David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Welsh minister and doctor, once said:
“The whole future of civilization, it seems to me, rests upon this: f the West goes down and is defeated, it will be for one reason only: internal rot…If we continue to spend our lives in jollification, doing less and lesswork, demanding more and more money, more and more pleasure and so-called happiness, more and more indulgence of the lusts of the flesh, with a refusal to accept our responsibilities, there is but one inevitable result–complete and abject failure….the fall of Rome came because of the spirit of indulgence that had invaded the Roman world…And the really alarming fact today is that we are witnessing a similar declension in this and most other Western countries….This is the essential problem, this sheer absence of discipline and of order and of true notions of government!” (From A Theology of the Family)
Sadly, in our culture we do see a tremendous inclination toward shirking responsibility and failure to self-govern.
I submit that as parents, one of the most important things we will ever do for our children is teach them how to take responsibility for their actions and how to self-govern their passions and desires.
I could pick out any tragic news story from bankruptcy to murder and almost always find at its root, the inability to self-govern.
So how to teach it?
Start early. A toddler just learning to eat may throw the food he doesn’t want on the floor. Cute as it may be (or not), it is an opportunity to help him begin to govern his emotions. The basic lesson he needs to learn is, “We can’t just act out every desire we have.” And that lesson will need to be applied consistently until he is an adult able to say to himself, “I can’t just buy x because I want it” or, “I can’t punch my boss because I feel like it” or, a thousand other things.
Direct his responses. For a small child who is told his response is not acceptable, he needs to know which one is. If a child is whining/crying for his cup, you can simply correct him and tell him the proper way to ask. And older child who lashes out in frustration needs to hear what words and tone are a better substitute.
It’s time-consuming and tedious, as is most of parenting. But the outcome is well-worth the effort, and where the effort isn’t given, the consequences will follow a parent to his death as he deals with the aftermath of his failure to help his children govern themselves.
(Obviously, a disclaimer could be inserted here that sometimes a diligent parent will have a child who rejects the faithful work of his parents. But just like the Proverbs, generalities apply.)
Tell stories. Proverbs is full of vignettes depicting what happens to the one who doesn’t live responsibly or govern his emotions and actions. Take the opportunity to make the Proverbs come to life for your children, tying the stories to real life.
Conversely, look for stories that demonstrate heroic character of men and women who have chosen to govern themselves and live responsibly. Praise those traits and encourage your children to emulate them.
Model it. We can’t expect to raise self-governing children unless we practice it ourselves. (I know, ouch.) They will absorb the way we live life, so we need to remind ourselves to demonstrate taking responsibility for our actions, not blaming others, and finding gratitude wherever we are.