Tuesday, June 12, 2007

A Teachable Spirit

I'd like to open a little discussion for those interested. I've been thinking a good bit about the emphasis in Proverbs on having a teachable spirit. I've seen lots of lists of qualities we're to instill in our children, but this rarely makes the list. How do we inculcate a teachable spirit in our children? Is it the same thing as humility? Is it all in a response to correction? Why is it that the "I don't want to be told what to do" attitude is so prevalent in us in late adolescence when our decisions are so crucial? (I know I wasn't very teachable at that point in my life). Any thoughts out there?


Tara said...

It's very late, and I will probably pass over some very important thought here. But my first thought is that it is really important to take advantage of these early years when children are 'naturally' teachable. They love learning new things and consider Mommy and Daddy's word to be Gospel Truth. This would be the time to fill their minds full with your basic value system. They don't have to understand all the ins and outs of theology. Just lots of facts stated as authority. My oldest is 8, as you know, and she still has not passed out of this stage of 'teachable-ness'. Perhaps others with older children would have better perspective on this. Lauren still lights up like a Christmas tree when I endeavor to teach her things of a spiritual nature. And she has lots of questions on her own these days, too. This morning at breakfast, out of the blue she asks me, "Mommy, has God ever talked to you?". Whew.....but that's another discussion altogether!

My brain is tired, so I'll stop bloviating. I will be interested in other responses you'll get!


maryellenhuff said...

I totally agree with Tara, I think so many parents miss the boat by not teaching and training when kids are young...and of course not stopping but continuing on. My oldest two are old enough to understand past the "Do what I say because I said so" and they are learning that there are reasons why we have rules. "Don't run in the house because you can hurt yourself, hurt others or break something." I've told them often that the reasons I tell them not to do things are not just to hear myself talk but because there are ALWAYS reasons for the rules. When the opportunities come up and they can clearly see why we have a certain rule I try to point out and reinforce why that particular rule is a good one. When someone is unkind to them I tell them to remember how it made them feel the next time they are tempted to be unkind to others. I think there are so many opportunities out there to teach and train if parents will keep their eyes open and look for them. I also think attitude plays a huge role in obedience. We don't just want obedience, we also want obedience with the right attitude! I think so many of those adolescence who have an unteachable spirit is the result of not being taught to obey and be respectful - I honestly can't understand (especially Believers) parents who think that discipline and training aren't necessary and that kids should just be allowed to be kids! It goes against everything the Bible teaches and against the way God deals with us as Believers and their setting their kids up to make it harder for them to obey God if they can't and won't obey their parents! Great post Charity.

Juwah said...


You got me thinking on this one, because I often talk to Josiah about being teachable and that a fool ignores wise counsel. Perhaps my kiddos are different from most, but mine are not naturally teachable. Naturally inquisitive, yes. They want to know why and how about everything. Most of the time, whatever my answer is, is gospel, as Tara said. However, in areas of wisdom, judgement, and experience Josiah sometimes seems to think that the wisdom of the ages rests on his young shoulders.

I think we all are born with a "hatred for restraint." When it comes to issues of the will, my kids tend to buck the restraint, therefore becoming unteachable. My philosphy at this point is,(and I'm open to something better, so feel free to enlighten me) the most important job I have in these early years, besides teaching obedience, self-control and health issues is to establish relationship. Trust. If they learn to trust me, see the wisdom of my words, experience the fact then when they do things their way it usually turns out a mess, they will learn the beauty and wisdom of a teachable spirit. It doesn't hurt if Mom lives out a teachable spirit in front of them either. (i.e. saying I was wrong etc.)

I didn't do the teenage rebellion thing for many reasons I think. Yes, one was that my parents taught me early and often to respect and value authority. But more than that, I didn't want to break their trust. I knew that they cared about me and wanted what was best for me, they had wisdom that I did not have yet. We had a relationship.

I think the things Tara and Mary Ellen said are all a part of building that relationship. Taking time to answer our little one's questions, letting them know that they are a valuable memeber of the family and not just a "kid", taking advantage of building relationship while they are young, before peer relationships become a greater attraction. (I want to have their hearts before peers can get ahold of them) I think it is absolutly neccessary to teach them first time obedience, thinking of others, and the why of what we require, because all of that establishes relationship. A relationship that ultimatly we hope leads them to Christ.

Like Tara, this is my immediate response, and it is getting late so I've probably missed something. I'm looking forward to reading more on this one. Thanks.

Tara said...

