Mothering, Musings

Don’t sow thorns in your child’s heart.

Julie / September 10, 2016

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:15-17 ESV)

The temptations which ensnare little minds are subtle.  Toys seem so innocent.  Fieldtrips seem so educational.  Activities and lessons seem so helpful.

Fellow moms, we are called to do more than just avoid leading our children into sinful pursuits—we’re called to avoid leading our children into any pursuits, any passions, that aren’t in pursuit of God.

Think of what motivates your child.  What do they really enjoy?  What is their room filled with?  What puts a smile on their face?  What makes them throw a temper tantrum if you take it away?

In our house, multiple children love Minecraft.  It’s a very innocent, educational kind of game, and at first, I was like, yeah, go play.  But then it slowly became clear that it was—for our kids—too much of a struggle of addiction.  They were mean to their siblings, squabbling over whose turn it was on the tablet, neglecting their responsibilities, and gradually turning into negative, whiny little people.  We uninstalled Minecraft.

Another child loves to read.  And I love that characteristic of her.  It can be a very godly pastime.  But other times, the book gets its teeth in her and she starts whining about when she has to stop for a moment, or she starts obsessively talking about the plot to random people instead of engaging in more profitable conversation—it becomes a sinful distraction.  As much as it irks me to do so, sometimes we make her put away the books for a while and regain her focus on the outside world.

Ask hard questions.

There aren’t easy answers to the question of when a worldly thing has a hold on our children’s hearts. We can’t keep them away from the world. But we can think about what things motivate and excite them, and consider those things in light of these questions.

  • Is it a thing of earth or a thing of heaven?  We are commanded in Colossians 3:2, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”  Sometimes we have to deal with things of earth, but our minds should be occupied elsewhere—with heavenly things.  This, again, is true even for children.  Obsession with an earthly thing, theme, activity, etc., is incompatible with a mind on heavenly things.  Titus 2:12 commands us to “renounce worldly passions.” 1  John cautions us, “if anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world… is not from the Father.”  Friends, the things of the world—ALL the things of the world—are wrong to love.  Dangerous to love.
  • Is it self-indulgent?  Self-indulgence is perhaps not one of the greatest sins that leaps to our modern minds, but 1 Timothy 5:6 says the self-indulgent person “is dead even while she lives.”  Dead.  Indulging ourselves is a sin, whether we be adults or children.
  • Is it something that makes the world seem like a friend?  Does it make a sinful lifestyle seem normal, appealing, or “safe”?  Does it make those whose lives are not dedicated to glorifying God seem like friends?  They aren’t.  James 4:4 reminds us that “friendship with the world is enmity with God.”
  • Is it pleasing the flesh?  1 John cautions again against three specific things: desires of the flesh, desires of the eyes, and pride in possessions.  Paul also talks about this tension in Romans between the things our flesh desires and the things of the Spirit within us.  Things that are just “fun” and pleasing to our human self are fleshly, not godly.  Colossians 3:5 says, “put to death therefore what is earthly in you.”  We have to teach our children also to put these things to death.
  • Is it part of our duties as soldiers in Christ?  2 Timothy 2:4 reminds us that “no soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.”  Matthew 24:42 commands us to “keep watch, because you do not know the day on which your Lord will come,” and 1 Peter 5:8 reminds us to “be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”  Moms, the devil is trying to devour our children.  Neither of us has any time to do anything apart from glorify God.  This soldiering business is full-time.  We don’t go off and engage in civilian pursuits, much less get caught up in them.
  • Is it teaching them to love man’s glory?  Jesus cautioned against people who “loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God” (John 12:43).  Is the activity teaching them to earn man’s praise?  Is it teaching them to value a thing because other men praise it?  Does it teach them that only God’s opinion matters?

My son, beware…

Ecclesiastes is a great book about what pursuing worldliness looks like, and coming up empty.  Solomon concludes with this absolutely fantastic piece of advice:

The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd. My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh. (Ecclesiastes 12:11-12 ESV)

We need to catch that little phrase in the middle: beware of anything beyond these (the words of the one Shepherd).  There are too many books, too much study—if they aren’t from the Shepherd, they’re worthless.  Don’t study them.  Solomon makes it even punchier, “for God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:14).  We are going to be held to account for every single thing we do.  Every single minute.  And our children are going to be held to account for every single minute of how they spend their time.

