We have been trained to think in black-and-white terms about a lot of things. Kids’ misbehavior is one of them. When kids misbehave we say to ourselves and to our kids, “That was bad! It needs to stop!” The opposite of bad is good. So we usually tell our kids to stop doing the bad and “be good.” This was done to us and it’s natural to do it with our kids.
But is it really true? Is what kids do either all good or all bad? The answer is no! Even in the worst of behaviors, the image of God does not vacate humans. Even in the best of behaviors, sin still easily entangles.
It’s not an either/or proposition. It’s a both/and. And we find repeatedly that when we can name some goodness, even in the context of badness, it tends to breathe life into the goodness, and when we can admit hints of bad, even in the goodness, it keeps us in a state of humility.
The Apostle Paul addressed this idea when he wrote the Philippians from a Roman prison cell toward the end of his life. Picture living in a small, dark, underground bunker with a shallow divot in the corner for human waste. It’s cold. The food is awful. Movement is limited by the chains clamped onto your feet. Sleep comes hard and when it rains the water seeps into your space. When it rains hard the water floods your floor, spreading what was once contained in the small corner hole throughout your cell. You have no idea if today will be the day you’re beaten or killed. Not only did Paul tolerate this, but he learned to “rejoice in the Lord always!”
In Philippians chapter 4 Paul shares a power-packed pattern for “being content” in the midst of circumstances most would call flat-out despicable. He says:
- Rejoice in the Lord always! (v4)
- I’ll say it again. Rejoice!
- Don’t be anxious, but pray and trust and you’ll know the peace that surpasses understanding. (v 6,7)
- Give your best thinking to whatever is good! (v8)
- Contentment follows by relying on Christ’s strength! (v 12, 13)
In the same way Paul found good in the bad, and leaned hard on Christ for his strength to do so, we can do the same. The same is true of our kids. It’s never all bad. It’s never all good. But dwelling on the good seems to go much farther in tipping the scales toward goodness. God’s goodness.