Is Your Children’s Spiritual Growth Hampered by the Bean Soup Effect?

Once upon a time, someone posted a recipe for bean soup on the Internet. The comments that followed were both funny and horrifying. Not just one. Not just a handful. Scads of people posted comments asking her to rework the recipe so it didn’t contain beans. Mind you, this was a BEAN soup recipe. When she didn’t post a reworked recipe without beans, she was verbally clobbered.

Our world online is currently ruled by algorithms. Ever wonder why everyone online appears to agree with your viewpoint on issues or likes the same things you like? Ever begun to think your opinions and preferences are the most popular at the moment based on what you see on social media platforms? Sorry to burst your bubble, but that’s because those wonderful little algorithms want to keep you happy. Because if you are happy, you will stay on their website or app longer. Which turns into more revenue for them.

The bean soup people of the world are the result of “having it your way” all of the time. Bean soup people can’t tolerate differences of opinion or ways of looking at the world. Mind you, we aren’t just talking about spiritual, biblical disagreements. We suddenly hate people who love bacon when we don’t like it. You know. Important things. Things that have started wars.

And of course, carefully curated content matches our moods and keeps us constantly entertained. Boredom is the only deadly sin (other than poorly executed content). If something doesn’t make us immediately feel better, we quickly move on to something else that may.

Unfortunately, churches and ministries have bought the bean soup hype that children and teens must constantly be in a high tech environment that is carefully curated to match their tastes and beliefs (no matter how naive or wrong they may be) and above all to keep them on a constant emotional high. Learning to these Christians is irrelevant. Keeping everyone on some sort of self focused high so they will return is more important than teaching them how to be who God really wants them to be…. selfless servants.

Parents – even those who see the building selfishness and entitlement in their own children – may even demand churches and ministries deliver this highly entertaining, yet usually shallow content. Please don’t misunderstand. Part of the mission of our ministry is to encourage engaging spiritual educational content in every environment. Where we part ways is that our emphasis is on the spiritual education piece of the puzzle. While we believe our activity ideas are engaging, we plan them to extend and deepen learning – not to entertain (although often both goals are met). If we were somehow forced to choose between content that is highly entertaining and shallow versus content that isn’t flashy but deepens knowledge, understanding and application of scripture, we will always go for the richer content.

Don’t raise bean soup affect children. Teach them to look for substance and not just flash. Remind them the world should revolve around God and not themselves. And when they encounter a bean soup recipe they don’t like, don’t complain. The world should never be all about them and their personal preferences.

AI, ChatGPT and Christian Parenting

Say what you will, but there are two types of people in the world… people who play with all things AI and people who were scarred by the movie 2001 A Space Odyssey and want nothing to do with it. Regardless of your personal feelings about AI, your children have probably already been exposed to it.

Whether or not AI is helpful to mankind (for our discussion) is almost irrelevant. The difficulty with any new technology, fad or other creation is deciding how Christians should interface with it (if at all). It’s made all the more difficult, because new things are often marketed by creators to make them look as appealing and helpful as possible so they can make the most money possible before anyone realizes there are problems with the product.

It is also problematic, because as Christians, we understand God knew AI would exist when He created scripture. Instead of addressing every invention that would be created over thousands of years and how He wants us to interact with each, however, God gave us commands and principles that were both specific and general – making them applicable regardless of era or location.

So how does all of this apply to AI? A teacher recently told me that students are cheating using ChatGPT without being fully aware they are cheating. Why? Because over the years parents, teachers and other adults had focused on specific behaviors instead of overarching commands and principles. So instead of explaining to students that having anyone or anything write parts or all of your essay is considered cheating, they were just told they couldn’t purchase or copy a paper someone else had written. When faced with AI – that doesn’t neatly fit into the description of specific out of bound behaviors they have been taught – they believe they can use it to practically write entire papers for them while still not realizing they are cheating.

As a Christian parent, you probably use lots of real world examples when teaching your children about God’s commands and principles. It’s important – especially as they age – to emphasize the heart of the command or principle and have your kids generate lots of examples. The reality is that you will never be able to list every possible way your children could lie (by the way, cheating is one of them), but you can help them understand the heart of the command so well that when they see a new technology or creation instead of matching it to some check list, they are able to look for the heart of it and measure that to God’s commands and principles.

This difference in how you approach teaching them how God wants them to live their lives may seem subtle at first. With an ever changing world, however, your children need to know how to obey God regardless of what they encounter.

Fun Family Devotional on Culture and God

Have a weekend or holiday when you can spend a few hours having fun and teaching your children about God? This one can be lots of fun, but does take a bit of extra work depending upon how “big” you want to go with the theme. The spiritual principle is that although many things change over time, God and His principles and commands do not. (It is also great for talking about modesty which is about having an attitude of modesty (not calling attention to oneself – especially in order to encourage sexual attention) and what clothing that might have meant Christians wore or rejected as immodest at the time Note: This conversation includes the males in your family, as they too can be immodest in attitude and clothing.)

The idea is to look at several times periods and compare and contrast them. Start with the decade in which your children were born, the decade their parents were born, the decade their grandparents were born, a random decade more than 100 years ago and the time of Jesus. Have fun with your kids researching clothing styles, trendy foods, cars (or donkeys/horses!), fads, costs of every day items etc. You can make a trip to the public library, look at old family photos or search online together.

