I don't think we've had this particular discussion before with the boys. It was verses from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6) and questions in Good Dirt that got their wheels turning and, before we'd even finished the Scripture reading our 8-year-old was interrupting with, "What's a hypocrite? ... What's a hypocrite?" They couldn't really identify with Jesus' examples of blowing trumpets when giving money in church, or praying really loud on street corners, or fasting from food with troubled faces. So, the challenge was to bring hypocrisy to a kid's level.
"It's doing things so that other people will think you're a really good Christian, but you don't mean them in your heart. It's caring more about what other people think of you than what God thinks of you."
Well, that description seemed to satisfy. Except that our two younger boys haven't reached the place in life quite yet where they would conceive of doing good deeds to impress other people. It's not a motivation that resonates a whole lot with them. What you see is what you get.
However, as I've thought a little more on this, I've realized that we adults can sometimes use subtle ways of encouraging hypocrisy in our kids before they even really understand what they--and we-- are doing. For awhile our Christian school used a popular behavior program called Positive Behavior Management, where instead of focusing primarily on giving consequences for unacceptable behavior, teachers focused on praising and rewarding good and appropriate behavior. It was a big hit with the kids and it really did make a difference in the overall demeanor of the student body in classrooms and on the playground. The kids rose to the occasion and loved being singled out for doing good things.
I wouldn't throw out this program completely. Encouraging kids is always good. Noticing the things they do right is biblical--the apostle Paul praised churches and individuals in his letters of exhortation. Praising those around us is part of loving them. The rub comes, though, when we consider what is motivating our kids to be "good," day in and day out, as they play with friends, serve their teachers and neighbors, and as they live as members of families in our homes.
That is what we ended up talking about this night where hypocrisy became our new vocabulary word. And Good Dirt helped us come to the crux of the issue with these words,
Today, Jesus is teaching us that because it is God whom we really need--not other people's approval--we don't need to act, perform, or pretend to be good to impress others. Let's practice that today by doing an act of secret service! Try not to be caught! Do something nice for someone else--maybe clean up after them when they're not looking, or make something nice for them, or do a chore for them--without telling anyone. Do it so only God sees!
That night our boys prayed, "Lord, help us not to be hypocrites. Help us not to have hypROCKrisy. Help us to do something in secret. Amen" The next night, again, they prayed for help in doing something secret--they'd forgotten. This may be an ongoing prayer. I don't think doing things in secret comes so naturally. It will be a good daily prayer for us all.
***You can get the next issue of Good Dirt by clicking on the title here and downloading for free, or you can order through Amazon. It's titled Good Dirt: Lent, Holy Week, Eastertide A Devotional for the Spiritual Formation of Families