Category Archives: Parenting

Please stop asking the Old Lady at church to participate in your child’s disobedience

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shy-child

“Good morning, Johnny!” said the Old Lady at church.

Silence ensued, accompanied by a lowered brow which was followed up with a dodge behind mom’s leg.

“Say ‘hi,’ Johnny!” said the harried mom who was late, weighed down by an infant in a car seat and a diaper bag that didn’t want to stay on her shoulder.

More silence from Johnny, except for the almost imperceptible nasally sneer that came from his tiny frame as he peeked out from his defensive position to check that all eyes were still on him.  Mom was getting frustrated – she likes Old Lady and wants her to think well of Johnny, and her parenting, so she struggled to wrest the child from his hiding spot and coax little Johnny to say, “hi” to the smiling, waiting Old Lady.

But Johnny was having none of it.

As the seconds began to pile up with crushing pressure, Johnny became even more resolute and Mom was looking for any way possible to just get the scene over and done with.  So, with apologetic eyes (and heart) she spoke to Old Lady for Johnny and said, “We’re feeling a little shy today.”

To which the Old Lady at church was supposed to smile and say, “Oh, it’s OK, dear – don’t worry about it.  They all go through this stage.”

But she didn’t, and here is why.

She doesn’t want to participate in Johnny’s disobedience, and you shouldn’t either.

This mom’s answer on any given morning might have been “we’re still working on our manners,” or “we’re trying not to force him into social situations he’s uncomfortable with,” or “I keep trying to get him to talk with adults, but he just won’t,” or any number of other reasons she has allowed for Johnny not to do as she asked, but none of us is doing Johnny any favors if we allow him to persist.

While all of those things might be true (shyness, manners, social skill development, etc.) they are entirely beside the point.

Little Johnny was told to do something by his mother and he refused.  By making excuses for his behavior, Johnny is actually being trained to disobey her and she wanted desperately for the Old Lady at church to help her do it.  Sound familiar?

It is absolutely OK that Johnny is learning social skills and manners and even how to navigate social situations he is uncomfortable with.  But it is absolutely not OK for him to openly defy his Mom or Dad.

This may seem like a small and silly thing to write about, but it’s played out with such regularity, and is cousin to so many other ways we encourage disobedience rather than obedience that I sometimes want to shout out loud…  STOP THAT!!!!

It’s important that we think  through all of the little things about child-rearing in light of the Gospel.  We miss out on a million opportunities to disciple our kids when we don’t walk them through the steps of showing them their need.

In the example above, all could have been well if a couple of small changes had been made.  If mom knows that Johnny really is shy, she can practice with him before he goes in the door.  “OK, Johnny, what’s Old Lady at church going to do today?”  “Say, ‘Good Morning.'”  “Right!  And what should you say then?”  “Good Morning.”  “YES! That’s right! Let’s practice. Would you like Mommy to help you say ‘Good Morning’ to Old Lady today?”  And then when the scene plays out, Mom can say to Old Lady after she’s said her greeting, “It is a good morning Old Lady and Johnny and I have been practicing together our greetings to people.  Can you help us practice?”  Old Lady will be more than thrilled to help you, and says it again.  Mom helps reluctant Johnny (who maybe looks at Old Lady but then hides his face in mom’s neck.  At this point, Johnny is not disobeying because he hasn’t been told to do something, but he now has two adults helping him to learn an important skill.  Old Lady might say, “Oh, Johnny – I know it’s hard to learn how to do this but you keep practicing with Mommy and we’ll try again next week!”  No disobedience – all support.

What if Johnny is just not up-to-snuff on all those manners?  What better place to practice than in the company of Old Lady at church?  Mom and Dad can talk to Johnny ahead of time about this, too, and even do some play acting at home in preparation so that Johnny becomes comfortable with the exchange of greetings.  A similar request as above can be made of Old Lady when they walk in. Some coaching might be involved in the process, but that’s OK.  Making mistakes while learning is understandable and to be expected, but everyone involved is working towards Johnny’s good in this scenario.  Mom, Dad, and Old Lady can gladly participate in Johnny’s efforts to acquire skills to appropriately greet people he might not know very well, and he’s learning to honor people like Old Lady by speaking directly to her and not hiding behind someone’s leg.

You get the idea – find ways to prepare your little darling for what’s coming and what you expect their response to be.  Teach them why these things are important and that you expect them to obey you. Build into the situation a great likelihood that your child can succeed with what is being asked for in the routine of normal social situations, and don’t be afraid (or too proud) to ask for help from those around you who have journeyed far ahead of you on the road.  (And if you’re stumped about how to do that, ask Old Lady!)

