So, What’s the Big Deal About Today?

Good Morning Internet World! Here it is Easter Morning and as I sit here in my home, writing on my computer, I wonder how everyone’s morning is going, and what this day means to you. When I first started this blog I was pretty purposeful in my thoughts that this wasn’t going to be a “Christian Blog”. What I mean by that, was that I did not want to write out little sermonettes and discuss bible verses every day. Neither did I want it to be an “Advice Blog” where I could spell out how I do things and encourage you to copy all my neat tricks for living. I just wanted to write about my life and the stories I have to tell. As it turns out, since I spend my life trying to make Jesus the most important thing, he kind of crops up in my blogs. Pretty regularly. And I have ended up dispensing some advice here and there. It’s just happened, the inevitable result of writing about my life. Today though, I am just going to be blatant Christian. I want to share with you all why today is so important to me.

Today is Easter. The day we celebrate that Jesus rose from the dead. What is that all about? Well, he was God, in the flesh. He came down to earth and lived the perfect, sinless life, because I couldn’t. And then, even though he was perfect, he was killed: whipped and then nailed to a cross, dying a torturous death. Why? Well, the punishment for sin is death. All of us have sinned. We all deserve to die for our sins. There was nothing we could do to change that. So Jesus came and changed it for us. He died in our place. Took all of our sins on himself and paid the price for us. Now, if we repent of our sins, believe in Jesus, ask his forgiveness, he does forgive us and he “Makes us white as snow..” He declares us innocent, clean, forgiven. And he promises that he will be with us and never leave us. And when our earthly body dies, we will go and be with him for all eternity. Easter is the day we celebrate that I can now approach God and have a relationship with him, all the barriers have been removed.

So, what does Easter mean to me?

It means I am no longer alone. I have someone that I speak to all day long. Sometimes it reverent, “Lord, thank you for the beautiful sunshine!” Sometimes, not so much, “LORD! Help me! I am so tired!! I can’t deal with this messy house!!” Sometimes it’s just commenting on daily life, “Wow Lord, I cannot believe that driver just cut me off like that!!! Please help me to not start swearing!!” And often, it’s just the word, “help”. For me, it’s an all-day running commentary on my life. And I know he’s listening. And he answers. Not so much an audible voice, though I have heard his voice a couple times, but more like a redirection of my thoughts. I’m grumbling about what a lousy day I’m having, and suddenly I remember the bible verse, “This is the day the Lord has made, we will rejoice and be glad in it!” Or I find myself harboring a bunch of anger towards someone and the verse pops in my head, “For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” It’s a conversation of sorts…with someone who never goes away, always listens, and knows all your thoughts. Can’t really get more intimate than that.

What does Easter mean to me?

It means I have peace. When I do things wrong, I don’t have to walk around feeling guilty. I can ask for God’s forgiveness and then I can count on him to give me the strength to ask forgiveness from the person I wronged. And if things continue to remain tense, I can have peace knowing that he will be with me and give me wisdom to know how to proceed. The underlying guilt that I used to carry around with me is no longer there. I am forgiven.

What does Easter mean to me?

It means I am no longer afraid. What is the worst thing that can happen to me? Death? Well, if I die I know that I will be with Jesus…forever. Doesn’t sound too bad. When I am tempted to be afraid for my children, God reminds me that he loves my children more than I do. Their lives are in his hands. They might not get the fairy tale life that I envision for them, they may go through horrible things in their lives, I may even, Heaven Forbid, bury one of my children (Lord, may it not be so). But, I don’t have to live in fear of these things happening. In the end, I have no power to save my children or protect them, and God never promised us a pain-free, trouble-free life. But, he promises to never leave us, to take bad things and turn them into good. I can trust him.   

What does Easter mean to me?

