Ever notice how words don’t mean what they used to mean? It’s so important nowadays to define our terms so we actually know that we’re talking about the same thing. By the way, this is a critical skill to use when talking with your children. Ask them to define their terms, and take time to define yours. Many a disagreement could be relieved if you pause to define your words—even if you think their meanings are obvious.
For example, are you sure you know what your child means when he says,
- “I talked with the coach, and we’re good.”
- “He abused me.”
- “You’re forcing me to go to school.”
- “Don’t worry, we didn’t have sex.”
What does abused actually and accurately mean? What about sex? It’s important to establish a common definition of terms.
So with that said, let’s define what we mean by values.
Values: What Are They?
Over the past two or three decades values became a familiar term. Lots of people today feel strongly about their values. Unfortunately, not many of them can tell you exactly what a value is. Contrary to popular opinion, values are not beliefs, religious doctrines, philosophical tenets, or political positions. A value is exactly what its name implies: an estimation of worth. What do you truly value in your life? What is actually of most worth to you?
Solid values are the anchors that will keep your kids from drifting off course when the winds of the world begin to blow. Ideally, children get those values from you. As parents, we can’t be confident we’re passing along solid values to the next generation until we know what our true values are. This means that the first step in the process has to include careful self-examination. Consider the following areas of your life:
Attitudes: What’s your basic worldview? Your attitudes—how you look at life—have a way of shaping and informing the choices you make.
Investment: Time, money, and energy are precious commodities. What you do with them says volumes about your true value system. If people looked at your bank account records, your credit card bill, and your calendar, what would they learn about you?
Motivation: To determine true values, it pays to look beneath the surface. People can do similar things for very different reasons. Ask yourself, “What is the ultimate purpose behind my involvement in ______?” You may be surprised at your own answer.
The key Scripture to keep in mind as you consider your true values is Matthew 6:19-21: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Want to find out what your values really are? Dare to be vulnerable and honest. Before you decide to do this exercise with your kids, do it for yourself. The way we spend our time and money, and what we spend our time thinking about, tells us what we actually value, in contrast to what we say we value. (See the Values Self-Assessment activity at the end of this section.)
Christian versus Worldly Values
Learning to identify your values is one thing. Figuring out how those values line up with what the Bible has to say is another matter. As Christian parents, this is a question of supreme importance. Unfortunately, many professing believers don’t see how God’s values differ from those of the world in which we live. On a very general level, we can say that Christian values emphasize the importance of the invisible, the intangible, the spiritual, and the eternal, whereas the world tends to major in things that are material, measurable, temporal, and advantageous to one’s own interests.
But the rift goes even deeper than this. Ultimately, the difference lies in the question of authority. The Bible asserts that God sets the standard about what’s real and true and lasting; the worldly perspective says that each of us gets to make up our own standards. By the way, worldly values can often be cleverly wrapped up in Christian terms, so be aware. Just because it sounds “Christian” doesn’t mean it’s biblically accurate.
Another way of discovering your actual values is to compare a few key biblical values with what the world values. Review the lists on the previous page as honestly as possible. Which statements more accurately describe you?
Once you’ve nailed these issues down, you’ll be in a position to help your kids gain a firmer grasp on the things that matter most in life. In most cases, you’ll do this not by what you say, but by what you do.
Pinpointing the Danger
Here’s the main question: How do our values influence our daily lives? The answer lies in the connection between our value system and our overall sense of well-being. Christian values and Christian hope constitute a “steadfast anchor of the soul” (Hebrews 6:19). They are the rock-solid foundation that stands firm when the storms of life descend (Matthew 7:24-25). With the Word of God as their solid ground, Christians have a sense of certainty about what matters most in life. That sense of certainty relieves tension, enables wise choices, and produces inner peace.
Worldly values, on the other hand, are like a foundation of sand. They dissolve when the rains fall and the winds begin to blow. They simply don’t satisfy, and as a result, there’s a sense in which they lead directly to despair. And the link between despair and suicide is obvious.
