My senior year of high school, I had an art class in a metal barrack on the far end of campus. A
gravel path snaked past the cafeteria, gym and bus pick-up lot before winding its way down to a row
of portable buildings. It has been 17 years since high school, but I can still vividly recall how it
felt to walk to art class. The gravel crunching under my feet. The weight of my backpack. And my bad
That happened pretty often. Something during the day would set me off: being excluded, being mocked,
embarrassing myself with something I said or did. So I shuffled to art class, wrestling with
self-loathing and self-pity.
Maybe tomorrow will be better, I’d think. This day is doomed.
A funny thing happened, however. While I remember frequently walking to art class in a bad mood, I
can’t recall ever leaving that way. In art class, each student had a private cubby, and our teacher
sometimes let us bring music to listen to while we worked. I’d slip headphones over my ears, play
worship music and fill pages with colors and shapes. Before I knew it, class was over, and I was
walking that same gravel road but in a completely different state. The combination of music, art and
a quiet place acted as a sort of lullaby that took my mind to a different place, helping me get my
turbulent spirit under control.
I didn’t recognize it in high school, but now I understand a bit more about what makes me tick. I
also recognize that nothing influences my life as much as the ability to control my spirit in the
middle of volatile feelings and maddening circumstances. As a parent raising kids who now face their
own daily challenges, I want them to discover this same truth — that how well we respond to external
battles depends entirely on our ability to fight the internal war successfully.
That war takes place in our spirit, the part of our being that responds to God and receives His
power. I tell my kids that if our spirit is out of control, it’s difficult to put our life under
God’s control. Indeed, Scripture says that without a controlled spirit, we leave ourselves
vulnerable for attack “like a city that is broken into and without walls”
(Proverbs 25:28, NASB).
Teaching our kids to steer their spirit starts with helping them learn to manage their thoughts and
Whatever is lovely
When I taught my daughter Alivia to snowboard, one lesson I emphasized was that she needed to turn
her head in the direction she wanted her body to go. So if she wanted to set up a turn to her heel
edge, she needed to look over her left shoulder. Otherwise, her fancy footwork would be in vain.
Turn your head the way you want the rest of your body to go. The thoughts we allow to take up
residence in our head determine the direction the rest of our lives go. Thoughts fuel emotions,
which affect our words and behavior. This is why Scripture urges us to keep our heads filled with
only good things — true, honorable, just, lovely and pure things
(Philippians 4:8). Our lives depend on it.
No, your kids won’t be able to simply ban negative thoughts from creeping in. These thoughts will
show up. The problem is that we let them come in and spend the night. We dwell on them, as they
dwell within us.
I tell young people that we need to have a security checkpoint in our brain. Much like how the TSA
screens every item that passengers bring onto an airplane, so must we carefully monitor the thoughts
that enter our head. This process examines thoughts before we let them settle in and make themselves
comfortable. Are you true? If you aren’t, you’re not welcome here. Are you noble? How about pure or
lovely? No? Well, you gotta leave.
When we force each thought to go through a screening before we allow it to remain, we take back
control from fear, shame, jealousy and doubt. Can you even imagine how much of a game changer it
would be if, as they’re heading off to track practice, walking to class or waiting to fall asleep,
our kids allowed only the best thoughts into their minds?
Look where you want to go. Don’t focus on the awful things you want to steer clear of; instead,
direct your thoughts to a beautiful destination.
Staying plugged in
Positive thinking is important, but if it were really possible to do better just on our own
willpower, we wouldn’t need God. But that’s not possible; we are fallen and bent toward sinful
choices. The message of the Gospel isn’t “try”; it’s “trust.”
Our heavenly Father wants to send His ultimate power to aid us in our daily challenges. I tell my
kids that being energized by God is like staying plugged into the power source we are designed to
run on. There’s a night-and-day difference between using a coffee machine or a curling iron that is
plugged in versus using one just sitting on the counter. We can’t try to do God’s work without His
How do we stay plugged in? One of the best ways I’ve found is intentionally spending time focusing
on the love and wisdom of God, by reciting Scripture and singing or listening to worship music. Our
kids can also be creative in involving the help of other people and calming situations to keep their
spirits in check. Maybe it’s art, or taking a walk or enjoying time with God while sipping coffee.
However we do it, meditating on God’s truth is the ultimate security screening: It focuses our mind
and heart, making it impervious to the negative messages that bombard us.
The apostle Peter wrote, “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and
godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence”
(2 Peter 1:3).
Do you and your kids have all things that pertain to life and godliness? Potentially you do,
but practically you have to tap into what belongs to you, one moment at a time. It’s a bit like
having a gym membership; just because you have the right to go to the gym and freely use the
equipment doesn’t automatically mean you’ll get stronger and more fit. You have to take advantage of
what your membership gives you access to.
Let’s teach our kids that trying to overcome the challenges of life with their own strength is a
serious error. We must rely on the power of the risen Lord, who is always ready to fight the battles
He has already won for us.