It means my life gets a bit uncomfortable at times. God’s number one priority for me is not for me to be happy. His number one priority is that I learn how to be like him. And sometimes learning that is a bit painful. Awkward. Esther, I want you to love your neighbor as yourself. Esther, I want you to forgive those who hurt you. Esther, I want you to help those in need. Esther, I want you stop putting your selfish desires above the needs of your family. Esther, I want you to trust me with this problem instead of worrying about it. Yeah. It’s not all fun and games. This weekend, I had an old friend reach out to me for help. My very first thought was, No way. I can’t help you with this. It’s too much. It’s going to really inconvenience me. My husband and I prayed about it. The next day, I still wanted to say No, sorry, can’t help, but God very gently pointed out to me that all my reasons for saying No were selfish and rather petty. And so I found myself saying yes. I can help you. But here’s the thing. All this nudging to change, do things differently than I want to, in the end it’s slowly shaping me into the person that I have always wanted to be. I have no power in myself to turn Esther from a selfish, self-absorbed person into a selfless person who always puts others first and is always ready to forgive, ready to lend a helping hand. It’s a change that only comes from listening daily to the quiet nudges from God as he slowly chips away at all the rough edges of my character.

What does Easter mean to me?

Everything. It means everything. And this is why I tell my children, this is the biggest holiday of the entire year! Easter! The day that enabled me to pass from condemned sinner to beloved daughter of God. Oh yes, Easter means everything to me.

 

Jesus is Enough

This has been an unsettling week for me. A week where God confronted me about my online content: this is not pleasing, uplifting, edifying nor is it drawing you closer to God. Uggh. But it’s fun and entertaining. Everyone else does it. And a whole list of excuses, and this time I felt like God was just looking at me with a raised eyebrow. It’s your choice, are you going to listen to me? And so grumpily I walked away, looking over my shoulder with a bit of longing. I walked away because I know it doesn’t have to do with following a set of rules, it has to do with drawing closer to God, and I knew that my online activity was setting up a barrier between me and God that was getting harder and harder to climb over.

There was also the evening when my children’s bad behavior just felt overwhelmingly like me failing as a parent. I ended up sobbing on my husband’s chest, feeling like my kids were all going to hell in a handbasket and were probably going to end up homeless on the streets because I haven’t made Bible Time enough of a priority… And how on earth do I give ten kids the one-on-one time that they need to be well-adjusted citizens??

Then I got in a discussion about church practices with a blogger online. I didn’t agree with his position, but at the same time I didn’t feel like I had an answer to the fundamental question he was trying to address…How do we show Jesus to the lost?

Then I started thinking about politics and church and race and economic differences in the world and I felt like I just had this giant question mark floating around my head. No concrete answers. No concrete conclusions. Everything felt like a foggy haze.

It didn’t help that this past week I’ve undertaken a diet that consists of only fruits, vegetables and nuts. It’s an attempt to deal with several health issues, weight actually being at the bottom of that list. My body has been in shock. WHAT’S GOING ON??? WHERE’S THE BREAD?? WHERE’S THE MEAT??? More brain fog as I try to adjust to this very different routine.

In the midst of all this haze, I started a new book, “Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving and Finding the Church” by Rachel Held Evans. She’s a blogger. I don’t read her blog. I’m pretty sure it’s a lot more liberal than I am comfortable with. I don’t unreservedly recommend her as a theologian or someone to model your life after, but there is something in her writing that feeds a hungry place in me. I think what draws me to her is that she is honest about her life. She is honest about her doubts and failures. She asks questions that I tend to skirt around. In the book it feels like she is rediscovering her walk with God, rediscovering Jesus.

As I’ve been reading her book I have felt something relax inside of me. I have been reminded that this walk with Jesus, this life we’ve been given is not a three step process. Our Christian walk isn’t about walking in absolute perfection every single day, and if we mess up, then it’s all over. It isn’t about having the answer to every single difficult question. It’s a lot more about stumbling along in all our imperfections and ignorance and continually turning back to Jesus, asking for help, asking for forgiveness, asking for strength to get up and try again. Asking for wisdom when we don’t know what to do. Seeking God’s face on Sunday, messing up on Monday, and then Tuesday, seeking God’s face again. A little bit wiser, a little bit stronger, hopeful that this time we won’t stumble into the same pit.

And through all our floundering around, Jesus is enough. His Word is enough. His Grace is Enough. His Love is enough. I long for solid answers, concrete paths, rigid systems to follow. A certain future that is all laid out for me. That’s not what this life is about. In fact, the only solid thing I have to hang on to is Jesus. He knows everything, but he only likes to tell me what I need to know on a moment by moment basis.

The fog clears a bit and one thing comes into sharp clear focus. I’ve got Jesus, he’s got me. It’s enough.

