Why Being Nice Isn’t Always Possible

nice kids

Welcome to the series No More “Nice” Kids. This week, we’re looking at why raising “nice” kids isn’t the same as raising kids who have Godly character. If you missed the beginning of this series, you can find it here.

“Can’t you two just be nice to each other?” I don’t know how many times I’ve said that to my kids. Mostly I say it when I just want a few minutes of peace and an end to whatever bickering is going on.

However, the truth is that my desire to have my kids be nice has much more to do with me than it does with doing what’s best for them.

Many of us have been living out the myth that we should be nice to everyone and that we should raise our kids to be nice to everyone. When we take a look at the Bible and the life of Jesus, we find that that’s not even biblical.

The Bible doesn’t ever use the word nice to describe our behavior — not once. Instead, we are given the instruction to be kind, compassionate and forgiving (Ephesians 4:32). We’re also told to do our best to “live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18).

As we talked about yesterday, the word nice means pleasing and agreeable, and the truth is that it’s not always possible to be pleasing and agreeable. Too often, though, we lead our kids to believe that it is.

How many times has one of my kids come home with a tale of woe about how someone else is treating them, and I’ve said, “Just be nice.”

Don’t get me wrong. There are times to turn the other cheek. Jesus did it. He allowed Himself to be arrested, beaten and crucified, but don’t think for a minute that he did it because He wanted to be nice. He did it because our sin required His sacrifice. He did it so that we could tell the world of His sacrifice for us. He did it because God wanted to be able to draw near to us. He didn’t do it to be nice.

And that’s the lesson I want to teach my daughters. It’s not always possible to be nice, but it is always possible to make the choice that draws others to God. Jesus drove the money lenders out of the temple. He lectured the Pharisees. He defied the worldly authority of the day. And He did it all to point the way to God.

Our kids are going to face situations where the advice “just be nice” is worthless. They’re going to find themselves in situations where they have to choose between being nice and standing for God’s truth. They’ll have to choose between being pleasing and agreeable and pointing the way to God. I want my kids to choose to be a beacon of light in this world. They can’t do that if I’m always telling them to be nice.

So, how do we change the discussion we’re having with our kids about how they treat others? I think it all starts with Romans 12:18: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” We start teaching our kids that God’s admonition is not to be nice but to live in peace. We talk about how this verse points out that it’s not always possible to be at peace with everyone because it takes two people to create peace. Our job is to live a life that’s pleasing to God, one that doesn’t compromise who God is and what we stand for. If that brings us into conflict with others, then it’s our job to point the way to God in a loving way that brings as much peace to the relationship is possible.

We teach our kids that standing for God’s truth doesn’t mean that they are obnoxious or overbearing. It simply means that they live their lives according to God’s principles. It means they put others first, they love one another and they seek to follow Jesus. If that puts them at odds with someone, then they lovingly speak God’s truth.

What we don’t want is to raise a generation of kids that values being nice above all else because being nice all the time will put them in a situation where they have to choose between being nice and speaking the truth. Whenever my kids are in that situation, I don’t want them to be torn between choosing God’s truth and society’s definition of what a nice kid looks like.

Today, I want to challenge you to think about what you’re teaching your kids about being nice. Are you teaching them to stand for God’s truth or are you teaching them that being nice is the most important thing?

It’s Not About Rules

Courtesy Stuart Miles

This weekend my cousin’s wife and I were talking about our kids. We both have a child who requires explicit instructions on what to do with no room for loopholes. We talked about how hard we had to think when telling those kids to do something or not do something so that we leave no room for doubt about what we mean.

My girls are polar opposites when it comes to following the rules. One of them would never intentionally break the rules. The other one likes to push the envelope to see how much of the rule she can break before she gets in trouble, then she’ll try to talk her way out of whatever discipline she receives by pointing out the loophole in the rule. She often obeys the letter of the rule and not the spirit.

And that’s the problem with rules: Too often they’re open to interpretation. We can set all the rules we want, but if our kids don’t understand the spirit and intent behind the rule, it’s just a restriction.

