the parenting journey

Recently I was asked to speak to a group about parenting, but from a bit of a different angle: how can we improve our relationships with our parents, and parents-in-law, now that we are adults?

I appreciated the shift in the conversation; not only looking at parenting when the kids are growing up, but also what the relationship is like after that. However, that raised a question in my mind: don’t we need to first think about what we desire that relationship to look like? We need to know what our aim is, before we can talk about improving that aim.

What does our parenting journey look like? What should it look like? What do we want the outcome to be, once our children are adults? What are your goals, as a parent—not just how you hope your kids will “turn out”, so to speak? And then—what will it be like to be not the mom, but the mother-in-law*? Mothers-in-law are rarely pictured as sympathetic, friendly, warm characters, but are instead portrayed in pop culture for laughs and for scorn. There may be a kernel of reality behind the caricatures—but do our real life relationships have to mirror that?

Why did we become parents? What are our goals? And what kind of relationships do we hope to have with our children, and with their spouses, should they marry?

Once we determine what our parenting goals are, and what we want our relationships with our adult children to be, we will better be able to figure out what obstacles that we face in trying to reach those goals, and what difficulties may arise in parent-child interactions once the children are adults themselves.

Why did you become a parent? Maybe it was because you wanted to share the love you had with your husband, with children. Maybe it was a desire to love, protect, and share life with children who needed you. Maybe it seemed like “the next thing” to do. Maybe it’s because babies are cute. Maybe it was because everyone else around you was having a baby, and you wanted one. Maybe it was accidental. Maybe you stumbled into parenting.

However you got there, once you became a parent (probably even before!), you started developing parenting goals, whether consciously or not. At first it’s pretty basic: keep them fed. Try to keep them in a clean diaper. Establish a rhythm for your family (whether loosely or more tightly structured). Keep the children alive.

Later goals include typical milestones, like potty training, or teaching them to ride a bike. Then we start to add in various measurements for “success”—academic, athletic, creative, artistic. We may measure our success as parents by the successes our kids attain, in reaching goals that either we or they have set. With each “goal” met, however, there often pops up the next goal for our kids. (And the next. And the next….)

Have we ever stopped to think: what should our goals be for our children? Are we working toward the goals that are important to God, and his kingdom goals, or are we striving toward establishing our own “family kingdom” here on earth?

Think about what you want for your kids. (And be brutally honest with yourself; don’t just think about what the “right”, “good”, “Christian”, or expected answer in this is.) When you are alone with your thoughts, if you could ensure anything for your kids, what would you ask for? What do you dream about for them? Into what are you pouring your time and efforts and resources, in order to achieve those goals?

We have an example for us in our parenting as Christians: our parenting journey should reflect our Heavenly Father’s journey with us, and his desires and goals for us. What are they?

God wants us to: a) love Him and b) reflect that love to the people around us. Those are the two greatest commandments, as Jesus says in Matthew 22:35-40: The great and first commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

Our goals as parents are to help guide our children, to not hinder them, in learning to love God, with all of their hearts, souls, and minds; and also to love the people around them—by being generous with they have and what they do, by having humility toward others, and by using their gifts and abilities in the service of others, and not only for themselves.

God identifies with you as a parent—he is our heavenly Father, after all. He also identifies with you as a mother figure. Isaiah 49:15 says that he has a closer relationship to us than that of a nursing mother to her child. “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!” And in Luke 13:34, Jesus laments over Jerusalem, saying, “How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” God encompasses all of the loving, caring parental feelings and actions.

I remember once being fairly exasperated and worn out with mothering so many children (I have seven), and so many different ages and stages and personalities. I thought to myself, “Jesus was a single man who never married or had children. He has no idea what I am dealing with!”

And then Jesus’ day to day life with the disciples came to mind.

Think about those disciples. They were unruly, illiterate, fairly ignorant, and unappreciative. They didn’t “get” what was going on, or why Jesus was doing or saying what he was doing and saying, most of the time.

What does that sound like to you??

Sounds a lot like parenting to me! 🙂

Jesus had 12 “kids” to wrangle and teach, and our parenting journey should mirror his walk with the twelve: leading, guiding, teaching, discipling, shepherding. When it came to the end of his time with them, what did Christ call his disciples? John 15:15: No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.

First, he taught them, led them, fed them, cared for them—he discipled them.

And then, he called them friends.

After that, he sent them out to make more disciples.

That’s our goal as parents—teach our children to love God and other people—to disciple them in God’s ways–and then to be good friends to them as they become adults, who are sent out to make more disciples. This model, set by God, should be our model of parenting. It should also be our model for caring for, on a parallel level, the children in your church, your community, and even the world. Michelle Higgins said in a recent Truth’s Table podcast on mothering, “Parenting itself is akin to looking to God the Father, and trying, as much as the Holy Spirit will guide you, to love ALL God’s children the way that He does.”

Parenting is an opportunity to give grace. It is an opportunity to love in the way that God loves you.

This lesson came through to me in a very clear way through my relationship with my daughter. She was the fourth child out of seven, and landed smack dab in the middle, with three brothers following her. At about the age of ten, she started what I sometimes call “The Longest Adolescence Known to Mankind”. Seven years of sassiness, eye-rolling, rejection of affection, arguing, lack of kindness—-like I said, it was adolescence with no remission, for seven years straight.

It wasn’t like I had not had experience. I had had three older children who had already gone through the “I know it all and you know nothing” phase. So I wasn’t a newbie. But this was different; it started earlier, and persisted longer. Instead of flashes of gunfire amidst truces, or a conflict that eventually flamed out and ended in a peaceful agreement, it was more like a siege. With trenches.

I remember at about year five of the battle, feeling like I was just sick and tired of it all. I found myself more and more often responding in a snotty manner when she was snotty to me; giving up on trying to hug her after so many cold shoulders, so many times of her pulling away from me or stiffening up. I could feel my heart hardening against her. And while I felt it happening, and felt justified in my response, I also felt frightened by it.

In the midst of it, I heard God say to me in my prayer time—“You need to stop that. Right now.” And I was kind of like, huh? (Even though I knew exactly what he was talking about.)

“You need to stop hardening your heart against her. You need to start loving her the way that I love you.”

“But God, have you seen the way she acts toward me? She’s so disrespectful! She’s so disobedient! She’s so ungrateful and unloving!”

“Yes. I see. And I also see that you need to love her the way that I love you, when you are disrespectful, and disobedient, and ungrateful.”

Uggggggggh. He was right.

I took for granted that God would continue to love me, even when I messed up and disobeyed or ignored him, even when I failed to be grateful and thank him for all he had done for me, and continued to do for me. I took for granted that he would forgive me and love me and help me and care for me–because I was his daughter.

I needed to repent of my hardheartedness, and love my daughter the way that God loved me.

I talked to my husband, and we agreed and confessed together: our lack of love for our daughter; our pride and feeling disrespected; our feeling like we had good reason for being mean-spirited back at her, when we felt she wasn’t treating us as we deserved. We decided from that time forward, that we would try our best to love her unconditionally and fully—not withholding kindness or gentleness based on her actions and attitudes, but instead loving her in a Christlike way, as one of our closest “neighbors”; loving her as we loved ourselves.

Perhaps it seems weird to you that a mom or a dad would have to remind themselves to love their child in this way. Maybe that is because you have a compliant child, or it’s because you haven’t hit adolescence yet with your kids (by which I don’t mean to demean teenagers—they are a delightful group, particularly when they get past 14 or so  :)). Or, maybe you can totally identify! But I can tell you that something changed from then on. We felt a release and a freedom. We didn’t change the parameters of the rules or expectations—she still had to adhere to curfew and doing chores as outlined, etc.—but we could feel our hearts softening toward her. We persevered in actively loving her, instead of responding in defensiveness or spite (which did not come naturally, I must admit).

We continued to pray and ask God to help us through it—to help us persevere in loving her, even when it seemed like it wasn’t having any effect on her actions or attitudes. The good news is that, little by little, it was having an effect on our attitudes. Consequently, we were better able to leave the work of changing her attitude and heart up to the Holy Spirit. And eventually, it did have an effect on her attitude. We enjoy a close relationship with her today that at one point we thought would never be possible.

What are we doing when we love people like God loves us? We are becoming like HIM. We are developing a heart like HIS. It changes US. And then, he uses it to change the hearts of others.

Dorothy Day was the founder of the Catholic worker movement and lived a life devoted to and serving the poor and fighting for justice. In her book The Reckless Way of Love, she writes: “If we could only learn that the only important thing is love….to keep on loving and showing that love, and expressing that love, over and over, whether we feel it or not, seventy times seven, to mothers-in-law, to husbands, to children; and to be oblivious of insult, or hurt or injury—not to see them, not to hear them. It is a hard, hard doctrine. I guess we get what we need in the way of discipline. God can change things in the twinkling of an eye. We have got to pray, to read the gospel, to get to frequent communion, and not judge, not do anything but love, love, love. A bitter lesson.”

