Friday, May 28, 2010

Hypocrisy

I am reading a freshly-written, poetic, thoughtful book by Donald Miller, Through Painted Deserts. I love Donald Miller's writing. He puts my thoughts into beautiful words, words that, like a butterscotch candy, I can taste long after I have read them. I am going to quote something he said that really makes me think:

"The rising question of why had been manifesting for some time, and had previously only been answered by Western Christianity's propositions of behavior modification. What is beauty? I would ask. Here are the five keys to a successful marriage, I would be given as an answer. It was as if nobody was listening to the question being groaned by all of creation, groaned through the pinings of our sexual tensions, our broken biochemistry, the blending of light and smog to make our glorious sunsets. I began to believe the Christian faith was a religious system invented within the human story rather than a series of true ideas that explained the story. Christianity was a pawn for politicians, a moral system to control our broken natures. The religion did seem to stem from something beautiful, for sure, but it had been dumbed down and Westernized. If it was a religious system that explained the human story, its adherents had lost the grandness of its explanation in exchange for its validation of their how lifestyles, to such a degree that the why questions seemed to be drowning in the drool of Pavlov's dogs...What does all of this mean? Are we animals nesting? Are we rats in a giant cage, none of us able to think outside our instincts, always getting me to my happiness, or is it larger, explaining the why of life, the how a shallow afterthought?"

Well said!

At the risk of making some sweeping generalizations, I will say that our culture finds meaning in outward appearances. If we can look successful, appear happy, and act religious, we are content. The why questions make us uncomfortable, relationship with a God who can't be fully understood makes us  uncomfortable. Heaven forbid that we would ever be sad or struggle with depression. Heaven forbid that we would live without much. Heaven forbid that we would live from faith to faith, not having plans for what will come next.

We need to be careful about the messages we send to our children with our parenting. Are we teaching them that appearances are everything? Are we teaching them to hide their true selves because their true selves, their human struggling, sometimes hurting, sometimes angry, sometimes inexplicable selves make us uncomfortable? Are we teaching them that the "why's" of life don't matter? That there is no meaning to life beyond living day to day, earning money, owning a house?

Are we teaching them that: "Christianity was [is] a pawn for politicians, a moral system to control our broken natures." Our broken natures are broken. They can never be better, though they can be covered with outer shells of good behavior. We use behavior modification to teach our children to do this. We often teach our children to be wonderful hypocrites. We do this in many ways. We only smile and accept them when they appear to be lovable to us. We punish them when they do wrong, so, out of fear, they become sneaky, hiding their sin from us.

I propose that we teach our children that sin is sin, without shaming them. We need to love them even when they sin. Jesus did. He died on the cross while we were still dead in our sins. We need to teach them instead that they cannot fix themselves, that Jesus died so that they could be made new. We need to lead them to the cross where they can live tenderly covered in grace.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Growing Pains

I read this the other day: "Kids go through developmental surges. You can mark it on your calendar. Somewhere around their birthday and their half birthday, you can expect trouble. They'll get cranky and uncooperative. They might be incapable of doing what they were able to do just a few weeks before. Nothing seems right. They're easily frustrated...Their inner systems are restructuring, creating a new, more complex way of understanding the world. Think of five building blocks. Stack them one on top of the other until you have a tower of five blocks. This is your five-year-old, his inner structure that controls how he sees the world and responds to it. It works well for him but as he nears his sixth birthday, changes begin to occur. A new block will be added to the structure, but it won't just be added to the top of the stack. Instead, the tower will come crashing down--it will disintegrate and a new structure with six blocks will be formed...It will be a totally different structure" (from Raising Your Spirited Child by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka).

I have definitely seen this in my little guy. Right now, he has reached a stage of equilibrium. He is happy with life. But we are coming out of a stage of disequilibrium and I know that soon enough we will enter a new stage of growth and change. God made it this way. He wants new human beings to enter this world as babies. He wired their brains so that they would slowly learn and begin to understand the world around them. This learning takes time.

Have you ever read in the gospels how Jesus interacted with children? At one point, Jesus' disciples were trying to shoo the children away from Jesus. I ask myself why? The children were probably being loud and noisy. Maybe a few of them were crying. The disciples thought that they were disrupting Jesus' ministry. Jesus responded with such kindness. "Let the little children come to me," he said. "Do not put a stumbling block in front of these children," he warned (this more literally means "Do not cause them to sin"). "Become like a child," he admonished. He turned everyone's attention to the children. How different this is than what we often hear today: "Make sure that your children don't affect your marriage. Make sure that children don't bother anyone; keep them quiet. If children misbehave, put an abrupt end to the misbehavior--usually, so that they don't embarrass you, the parent."