Hmm....may be hair-splitting here. Because I think Julia and I were pretty much saying the same thing, just a little different terminology. I have lumped 'inquisitiveness and teachble-ness' somewhat together. Mainly because when my children are curious about things, particularly of a spiritual nature, they ask because they truly WANT to know. And they're looking to me for the answers, to teach them. So that's why I consider that to be teachable. I have not noticed a tendency to think that in all matters 'spiritual' that they think it rests on them or their knowledge. That sounds more like a teen-age issue to me! Maybe my kids are the different ones!! Don't know!

We are all born with a sin nature, yes. But not all children display rebellion the same way. Some kids are just more inclined to being sensitive to spiritual things than others. Out of our four, one is too little to tell. Out of the remaining three, it is evident that ONE is going to be my biggest 'project'. Kicks against the restraints, as Julia put it. But like I said, only 1 out of the 3 is that way.

This is where knowing your child and cultivating the relationship is KEY. Derek says all the time, "It's all about RELATIONSHIP." And he says that in about every area of conversation that comes up! These ealy years particularly while Kathryn is so young, you can cultivate such a loving, trusting relationship with her that it will carry you through later times. I COMPLETELY concur with Julia's thoughts on this, since that is exactly where I'm coming from as well. I, too, did not rebel against my parents for many of the same reasons. Or against Daddy Addy for that matter. Who could bear to break his trust that way?!?

Juwah said...

I guess it would make sense to define my terms. Tara, your right, it's so easy to be saying the same thing and because our terms are different we can get lost. So I'll give it a better whirl here. When I think of being teachable, I'm not really thinking so much about being willing to accept the answers someone gives me to questions I have asked. I think more of getting councel, learning from my own and the experiences of others, letting go of my ideas of what I want, and embrassing something better because it matches reality (which is a lot easier said than done for me). This is my understanding of a teachable spirit. (Now I'm inspired to go study and see if my understanding matches scripture.)
I wasn't disagreeing with anything that had been stated previously. I may have misreprestented what I meant when I said "issues of the will, wisdom, and experience." I wasn't talking about "spiritual" things. ie who is God, what is He like etc.. Josiah is like most kiddos in this one, he asks because he wants to know and he is very teachable. I'm talking more about things he thinks he already has the answer for, when my words contridict his desires. When I see him start down a path that I know from wisdom and experience will not have a good result for him. I can see him struggling in his will, the wheels turning in his head, thinking, "I bet I could do this,and it would be OK." I think that is the seedling of what often becomes a tree in the teen years. It's easy to miss it in our little ones because it often gets excused as "independence" and then we are shocked when the tree springs up at 15. That's why I totally agree with Tara on the importance of knowing our kids, Michael Card talks about "studying his children". My point was, if I develope a trusting relationship with my children now, help them to understand themselves and what is going on in their heads when they are not being teachable (because I don't think they even understand what they are feeling, they are just responding to it) they will learn sooner to trust that I want what is best for them, and we can forego the rebellion, anger, and "learning the hard way" we so often see in teens. Anyway, I hope that better explains where I was coming from.

Charity said...

This has been fascinating so far- really enjoying reading your ideas. Some misc. thoughts from me:
-Completely agree with the need for close relationships, trust, obedience training, attitude training, taking advantage of the early inquisitive years- great stuff, you gals!
-What I define as teachable in an adult is: the continuous recognition of how desperately we need BIBLICAL guidance in our daily decisions, the humility (and good sense) to bow the knee before the Word, being a lifelong learner who asks questions and seeks help- who sees the incredible value in godly counsel. (This is who I want Kathryn to become)
-Nathan adds that he thinks a teacher is best qualified to identify who is/is not teachable.
-Final thought: think of the most teachable Christian adult you know. What makes them unique?

Tara said...

I will let you know how this progresses in our household. With Lauren, we are somewhat beyond the 'who is God, what is He like' stuff in relation to all our spiritual conversations. Not all the time, to be sure, but somewhat!
Now, though it is both exciting and SCARY, she is trusting me with struggles inside and asking me for understanding. Talk about falling on your knees before God for wisdom! That's when this Momma longs to be TAUGHT by the MASTER Himself! For example, though I won't go into it all, Lauren confided to me recently that she is struggling with apparel that she sees worn all around when shopping, library, --even church (ouch). She was a little hesitant to admit it to me, but she was so sincere in her desire to understand herself. She said, "Mommy, I want to love God AND wear some of that, too." She, at 8 years of age, was/is experiencing CONFLICT in her spirit. But her spirit is still tender and teachable. She longs for me to be able to explain this and help her come to resolution. I would ask for your prayers that I will know how to respond in these cases. And I mean that sincerely.
One thing I am doing, is carving out a niche of time consistently when Daddy watches the other kids, and Lauren and I spend time together in a Mother/Daughter study. I already have one to begin with and then I have found another that specifically addresses issues of modesty.
I need God's help.