I love how she doesn’t sugar coat it and say it will be easy to love in this way. It requires prayer, and perseverance.

What are the obstacles to developing these types of relationships with our children, and to loving them well? What are the obstacles that you may have encountered with your own parents, or with your in-laws?

Here are a few that I have noticed:

1) The desire to control. Your controls and restrictions should lessen as your children get older. Some parents have this backward; they start by being lenient with their two year old, and then as their child grows, they see their loss of control and try to ramp up and tighten the ties that bind, as their teenager pushes even more against the boundaries. Or, they may have a child who is growing and maturing just great, but then the parents realize that soon these children will be out on their own and outside of their control, to a great extent. And that causes fear, as they sense a loss of the control they feel they once had. (That “control” is an illusion, by the way….)

2) There may be an unwillingness to let go, particularly if your identity is largely formed around your role as a mother. Who am I now? What is my role, if I am no longer the mom who is directing all the things? If I am not the source of all comfort for my kids? If (gasp!) someone else takes precedence in their lives and considerations?

3) This is related to the last one–a reluctance to release to marriage. Genesis 2:24 speaks to the importance of recognizing the formation of a new family with each generation: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”  Even if you are happy about your sons or daughters getting married, there may be mixed feelings. You as a mom are no longer the most important woman in your son’s life, after he gets married. Your daughter is going off and starting something new that doesn’t have you at the center of it. It may be a poignant reminder that you are getting older; it may bring up regrets about your own life. A mom may seek to keep an adult child in a submissive, obedient relationship as a way to try to “stop time”—even though that is impossible in reality.

There’s an interesting passage in Matthew 12:46-50: While he (Jesus) was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” What is Jesus saying here? He isn’t saying that our families aren’t important; he is saying that we need to recognize that the most important relationship we have is the one we have with him, and as a consequence, with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Scott Sauls talks about this issue in a chapter in his book Befriend.

“Fearing that they will lose their children’s affection, needy parents grasp for control…. This is what you call reversing the flow of the umbilical cord: parents demanding that their children function as their source of life; their emotional nourishment; their identity; their Jesus. This always ends in sorrow and alienation and loss. Just as in marriage, we must not place a burden on our children to provide for us the things only God can supply.”

Being a good friend to your adult children requires a transition. You should be transitioning, bit by bit, as your kids grow and mature. From the time they are little, we are constantly working on helping our kids become more and more independent, more able to do things on their own. Whether that is feeding themselves, taking care of their own toileting needs, doing chores, learning how to do their own laundry, how to manage money, making decisions for themselves—all of these things should be leading up to them being capable adults by the time they are ready to leave home. Tim Keller says, “Obviously, as much as we love our children, the greatest tragedy is when they can’t grow up, or they don’t grow up either mentally or emotionally.”

We love our children well when we prepare them to do things on their own, and can transition into being friends of a deep sort, ones with whom we can speak and share freely, bear each other’s burdens, and love fiercely.

What can we do to better our relationships with our mothers and our mothers-in-law?

1) Recognize and try to understand the motivations or feelings behind the things that bug you about her. For example, I have discussed the fears that a mom or a mother-in-law might have about being less significant in their children’s lives. Those fears might be driving a particular behavior, such as insisting on family holidays remaining the exact same way that they have when their kids were growing up—even though the kids are all grown up with children of their own now, and want to start establishing their own traditions. Or there may be anger that is masking hurt, which may be totally unrelated to you. There may be past abuse or woundedness, that has never been healed. There may be false beliefs, that then lead to negative behavior. When we try to look at things through another’s perspective, we often can better empathize and understand why they might be acting in the way they are.

2) Set appropriate boundaries. It does no one any good to let them trample over everyone else. That is not a loving thing to do. You can empathize with someone and understand their point of view, without letting them abuse you or take control that they do not have the right to have. In the book Boundaries, authors Henry Cloud and John Townsend say this: “A good test of a relationship is how a person responds to the word ‘no’. Love respects ‘no’; control does not.” Also—“Boundaries are basically about providing structure, and structure is essential in building anything that thrives.” It is not loving to let someone continue to manipulate or pout until they get their way. Appropriate boundaries will need to be set and enforced, if your parents or in-laws continually stray into areas that are not their domain. Decide what are things that are non-negotiable, and be prepared to explain why (even if they don’t end up understanding).

Having said that: pick your battles. You may need to realize and accept that your kids will not eat exactly as you desire, when they are visiting grandma and grandpa. Or they may get to stay up later than you want them to stay up. You will have to negotiate those things, and decide what things are really important, and what things you can let go. (Note: safety issues are always an appropriate boundary. Do not leave your kids alone with people who are unsafe in any way.)

Set appropriate boundaries–but also don’t use barbed wire when a picket fence will do :).

3) Be on the same page with your spouse. If you are massively aggravated about something and your husband doesn’t think it’s a big deal, you need to work it out, one way or the other; and then you can address it with the in-laws. You need to be unified, and supporting one another in areas of conflict, if at all possible.

4) Try to keep the lines of communication open, and when you need to confront or discuss, try to use “I feel like” phrases, instead of “you always” phrases. For example, “I feel like when the kids eat a lot of sugar, they come home and are super cranky and wound up. Would it be possible to limit them to only having one cookie after supper when they are at your house?” Instead of “It bugs the crap out of me that you always let the kids eat whatever they want, and then I have to deal with the fall out when they get home!” Think of how you would like to be approached. Also take into consideration the way your mom or mother-in-law generally accepts things (you may have a higher tolerance for conflict than she does, for example; adjust accordingly).

5) Look for ways to show appreciation for the mother who had a great deal to do with the man you fell in love with and married. Acknowledge the things that she taught him, or how he grew up in ways that you are grateful for now: he is a hard worker; he knows how to do his own laundry; he is kind; he is a man of God; she kept him fed and clothed. Even if it’s just “she showed him how not to parent”! She is a part of him. Become a student of what she appreciates, and try to accommodate that when appropriate.

I am not always that excited about getting a greeting card in the mail (especially if it doesn’t have a handwritten note with it–because I love letters!), but my mother-in-law loves cards. I know, because she sends them often! So I make an effort to remember special occasions by getting a card to her on time. Does your mom or mother-in-law like getting regular calls from her son? Does she like to spend time with the grandkids? Learn her love language, and try to speak it a little more fluently.

6) Pray for your mom. Pray for your mother in law. Pray for your own heart and any part you might have played in making the relationship difficult. Ask God to show you both your own failings, and how to love and respect and honor your mom or mother-in-law, even when it is hard.

7) As a daughter-in-law, you will need to recognize that he will always be her son. She will always remember times in his life when he was a child, when he wasn’t an adult with his own family—which is fine, as long as he is not still treated as such, or memories are constantly being brought up as a subtle/not-so-subtle way of undermining your place in his life, or his authority in his own family. Ask her questions about what he was like as a child; what particular memories stand out for her; maybe what characteristics she sees in her grandchildren that remind her of him when he was little.

As a mother-in-law, I need to recognize that the role with my son or daughter has shifted; there is a new family unit, with its own culture and different ways of doing things. And that is FINE. My way is not automatically “normal”; I need to listen and be open to new ways of looking at things or doing things. And I need to “love, love, love”, as Day put it above—both my sons and daughters, who are still growing and changing as adults (because we all continue to grow and change, hopefully!), and my new daughters and sons by marriage.

All of our relationships with our moms and our mothers in law are on a spectrum—they can range from great to good to downright awful. Maybe we have a relationship that we feel will never be reconciled. Or we may feel a deep inadequacy in our own motherhood, perhaps because we have a mom or mother-in-law who seems perfect. Dr. Christina Edmondson points out that we can do one of two things with inadequacy: we can feed it and make it our identity, or we can allow it to point us to the One who is fully sufficient.

I want to wrap up with some encouragement, for all of our relationships that fall short of what we wish they would be.

From Scott Sauls’ Befriend:

And yet, for those of us who have lived with family dysfunction or have caused dysfunction, there is greater grace that God extends to us. His mercies are new every day, and his offer to be our true Father, Brother, Husband, and Savior always stands. What’s more, if we have ears to hear and hearts to receive, God helps us feel less alone with the wounds inflicted by those who fail us. Even if we parent with grace and love, our children may grow disrespectful and unresponsive or go completely astray. If this happens, we have a God who understands. He is the perfect Father of children who are chronically ungrateful and unreceptive of his love. If we have been scarred by Mom or Dad or both, God understands that, too. Jesus was the perfect Son who was misunderstood and was called a lunatic by his own mother. He was the perfect Son who was forsaken by his perfect Father—so that we, the prodigal sons and daughters who have been united with him by faith, would never be forsaken. And, when marriage lets us down—when we grieve from unfulfilled longings to be married, or when we face loneliness inside a cold marriage—Jesus is the man who lived single and who died alone. He is also the loving, longing, faithful, and perfect husband who will never forsake his chronically adulterous, entitled, distant, unmoved, and always beloved bride. In every family heartache, we have a Father, Brother, Husband, and Savior who is able to sympathize with our weakness because he has been tested in every way, yet is without sin or betrayal or infidelity or harshness or cold withdrawal or any other form of dysfunction.