Children are learners. They have so much to learn. They have so much harsh reality to come to terms with as they grow older. If we can put ourselves into our child's shoes, and see things from their perspective, it will help immensely with our parenting. We will be more understanding, and we will know how to help them progress through their stages gently, kindly, and firmly.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Consequences, Part 2

Parenting is about relationship. This should be a filter through which I see my little man. Little man, newly two, is a toddler, an explorer, one who is learning that his desires are not always the same as ours.

I am shocked at the advice most Christian parenting "gurus" give as to how to treat our children. Instead of looking at the whole of Scripture, and at who God is and how He deals with us, these gurus take a few verses from Scripture and build a whole doctrine around them. I challenge moms and dads to read the New Testament carefully, looking at the way that Christians are told to treat each other, and looking at how God deals with believers, as they strive to biblically parent their children.

I love reading through a whole book of the Bible when I read the Word of God. It keeps me from drawing wrong conclusions about verses because I see the big picture that said verses are couched in--it is all about context! Recently I read 2 Timothy. Paul urges Timothy to stand firm and to uphold sound doctrine. Interestingly, he does not say, "If people do not listen to you, go ahead and be really harsh and give them a piece of your mind. Whack them upside the head if you have to!" No, he says, "The Lord's bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth,
and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will." 

Gentleness. Am I correcting my toddler in a spirit of gentleness?

Not quarrelsome. How am I parenting? Am I drawing battle lines and engaging in useless power struggles that result in rifts in our relationship? Or do I view myself as my child's guide, standing beside him, helping him towards the goal in mind, with gentleness?

Kind to all. It is easy to be kind to people I only see every now and then, brothers and sisters in Christ. But be kind to my child? If my child cannot sleep at night, or wakes up cranky one day, or clingy, am I kind then? Do I step into my child's shoes and picture how I'd want to be treated in the same situation? Am I remembering that by responding to my child's needs kindly and empathetically I am laying a foundation of trust that will carry us through the many bumps in the road of parent/child relationship?

Patient when wronged. If my child disobeys or responds with disrespect, how do I respond in turn? Am I being patient, gently correcting, letting my child try again, realizing that he is just a child and sometimes needs the chance to do over, or sometimes just plain needs my help?

Able to teach. Am I so steeped in God's word that truth about Him shines out of me? That it flows out of my mouth freely?

When I am walking with God, these things will be true of me as a parent.

That being said, my toddler is learning, he needs me to train, to teach him. This needs to be with gentleness and patience, devoid of shame and punishment.

Consequences, though rarely needed, are there to enable my child to succeed and learn; they are in place for when he is unable to control himself. With my toddler, consequences are cause/effect, and should be natural. Toy gets thrown, toy goes bye-bye. When playing with measuring cups in the sink, if water gets dumped on counter, measuring cup is taken away, or sink time ends (this only happened once...little man has spent many happy days playing in the sink since then). When little man gets bigger: "you hit, you sit," but not as punishment, just as a chance to cool down.

Natural consequences are a teensy tiny part of my parenting with Aydon. Building relationship with him, helping him obey by walking through the steps with him if necessary (the way the Holy Spirit helps us), not backing him into corners, giving him warnings before transitions and always following through, but with kindness and gentleness, understanding if he is upset or angry about the follow through, letting him be human.

Ok, this makes it all sound so perfect...like a method that anyone could follow. I have tools that I use, but each day is different, and I need God's wisdom in dealing with each situation. More than that, parenting is not about some formula or technique, it is about building and maintaining a relationship with my child as I walk with God. I often fail! But the mistakes are reflective times for me; times for me to enjoy God's grace to me. They are times that I can look back on and think, "How could I have handled that more proactively to avoid the power struggle? I should have given him a transition time between activities. I should have followed through when he didn't listen, and helped him obey by coming alongside him, whispering in his ear, holding him close and walking him through the steps."

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Grounded in Love

Paul prays for the Ephesian believers: "...so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fulness of God."

Christian motherhood finds its source, its beauty, its uniqueness, it sustenance, in Christ's love.

We cannot give our children love that we do not have. We cannot exhibit love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control unless our eyes are on Christ, unless we begin every day cuddled up in God's arms, listening to Him, drawing strength from His incomprehensible love for us. If we try to force this fruit of the spirit out, it will come out twisted and gnarled and corrupted. We will be gentle in one breath, and hateful in the next. We will run out of energy, and wind up depressed. 

Paradoxically, when we have our eyes on Christ, when we bask in His unconditional love for us, He becomes love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control in us, and it flows naturally out of us to our children, to our husbands, to all others that we encounter.