What happens when you chase after something you consider valuable but fail to lay hold of it? Or having laid hold of it, you find that it disappoints? And worst of all, what happens when you conclude there’s
nothing in the universe of any value or significance that can become the foundation of your life? When you reach that point, your sense of contentment crumbles and despair sets in. That’s when you move into dangerous territory.
What can we do to prepare our kids for the inevitable encounter with the world outside? How do we help children sort out the difference between godly values and worldly values so they can make wise, informed choices?
First, we can strengthen our children’s attachment to the anchor of solid Christian values by implementing the following strategies at home:
Build a family identity. Help your children find their sense of group identity at home by clearly identifying the values and beliefs you hold as a family. Take steps to ensure that your family’s values stand in stark contrast to the values of the world.
Practice assurance and acceptance. Make your home the kind of place where these issues can be discussed openly. Encourage your children to ask questions and challenge basic assumptions. Explain why you believe what you believe. Most importantly, let them know that you will always love and cherish them no matter what they do.
Be consistent and steadfast. Model your values in front of your kids. Make integrity the centerpiece of your family relationships. Keep your promises, and do what you say you’re going to do.
Be intentional. Make the “Values Self-Assessment” an annual event so you can keep tabs on where you and your family stand with respect to the things that matter most in life.
Second, never forget that where kids (and especially teens) are concerned, the biggest questions are always going to be “Why?” and “How?” They may be thinking,
- Why is God’s value system—or what you claim to be God’s value system—the right one?
- How can I really know what God is saying to me about who I am, why my life matters, what He wants me to do, and how He wants me to think?
As you tackle these questions, remember these important points:
The centrality of revelation. The Christian faith maintains that, on our own, we cannot discover the meaning of existence or our own purpose in life. Our feelings can’t tell us anything about this because our feelings are subject to constant change. There’s only one way we can find the answers—God has to tell us. And that’s exactly what He has done in the pages of the Bible.
The importance of Bible study, scriptural meditation, prayer, and biblical teaching. This point follows directly from the first. If God has really spoken to us in His Word, then the only way to find out who we are, what He wants from us, and how we can be truly happy and fulfilled is to pay close attention to the content of this revelation. If you spend enough time reading, pondering, and practicing what God says in the Bible, you’ll begin to hear God’s voice.
On Solid Ground
Knowing who I am and taking steps to become what God wants me to be—this is the secret to a happy, satisfying, and fulfilling life. Ultimately, it’s the only antidote to the epidemic of despair and suicide that’s robbing our society of its hope for the future. If we want the world to go on, we have to find a way to set our children’s feet on solid ground. We can do it by telling them that God loves them and has a purpose for their lives. They can know it’s true because God says so.
Values Self-Assessment Activity
If you want this activity to be worthwhile, you’ll need to be honest with yourself. And you’ll need at least two weeks to complete this exercise.
Week one: In a notebook, chart every activity you do for every fifteen minutes. Do this for an entire week.
Week two: This step will be a bit harder. Every fifteen minutes, write down the thoughts you’re dwelling on. Do this for an entire week. You are likely to have a number of thoughts within any fifteen-minute period. Feel free to categorize or summarize; just be as honest as you can.
At the end of the month: Look at your bank account and write down where you spent most of your money. What were the major categories? Or you can keep a record of your discretionary and personal spending for the month. Be sure to include the little-bit-here, little-bit-there things too.
Review your thought life and how you spent your time and your money. Ask yourself: “What do my actions, my thoughts, and my spending habits—my investments—reveal about the things I actually value as most important in life? What does this exercise show me about my attitudes and motives?”
What did you discover? Are you satisfied with what you actually value? Are there things you want to consider more deeply? If so, make the time do to so. You might also want to talk to a good friend who can listen to you and offer wise observations.