God can make all things new: our relationships with our children, our relationships with our mothers, and yes—even our relationships with our mothers-in-law.

——————–

much of this blogpost will relate to both parents, and also to adult children who do not have children themselves. For ease of writing, and because I am a mom and a mother-in-law, I will primarily be discussing it through the lens of moms and mothers-in-law.

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Konmari and me

 

 

I am not a hoarder at heart, or even much of a keeper. I like to get rid of things and prefer cleared off surfaces for the most part. ( Exceptions made for books….:)) I am generally interested in different ways and techniques to keep clutter at bay, organize better, etc. So when I saw Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up on my daughter-in-law’s bookshelf, I was intrigued. I had previously tried to secure it from the library, back when it first came out, but its popularity made it elusive. I questioned my DIL about her thoughts on it, and was interested enough to borrow it to read on the flight back home.

Marie is hard core, y’all. She has an affinity for organizing and being tidy, which manifested itself at an early age. She also is quite legalistic in how she approaches things, and insists that you do things her way exactly, if you want to be successful at “konmari”-ing (which is what the process is called). So, while I appreciated some aspects of her book, and realize that it can and has been helpful to many people, the whole philosophy wasn’t for me. (And not just because of my contrarian-ish nature.)

Having said that, there was one aspect that I found quite helpful to me. Kondo writes:

When you come across something that’s hard to discard, consider carefully why you have that specific item in the first place. When did you get it and what meaning did it have for you then? Reassess the role it plays in your life. If, for example, you have some clothes that you bought but never wear, examine them one at a time. Where did you buy that particular outfit and why? If you bought it because you thought it looked cool in the shop, it has fulfilled the function of giving you a thrill when you bought it. Then why did you never wear it? Was it because you realized that it didn’t suit you when you tried it on at home? If so, and if you no longer buy clothes of the same style or color, it has fulfilled another important function—it has taught you what doesn’t suit you. In fact, that particular article of clothing as already completed its role in your life, and you are free to say, “Thank you for giving me joy when I bought you,” or “Thank you for teaching me what doesn’t suit me”, and let it go.

Every object has a different role to play. Not all clothes have come to you to be worn threadbare…

When you come across something that you cannot part with, think carefully about its true purpose in your life. You’ll be surprised at how many of the things you possess have already fulfilled their role. By acknowledging their contribution and letting them go with gratitude, you will be able to truly put the things you own, and your life, in order. In the end, all that will remain are the things that you really treasure.

To truly cherish the things that are important to you, you must first discard those that have outlived their purpose. To get rid of what you no longer need is neither wasteful nor shameful……Let them go, with gratitude.

This aspect of decluttering—recognizing the reason I got something to begin with, appreciating the joy it brought me (if only the joy of purchasing it), and acknowledging the value it had in some way (taught me that that style or color doesn’t flatter me, etc.)—was quite helpful. I realized that I could let things go, without thinking that it was wasteful (“But I spent x dollars on that! But it’s worth so much!”), or feeling shame that I bought it to begin with, and then hardly used it. I was far too invested in the sunk cost of the item, instead of looking at the ongoing “cost” (both in storing and keeping, as well as mental “storage and keeping”) of the item.

As I thought about this, I also realized that this line of reasoning could be applied to things that I have let pile up in my thought life. What things in the past do I regret, that I can’t seem to let go? Why do I continue to feel guilty about them, even if they are either 1) morally neutral choices that just didn’t go the way I thought they would, or 2) wrong choices or actions that I have asked forgiveness for, from God and from any harmed parties?
Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone sins. Everyone has situations that they wish they had handled differently, other choices that they wish they would have made, in hindsight.

Could I “KonMari” my regrets? Could I acknowledge the wisdom gained from my mistakes, and appreciate the experiences that brought me to where I am today?

My husband and I have lived in many different homes, over our marriage of 33 years—eleven, to be precise. (And we are preparing to move again this spring to a new house!) We have never lived longer than five years in any home. Most of those moves were at my urging. Some of them were for good and necessary reasons; some were not. At times I have looked back and thought, “Man, most of those moves were dumb. We wasted a lot of time, money, and energy on those.” And I have felt guilt and shame for the waste, and for what seems so unnecessary now.

However, if I can KonMari this, I can say, “Those moves seemed right at the time, and each move taught me something. In addition, my children, while not having a singular ‘childhood home’ , are free from the pain of us selling a nostalgic homestead in our later years! Thank you, Multiple Moves, for all you have taught me! I am letting you go, with gratitude.”

There are other things that I have in my past that would benefit from this practice. If it is something that hurt another, and I have repented and sought forgiveness from them, then I can absolve myself from continuing to feel regret and pain, and instead be grateful for what it has taught me. If it is something that has no real harm attached to it, then I can release myself from guilt and shame over the “wastefulness”, and rest in the knowledge that nothing is wasted in God’s economy. It served its purpose, whatever that might be. I can remember it with peace, knowing that letting it go also frees up mental and emotional space that is better used for other more fruitful pursuits.

My house doesn’t look super KonMari (although I will use some of her thought processes when deciding what things I really do want to move to our new house). My mind, however, has gotten a little less cramped, and a little more free.

Thanks, Marie Kondo.

 

The time we talked about politics at church

“How would you like to help with a political round table discussion at church?”

Ummmmmm……

When I first read this email, I had many questions and a mixture of reactions.

I was flattered that someone thought I was knowledgeable enough to be a part of the planning, organizing, and execution of such a gathering.

I was curious as to what this actually would entail; what would be the goal of it?

I was also skeptical as to whether this could be pulled off without it being a disaster.

But after I discussed it with one of the guys in the group who was working on it, I decided that this was a worthy goal: could we help one another figure out how, in a particularly contentious political election cycle, to discuss and engage with those in our own church body who had differing opinions on various issues and candidates? Could we keep from destroying our church or our relationships in the process?

Worthy.

Also a bit scary.

As we met and hashed out the details, the plan grew more focused. But as we started publicizing the event at church, fears and misconceptions among our congregation arose.

“Are you going to tell me how I should vote?”

“Is this to tell us what the official church position is on all the issues?”

“I’m afraid if I come, I will end up not liking people that right now, I really like.”

“We’ve managed to avoid talking about political issues as a church for 20 years, and I’ve been proud of that. Why are you going to wreck that now?”

We explained what we were not going to be doing.

We were NOT going to tell anyone how to vote.

We were NOT going to elucidate an official church position (because there isn’t an “official  position” for our church on political issues).

What we were going to do was listen to each other, look at things from others’ points of view, and be respectful and honest. And most of all, we were going to remember that our primary, most important, ultimate identifier is that we are brothers and sisters in Christ; our identity is found in Him. Our allegiance is to Him and His kingdom, and is over any other person, party, or issue.

In Jesus Outside the Lines, pastor and author Scott Sauls points out that Jesus chose both Simon the Zealot (someone who was actively working to overthrow the Roman government) and Matthew the tax collector (someone who was working hand in glove with the Roman government) to be part of his select group of followers—his disciples. This wasn’t a mistake or an accident. Jesus is showing us that people who are widely different on their political stances can still love each other, and be unified in Him.

If Jesus’ disciples could be this different politically, and live lovingly and peaceably together with Jesus, then we can, too.

We acknowledged our fears and our difficulties in doing that. We emphasized the importance of listening—truly listening—to others, and to not be formulating our rebuttal while the other person was still talking. In order to listen to one another effectively, we had to have the humility to admit that we might, just might, be wrong about something. We might not see the entire picture; someone else might have a valid, differing view on a subject. We looked at the need for empathy—to understand where the other person was coming from: their background, their experiences, and their current situation. All of these things affect how someone sees an issue.

As we worked on and practiced empathetic listening and humble discussion, we realized that we could have these conversations without raised voices or angry tears. We didn’t agree with everyone else; after all, we have a very politically diverse congregation–Democrats, Republicans, libertarians, independents (maybe even some anarchists :)). But we experienced face to face interaction that led to some softening of attitudes, some increased understanding of one another.
Face to face interaction, real conversations—that is where fears were alleviated; where even if our blood pressure started to rise, we could look at each other and remember, “This person is my sister. This person is my brother. I may not agree with them on this issue, but we share the same faith in Jesus.”

Before the round table discussions began, one of our elders said wryly, “I was here at the beginning of this church, so I figured I should be here to see its ending.”

Guess what?

We came. We discussed. We prayed.

We are all parts of the Body.

Our church is still standing.

And we are still friends.

 

May we continue to wrestle through difficult conversations with humility, honesty, grace, and love.

