’s future. I want to challenge us to consider the importance of our words toward each area for which the Lord has given us responsibility. We would do well to see to it that those words are, as Proverbs says, “fitly spoken.”

As you think about how your own likes and dislikes have been shaped by your childhood memories, consider the influence you want to have on your children. May we not become so caught up in ourselves that we lose sight of the impact our words will have on our children’s attitudes. May we build pleasant memories of every aspect of daily life for our children by guarding our own attitudes and by keeping them pleasant and positive.