Beware of the fun tablet games.  Beware of the good books.  Beware of the family-friendly television shows.  Beware of the ballet classes.  Beware of the Disney princesses.  Beware of the parties, the playgroups, the plays and performances.  Beware of the exciting vacations, the beach trips, the talking toys, the stuffed animals, the books, the favorite Netflix show, the beloved aunt.  Does it teach your child to love God?  Or does it teach them to love the world?  We have to keep coming back to this—about everything. Why are we doing this?  Why does my child think we’re doing this?  Why does my child enjoy it?  Is the enjoyment because the activity is heavenly, or fleshly?

I was reading a book a few weeks ago and it was talking about how to teach children to talk effectively and powerfully.  And one of the major points it made is to teach children to turn their conversations, their stories, their answers toward the subject of God.  To teach them to share freely and enthusiastically about what God has been teaching them, how He’s leading them, blessing them, whatever.  To teach them to actively be on the lookout for opportunities to bring this into every conversation they have.  That struck me really hard.  Even in our conversations around the dinner table—or when an inquiring relative asks them about their schoolwork—they can be either earthly-minded, or they can be heavenly-minded.  Worldliness has inundated even our conversations, and I want to take it back!  I don’t want my children to bounce into the room eager to tell me about their new toy or how much fun they had at such-and-such an activity, or how they are just dying to go to the thing that all their friends are doing.  I want to see their eyes light up over God, and His things alone.  I want Him to have a grip on their hearts, and everything else—I want to see that they know it’s all worthless and fading away.  My heart aches in fear for their souls when I see them excited about worldly things.

Why does it matter?

This may seem legalistic to you.  “Innocence of childhood” and “time to be a kid” and all that.  But, please, consider the parable of the sower.  You know the story, man goes out, sows some seed, some of it takes root, some of it grows, some of it withers… the seed is the Word, and our children’s hearts is the land.  Look at this part:

As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.
Matthew 13:22

Moms, this is terrifying.  We can preach the Gospel day in and day out to our children, we can live perfect examples before them, and yet—we can let in the thorns.  “The cares of the world.”  Moms, Jesus says this chokes the word.  You can sow the truth till the cows come home, but if the thorns of the world are growing in your little one’s heart—how much worse if you’re the one encouraging the love of a non-heavenly thing—then all the truth-speaking and Gospel-preaching in the world are going to prove unfruitful.

It’s so subtle, so innocent-seeming… and so utterly lethal.  Worldliness undermines our family worship, our Bible studies, our pleading with them over Scripture—it undermines everything.

Don’t let your children love the world and its pleasures and things.

“But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap.”
Luke 21:34

SRR6WYMLLT

Old Wisdom, Recommendations

A Charge to Parents from 1671

I found this little book called “A Token for Children” referenced in Elizabeth Gill’s obituary penned by her father, John Gill.  It was apparently one of her favorite books alongside The Pilgrim’s Progress.  The book is itself worth reading, but I wanted to share the introduction in particular. I couldn’t find a clean copy online.  I’ve added some linebreaks and modernized the punctuation just slightly.

~ * ~

To all Parents, School-Masters, and School-Mistresses, or any that are concerned in the EDUCATION of Children.

Dear Friends, I Have often thought that Christ speaks to you, as Pharaoh’s daughter did to Moses’s mother, “Take this child, and nurse it for me.” Consider what a precious jewel is committed to your charge, what an advantage you have to shew your love to Christ, to stock the next generation with noble plants, and what a joyful Account you may make, if you be faithful: Remember, souls, Christ and grace cannot be overvalued.

I confess you have some disadvantages, but let that only excite your diligence; the salvation of souls, the commendation of your master, the greatness of your reward and everlasting glory, will pay for all. Remember the devil is at work hard, wicked ones are industrious, and a corrupt nature is a rugged, knotty piece to hew: But be not discouraged: I am almost as much afraid of your laziness and unfaithfulness, as any thing. Do but go to work in good earnest, and who knows but that rough stone may prove a pillar in the temple of God?