Six problematic things that (mostly) white people say

 

 

Everyone seems to have an opinion on Colin Kaepernick and his actions surrounding the national anthem. Kaepernick has helped start a national discussion on the question of how Black people are treated by police officers in our country, by first sitting during the national anthem at 49er games, and then moving to kneeling. In his words, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

More athletes have joined in with Kaepernick, and while many people supported them, many more have been critical and disapproving.

I started writing this in response to Dabo Swinney’s comments but since then, I have seen lots of other people posting similar comments to his. So instead of singling him out, I will instead call this “Six Problematic Things (mostly) White People Say.”

“This is disrespectful to our military personnel and people who have served in the armed forces.”

The flag and the anthem represent far more than our military forces. They stand for our entire country and all the citizens in it. Kneeling, or sitting, or standing with raised fist in order to draw attention to the way that many citizens do not enjoy the same equality of treatment is not criticizing or demeaning the contributions and service of our armed forces. It is calling attention to the fact that many do not experience “freedom and justice for all” in the way that our principles as a country proclaim. It is calling for people to notice, understand, and empathize with the situation, and to work for change where we don’t live up to the phrase “the land of the free”.

I have seen people “disrespect” the anthem and the flag by paying attention to their cell phones, eating snacks, arranging their seats, talking to their friends, etc., many times. I have never seen any uproar about that, even though it is far more widespread, and has no higher purpose or concern other than it was what that person wanted to do. It is their right to ignore the flag and the anthem, as they choose; it is the right of these athletes to exercise their right to free speech as regulated by the Constitution, to kneel, sit, or stand with raised fist.

[Side note: the national anthem has been criticized as having a racist third verse, in which Francis Scott Key lauded the death of slaves. I realize that we do not sing that verse, and most of us are unaware of it; however, it gives further weight to the choice of those who would desire to not sing it or give honor to it.]

“It’s not good to use the team as a platform; he should call a press conference instead.”

“He is just an entitled entertainer. He should keep his mouth shut, since he has been successful.”

How is calling a press conference *not* using his team or his stature as a football player as a platform? And isn’t it a good thing to use one’s celebrity/resources/place in the public eye to draw attention to issues that you think need it? Sports figures do this all the time, for all sorts of issues. The entire NFL does it during October for breast cancer awareness, for example. Celebrities (whether they are experts on a subject or not) go to Congress to testify about things that they think need attention, with the hope of getting some results. Philanthropists donate money and hold fundraisers and use what privilege and opportunities they have to bring attention to needs. We seem to think that it’s okay for those issues. We laud people for using their time and resources to help those who do not have the same resources. So why not on this issue? Why shouldn’t those with a platform draw attention to the problem of the disparity of how, in far too many instances, people of color are treated by police officers ?

The point of a protest is to get people’s attention. If no one pays attention, then it is not an effective protest. Kaepernick got people’s attention, and got them talking.

“This is causing division.”

Kaepernick’s protest is not causing division, but rather exposing the divide that already exists.

“Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured. “

–Martin Luther King, Jr.

Speaking of MLK….

“Martin Luther King, Jr. would be appalled. He never did anything like this.”

Many people like to appropriate MLK now, with little to no understanding of what he said when he was alive. He promoted peaceful demonstrations, but he also understood the hopelessness and rage that gives way to violence. He himself was committed to non-violence, and yet he was killed by violence. Since so many feel free to speculate on how Dr. King would act and what he would say, were he alive today, I will offer my opinion: he would be deeply grieved that we have gained so little ground in the struggle against systemic racism. And while there has been individual progress in many individual lives (which people like to point out as proof: look at Oprah! Look at all the black athletes! Look at President Obama! Things are so much better!), there is still deep systemic racism that affects Black people, not the least of which is the implicit (and sometimes explicit) bias of police forces against people of color. (This list by Vanity Fair gathers in many studies and analyses of data that demonstrate this.)

But don’t take my word for it. Let Dr. King’s words speak for themselves.

You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham [edit.: or  Charlotte or Ferguson or Baton Rouge or… ]. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails so express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city’s white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative. –Dr. Martin Luther King, Letter from a Birmingham Jail

And here are his thoughts on not-so-peaceful demonstrations:

But it is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear?…It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.” -Martin Luther King, 1968

­“It’s not a skin problem, it’s a sin problem.”

I don’t know why this is such a durable saying; perhaps because it has some truth, and perhaps because it rhymes. (We love a good simple truism that rhymes.) But there’s a problem. While it is true that racism is a sin problem, it is because it IS a skin problem. If that weren’t the case, it would not be called racism. There wouldn’t be anything to call it, because it wouldn’t exist. The “sin problem” IS the problem that people have with other people’s skin.

Let’s apply this saying to other social ills.
“It’s not an abortion problem, it’s a sin problem.” So…we shouldn’t work to change laws/policies regarding abortion; instead, we should only focus on people’s hearts?

 

“It’s not a sex trafficking problem, it’s a sin problem.” So….we shouldn’t try to rescue those who are being sexually trafficked and abused, but instead just try to change the hearts of those who are buying their services/pimping them out?

 

“It’s not a child/spouse abuse problem, it’s a sin problem.” So…we should allow people to beat on their spouse and children, and just pray for their hearts to be changed?

 

Racism is both individualistic and systemic. While we do pray, and communicate with individuals and try to change hearts, we also work within systems to correct problems and root out the issues within existing systems—just as we do for all of the other social problems.

“I support their right to protest, but it’s the wrong place/time/method.”

Honest question: what would be the right place/time/method? Because it seems like people are never happy with a protest, unless it does not disrupt them in any way, shape, or form.

This is one of the most peaceful types of protests that one could do. It does not disrupt the game. It does not prevent people from doing their jobs. It does not remove anything from anyone.

It gets people to think about injustice in the United States. It may offend some of your ideas or beliefs. But that is what it is meant to do. As stated above, a protest is meant to elicit a response. It’s meant to point out a problem, and get people talking, thinking, and acting on what an appropriate solution to the problem might be.

I am glad that Colin Kaepernick has used his privilege as a highly talented, highly paid professional athlete to shine a light on the continuing problems that we have in our criminal justice system. I support him, and all others like him, who are willing to sacrifice money, reputation, and the adulation of fans to help their fellow human beings in the quest for equal treatment under the law.

 

 

 

 

Talking about sex–early and often

Let’s talk about sex.

Specifically, let’s talk about sex to our children, from the time that they are very young, throughout their childhood and teens, and on into their adulthood.

Let’s talk about it often.

Let’s start when they are babies and toddlers.

Is anyone uncomfortable yet?

“My child is an preschooler. They’re so young! Why would I need to talk to them about this? Why do I need to even be thinking about this, at this point? I was hoping to put it off as long as possible!”

Normal reactions. I hope that by the end of this, you will, if not agree with me, at least see the reason why someone would talk to their children about sexuality from an early age.

Let’s start with some groundwork.

Sex is a good gift

Sexuality is a good gift given by God. He created it; he made it to be THE way by which new humans are formed.

Genesis 1:27-28—So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

Genesis 2: 20 – 25—The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, “This at last is bond of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.”

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.

When you think of it, God could have created us to reproduce in a different way. God could have made us asexual and reproduce by subdividing, like an amoeba; he could have had one gender lay eggs in the sand, and another fertilize it; he could have made humans to procreate in a variety of ways. But he didn’t. He made us to be fruitful and multiply through sexual union, between a man and woman joined in marriage.

Secondly, we see that sex was created to be pleasurable.

The first poem or song was composed by Adam, in Gen 2:23-25. There wasn’t a guitar yet, but if there was, can’t you just see Adam picking up his guitar and singing this song to Eve?
“Flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone…”

<key change>

<bridge verse>

<back to the chorus>

Adam is thrilled to have Eve, and he sings about it. And they become “one flesh”, and “were both naked and were not ashamed.”

The Song of Solomon is another love song in the Bible, full of sexual references between the bride and her bridegroom. In fact, according to some scholars, our translations are probably too tame in regards to what the text is saying.

From the Song of Solomon, chapters 5 & 6 (The Message version):

My dear lover glows with health—red-blooded, radiant!

He’s one in a million.

There’s no one quite like him!

 

…..Fine muscles ripple beneath his skin, quiet and beautiful.

His torso is the work of a sculptor…

Everything about him delights me, thrills me through and through!!

 My lover is already on his way to his garden, to browse among the flowers,

touching the colors and forms.

I am my lover’s and my lover is mine.

He caresses the sweet-smelling flowers.

 And then it’s her lover’s turn (chapter 7):

Your limbs are lithe and elegant, the work of a master artist.

Your body is a chalice, wine-filled.

Your skin is silken and tawny

like a field of wheat touched by the breeze.

Your breasts are like fawns,

twins of a gazelle….

The feelings I get when I see the high mountain ranges

—stirrings of desire, longing for the heights—

…You are tall and supple, like the palm tree,

and your full breasts are like sweet clusters of dates.

I say, “I’m going to climb that palm tree! I’m going to caress its fruit!”

Oh yes! Your breasts

will be clusters of sweet fruit to me,

Your breath clean and cook like fresh mint,

your tongue and lips like the best wine.

