The Heartbeat
Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it. – Proverbs 22:6 (KJV)

I grew up in what I considered a privileged home. Compared to the other children in my school class, I felt as though we were rich. We owned a house on many acres, with an inground swimming pool; we had horses and carriages, and a private pond stocked with lots of fish; we had a maid who weekly cleaned our house. There was never a lack of things to do or explore. But there also was never a lack of work to be done. And so my responsibilities included: making my bed, drying the dishes, taking out the trash, mowing the lawn, cleaning the pool, watering and feeding the horses and cleaning out the stalls. As a young teenager, at times I felt overworked. Looking back I would I was overworked. And because of that, I have been careful to demand far less from my own children. But this much I know and that is that all that work taught me not only how to work but also a great sense of responsibility. Yet there were times when I was not so responsible.

I can recall, for example, when I was a teenager, more than once, my dad coming home late at night (after some church meeting) and waking me up. He did not come quietly into the room and gently nudge me asking, "Are you awake? I need to talk to you." No. Instead he came into the room loudly, turning on the light, and then seeing that I had opened my eyes he said (quite loudly), "Get up! Get up…NOW! And go out and…" It usually had to do with the horses. Maybe he had seen, upon coming home, that the horses were still in the coral and not in their stalls. Summer, winter, a nice night or a terrible night, it didn't matter. He wanted and expected action from me right then and there. For I had not done my duty. Not once do I recall him ever saying to me some morning, "Oh, Doug, when I came home last night I saw that the horses had not been attended to so I went out and watered them, got them in their stalls and made sure they had their hay and grain." No. That is, he never did for me what I was supposed to do. He could have, and in doing so I think he might have taught me a bit more about grace. But his attitude was that I was responsible and he was doing what he could to help teach me responsibility.

As an adult, I have learned a number of things, all related to this topic. Here are some points to consider…

  1. It is always easier to do nothing. Most Americans spend their adult lives doing exactly that: nothing. And for it they will have, come life's end, nothing to show for it. No thanks. So if we are committed to doing things, with that commitment comes the need for carry-through, for responsibility to complete or fulfill what we have committed to doing. We need to teach that to our children. It is also easier to simply not confront our children (again, to do nothing). But that doesn't help. Do what needs to be done. The second point follows on this…

  2. Responsibility is learned by doing what we do not want to do. When I sold books for the Southwestern Company (Nashville, TN) they taught that people who are successful often make a list of the things they need to do each and every day. And then, having looked over that list and found the items that are the hardest or that they least WANT to do, they will make those the things that they do first. This follows the "work before play" model. Do what you don't want to do, get it done, and then everything else will seem easy. Teach your children this principle and it will carry them a long ways through life.

  3. Don't baby your children. Don't do for them what they are fully capable of doing for themselves. Even a young child can be taught to make his or her bed. My dad COULD have made life easier for me by doing my chores. But that would not have helped me learn responsibility.

  4. Keep things in balance for your children. While they are still under your care, help them learn balance. Parents who have their children going this way and that nearly every day or evening are themselves imbalanced and they are not teaching balance to their children.

  5. Model responsibility. Never ask someone (an employee, a volunteer, a spouse or a child) to do something you are not willing to do yourself. That doesn't mean you will be doing the item yourself. But they should see in you someone willing and able to do the very thing(s) you are now asking of them. In the film Precious, the main character (an overweight inner-city teenage girl named Precious) overcomes her own mother's lack of responsible living, but that is the exception and not the rule.

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