It’s critical, Mom and Dad, that we take the discipleship of our children intensely seriously.  God doesn’t wink at or laugh at our sin – even our “childish” sin that is universally common.  He hates sin, and he has put his own son on a cross to remove it from his children.  Thankfully, we don’t have to make that kind of sacrifice for our sin or our children’s.  But in the end, if a rebellious and disobedient heart really is at the core of your little darling’s reluctance to obey you, then there is really nothing more important for you to address right there and right then – even if it is in front of Old Lady at church.  Take him to a private place, mete out whatever discipline is necessary, and come back and try again.  Old Lady will still be there, smiling and waiting, and cheering you on for being a phenomenal parent because you are taking the sinful heart of your beloved offspring as seriously as God does.

Next post, A Word about Liars…

 

 

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On Love and Lather…

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On Love and Lather…

Learning new skills is a blast for me.   I’m not “young” anymore – when learning things all the time is expected, but learning new things gives me great joy, even if it might be challenging, frustrating, expensive, and just down right hard.  In fact, learning it in spite of those things, is probably the most fun part.

But as I try to talk with people about my passion for taking on new challenges two things often happen.  

The first is I see that look.  You know the one – they’re trying to be supportive, but they’re bored.  They can’t relate and they don’t really want to.

The other thing that happens is that I encounter people who start to listen to my new idea, and then tell me all the reasons why I shouldn’t even try.  Ironically, these are usually people close to me.  Maybe the others are thinking it, but they’re not engaged enough to try to save me from my own folly.

But it’s not folly.  Lots of things don’t turn out the way I want them to, or thought they would.  But it’s very rare that I truly regret trying something.

I’ve been engaging in two bigger pursuits lately.  The first started about two and a half years ago when we knew we were going to go to France for a few weeks to work with some missionaries.  We decided it would be helpful to us, and polite to our hosts, if we tried to learn some basic French phrases.  I did some investigating and because of the beautifully connected network of home educators around the world was able to find a lovely woman in France who was willing to teach my family French via Skype calls three times per week for a few months.  It sounded perfect!

But guess what?  People tried to talk me out of it!  They said it would be too hard.  They said we weren’t going to be there long enough to make it worthwhile.  They said we wouldn’t be able to practice with anyone.  And craziest of all, they said that we shouldn’t attempt to do this without a teacher – and by “teacher” they meant a college professor.

Thankfully, I ignored them and said, “Why not take lessons from a native French speaking home schooling mom?”

And guess what – we learned French.  My kids learned basic phrases and at least enough to show that we were trying hard to engage in the French culture.  And guess what else.  Even though I’m a grandmother, and everyone EVERYWHERE says you can’t learn a new language after age 40, I did learn it – and I found out that I LOVED learning it!  So after our trip was over and we were all back in the States, I continued learning French, and I continue to love it.

(My efforts paid off big-time, too, when I went to a French-speaking country in Africa last year and had to get through airport security during the Ebola outbreak with only French.  That was no easy task!)

The thing is – no one thought it was really worth doing.  No one thought I was serious, and NO ONE really thought I would be able to do it.

But I did.  

Because I just never listened to them.  It’s not that I didn’t hear them – I just didn’t pay any attention to them.

My sister-in-law asked me a long time ago how my siblings and I got such “I can do that” spirits.  I didn’t really have an answer for her then, because, to be frank, I never knew that our attitudes about facing challenges were anything other than ordinary.  But that question has stuck with me over the years and I think I’ve come to a conclusion.

Why do we look at life and think, “I can do that”?  

Because no one was ever around to tell us we couldn’t.  

Now, I’m not advocating leaving your children alone for extended periods of time the way we were – we got into a lot of trouble that having an adult in the general vicinity might have spared us from.  But my mom was working and we were often – usually – on our own.  We didn’t really run in a pack – we each did our own things.  And no one was around to tell us we couldn’t.

If we wanted to cook something we did.  We burned things (and ourselves) but we learned how.  And then we enjoyed the fruits of our labor — because no one told us we couldn’t.

If we wanted to build something we found a way to do it (and knew the neighbors who would give us scraps of wood and bits of this or that that could be used).  I remember figuring out that I could take drawers out of discarded furniture and make miniature rooms out of them.  I stacked them on top of each other and made whole houses.  I used old clothing for curtain material and learned how to use an electric jig saw (God only knows why the neighbor trusted me with that on my own – I was 9!) to make decorative “roofing.”  I braided rugs out of blue jean hems that my aunt cut off of her jeans that were too long.  I’m sure these creations were ghastly looking in reality, but to me they were castles that any queen would have been honored to live in.  I built them — because no one told me I couldn’t.

When I wanted to learn how to sew I found someone who would show me the basics and then I sewed my little fingers off using any and every scrap of fabric I could hustle out of anyone — because no one told me I couldn’t.

I was a terrible reader – actually, I still am.  I have to say the words I read in my head or I can’t understand what I’m reading, so I am s.l.o.w.  But I love to read.  (I think I like knowing what is in the books better than the actual reading of them, but you get the picture.)  I want to know, and slowness means I can’t read as fast as someone else, but I figured out along the way that I could still end up reading a lot of books in 15 minute increments — because no one told me I couldn’t.