 

It’s Just All About Relationships

A couple years ago when the last Die Hard movie came out, my husband and I went to the theater to see it. Not because I particularly wanted to watch it, but because my husband is a full-blown Die Hard fan and I went to keep him company. So we watched this big, long, action-packed movie that involved Bruce Willis helping his son. So, after watching about two hours of shooting and dodging and fighting and racing cars and explosions and everything else you would expect in a Die Hard movie, we walked out. I can’t remember which one of us said it for sure, but I think it was my husband, he says, “So, basically, it was just a movie about relationships.” Yeah. That about sums it up. After you skim out all the explosions, it’s just about a father and son.

“It’s just all about relationships.” This has become our catch-phrase for any movie we watch, whether it be a chick-flick or race-car stealing movie, “It’s just all about relationships.” Because it’s true, even the lamest movie plots, they still throw in some kind of relationship to somehow give the movie some worth or meaning.

So, Friday night my college-going daughter, who happens to be working backstage at the Clarence Brown Theater, arranged for me and my husband and my parents to get tickets to see “King Charles III”, a play, at the Clarence Brown Theater. It was very well done. Well-acted. Great sets. Intellectually stimulating. The kind of plot where there is no definable bad and good guy, instead, a bunch of decent people making hard decisions and you can understand their motivation, but at the same time see how their decisions are creating big problems. If you enjoy theater and thinking about issues, I highly recommend it.

We walked out of the theater, each of us giving our opinions about the choices made in the play, and we paused, and I thought about it a bit more and had to say it, “You know, It was just all about relationships.”  Spoiler Alert  I’m going to talk about the plot now…. So, King Charles makes a decision based on his conscience. His son goes against his decision because his wife is pressuring him to do so. In the end Charles abdicates his throne because he doesn’t want to be estranged from his sons and grandchildren. Prince Harry gives up his low-birth girlfriend because he values his relationship with his brother more. (Sadly, the play was written pre-Meghan Markle.) Yeah. It was all about relationships.

If you think about your life, it too is all about relationships. Think about your job. It is very probable that you like or dislike your job based on the people you are working with. Think about the difficult things you’ve done in your life. It’s very likely that you did them because of a relationship in your life. I remember when I had my first child. I was twenty-two. I did not have my driver’s license because, frankly, I was terrified of driving. Then I had this baby. I needed to take her to her doctor’s appointments. I needed to get to the grocery store at random times because she needed things. I wanted to be able to take her places. So, I got my driver’s license. Because of relationships.

Someone asked Jesus,

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Matthew 22:36-40 New International Version (NIV)

Relationships. Relationship with God. Relationship with people. That’s what it’s all about. Think about it. What do we consider having the most worth here on earth?  Our spouses, parents, siblings, extended family, children, grandchildren, best friends, coworkers, companions…It is these people that give our life meaning. I love the fact that Jesus says yes, the most important thing is to love God and then love people. It’s simple, it’s not a giant list of requirements and hurdles to jump over. It’s a two-step process. Loving God, being in relationship with him…and then he’s the one who gives us the grace and power to love the people around us. It’s hard to do one without the other. This is the reality I live in, the questions I have to ask myself to gauge how I’m doing in life…Am I loving God with everything that I am? Am I loving the people around me? Because, after all, It’s all about relationships.

 

Queen Esther and Me

My name is Esther. This has always been a special part of who I am. My mom told me, years ago, that when she first got pregnant with me she knew I was a girl and my name was going to be Esther. I was named after the Esther in the Bible. She has her very own book which tells the story of the beautiful Jewish girl who is compelled to join the Mighty King’s harem when the king puts out  a search for beautiful virgins. He is looking for a new Queen and Esther ends up being the chosen one. Later, she uses her influence as Queen to save her people, the Jews, from a genocide.

I can’t tell you how many times I have read the book of Esther. Innumerable. When I was a kid my Dad set up a rule, for a time, that we had to read one chapter of the Bible before bed every night. I would often go searching for the shortest Psalm that I could find or I would head back to the book of Esther and read it again. Esther was my hero. I was her namesake. I felt a deep connection. She was beautiful and brave, a Queen, everything a little girl could hope for in a hero.

