Teaching Moral Sequencing

Teaching Moral Sequencing - Parenting Like Hannah

Photo by Raoul Lucar

Moral sequencing is the ability to analyze a situation and decide what the moral outcome may be from a decision made today. It requires a person to not just analyze the current decision and the probable outcome, but continue the process out several more steps. When there is a lack of competence in moral sequencing, a person may not realize that what is merely a questionable choice today may lead to more disastrous outcomes in a few weeks or months.

Some people call this the Sodom and Gomorrah effect. I seriously doubt Lot moved his family in that direction so they would move so far away from God’s ways. As far as we can tell from the Bible, his main thought was better pasture land for his animals. If he had stopped and used moral sequencing though, he may have had second thoughts about his choice.

Using moral sequencing, Lot may have remembered that this move would take his family very close to two very ungodly cities.  Analyzing the next step might have made him realize his children would be constantly exposed to families with very ungodly ways of life. In the next step, he may have realized his children may begin to pick up less than godly friends and perhaps even behaviors. If you remember from the story, that is exactly what happened. His daughters were engaged to men who chose not to join the family when they fled from the coming destruction. The daughters’ behavior towards the end of the story, definitely implies they had picked up some very immoral behaviors or patterns of thought.

One thing to keep in mind is that some things just don’t really matter. The trick is knowing which things do and which ones don’t. Sometimes it is merely a factor of your location or the situation. I seriously doubt God cares whether or not you wear the green or red outfit today. For most of us, the choice becomes one of personal taste. If you live in an area where gang violence is common though, wearing red can suggest affiliation with a particular gang. Wearing the “wrong” color could cost you your life.

While moral sequencing should improve with age, there are some things you can do as a parent now that will help your child develop these skills.

1. Make sure your child knows the Bible really well. As you teach your children stories that are new to them, pause each time the person is faced with a decision. Discuss what the child thinks happened next. Ask her what other choices the person had and what those outcomes might have been. The great thing about the Bible is that it usually shows at least the immediate consequences of bad choices. Some stories also show delayed consequences for current decisions.

A great example is David and Bathsheba. The first decision seems innocent enough. David is looking around his kingdom and notices Bathsheba. Had David made a good choice, turned his head and forgotten her, the story would have had a happy ending. Instead, he pursues a relationship with her. Additional bad decisions eventually lead to a disastrous outcome for several people.

In addition, the Bible teaches certain basic principles. Despite what society would have us believe, there are some absolutes. God for example makes it clear He hates lying. He doesn’t say that little white lies or lies of omission don’t count. Just ask Ananias and Sapphira. If your child knows all of God’s basic principles, a lot of choices will be very clear. This makes moral sequencing much easier.

2. Model praying about decisions for your child. I have found with prayer, God will often gently lead you down the right path. Doors close and open as He guides your steps. If your child knows you pray before making decisions, she will be more likely to do the same thing herself.

3. Play the “What if..” game. This game works great if everyone is encouraged to participate. Sometimes the parents need to make silly or bad suggestions in order for their children to point out the problem with them.  One version is “What if we won $10,000? What would we do with it?” Another might be, “What if we just picked up and moved to Idaho? What would we do?” Or, “What if someone gave us $100,000, but we had to give it all away? What would we do?”

As you can imagine, not every option necessarily has a negative consequence. A pattern of choices may though. For example, buying a new car is not wrong. But what if it is a classic car and your family starts going to rallies instead of to church on Sundays? You can eventually lead your child to realize that a seemingly innocent choice like Lot choosing good pastures for his animals, can have negative outcomes if you play “What if..” out a few more steps.

4. Take a lesson from Bill Cosby. One of my favorite episodes was when the family decided to teach Theo a lesson. He thought he was ready to live in the “real world”. His family turned their house into the real world. They played everything from landlords to employment agencies to bankers. By the end of the day, Theo realized he had a lot to think about before he was ready for the real world.

Although Theo was a teen, this activity would probably work best with elementary aged children. Use role play and help them see what consequences their choices would have in the “real world”.  The more fun you make it (a la Bill Cosby), the more likely your child will always remember the lessons she learned.

5. Allow your older child or teen to plan and execute a large project. Our daughter collected hundreds of books for an orphanage in Mexico for her Silver Award project in Girl Scouts. The recipients benefitted from the books, but she learned so much about sequencing in the process. It is actually a sort of reverse sequencing.  She had to plan what actions on her part would lead to a successful collection.

Reverse sequencing can be just as important as regular sequencing. Our ultimate goal is to spend eternity in heaven. Reverse sequencing will allow us to see which choices (like baptism) will help us get there. In a charity project, your child will learn that sometimes good choices still aren’t the best choices. They may learn for example that posters were a good idea, but making them in color would have been a better choice. Just like marrying a Christian spouse is a good choice, but marrying one who is a strong Christian is an even better choice.

6. A modified pro and con list can also be useful. When faced with a choice, a lot of people will make a pro and con list. Unfortunately, most merely go with whichever list is longer. Or if you are like me, you are way too analytical and the lists are always even. Actually, what you need to do once the list is complete is to decide which list gets you closer to God and/or has the stronger argument.

A good example would have been if the Apostle Paul had made a pro and con list after the road to Damascus. His pro list could have merely listed “Get to go to Heaven when I die.” His con list could have been a mile long. “Will probably end up in jail. Will probably be beaten. May be executed. Have to travel on ships that may shipwreck.” When you weight the list with its ability to get you closer to God though, the pro list wins by a mile.

7. Parents will often fall into the role of critic when their child presents his plans. Mom and Dad will immediately point out all of the possible negative consequences they see in the plan. Unfortunately, this probably turns your child off and he stops listening very quickly. More importantly, you are not teaching them how to sequence for themselves. The best way is to allow your child to sequence for himself, while asking appropriate questions along the way.

What if your ten year old child announces she is running away because her sister is driving her crazy. The normal parental response would be to shut that idea down quickly. Take the extra time and do a learning exercise. “Well, I can understand why sibling problems would make you feel that way. Where are you headed?” Other questions can gently lead her to realize she is not prepared to find lodging, food, a job etc.

A child choosing a college or a major brings out the worst in many parents. Actually this is a great time for moral sequencing practice. What is it about the choice your child likes? Has he thought out the possible outcomes several steps? I attended a non-Christian college and stayed faithful. I had a plan though for church, Christian friends and as it turned out a church back up plan when the church I was attending had issues.

Moral sequencing is not perfect. Only God knows the future. We can only guess probable outcomes to our decisions. With practice and by using God’s Words as our compass, I think we can get pretty close to at least heading in the right direction.

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Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. (Deuteronomy 11:18-19 NIV)