Now more than ever Christian parents need to be intentional about maturing the hearts of their children. It is disturbing to hear of statistics from trusted organizations that show kids in the church acting the same as kids in the world. This research undeniably shows that when it comes to moral behaviors such as premarital sex, drugs, suicide, etc., our kids are often not making the right decisions, regardless of the values they have supposedly been "taught."
The idea that our kids could grow up in homes that hold strong moral values and attend churches that vigorously teach the same values, yet not reflect those values in their decision making, compelled me to investigate and ultimately come up with the message of this book. What are we doing wrong? What can we do differently? What is keeping our children from connecting their professed faith to their everyday decisions?
In the early 1990s I saw a news report that was both intriguing and disturbing. A school district near our home had conducted an eleven-year research project with a unique anti-drug theme. Starting with a specific kindergarten class and continuing with that same group of kids for eleven years, they infused anti-drug curriculum into every subject every year until the students were tenth graders.
I heard about the program as the news media was reporting the shocking fact that when that particular group of students was tested in the tenth grade, it was found their drug usage had DOUBLED from that of the previous class of tenth graders, who had not received the extensive anti-drug messages!
What had gone wrong?
The best answer to that question came out of the mouth of one of the tenth graders. Interviewed when the story first broke, and asked why she thought drugs were such a problem for her and her classmates, she replied: "We heard so much about drugs and why we shouldn't use them that when the time came for us to rebel we thought, 'What could we do to rebel?' and drugs were the first thing to come to our minds."
From that perspective, the students had been programmed to do drugs!
After hearing the news report, I called that particular school district and was connected to the department in charge of the anti-drug program. I told them I was interested in using the data produced from that study and asked for a copy of the official results. They were offended by my inquiry and defensive of their program, declaring that the "results" did not necessarily mean the program was a failure! They essentially refused to release any information to me. Instead of using their failure to propel them to a greater understanding of how they could improve their outcome, they closed their files and blindly defended their program.
Closing our eyes to a problem never makes it go away. I tried it once in second grade when my teacher was mad at me for not finishing my homework. She came yelling down the aisle toward my desk, so I lifted my desktop and closed my eyes. I felt so much better ... until she showed up at the side of my desk with smoke coming out of her ears!
Closing our eyes to our failure to stop the moral decline of our culture will not help us. We will only continue to spend all of our energy and money on techniques and programs that are not effective in helping students develop moral character. A fresh perspective is needed before we can successfully bring about changes that will make a difference.
Obviously there has to be more to raising children who are mature in moral decision making than just teaching them ethics or having them memorize "right" and "wrong" behavior. In the failed school study, the program directors had taught anti-drug information to the minds of the children but had not factored in the role of the heart. It was rebellion that triggered the teenagers in the study to turn to drugs, and that rebellion did not originate in the mind. Rebellion is a heart issue.
I have come to believe that if we are ever to have an effect on the moral behavior of our children, we must deepen our focus to the heart level. It is not a matter of turning our focus away from teaching the mind or judging outward behavior but rather deepening our focus to include the complexity of what the heart is really thinking. The mind still needs vital information for good decision making, and outward behavior is still an important issue. Children can destroy their lives by choosing bad behavior! However, outward behavior needs to be seen as the fruit of the condition of the heart.
From the beginning God has sought to reach and impact our hearts much more than just our minds and outward behavior.
All through the Bible the heart is described as being a core part of the decision-making process. Frequently people are described in the Bible as having "said in their heart" whatever decision they are about to make.
So ... aha! It is all about the HEART. You knew it, didn't you? It's just that outward behaviors are so much quicker and easier to assess and monitor when working with children. It is simpler to educate and test the mind. To raise a child "at the heart level" is complex; it takes more time, effort, and skill. That's why I wanted to share the material in this book with youto help navigate my children and yours to that deeper level of moral maturity that we know is God's desire for all of us.
While many people grieve when they see secularists remove important monuments like the Ten Commandments from public life, I am grieving and will continue to grieve until I see the Ten Commandments engraved on the hearts of our children.
As you consider the "secret path" the heart takes to maturity throughout this book, it is my prayer that you will be inspired and encouraged and, at the same time, receive extremely practical applications you can use immediately in your own family. I also pray you will be blessed with a greater understanding and appreciation of how God flawlessly works with His children.
Note: Study questions are available to enhance and apply each chapter's teaching. You can find them in the section called "Study Guide," which follows chapter eleven. Hopefully you'll find them helpful both in an individual study of the book and as discussion questions to share in a group setting.