In the name of the living God, as you will answer it shortly at his bar, I command you to be faithful in instructing and catechizing your young ones; if you think I am too peremptory, I pray read the command from my master himself, Deut. vi. 7. Is not the duty clear? and dare you neglect so direct a command! Are the souls of your children of no value? Are you willing that they should be brands of hell? Are you indifferent whether they be damned or saved? Shall the devil run away with them without controul? Will not you use your utmost endeavour to deliver them from the wrath to come? You see that they are not subjects uncapable of the grace of God; whatever you think of them, Christ doth not slight them; they are not too little to die, they are not too little to go to hell, they are not too little to serve their great master, too little to go to heaven; For of such is the kingdom of God; and will not a possibility of their conversion and salvation, put you upon the greatest diligence to teach them? Or are Christ and heaven, and salvation, small things with you? if they be, then indeed I have done with you: but if they be not, I beseech you lay about you with all your might; the devil knows your time is going apace, it will shortly be too late.

O therefore what you do, do quickly, and do it I say, with all your might; O pray, pray, pray, and live holily before them, and take some time daily to speak a little to your children, one by one, about their miserable condition by nature; I knew a child that was converted by this sentence, from a godly school-mistress in the country, “Every mother’s child of you are by nature children of wrath.” Put your children upon learning their catechism, and the scriptures, and getting to pray and weep by themselves after Christ: take heed of their company; take heed of pardoning a lye; take heed of letting them mis-spend the sabbath; put them, I beseech you, upon imitatating these sweet children; let them read this book over an hundred times, and observe how they are effected, and ask them what they think of those children, and whether they would not be such? and follow what you do with earnest cries to God, and be in travel to see Christ formed in their souls.

I have prayed for you, I have oft prayed for your children and I love them dearly; and I have prayed over these papers, that God would strike in with them, and make them effectual to the good of their souls. Incourage your children to read this book, and lead them to improve it. What is presented, is faithfully taken from experienced, solid christians, some of them no way related to the children, who themselves were eye and ear witnesses of God’s works of wonder; or from my own knowledge, or from reverend godly ministers, and from persons that are of unspotted reputation, for holiness, integrity, and wisdom; and several passages are taken verbatim in writing from their dying lips. I may add many other excellent examples, if I have any encouragement in this piece, which the author had done, in the Second Part. That the young generation may be far more excellent than this, is the prayer of one that dearly loves little children.

JAMES JANEWAY.James_Janeway

Janeway was a nonconformist preacher so popular and so hated by the Church of England that they attempted to assassinate him twice.  He and his brothers (all duly ejected from the Church of England) all died very young from tuberculosis – James at 38.  This book was read not only in the Gill family, but often by the Spurgeons as well.

Mothering, Studying God, Time Management

Always prepared to give an answer?

Julie / January 22, 2016

Today someone asked me how it is that I always seem to be so peaceful.

Someone whom I have no reason at all to believe is a Christian; someone whose relationship with me does not generally entail talking about religion or personal beliefs at all, in fact, whose relationship with me (i.e., “professional”) makes such conversation socially verboten.

…in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect…
(1 Peter 3:15)

Needless to say, I was caught off-guard by her question.  I have a neat litany of excuses for my failure: the irregularity of the conversation, the exhaustion deluging my brain, my todo list burning a hole in my pocket, the rarity of my interaction with nonbelievers at all now (as a SAHM)… I was very much off-guard.  Secondly, the subtlety of the question threw me—”peaceful” didn’t immediately turn my brain to the Gospel.

I have lots of excuses.

The conversation was not a total flub, because for some odd reason, she kept pushing it and, surprisingly, turning it in ever more spiritual directions.  I felt like I’d stepped into the twilight zone and was off-balance and uncertain the entire time.  Looking back, I feel like the conversation was enough that God could use it, or that I could bring it back up again on the strength of the conversation, but I’m also really sorrowful at my own ineptitude and inattention and lack of focus.

“Always being prepared.”  I would have done better if she had asked me a direct question, like, “how do I go to heaven?” or “how does your faith help you remain calm?”  Or, “why is this theological confession better than that one?”  I could have done well with any of those questions, had my brain snapped into focus and put on the evangelism track.

But sadly, preparation doesn’t mean knowledge here.  It doesn’t mean ability to argue theological points.  Peter is talking in the context of suffering Christians in a hostile world, and what is the source of the “preparation” he names?  “In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy.”