Satan wants to deflate all mommas by focusing us on our behavior, by enslaving us to checklists of "good things that good moms always do".

Let's put our eyes on our risen Savior, who tenderly loves and cares for us. Let's let him nourish us daily so that we can nourish our precious little ones in turn. Let's turn our eyes to the author and finisher of our faith, and stop living in endless regrets and fears. Let's ask God to use us to touch our children's lives, but not worry about what that will look like. 
May we be rooted and grounded in love, after all, that is, in the end, what helps all children flourish.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Drawing Closer

"Today, the moment when I am most repelled by a child's behavior, that is my sign to draw the very closest to that child." --Ann Voskamp http://www.aholyexperience.com/

I read these words tearfully. This is how God loves on me! How often do I wallow in sinful thoughts and words, or cower in self-condemnation?  And yet God, the Prodigal's father, is always there, arms open wide, drawing me to Himself, unrestrained love in His eyes. It is not God who causes me to struggle or suffer, it is myself! I always have the choice to run to Him, and I am always forgiven: no need to condemn myself or shame myself or hurt myself first...I can simply, boldly, approach the throne of grace.


I read these words, and the next day I had the chance to put them into practice. My normally happy little boy woke up feeling sick and acting very negative and grumpy. Where he normally is happy to comply with just about any request, this day was a "NO!" day for him. When the first "NO!" flew out of my son's mouth, my internal reaction was "NO...don't talk to mom like that" back. Instead of saying these words, I started to pray. Then, like a gentle whisper, I heard, "Today, the moment when I am most repelled by a child's behavior, that is my sign to draw the very closest to that child." This would be a day for me to give a little of the grace I had been given. 

So, the next time my grumpy little guy said "NO!" I scrunched up my face, and in a very silly voice said "NO!" and giggled. He stopped in his tracks and looked at me quizzically. "No!" he repeated, more softly this time. "NO!" I said again, scrunching my face and giggling. Two more repeats, and then, my baby boy was giggling himself. "Come here and let mommy give you a hug," I said, arms open wide. Diapered bottom waddling, my sweetie bounced into my arms.


The day was not perfect after this. My little boy even had a few meltdowns before I was able to tuck him in for an early bedtime. But I saw every issue that day as a chance for me to give a little love, to extend a little grace. Instead of climbing into bed that night a frazzled grumpy mess myself, I laid my head on my pillow rejoicing because I had an opportunity to practice what God does for me every day.


I also had a chance to watch my husband practice grace with my little boy that day, and it warmed my heart. We are selling our house, and there was a showing that day. My husband asked our little guy to put away his toy vacuum cleaner. What do you think little guy did? He said "NO!" and threw a whopper of a tantrum. My husband had just woken up (he works nights and sleeps through the day), so he was caught off guard by our son's behavior. But this is how he reacted:

"What's wrong, Aydon?" stated in a tender, kind voice.

"Waaahhhh...no!" Aydon says. 


"He's doing his silly no thing," I explain to dad. Tantrum stops. 


Dad asks, "Aydon, would you like to put the vacuum cleaner away by yourself, or would you like me to do it with you?"


Aydon says, "Ayna do it," and happily picks up the vacuum cleaner and puts it in his room.





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Friday, May 7, 2010

Consequences, Part 1: "Families Where Grace Is In Place"

Families Where Grace Is In Place by Jeff VanVonderen



Excellent Book!! Agreed with almost everything in it, which is incredible, because I usually enjoy only about 10% of most "Christian" books. I am going to post some excerpts from the book on consequences.

"Control, Influence, and Empowerment"
"There is a tremendous difference in what results when you attempt to control your children's behavior, and when you empower them to control their own. The first path leads to disempowerment. The second leads to empowerment. The first to external compliance; the second to wise decision-making. The first to living out of fear; the second to living out of fullness."

"Compliance vs. Obedience"
"Compliance with external pressure means a child has been squeezed into a mold; it is being conformed from the outside/in. Obedience is about learning to live consistent on the outside with what God is doing on the inside."

"The Purpose of Consequences"
"Do not give consequences in order to threaten children into acting the way you want them to. I have noticed that people who grow up in families or churches with 'punishing mindsets' have difficulty experiencing forgiveness as a gift. They seem to have a need to earn forgiveness by paying for or making up for what they did. Jesus Christ has already taken the punishment for all of our wrong behavior."

"Do not give consequences in order to threaten children into acting the way you want them to. People who do this are trying to control their children's behavior by simply teaching them to act in ways that avoid pain. At best, this promotes compliance and people-pleasing, not wise decision-making..."

