Marriage

The Reward of Work

Movement caught my eye as I sat on the porch. I looked up a bit to the right and saw a robin sitting in the “y” of a branch. She had something in her mouth and was busily moving around. I realized that I was watching her build a nest right then and there. It was the coolest thing.

She would take the longest time to get the bit of string or grass in her mouth situated at the right place and then fly off to find another one. Sometimes it would fall from her mouth and she would have to fly down and pick it back up again and start the process all over again. Sometimes she would put a piece of fuzz one place and then move it, rearranging it until it was in the perfect spot. When I went to check on her a few hours later, I found her nest about half done. And then, a day or two later, I found her faithfully sitting on her nest. In fact, she is there right now, as I type here on my porch this morning. I look forward to seeing her care for her babies and watching them grow.

God has designed birds in an amazing way. How does that bird know what to do? Isn’t that incredible?? Do you think she wakes in the morning and says to herself, “I don’t feel like building a nest today. I think I will wait until tomorrow.”? Birds are driven by instinct, as are all other animals. They do what they are driven to do, through the intricate and intelligent way they have been designed by their Creator.

What I saw last week was a bird doing what she knew she had to do. It took so much work but she faithfully brought piece after piece after piece and then arranged them carefully with her mouth. Because that’s what birds do. The reward of her work was a masterfully created nest that was just what she would need to lay her eggs and then care for her babies.

Sometimes I think we humans are too smart for our own good. Because we can think and reason, we often end up thinking and reasoning ourselves out of work.

And, while we are seeing a sharp decrease in those who want to do any kind of work at all, I wanted to focus specifically on the work of relationships.

My girls and I will sometimes talk about the work of raising kids. My oldest daughter has three boys, my middle daughter has two girls,  and my daughter-in-law has a girl with another one arriving any day (I am so excited to meet her!) We will often discuss how it is so much easier (at least in the short run) to let things slide than it is to go to the child and deal with it. How you have to deny your own selfish desires in order to do what’s right.

Lazy parenting will never yield good results. We can’t parent by our feelings. Because we will never feel like disciplining them. We will often feel tired, making us want to say no to their requests to play with them. We will feel like it is easier to do the job ourselves instead of having them come along side us to do the dishes or help feed the animals or mow the lawn. We don’t often feel like having the hard conversations about God and sex and all of those other awkward questions kids have because we might not have the answers and finding the answers takes time. All of these things take work. A LOT of work. We must do the hard work in order to be an effective parent. There is no other way.

The same holds true for marriage. Marriage takes work. It takes putting ourselves aside and doing what is loving and kind, even if we don’t feel like it. It’s spending time with one another even–or maybe especially–when a million other things are calling our names. It’s going the extra mile and forgiving over and over again. Block by block, year after year. Like the robin, we keep going. Like that string falling to the ground, we, too, will have setbacks. We will struggle but we keep working. Because we know the work will yield an amazing reward.

(Of course, that specific reward of a healthy marriage can only come if both are willing to do the work. I know that some of you reading this are probably not in that situation and so you will have a different reward. You will have the invaluable reward of living in obedience to Jesus Christ in the midst of really hard.)

And so parenting and marriage take work. Our flesh just wants everything to be easy. We don’t want to have to intentionally plan. Life is easier when we can just coast (although that “easier” is temporary). The bottom line is that we just can’t have healthy relationships without giving effort and doing the work.

And that is true for our relationship with God, as well.

We can’t think we are going to be spiritually healthy if we only give God an hour on Sundays. That is like eating once a week.

We can’t honestly believe that we are going to be close to God without ever reading His Word. That is like receiving a letter from someone we say we love and yet never opening it.

We can’t believe we are close to God just because we feel like we are when that worship song comes on. That is deception.

Prayer and Bible Study take work. But they yield incredible results in the life of every believer if done with a humble heart that desires to obey. The power for the Christian life is in these things and yet so many just aren’t willing to do the hard work.

I, myself, was not willing to do this for many years. My own life is a testimony to the power of God’s Word at work in a believer. Small step by very small step. It’s not instant, by any means, and the further you go the further you know you have to go, so that generally keeps the pride at bay. The more you study God’s Word, the more your eyes are opened to just how sinful you really are. And the more you realize how sinful you are, the more you understand just how precious the gift of salvation is. It truly is that “pearl of great price” that Matthew talks about in chapter 13.

But none of this can happen without work. Many are willing to work at jobs, careers, hobbies, and friendships but, for some reason, aren’t willing to invest in the things that matter most– spiritual health and precious families.

Of course, I recognize that most of my readers here are cognizant of the work involved in a life well-lived and are faithfully–if not perfectly–doing their best each day. So I hope that this post is an encouraging reminder to keep building the nest the Lord has set before you. May we remember our most important investments. And then do the hard work of preparing both ourselves and our dearest loved ones for all eternity. The reward will be tremendous and we will never regret it.

 

 

Twelve Things I’d Change if I Could Live my Life Over

Oftentimes, we evaluate our lives as we approach the end of the year. We examine our life in regards to health, career, education. We consider our bank accounts and we reflect on our relationships. We ask: What could we do better next year?

The most important questions we can ever ask ourselves as we evaluate our past year are: Do I look more like Christ? and Did I learn any spiritual lessons? After all, these are the only things of lasting and eternal value.

Education, good jobs, making money, and beautiful homes are nice, but they aren’t the heart of a Christian’s life. Popularity, fame, and 100,000 Instagram or Facebook followers may be very gratifying but it’s not what really matters in life.

So now is a good time to ask: What are my top priorities for the new year?

As you consider this, I compiled a list of a few things that I’d love to go back and change if I could live my life over. Some are major and some are not-so-major. Other than the first two (which I consider, by far, the most important), they are not in any particular order. As I evaluate my life, these are the things I’d love to do differently. This list is not exhaustive and I know that there are some that are just not coming to mind right now.

If we have a priority to walk with God and to teach our families to walk with God in the upcoming year, then I hope this list encourages you and gives you some practical ideas of how to get started–

1. Be more faithful in reading and studying Bible; memorize passages. God’s Word is transforming. We need the Bible in order to know and love God. It is our guidebook, showing us how to live. It is our mirror, convicting us of sin. And yet, I hindered my walk for years by being satisfied with shallow devotionals instead of actually reading the Bible. And yes! Memorize! I just started this last year and I can’t even begin to tell you the difference this has made in my walk with the Lord. Oh, why didn’t I do this earlier….??

2. Be much more diligent to have my kids learn and study and memorize God’s Word. God’s Word was always the authority in our home, but, oh, how I wish I would have been so much more faithful in having my kids in the Word and memorizing it in a much more systematic way. This is the only thing that will carry them through the trials that come to us all and the only way they can stand under the persecution they can expect to receive as Christians.

3. Put my distractions aside and play more with my kids. The laundry, the dishes, the household work, the phone call, the tv show–they could have waited. Not that I never played with them. But, looking back now, I realize now just how fast the time goes and I wish I would have spent even more time with them.

I am so very glad I didn’t have the temptation of looking at my phone when I had kids. I feel rather bad for those of you who have smartphones and tablets at your fingertips, tempting you to check on them and then pulling you in at all moments of the day. I encourage you to put them in a room far away and focus on your kids! Trust me, you will regret it if you don’t.