Now being without any parental supervision wasn’t the best for us for a whole host of other reasons, but one good thing that came out of it was that (when my grandmother wasn’t around at least) there was also no one being critical of us.  We had the freedom to dream and experiment and fail and try again.  We made colossal messes (yeah – we got in big trouble) but that never seemed to deter us from trying the next great idea that came into our minds.  If something sounded like a great idea the only question that ever came up was, “Why not?”

So when I became a mother I decided early on that I was going to ask myself “why not?” when my kids wanted to do something rather than just say “no.”  

Sometimes there are good reasons not to do something – but mostly there aren’t.

Fear of failure, of what others will think, of doing something unnecessary or “foolish,” or even of making colossal messes – none of these are good reasons to say, “no.”

And I’m going to shock some of you by telling you that even “safety” isn’t always a good reason to say, “no.”  Scrapes and bruises are part of the learning process.  Falling down and failing are part of the learning process.  Dealing with disappointing results, frustrations, defeats, and even losses are all part of the learning process.  OK – I’m not talking about the life-and-death things you really do need to say “no” to – I’m talking about the things like climbing trees and swinging on rope swings out over the pond and sitting on the porch roof and shooting BB guns kind of stuff.  Why would we want to keep that from our children?  Why not walk through those things with our children instead?

Giving my kids the freedom to dream and try and fail and fly was good and right.  It taught them to keep working at things even when it was hard.  It taught them that hard work and tenacity pays off in expected and unexpected ways.  It taught them to be courageous enough to take the right kinds of risks, and that failing at something is not the same as being a failure.  

But most of all, I believe it taught them that I love them not their performance.  They knew that I would be there to rejoice in their successes, but that I would also be there to pick up the pieces when things fell apart – and that tomorrow I would encourage them to try again.  Isn’t that how God loves us?

You see I believe with all of my heart that God gave us an imagination so that we could dream big thoughts and then do big things.  We were not created for the ordinary only – we were created for the extra-ordinary, too.  Our created world is full of wonder and brilliance that a stifled, critical, “safe” childhood will never allow to be revealed..  I have made lots of mistakes over the years to be sure, but I do not regret having a “why not?” attitude while discipling my children into young men and women.

I wouldn’t change that for the world.

And now that my kids are almost all out of the house and grown, it doesn’t need to end – I can still live life in a “why not?” kind of way.

My latest adventure?  Starting my own soap-making business!  Lovely Bee Soaps (in French lovely bee is La Jolie Abeille — because I know you were wondering and it’s WAY cool that I know!) began as a way to bless my neighbors last Christmas.  Making hundreds of little bars of lovely, luxury, oh-so-beautifully-smelling soaps was not a business idea at all, but an affordable way to give something hand-made to our whole neighborhood.

But after we gave them out to neighbors and family and friends, people began asking me to sell them some.  Truthfully, at first I was inclined to say, “Oh no – I just did that as a little hobby sort of thing… just to be nice.”  But after years of training my mind I caught myself and said, “Why not?” instead.

Going from hobby to business is much harder than I thought it would be.  The work that needs to go into learning things that I never dreamed I would need to know is crushing sometimes.  Trying recipes and fragrances is great fun, but labeling things so that the FDA doesn’t come and shut me down, or so that my customers know what they’re getting and want to come back – are all new things!  The website needs work – a LOT… (www.lovelybeesoaps.com – if you look and it’s not up yet you’ll know I’m still learning that, too!), and marketing is a new game… and accounting and pricing…. It’s all brand new to me.  But why not?

If this works it will be a way to earn income without me leaving our home.  If this works I have the opportunity to enrich people’s lives through the small luxury (or la petite jolie) of really, really nice soaps.  If this works I’ve created at least one job (mine) and maybe more!  If this works it could be GREAT!  And if it doesn’t, oh well.  I tried and failed.  I’ll still get up as long as I have breath and pour myself into whatever it is the Lord has in front of me to do.  It won’t be the end of the world.

Love your kids enough to let them dream and try and succeed and fail.  They will love you for it.
And if you know anyone who is looking for shaving soap, no lie, I found the BEST recipe ever — everyone who uses it raves about it and comes back for more!  (Seriously – I tested the foam on this stuff and it was still stiff and luxurious after 20 minutes!)  Send me a note and I’ll hook you up!

And the next time inspiration hits you (or one of your kids!) stifle the urge to protest and give the gift instead of asking, “hey – why not?”

The Collateral Damage of a Parent’s Sin…

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“The wisest of women builds her house, but a fool tears it down with her own hands.” Proverbs 14:1

I watched a movie once called Collateral Damage.  It told the story of the horrifyingly negative effects on a couple’s life of “intervention” into another country’s affairs.  I don’t remember a lot about the story – something to do with oil companies in South America I think –  but I do remember the callous response of those individuals responsible for the mess that had been made.  “Oh well,” they shrugged.  “One has to expect a little collateral damage.”

What?!

This wasn’t even a war zone.  One might possibly come to some kind of terms in the context of war, but this? This was so… ludicrous!