"Do give your children consequences in order to teach about behavior...You can spend your energy trying to keep track of, control, and fix your children through bribes, threats, and sermons. Or you can spend your energy discovering and implementing consequences from which your children can learn about the wisdom of their choices and their ability to make good ones. Children can learn as much from disobeying and receiving wise consequences as they can from obeying."

"Do allow your children to experience the natural consequences of their behavior."

"You Must Follow Through"

"Learn to Ask Yourself the Inside Questions"
"...Which need are they trying to meet with this behavior?..."


More thoughts on consequences to come....

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Parenting by Grace: D. L. Moody

There is a story that Paul Moody tells about his father, Reverend Dwight Moody. Paul unwittingly stayed up past his bedtime and his father curtly ordered him to bed. Here are some excerpts from the story:

"This time I retreated immediately and in tears, for it was an almost unheard-of thing that he should speak with such directness or give an order unaccompanied by a smile. But I had barely gotten into my little bed before he was kneeling beside it in tears and seeking my forgiveness for having spoken so harshly. He never, he said, intended to speak crossly to one of his children."

Later, Paul spoke of the impact his father's kindness had on him:

"Half a century must have passed since then and while it is not the earliest of my recollections I think it is the most vivid, and I can still see that room in the twilight and that large bearded figure with the great shoulders bowed above me, and hear the broken voice and the tenderness in it. I like best to think of him that way. Before then and after I saw him holding the attention of thousands of people, but asking the forgiveness of his unconsciously disobedient little boy for having spoken harshly seemed to me then and seems now a finer and a greater thing, and to it I owe more than I owe to any of his sermons. For to this I am indebted for an understanding of the meaning of the Fatherhood of God, and a belief in the love of God had its beginnings that night in my childish mind."

D. L. Moody's other son, William, said this about his father: 
"In his home, grace was the ruling principle and not law, and the sorest punishment of a child was the sense that the father's loving heart had been grieved by waywardness or folly."

Parenting through the eyes of grace communicates peace and hope to our children. Grace does not turn a blind eye on sin. But it offers forgiveness through Christ. Grace makes Christ central, law makes "me" central; it focuses on my behavior.

I will teach my son what God requires in His law. But I will not raise him to be hopelessly introspective by punishing him when he does not meet those requirements. None of us can follow God's law in ourselves. I dare anyone to try. It will only lead need to intense discouragement. I will teach my son that he is a sinner, but I will simultaneously point him to Christ as his only hope. It is not my job to make sure he feels so ashamed as to see his need for a Savior; for the Holy Spirit is in the world to convict the world...and that includes my son.

Like D.L. Moody's children saw through his parenting, I want my little boy to see in his daddy and I the grace towards him that God so freely bestows on us, his parents. I want him to boldly approach the throne of his Father God because Jesus paid his sin-debt, and he has no need to feel shame or suffer.

Grace is terrifying. Raising my son through the eyes of grace is equally terrifying. But I want my son to freely trust and walk with His heavenly Father. I want him to choose right, not because he fears punishment, but because His heavenly Father loves him dearly. 

Every night as I lay my son in bed, I place my hands on his sleeping body, and ask God to reveal Himself to him. I ask God to convict him of his sins. I ask God to woo him. Raising my son through grace forces me to trust God...and how wonderful it is to rest in the love of my heavenly Father for my tender little boy!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Little Man

Little man, you are the sun in my sky.

When I watch you run "round and round," as you say, for endless minutes, I beam.

When you tell your little joke, "booby mommy, booby daddy, booby gama, booby bed, booby dumpa tuck," over and over, your daddy and I laugh uproariously, over and over. You're funnier than any comedian on his best day.

The discordant din of the coffee grinder sends you catapulting into my arms. "It's all right," I reassure you, "it is just daddy making coffee." Your rigid body gels as you climb off my lap and waddle into the kitchen to investigate. I hope you always know that you are safe with me.


Your newest demonstration of deep feeling is to open your mouth wide and let out an angry "eeoooow." This afternoon, inexplicably, you bristled at mommy when your leapfrog toy malfunctioned. "Eeoooww," you cried, stomping over to daddy, pointing in my direction. "That makes you so mad!" I exclaimed. And then, inexplicably, you giggled.


At bedtime, your aquamarine eyes drooped as we trudged through the book about the little caput who gets very hungry and eats ice cream cones and chocolate cake. "Do you like chocolate cake?" I ask. "Mmm, hmmm," you sigh. I kiss your satin cheeks.


God, thank you for my little man. After all, it was You who placed the sun in my sky.