Whew!

I think it’s clear that God loves sex.

There are parts of our bodies that He made only for sexual pleasure; they have nothing to do with procreation. The clitoris on the woman and the undershaft of the penis are particularly sensitive; they were created for pleasure. So we know that sex isn’t just for making babies.

Third, we see that sexual unity in marriage is a reflection or a type of the love and unity and ecstatic oneness of Christ and the church —which is us.

Eph. 5:25-32 : Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the Church.

 Paul quotes the verses from Genesis, which refer to oneness between husband and wife—sexual union, becoming one flesh—and says that it is referring to Christ and the church, the oneness that should be evident to those around. Our marriages and our sex lives are designed to reflect that.

God loves sex; he made it for his glory, and for our good and enjoyment. He has made us sexual beings. It’s both mysterious, and glorious.  Proverbs 30: 18 – Three things are too wonderful for me; four I do not understand: the way of an eagle in the sky, the way of a serpent on a rock, the way of a ship on the high seas, and the way of man with a woman.

Early teaching is good stewardship

As parents, we have a responsibility to teach our children about good stewardship of all the gifts God has given us. We don’t wait to be good stewards—we start from very early ages, in very natural, everyday ways.

Do you wait until a certain age before you talk to and teach your kids about eating healthy or exercising?

Do you wait until they have the capacity to speak before you read to them and tell them stories?

Do you wait until they are older, say maybe around the age of twelve, and the start to explain to them all the things about Christianity and faith? (Well, maybe some people do, but usually  if it’s important to you, you start far earlier.)

No. Instead, we start teaching about these things in very natural, everyday ways, weaving it into the warp and woof of our lives. We should do the same thing with sexuality. We are called to steward it well—so we should be teaching about it from an early age.

At the same time, however, the culture at large is hyper-sexualized. It is all around our kids, at younger and younger ages. Maybe some of our avoidance is understandable. We are trying to resist what we see around us. We may think that avoidance is the best option.

There is a term from sociologists Mark Regnerus and Jeremy Uecker called “anti-conversational logic”. If we don’t talk about something, then it doesn’t exist.

The problem is—it really does exist. And we need to be talking about it.

Maybe we grew up where sexuality was something that was cloaked in shame, or secretiveness, or ignorance. Maybe we were sexually active outside of marriage, and are ashamed of that. Or maybe we were sexually abused, and so we fear talking about it, or we don’t know how to talk about it. If that is your situation, I want you to know that I grieve with and for you. You are not alone, and there is help to be found. I urge you to seek help and good counsel, through a trusted friend, a counselor, a pastor. There is healing to be found.

I also urge you to acquire truthful, helpful knowledge about sex, because the more that we know the facts about healthy sex and sexual relationships, and are comfortable with them ourselves, the more comfortable we will be in talking to our children in a common sense yet respectful way about this good gift that God has given to us.

“But….talking about sex is scary! And intimidating.”

When you have “THE Sex Talk” as your plan, there is a lot of pressure on it: you have to say things in the right way, you have to cover EVERYTHING, you need to make sure you don’t forget anything, or say something in a way that might be misunderstood. Twelve- and thirteen-year olds are likely to be embarrassed about talking to their parent about this subject. It must be scary and shameful, because it’s been pretty secretive so far, and mom and dad act weird whenever it comes up, so it must be a Big Deal. Plus, they already know some things about sex (either accurately or inaccurately), and are aware enough of it from other sources to have a sense that it’s dirty, inappropriate, or just plain weird to talk about sex with your parents.

This brings me to an important point: you may not be teaching your kids about sex before “The Sex Talk”; but they are learning about sex regardless. From friends, from school mates, from siblings or other relatives, from media—it is unavoidable. Much, if not most of that info, may be faulty information.

Wouldn’t you rather have an ongoing, open conversation with your child about the wonder and beauty of their bodies, and the good gift of sex, in the context of age-appropriate discussions? Wouldn’t you rather that you children knew the correct anatomical names for their body parts, so they will be a less desirable target for sexual abuse and molestation? Wouldn’t you rather be the person your child comes to with questions about sexuality, instead of consulting the internet, or their friends? I know I would.

One of my general goals that I have had in parenting my children: I want relationships with them that are ones of trust and openness—that they know that they can come to me with anything and talk to me about it, and that I will still love them and accept them, and work with them to help find a solution to their problem if they want, or simply be a listening ear. This doesn’t mean that there won’t be consequences if they are needed, or hard truths communicated to them in love. But I want my kids to know that they can come to me and talk to me about anything, and know that I won’t automatically freak out or be condemning, or fail to listen to them.

It doesn’t mean that I will automatically agree with them or affirm their decisions, actions, or thoughts. But I will listen.

The goal, as my friend Maralee Bradley says, is to be a trustworthy person. “Sex is only shameful if we treat it shamefully.” If we can build conversations of trust around things that can be hard to talk about (like sex), then it is likely that those conversations and relationships will continue to be open and trusting as our children grow up.

If you are having these conversations all along, then you will be more ready to handle such situations as these:

What would be your response if your child came to you and was worried they might be homosexual, or convinced that they are?

What do you do when you find an inappropriate Google image search, such as “girls without panties”?

Are you brave enough and have enough relational credibility in speaking honestly and in “non-freaking-out-mode” to be able to ask your adult child if they are sleeping with their boyfriend or girlfriend?

Will you be able to speak honestly and ask questions of your son or daughter about pornography and its dangers, and if they are struggling with it?

If you have not been building up a foundation of honest conversations about sexuality, then it’s going to be far harder to approach these things.

I know these conversations are not easy. But they are far easier, less scary, and doable, when you have been talking with your child about sexuality (and praying about it as well), through out the growing up years.

The pressure of getting it all correct in one talk or one “weekend getaway” is too much, in my opinion. Instead, we can dispense knowledge in age-appropriate amounts, over time. We can add in things later, what we either forgot to say, or figured out a better way to say, or stammered and got red-faced about the first time we said it. We can feel more comfortable handling spur of the moment questions.

You won’t do it perfectly

Remember, you won’t do this perfectly.

Guess what? That’s okay.

When my youngest sons were around 7, 5, and 3, I was reading them a bedtime story. My husband wasn’t home—he was at a meeting for work—and after I finished the story, the seven year old said, “Mom, you know how people sometimes say things like, he has his father’s eyes?”

“Yeah.”

“How does that happen?”

“Well, a baby is made with some of the dad, and some of the mom, and they combine to make a new person. The baby gets some things from the mom and some from the dad, in their genes—so you might have your mom’s nose and your dad’s eyes.”

“Yeah, but HOW does that happen?”

“Well, the egg part comes from the mom, and the sperm part comes from the dad, and they combine, and form a baby that grows inside the mom’s tummy for a long time—9 months! And when the baby comes out, then we see that he has mom’s nose, and dad’s eyes.”

“Yeah, but….if the baby comes out of the mom’s tummy, HOW does the part from the dad get in there??”

Big breath. Okay. We are doing this!

I commenced to tell them a simple version of sex. The five year old started laughing. And he kept laughing, all the way through my explanation.

The older brother got very indignant with him, and scolded him, “Why are you laughing?!”

“I. Don’t. Know!!” (while still laughing)

I said, “Well…it does sound kind of funny the first time you hear about it.”

I asked the guys later if they remembered this. The one who asked the question did not remember it at all. The one who was three years old did not remember it (understandably, given his age).

The Giggler remembered it, but his memory of my explanation of the sexual act was not accurate. He seemed to think it was something about peeing on someone else.

Does this mean that I failed?

Does this mean that we shouldn’t have had the conversation?

No. Dealing with and answering questions on the level of the children conveys that we are willing to talk honestly about sex, and answer questions and have conversations, without shame. Whether or not a particular conversation is recalled with great specificity is not that important at these earlier ages. What is important is the openness and willingness to engage the subject.

Yes, facts will be misremembered. Teaching will not always be perfect; learning will not always be perfect and mature. This is the same for all learning; we mature, and our learning is shaped and re-shaped as we add in new or more clarifying information. This is how we can teach and tell things in keeping with the age and maturity of the child; they can learn and understand more as they grow older, and we continue to explain and talk about it. (And yes, the Giggler came to understand a more accurate description of sex. :))

Even if you don’t do things perfectly, you always have the opportunity to try to do better, as you continue to keep the door of conversation open. That’s one way I like to think of this: it’s not ‘open the door, talk about sex, shut the door, and now we never go into that room again’; we leave the door open, so that it can be entered when needed and desired.

The main obstacle to this approach is fear. Fear of just talking about it, first of all; and then fear of being seen as being ignorant, or not knowing the answers. No one likes to be seen as ignorant, and we may be concerned that it diminishes our authority as a parent if we don’t know the answers.

Ignorance is easily addressed by educating ourselves, so that we feel comfortable and confident in talking about bodies and sex. (We can also admit when we don’t know an answer, tell our kids we don’t know, but will do some research and get back to them, and then do so.)

