Sunday, January 6, 2013

Why the Elf of the Shelf Isn't a Good Quick Fix

Growing up, we had a pair of olive green clad elves that sat on the ledge of our staircase.  On the other treads sat a hodgepodge of fond memories mother disinterred from her blue metal steamer trunk each December--the 3D gingerbread house candle from Avon, the singing red plastic bell, and the twirling, musical white-robed angel with her fifties' hairdo and halo of tiny plastic candles. 

To my brother and me, the elves were pretty cool, if for no other reason than that in a sea of our mother's "don't touch" precious memories, we were allowed free reign to gently hold these cloth objects with their molded plastic faces.  Few trips up and down the stairs didn't find me untucking their folded knees from their encircled arms and letting their twiggy legs dangle long.

Never did I ever consider that these stuffed objects might be real elves sent by Santa Claus to be sure I was behaving. 

This past year, my son came home from kindergarten with news that an elf had arrived in his room.  He had fun telling me if and when the elf magically moved around the room each day.  And much like my childhood, the elf was just a fun stuffed decoration.

But as the season progressed, I started hearing some parents using the elf as a discipline tool.  As the weeks passed, my Facebook home page literally exploded with pictures of the elf along with comments like, "You'd better be careful, Mikey.  That elf might is watching you" or "Susan was on a tear tonight.  Time for the elf to make an appearance!"

While some parents only used the cute guy as fun, for all too many, the elf became the embodiment of parental discipline, Santa's watchdog, a confidential informant so the big guy in red would know if you'd been bad or good.

Right before Christmas, a lady sweetly asked my son if he had an "Elf on the Shelf" watching to see if he was being bad lately.

Wyatt stood silent, not understanding or knowing how to respond.  Before I could bite my tongue, I blurted out,  "No.  Our house has a Father God who writes down our every action in heaven." 

This is the heart of the problem with the elf fad--teaching children behave in order to please a stuffed creature so they'll be worthy of Christmas gifts.

And now that Christmas is over? What happens now? Who should children strive to please until next December?

In Galatians, Paul speaks of grace and the law, explaining how God's grace that covers sin is not a writ of permissiveness so we can do whatever our flesh desires.  Instead, God's grace at salvation gives us the ability to fulfill the law, something we could never do within ourselves.

He then says,  "But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith" (Gal. 3:23-24).

You know the law of Moses he speaks of--do not murder, do not steal, do not lie, do not covet, do not commit adultery, keep the Sabbath holy, honor your father and mother, don't worship other gods....... Then, there is Jesus' clarification of those laws in Matthew 5 where He teaches that anger in one's heart is the equivalent of murder, where lust in one's heart is the equivalent of adultery.  This is the fullest extent of obeying the law given in the Old Testament.

According to this above passage, before we became followers of Christ, the law of Moses "tutored" us, teaching us to choose right actions and, ultimately, leading us to salvation when we learned we could never keep the law on our own and needed the blood of Calvary to redeem us from our sin.

The point is that this is how we must raise our children--under the law.  Not under fear of an elf but under fear of displeasing a holy God.  We must choose to raise our children under the law until they come to faith in Him, allowing the law to be their "tutor" to lead them to faith in Christ.

Our children must be taught that daily (not just in December), God knows their comings and goings, everything done in secret, every thought they has ever entered their minds.

In our household, I constantly remind my children that God not only knows and sees all, but that He writes all their actions--good and bad--down in His book: "and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds" (Rev. 20:12).

In other words, discipline isn't about an elf.  It isn't about what mommy and daddy want.  

Choosing right actions is about what God wants and expects from them.

In our household, husband and I strive (and fail miserably and strive again) to discipline our children based around the Ten Commandments.  At this age, they're usually guilty of not honoring their parents, lying, coveting as is expressed through ingratitude, murder through anger, etc.   I also routinely walk around the house yelling out the fruit of the spirit at my children when I see them doing something wrong.  "Kindness!!!" or "Gentleness!!!" (Gal. 5).  The result is that just last week, my oldest looked at me before I could say a word and said, "I know, I know.  Patience."

This post isn't an elf bashing.  One day, I'm sure my mother will pass down to me one of her antique elves to sit on my shelf.   But when she does, it will be simply a sweet memory, not a tool for discipline.

Instead, this is about parenting the next generation. 

We parents must choose to instill in our children a healthy fear and respect for God alone.  Respect for a holy God and fear of disappointing a heavenly Father should direct our parenting.  It should propel our children through every season of the year, not just at Christmas time. 

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