God started out with some rules: Don’t eat fruit from that tree. It didn’t take long for Adam and Eve to look for the loopholes in that command and blow it big time. The Israelites had 10 basic rules to follow, and they couldn’t manage that either.

Don’t get me wrong, I firmly believe that we have to set boundaries for our kids. As parents, we need to expect our kids to live up to certain standards. We need rules.

But following the rules should simply be an extension of what’s going on in our kids hearts. We can make all the rules we want to, but if our children don’t have a reason to follow them, then they’re just a restriction to push against.

We want our kids to follow the rules because they are following Jesus. God gave out rules to keep His people safe and to set them apart for Him. When we follow Jesus, our actions that honor God are an extension of the love we feel for Him.

If our kids are having trouble following rules, then they most likely have a heart problem, not a rule problem. Focus on the attitude and the heart behind their rule-breaking.

  • Let your discipline be focused on creating a heart change, not just a child who follows the rule. For example, if a child breaks your “Respect others” rule, then make the discipline be about serving someone else.
  • Pray for and with your kids about the areas in which they struggle. Ask your kids to point out areas where they think they struggle most, then pray with them.
  • Create rules that focus on the heart. For example, instead of making a rule that says “Don’t hit your sister,” make the rule say, “Respect others.” This gives your kids an understanding of the type of heart God wants them to have, not just on the letter of the law.

Following Jesus isn’t about following rules. It’s about letting our love for Him overflow so that our actions reflect Him. We want to raise kids who live lives of character because they know Jesus, not kids who follow the letter but not the spirit of the law.

Linking up today with The Better Mom and Graceful.


Changing from the Inside Out

I’m teaching 5th grade vacation Bible school this week. We have 54 kids who just finished fifth grade, and they are all in my class. While it’s a bit crazy, we’re having a blast learning about God and His amazing power.

Yesterday, we learned about the ABCs of becoming a Christ follower and had several kids turn their lives over to Jesus for the first time, which is always exciting.

As I got ready for today’s lesson, though, I realized that too often,¬†we focus our attention on teaching these kids to become Christ-followers and once they make the decision to follow Jesus, we start telling them things like “Be more like Jesus” or “What would Jesus do?” We make it sound like they can become more like Jesus all on their own.

Somewhere in all the excitement and joy over a child choosing to follow Jesus, we lose sight of the fact that Jesus has to do the changing. No one can change themselves to become more Christ-like.

We can try.

But we will fail.

Life as a Christ follower isn’t about striving to be more like Jesus. It’s about letting Jesus change us from the inside out. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:The old has gone, the new is here!” And too often, we give kids the impression that they can be more like Jesus just by trying harder.

Make the point that true change comes when we let Jesus change our hearts. Hand your kids a wig and some funny clothes and shoes. Ask them to put them on. You can even use some face paint to alter their faces. Now, ask them if they are a different person than they were before they put on the clothes and shoes. The answer is no. Even though we’ve changed their outward trappings, they’re still the same person.

Explain that trying to be more like Jesus on our own is like putting on the funny clothes and shoes. We might be able to make ourselves look different for a little while, but we’re still the same person underneath. We can put on the trappings of a Christ follower — going to church, saying the right things, trying to act the right way — but never be changed on the inside.

Now, give your kids a ball of clay. Give them a minute to create something out of the clay. Then have them smoosh it up and make something else. Explain that when we let Jesus change our hearts from the inside out, then we truly become a new creation. The clay is still clay even though it changes form. God isn’t going to change our talents or the intrinsic pieces that make us who we are, but He is going to make us into an image of Jesus. As we follow Him, He will mold us to be more like Him because He will change our hearts, which creates lasting change.

Our kids need to know that it’s not their responsibility to change their behavior to be more Christlike. Striving to do so on our own just leads to failure. It is our responsibility to learn more about Jesus and ask Him to change us — from the inside out.

What part of your life do you need to let God change today?