4. Be more diligent to keep an eternal perspective in all things but especially when it pertained to raising my kids When we are in the midst of parenting, we are often concerned about two things–will my kid still like me if I do or don’t allow this? And will their friends still like them if we don’t allow this? But neither of those matter. It’s so much more important that our children love and serve the Lord than that they fit in with the in-crowd–this one fact changes so many decisions we make as parents! Sure, they may be mad at us or even scream at us, but standing firm pays off in the long run. For the most part we stood firm on God’s Word in our family and we were often ostracized because of it, but as I reflect on our parenting years, I do regret some of the decisions we made based on peer pressure. (Let me add here, that there is also the opposite–where we make far too many {unnecessary} rules that have nothing to do with scripture. Please don’t do that. It breeds rebellion. If you have a rule, make sure it has a scriptural principle behind it and that your kids know what that principle is.)

5. Be much more careful in what I set before my eyes and listen to with my ears; I was always fairly careful, but even things I would have considered “innocent” I can see now were promoting infidelity or bad language or lying. They were full of human wisdom or showing an ungodly model of a family (just how many sitcoms can make Dad look like a complete idiot?!?). I would work harder earlier in my life to eliminate all forms of entertainment that do not glorify God. I know some of you may think I am “over the top” but entertainment changes us. We are fooled into thinking it doesn’t matter but it most certainly does. I still have so far to go in this area, but I do feel like a different person since I have eliminated quite a bit of what is worldly entertainment from my life. But that’s a topic for another day…

6. Be kinder to my husband; I think I am especially cognizant of this because of losing my sister-in-law this past year. I’m sure my brother would only love to have her there, irritating him in whatever way she may have done so. It is always hardest to be kind and loving with the ones that we live with. I really want to be more intentional in nurturing my marriage this coming year.

7. Have far more grace for others; I didn’t have a lot of grace for others as a young person. I am so very thankful that God has brought situations and people into my life that have wrought a great change in this area. But I sure do wish I would have recognized way earlier in life that “but for the grace of God, go I”.

8. Let the minor offenses go; This is another change God has made in my life due to people and situations. I had to intentionally forgive and choose not to hold a grudge–many times without the other person even knowing that they hurt me. Eventually it became natural (at least much of the time), but it took me too long. Life is so much more enjoyable if we stop being so easily offended.

9. Speak the truth of God’s Word with lots of love and kindness. I never had too much trouble speaking the truth, but the love and kindness part would sometimes take a backseat. I hope that I have made progress in this, although I am sure I sometimes still fail. Those of us who passionately love and defend the truth can often struggle with the love side of things. Would I have done more for God’s Kingdom if I would have changed my tone or said things differently as a younger person? Only God knows. In this, I am so very thankful for God’s forgiveness and mercy.

10. Think of others more often. I was SO selfish as a young person. Looking back, I am dismayed and distraught seeing it. I still can tend to be that way and I have to literally fight against my flesh and do what is right. Sometimes I win that battle and sometimes I don’t. But I truly want to be a blessing by thoughtful words and kind deeds–rather than a burden through sarcasm, human opinions about things that are not scriptural, and selfish acts. This is certainly an area in progress and I sure do wish I was much further along in this one!

Along with this, I wish I would have shared the Gospel so much more freely, without worrying what people think! I am so self-centered that I am {still} often more concerned with what people think about me than I am with someone’s eternal destiny!

11. Recognize that my parents are people who have feelings and need support. I am so dismayed when I consider how selfish I was as a teen and twenty-something. When I was getting married, my grandma was in the hospital. And then she passed away two weeks before I had my first child. I was so wrapped up in my life that I was not there for my mom. Oh, how I regret this! If you are blessed to have parents, realize now that they are people, too. That their life is not solely comprised of you and your world. Oh, how I wish I would have understood this sooner.

12. Waste far less time worrying about what “could happen”. Worry and anxiety are a prison. They destroy the present and do nothing to change the future. And yet, how many of us find ourselves in that prison, held tightly by their chains? This is a battle in many of our lives but we must fight it instead of cave into it. We are, in essence, saying we do not trust in God. And therein lies the issue. Oh, how I wish I would have wasted far less time in this useless and faith-sapping activity.

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So there’s the list. Not that I have arrived. Some of these continue to be quite the challenge for me. One of them I thought I conquered and then, years later, it came back with a vengeance (#12, if you want to know!)

Most, if not all, of these things are changed by intentional choices with the guidance and help of the Holy Spirit. I’ve been giving a great deal of thought to this over the course of the past few months.

Some of the things above have changed over the course of my lifetime, simply from growing in Christ. It has sometimes been two steps forward and one step back, but, gradually, over time, they got so much better. Not perfect but better. But even these things came from changing a small habit or behavior. Making a conscientious choice to sit down with God’s Word in the morning or to mentally turn away from the negative thoughts when someone says something hurtful or to choose to offer grace when someone does something I just can’t understand. Although sometimes still a challenge, it is far more natural now to respond correctly. But it wasn’t always the case. I had to intentionally make a choice.

It is hard to improve anything without intentionally choosing to do so. Before you think I am all caught up in man’s wisdom and the “I can do anything I set my mind to”, I want to stop right here.

I am not saying that lasting change can be had without the Holy Spirit. What I am saying is that becoming more Christ-like isn’t just going to happen one day without any work from us at all.

Galatians 5:24-25 says this:

And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.

We have to crucify our flesh. It’s an action on our part. In this verse and earlier in that chapter we can also see that we are to walk in the Spirit (v. 16) Again, it’s intentional action on our part.

Life is like a quickly fading flower. Those of you who are young will blink and find yourselves where I am. You, too, will look back over your life and wonder how in the world you ever got here so incredibly fast. Live intentionally now so that your “things I’d change” list is shorter than mine!

(For those of you who have lived as long or longer than I have–what would you change? Your comments on this may help a younger reader. We are all different and have different struggles, so I’d love for you to share your thoughts on this.)

 

 

Thinking Beyond the Obvious (Part 5)

This is Part 5 in a series that is exploring just how the world’s ways and philosophies sneak into our lives unawares. So often when people think of worldliness, it is with a very narrow definition. Perhaps they believe worldliness is equal to worldly entertainment and so they discern in this area, while letting the world affect their thinking in so many other areas. Perhaps they believe worldliness to equal materialism and so they are sure to live simply and generously, while worldly music and movies dominate their entertainment. You see, worldliness is not just one thing but it is a whole way of thinking that is anti-God.

The natural bent for all of us is to go towards the world. This is for a number of reasons. First, it is always easier to row downstream than upstream. When we become a believer we are rowing upstream and against the natural, sinful inclinations that we are born with. It is exhausting and takes a lot of effort. Second, we like to be like the world, insomuch that we don’t stick out and get made fun of. In other words, we want to be part of the crowd, even if it’s at the very edge. Otherwise, we look strange or eccentric or like some kind of fanatic. This is very important to most of us and this desire keeps many of us at the edges of the world hanging around the fence. And, third, and probably the biggest reason, is that the modern day false religion going by the name of Christianity says we can have salvation and keep the world, too. We can be like the world and still be saved, as long as we said “the prayer”. If one believes this, there is no reason to turn away from the world because they can have both things at the same time. Of course, this type of person can not possibly be in the Word because we can see over and over that this is not the case. But so many who would call themselves believers live in the world without nary a conviction because of the wave of easy-believism that has infected the ranks of true Christians in the last 50 or so years.

