“I love serving in second grade…they’re really good kids.”
“What a good boy to help clean up.”
“Good little girls always tell the truth.”
We hear and say things like this all the time when it comes to children. It seems that recognizing good behavior in good kids is the mark and end goal of a child’s achievement. As parents and adults who teach and minister to little people, we want good kids. Good kids are compliant, truthful, helpful, easy to instruct, thankful, and generally easy to work with for these reasons. Who wouldn’t desire “good kids?” Our goal can easily become to keep good kids on the road to superior “goodness” and redirect rebellious, challenging children toward becoming “good.”
But let me offer a different perspective.
Picture a fourth grade girl who loves to learn, especially at church. She sits with her parents in service each week and is a star child in Sunday School, asking good questions, memorizing scripture, even taking notes during the lesson. She is nice to the other children, is always tidy and well dressed, and follows directions. She is compliant, moral, and easy for her parents and her teachers to instruct. Everyone praises her constantly for being such a “good girl” which enflames her heart to desire more and more goodness.
This little girl is far from God. Her heart is only set on goodness – pleasing the adults in her life who offer praise, seeking to be better than all the other children, wanting only to win the contest of who is the best. Though this girl has the Lord’s Prayer memorized, she uses it to prove herself…never to call out to the Lord. She is consumed with quiet pride. The worst of it is, deep, deep down, this fourth grader knows she isn’t good at all and she doesn’t know what to do about it. She hides her sin and relays on her goodness to demonstrate her worth. She feels justified as long as she feels like a “good girl.”
This “good girl” is a Pharisee. She knows how to follow the law. She is a rule follower. She is good. Yet, she doesn’t desire Jesus.
As parents and leaders in Crossing Kids, is this really what we are after? Are we looking for goodness as a sign that a child is doing well? If a child seems “good,” is our work done? Obviously not. Our fourth grade Pharisee is a picture of how sometimes our good kids slip though the cracks and miss true understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ. How can we help our good children to “put away their goodness” and turn to Jesus?
In their book, Give Them Grace, Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson review the story of people’s goodness throughout scripture. In Genesis 1:31 after God created Adam and Eve, we read, He “looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was very good!” Fitzpatrick writes in her book, “Then, in one fell swoop, the lie was believed, the goodness doubted, and all was lost…the desperate search to regain goodness had begun.” Throughout the Bible, people try to prove they are good themselves, sinning and turning away from God in the process. Fitzpatrick writes, “In righteous justice, [God] could have wiped us all out or simply left us to degenerate back into the dust from which he created us. But he didn’t. Instead He sent goodness back into the world. Goodness was born as a baby in Bethlehem…Jesus had come to fulfill all goodness and righteousness…In an outrageous demonstration of the Father’s love of goodness and His love for us, he would transfer all Jesus’s goodness to us – if we would believe that He is that wise, loving, and good.”
We see in God’s creation, He made us to be “very good,” yet after we turned away from God to rely on ourselves, the condition of every human heart is sinful and “not good.” So, if we believe the Bible, we must come to the realization that neither ourselves nor any of the children we parent and teach are truly good. No one can follow God’s law perfectly. Yet, we long for goodness. Fitzpatrick writes, “Only Jesus and those clothed in his goodness deserve to hear [you are good.] And if we really embrace this truth, our parenting will be transformed from wishful deception to powerful grace. Our children aren’t innately good and we shouldn’t tell them they are. But they are loved and if they truly believe that, his love will transform them.”
Let’s think back to our “good” fourth grade girl. Does this little girl need to hear “You are so good!”? Or does she need to hear, “Outside of Jesus, you can never be good?” What about the kids in your home and Crossing Kids room? Should we build them up in their own false goodness or direct their hearts to seek goodness, salvation, and grace in Jesus Christ? Certainly, as believers, we should desire to help our kids taste and see that the Lord is good and we are sinners in need of his goodness.
So, practically, what can we do to help kids see they can only find goodness in Jesus rather than in themselves?
A good place to start are the words we use. Instead of telling a child, ” You are such a good boy for sharing your toy,” you could say, “Wow! It is so amazing that God helped you to share your toy!” You could even add, “I love seeing Jesus work in your heart! Isn’t God so good?!”
Changing the way we talk about goodness with our kids is paramount. Instead of propping up their goodness, we can use times we see fruit in their lives to remind them of their Savior who cares for and intercedes for them.
Another application piece is to tell your child they are not good…and neither is Mommy or Daddy, or the teachers or pastors at church, or the people we read about in the Bible. We are all not good, yet there is good news! God loves us and sent Jesus to redeem his people. God loves us even when we mess up. Remind your child of God’s love and Jesus’s sacrifice for them. Remind your child that YOU love her unconditionally as well. Remind him that his worth is not to tied to his being good.
Let’s all put away our goodness and turn to our Good God! As Fitzpatrick says, “You cannot raise good kids because you are not a good parent [or a good teacher!]. There is only one good Parent, and he had one good Son. Together, this Father and Son accomplished everything that needed to be done to rescue us and our children. When we put our faith in Him, He bestows the benediction upon us: ‘These are My beloved children, with whom I am well pleased.'”
God is good.