“I don’t like that,” is a common childhood phrase, a phrase that some parents think is a sufficient reason for them to give in to the child. It’s not that such a thing can’t be considered, but it’s important to see deeper and look further down the road. There are many things in life that we might not like that are actually good for us. Take vegetables for example. One of first great lessons we all need to learn concerning those kinds of good things is that we don’t have to like them but we still need to eat them. If we eat them they will do their good. If we also like to eat them, that’s a great bonus.

A second fundamental lesson is that we often don’t like what we don’t know. Keeping with the vegetable illustration, many five-year-olds believe they can look at something and declare: “I don’t like that.” Wise parents recognize that since their child has never tried “that,” that the child could not possibly know whether they like it or not and so we insist that they try a few bites. In time their range of things they like grows and they’re actually able to go to other people’s homes and enjoy a meal with the family without a scene. Not swallowing the “I don’t like that” argument turns out to be good for everyone, not just the child. When we make excuses for our child’s self-centeredness (e.g., “Oh, he’s a picky eater”), then our child has just learned that he’s the boss and that you work for him.

“I don’t like that.” “I don’t want to do that.” “I don’t want to go there.” “I don’t want to participate.” These, and similar contentions have one thing in common and that’s the letter “I.” Selfishness is really the central argument in all of these. It’s all about me and what I want or like, and after all, I am the center of the universe. When parents give into these protests they’re often being shortsighted by failing to see the long-term consequences of such ideas. Indulging your child’s self-centeredness is generally a bad idea. Indulged children become addicted to the indulgence. They will grow up expecting the whole world to cater to their likes and dislikes, and don’t we all love to be around adults who have such expectations?

Self-sacrifice is one the most important lessons a child needs to learn. It’s important because it’s the essence of love: putting others ahead of ourselves. In order to acquire the skills necessary to live in community with others: families, churches, schools, workplaces, and broader communities; we all need to do many things we don’t necessarily like in order to love our neighbors as ourselves. Parents must learn to make holy insistence a part of their vocabulary: “You are going to take a few bites; I insist.” “Yes, you’re going to go, and you’re going to participate.” “You don’t have to like it but you’re going to act like you like it.” “You are not the center of the universe.” “You have an obligation to the group,” etc.

Now the reason it’s so important for children to learn these lessons about denying themselves is because it’s critical to mature Christian living. Children become adults who will carry these lessons with them, or else they will continue to live like they’re still the center of the universe. Either way, some kind of lesson has been learned and the fruit of the lesson will be manifest in marriages, families, churches and other communities. “I don’t want to go to church today.” “I don’t like to __________” “I don’t feel like ___________” Well, get over it. Take a bite. Get up, get dressed, get going. Do your duty. Discover the joy of self-sacrifice. Learn to love.