Today I want to take a look at how worldliness has seeped into our relationships. As I have been reflecting on this the past week, I became aware that there is far more world in the relationships of us believers than I first realized.

This will be hard to keep to a normal blog post length, but I am going to do my very best to be concise and to the point! Here we go–

8. RELATIONSHIPS. Relationships can be challenging under the best of circumstances. Even in a relationship where both are growing believers, there can be some hard moments. But, often, the holier we are the less challenges we will face. Each type of relationship has its own special challenges. But we can also find encouragement and guidance from scripture for each of these, as well, as we try to swim upstream in our relationships in a downstream world.

I want to take a look at a few of the most common relationships we all have and explore how the world’s thinking may be permeating them and then take a look at what the Bible teaches–

A. In Marriage

The World: In practice, the world promotes the woman as the head of the home, while the husband meekly follows her. While many men are involved with their kids (which is a good thing!) it is often in the capacity as servant to their wife’s desires. What she says he just does with very little leadership coming from him. I see this even in many Christian homes where the husband will just obey the wife, whatever she asks. This is completely opposite of what God designed for marriage.

The world would also tell us that our happiness is primary, so we are free to leave a marriage when it isn’t working for us. There are no parameters on this except for our own feelings of happiness.

A very loud minority of the world is demanding that marriage can be between any two consenting people, including those of the same sex. Even many who have called themselves Christians are abandoning God’s Holy Word and agreeing with this definition of marriage so that the minority is quickly becoming a majority with the onslaught of this philosophy literally coming at us from all angles.

What the Bible Says:

–On ROLES

God says that the man is to be the leader. Not only does he get to make the decisions but he also has to take responsibility for those decisions. I have always been glad that I am not a man! It is a real weight to bear if one is serious about their family’s well-being. Husbands are to love their wives and wives are to submit to their husbands. When it is done God’s way it is a beautiful thing. A wife well-loved finds it much easier to submit. God’s way always works best (Ephesians 5:22-24).

–On HAPPINESS

The only option to leave a marriage is if there is sexual immorality (Matthew 19:9). Our lack of happiness is never given as an acceptable reason to leave a marriage. I think there are many of you that could probably testify that some of your greatest spiritual growth has taken place through a really bad marriage. While we always must counsel young people to be oh, so careful in who they marry and while some marriages cannot be saved due to an unsaved or unwilling spouse, it is possible to grow and thrive spiritually in a bad marriage. And sometimes God will use this to bring an unbelieving spouse around. God speaks specifically to women regarding this in I Peter 3:1–Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives,

How important that we never give up hope, even in the midst of a bad marriage.

–On the DEFINITION OF MARRIAGE

Could there be anything more unpopular than speaking the words “I believe marriage is between one man and one woman”? And, yet, that is exactly what we find in scripture (Genesis 2:24). And, in fact, anything other than this is an abominable corruption of God’s design (Romans 1:26-27).

Marriage has been seriously attacked by the enemy. And he is winning in many places. How important that we do not allow him to win in our own homes! With time in the Word, prayer, and serious dedication to living a holy life, God will help us to navigate our marriage relationships.

Okay, I’ll be briefer with the last five. Promise!

B. Adult Children with Parents

I remember watching the interchange with someone with their elderly parent one day and was amazed and rather saddened at the lack of respect that was shown. While I am not yet dealing with elderly parents, I can only imagine that this would be a real challenge and frustration to adult children. And yet, as believers, we must respect our parents even when –or perhaps especially when–they grow old and frail. They have little dignity left and one way we can bless them is to continue to respect them and their desires.

The world says that there is no value in anything old. New is always better. This has filtered its way into how we feel about people. Youth is what matter in this culture while the elderly are often cast aside.

As adult children with parents, we can start to be affected by this worldly attitude and become disrespectful if we aren’t very careful. Of course, sometimes the disinterest and disrespect is a result of a parent who was always demanding or unkind getting their due, but, as believers, this is not an option for us–no matter what kind of relationship we have with our parents (Proverbs 20:29 and I Corinthians 13)

May we treat our parents with love and respect throughout all of their days.

C. With Friends

The world says friends are there to hang out, have fun, and party with. But God’s Word says something very differently. Who we hang around with is a very clear indication of our spiritual health. It is best to find friends who can help us grow and encourage us in our spiritual walk. A true friend will tell us the truth. If they see us going a wrong direction they will gently let us know and we will be thankful! (Proverbs 13:20; 27:5-6, and 27:17) Friendship between two believers is a truly wonderful thing!

D. With Co-Workers

The world says climb the ladder and step over whoever you want. The world says gossip and malign and tear down. But God says to consider others and to do nothing out of a selfish motive. God tells us to edify (build up) with our words. We should be a blessing and not a burden in the workplace. We should be the kind of person that people want to talk to instead of talk about. We should be the kind of person that gently steers the conversation a different way when the gossip is started in the break room (Philippians 2:3-4 and Proverbs 16:28).

When we are surrounded by unbelievers, it is so easy to become like them. Getting started in the Word each day and even memorizing some verses will help us remember that we are to be a light in a dark place.

E. In Broken Relationships/With Our Enemies

I touched on this a bit last time, but it bears repeating. The world will tell us that anyone that offends us or disagrees with us is our enemy and that we should treat them with ridicule, antagonism, and anger–maybe never even talk to them again. But, of course, we know that, as believers we are to respond completely opposite. We are to lovingly confront when we are upset and we are to forgive without measure. We are to extend grace to those who offend us and to those whom we disagree with. And when that same grace is not extended to us, we are to keep on loving that person anyway and “killing them with kindness” despite their ill treatment of us. This is far easier said than done and all of this–the grace, the forgiveness, the love–can only be done through the power of the Holy Spirit. There is no other way (Matthew 5:43-48; Colossians 3:13; Ephesians 4:31-32).

F. With Those in Authority

Whether it’s church leadership or a police officer or the boss at work, the general current consensus from the world is that “no one is going to tell me what to do!” You hear some form of this almost every day if you are out in the world. The lack of respect towards anyone in authority is astounding. But I guess not so much when you consider that the entertainment industry really breeds disrespect and rebellion. Think of what has been going on in pop culture since the 1960’s and it is pretty easy to see how we got here.

But the really sad thing is how this attitude has permeated the lives of Christians. No one is going to tell them what to do–even someone who holds a place of authority in their life.

When it all comes right down to it, the root of this is pride, plain and simple. There is a lack of humility and teachability in a person who is disrespectful and this breeds disrespect for the leaders that God has placed in his or her life.

But we are told in God’s Word that rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft! (I Samuel 15:23) That’s certainly a sobering thought, now, isn’t it?? And we are also told to show proper respect to everyone and to honor those in leadership (I Peter 2:17; Romans 13:1-7; I Thessalonians 5:12-13).