This may have been somewhat 'off-topic', but I wanted to share it with you. I do think it reflects the incomparable value of having the relationship. It was clear to me that Lauren had been thinking for some time of how to question me. It had been on her mind.

Charity, I do agree with your thoughts on this as well. Life-long learner, and seeker of Godly counsel. Yes, amen to that.

One final thing, addressed to Nate's comment: if we must define "teach-able", then you must needs to define "TEACHER"!!! If only a teacher can determine, then who is a teacher? :)

Tara said...

P.s. (hate it when I do this!) Just re-read and realized I wanted to say one other thing. I wanted you to know that of course we have explained to our kids about our choice of clothes before this. What this thing with Lauren has shown, is that she's past just accepting that we don't wear this or that. She wants to know why, if she really LOVES GOD, that she still sorta likes that stuff too. This is beyond JUST modesty training. This is an opportunity to teach her about resolving our inner conflicts; warring of the flesh and the spirit. BUT SHE'S EIGHT!!!!
Hence, why I ask for your prayers. Don't want to put anything too heavy on her shoulders.

Tara said...

Me Again. I would just like to officially state that I am fundamentally un-qualified for this discussion. I realized with growing enlightenment today that my first two children have not been difficult because they have been more NATURALLY teach-able. No wonder I responded like I did in my first comment. I must have sounded trite to those of you whose children are so NOT that way. I did refer to my ONE that I knew was going to be more difficult. With each passing day, that is manifesting itself more and more and MORE. Today I realized with a sinking heart that she indeed does NOT have a teachable spirit. She seems to think that all attempts at discipline and correction are a conspiracy aimed at the great INJUSTICE that is her life.

And I am stumped. Because this is new to me. So I hereby withdraw my feeble attempts at contributing to this discussion. Alas, I am now a learner and not a teacher.

Ladyluck said...

I am so appreciating these comments! Thank you Charity for bringing this up. I have some thoughts about trust and the relationship between teacher and student, I'll blog on that soon I think.
The comment that has really jumped out to me is what Julia said about what we call "independence" later springing into a full tree of rebellion. This is what has me so confused! I DO want my kids to be thinkers, to be assertive/independent/not wavered by opinions, but I also want them to obey and have a teachable spirit! How do we accomplish both?

Toots said...

I think we met at Julia's wedding. I remember you and Nathan being there. I'm hoping you don't mind my getting in on this discussion. It's wonderful food for thought. It has made me sit back and think. I have an 11 year old and a 13 year old.
Years ago, I remember coming to the realization that one of my girls was developing a "wise in her own eyes" mentality. I could see she was enjoying staying on the teaching side of things. For one thing, she seemed to have endless warnings of wisdom for her "wayward" sibling, and those warnings were not being given from a heart that just wanted to encourage, uplift, rescue from destruction.
We sat down: Daddy, Mommy and little girl, with the scripture, and discussed what "wise in your own eyes" looked like, how God feels about it, what it shows about our heart, how it affects others, how it feels when we are on the other side of it, etc. After that discussion, we watched for it carefully, and when it started cropping up from time to time, we discussed it again. We treated it like the deadly disease it is. We talked about how even we, as mature Christian parents and adults, recognize our constant need of further training, teaching, understanding. We discussed that as our children continued walking carefully with God and showing evidence of a sincere trusting relationship with Jesus, they also would surely be able to help us keep learning, for God gives all His children gifts, perspective, understanding of various issues. We can spend a lifetime growing, learning, never becoming the FULLTIME-teacher!
Thankfully, our little girl wanted to please God and us, and so she prayed about it, surrended it to God, worked to understand herself, and has striven to make choices based on loving God and "the other person first" to this point. I believe she would be characterized as a humble, teachable, tender-hearted teenager.

To sum up other thoughts I've had:

1. Being teachable emanates from a heart which recognizes its needy condition. It seems to follow that humility, or might I say, reality is connected. By reality, I just mean that once I really saw my condition, my need of a savior, my utter lost-worthlessness outside of Him, humility just is there. I have nothing of which to boast on my own. And understanding myself in reality, makes me teachable. I heard a quote this morning in church which is apropos. My dad said “knowledge of your ignorance is the beginning of knowledge.”
2. I have very little hope of my children rising above my level of teachableness.
3. With young children, you have to keep them in their appropriate place: as babes who must have guidance. Yes, there are times they may contribute to the discussion, but (as other comments have stated) attitude is of utmost importance.
4. As our children mature and begin a relationship with God, we must together seek to maintain a heart that recognizes its need to be ever learning.
5. We all want to be a part of the great conversation. As we do share our thoughts, for we all want to share what has helped us, inspired us, worked for us, we must do so from a heart that still is ever aware of its neediness, of all it doesn't understand yet.

