By / Oct 14

Editor’s note: This is the fourth article in a series on what Christians should know about worldviews and worldview analysis. The other articles in the series can be found here.

In this series we’ve defined what a worldview is, considered the role of plausibility and community in shaping beliefs, and looked at the faith commitments that underlie worldviews. We’ll consider the four primary functions of worldviews in this article.

Four primary functions of worldviews

1. Worldviews provide emotional security 

Imagine what would happen if every time you asked the four questions of faith commitment—“Who am I? Where am I? What’s wrong? What is the remedy?”—your answer was, “I don’t know, and I don’t know how to find the answers.” The world would seem to be a place of incomprehensible randomness and chaos. You would likely be driven insane and be unable to function because of an overwhelming sense of existential dread.

A worldview, even a false worldview, provides a degree of emotional security because it allows a person to believe that reality is understandable. A person who believes their field burned down because Zeus hurled a lightning bolt in anger is more comforted than someone who believes the tragedy was meaningless and without a purposeful cause. 

2. Worldviews are predictive

Worldviews provide a model for reality and help us to determine what is plausible, that is, what we think can and cannot happen. By knowing what can or cannot happen, we are able to make predictions about what will or will not happen. This makes it possible for us to make plans for our life based on what we predict can happen. 

For example, most of us do not make a contingency plan based on whether we will be attacked by demons on our drive home from work. Even if we believe that demons are part of reality (as all Christians should), our worldviews tend to downplay the effect of supernatural evil on normal, everyday life. 

We therefore make predictions based on what our worldview considers plausible and exclude anything that is implausible as improbable. If you are asked to predict why you’ll be late for dinner, you’re more likely to say it is due to heavy traffic than demonic activity. 

This may seem too obvious to be worth pointing out. Yet it is precisely because our modern Western worldviews are shaped to have an anti-supernatural bias that we think this way. People tend to consider their own worldview as being “normal,” and anything that differs is considered abnormal or strange. We take for granted what is plausible and probable ​​because our worldview filters out that which we consider implausible and improbable.

3. Worldviews are prescriptive

Just as worldviews provide models for reality that allow us to make predictions, they also provide models of reality that prescribe how we will behave within that reality. “A worldview is never merely a vision of life,” says Brian J. Walsh and J. Richard Middleton, “It is always a vision for life as well. Indeed, a vision of life, or world view, that does not actually lead a person or people in a particular way of life is not a world view at all.” 

Holding a particular view of reality leads us to react in a way that corresponds to that reality. For instance, if we believe we live in a universe in which God judges our actions and rewards or punishes us accordingly, it will likely lead us to act in a way that pleases him. Even if the belief does not motivate us to act in a way that pleases God, we will consider our actions a form of rebellion against that God. The result is that our worldview not only leads us to behave in a particular way (obedience or rebellion against God) but leads us to interpret our behavior based on the worldview (i.e., from an obedience or rebellion framework). 

4. Worldviews provide cultural stability

As noted in an earlier article in this series, what we believe is largely dependent on what other people believe. Our worldviews are largely based on what other people believe, including the beliefs of generations that died long before we were born. What beliefs we consider plausible are generally based on the worldview that has been passed on to us by our culture. This provides continuity that allows us to cooperate from within a broadly shared framework. 

Consider what happens when incompatible worldviews interact. Imagine, for instance, a salesman from the U.S attempting to sell an insurance policy to an animist from a South American jungle. Animists believe all natural things, such as rocks, have spirits and can influence human events. The animist would therefore have a difficult time understanding why they should give money to transfer the risk of financial loss against random events when all events are essentially random, and at the whim of spirits.

Insurance depends on a worldview that not only believes in naturalistic cause-and-effect relationships, but also believes that mathematical tools such as probability and the law of large numbers can help us predict what is likely to happen in the future. If a significant number of our neighbors were animists and did not believe such predictions were plausible, then insurance would be untenable. 

Again, we take for granted that most people will share our “normal” worldview because one of the functions of a worldview is to provide cultural stability. But what happens when incompatible elements are found within a person’s worldview? That is the issue we’ll take up in our next article on internal coherence in worldviews.

By / Jul 6

I don’t think I have ever met a parent who didn’t hope to respond patiently and attentively when their child was sad, frustrated, or anxious. And there is plenty to lead our children to these emotions, from the pandemic to wars to social media. But the hope parents have of responding well can often be circumvented by our own emotions, thoughts, and even historical habits of relating. Suddenly we find ourselves reacting in ways that don’t align with the love we have for our children.

