Prudence is one of those funny, old-fashioned words. It brings up images of little Pilgrim girls from centuries ago. Actually, prudence is a great Bible word and character trait. If your child is prudent, she knows to look ahead and make wise, thoughtful choices. It sounds like wisdom, and while wisdom is a part of prudence, prudence is a little more. Prudence implies taking all of the facts, weighing them with wisdom and for possible problems or consequences and then doing not necessarily what is easiest, but what is wisest, and in the case of Christians, godly.
One of my current favorite verses in the Bible is I Corinthians 10:23. Christianity is about the freedom in living under the grace of God. Christians are not burdened by never-ending lists of acceptable and unacceptable behaviors. While the authors of the NewTestament do mention some specifics, they continually emphasize living the Christian life is living in the sweet spot of the Greatest Commands.
This means we can’t have our kids memorize a list of rules and know if they are somehow able to follow them, they are headed straight for Heaven. Parents have to teach their children how to be prudent. It’s not an easy character trait to teach, because being prudent goes against the normal childhood tendency to make decisions quickly and often based on what “feels” right.
If you want to raise a prudent child, here are a few of the basic concepts of prudence you want to teach:
- Good decisions often take time. Some simple, repeating decisions can probably be made quickly and without much thought. Your child needs to learn though that important decisions should not be made immediately, unless absolutely necessary. Teach them to take a step back and do some additional things before making an important decision.
- God needs to be consulted when making decisions. I am in the camp with those who would prefer it if God just sent us an email or put up a billboard when He has something He wants to add to our thought process. Although I have yet to get either, as a Christian, the Holy Spirit resides in me to give me God’s guidance. Train your children to immediately take their issue or problem to God before making a decision. Teach them how to ask God for His guidance and if they are Christians notice the extra help the Holy Spirit gives.
- There is a difference between things that are permitted and things that are wise. When I was a teen, the worst thing our parents would say to us was “Feel free to do whatever you want, but if it were me I wouldn’t do it because (fill in the blank with awful thing that was going to happen)!” We knew that meant more than likely, our parents would end up being right so we would have something bad happen and be wrong. You don’t have to use that magic, guilt producing statement, but do help your kids learn how to count the possible costs of their decisions. Teach them to think about what could possibly go wrong and how much risk there is those things will actually happen. Not to freeze them into inaction, but to help them understand a lot of things have no real downside, but from time to time our decisions can have huge consequences if things don’t go the way we hope they will.
- Wise people learn from the mistakes of others so they don’t have to repeat those mistakes (and get the consequences) themselves. This was a saying we repeated constantly in our house. Try and drill that into your child’s head early and often. Teach them to consult the Bible, ask older Christians and observe what happens to their peers and others they know when they made a similar decision. Your child doesn’t have to be burned by the stove to know it hurts. Watching some else get burned, seeing your scar from an earlier burn or reading the story of the fiery furnace in the Bible can teach them those same lessons without them having to actually experience the physical pain. The vast majority of the choices your children will have provide plenty of ways to get the advice they need to make a good decision. Why suffer a negative consequence when you can avoid it entirely by making a wise choice?
- Feelings are not always the best indication of a poor or a wise choice. We live in a culture that constantly tells us to “go with your gut” or “do what feels right”. Unfortunately, sometimes satan has gotten into our head and “gut”. What is the worst possible decision of all, may “feel” great. At least at first. That’s why it is called temptation. If sins didn’t look appealing, no one would sin. Your children can factor their feelings into the equation, but teach them to err on the side of caution. If it feels wrong, it may very well be. If it feels right, it may or may not be at all.
Taking the time to teach your child to be prudent when making decisions won’t guarantee they will never make a bad decision. It will however, increase the chances they will generally make wise, godly choices.