As I grew older I found some biblical historical fiction about Esther, where authors had written the story of Esther, filling in all the unknown details, and adding their own twist to the story. I loved reading these. It awakened an understanding that these people in the Bible were real people. With real emotions. Real problems. They weren’t just a flat image on a page.

Of course, as an adult, understanding Esther to be a real person has lead me to have a much darker view of the whole story. I have a good imagination. I try to imagine what it was like to live in a harem. To not have the kind of marriage that I think is normal, but instead just be one of many. What was it like to interact with an older man when she was most likely a young teenager? To interact with the most powerful man on earth when she was just a young girl from a family with no power or prestige? How did she navigate all the palace politics? What was her day-to-day living like? Did she have children? Was Vashti (the previous Queen who was dethroned) still in the harem to cause problems? After the “Happily Ever After” ending of the book of Esther, what happened then? Did she remain on good terms with the King or did he replace her with a long series of new favorites from the harem? Did she find a way to bring meaning to her life?

I have a lot of questions. Sometimes I feel myself getting a little panicky. Like the answers to these questions are tied up in my own destiny. If Esther actually lived an unhappy, unfulfilled life in the harem, what does that mean for me? What does it mean, if you are named for a hero, to find out that your hero was actually a pretty unhappy person?

In the last couple years, I have found myself getting very emotionally caught up with the stories of the women in the Bible. I find myself angry. Why did God let that woman suffer like that? Why did God allow polygamy, despite all the stories of women being hurt by it? Hagar and Sarah. Leah and Rachel. Hannah and Peninnah. Why did God allow the practice of concubines? Why were they worth so little to the men in their life? Thinking about the story of the concubine in Judges who is murdered. Why? Yes. My brain knows that when sin came in the world, all these bad things were part of that Sin. Yes. My brain knows that God has a long term plan to deal with Sin in the world that centers around his Son Jesus. Yes. I know we have free will which means that bad things are going to happen because of the consequences of our sin. I know these things, but my heart still hurts when I read about the suffering of these women. I need to know that God cared about them. That he loved them just as much as the more prominent men who carry the lead role in the story. I need to know this.

I think I need to know this because I am Esther. I am connected to these characters hidden in the pages, surfacing in between lines. I am simply a continuation of their story. I am a woman. And I need to know if I am just as important to God as the men. Am I just as significant? Am I loved? Am I important?

Today I started reading the book of Esther again. I came up with a whole new list of questions and I started googling my questions, wondering if other people had thought about these things too. I happened upon a blog written by Rachel Held Evans. I really liked what she had to say and as I read through some of her blog posts I realized that she was an author and had several interesting books. One of them really stood out to me so I got it on my Kindle and started reading it. The name of the book is A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on her Roof, Covering her Head, and Calling her Husband “Master”. You have to admit, it’s an intriguing title. I’m several chapters in. I feel like I’ve met my new best friend and she just doesn’t know it yet. This is not to say that I agree with everything that she says or thinks, but what I love about her is that she questions things. I resonate with her questions. I resonate with her curiosity, her desire to dig deeper.

I just want to tell you one little bit in the book. The author and a friend get together and have a little ceremony where they Remember some of the women in the bible who suffered. They remember Japheth’s daughter who was sacrificed. They remember the concubine who was murdered. They remember Hagar. They light a candle for each woman, and they manage to bring it all back to the Cross. This made me sob. These women that have somehow managed to creep off the pages of the Bible and work their way into my heart and my mind…These women are important to me. And it was like someone telling me that there was going to be a funeral and I could come and mourn, and give honor to those who had died. Have some closure. While reading her book, I felt like I was there, joining in the ceremony. Mourning alongside them.

This is a journey that I am on. What does it mean to be Esther? What does it mean to be a woman? What does it mean to be a Christian Woman? These questions. This is why I keep reading the book of Esther, and Genesis, Samuel. The book of Acts. Because their stories are my stories. Perhaps by understanding the past better, I’ll have more understanding to face the future.

