Jen Wilkin is a speaker, writer, and teacher of women’s Bible studies. During her thirteen years of teaching, she has organized and led studies for women in home, church, and parachurch contexts. Jen and her family are members of the Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas. She is the author of Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds. The following article was originally posted on The Beginning of Wisdom.
God gifts our children with unique personalities. Sometimes we love the way emerging personality traits shape our child’s behavior, but other times they can drive us crazy. The overly talkative child, the bossy child, the child with endless energy, the child who collapses in tears at the smallest upset, the child whose imagination means homework never gets turned in - these are a few of the personalities that plant themselves in our orderly homes, posing a threat to our expectations and our patience. Our first temptation may be to bring those behaviors to an immediate end. But I want to suggest a better way.
Choosing to Cultivate
There is a purple variety of morning glory that grows wild in Texas. By early summer we find it overtaking our shrubs, scaling our fences, covering every surface it can grasp. Through the hottest months it spreads and climbs while the rest of the garden withers and perishes, its glossy green leaves impervious to the harsh sun, its tendrils pushing between rocks and under gates and into the smallest spaces between the fence slats. And just about the time the last of our nursery-purchased flowers has succumbed to defeat, this wild vine does the most surprising thing: it blooms in spectacular profusion.
For years we pulled it up as soon as the first helicopter leaves broke the topsoil. On spring Saturday mornings we would walk the yard scanning for the seedlings, uprooting them before they could attack en masse. Left alone, the vine kills the foliage on other plants by blocking out the sunlight. We considered it a nuisance and an undesirable.
But this year we took a different route. Instead of eradication, we opted for cultivation. We decided to tame that wildflower, selectively thinning out the seedlings so that they grew where we wanted them: on a trellis in the herb garden, on a spot of fence outside a window, on a post in the far corner of the yard where nothing seems to grow. This week the blooms began in earnest, and at a time of year when our garden should be bare, it is draped luxuriously and strategically in purple flowers.
Weakness or Strength?
Children are like wild morning glories: They require training up. Lacking adult self-control, their personality traits can seem annoying and nuisance-like, undesirable. Sometimes our first response to an annoying personality trait is a desire to pull it out by the roots.
But every bloom cultivated in an orderly garden grows as a wildflower somewhere. Children’s untamed and sometimes frustrating personality traits are no different. Before you work to uproot them, consider whether behind that annoying trait is a strength waiting to be trained up. So often, the quality that manifests as a child’s greatest weakness holds the potential to be his greatest strength.
So the next time your child’s personality trait annoys you and you’re tempted to shut it down, remember this principle: Don’t eradicate, cultivate.
- By all means, gently help your talkative child learn when to stop speaking, but also cultivate his or her love of dialogue by inviting conversation on topics they love. You might have a future teacher or salesperson in your home.
- By all means, gently help your bossy child learn to let everyone manage their own business, but also cultivate his or her love of leadership by giving appropriate responsibilities. You might have a future CEO or ministry leader in your home.
- By all means, gently help your energetic child learn to be still when being still counts, but also cultivate his or her love of movement by suggesting activities that channel that energy in productive ways. You might have a future entrepreneur in your home.
- By all means, gently help your sensitive child learn that not everything merits a meltdown, but also cultivate his or her sensitivity into appropriate expressions, particularly on behalf of others who hurt or lack. You might have a future counselor or missionary in your home.
- By all means, gently help your imaginative child learn to focus when focus is necessary, but also cultivate his or her imagination by feeding it experiences and books and activities and time to dream. You might have a future inventor, writer or painter in your home.
As parents, we must help our children take a personality trait that tends toward sin and train it toward righteousness. And we must do so with patience and kindness. So rather than strive to uproot that annoying trait, give it some good boundaries and a trellis. Train it up and watch it bloom to the glory of God. He gifts our children with the seedlings of communication, leadership, drive, sensitivity and imagination. May we be diligent to tenderly train them up in the way that they should go.