And so is the nature of the collateral damage that we create with our own hands and mouths.  As we look ahead to Mother’s Day in a few weeks, and then Father’s Day beyond that, do your families a favor and think with me on these things.

Yes – I know.  This isn’t one of those cute and happy kinds of Mother’s Day thoughts… But if we can get this right, it is worth far more than the cards or candies or even expensive items that will be exchanged on those days and the lingering effects will last for many years to come.

Recently my husband and I were challenged to come up with a list of at least fifty consequences that happen when we sin.  The parameters were to think of things that happen in our personal, marital, and family lives – but for this post, I’m focusing on the things that happen to our children when we sin against them or in front of them.

To be honest, it was difficult to start this list.  I kind of felt like it was a big dragon that I was trying to capture by the tail.  Where do I start?  How do I get a concept like this down on paper?

So, as I often do when I have a puzzle to solve or problem that seems too big, I brought it to the table and presented it to my kids so they could help me organize this list a little better.  They’re clever people and all adults now (or very close to it) so I figured it was a good discussion to have around the table.

They, too, had some trouble grappling with the largeness of the category at first, but after a little discussion our collective thoughts came up with a few ideas.  We started grouping sins into categories, which was certainly an organized approach, but didn’t turn out to be very helpful in actually answering the question, “What are the consequences when we sin?”  It was all good food for thought, and they were actively engaged in the process, but we still hadn’t come up with a good list of consequences when they had to start leaving for various reasons.

I was alone again with my thoughts.

I tried again, trying to think through the many things swirling around my head.  Then I started to remember some specific times that I had had to go to them and ask for their forgiveness.  Painfully I remembered too many times I had hurt them with my words or accusations or tone.  Ouch.

The list started to flow more easily when I thought of how they felt, and how hard it was after some of those times to rebuild what I had carelessly wrecked.  I realized that I wasn’t talking about consequences like paying a fine when I’m late with a library book.  I was looking square in the face of damage.  I was the one who sinned, but they had suffered because of it.

The list (below) is still growing as I realize more fully how damaging my sin is to them.  Whether I have sinned directly against them, or have sinned in their presence, I do damage.  I create casualties out of my own flesh and blood!

How many adults do you know who are still heavily burdened because of how their parents treated them?  How many adults do you know who find it exceedingly difficult to say, “I’m so sorry I hurt you,” because it was rarely (if ever) said to them?  (Maybe you count yourself among them!)  What restoration could there be if we think about the lasting, hurtful effects we have on our children’s whole lives and change how we interact with them?  What love could we bestow on our grandchildren if we teach our children to quickly seek forgiveness?

This year, as we think about Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, how about if we give the gift of humble repentance to our children?  I can tell you that the fruit is well worth it.  I couldn’t have had this discussion with my kids if I hadn’t first shown them that they could trust me with the brutal truth.  They have long felt the freedom to come to me and lovingly, call me out on my sin.  I usually don’t want to hear what they have to say – not because I don’t want them to tell me, but because I hate that it is true.  But I am so very grateful that they do come.  What a blessing to see them have the courageous love it takes to rebuke a brother – or, in my case, a mother – because they want the relationship restored and whole again.

Their loving rebukes have helped to change me.  It hasn’t always been easy to change some bad habits.  But habits can be changed and rooting out bad habits is worth all the struggle and failure and repentance and trying again and again that it takes.  It’s hard work.  It can be frustrating and wearisome, but the sweetness in the relationships is so very, very worth it!

Part of discipling our kids is modeling being discipled in front of them.  When we show them that we are willing to be humble and go to them when we have wronged them, then our exhortation that they humble themselves before God holds a lot of weight.  If we never do it, they see straight through us as the hypocrites that we are.

Remembering frequently that we are shepherding souls that will live for eternity helps me to keep things like this in the right perspective.   Unfortunately, we don’t take our sin seriously enough in general, and therefore, we don’t consider all that happens when we sin.  Writing a list of the collateral damage of my sin has been very sobering.  But hopefully it will bear much fruit for a long time to come.

You can read my list – but writing your own, and referring to it regularly, will reap the most benefits for you.  Adding to it as you realize the power of your influence in your home will reap rewards for you  – just as it has for me.  Every parent messes up.  Every parent messes up regularly!  The key to preventing it from becoming irrevocable destruction is to quickly go to even the youngest of children and own it.  Get down on their level, look them in the eyes, and say, “I’m so sorry for doing this to you (be specific).  I’ve sinned against you and it was wrong!  I shouldn’t have done it and I wish I had controlled myself so I didn’t hurt you.  I’m really and truly sorry! Can you please forgive me?”

It’s pretty tough for a child to resist the sincerity of a parent as honest as that.

This year, as mothers and fathers, give the gifts to your children.  Give them the gift of adulthood with as little “parental baggage” as possible.  If you have grievances to address – go to them and seek their forgiveness, not expecting anything from them.  Some things are long-standing and messy.  It may take them a long time to trust that you are sincere in your humility.  But do it anyway.  Your gift will be a blessing for generations to come.