We build our confidence by talking to our children when they are young; we can get our embarrassment and stammering out of the way, when they won’t remember much about the conversation anyway. The earlier we start, the more opportunity we have to practice!

Our kids want us to talk to them

If we are afraid of the conversation, we cultivate an atmosphere of “don’t ask, don’t tell”. Ironically, not talking about it doesn’t make things better, it makes them worse.

And, perhaps surprisingly, kids WANT us to talk to them more.

Listen to this, from the book Divine Sex by Jonathan Grant:

….parents have far more potential influence over their adolescent and emerging-adult children than they generally realize. Sadly, parents—including Christian parents—often shirk their potentially formative role out of a misplaced belief in the cultural myth that they have no influence over their children once they hit puberty. Indeed, one of the most surprising findings of Regnerus and Uecker is the indifference of modern parents to their children’s sexual lives.

Most assume “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy focused on “safety,” ensuring a minimal protection against disease or pregnancy. The emotional, moral, and spiritual consequences of their children’s sexual and relational lives are almost completely ignored. “In fact,” the researchers say, “American parents’ oversight of their teenage and young-adult children tends to be wide but shallow, resulting in children who long for—but seldom experience—real intimacy with their parents. Instead of pursuing a deeper relationship, many parents settle for just knowing that their kids are safe.”

…..when it comes to faith and practice, the example and advice of parents are more likely to influence emerging adults than the beliefs, perceptions, and habits of friends and peers. Tragically, Smith reports a deep yearning among adolescents to have a closer relationship with their parents at the same time that their parents are choosing to give them “space.”

…..The modern parenting script is letting this generation down, and that is a tragedy. Christian parents can and should play a significant and constructive role in their children’s lives, not just in the early formative years but also in these critical transitional phases. Here parents can offer unconditional friendship, assurance, wisdom, and rites of passage that enable their children to move into the next stage of life on a secure platform and with a well-formed self-identity.

This is good news! Kids want to be closer to their parents and their family. And that’s what we as parents want, too, right?

As kids get older, there are more complex things to talk about and address: unplanned pregnancies, STDs, questions about homosexuality, sex outside of marriage. These are things that you will want to be addressing from the standpoint and foundation of faith that you are and have been building. And they all can be dealt with better if you are proactively being open and honest about sexuality when your children are young, and continuing the conversation, as they grow older.

Teachable moments will arise, during normal life events. You will be prepared to talk about it if you have been talking about it all along. Kids will feel more comfortable talking to you about sex when you have established yourself as a safe, honest person with whom to talk. The desired result is a trusting and open relationship that continues well into their adulthood– and the rest of your lives.

____________________________

Resources:

Listed below are resources to help you in talking to your kids about sex, educating yourself about sexuality, and protecting your family and kids from pornography and sexual abuse.

Books for Kids:

God’s Design for Sex — a four book series by Stan and Brenna Jones and Carolyn Nystrom The Story of Me; Before I Was Born; What’s the Big Deal? Why God Cares about Sex; Facing the Facts: The Truth about Sex and You

God Made all of Me: A Book to Help Children Protect Their Bodies by Justin Holcomb and Lindsey Holcomb

Good Pictures, Bad Pictures : Porn-Proofing Today’s Young Kids by Kristen Jenson, and Gail Poyner

Online resources:

Maralee Bradley—A Musing Maralee (blog) :

Talk to your Kids about Sex Today

Summer Sex Education

Talk to your young kids about Porn

Great Conversations (http://www.greatconversations.com) : classes for kids (age 10-13) and their parents about puberty

Books for adults:

Is God Anti-Gay? and other questions about homosexuality, the Bible and same-sex attraction by Sam Allberry

Sheet Music: Unlocking the Secrets of Sexual Intimacy in Marriage by Kevin Leman

Divine Sex: A Compelling Vision for Christian Relationships in a Hypersexualized Age by Jonathan Grant

Rid of My Disgrace: Hope and Healing for Victims of Sexual Assault by Justin and Lindsey Holcomb

 

Tech help:

Covenant Eyes (www.covenanteyes.com)

PageClean (www.pageclean.com)

Circle with Disney (https://meetcircle.com)

Review/article on Circle:

http://www.wired.com/2015/11/circle-with-disney-locks-down-kids-devices-from-afar/

Article: Best Internet Filter Software of 2016

http://internet-filter-review.toptenreviews.com

 

Come on in

Full disclosure: This is a re-post from a few years ago, on a previous blog.

Enjoy.

 I meant to get the house dusted.

Or, at least, the places you see when you first walk into the house.

But….I didn’t.

I did get most of the post-vacation laundry done.

The groceries re-stocked in the fridge.

The counters in the kitchen wiped off.

But I didn’t get the dusting done.

And there were people coming over.

But it was okay.

Instead of bemoaning it, I wrote “Welcome!” in the dust on the hall table.

And you know what? I meant it.

Because the women who came through the door weren’t here to see how clean my house was.

They came with only the expectation of meeting with other women, of hearing and being heard, and of maybe having a good cup of coffee.

(Oh, and child care for their offspring for a couple of hours. Crucial to the above expectations–especially the “being heard” part.)

Although it didn’t require me to pick up my Swiffer duster, it did require me to lay down something else.

Opening my house to others sometimes requires laying down my own expectations of what that might look like.

What impression I think I need to make.

The (mostly self-imposed) pressure to have everything “just so”.

I ask myself: what feeling do I want people to walk away with?

That everything in my home was beautifully decorated and pristine and each item was artfully placed?

Or that it was a place where they felt welcome and comfortable–and listened to?

I love it when my house is totally clean, and everything is in its place, and it’s a place of beauty.

But if I only let others in–to my house, or to my life–when nothing is messy?

I will never let others in.

So I write “welcome” on my dusty table, in my messy life. And I mean it.

Come on in.

Let’s write on each other’s lives.

 

Discontentment

I am the youngest of four children. This means two things:

1) I like being the center of attention, and 2) I had the opportunity to see everything that was ahead of me. As in– my siblings got to experience all of life’s joys, privileges, and excitements before I got to.

And it all inevitably looked more exciting than what I was presently doing or experiencing.

When I wasn’t in school yet, I couldn’t wait to go to kindergarten.

When I was in elementary school, I couldn’t wait for junior high.

(Speaking of junior high,I remember even being very anxious in junior high to get my first period! I just couldn’t wait. I am not sure what I thought was going to be so special about it. When I was on the other end of the spectrum, I couldn’t wait until I was done with it.)

Then high school.

Getting my driver’s license.

Graduating from high school.

Going to college.

Does any of this sound familiar??

My list of “when life will really be good, and fulfilling, and wonderful” continued….

When I meet the right guy

When we get married

When we have kids

When we figure out what career for my husband to pursue

(which took awhile….. we went through several possibilities before landing on the final one)

when we get out of school and training

when we are done having children (which also took a lot longer than we had thought it would)

when the kids are all potty trained

when the kids are all in school

when we own a house

when we are making x number of $

when we have a bigger (or better in some way) house

when I lose 5/10/15/ more pounds

when life slows down and I have more free time

when my child is over this difficult phase

when my husband is over this difficult phase

When I’m over this difficult phase!

when the kids are all out of the house

when we have grandkids

when we retire

Anybody else experience this? Or is it just me?

The temptation is always to look ahead.

Maybe your list looks a little different, but most all of us tend to do it.

“When this happens______________…..then things will be better.”

Or “when this problem resolves….then everything will be all right, and I will be happy.”

We are not content with what we have; we are worried that we are never going to get what we want (perfect house, perfect kids, perfect job, perfect spouse, perfect stress-free life).

Or maybe we don’t want perfect—we realize that’s not going to happen. We aren’t greedy, after all.

We just want a little bit better.

———

What is the underlying attitude in all this?

“God is holding out on me. Or, if not perhaps holding out, making me wait for the things that I want. Certainly far longer than I should have to wait.”

It can be subtle—we may not even consciously realize that we are thinking and acting as if “if I can just get past all this muck and mess then things will be okay.” Or maybe it’s under cover of altruism: “If I can just get past this particular thing, I know I could do great things for God….”

We generally think that our discontent could be solved by a change in circumstances; however, discontent can arise even in the most perfect of circumstances.

Take Adam and Eve, for example. They were in the most idyllic circumstances possible.

—They were in close, unmarred relationship with God.

—They were in perfect, sinless relationship with each other

—They had meaningful, fulfilling work without the frustration of sin

—They didn’t have any children yet.

Or annoying neighbors.

Or irritating co-workers.

And still—Satan was able to stir up discontentment.

How did this happen?

Let’s look at Genesis 3.

Genesis 3: 1 : Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”

He casts doubt about what God said. “Did God actually say that??!!”

(v. 2): And the woman said to the serpent “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’”

Eve either misremembers or misconstrues what God’s instructions, and she makes it sound more restrictive than it actually was. “Neither shall you touch it….