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I feel like each one of these would have been worth a whole post but I can’t write about this topic forever, right? I hope that this post has been helpful in getting you to think how worldliness may be affecting how you view certain relationships. Just one more way the world has seeped into our hearts and lives–sometimes without us even realizing it!

 

**If this series on worldliness is a blessing to you would you consider letting me know? It is so hard to know if what I am writing is helpful–especially when it comes to a series…

 

 

 

Thirty Years In

We dropped our youngest daughter off at college last week. Thirty-four years ago, I was the one being dropped off at college. I remember my dad loading everything in our red and white van and then our whole family, along with a favorite aunt and uncle, climbing into that van and heading west.

As a freshman, I was both nervous and excited. Mostly, if I am honest, I was excited about meeting some new guys and possibly (hopefully) meeting “Mr. Right”. In that era, girls were teased about going to school for their M.R.S. degree. While that wasn’t why I was there, I have to admit that I was harboring a hope that I would find my husband.

A week or two in, I spotted the guy while I was working in the cafeteria. I found out later that he was a sophomore majoring in Business Admin. He must’ve thought I was cute (so he tells me now) because he’d always be sure to pick my line and chat with me whenever he was in the cafeteria. But he had a girlfriend and another guy was showing interest in me and so that seemed to be where it would all end.

But it did not end there. I won’t go into all of the ups and downs of our next three years, but let’s just say I knew he was Mr. Right long before he knew I was Mrs. Right!

At the end of my junior year, we sat down and had a long talk. We decided to give it one final try. He would be graduating so this was it. We started to hang out together and he asked me to the Junior/Senior Banquet (the picture above is from that night). Ironically (and perhaps providentially), his family had recently moved a half hour away from my hometown and so he suggested we try dating over the summer to see how it would go.

Well, it went. Really well. And neither of us ever looked back. (Well, I might have taken a slight glance back after we were engaged. You know how you can do that sometimes when you finally get what you want? I found myself asking: Did I actually want this?? Is this really the guy I want to spend the rest of my life with? Happily after a day or two of doubts, I realized I most certainly did.)

So why am I telling you all of this? Well, today, August 20, 2018 is our 30th wedding anniversary!

Those two immature and naive kids got married and started a life together. We had absolutely no idea what we were doing. At one point, in our seventh year, we struggled so. We still don’t really know why. We had three kids and a young business. Life was crazy busy. And we just couldn’t get along. But we clung to our commitment to each other through that rocky sea and held on tight. And, soon enough, we were through it and on to calmer and sunnier seas.

We’ve had periods like that throughout our marriage. If you are married, I am sure you know what I am talking about.

So what makes certain people stay committed and others walk away? Why the raised eyebrows of surprise, the congratulations, and the “wows” when we say we have been married for thirty (or twenty or fifteen) years?

Because marriages that last are getting rarer and rarer these days. Many men and women don’t take their marriage vows seriously anymore and it has caused no end of hurt and pain. Especially when it is only one who decides to disregard those vows and their heartbroken spouse is left to pick up the pieces and try to make the best of it.

I am thankful for the godly examples of marriage we have around us. We are the rare family that has both sides still intact. Our fathers have been loving our mothers for over fifty years now. Our mothers have been loving our fathers. They have set an incredible example of love and commitment.

This year it has been especially evident as we have seen my father-in-law care for my mother-in-law through a difficult season of her health. He has been so dedicated to her and his love for her is so incredibly inspiring. (She actually has a pretty serious back surgery scheduled for this morning at 9am, so if you are reading this on the day that I have posted it, a prayer for her would be much appreciated!)

We hope we can only set the same example as our parents for our kids and grandkids. And that our kids can then do the same for their kids and grandkids. We pray for this.

But, of course, sometimes it doesn’t work out like that, does it? I know that many of you already have kids with broken marriages and grandchildren with divorced parents. Perhaps you yourself are divorced. What then?

Well, the best news of all is that God is a God of mercy, grace, and forgiveness. Sure, divorce isn’t His best plan for anyone. But that doesn’t mean He loves you any less or that you have forfeited all of His blessing in your life. Divorce is not the unforgivable sin.

I don’t want to make light of it. We know that God hates divorce. But we also know from scripture (Matthew 5; 19; I Corinthians 7) that it does happen. And, so, at that point, we must pick up the pieces, deal with the consequences, and make the best of it, trusting God to see us through. Supporting and loving our children as they face the challenges and heartache that divorce brings.

So what is my point?

I guess there are two–

First, if you are in a marriage where you are going through a tough patch, keep on keeping on. Do what you can to make it work. It might not be possible because you are only one person of the two involved. You can’t change that other person. But do what you can.

Second, if you find yourself in a situation where divorce is part of your life story– in whatever capacity– then know that God loves you and can heal your broken heart. Some of you may have great regrets about how you handled that first marriage or perhaps that you didn’t warn your child of red flags you saw in their future mate during the dating period. You just wish you could go back and change things. But it’s too late. Others of you just long for your spouse to turn away from sin and back to you and to the Lord. But you can’t change your spouse’s heart and desires and the whole thing seems hopeless. There are so many things outside of our control and we can’t put the sand back in the hourglass. And so we must move on, trusting in God to turn something ugly into something beautiful. One day at a time, one step at a time. Even when we can’t understand how He possibly could.

And here’s the thing– married, not married, divorced, remarried, single–we all have sins, temptations, trials, and problems. Some of the greatest trials and sins are unseen from the public eye. Even the happiest-looking marriages and families are not free from the effects of a fallen world.

How did I end up here when I started out talking about my anniversary? I am not sure. I feel such grief for several I know who are going through really hard times in their marriages right now. My heart aches for them and I so want them to know that they are loved and supported as they travel a road they never thought they’d take. One they hate with all of their hearts.

I am thankful for my marriage. And for my husband. If we have a spouse that loves us, we can be grateful. But let us remember our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who are struggling in their marriages today. Let’s uphold them in prayer and give them lots of love. Because that’s what we should do in the Body of Christ.

 

 

 

 

The Tactless Art of Making People Feel Small

There is a way to instantly get on someone’s bad side. This builds walls between parents and children and creates barriers between friends. It can ruin ministries and destroy relationships.

I have seen it take place between adult children and their elderly parents. And between teenagers and their bewildered parents. I have seen it take place between teacher and student, pastor and congregation member, husband and wife, and clerk and customer.

It isn’t talked about a whole lot as a sin, but it is a very real (and accepted) sin for which we need to be on guard at all times.

So what is it, you may ask?

It is the art of making people feel small. The great art of condescension, which is defined as an attitude of patronizing superiority; disdain.

Have you ever been around someone who has done this to you?

How did this make you feel?

I can tell you how it makes me feel. It makes me feel unimportant and ridiculous. It makes me feel that I have no more value than a bug to be squashed on the sidewalk.

I know I have done this to others myself and I mourn over this. Do you feel the same way? Some of us are more prone to this than others.

I am especially heart-broken when I see this happen between adult children and their elderly parents. The rolling eyes, the patronizing attitude as I watch an adult child treat their parent with such disdain just fills me with sadness. Shouldn’t someone who raised us be worthy of our respect?

Now, first let me state that I have not been in the place of taking care of elderly parents yet. All four of our parents are still very independent so please know that I am not casting a pointing finger of judgement at any of you. I know there are real challenges in being a caregiver for someone who resists your care.