My problem was that my brain was going a thousand places this morning, none of them focused directly on Christ.  I was totally being “a Martha.”  I’d thought plenty about theology this morning, but not much about its Author.  My fellow conversationalist actually asked me (if you’re a Yankee, you know how shocking this is) if I prayed in the mornings—and all I could think of was, well, I sure hadn’t THIS morning!  My answers were all over the place because my heart was all over the place.  God gives me peace when our son has facial palsy—a peace I have very much clung to in the past week and a half—but somehow, the lesser things, I act like I can strike out on my own.  I can bundle my kids up and out the door, carefully-organized schoolwork schedules in hand.  I can get everyone breakfast, everyone in shoes, raggle-taggle hair tamed, snacks packed… all in my own strength.

But I can’t.  This morning was absolutely shattering to my self-inflated spiritual ego.  It doesn’t matter how much Scripture I read or recite, how many theological terms I can rattle off, or how excellent of “Christian” parenting advice I can dole out when others ask me… if my very own heart is not filled up with honoring Christ, it’s all rubbish, to quote Paul.

It’s a quiet little sin to simply lose focus, to stop feeling thirsty for the refreshment of the Spirit, to stop depending on Him and glorifying His holiness and instead to fall into pride and self-focus, distraction, and worry.

Such a quiet little sin.  But such a lethal one.  I’ll never get this morning back.

(Written July 2015, forgot to post it.)

Mothering, Pregnancy

2 Timothy 1:7 for Expectant Mothers

Julie / November 7, 2015

2 Timothy 1:7, hcsb:

For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love, and sound judgment.

No question at all that this verse is not talking about labor and pregnancy.  It’s talking about the Spirit, about faith, about not being ashamed of the Gospel.

And yet: our faith in Christ does inform and mold Christian childbirth.  This verse has meaning to anyone who is struggling with fear.

Our identity in Christ necessarily transforms our approach to birth.

God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness

Right out of the gate, here’s a thing to cling to: God didn’t make us fearful.  Fear is not a “natural” thing or a good thing—fear is the opposite of what we’re supposed to be.  Fear is not resting in God’s sovereignty.

Further, we’re commanded multiple times not to fear.  Isaiah 41:10: “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

We don’t fear because God strengthens, God helps, God upholds.  And God is mighty.

Philippians 4:6: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let you requests be made known to God.”

We don’t fear because we pray.

Psalm 56:3: “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?”

We don’t fear because we trust.  We don’t fear because God has promises.

Joshua 1:9: “Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

We don’t fear because God is with us, everywhere, always.

But one of power…

So we don’t have a spirit of fear—we have a Spirit of power.  This calls to mind the contrast of Romans 8:15: “you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’”  We don’t have a spirit of fear, we have the Spirit, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of power, the Spirit of adoption, the Spirit that brings us into union with our Father.

The Spirit teaches us (John 14:26), helps us in our weakness (Romans 8:26), guides us into truth (John 16:12), gives us freedom (2 Corinthians 3:17), and causes us to abound in hope and peace (Romans 15:13).

We have been given the Spirit of power not the spirit of fear.  It is this Spirit who goes before us and with us into delivery rooms.  It is this Spirit who calms our minds and assures us that God is trustworthy, that God is mighty, that God will keep His word, that God is with us.  It is this Spirit who gives us endurance through hardship, who helps us resist the temptation to fear and sin in the middle of suffering.

…of love…

How do we love in labor?  The same Spirit of power is a Spirit of love, teaching us to love.

First of all, we can love God.  We can love by seeking His glory in our births, by praising Him—as 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, “give thanks in all circumstances”—even contractions.  We can bear testimony of Him.  We can obey His commands.  We can testify that “the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians 4:7).

Secondly, we can love our neighbors.  We can put others first even in the midst of great tribulation.  We can live according to the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.  We can beat our bodies into submission so that we do not sin against those around us even in the most trying moments.

…and sound judgment.

I really love this part, it’s so encouraging.  God has not given us a spirit of fear, but… of sound judgment!  So much of birth is about decisions and terror and distraction and yet—we have a Spirit of sound judgment.  We have a great long book of Scripture with many, many principles that apply to birth.  We have Proverbs.  We have so many verses, truths to turn to, about suffering.  About endurance.  About rewards.  We have testimony that children are good.  We have this encouraging little testimony from Jesus: “Whenever a woman is in labor she has pain, because her hour has come; but when she gives birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy that a child has been born into the world” (John 16:21).