Sunrises, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and My New Piano

Sunrises. I love sunrises. For many years I have been too tired to get up and enjoy them. Nowadays, though,  I am driving my kids to school early every morning and during the winter I have been enjoying a lot of sunrises. My kids’ school is only about two miles away. It takes us maybe five minutes to get there. Part of the drive to the school involves going up a big hill and then we crest at the top and suddenly we have a big view of mountains and mist and red orange light peeking through the clouds. It’s amazing. Every morning I can’t stop myself from exclaiming to the kids, “Everybody look at the sunrise! It’s amazing!” And the kids have learned to oooh and aaahh right along with me. Thanking God for the sunrise is part of our morning prayers. I have always imagined God standing at an easel, throwing paint on left and right, painting the sunrise every day. God the Creator. The Creative One.

The other day as I was driving along, enjoying the beautiful colors, I thought about how we are created in the image of God. I’ve always wondered about that, what it means exactly. I thought about God painting the sky every morning, making art and it occurred to me that when we create things, make our own art, we are, in a small sense, being like God. We were made to create because we were made in the Creator’s image.

I thought about music. I love music, but I have struggled with music over the years. As a teenager I used music as an emotional outlet. A way to vent, a way to express emotions, a safe place to feel emotions. As life got more and more complicated, harder, I found myself shying away from music. As I look back, I can see where I struggled to keep depression away, and one of my solutions to not dealing with depression or anger or a bunch of other unresolved feelings, was to shy away from feeling any emotion. Just stay neutral. Calm.

The only problem with this approach is that when you don’t allow yourself to feel bad emotions, the really good emotions go away as well. I don’t think you can fully live in joy if you don’t also allow yourself to mourn. You can’t have peace if you don’t go through the conflict first. You can’t have happiness if you don’t deal with the anger. I think that as I shut myself down emotionally, I also shut down music. I just couldn’t do it. Music was too closely tied to emotions. I could sometimes sit down and play through some Bach or Mozart in an attempt to make my brain feel orderly, but I wasn’t feeling it. And so I mostly avoided it.

Lately, I have been looking at getting back into music. My husband, excited that I was showing an interest again, went out and got me an old 1935 Wurlitzer Baby Grand, for a really good price off Craig’s List. I went with him and helped him move it. It’s a perfect fit for our house.  It’s got some history, apparently it’s original owner was a violinist with the Knoxville Symphony and she died after a long happy life at the age of 103. It’s also a bit dinged up and scratched here and there which means we won’t have to freak out if our kids add another scratch or ding. I rearranged our entire living room so that I now have a Music Room at one end. I have started practicing a bit every day. Scales, warmups, old songs I played in high school. Just easing myself back into it. I have really been enjoying myself, but I’ve wondered about the emotional side of it. Can I relax enough to let myself play with feeling? Can I let myself feel the sadness in the song? Can I let myself feel again? I’ve been a bit worried that maybe I can’t any more. Maybe that part of me is gone. 

Today I was working on getting my piano music moved to a different bookcase and I found a piece of music that I didn’t even know I owned, “Pie Jesu” from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s REQUIEM. My copy was a vocal duet with piano accompaniment. It’s a beautiful, simple song written in latin. The English translation that is written on the music gives the words as this:

Merciful Jesus, who takest away the sins of the world, grant them rest.

Oh Lamb of God, who takest away the sin of the world, grant them eternal rest.

I sat down and started to sing it and play along. Alas. I am not a talented soprano and there was no way I could sing that high. My voice couldn’t bring justice to the beauty of the song. I stopped playing for a minute. And then I remembered my piano teacher, Ms. Wong, telling me to make the notes sing, make the melody sing. And I realized, I can’t sing the song, but I can make the piano sing it. And I did. And my fingers made the melody sing and it was beautiful. When I finally finished I sat there, feeling fidgety, like I needed to get up and do something. I stood up and went over the other side of my living room where I was still rearranging other books onto a shelf. (Moving my living room around created a couple projects I hadn’t been anticipating.) I was putting books back onto an empty shelf and I picked up my old Bible from years ago. I flipped it open and found myself in the book of Job, and I suddenly just wanted to read this chapter. Job 9. In this chapter Job talks about how powerful God is and how unworthy he, Job, is. In verse 33-35 he says,

“If only there were someone to arbitrate between us, to lay his hand upon us both, someone to remove God’s rod from me, so that his terror would frighten me no more. Then I would speak up without fear of him, but as it now stands with me, I cannot.”

