... is something my High School Bible teacher used to say, and it's a pretty good way to approach parenting.
That's another thing that surprised me about parenting. It isn't so much about enforcing obedience per se as it is about teaching good decision making. Life has its own consequences for making bad choices, and you want to give your children the discretion to avoid them when possible.
Part of parenting is creating artificial consequences and decisions along the way that are a lot less severe than Life's consequences. A punishment should not be a threat ("if you don't do x then y will happen to you") but a choice ("you can choose either x or y. Life will be easier for you if you choose x.").
In some ways this is just semantic, but I think it makes a difference. It emphasizes the child's autonomy. I'm not trying to force them to do what I tell them to. I'm just letting them know that life will be harder if they don't than if they do.
Now, children are smart. They know these boundaries are artificial, that they are imposed by us and we could change them if we chose (hence the whining). But they have a harder time realizing that some boundaries aren't artificial. If my kids are upset about something that is totally outside any of our control, it does no good to explain this to them. Sometimes when my kids are complaining about some discipline I say in jest "don't blame me, I don't make the rules". Of course I do and they know it, but I'm trying to communicate in a silly way that this is a part of the world that isn't going to change even though they want it to. And that's a much easier letdown than discovering the hard way that life is hard when you're stupid.
... is something my High School Bible teacher used to say, and it's a pretty good way to approach parenting.
Posted by Gabe Moothart at 8:37 PM
Some weeks ago a friend asked me what had surprised me most about parenting. Well, here is one thing: it surprised me how important it is to know your children better than they know themselves, and to teach them self-knowledge.
Babies enter the world as balls of raw emotion, completely unmediated by any restraint. Parenting an infant is comparatively easy: if they are unhappy they are either hungry or tired or sitting in poop, and you only have to figure out which of the three it is. Of course an infant can't tell you which it is. But I was surprised to discover that even as they grow older and become better at communicating, they still have a very difficult time telling you why they are upset, and this is because they do not know!
An unhappy toddler who appears to be throwing a fit for no reason may be tired, or he may be hungry, or something else may be wrong - but he really has no idea which. This holds even as children get older. When my oldest son was 5 or 6, he would sometimes give a different answer for why he was upset every time we asked him. His distress was a constant, but his reasons fluctuated wildly - sometimes it seemed like he was just picking a fight with us, but I think he was really just trying to find something to attach his pre-existing distress to. It was very confusing.
Children know what is immediately present to them - their emotional distress, but connecting that to the actual cause of distress is surprisingly difficult for them. In fact, it's difficult for a whole lot of adults too.
This has huge ramifications for parenting! It means that you have to know your child better than they know themselves, which is hard. It means that you should not believe your children when they tell you why they are upset! It explains why children can still be upset even when you give them exactly what they're demanding. And it means there is way more to parenting than just punishing your children when they don't do what you tell them to do. You need to understand, if you can, why they are disobeying. You need to provide, as much as you are able, an environment conducive to obedience (which means trying to take care of their needs for food, sleep, alone time, etc., and providing some extra lenience and compassion when you know they are being stretched). And you need to help them understand, when they are upset, what the real problem is.
Children do need to know that proper behavior is important even when they are feeling overwhelmed, of course. Even if we could provide perfectly for all of our child's needs, that would not prepare them for living in the real world. But ease them in to it. A two-year old needs more slack than a four-year old, who needs more slack than a 7-year old. Every child is different and has different limits. And empathy is important: "I know I'm asking a lot, and I'm sorry you couldn't have a nap today", etc.
All of this is impossible (welcome to parenting!). But it is a direction to shoot in, at least. I have a lot of conversations with my kids about why they are feeling upset, and I do a lot of guessing. Early conversations went something like this:
* Do you know why you are so upset?I could be totally wrong, of course. But if you pay attention to your children and experiment, you can usually get a much better picture of their needs than they have themselves. With my oldest I've been able to transition from telling him what to do ("you can't go back outside") to giving advice ("You're tired and those kids are being mean, I think you'll be happier if you play inside now"). And we're starting to be able to actually have conversations about how he's feeling, what might have contributed to it, and how we can help him feel better.
* It's because I can't watch a movie!
* No, I don't think that's it. I think you've spent a lot of time around other people today and need some alone, recharge time
* No, I just want to watch a movie!
* Well, I don't think that's it and I'm going to put you in your bedroom to play alone for 15 minutes now.
And it is such an incredible feeling when they nail it - when my quiet and broody middle child expresses exactly what he's upset about, or when my outgoing eldest shuts himself in his room for half an hour to listen to music.
The other day I saw you getting ready to go outside and play. With a huge smile on your face you strapped on your crocs, asked me to help you cross the street, and tore off out the door way ahead of me.
It's your exuberance that most comes to mind when I think about who you are. Your wide smiles, your dancing, wild playfulness, your mischief. Your mother recently said of you "That kid sure knows how to enjoy life", and it's true. I pray that you will carry that exuberance with you throughout your life, in everything you do.
Your mother and I named you after two very holy men, perhaps a tough act to follow. But our hope is that you will hear and follow God's call to you in the way that Patrick did, returning to Ireland to preach to his enemies, and as Josiah did, re-centering Judah around the words of the Lord.