Rather, what I hope to do with this post is to gently encourage you to consider your communication with and attitude towards your elderly parents. And your children. Your co-workers and fellow believers and family members and friends. And clerks and bank tellers and landscapers and the people who pick up your trash.

Because there is little more to crush the spirit of another than to act like you know everything and they know nothing. Anger and frustration quickly build when someone gives the impression that they are way more important than the other person. There are few things that will as quickly create barriers between people than for one person to make another one feel stupid.

I’ve experienced both ends of the spectrum on this. I used to be condescending on a regular basis with my husband. It shames me to say it, but it’s true. I am thankful that he brought this to my attention and that God has worked in my heart but I am still so imperfect in this area (as well as so many others!) And, as lowly landscapers, we often feel condescension from those who would never choose a laborious job such as working with their hands and digging in the dirt. Quite thankfully, we have so many wonderful customers that make up for those that would treat us like dirt–no pun intended!! ;)

And, as is the case with all sin, the ugly root of this sin is pride. And, once again, we see clear evidence that–

Pride destroys and humility repairs

Pride builds walls and humility tears them down

Pride leads to dissension and humility leads to harmony

 

Another thing we need to keep in mind in regards to condescension is that it can be done with a big smile and sweet words. Have you ever run into one of those people that appear so sweet and kind but underneath it is hardened pride that keeps you from having any productive conversations with them? They are condescending but it is in the nicest way. In some ways this is the art of making people feel small at its finest. It can be done while still maintaining a godly and wholesome reputation.

So how do we keep ourselves from falling prey to this sin? What can we do to make sure we don’t patronize others? These are two things that I have found helpful, so I am passing them along–

1. Remember how Jesus treated others.

Jesus was never patronizing with people. We read of so many accounts he had with others–Zaccheus, the Samaritan Woman, Nicodemus, and others and condescension is never conveyed by even the slightest word or deed. Even when Jesus was angry with the Pharisees for their false teaching, He demonstrated that anger in clearly communicated words and not through snide and sarcastic condescension. Jesus’s sinless example is the one we want to follow as we reflect on how we should treat others.

2. Treat others as you would want to be treated.

Mark 12:31 says this: And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Love your neighbor as yourself. How would you want someone to tell you a hard truth? How would you want your adult child to treat you if you were the elderly parent losing your ability to do things independently and your dignity right along with it? Imagine yourself in the other person’s shoes and really take to heart how you would want to be treated if you were them.

 

Remembering these two things will bring a big change in this area of condescension. Keeping these in mind will fill us with a special grace and thoughtfulness that will naturally yield an attitude of loving-kindness and gentleness towards others rather than an air of superiority and disdain.

So let’s discard the tactless art of making people feel small and develop the art of making people feel special! Let’s eliminate the destructive root of pride that yields a superior, patronizing disdain for others and, instead, develop godly humility that tears down barriers and builds relationships.

This is God’s will for all of us, so we know His Holy Spirit will guide and direct us as we seek to make changes. We know that this is a prayer that God will answer if we are seriously seeking to do what’s right. God will be with us all as we seek to build rather than to tear down and as we strive to make others feel important and loved rather than stupid and worthless.

 

 

 

Helping Your Child Flourish

What is the single most important thing we can teach our children in order for them to flourish both spiritually and emotionally? This may even help in their worldly success…

Of course, as Christian parents we want to teach our kids to love and serve the Lord. We want them to be saved. But even salvation can’t happen without this.

Any guesses?

It is a humble and teachable heart.

I have seen an interesting and discouraging change in Christian parenting in the last number of years. The culture that worships youth and thrives on change has crept into the church. And this has turned parenting on its head. Children have become the center of the family. Children are catered to while parents work to meet every desire and whim they may have. Children get what they want. From the time they are an infant angrily screaming in their crib to the time they are hurt by a teacher or students at school to the time they are teens who want to see an ungodly movie, parents run as fast as they can to rescue and please their little tyrants. I understand how it happens. I have done it myself. It’s easier. It seems more loving at the time. It feels wrong not to give them what they want. It makes us look like we are a bad parent.

But what are we teaching our children by meeting their every demand? What are we doing to their psyche by giving them the impression that the world revolves around them?

There are many downsides to this kind of parenting, but perhaps the one that will affect them the most is the pride and self-centeredness that we are instilling in them. They believe–and rightly so because it is what they have been taught–that they are the center of the world and that what they say goes.

As Christian parents, it should be one of our greatest desires to teach our children, both by example and by actions, to be humble and teachable. To recognize that God is our focus and that we are here to honor and serve Him–even at the sacrifice of our own desires and will.

By doing this, our children flourish in so many ways. Think with me for a moment about the most humble and teachable person you know. What do you like about them? Keep in mind, we are not talking the false “doormat” type of humility here that blows towards every wind of doctrine and is afraid to speak up. We are talking about biblical humility. (See Philippians 2:5-11 and James 4:6-10 for a better understanding of biblical humility.)

Let’s  look at some of the ways that our children (and ourselves) will flourish with this kind of heart. Children and adults who are humble and teachable–

–First and foremost, will find it much easier to submit to and obey God. A humble heart is necessary for repentance and faith in Christ. A teachable heart makes the Christian life much more peaceful and joyful. It is the kind of heart that produces the most growth and spiritual maturity.

–Are kinder. They think beyond themselves and focus attention on others.

–Are easier to get along with. Whether in church or at work, humble people do not demand their own way. When something biblical is on the line and they are standing for what’s right, they speak truth with love and grace. They don’t hold grudges, forgiving others who have wronged them. Humble people are willing to learn from others and don’t think they know everything. Humility is really the only path to unity in a church body or work place.

–easier to live with. A humble heart makes it much easier for a husband to love his wife. It makes it easier for a wife to submit to her husband. It makes it easier to apologize and to express openly one’s remorse over sin and failures. It keeps parents from the “because I say so” model of parenting, and instead cultivates an atmosphere of engaging children in lively discussions, listening to their fears, anger, and frustrations, and answering their questions from a biblical perspective. It radically eliminates the hours and days (or even weeks) of angry silence that sometimes take place in homes. A teachable heart creates an atmosphere of growth and unity within the family.

–are much more prone to growth in so many ways. Where a prideful heart is akin to hard, dry soil, so a humble heart is like moist, fertile soil. Good things grow in the soil of a humble, teachable heart. They grow faster and stronger. Pride makes growth hard. It may happen but it is so much slower and the result is usually weak and small.

–willing to listen. Humble, teachable people are willing to listen to others. They recognize that the elderly, the middle-aged, and the youth all have something to teach them.Whether they are 80, 50, or 25, humble people recognize that learning is a life-long process and that they can learn so much from someone else’s experiences, gleaning wisdom that helps them in their own lives. They also recognize the importance of kindly listening to someone even if they do not agree with them.

–have a biblical view of sin in their own lives and in the lives of others. Humble people do not berate and gossip about those who are living in sin. They don’t point fingers and speak arrogantly. They recognize that it is only by the grace of God that they are not caught up in that sin themselves. They understand the wickedness of their own heart and don’t view themselves as “better than”.