I stopped reading and thought about how horrible that would be to have the full burden of your sins on your shoulders and no way to approach God because He is too Holy. And I suddenly realized that the song I had just played was an answer to Job’s predicament. Jesus takes away the sin of the world, and grants us rest. He removed God’s rod of punishment from us.

I went back to the piano, stared at the music again, and with fresh wonder, played the song again. And while I played, some tears fell, and I felt just a bit like my ice wall around my emotions started to crack a bit more. And I felt hopeful. Excited. I have missed music and I hadn’t even realized how much I missed it.

Here is a link to a recording of “Pie Jesu” if you’d like to hear it.

“Pie Jesu”

Oh the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus

Quite a while ago I had a vivid dream. The kind you wake up and think, that was important, I need to remember that, I need to think about that…

In the dream I was in a big castle whose King was in residence. There were all kinds of people in the castle, lord and ladies, courtiers, servants of all kinds. It was actually pretty crowded. I was a servant. I had never actually met the King face to face, but would see him in the distance occasionally. I also heard what everybody had to say about the King and I was in awe and a bit afraid of the King. One day, for some reason I ended up serving in the dining hall and somehow I managed to trip and spill what I was carrying all over the King who had been standing in a group of people. I was terrified. Face down on the floor begging forgiveness. The King was not angry at all and reached down to me gently to help me up and with a puzzled look on his face said, “What have they told you about me child?”

That was it.

So, it’s not too hard a dream to interpret. I would say I was the servant and the King was Jesus. My knowledge of him was as a harsh taskmaster when in reality he was kind and gentle and forgiving.

I am not sure why my initial impressions of Jesus were of a harsh, unapproachable person. I think a lot of it was the Christian culture I grew up in. Christianity seemed to be about learning the rules and following them. Christians don’t listen to that kind of music. Christians don’t watch those movies. Christians don’t go to those places. Christians don’t wear those kinds of clothes. I remember hearing the phrase “Jesus doesn’t like it when you: have a bad attitude, aren’t thankful, say mean things, talk that way…” Yes Jesus loves you, as one song says, but you also better watch out, better not cry, better not pout, Jesus Christ is coming…Oh wait, was that Santa?

My adult life has been all about learning about Jesus as a God of compassion and grace and mercy and forgiveness and love. It’s been a long difficult journey and I think I have come so far and then some behavior or thought pattern shows me that I still have a long way to go to understand God’s love for me and walk in it.

Today someone at church asked if they could pray for me after the service as I had been on their mind all week. After the service I went up to get prayed for and they prayed for me, spoke words of encouragement and wisdom, direction. It was an amazing blessing. The one phrase they spoke over me that hasn’t left me all afternoon has been, “You are much beloved.”

What does that mean? Perhaps that God is for me not against me. That I’m not trying to earn his favor. That I am not alone. That God is someone I want to be with.

Here’s the hard part. God’s loving me has nothing to do with how awesome I am and everything to do with how Awesome he is. That is the hardest thing for me to wrap my head around, that He is that Good, that Kind, that Compassionate, that He can extend his love to me, an everyday human who is tangled up in sin and selfishness. I feel unworthy and so thankful. And joyful and wondering and hopeful and excited. And just a little bit scared. Do I dare believe that it’s true? I have heard this message before, but somehow, every time it’s brand new, once again. God Loves Me.

For those of you reading this…It’s true for you too. He loves you. Oh that you could know this for yourself. That is my heart’s desire for you.

This is one of my favorite hymns. May it’s words bless you.

O THE DEEP, DEEP LOVE OF JESUS

TEXT:
Samuel Trevor Francis
MUSIC:
Folk Tune

1. O the deep, deep love of Jesus,
Vast, unmeasured, boundless, free!
Rolling as a mighty ocean
In its fullness over me!
Underneath me, all around me,
Is the current of Thy love
Leading onward, leading homeward
To Thy glorious rest above!

2. O the deep, deep love of Jesus,
Spread His praise from shore to shore!
How He loveth, ever loveth,
Changeth never, nevermore!
How He watches o’er His loved ones,
Died to call them all His own;
How for them He intercedeth,
Watcheth o’er them from the throne!

