What I love about this semester’s theme, SEEK AND SPEAK THE TRUTH, is its complexity. What I don’t love about this theme is its complexity. At the beginning of the semester, I spoke on the theme at one of our weekly Lower School chapels, and in my preparation I kept laughing to myself about how different this theme looks for kids as they grow and develop. So, I’ve written here on this theme for Lower, Middle, and Upper School students, which is hopefully helpful to you parents as you have conversations at home on this topic.
Seeking and Speaking the Truth in Elementary School
Tip #1: Be Curious
In a world that tells us, somewhat remarkably, that truth doesn’t exist, one piece of evidence that it does is that we all seem designed to seek it. Kids, in particular, are overwhelmingly curious. When I was in 4th grade, I asked my mom so many questions that one day on the way home, quite overwhelmed, she handed me a notebook and told me to write them all down so that we could just go through them all at once together on a schedule. A study in childhood development found that children between the ages of 1 and 5 ask somewhere in the ballpark of 107 questions per hour. We are made to seek the truth.
But sadly, as kids get older, that innate curiosity often fades rapidly, especially in schools and families that discourage it – something that, given the invaluable role curiosity plays in real learning, is tragic. Susan Engel, in a Harvard Educational Review article, noted a drastic decrease in student questions as students progressed through a typical elementary school.
How can our kids be speakers of Truth in a world desperately in need of it if they haven’t developed the habit of seeking it themselves? Have you ever, as a parent, scolded your child for asking too many questions? Have you ever laughed at the silliness of a child’s question in front of him or her? Have you ever been asked a question at just the wrong time and then never followed up? For years my youngest had an incredible knack for asking questions right at bedtime. There have certainly been times I wish I would have been as wise as my mom to have her write them down for the morning. Have you ever focused the questions on the ride home after school entirely on facts learned? Have you ever tried asking, instead, “What really good question did you ask today?” as part of your conversation on the way home?
This semester, let’s do what we can as parents to foster a sense of curiosity in our kids – one that will train them to be seekers of the Truth.
Tip #2: Be Honest
For an elementary student mind, the “capital T Truth” is a tricky concept. They certainly understand Truth and speak it with conviction. “Jesus is Lord!” “God’s Word is always, always, always true!” “Jesus loves me.” Excellent. But what is perhaps equally important to impress on our children is the value of truth in relationships. Kids must learn, at an early age, that Truth isn’t only about being able to be the first with your hand up to give an answer. It’s also as precious as gold in a very practical way.
Nearly every Lower School student experiments with lying and half truths to get what they want. But the question is, how should we appropriately respond?
It’s often a temptation for us to pull out the big guns and say, “Now tell me the truth because lying is wrong and part of the Ten Commandments!” But what kids must understand is that we love the truth because it sets us free. It sounds almost biblical, doesn’t it? This is not only true with God’s Truth but also when truth is maintained between each other – when we are honest. When I’ve had kids in my office for telling a lie, the consequence always involves repairing the relationship with the person who was lied to, whether through a verbal or written apology and/or an act of service. Why? Because kids need to understand that without Truth, everything falls apart, and life is misery. Let’s work together to help them grasp that Truth.
Seeking and Speaking the Truth in Middle School
Tip #1: What is True?
It goes without saying that Middle School is a very different ball of wax. Middle Schoolers are more confident and more easily influenced, more frank and more embarrassed, more daring and more afraid, more skilled and more prone to failure. Kim and I have both had many bedside conversations with our middle schoolers trying to navigate this tornado of emotions, and one thing that my wonderful wife always asks is, “But what is true here?”
What she means is, What is real? What is the reality of your situation? In the midst of this giant bundle of feelings, what Truth do you need to remember and speak to yourself?
If afraid, what is the Truth about God’s protection over you?
If feeling alone or embarrassed, what is the Reality about God’s love for you?
If filled with anger about your sibling, what is the real nature of the alleged offense, and what is the Truth about God’s love for others?
If tempted, what is the Reality about your desires, and where should they be directed?
Sometimes seeking the Truth is simply reminding ourselves what is real in the midst of turmoil. Consider this semester what Truths your Middle Schooler needs to internalize in order to grow in his or her walk with the Lord. What Reality do they need to preach to themselves? How can you, as a parent, speak into this?