I don't know what God's call to you will be, but I think it will be a high one. The cost of God's call is always high: For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. Christ bids us to take up our cross and follow him. Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Your baptism is a signpost of all this:
We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.The old must pass away for the new to come. But when it comes it shows itself infinitely better than the old. As C.S. Lewis put it,
We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.May your find you greatest joy and exuberance in following after Jesus.
In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
As Lindsay reminds us, the church chose to celebrate Christmas in the dead of winter, when the nights were at their longest, the weather at its coldest, and (in pre-modern societies) the food at its scarcest. It is in that context that we can best feel the full brightness of Christ’s coming into the world – “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.”
That is the world that Christ burst into, and it explains the exuberance of Zechariah, Mary, Simeon, Anna. Bowed down by burden and oppression, in long expectation of the Messiah who was now come.
It also explains why the church keeps Advent, a time of watching and waiting, in anticipation of Christmas (which is 12 days long, by the way!). My favorite Advent carol puts it this way:
Oh come, oh come Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear
Those are timeless words, not only for the Israel of long ago, but for anyone living in this sad and broken world. We too long and look for his coming.
What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man
I would do my part,
Yet what I can I give Him,
Give my heart.
I can give him my heart, but what kind of a gift is that? Like the wintry earth in the first stanza it is hard as iron, like a stone.
As it turns out, that is the perfect thing to give him. For he can be born in my heart, bringing light to the darkness. The dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace. Come, Lord Jesus!
 And, traditionally, the dead of night
Posted by Gabe Moothart at 1:33 PM
The following was written for the funeral of my Grandmother-in-law
so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith-that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Paul's prayer for the Ephesians is that they might move from love to Love - that their own love, an expression of Christ dwelling in their hearts through faith, might lead them to be filled full with the love of God. There is no other way to know the love of God which is so far beyond our knowledge.
Grandma has completed that journey, from love to Love. Her faith in Christ and love for her family were well known. When Emily was born she gave up smoking, cold-turkey, for her granddaughter. She was always ready to show her love for us by preparing food and feeding us as much as she could manage when we came to her house. Even when age prevented her from cooking full meals, she was always careful to have something prepared at family gatherings. And she showed her love to us in her gift-giving, which was always done with great generosity.
Rooted and grounded in this basis, she has passed from her own faith in Christ and love for her family to now standing in the presence of Love Himself. The love whose height and depth fills all things and now completely fills her, the love that sacrificed itself for her sake, the love that moves the sun and all the stars. She is now filled with all the fullness of God in a way that we can only dream of, and she possesses that understanding of the love of God which is beyond knowledge.
But even now the full expression of God's love for her has not been completed. Her soul has been parted from her body which, worn out like a garment, she has left behind. In her old age it restricted her and failed her, but God created it to be a part of her and she is incomplete without it. The Psalms speak of the faithfulness of God to save us from death, and to rescue our bodies from the grave:
O LORD my God, I cried out to you,
and you restored me to health.
You brought me up, O LORD, from the dead;
you restored my life as I was going down to the grave.
For you will not abandon me to the grave,
nor let your holy one see the Pit.
You will show me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy,
and in your right hand are pleasures for evermore.
But God will ransom my life;
he will snatch me from the grasp of death.
These passages express a confidence in God's power to rescue His people from death. Our God is a God of Life, and it is a natural expression of His character to make us sharers in that life. He does not simply offer us blessings after death, he offers to save us from death itself.
Similarly, the New Testament promises us that because of Christ's triumph over death we too will triumph over death - not by avoiding it, but by something much greater: by emerging victorious on the far side of death as God raises and renews our bodies. "For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day" John 6:20. Our eternal life comes through and because of Christ's life. Because we belong to him we share in his death, his power over death, and his resurrection life.
Someday soon the God that Grandma put her trust in will raise her body from the ground, renewing it and glorifying it. No longer worn out, no longer sick. She will run and not grow weary, she will walk and not faint. For the breadth and length and height and depth of God will fill her and be her strength. She will be more Grandma than she has ever been.
And this is what God promises to all His people. This is the life that we will share with Grandma at the resurrection of the dead:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.... And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”
Posted by Gabe Moothart at 6:12 PM
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
I’ve been reflecting on these passages recently. Somewhere inside me, amid the churn of my choices and my past, my thoughts and actions, successes and failures, sins and virtues and more sins, is the Gabe Moothart that God knew before I was born. The person that he planned and intends to complete. God has great plans for this person:
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
Notice that God’s foreknowledge is not of specific events, but of persons. He foreknew me, as a whole. But where is this person that God foreknew?? Partially obscured by my mistakes and my sins, my virtues which I’ve turned into vices, a hard heart that says “my will be done”. But he is in there nonetheless.
My job is to let him come out, to labor with God to remove the obstructions that I’ve placed in his way, to dig and dig, to become more like Christ and more like myself at the same time. And the payoff is to be reborn, to receive from God’s hands the identity that he has known since before I was born, which he has prepared for me:
‘To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.’
What will my name be? What will yours be?
Posted by Gabe Moothart at 9:57 PM