3. O the deep, deep love of Jesus,
Love of every love the best!
’Tis an ocean vast of blessing,
’Tis a haven sweet of rest!
O the deep, deep love of Jesus,
’Tis a heaven of heavens to me;
And it lifts me up to glory,
For it lifts me up to Thee!

Public Domain

Parenting: It’s Not A Competition

The other day I overheard a conversation. Two moms. One was telling the other, while talking about schooling choices and the spiritual good of your children “And of course you would never want to send them to public school!” Which of course I am doing with my kids. I felt my hackles rise and a bunch of retorts came to my tongue, which I of course didn’t say, because the moms weren’t talking to me, about me, or even meant for me to overhear them…They meant no offense. But I found myself mentally defending my parenting choices, and thinking, “I bet your kids aren’t going to turn out terrific just because you’re doing it a different way..” and then my final mental argument, “The proof is in the pudding!” You’ll see! My kids are going to turn out better than your kids and then you’ll know that you shouldn’t have been putting down my parental choices!!! And then I stopped, because by this time my mental defense was getting a bit ridiculous. The proof is in the pudding. What does that mean anyway? Does that mean that if my children all turn out to be law-abiding citizens who go to church every Sunday and marry within their faith and do good works…Does that mean that I get to claim the prize of “GREAT PARENT” ? And then you have to ask, well at what age do you assess your grown children to decide if you were successful or not..20, 30, 40? Ok, so what if you have 10 kids and one of them turns out to be a saint, but another one goes through a really rough period and does jail time? Am I a success or a failure? At what point in time does your children’s decisions rest squarely on their own shoulders and you are exonerated from any blame? Or, at what point in time do their good decisions reflect their own good character and not just the fact that they were “raised right”.

In the Christian circles that I walk in, there is a definite fallacy that we parents seem to hang on to very tightly. The fallacy is that our children are perfect little angels or at least, only mildly sinful, and it’s our job to keep them away from all negative influences, all exposure to evil, and keep them “pure” at all costs. If we do so, and we can launch them into society without a single wrinkle in their reputation, then we are good parents. We have done our Christian duty to raise our children right.

Guys, my parenting journey has taught me very clearly that this is WRONG! I am realizing more and more that I need my children to not be perfect..instead I need them to be aware of just how imperfect they are. I need them to know just how short of the mark they fall. I need them to be aware of just how desperately they need Jesus to come and wash away their sins. Because, they are definitely sinful people. We all are. I need them to see that their natural selfishness is sinful. I need them to see that their desire to always be right is prideful, and that’s sin. I need my kids to realize that just because they live in a church-going family does not mean that they are somehow better than the kids who have never set foot in a church door. I need them to know this about themselves so that they can know how badly they need Jesus and they can learn that He is the only one who is going to bring them forgiveness and peace in this world.

This means that I can’t parent with this idea that if I can turn out perfect children then I will win the parenting prize. No. That’s not the point. The point is to spend their childhood teaching them about this God who loves them, teaching them that HE is the Way the Truth and the Life. Everyone is nodding their heads right now, “of course, we all want our children to be saved..” If that is our goal, then we also need to realize that We can’t save our kids. It’s God who calls them. And he has this really annoying way of doing things in his own time. Not my time. This means, I might have a child leave my home who doesn’t know Jesus personally yet. Can I do anything about this? No. But, I can certainly make sure that they know everything there is to know about God, Jesus, and the Bible before they leave home. And I can make sure that they always feel loved by their family, and I can bring them daily before God in prayer, on my knees, asking him to bring my child to salvation.

In the end, I have to step off the comparison box. I have to remember that this whole parenting thing isn’t about turning out perfect individuals. Me looking around and deciding that my kid turned out better than your kid is just stupid. This is not a competition. We are all raising up the next generation, together. We have the same goal…to raise up children into adults who love God and love people and who will take over the running of this earth after we pass on. We don’t get different colored ribbons depending on how our grown child turns out. This parenting thing is not an 18 year long job. It’s a lifetime job. We will spend the rest of our lives praying for our children, praying that they will grow in their knowledge of God, praying that they will be wise, praying for their protection…

May we resist the urge to compare ourselves with each other, getting worried or defensive when other parents do things differently,  and instead keep the end goal in sight…May we raise up our children to know God and be aware of their great need for him.