When the right idea or thought is planted in the garden of a child’s soul, with the ever present help of the Divine Life—the Holy Spirit—that idea begins to influence a child’s thoughts and decisions.
Those decisions then become actions. Those actions then become habits. Those habits then become character.
I love how Ralph Waldo Emerson says it:
“Sow a thought and you reap an action; sow an act and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and you reap a destiny.”
To train a habit, we must sow ideas. A single fruitful idea can embed itself in the heart of a child and drive thoughts, decisions, choices and character.
Charlotte Mason believed habits are best formed through ideas.
“The initial idea begets subsequent ideas; therefore, take care that children get right primary ideas on the great relations and duties of life.”
In training habits that will eventually become our children’s character we have one great responsibility: to plant an idea—then step back and watch it germinate, sprout and blossom.
Charlotte Mason informs us that our many words, warnings and long lectures often hinder habit training. Stepping back means avoiding long-winded speeches, endless reminding, fussing and moralizing.
All that talk, talk, talk does little but interfere with the work the Holy Spirit desires to do in our children’s heart and soul.
So how do we effectively train habits to become character?
First, we must provide our children with living ideas, being careful not hinder the work of God by our endless explanations and personal applications.
It’s paramount we allow our children room—room to think, room to ponder, room to ruminate.
If we do the thinking and applying for them, they won’t lay in bed considering the matter. They won’t ponder it any further. They won’t need to—we will have done all the thinking for them.
So, in habit training, as with all our children’s education, we must be disciplined to practice Masterly Inactivity.
You may remember my series of posts on Masterly Inactivity:
In essence, Masterly Inactivity is choosing to refrain from speaking, even when we want to. If we choose to discipline our tongue, we’ll watch our children take an idea and think on it, wonder about it, and ruminate over it, storing it in their heart—the place where the Holy Spirit can nurture that idea and cause it to grow.
This concept rests on deep philosophy, and perhaps a bit of theology, but it’s important to understand. The job of training our children’s habits rests on three things: the idea we present to them, the room we give them after presenting the idea, and allowing the Divine Life to infuse that idea with power.
We’ll take one habit as an example. Let’s say you’ve decided to focus the month on training the habit of honesty, truthfulness.
In addition to requiring strict veracity from your children, you’ll want to present to them the best living ideas about truthfulness. Of course, the very best ideas are found in the living Word of God.
Here’s an idea of how to practically train this habit:
Begin by reading these words Jesus spoke to the Pharisees,
“You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of it.” John 8:44
Wow. Those are powerful words Jesus spoke! Ask your children what they think Jesus’ words mean. Nod and agree with their thoughts. The less you say, the more room you give the Holy Spirit to speak to their heart.
The less you say the more power the Word has.
Practicing Masterly Inactivity is wise because our best work in training habits is done through our silence.
Charlotte Mason says,
“I doubt if the picking out of individual verses, and grinding these into the child until they cease to have any meaning for him, is anything but a hindrance to the spiritual life. The Word is full of vital force, capable of applying itself. A seed, light as thistledown, wafted into the child’s soul will take root downwards and bear fruit upwards.”
IMPLANTING THE WORD
Perhaps during the month that you are focusing on honesty, you decide to implant another idea from the Bible. 1 Peter 3:10-12 is a great one for memorizing.
For “He who would love life
And see good days,
Let him refrain his tongue from evil,
And his lips from speaking deceit.
Let him turn away from evil and do good;
Let him seek peace and pursue it.
For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
And His ears are open to their prayers;
But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”
Just as she recommends for memorizing poetry, Charlotte Mason encourages that we read the verse aloud, slowly, with reverence, once or twice a day—indeed every day. Children will naturally begin to know what comes next. Sooner than later, the verse is committed to memory.
I’m convinced that God’s Word implants itself in a special part of our mind. I listened to a missionary tell the tale of when she had been in a terrible accident. She lost all her memory of everyone and everything. The only thing she recognized in all of life was the Word of God and the hymns she sung as a child.
That’s the Word of Power at work.
Imagine the kind of character God will mold in a child’s soul who has memorized His Word.
Now, add some more wonderful living ideas through literature. Choose a book that teaches about honesty in a nonpreachy way.
The first I recommend for any elementary child is The Empty Pot by Demi. It’s a precious story of a young boy who is competing with all the children in the kingdom to grow a plant from a seed given by the emperor. I won’t tell you the rest. Trust me, it’s powerful.
PRESENTING WHAT’S LIVING
Each week of the month, present new ideas using the Bible and living books.
After you’ve spent a month on the habit of honesty, you can be assured God will complete the good work He began in your children. He promises to.
Charlotte Mason advises to always require truthfulness of our children. So, as the days go by and you discover a lie or exaggeration or overembellished tale, kindly, but firmly address it.
Ms. Mason says,
“The training of the child in the habit of strict veracity is . . . one which requires delicate care and scrupulosity on the part of the mother.”
But I want to encourage you that if you plant the right ideas and trust God to do His work, you will see the fruit of truthfulness, if not today, one day.
I had a child, still have the child but he is now a grown man, who loved to weave a tall tale about most anything. He once convinced a friend that a rock he found in the stream was a special kind of fish. This friend took this special fish home and tended to it with the most ardent care. His mother called me. “Uh, Jeannie. Your son has convinced my son that this rock is a fish. It’s now a family pet. Neighborhood kids come over to see it. What do I do?”
That’s just one story in a million. And yet, when he went off to college, all those ideas I fed him over the course of his homeschooling bore fruit in a most unexpected way.
Once, he had not completed an assignment his professor required. It was an important assignment involving observing a doctor during his rounds. The last day to have it completed had passed. He went to his professor’s office hours and asked him for an extension. The professor said, “Did something happen that made you unable to do the work?”
My son, an expert at telling tales, said, “No, sir. I just did not manage my time well.” The professor looked at him dumbstruck. “Well, son. You will get a zero on this assignment. But I am looking for honest people to work in the biomechanics lab alongside our PhD candidates. I’ve been a professor for a long time, and every other kid would have made up a story. Would you like to work with our scientists?”
And from that day on, my son, a sophomore in college, got to do the most interesting work for the university. He even did his own research in the lab and presented his abstract at the American Academy of Sports Medicine Conference.
All that to say, don’t panic. Plant the seeds in the open soul of your children. And follow Charlotte Mason’s wisdom when she says,
“What is required of us is, that we should implant a love of the Word; that the most delightful moments of the child’s day should be those in which his mother reads for him, with sweet sympathy and holy gladness in voice and eyes, the beautiful stories of the Bible.”
For more Charlotte Mason insight read here.