 

Collateral Damage of a Parent’s Sin

What happens when we sin against or in front of our children…

  • We are poor role models for how to be godly men or women
  • We teach them to disregard what God says about humbling ourselves and asking for forgiveness because we disregard it
  • We teach them to disregard what we say about the same thing
  • Our home is not a warm, loving place, but a battle ground
  • Our children are afraid, rather than secure
  • They feel alone, rather than protected
  • They feel rejected, rather than loved
  • They are confused because we’ve violated the standards we’ve set before them
  • They are sad
  • They are broken
  • They feel despair
  • We cut down those we love the most rather than build them up
  • We hurt them now and for years to come
  • We communicate that we don’t trust them
  • We communicate that they can’t trust us
  • We communicate clearly that we don’t love them the way Jesus loves us
  • We sow seeds of doubt in their hearts that God is not who he says he is
  • We communicate that we think we are worth more than they are
  • Our selfishness communicates that we value our own desires more than we value them
  • Our indignation communicates that we haven’t given them permission to call us out on our sin
  • We build walls between ourselves rather than relationships
  • We preach a false Gospel to our children – one that worships self rather than God
  • We create an environment of fear and anxiety rather than love and safety
  • We use our position and authority as tools to get what we want rather than as ways to lovingly serve
  • When we put our needs above their needs it teaches them to do the same
  • We teach them to rebel against us rather than submit to loving parents
  • We create dependence on our approval rather than on the approval of God
  • We teach them to doubt that God has their best interests at heart because we don’t
  • We create cripples rather than soldiers fit for spiritual battle
  • We fail to teach them how to humbly and sincerely repent and seek forgiveness
  • Our selfishness begets selfishness – both in ourselves and in our children
  • We teach them that they have to protect themselves because we haven’t
  • We teach them that they have to build walls up to avoid future hurt
  • When we don’t listen well to them, we communicate that we don’t value what they think or feel
  • We create disillusionment in relationships
  • We teach them to doubt everything we’ve ever said about love and forgiveness because we haven’t lived what we’ve preached.

*This is just the beginning of the list… there is more, so much more to be added.  But you can do that with your own children.  Mine are happily helping me add to this one.  Not so they can point out my faults, but because they know they are loved and want to love their own children well.  None of us wants this to be our legacy.  Getting rid of sin together is a joy!

I’m sorry…

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I’m sorry…

Two of the most used, and abused, words in any language.

We’ve all seen it happen:

An offender offers the obligatory “sorry” to their offended – mostly just to get them (or the situation) off their back.

I’ve seen it with children frequently:  We say, “Jenny, tell Johnny you’re sorry for biting him.”  But Jenny is not sorry.  She feels justified because Johnny did (fill in the blank), but we insist.  “It was wrong to bite Johnny.  You owe him an apology.  Now tell him you’re sorry.”  Jenny still isn’t sorry and you have other things to do.  “Jenny!  Tell Johnny you’re sorry for biting him or you will (fill in the blank with some consequence of not saying “sorry”).”  The word “sorry” becomes Jenny’s ticket out of this mess, and getting out of the mess is worth more than maintaining her stance of justification, so she, begrudgingly, complies.  “Sorry for biting you.”

But everyone present knows it’s a sham.

Children are not the only ones who are guilty of this.  And, since I’ve been thinking on this and being more aware of how frequently it happens, we adults don’t seem to grow up and get much better at hiding our contempt or the ruse.

Who hasn’t heard (or been) a couple in the midst of a disagreement (where there really is something to be sorry about) where the guilty party is finally convinced that they need to admit it and do the right thing but end up much like the Jenny and Johnny above?  “OK, I’m sorry,” but we all know that’s a lie.

Or, worse still, there is a shouted, “I’m sorry!” with an expressed or implied, “now can you just drop it!” attached to the communication.

I’m sure we all have stories we could tell where we’ve witnessed it.  But if we’re honest, we must also confess that we’ve been “that” guy (or girl), too.

I ask, dear reader, because I wonder if real forgiveness can ever be offered is there is never real sorrow over our wrongs?

Jenny didn’t simply bite Johnny.  She injured his body, sure, but she also injured his person as well.  She bullied him.  She devalued him.  She placed her wants, her desires, her will above him – which communicates that he is worthless to her.  She violated his right to suffer no undeserved harm.  She abused him.

Can a muttered “sorry for biting you” ever express what really needs to be expressed to him without her realizing that she has done far more to him than leaving teeth marks?  (And yes, parenting a child’s heart is incredibly hard and takes much more time – but it is critically important.)

The same is true in adult situations.  When we offend or hurt someone, can the two words, “I’m sorry” ever really be enough?  Can that phrase convey heartfelt remorse over the wrong and the collateral damage that ensued without some evidence of sorrow?

I think not.