If we can teach our kids to have a humble and teachable heart, we are giving them such a wonderful advantage as they head out into the world. They will be better workers and church members. They will thrive as spouses and parents. It really is like a golden ticket to peace and joy. For it is only through humility that any of us can submit to God and His sovereign hand in our lives.

This list probably gives us all something to think about, even if we don’t have children in our homes. Are we setting an example of a humble, teachable heart to all of those around us? Our grandchildren, our nieces and nephews, our Sunday school students, our neighbors and co-workers–they are all watching.

If we haven’t cultivated a humble, teachable heart in the past. If we grow defensive and struggle to apologize. If we hold grudges and find it difficult to forgive. Well, it’s not too late to change. No matter how old we are, it is never too late to change.

My guess is that all of us can grow in this area. Pray and ask the Lord to help. On a humorous note, I have asked the Lord many times to please keep me humble. And He never fails. I chalk some of my most embarrassing moments up to those prayers. But, after the horridness and acute embarrassment of the moment was over, I can honestly say that I was glad. Glad that God had reminded me that I wasn’t “all that” and that I really don’t have it all that much together, after all. Those moments keep me seeking after God and discarding my pride. So, if that’s what it takes, well, it is truly worth it. And since this is a continual process and never something I can seem to master, I expect many more embarrassing moments ahead!

Life is hard. But it is harder when we are proud and unwilling to learn. Let’s work at being humble and teachable and let’s teach our children both by example and by how we parent, to be the same. They will thank you one day.

 

What Should I Look for in a Biblical Counselor?

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Let’s face it. Sometimes life just doesn’t go the way we planned and we need a little help. Whether it is a struggling marriage, a wayward child, or some type of past issue that needs to be dealt with, sometimes we just need a bit of support to help us get our feet back on the right path again.

Unfortunately, while there is no dearth of counselors (we also call them therapists), good biblical counselors can be hard to find. Even those who claim to be Christian counselors can be wrapped up in man’s wisdom and philosophies.

When I went to college as a young adult I started out majoring in psychology. It’s all a bit hazy now, but about halfway through that major I recognized that it was not the career for me. It was–and still is– a quagmire of philosophies that are in opposition to biblical wisdom. Christian psychology is generally a mixing of earthly wisdom and heavenly wisdom that becomes impossible to separate.

James 3:15-17 says this–

 15 This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. 16 For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. 17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. 

We can see from these verses that earthly wisdom and heavenly wisdom not only shouldn’t be unified, but they really can’t be. They are in complete opposition of one another.  And yet this is exactly what Christian psychology tries to do. It is very similar to the idea of theistic evolution. It is an impossible and absurd attempt to unify man’s wisdom with God’s wisdom. And it changes the Gospel in the process. No part of evolution can be true if the Gospel as presented in scripture is true. They are mutually exclusive. According to scripture, death was the result of sin. And this is impossible with the theory of evolution.

So is the case with human psychology and biblical counseling. In human psychology, self is the center of everything. The temporal healing of man and a better life is the ultimate goal. But the Bible teaches that God is the source of true healing. Reconciliation with God and right living before God is the ultimate goal. While it may not seem so, they truly are mutually exclusive. We cannot have both God and self at the center of our lives. We cannot be driven both by God and by self. We must choose one.

(And here’s a curious tidbit for those of you who would like to know more– did you know that much of the psychological theories and presuppositions were developed with the help of spirit guides, which, in other words, means they come straight from demons? I didn’t either. Until I wrote this article. I didn’t learn that in my classes at college. You can read more about that here and and there are more resources here.)

Martin and Deidre Bobgan have this to say about the transition from faith in God’s Word to faith in man’s theories–

During the last sixty years much has happened to undermine the faith of those who once believed in the sufficiency of Scripture for those issues of life that are now being addressed by psychological counseling (psychotherapy). Previous to the influx of psychological theories and therapies, Christians turned to the Scriptures to understand themselves and to live accordingly. They turned to the Bible regarding attitudes and actions. They sought God regarding personal feelings and relationships. They found solid solace, strength, and guidance during difficult circumstances. Moreover, they learned the difference between walking according to the old ways of the world and walking according to the new life they had received through Christ’s death, resurrection, and gift of the Holy Spirit. Much of this has been lost as Christians have been adding the ways of the world to the way of the cross.We have witnessed this grievous transition from faith in God and His Word to faith in the psychological systems of men for nonorganic issues of life.*

I couldn’t agree more.

And if we are searching in the wrong place for help and if we are listening to earthly wisdom from below, then the verses from James above assure us that it will lead us into chaos and confusion.

So what should we look for in a biblical counselor when we do need a little help? How can we assure that we are receiving wisdom from above and not from human philosophies? Here are eight questions we can ask–

1. Does the counselor teach that we can only have peace and reconciliation with God through repentance and faith? (Mark 1:15)

2. Does the counselor call sin sin? Or does he/she cover sin up by calling it a disorder or disease? (Galatians 5:19-21)

3. Does the counselor use the Bible? (2 Timothy 3:16-17; Hebrews 4:12)

4. Does the counselor recognize and point out “acceptable sins” such as selfishness, pride, anger, resentment, unforgiveness? (James 4:6; Philippians 4:6; many others)

5. Does the counselor give assignments for Bible Study, resulting in a closer relationship with God? (Psalm 119)

6. Does the counselor acknowledge God’s sovereignty and the scripture’s sufficiency in all they say and do? (Job 42:2; Psalm 19; 2 Timothy 3:15-17)

7. Does the counselor focus on bringing glory to God through the situation at hand? (I Corinthians 10:31)

8. Does the counselor focus on the eternal ramifications of sinful behavior, along with the temporal consequences? (Romans 6:23; Hebrews 9:27)

A godly counselor will talk about these eight things with so much love and grace. While being unafraid to speak the truth, they will do so in a way that is loving and kind. One of the finest examples of this is Christ’s encounter with the Samaritan woman (John 4). Jesus Christ always spoke truth with love to those whose hearts really wanted to know the truth. There was no hard edge or frustration. He is the one and only perfect example.

But He did speak the truth. Which is what we can and should expect a godly counselor to do if we truly long for permanent change.

Today, we have God’s Word to show us how to live. It is there that we find help for permanent and powerful change. A true biblical counselor recognizes this. I leave you with one final quote from the Bobgans–

The Bible is not meant to work independently from God Himself. The Bible is sufficient because the Lord Himself works through His Word. If a person tries to use the Bible apart from Christ ruling in His heart, he may claim that the Bible lacks practical answers for life’s difficulties. However, it is through the Bible that God reveals Himself and works His divine power in Christians. The Bible is more than words on a page. Every word is backed by God’s mighty power, His perfect righteousness, His love, His grace, and His wisdom. Thus God not only gives precious promises and instructions for living; He enables a believer to obey His Word. That is why the Bible is sufficient for life and conduct. Paul declared that he would not depend upon the wisdom of men, but on the power and wisdom of God. (1 Cor. 1.) Not only is human wisdom foolishness in comparison with God’s wisdom; human words lack the divine power necessary to transform a person into the likeness of Christ and to enable him to live the Christian life according to God’s will. God uses the wisdom and power of the Scriptures to enable believers to please Him and bear fruit. (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:2-8.) No psychological doctrine can even come close to that claim, nor can it add power for godly change.*

Amen.

