Saturday's Shepherding (a Child's Heart)
A young girl grows up in a small town but has no small story to tell. She is the oldest of multiple children and helps raise them while her mother works two jobs. See, her mother is in between marriages, not for the first nor the last time and has to support her family financially. Conflicts are “resolved” by yelling and slamming things. There has been a great deal of heartache and mistrust in this girl’s life. In addition, her family has already lived in about ten different places before she’s a teenager and little does she know, there will be twice as many moves before she graduates high school. Her family is made up of “Christmas and Easter” Christians, meaning those are the only two times of the year they attend church or act like Christians. The young girl thrives on achievement and success. She tries to do the best she can possibly do at everything and is praised for her results. Yet when she fails or reaches the point of exhaustion, she quickly becomes depressed. Oh…and did I mention, this is just a small sampling of issues in this girl’s life?
The things that this girl experienced growing up are what Tedd Tripp calls "Shaping Influences." These are "those events and circumstances in a child's developmental years that prove to be catalysts for making him the person he is. But the shaping is not automatic; the ways he responds to these events and circumstances determine the effect they have upon him."
The girl in the story above had many shaping influences. Tripp suggests six main categories: structure of family life, family values, family roles, family response to failure, family history, and family conflict resolution. Let's say the girl in the story above is now an adult. What do you think her life will look like? Will she pattern her family's mistakes? Where will she seek her refuge: drugs, alcohol, sex, relationships? What will she think of men? More importantly, what will she think of God?
Tripp goes on to explain two mistakes made in interacting with the shaping influences of life. One type of person will be in denial that the child is affected by these experiences. The other type of person will assume that the girl's circumstances will determine her behavior. Yet neither of these responses is accurate!
As Tripp reminds us, many Christian parents will adopt a "Christian determinism." They believe that if they just protect their kids enough and teach them all the right things, they'll "turn out okay." Given, these things will assist in leading our children in the right direction. However, they will not necessarily lead to a child who "turns out okay." Haven't you met plenty of adults who grew up as these types of children and are far from where you'd expect? Tripp explains that our children will respond according to "the Godward focus" of their lives. Though we, as parents, are responsible for teaching our children the right things, our children are responsible for the way they respond to our parenting.
The girl in the above story is near and dear to me. By God's grace, she did not end up along the path that she could have. She went on to pursue a great deal of schooling and in the process, was introduced to Jesus Christ as her Savior. She married a wonderful Christian man and now has her own family, a polar opposite picture of what she once knew. She tries to be active in her church and family life. Yet she is not without sin and knows that she is not perfect. The difference is that she knows the only true Reconciler and seeks to live a life pleasing to Him. When she fails, she has forgiveness and a new start. Praise God our shaping influences AREN'T deterministic!