The original meaning of the word “sorry” is overflowing with a very different tone.  Old dictionaries use the following words to define “sorry”:

“distressed, grieved, full of sorrow”

“pained, wretched, worthless, poor”

These words paint a fuller picture of what “I’m sorry” ought to convey.  They get to the heart of the matter, don’t they?  Rather than a “can we get this over with” mentality, or “I’m sorry if you’re upset about this” attitude, “I’m sorry” should convey, “I am grieved and full of sorrow that I hurt you.  I am pained that my wrongdoing has affected you so profoundly.  I wish with all of my heart that I had not done it, because I love you and don’t ever want to see you hurt – least of all by me.”

But we don’t really recognize that our insults are damaging and costly beyond the seconds of time they take to express them.  We don’t acknowledge that our refusal to consider someone else’s needs is hurtful and reckless far beyond inconvenience.  We don’t want to admit that our threats or control or indifference express so, so much more than thoughtlessness or carelessness might excuse.

Instead, we defend our wretched behavior.  Or we justify it by blaming someone or something else.

Why do we do that?

Wouldn’t it be better to say, “No!  I’m not sorry!”?

At least if we did that we wouldn’t be adding deceit to the list of our transgressions.

Shouldn’t we at least be able to acknowledge that until we really are grieved over what we’ve done to the other person – in all its fullness – that what we are really communicating is that we are valuing ourselves – our reasons- our excuses – our justification – our position – our status – as more important and worth more than the other person?

You might ask me why I care about this enough to lay it out here.

I have two reasons:  The first is that more and more I see around me a thousand, maybe ten thousand ways we avoid the “little” conflicts in our lives to our peril.  We ignore the things that we don’t want to deal with for a variety of reasons, but they all boil down to this:  we don’t think the other people in lives are worth rolling up our sleeves and getting messy over.  In this area, we don’t want to spend the time or the energy it takes to try to work things out with someone who has offended us, or whom we’ve offended, so we “let it go.”

But it doesn’t go away – it builds.  It gets added to the next time and the next until we erupt and don’t even know where to begin to try to make things right.  Relationships are destroyed over the building up of a thousand unresolved opportunities to say, “I’m really, truly, honestly sorry for hurting you.”

But the second, and infinitely more important reason is this:

Can forgiveness ever be ours if we do not sorrow over our sins?  Can we possibly expect that an All-Knowing God is fooled by our “sorry if I upset you” words when we all know full well there is no real sorrowful remorse?  Can repentance ever be genuine if there is not also sorrow?

Psalm 51: 16-17 says:

For you will not delight in sacrifice (or an obligatory “sorry”),

or I would give it;

you will not be pleased with a burnt offering (or an, “I’m sorry if this upsets you”).

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;

A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.  (parenthetical statements added)

 

Learn what being sorry means, friends.  Teach your children to understand it as soon as they are able.  And for the sake of the Gospel in your own life and in the lives of those around you, be quick to see the profound and magnificent work that can be wrought through a heart that has learned what it is to be “pained, wretched, distressed, grieved, and full of sorrow.”  All of heaven rejoices over one such as this.

The discomfort of struggle

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“NO!  DON’T TOUCH IT!”  I remember quickly intervening before my four-year old son “helped” a butterfly emerge from its cocoon.

“You have to let it come out by itself,” I instructed.

“But it needs help!” he demanded.

“No, it doesn’t.  It needs to struggle its own way out, or it will die.  It needs to get stronger by working itself out of that cocoon – if it doesn’t, it won’t be strong enough to fly away.”

Obedient, but dissatisfied, he relented and watched the grueling struggle as the wriggling, writhing thing slowly – ever so slowly – finally emerged and spread its wings to dry.  With revelry, he squealed in exaltation when “his” butterfly finally took flight, under its own power, and left the safety of our observation tank.

But there was another butterfly in our collection that had yet to emerge, and I did not catch my son before he gently “helped” the next one out.  That butterfly never spread its wings.  It never flew away.  It never did what butterflies were meant to do.  We found it on the floor of the terrarium, dead, not long after.

I knew what had happened without him confessing, but I asked him if he’d tried to “help” his other butterfly.  Embarrassed, he denied it at first, and then with tears he said, “I just wanted to help him!  He couldn’t get out!”

So many times I am tempted, like my son, to take a short-cut through the struggles in life.

I want to “help” my kids figure things out.

I want to “help” myself by bypassing the hard things.

I want to “help” the friends and loved ones in my life out of the pain and suffering they find themselves in because I don’t want them to struggle.

But when I look back at the times in my life when God has revealed his character to me best and deepest, I can point, without exception, to the painful and difficult struggles I’ve gone through.

I could not have known God the way I know him without them.

Why then do I insist on looking to avoid the uncomfortable struggle of getting through them?  Would I trade knowing God deeply and richly for an easier life?  God forbid that I would ever say so… but isn’t that exactly what we say when we try to escape the hard things?

I know that there is joy when the hard things are over.  And there is a depth of gratitude that comes when seasons of pain are memories and no longer daily realities.  In The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis writes, “Love may forgive all infirmities and love still in spite of them: but love cannot cease to will their removal.”