Satan takes Eve’s mischaracterization of what God said, pounces on it, and makes her think that she is missing out. (This is, by the way, the original, first FOMO: Fear Of Missing Out.)

The father of lies spins this out for Eve (v.4): But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

He tells them these lies: God is holding out on you. He doesn’t want what’s best for you. You need to look out for yourself, because He certainly isn’t. . He doesn’t have your best interests at heart at all, but instead is withholding something wonderful from you, for whatever (probably ridiculous) reason.

God doesn’t know. And worse, He probably doesn’t even care. Because if he did, he would be fixing this situation.

These are the lies that Adam and Eve listened to, and believed. And note: they believed them because they didn’t attend carefully to what God had actually said, as well as not taking into consideration their real-life experience of God and his care for them.

Let’s look at another example of people in Scripture who were discontent: the children of Israel.

In Exodus 2: 23-25, it says: During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew.

God saw them. God knew them. He cared about them, and had a plan for their rescue, and for their good.

God puts his plan into motion. He sends Moses and his brother Aaron, and executes a mighty deliverance for his people—through plagues, through the Red Sea, through many mighty works. He even sends them out from their slave-masters with silver and gold and clothing—great plunder.

He brings them out of a dire situation, and shows his ability to care for them.

So they trusted him and believed in him in every situation from there on out. The End.

Unfortunately, no. That was not how it went.

In Exodus 16, we see just two months after they had left Egypt, this (v 2-3) : and the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, and the people of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”

Yikes. That’s some heavy duty grumbling and discontentment.

But in spite of that, God still provides for them. V. 9-12: Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the people of Israel, ‘Come near before the LORD, for he has heard your grumbling.’” And as soon as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the people of Israel, they looked toward the wilderness, and behold, the glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud. And the LORD said to Moses, “I have heard the grumbling of the people of Israel. Say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread. Then you shall know that I am the LORD your God.’”

So God gave them quail, and he gave them manna.

And they were satisfied and content. Yes??

No.

If you continue to read through Exodus, you see that the people continued to grumble about things and be discontent: no water. Tired of manna. Tired of the quail.

Number 11:4 ff : And the people of Israel also wept again and said, “Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.”

They misremember the past—“Remember who great it was back in Egypt?? All that food—for free! It was so wonderful. And now all we have is this old manna.” They mischaracterize God’s goodness in providing for them, as being somehow inferior to what they had before—when they were slaves, by the way.

What about us? Can you think of something, some circumstance with which you are discontent? Are there things in your life that you feel like God either doesn’t care about, is asleep on the job, or is just plain getting it wrong?

“If God is so good, then why isn’t he fixing this?”

——-

Paige Benton Brown wrote an article on singleness and God’s goodness, called Singled Out for Good. Although she is addressing the topic of being unmarried and dissatisfied, I believe it can apply to all of us. If singleness is not your issue, substitute your issue for hers.

Listen to what she says:

Can God be any less good to me on the average Tuesday morning than he was on that monumental Friday afternoon when he hung on a cross in my place? The answer is a resounding no. God will not be less good to me tomorrow either, because God cannot be less good to me. His goodness is not the effect of his disposition but the essence of his person—not an attitude but an attribute. I long to be married. My younger sister got married two months ago. She now has an adoring husband, a beautiful home, a whirlpool bathtub, and all-new Corning ware. Is God being any less good to me than he is to her? The answer is a resounding no. God will not be less good to me because God cannot be less good to me. It is a cosmic impossibility for God to shortchange any of his children.

God can no more live in me apart from the perfect fullness of his goodness and grace than I can live in Nashville and not be white. If he fluctuated one quark in his goodness he would cease to be God.

Accepting singleness [ my edit: or whatever your situation is], whether temporary or permanent, does not hinge on speculation about answers God has not given to our list of whys, but rather on celebration of the life he has given. I am not single because I am too spiritually unstable to possibly deserve a husband, nor because I am too spiritually mature to possibly need one. I am single because God is so abundantly good to me, because this is his best for me. It is a cosmic impossibility that anything could be better for me right now than being single. The psalmists confirm that I should not want, I shall not want, because no good thing will God withhold from me.

———

We are often just as discontent as people who have gone before us.   But we don’t have to stay there, and dwell in discontent. In the book of Philippians, Paul lays out a way, a plan for when we find ourselves creeping toward, or just plain plopping down in, discontent.

Let’s start in chapter one.

Phil. 1:21-26 : For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.

Paul confesses that he would rather die and be with Christ. He even says that that would be “far better”. And yet, he is content to live, and bring fruitful labor to his Lord at present, because that is what God has for him right now. He is releasing his desire for what he thinks is better, and resting in contentment for what God has for him, knowing that God knows best. As Paige Brown said—it is impossible for God to shortchange his children, or be less than good to us at any time. We can rest in his goodness, and in the circumstances in which he has placed us.

In chapter 2, he fleshes out a bit more of what this involves—humility. V. 3-4: Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interest of others. [ And then he goes on to that beautiful exposition of Christ’s humility] Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Humility is key to being content. If you think of yourself and your desires as less important than those around you, there will less of an impulse to compare yourself with them, and to be jealous of what they have, their situations, etc., which leads to a discontent with your own situation. Comparison is the thing that will most get us into trouble, if we are trying to be content. As Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”

Even Peter had a problem with this. Peter, who was what we would probably call “a big deal” in Jesus’ circle. He was one of the three closest friends Christ had; he was a leader among the disciples. Peter, tempted to be discontent? We see it in John 21.

V 15 ff : When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”

 And then, after this three times of affirming his love for Christ, and being charged with his mission what Jesus wants him to do, Jesus says to him (v. 18-19): Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”

So Jesus forgives him for his three denials, and then he tells him, you’re going to be blinded and then you’re going to die for me.

“I forgive you.

Feed my sheep.

You’re going to go blind and then die.”

That’s an encouraging word, huh?

V. 20 ff: Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who had been reclining at table close to him and had said “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” [John, who is writing this narrative for us] when Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!”

According to historical tradition, Peter ended his life in prison, and was crucified upside down during the reign of Nero. John was exiled to the island of Patmos, where he wrote the Revelation, and then later was released and went to Ephesus, where he likely lived the rest of his life. He is the only apostle that died a natural death.

Two apostles—both loved dearly by the Lord.

But Christ had two very different roads for them to take, in their service to him.

Jesus is quite adamant about comparing our paths to others. “What is that to you? You follow me!” Whenever we feel our eyes being turned to someone or something else, when we want to compare our lot in life to someone else’s, we need to remind ourselves of the Savior’s words: “What is that to you? You Follow Me.”

Back to Philippians 3 (v 8ff): Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.

Paul admits he isn’t perfect in this. But he presses on, not because he has to attain this by his striving, but because he belongs to Jesus, and Jesus says, “Don’t worry about what the path is for others. You Follow Me.”

——-

Okay. Easy. Just be content. Right?

We all know it’s not just as easy as saying, “Okay! I am going to be content now!” Willing ourselves to change or be different is not how we actually change and grow.

We change and grow by setting our minds and our hearts on God’s words, and asking him for his help to change.

In Philippians 4, Paul gives us some practical ways to do this.

Phil. 4:9– Practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

Practice what things?

Let’s go back in the chapter to see what he is referring to.

  1. 4: Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.

When we rejoice in the Lord, we are praising him. We are taking our joy in Him, and in him alone. Our joy and our peace are not found in our circumstances, but in Him. Hebrews 13:15 says, “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.

Have you ever thought about what the phrase “offering up a sacrifice of praise” means? I think part of what it means that it is not always easy to praise God. A sacrifice costs something, right? Otherwise, it wouldn’t be much of a sacrifice. When we offer up a sacrifice of praise, it costs us: our pride, our desire to be in control, our yearning for comfort, our ache for approval. Sometimes we just don’t want to. Sometimes we think we don’t have much to praise him for. But God wants us to refocus on what is really the most important—and that is him. His character, his holiness, his steadfast love for us….as we think about these things, and realize how praiseworthy he is, then we offer up our sacrifice of praise. And as we offer up that sacrifice, it shifts our focus back to God, and helps us to remember that even when we find ourselves in situations we are not happy with at all, that our God is sovereign and loving and in control of it all.

  1. 5 —The Lord is at hand.

We need to remember that! The Lord is “at hand”. Not far away up in heaven somewhere; he is “at hand”. Near to us. By us. With us. Emmanuel means “God with us”. He came in human flesh to be with us; he is still with us. The Holy Spirit lives and breathes and resides in us. He upholds us by his strong right arm.

  1. 6 says that because the Lord is with us, we need not be anxious, but instead “in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

We are to pray and talk to God, let him know about our troubles and our concerns—with thanksgiving. The thanksgiving part enables us to remember God’s character and his faithfulness to us. And that leads to v. 7—“the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” We are to thank God, and then lay our requests out to him; and his peace will guard our hearts and minds.