As I spend time in my counseling practice with parents, I discover that they love their children deeply and yet sometimes struggle to communicate that love when emotions are running high. They may not even have words for what is stirring ominously in their own minds and hearts when their child can’t seem to get his shoes on fast enough or put his laundry in the hamper, let alone when he yells or refuses to obey. 

What is happening in our hearts and minds? 

This is the million dollar question I hear in just about every counseling session I have. I’m grateful for the question. It denotes the desire to grow and explore. We usually discover that the answer is multifaceted, with many different influencing factors. But I want to share one answer that keeps coming to the surface for many parents I encounter.

When conflict or tension arises with our children, we feel carried away from the present moment and pulled into the past or into the future. 

We may feel pulled into the future with questions such as: 

  • What should I be teaching my child right now so this won’t happen again? 
  • What if this problem is a sign of a more serious issue that I’m not seeing?
  • What if I’m parenting wrongly and it messes up my kid for the rest of his life?
  • What will other people think of my parenting?

Or we may feel pulled into the past with questions such as:

  • Why didn’t I correct this behavior sooner?
  • What if I’m behaving just like my parents behaved with me?
  • What if I have already done too much damage?
  • How did we end up like this?

When we are pulled into the past or the future, we cannot be fully present. We cannot focus on what’s right in front of us. We need the ability to slow down enough to notice how we’re experiencing the moment, and we also need to notice how our child is experiencing the moment. We will miss very important information if our minds are busy with the questions of the past or the future.

In Scripture we see a heavenly Father who is fully present with us in all that we experience. Psalm 46:1 says, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (ESV). Psalm 121:3 says, “He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber.” And Jesus says in Matthew 28:20 that he is with us to the very end of the age. 

4 ways to be more present with our children

God is present with us in every moment, and as parents we too are meant to tangibly represent the presence of provision, protection, and leadership. So how can we be more fully present with our children through their hard emotions? 

Slow Down. Many of us struggle to regularly pay attention to our own bodies, emotions, and minds. If we are not self-aware, we won’t be very good at awareness of others. And self-awareness requires a slow pace that includes reflection and meditation. 

We do this best in the presence of God, since our identity is in him, and he knows everything happening inside and around us. And if I don’t set aside time to slow down in reflection and meditation on his Word, I will not instinctively slow down in a moment that is difficult. The practice of reflective meditation before God is beautiful in itself because we are spending time in his presence, but it’s also a training ground for life’s obstacles. If I know who I am and have a strong connection to my heavenly Father, I am more likely to respond in a way that truly reflects my identity.

Attune. Think of musical instruments in an orchestra. When the instruments are individually tuned and then attuned to each other, beautiful music can be created. Attuning to our children means leaning in toward them and seeking to know them in the present moment. But if we do not first seek to know ourselves in body, mind, and heart before the Lord, we will be trying to ‘tune up’ our children while our own instruments remain out of tune. We can attune to ourselves by slowing down, asking God for help, and then getting on the child’s level (figuratively or even literally). We can ask what is happening for him at this moment, and then seek to listen and understand. 

Focus. As we listen to our child, we should keep our minds, emotions, and bodies fixed in the present. If we find our minds being pulled to the past or the future, we need to redirect. (This takes lots of practice, so we must be patient with ourselves as we do this work.) Once we seem to have an understanding of what the child is experiencing, we can move forward in wisdom about what needs to be done. By focusing on desired outcomes, we are seeking to do more than just react suddenly to a difficult moment. And focused attention flows out of slowing down and attuning.

Encourage. In difficult encounters, I also recommend dual encouragement: toward the child and toward yourself. Everyone has difficult moments, and we do not always respond in a way that demonstrates love and wisdom. However, we still need to be encouraged to keep moving forward. We encourage our children to keep growing, and we should do the same for ourselves. First Thessalonians 5:11 says, “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” The Lord knows we need encouragement in order to fuel us in the work before us, so it’s good to also receive it—and even ask for it when you need it.

As we use this model of being fully present with our children, we will show ourselves to be SAFE (which is the acronym I created from the four principles above: Slow Down/Attune/Focus/Encourage). Our children feel safe and nurtured when we are fully present with them. And when we react suddenly and unhelpfully, by being pulled to the past or the future, the opportunity abounds for us to return to the present moment and demonstrate reconciliation, repentance, and forgiveness.

One final note: it’s unreasonable to expect ourselves to use the SAFE model every time we have a difficult encounter with our children. But I’ve noticed that when we start to practice it, even just a little, our kids start to pick up on something different. They notice a change in our responses, and they welcome it. Not only are we doing something that nurtures awareness in the moment, we are also helping our children identify and find language for their own responses, which will foster their continued growth into emotional and spiritual health and enable them to navigate the everyday stresses of life.  