 

*From PsychoHeresy: The Psychological Seduction of Christianity by Martin and Deidre Bobgan (free PDF is available by clicking on this link)

A God-Centered Life

God-Centered

Have you ever stopped to think about what your motivation is for anything you do in life? Why do you take care of your kids? Why do you want to be financially well off? Why do you want to be kind to others?

And the question that begs to be asked is this:

Are we doing it for God or for ourselves?

Are we living a God-centered life or a self-centered life?

I am doing a Bible Study on Colossians right now (click here for this great resource) and I was really challenged by the author’s words in this week’s study. He first shared this about the fall of man that I never thought about before–

“The new creation is the result of Christ’s deliverance from the fall of Adam. In the Garden of Eden, Adam lived before God in a state of righteousness. However, he acted in disobedience, and the result of his sin was disastrous. His entire nature was transformed. He became a self-centered individual instead of God-centered. His sin also affected the entire human race. All men now bear the nature of Adam–sinfully depraved and spiritually separated from God.” p. 67* (italics mine)

I don’t think I ever thought about the fall in this way before.

So if along with our sin nature comes a self-centered life, this means that, after we are saved, we should be transformed from that self-centered, sinful creature into a new creation that is growing more like Christ and become more God-centered every day (2 Corinthians 5:17).

But is this what we are doing? Is this even something that we are being encouraged to do?

And let’s take it a step further: Even if we look like we are becoming more God-centered in our lives, is this actually true?

The author goes on to say–

“So often among Christians, character development takes on a self-centered orientation. We pursue it for our own benefit and self-improvement.” p. 70* (italics mine)

Oh my goodness. If that isn’t convicting, I am not sure what is. Oh, how often have I done this very thing? Claiming my desire is to be more like Christ but really simply desiring to have an easier/better/more fulfilling life.

This becomes very evident when we simply take a look at the Christian bestsellers on the book shelves (or on Amazon) today. There are books about how to have better relationships, better budgets, and better health. Books about how to fix our anxiety issues, our depression, our anger, our addictions. Most of these have one goal: To give us a better life.

But is this what the Christian life is all about? Is it a self-centered quest to have the best life we can have? And even if we say no to this question (because, obviously, we know from scripture that this is not our goal), are we living out what we say we believe?

Personally, I was really challenged by this. Even though I claim high and lofty spiritual goals, when I think of my desires in the light of biblical truth, I can see that they are tarnished with selfishness.

The problem is that, as sinners still stuck with our fleshly desires (I John 1:8), it is so hard to separate these two things. Of course we want to please the Lord. But it is natural to want to please ourselves. We wouldn’t be human if we wouldn’t want better lives. And so we have to sort through this messy dynamic.

And to complicate things further, even the most beautiful thing can be done for the wrong reason. Works of charity may be completed so that we receive personal glory. Supposed grace may just be a cover for our own desire to avoid conflict. Kind words may be a manipulative tool to get someone to do what we want. We want to kick our addiction, live within our means, or organize our homes to make our lives better and, often, glorifying God has nothing to do with it at all.

It’s just all so complicated.

And yet in Colossians 3:17, we can see that our motivation for everything we do–every word spoken and every action completed–should be based on our Lord Jesus–

And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

In Colossians 3:23-24, Paul reiterates this–

And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men,  knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ.

Scripture makes it clear that our life is to be God-centered. And, yet, all around us is a Christianity that is self-centered.

So how do we A) evaluate our motives? and B) change in this area?

These are challenging questions for us, since, as humans, I am not sure we can ever get 100% beyond being tainted by personal motivation. And, thankfully, God–in His great kindness and mercy–actually makes our lives so much better when we follow Him. Isn’t that kind of Him? There isn’t anything innately wrong with wanting a good life, a better marriage, or to kick a sinful habit. These are good things to want and the fact that we receive joy and happiness from these things is exactly what God intended.

The sin enters in when we only do what is right when it conveniences or benefits ourselves. In fact, as I was thinking about this, I realized that this may be the best test for our motivation–

Do I stop doing what is right when I don’t get the results I want?

If I try to be a submissive wife (or a loving husband) but my spouse doesn’t respond the way I want, do I decide that obedience to the Lord just doesn’t work and forget about it?

If I work on a big charity project at church and I watch all of the credit and glory go to someone else who didn’t do near as much work as I did, will it keep me from ever doing it again?

If I have forgiven someone who has offended me but the person keeps offending me–over and over again–do I eventually give up and hold a grudge or do I continue to respond in a biblical manner?

If I have given all of my energy to change a sinful habit in my life and I am not getting the results that I hoped for, do I continue in a path of obedience or do I cave in a fit of hopelessness?

These are just a few examples. We can come up with dozens more we face each day. Are we doing what is right because we want to please our Lord or are we doing what is right for ourselves? What is our motivation?

Living a God-centered life is no easy task. Reading this chapter made me realize just how self-centered I still am. And, honestly, this is one area that you can really only judge yourself. We really can never know the motivations of someone else, as they are locked away deep in our hearts and minds. Sometimes we even have a hard time understanding our own motives, don’t we? Past experiences, choices, abuses, neglects, and sins are powerful contaminators of our motives. These things can heighten our desire to protect ourselves, to look out for number one, and to prove ourselves.

But this is in complete opposition to scripture, where we find that we are to become God-centered in all our decisions (which also means becoming others-centered). (Mark 12:30; Philippians 2:8-9; Colossians 3:12-15).

And, once again, biblical Christianity crashes headlong into cultural Christianity. Biblical Christianity says live for Christ (Philippians 1:21), deny yourself and take up your cross (Matthew 16:24) and do what’s right (John 14:23; James 2:20) and cultural Christianity says “you deserve to be happy” and “God wants you to fulfill your dreams”.

So how in the world do we remove the indoctrination of a culture that is speaking the opposite of what we are to actually be living? There is truly only one anecdote and that is the Bible. The Word is truly like a mirror, revealing our innermost secrets and motivations and giving us the hope for change through the Holy Spirit.

God has not said “fix yourselves” and then left us on our own. Instead, He has given us His Word and His Spirit to help us rightly divide the Word, which will, slowly and surely, transform us more and more into His likeness.

And, yet, so many of us simply spend such little time studying God’s Word. We cannot grow in this area of pure motivation without being in the Word. It is simply impossible.

Life is hard. And evaluating our motivations for purity makes it even harder. Why am I doing what I am doing?  This is a critical question that we must ask ourselves if we are to live a holy and pure life that is centered on God.

* From Seeking Things Above by Steve Pettit

Parenting 101

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Parenting is quite the adventure! Each stage offers its own challenges and rewards. Just when you are getting used to the stage you are in, it is replaced by the next one. Before you can blink, you have been through all of the stages and find yourself in the final stage of having adult kids. Grandchildren make this long and final stage of our parenting years extra sweet.

Several years ago I did a series on parenting. Since this was before many of you subscribed, I thought it may be time to dust it off and share it again. Some things are worth bringing back out of the archives and I believe this series is one of them.

The series addressed all the stages we go through as parents, written from my own experience as well as from the examples of Christian families that have a good track record of raising adult kids who are living for the Lord.