One of the comments was with regard to concern about making sure our children are independent thinkers, not pushed around by peer pressure...and yet teachable. From my understanding, these are very different issues. I need to think about it some more, but I may just post something on my blog once I have the time. Those are certainly more major issues that I appreciate being challenged to think on.
Thanks for allowing me to join this conversation!

Juwah said...

That Lauren recognized the conflict in her heart and that she trusted you enough to bring it to you is simply beautiful.

I don't pretend to have all the answers on this one, or anything for that matter. I constantly ask God for wisdom and I read and ask questions as much as I can on parenting.

We train our boys to be teachable and surrender to our leading because we think it leads to leadership and independence. We believe that independence comes with time and trustworthiness. Independence too early is what I believe leads to children foolishly thinking they are wise and it is that seed that I was referring to leading to rebellion. While I believe children are born with their own little personalities, I also believe they are born, pretty much, with an empty moral storehouse. It's Matt and I's job to fill our boy's storehouse. We think that until our boys have a basis for independence, then they are standing up on a foundation based on what they want, not what is right. It is our wisdom (such as it is) and our filling of their storehouse with virtue that gives them what they need to stand strong for what is right. When they behave in ways that kick against our leadership and training they are proving to us that they are not ready for independence. We did this from the earliest days with our little ones really, we did't allow them the freedom to play alone around hot stoves or out in the yard until they had aquired the knowledge and the wisdom to heed our warnings of the dangers. This is one reason we Home Educate. Not so much because we don't want our children contaminated, but because they are not ready yet to lead. Even the disciples of Jesus were trained by him personally and given maturity before he sent them out, and they where grown men! The time will come for our boys to be independent assertive thinkers, but I want that independance based on more than being a "free spirit" with a strong personality(because that is what leadership in children comes down to I think) but leadership based on a solid foundation of understanding, godly virtue, thoughtfulness,and logic.

Obviously, I'm still in the beginning stages of the parenting journey, so my thoughts are subject to change and I am always open to learning. I, in no way, feel like I am an authority on this topic, I'm just sharing how we handle the independance versus teachablness thing right now. I welcome any helpful advice and like Tara, I would deeply appreciate prayer on my behalf, I do so need it.

kayla said...

After all that has been said I don't think that I have anything of value to add. I appreciate everyone's opinions on this matter. Right now I am raising three, maybe four "born leaders", and the task of helping them develop a teachable spirit is an overwhelming task. I'm not sure how wise it would be of me to give advice until I have a finished product. Reading this reminds me of how important it is for me to keep developing a teachable spirit myself.

Kimberly said...

Just a very "unspiritual" thought:
there is a lot of very interesting and pretty new research on what is really going on in the teenage brain..basically a whole lot of craziness..real time of significant changes in chemistry and hormones, and it does seem "unfortunate" that this occurs right when such crucial decisions are being made. However...think of all the fun that will be!:) I think it is important to keep this in mind..throughout our lives we humans are such a balance between nature/nuture...the age old debate...but both must be recognized. And even more reason to have that core relationship well established. My opinion...the fact that you're even considering this issue means you will not let it slide in your children. Blessings!

David and Sarah Fry said...

Hmmm...I'm thinking on this....

David and Sarah Fry said...

Wow. You've sure brought up quite a topic, Charity!

I love the tree analogy. I am reminded that it is necessary to be often present and vigilant in our young kids' lives in order to catch the young growth before it grows into a tree. This kind of parenting does not happen on the run!!

And I unswervingly agree that we cannot and should not apply a set method of parenting to all of our children without regard for their individual makeup. However, there is a wealth of wonderful parenting principles written about in this little commenting section that can be applied to all children in an individual way. Thank you, Tara, for reminding us of that. Someone needs to collect it, develop it and publish it!

When I try to jump stages a little and look ahead to the teenage years, my strongest desire is to have a child with a strong spirit and a soft heart towards God.

Even now, in these baby years, there are times when I become frustrated with the difficult "un-teachable" moments. But God has reminded me so strongly that I am not to change that strong personality, because he made her strong for His specific purposes. My job is to mold (and to fill, as Julia so beatifully wrote).

If ever anything made me aware of my constant need for His wisdom it is this.