By / Mar 25

Does your child have big emotions? Big responses to life’s circumstances? Fear. Sadness. Anger. Disappointment. Loneliness. Just like adults, children experience difficult emotions. They feel afraid of things that may do them harm. They feel sad when they experience a loss. They feel angry when things don’t go as expected. They feel disappointed when plans change and lonely when a friend moves away. 

As Christian parents, we take seriously our God-given task to teach our children the truths of God’s Word. We know we need to disciple our children to know who God is and what he has done. But how often in our teaching do we disciple our children in their emotions?

Emotional beings

God created us to image and reflect him. One of the ways we image God is in our emotions. God feels emotions such as love, joy, peace, jealousy, anger, and sadness (see Exo. 34:14; Rom. 1:18; Rom. 5:5; John 11:35).  When we feel joy at the goodness of God, we image him. When we feel righteous anger at the effects of sin in the world, we reflect God. 

But unlike God, our emotions are not holy and perfect. The influence of our first parent’s sin is felt far and wide, affecting even our emotions. Bad things happen. People get sick and die, and we mourn their loss. People hurt us. Frightening things happen in the world around us—disasters, pandemics, violence, and more. We hurt others in our selfishness and pride. All these situations are the result of sin, and they all produce emotional responses within us. Sometimes we respond in sinful ways to the pains of life. Often, our emotions exaggerate or distort the truth.

In discipling our children, we often focus on teaching them things they need to know or do and overlook the fact that they are emotional beings and need discipleship in their emotions as well. Our children are often overwhelmed by the difficult and painful emotions of life in a fallen world. They feel big feelings and don’t know how to navigate them. They need our help to understand what they are feeling, why they feel that way, and what to do with those emotions. 

Helping our children with their emotions

As parents, we can disciple our children in their emotions. We can walk beside them in their sadness, fear, and disappointment. We can use these opportunities to teach our children about the God who made them as emotional beings. 

Here are three things to teach children about their feelings: 

1. Help them learn to identify and verbalize their emotions: Children don’t automatically know that the tightness in their belly or the pounding of the heart means they are afraid. They need the words to describe it. We can help our children gain a vocabulary for naming their emotions. We can describe our own emotions, “We are running late to our appointment, and I’m worried we will miss it.” “I am feeling frustrated because my computer isn’t working today, and I can’t get my work done.” We can also point out to them their emotional responses, “You seem worried about your spelling test today.” “I see that you are crying. Are you feeling sad because _____?” “You’ve been in your room all day. Are you feeling lonely since your friend moved away?”

2. Help your children learn that emotions aren’t bad in themselves, it’s how we respond to them that can be sinful: While emotions are not always an accurate indicator of reality, they do tell us something is wrong. They reveal something is going on in our heart that we need to pay attention to. And while they aren’t bad in and of themselves, we can respond to them in sinful ways. Feeling hurt and rejected by a friend is a normal response to the unkindness of others, but it’s not right to then turn and yell at a parent or sibling. We need to help our children understand how painful emotions originate in the Fall of man, how sin affects all that we feel. We also need to teach them godly responses to those emotions. And as they mature, we can help them learn to identify the thoughts, desires, and beliefs that influence their emotional responses.

3. Help them learn to lament to God what they feel: We all want to hide from difficult or uncomfortable emotions or simply pretend they aren’t there. As adults, we might eat a gallon of ice cream when we are stressed or upset. We might keep ourselves busy with work to distract ourselves from the things that bother us. Children might respond differently than we, but they still have a natural tendency to want to protect themselves from uncomfortable and difficult emotions. 

Our God is gracious and has provided a place for us to go with our emotions: the book of Psalms. In these words of prose, we find all the emotions of life. Specific psalms, called laments, give voice to the especially hard emotions of life. We see the godly voice all their sorrows, fears, and cares and realize we are not alone. These psalms have a particular form and structure we can follow which help us bring our own laments to God. And in teaching our children to lament, we help them learn what to do with their difficult emotions. We teach them to cry out to God and tell him how they feel. We teach them to turn to him and ask for help with their troubles. We teach them to see God as their refuge, shelter, and deliverer in all the cares and trials of life. In this way, they develop the spiritual habit of turning to the Lord with all their big emotions. 

Our children are emotional beings. They feel big things. As parents, may we disciple our children in their emotions, teaching them to tell God how they feel. “I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, and he will hear me” (Ps. 77:1).

This piece is inspired by Christina’s new book: Tell God How You Feel: Helping Kids with Hard Emotions. For a sample of the book, click here