And so I am going to put all the links for this series below. I hope it is a blessing to you.

Parenting 101: The Basics

This post deals with some of the basics we must understand, no matter what stage we are at in our parenting years.

Parenting 101: What Does My Marriage Have To Do With It?

This shows how a healthy marriage can really give us a great jumpstart in raising healthy kids.

Parenting 101: Who’s the Boss?

This post addresses some of the challenges in raising toddlers and preschoolers.

Parenting 101: When They Grow Out of the Cute Stage

This post continues the series by offering some tips on how we can start preparing our elementary-aged children for adulthood.

Parenting 101: I Need a Reason

This post addresses the specific concerns we have when we are parenting teens.

Parenting 101: What’s My Role

Eventually our kids become adults. This post offers some thoughts on our changing role as the parent of an adult.

Parenting 101: On Being a “Great” Grandparent

This post was based solely on watching grandparents around me, as I was not even a grandparent when I wrote this. More specifically, we have been blessed to watch my parents and my husband’s parents love and support our children. Their wonderful example was the basis for this post.

 

 

Some Lessons for All of Us

some lessons

Some of you have been asking how I am doing with this new empty nest stage of my life. It has now been four weeks since I wrote the post We Will Be Fine and you are wondering if I am fine yet. From all outside appearances most people think I am doing fine. So I thought I’d share here how I’m really doing and what the Lord’s been teaching me. If you aren’t in the empty nest stage, I hope you will finish reading this, anyway, because these lessons truly do apply to all of us.

So, first, how I have really been doing…

Well, the truth of it is that many mornings I wake up with a sinking feeling in the pit of my tummy. Oh, yeah, I forgot…another day without any of the kids here. Somehow it feels like the brightness has left this house and we are just left with boring old us (This is how I feel –not what I believe is true). As the day goes on, it hits me once in awhile. Especially in the evenings, which is when we would normally be on the sidelines enthusiastically cheering on a soccer player.

Tears are my new companion and come easily and unexpectedly–whether I am talking with a friend or watching a touching TV commercial. While some women have sobbing episodes in their child’s room after they leave for college, that isn’t really my style. Instead, the empty and lost feelings sometimes just well up and spill over when I least expect it.

I have told the Lord on several occasions now that I just don’t want to be here. I am not ready for this stage of life and this isn’t where I want to be. But He has gently and lovingly been teaching me some pretty important lessons. I am still learning them and would not call myself victorious, by any stretch, but I am making progress. And, for that, I am grateful.

These lessons apply to any of us who are in a place we don’t want to be. Some of you are in a bad marriage; or perhaps you are elderly and weak; you may have lost a loved one and life just isn’t the same; or perhaps you are dealing with a chronic disease. You may be the caretaker for someone who is sick; or your family may be struggling financially; you may even be suffering persecution at work or school for standing up for what’s right.

There are so many painful circumstances in life, I could never list them all. In fact, many of them–if not all of them–are far more painful than mine. What I am experiencing right now is just a normal stage of life. What some of you are experiencing is much, much worse than that. But whatever it is, if you have told God that you just don’t want to be here–in these circumstances–right now, I hope you will find this post encouraging. Some of these might not apply to you, but I hope that you are encouraged just the least little bit as you live your life.

Here are the lessons the Lord has been teaching me for my whole life, but more intensely over the past few years and especially over the past month–

1. I cannot change my circumstances but I can change my attitude. This is probably the most important lesson, by far. If I complain and whine, it doesn’t change my circumstances. However, it does change my relationships with others in a negative way (who wants to be around a complainer all of the time?). My sad and depressed feelings yield nothing good. I must choose joy and that takes work. The nitty-gritty, down-in-the-trenches work of denying our feelings, which is never easy under any circumstances.

2. I must learn to be content. Paul tells us in Philippians 4:11-13–

Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: 12 I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. 13 I can do all things through Christ[b] who strengthens me.

Paul says he has learned. We must learn to be content in whatever circumstances we are in. This means it does not come naturally. Just like we don’t naturally know how to multiply or to read and must be taught, so, too, must we be taught contentment. Again, in this lazy world we live in, most of us do not want to have to learn anything. We just want to go with our feelings. Probably nothing could be more counter-productive than “going with our feelings” when we are in circumstances we don’t like.

To take this a step further, perhaps God allows changes and hard times to teach us this lesson of contentment and finding our peace and joy in Him. Honestly, I have been humbled and rather dismayed these past few years to learn just how much purpose and joy I received from caring for my children. Perhaps sometimes too much.

The good news is that contentment is possible through Christ, who strengthens us!

3. I must take my thoughts captive. Oh, this can be a hard one. But when I am struggling it is because I am allowing my thoughts to take me places they ought not go. Thoughts of self-pity and woe is me dominate and spiral me downward into a pit quickly if I don’t catch them early. I am learning how important it is to live out 2 Corinthians 10:5–

casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ,

When these selfish, negative thoughts assail me, I must choose to think about something else. Sometimes I succeed, but there have been a few days I have not. And when I do not, they are really, really hard days. Days of total self-absorption, full of darkness. They are totally unproductive in all ways. I am so glad that they are rare.

4. Be thankful. Gratitude makes all of the difference in the world. Finding things to be thankful for changes my focus and adjusts my perspective. And isn’t there just so much to thank the Lord for today?

5. Comparison only leads to discontentment. One of the ways we learn contentment is by not comparing ourselves and our lives to others. We so naturally want to compare, don’t we? We look at the lives of others and we think if only… Comparison doesn’t change our situation but it certainly does foster discontentment. God has sovereignly allowed our circumstances in our lives for His reasons. Our job is to trust Him and to learn the lessons He has to teach us.

6. Each stage is a gift with its own blessings. This is for those of you who are in a specific stage you aren’t enjoying. I know this doesn’t apply to all of you. But for those of you who are frazzled moms of infants and toddlers to those of you who are elderly and unable to get around much anymore, each stage of life is truly a gift. I want to find the positives in each stage instead of focusing unceasingly on the negatives. Some stages are harder than others and this is more difficult to do. But there are some there, if only we search hard enough.

The thing is this– when I was so crazy busy, I just longed for some hours to read and relax. But now that I have them, I long for those busy days. We are never happy. And so we must choose to be happy and stop always longing for something different. A hard lesson to learn, for sure.

7. I must get outside myself and serve others. The temptation for those of us who are sad or struggling is to withdraw from much of life. Many of us desire to curl up inside ourselves and back away from relationships. It’s often just easier. But thinking about and serving others helps pull us out of ourselves and gives us perspective. Someone always has it just as hard –and often harder–than we do.

 

And so these are some of the lessons God has been teaching me over not only this past month, but over the past few years, as each of my children has grown up and started their own life. I have to admit, though, that this past month has been especially challenging because it is just so final. Life has changed and it is never going back to the way it was. I know that you, too, have dealt with your own changes. This is life. It can be summarized by one of my favorite sayings: It is what it is.

As believers, it is important that we be full of hope and light, so that, even in the hard times, our lives are pointing to God and showing how He truly does transform us. And so that we are given opportunities to share the Gospel, explaining why we can still smile in spite of our circumstances.

 

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