But the joy and the gratitude are impossible without the pain that precedes them.

I would not be able to know how sweet joy can be without knowing the bitterness of bone-grinding difficulties.  And my gratitude grows as deep as the plumbs of my despair when I have suffered loss and seen that God is good.

The struggles we face – and we watch others face – can, indeed, be uncomfortable to watch, to endure.  But there is such beauty ahead if we will wait with patient anticipation of the strength and character he will mold in us through them, if we will just trust Him.

By all means, help when it is necessary – but only when it is absolutely necessary.  And that is likely much later than we are typically comfortable with.

Whatever you do…

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Man!  I wish they would just do the dishes without grumbling or complaining!!!

You would think that by now I’d have this down.  Thirty years I’ve been a parent and still my kids argue about cleaning up the kitchen.  “It’s not my turn.”  “You didn’t finish your job so now you have to do my job.”  “You didn’t finish on time so now you have extra duty.”  Over and over again I hear, in one form or another, “I’m not taking that responsibility – it’s yours!”

Argh!

“Guys!”  I say, “this is not how we do things here.  Who’s responsibility is it?”  (Lots of lowered eyes and finger-pointing at this point…)

To the apparent offender – “Did you really take care of your responsibility?”

And to the obvious finger-pointers – “Did you try to encourage him to fulfill his responsibility?  Are you walking along side?”

Of course the answer to all of the above is, “Um, no.”

I’ve told my kids (and myself!) this at least a thousand times, “Whatever you do, do it heartily, as unto the Lord…”

What I want them to do is in all things, give it their best efforts.  I want them to have a good work ethic – to think in terms of literally doing even the smallest of chores as if Jesus were coming to our home.  I want that ethic to carry over into their school work and jobs and families and parenting.  I want them to learn to be self-motivated in these things.  We feel better about ourselves when we do the right thing, right?

But it occurs to me that I have been missing an important message in that admonition from Scripture – the important message.  I’ve been focusing in the “heartily” part, but what does it mean to do things “as unto the Lord”?

And, now that I’m thinking about it… what is the broader context of that passage???

That verse is Colossians 3:23, but here’s some framework:  Paul is instructing the Colossian church that they are to live as new creatures – changed completely through the saving work of Jesus…for a reason.

– since you used to be dead in sin, but now are alive in Christ, seek the things that are above, not             below

– put to death all the wickedness that is within you, put on the righteousness of Christ

– don’t let sin rule in you anymore, Jesus is now your head – your authority – he is your ruler

And how  do we do these things?

– be thankful (for Christ’s work in you)

– let the Word dwell in you (read it, memorize it, think deeply on it)

– teach and admonish one another in all wisdom (from that Word)

But the most important question to answer is not “how?” but, “Why?”

Why should we work heartily as unto the Lord?

Why should we put sin to death?

Why should we be thankful?

Why?

The answer is simple, but oh, so easy to miss.

Verse 17 mirrors verse 23:  Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

“Giving thanks to God the Father through him” is glorifying God.  We do what we do to glorify God.

We have a good work ethic – because it upholds God’s reputation and reflects God’s character well.  It glorifies God.

We put on the righteous nature of Jesus and shake off our own wickedness – because it speaks loudly about the power of God to change lives – it reflects God’s character well.  It glorifies God.

We have a cheerful attitude – because it reveals how thoroughly our hearts have been transformed – it reflects God’s character well.  It shows that Christ is in charge of our otherwise wicked hearts – and it glorifies God.

Perhaps what I have actually been teaching my kids has been, “Do the dishes because it makes mom happy.”  Or, “put the food away because it makes mom less crabby.”

I never want my kids to think that making me happy is their highest calling, but I could at least make an argument that teaching them to please their parents is the first step in learning that obedience brings joy.  I could then teach them that learning to obey God in all things glorifies him and he’s kind enough to  make it so that the very same things that bring us the most joy are also the things that glorify him.

But God forbid that I teach my kids that achieving my goals or even their own goals – even admirable goals – is their highest calling.

Rod Dreher explains this eloquently when he writes, “… excellence and knowledge are fine things, but they do not justify themselves. The pursuit of excellence and knowledge must be bounded by moral and communal obligations that rein in the ego and hamstring hubris. Today we live in an age when science often refuses limits, claiming the pursuit of knowledge as a holy crusade. The world praises as daring and creative the transgression of nearly all boundaries—in art, in media, in social forms, and so forth—… these goals can be understood as good only if they are subordinated to right reason, to virtue, and, ultimately, to the will of God.”  (He’s talking about the lessons he learned from reading Dante – be sure to check out the full article!)

So.  What’s the point of all of this?

We need to be reminded (again) that we are utterly prone to wander away from what God wants the most.  Even in my instruction to my kids to learn to take care of their responsibilities (a good thing) I have erred in failing to point them to the best thing.  It is not about making them (or me) feel good about themselves by doing the right thing.  That is a perversion of what God has asked of us.  Great feelings are a beautiful reward that we enjoy from a loving God who wants us to love Him rightly.