Tip #2: Stand Up and Be Brave
Another stark reality of the Middle School experience is the disproportionate value placed on the opinions of others. I have somewhat notoriously repeated to my own children that I was “really cool” in Middle School. And when I tell them what made me cool (allegedly), they always get a kick out of it. But as much as we as parents try to deflate the idea that the most important thing in the world is having your peers think you are very cool, it’s still a siren call they can’t refuse. This often makes doing what is right or standing up for a friend who is the brunt of a joke or telling a teacher when someone has been wronged, at the risk of being a “snitch” – or genuinely following Jesus – quite difficult.
For Middle Schoolers, the Truth will inevitably require them to go against the flow.
One thing I’ve gotten some flak for over the years is the fact that I often call my own kids – and my students for that matter! – weirdos. But in my family and in my classroom, that is a compliment of the highest order. In fact, in both contexts, I consider myself the Chief Weirdo. In our family one of our most cherished snacks is dried cuttlefish. That’s pretty weird in the U.S., and I love that. I hope that living overseas has exposed my kids at least a little bit to the fact that what might be really cool or delicious or normal in one culture may be completely bizarre in another. But the modern milieu of middle school + social media is a raging temptation for kids to fall into the trap of imitating the latest trends like lemmings.
As parents, let’s fight this temptation by praising risk, admiring creative approaches, and demonstrating excitement about different cultures. Our middle schoolers need the support from us that gives them the confidence to stand up and be different. This is foundational to good leadership, and it’s also foundational to the understanding that being a follower of Jesus means we must be willing to be a fool sometimes. Speaking the Truth often requires us to be “weirdos,” and we need to help our kids to understand that that is valued in our families.
Seeking and Speaking the Truth in Upper School
Tip #1: It’s Not Your Truth and My Truth
A glaring reality of our society in the 2020s is that we are told over and over again that there is no Truth. It’s Postmodernism 101. In fact, to think otherwise is considered at best arrogant and at worst bigoted. There are regular mantras about this. “You do you, man.” “That’s not my truth!”
To be clear, there is some truth to this idea. On my first day of history class with 9th graders I used to host an activity that represented what we do when we do history. The whole idea of the activity was to demonstrate that we cannot access the actual past and that every historical account represents a perspective on the actual past that we cannot recreate – because it’s in the past and we are in the present. Each year we had a discussion on this activity, and I often found it really interesting how every year one of my students would finally state something along the lines of, “See? So we can’t ever actually know what happened, so everyone is basically right!” And then the class all would nod and look at me like (a) they’d just uncovered one of the Great Truths of the world and (b) the discussion was over. That was my cue to say, “But something DID happen. And it was actually the truth. So why on earth would we give up trying to figure it out? Prove to me you’re not being lazy with your conclusion.”
High schoolers are really starting to wrestle with the big hairy questions of the Christian faith. How can a good God allow suffering? Why would God seemingly create someone with same sex attraction and then tell them they can’t marry someone of the same gender? Why do people say the earth is young but yet visible stars are light-years away? How can the future be foreknown but humans have free will? Why should I trust the accounts of the Gospels?
Together, let’s not let our kids stop with the easy answers that because something can’t be scientifically tested it must not be true or that because there are lots of opinions, everyone must be or no one could possibly be correct. We must journey with our kids through these murky waters with the confidence that genuinely seeking the Truth is a noble task – and that no question is anywhere close to being too big for God – and that we can confidently follow in the footsteps of millions before us that have been satisfied with scholarly answers. Jesus said not only that “the Truth will set you free” but that “You shall know the Truth” (Jn 8:32). We can pursue our big questions with patient hope and confidence.
Tip #2: Be Humble
But all that said, we need to be aboundingly careful as we journey with our kids in their pursuit of Truth that they remain humble – and that we model that compellingly. As our high schoolers examine and compare other religious beliefs to Christianity, is the outcome disdain for those of different faiths? As our kids feel confident in understanding what God’s Word says about homosexuality, do they feel a sense of permission to mock or shame?
One of my favorite descriptions of Jesus is found in John 1:14:
We have seen…the glory of the one and only Son…full of grace and truth.
Grace and truth. Jesus was a master of speaking truth with grace. Think about how often he answered a question or responded to a situation with a question. Why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? Why are you bothering this woman? What is easier to say? Why are you so afraid?
As we seek to raise our kids in a world hostile to Truth, we need to have the courage to seek and find it. But, in keeping with our theme from the first semester, we also need to have the wisdom to courageously season it with Love. This is no doubt just as much of a challenge for me, for you, and for the faculty and staff at CHA as it is for our students. May God grant us his mercy as we seek to live it out together!