We have countless comparisons of birth that experiencing it can help us understand better—creation is groaning as in childbirth (Romans 8:22) and we are groaning similarly waiting for the redemption of our bodies (v. 23)?  Now, we understand that groaning better, as we have groaned.  And we understand the joy that awaits.

We have Proverbs 16:9, “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.”  We plan.  But God is sovereign and does the ultimate work, brings it all together, to the conclusion He chooses.

As Christian women facing the worst travail of most of our lives (and praise God for even that!), we rest in Him, and are encouraged and strengthened and have HOPE because our Spirit is not one of fear—our Spirit is the very Spirit of God, and He goes with us and upholds us and strengthens us and girds our minds—even in the midst of great physical horror.

I write this a day over-due with our own son, so I’m entirely talking to myself here. 🙂

Homeschooling

A Guiding Verse for Homeschool

Julie / October 8, 2015

There is one verse in the Bible that has become very central this year to the way we do homeschool—Ecclesiastes 12:12.  Here it is in context (vv. 9-14):

Besides being wise, the Preacher also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs with great care. The Preacher sought to find words of delight, and uprightly he wrote words of truth. The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd. My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh. The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.

There are many other verses, of course; Deuteronomy 6:7, for instance, is at the very forefront as well, but Ecclesiastes 12:12 cuts against homeschooling “culture” in general.  “School” is not about amassing the most knowledge or meeting lofty academic goals.  Nor is it about pursuing our own passions or teaching kids to love learning.

The Words of the Wise

The first thing we’re about, here, is the words of the wise.  Solomon says these are the truths given by one Shepherd.  This isn’t just random wise words, the wisdom of the ages and the sages, but rather, the wisdom of God Himself.  And there’s a promise here, as well—that these sayings are like goads, pushing us to do what we ought, and like nails firmly fixed, of great duration.  This is what we should be studying: true wisdom.  James 3:17:

…the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.

Beware of Anything Else

This is huge: if it isn’t wisdom from God, beware.  When we study worldly philosophers—Plato, Socrates, the great men of the Renaissance, those in other religious traditions—do we teach them in a positive light, or do we teach beware?  The Hebrew here carries the connotation of admonishing, specifically, not just be “wary” but actively caution against them, teach, shine the light on the falseness therein.  This is especially relevant when we come to classical education: we must be careful not to lift up these worldly and ultimately inadequate philosophers.  It is one thing to know what they teach, but we must not be caught up in it.  It isn’t Scripture, it isn’t God’s wisdom, and we must teach it and teach against it.  We must remember that even the best philosopher of the world is an enemy of God.

A Weariness of the Flesh

“Much study.”  This is a great temptation of mine, both personally and in teaching.  I love knowledge.  I love reading books and learning new things.  I want the children to know all the things, too.  But, there’s a very selfish angle there, and I think that’s exactly what Solomon is getting at when he says much study is a weariness of the flesh.  It springs from our sinful natures.  At a certain point, a certain approach, studying is a fruit of the flesh, not a fruit of the Spirit.  At a certain point, studying is not “setting your minds on things above,” but it actually begins to detract from that focus, both temporally (we ought to study “to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth,” 2 Timothy 2:15, not for worldly knowledge) but also in subject matters it can draw us away from God.  We have to be careful of what we study, why we study it, and how much time we’re devoting to studying it.  We are called to prepare for heaven, not to be philosophers much learned in the worldly arts.

The End of the Matter

“Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.”  Having affirmed the good and warned against the bad, Solomon offers this final conclusion, and says, this is it.  Fear God, and keep His commandments.  The end, the book is closed, there’s nothing to say beyond that.  This is why we’re here.  This is why we homeschool.  This is is what we homeschool.  This is what we care to have our kids walk away with: fear God, keep His commandments.  Everything we do and teach must be tightly focused on those two things.

Of course, Ecclesiastes 12 just led us straight back to Deuteronomy 6 after all:

These words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise…

Homeschooling, Recommendations

Our School Year, 2015

Julie / August 29, 2015

S asked me to put together a list of what curriculum we’ve found useful, and—overwhelmed at the magnitude of that task, it finally occurred to me that probably the simplest way to do so is just to explain what we’re actually doing, and a couple sentences about why.  One caveat, this is more like “this very month,” because different kids are in different parts of their grades… some of these we JUST started and some are almost finished. (more…)