But…Whatever you do…?  Remember that the ultimate goal is always, and only to glorify God.  All the other details will clearly fall into place when that is at the center of whatever we do.

Love in the laundry room…

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I spend a lot of time in our laundry room – I mean a LOT.  I learned a long time ago to use that time productively – well, by that I mean using it for more than just getting the laundry done.

Each of my kids has had his/her own laundry bin since they were born and I have a system where I do certain people’s laundry on certain days of the week.  It works for us.

One of the byproducts of my little system is that while I’ve spent week after week, year after year, doing laundry for my family this way, I have prayed for each person specifically, pointedly, fervently  while doing his/her laundry.  I don’t really mind doing the laundry – even though for a family of nine there has certainly been a lot of it.  There’s a lot of love that has happened in my laundry room.

And, because of the volume of laundry and the time that gets spent keeping the process going, the laundry room is one of the first places my kids look for me when they can’t find me.  It is not at all uncommon now for one of them to seek me out for some one-on-one mom time when I’m in there.   There is still a lot of love happening in my laundry room.

So it was no surprise to me when  one of my sons came in to “help”  me fold clothes.  He had been struggling through some weighty issues.

He’s a young man.  He’s reached the age where he is thinking seriously about his mission in life, and looking forward to the time when he can ask a young woman to follow him in it as his wife.   I’m glad he’s giving serious thought to these things.  However, one of his friendships had put a lot of restrictions on him – or at least he felt he should be restricted.  She’s a sweet girl from a great family – she’ll make a wonderful wife and mother some day.  But I didn’t believe that she would be a good fit for him.  He was different around her than he was around us – less prone to laugh at the things we normally laugh at, less willing to engage in activities that we normally enjoy, and a little more inclined to look at others with judgment when they didn’t behave the same way.  This was never her doing – it was his.  He was trying to do what he thought would please her and make her approve of him.  But that’s not how God intends things to be, is it?  He wants us to please Him and look to Him for approval.

We had talked about this inconsistency many times, but he didn’t really want to see it for what it was.  It was the topic of many of my laundry room prayers.

But one day he went with another family to an event that was pure delight to him.  The members of that family (including some young ladies) thoroughly enjoyed his company, and he theirs.  They laughed and took pictures of the day and had a blast together.   It was silly, frivolous, thoroughly enjoyable fun for all of them.

When he came into the laundry room, he was excited to show me the pictures they had taken together and tell me about the day.  He was beaming.

After he told me the stories he wanted to share I took a breath and said, “I have a question for you.  Would ______ have taken those kinds of fun pictures with you?  Would she have even gone to this event with you or would it have been viewed as too frivolous or silly?”  He said, “that’s more than one question.”

But he took my point.

After some reflection he answered truthfully that no,  _____________  would not have gone to the event or taken the silly pictures.  She would have, in fact, probably encouraged him not to waste his time on such silliness.

I asked him how it felt to be with people who just accepted him for him?  How was it to laugh and be yourself and not worry about what might be considered inappropriate to laugh at or want to do – when all of it was innocent fun that had no sinfulness attached to it?   I asked him, too, how it was to be with young ladies who truly appreciate his talents and personality the way they already are without implying that they might be better if….?

He was quiet.

Pressing further, I said, “Son, life can be sweet if you’re with someone who is building you up and encouraging you to be the man that God has intended for you to become.  But it can be really, really long if you’re with someone who always wants to mold you into the image of the man that she wants you to be.  When I see that happening to you, the mother bear comes out in me and I want to protect you from it.  But you need to be looking at these kinds of things in your relationships – especially as you think through the qualities you hope to find in a future wife.”

Still quiet, I asked him, “What do you think about what I’ve said?”

His answer was precious – and so typically him!  He said, after some reflection, “I think Mother Bear has much to share, and I have much to think about.”

OK. I can live with that.

Parents, a lot of discipleship – the vast majority of it – happens in moments like these.  I couldn’t have had that kind of conversation with my son if I didn’t have his heart.  He knows – beyond any shadow of any doubt ­- that I love him.  He knows he can trust me to always tell him the truth.  He knows I will listen to him when he comes to me – even when he has to tell me things I may not want to hear as well.  He knows that I only, and always, have his good in mind.  He’s heard lots and lots of words of affirmation and encouragement over the years, too.  And he has learned to listen, even when I have tell him things he doesn’t want to hear.   Don’t be afraid to press in and say the challenging things – but be sure you have your child’s heart first.

Our parenting roles and responsibilities change what they look like over  the years, but we are always responsible to speak the truth in love.  Speaking the truth isn’t usually the hard part for lots of parents. – having our kids’ hearts isn’t as easy.  But for our kids, knowing that there is first a foundation of love and acceptance in your home and in your relationship with them makes hearing the truth possible.

They know they need the truth, but first they’ll come looking for the heart-connection in your love.

Make sure you leave the laundry room door open.