So, we practice: Rejoicing : that God is with us, and for us

Thankfulness: for all the blessings, great and small, that he has provided

Prayer: telling him our concerns, our sorrows, our hopes—and releasing them to Him in his goodness and wisdom.

  1. 8— “Finally, brothers/sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”

We think about and ponder and meditate on these things, as we go about our daily work—things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, praiseworthy ; these are the things that we focus on. The attributes of God. The blessings that he has given us. The things he has done in the past. The promises that he has made—that he will be with us, that he will never leave us or forsake us.

That leads Paul to talk of how he can be content. (V. 11) “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

That last verse is often quoted in a kind of triumphal or a“power of positive thinking” kind of way. But notice the context. It’s not “there’s no stopping me from achieving my goals and dreams, because I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!” Instead, it’s in the framework of being content. Paul is saying: I can be content in any circumstance, good or bad, wealthy or poor, sick or healthy, hungry or satisfied——because of Christ and his power. He is the one who gives me the strength I need to be content. He is the one who enables me in all situations to do what he has called me to do. And therefore I can rest in him.

To fight discontentment, we must practice thankfulness for the circumstances in which God has placed us, knowing it is for our good and his glory. Thankfulness is what will lead to peace and contentment.

Practicing isn’t always easy. When I was a child, I loved playing the piano. I started messing around on it when I was four years old, and my mom quickly got me into lessons, so that I wouldn’t pick up bad habits. I loved the piano—but I did not like practicing. It was hard. But, as I practiced, my fingers got more used to what they were supposed to do, and it became more of a natural, automatic way to moving my hands around the keyboard, and my playing was smoother (and easier on the ears of those around me).

As we practice thankfulness, it becomes easier, and more natural, a more automatic response to whatever God brings into our lives. We have been flexing and strengthening our “thankfulness” muscles, which allow us to more readily be satisfied and content.

———

About 3 1/2 years ago, my husband was unexpectedly fired from his job. While there were things about this job that made it difficult, it was one that he stuck with, because we had deep roots in our community and our church, as well as a lot of family in the area, and we really did not want to give those up (there were no other job openings in his field in our town at this time). So he persevered in it.

Until he was fired, without cause and without warning.

We were honestly dumbfounded. He was given a 90 day notice, per his contract, and we started the difficult work of trying to find a new position The market was quite tight, and jobs in his field were scarce.

We were praying hard for a job.

One day, while I was praying, I heard God say to me (not in an audible voice—I’m a Presbyterian, after all), “Thank Me for it.”

And I said, “….What?!!”

(Again, not audibly.)

“Thank me for Marc getting fired.”

Wow.

I had to think about that for a while. Was I really being asked by God to thank him for this even that had totally rocked our world? We had been in Nebraska nearly our entire lives. Our families were here. Our friends were here. We were honestly planning on retiring there, in spite of the schizophrenic weather patterns.

“You want me to thank You for upending all of that??”

The answer was YES.

So…I did. I prayed, “God I don’t know why this is happening. I certainly know it was NOT my plan. And I don’t see how good is going to come out of it,. But I do know that You are good. I know that You love us. I know that You are taking care of us and have us in your hands—even when it just looks like the rug has been pulled out from under our feet.

Thank you, God, for Marc getting fired.”

As the weeks went on, I continued to pray that prayer. Thank you, God, for Marc getting fired. And as I prayed and continued to thank God for this event that I really didn’t want to happen, I started to see other things to be thankful for, within the situation. I started to realize that while I couldn’t see the entire scope of what was good about this situation, or how God was going to work in and through us, or how that was going to happen in a different place than we had hoped, through a different job than we had thought, in and through people we hadn’t even met yet—I could be content, and rest in whatever the future held for us. Because I knew God was good. God was faithful. God was everlastingly loving and kind. And that God would always, always be with us.

——–

The Psalms are so great at giving us examples of how to pray, how to connect with God, how to process through things. Psalm 77 shows us a template of how to deal with a situation with which you are anguishing over. The title of the Psalm in my Bible is “In the Day of Trouble I Seek the Lord”. Already that’s wonderful—what should I do when I am having trouble and trials and discontentment? “I seek the Lord”.

In verses 1-4 Asaph, the Psalmist, is crying out to God.

I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, and he will hear me.

In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying; my soul refuses to be comforted.

When I remember God, I moan; when I meditate, my spirit faints.

You hold my eyelids open; I am so troubled that I cannot speak.

He is upset; he is worried; he is unhappy with his circumstances and his situation; he has insomnia about the whole thing.

In verses 5-9, he meditates on and seeks out God’s truth.

I consider the days of old, the years long ago.

I said, “Let me remember my song in the night; let me meditate in my heart.”

Then my spirit made a diligent search:

“Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable?

Has his steadfast love forever ceased?

Are his promises at an end for all time?

Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion?”
He asks—what is God’s character? How has he been in the past? Will he be faithful?

Then in verses 10-20, he remembers the work and wonder of the Lord.

Then I said, “I will appeal to this, to the years of the right hand of the Most High.”

I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your wonders of old.

I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds.

Your way, O God is holy.

What God is great like our God?

You are the God who works wonders; you have made known your might among the peoples.

You with your arm redeemed your people ,the children of Jacob and Joseph.

When the waters saw you, O God, when the waters saw you, they were afraid;

indeed, the deep trembled.

The clouds poured out water; the skies gave forth thunder; your arrows flashed on every side.

The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind; your lightning lighted up the world;

the earth trembled and shook.

Your way was through the sea, your path through the great waters;

yet your footprints were unseen.

You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.

He is praising God and thanking him for his character, and his mighty deeds.

This is our template.

Talk to God for your situation and what you are discontent with. Go ahead and tell him what you’re discontent with; it’s okay, he already knows! The key is to continue to talk to him through all things, the good, the bad, the things that seem like they will never end. Keep talking to him—it’s when we stop talking to him that we veer into trouble. Job had a ton of things to be discontent about. He complained and lamented, and it was okay—because he was continuing to be in the conversation. He kept talking to God, and listening to him. So pour out your heart to him. Then, meditate and think about the truth of who God is, what his character is like. And then—thank him for it. Notice that Asaph spends twice as long thanking and praising God, as he does talking about his problem. Thank him for all the other things that are blessings , but that you are overlooking, because you are so focused on the things that you are dissatisfied with. Thank him for those things. And then rest in him.

Any time you feel restless or discontent, thank him for the specifics of your situation. Thank him that he is a good God, all the time, and worthy of your praise. Think on the true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy-of-praise- things in your life. Practice thankfulness and gratitude for God’s salvation, his goodness to you, and the fact that he knows what he is doing with your life, right here and now. No detail has escaped his notice, and no detail is out of his control or knowledge.

God is never blindsided by what happens; he is fully good and fully just and fully sovereign. That’s the Father that you have. That’s the Father that you can trust and depend on to be working all things together for good—even in seemingly less than ideal circumstances.

Each day is a gift. We receive it with humbleness. You don’t deserve it; I don’t deserve it; but God gives it to us anyway. It may not be exactly as you put on your wish list, but it is exactly what you need.

Thank him for it all. And then, as Paul says, “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

—————————-

Questions to consider:

 

1/ Paige Benton Brown wrote : “Can God be any less good to me on the average Tuesday morning than he was on that monumental Friday afternoon when he hung on a cross in my place? The answer is a resounding no. God will not be less good to me tomorrow either, because God cannot be less good to me. His goodness is not the effect of his disposition but the essence of his person—not an attitude but an attribute.”.

How does thinking about God’s goodness in this way affect the way you view your life and circumstances?

2/ Does it seem counterintuitive ( or maybe even stupid) to thank God for things with which you are dissatisfied? What do you think the point of it is?

3/ When do you find it most difficult to be content?

4/ Tim Keller: “Worry is thinking that God isn’t going to get it right. Bitterness is believing that God got it wrong.”

Discontentment is a stepping-stone on the way to bitterness. In what ways do we feed discontent in our personal lives? in our homes? in the church? With our friends and co-workers? In what ways could we encourage one another to be content?

Take away thoughts:

Examine your thoughts, and the words you say.

See if there are seeds (or full grown weeds!) of discontentment in your life.

Pray to the Spirit about it.

Meditate on verses from Scripture about contentment, joy in daily life with God, and peaceful rest in whatever circumstances he puts us.

Encourage one another in living lives of contentment.

 

Reference verses:

James 1:2-4                                                 Psalm 90:14-15

Philippians 4:4-13                                     Genesis 3: 1-4

I Peter 1:6-7                                                 Exodus 2: 23-25

James 4:13-15                                               Exodus 16

Psalm 145                                                      Numbers 11

Psalm 34:8-10                                              John 21:15-20

Romans 8:31-32                                          Isaiah 25:6-9

Psalm 23                                                       Psalm 77

Acts 17:24-28                                              Psalm 73

Phil. 1: 21-26                                                I Timothy 6: 6-8

Hebrews 13:5-6                                           Romans 8:35-38