If you want to really spend a lot of time together enjoying this look into the past, consider ordering a box of mixed candy from different decades, cooking old recipes together, taking a ride in a historic car or train, trying on vintage clothing, listening to the most popular songs of that era, etc.

After you have had fun, sit down together and have a discussion. Start by reading Malachi 3:6 and Hebrews 13:8. Ask your children what it means that God never changes. Read Proverbs 6:16-19. Ask your children if they think God hated those things in each of the time periods you explored. Do they think God still hates those things today? Why or why not? Point out that God doesn’t suddenly approve of lying if most of the people in the world suddenly decide lying is better than truth. We don’t get to vote on God’s commands. We show our love for God by serving and obeying Him – even if that means we look very different from our culture.

If you have older children, you may want to spend some time talking about how Christians will always look different from the world around them and why God wants it that way. Spend time talking about the mixed feelings they may have about “never really fitting in with the popular kids at school” or at times, even some Christians who have decided to adapt cultural norms instead of God’s. Revisit these conversations regularly as your children will struggle with needing to be different to please God at various times in their lives.

Fun Activity to Encourage Empathy

To raise children to be active productive Christians, you need to raise children who truly understand what it means to “love your neighbor as yourself”. It will probably be easy to love people that like the same things they like or are similar to them in easily identifiable ways. But what about the people with whom they have little, if anything, in common? Or people with whom they have serious disagreements about various topics?

There is a fun activity you can do with your children to begin talking with them about differences and finding points of connection to make loving others as they love themselves more likely. You can do this activity at any time of the year, but it can be the most fun in the Fall, when the leaves are beginning to change color. (Assuming you live somewhere that it happens!)

Take your children on a lead collection walk or hike. Other than poison oak or poison ivy leaves, have them collect a variety of leaves. Sit down with all of the leaves you have collected and compare them to each other. You may even have your children place them in different types of groups – sorting by size, shape, coloring, edging, etc. Which leaves appear to be the most alike? Which two are the most different?

Now encourage your children to look at the leaves in a different way. What are some things that all of the leaves have in common? You can focus on what they can see or go into deeper scientific similarities like how they get the nutrients they need. You may want to jot down their findings for the lists of differences and similarities.

Tell your children that in some ways people are like these leaves. When we first meet someone new, the first thing we may notice are all of the differences between us. If we notice too many differences, we may be tempted to reject them as friends or decide we don’t like them at all. We may even decide we don’t want to help them if they need it, or talk badly about them to others. Ask your children if that is how God wants us to treat everyone?

Point out that if they look more closely though, they will probably find some things in common with everyone. If we are having a hard time finding those things, it can help to ask questions that will help us find those things we have in common. Maybe it is a favorite food, book, show, game or something else. Have your children give you examples of questions they can ask to help the find the things they have in common with others. Remind them to try not to sound like a police interrogation, but to ask the questions in a casual way.

After you’ve finished the activity, continue to talk about the principles on a regular basis. Encourage them to find things in common with a variety of people. It can help them be more likely to serve others and share their faith with love and kindness.

6 Ways Walks Can Make Christian Parenting Easier

Have you ever thought about how many times the Bible mentions that someone was walking? Granted, there weren’t a lot of other options unless you owned a donkey or a camel, but was it really necessary to tell us certain people were walking? Maybe not in some cases, but Jesus had a lot of important conversations as he was walking with people. He knew that there is something about walking that seems to lower defenses and encourages more open conversation.

There is quite a bit of research on the benefits of walking. These benefits can make parenting easier and Christian parents can get a few extra benefits from those walks. Many of these benefits differ slightly when you are walking alone versus walking with your spouse or children or as a family.

  • Manages energy levels. Walking is interesting in that it can give those whose energy is lagging more energy, but also helps burn off excess energy for those that have too much. Regular walks will give any of your kids who may need it more energy. If your kids are over energized after a day at school sitting at desks, a brisk walk can help them burn off the excess energy that might otherwise get them in trouble. When energy levels are managed well, misbehavior from too much energy can decrease and you will have more energy to teach, guide and correct when necessary. Even those kids who feel too tired to do homework may find a brisk walk gives them the second wind they need.
  • Tempers emotions. A recent study found that many people suffering from depression found a marked improvement in mood when they took daily long walks. Negative emotions can work themselves out from the physical activity. These emotions may not totally disappear, but they will most likely lessen, making it easier to talk with your child about them.
  • Praying/clear thinking. Struggling with what to do about a parenting issue? I do some of my best creative thinking on long walks. The trick is to leave the music at home and focus on praying about the issue that is bothering you. This also works for your kids when they are wrestling with an issue.
  • Talking to each other. Long walks often work like magic to get even non-communicative children talking to their parents. Leave the phones and music at home. Walk in silence for a bit if necessary. Ask a simple open ended question. Leave lots of room for your kids to talk. You may just be surprised how much they will tell you when you aren’t distracted.
  • Pointing out God. The Bible tells us Creation points us to God. Taking walks with your kids, spouse or even by yourself can remind you God is at work in the world today. When walking with your kids, point out things that make you think about God. Closely examine lease, rocks, insects and other things God made to get a close up look at the intricacy of God’s Creation (take along a magnifying class and binoculars to see things better).

Long walks won’t make every aspect of Christian parenting easier, but they can definitely help. Start making room on your daily calendar for a walk.