Mothering, Old Wisdom, Studying God, Time Management

Too exhausted to read the Bible (or pray)…

Julie / February 22, 2018

Written October 2017.

Most kind and loving people have admirably low expectations for mothers of young children.  People constantly reassure me that my failures are okay, whether it’s that I forgot to bring something, do something, answer an email quickly, or even if it’s something more important: “Nobody can be perfectly patient all the time.”  “I didn’t read the Bible for years when we had littles.”  “They won’t remember the bad times.”  “The important thing is that you’re trying.”  “God knows what we need even when we’re too tired to pray.”

Even great pastors like D.A. Carson and Martyn Lloyd-Jones are hasty to reassure us of the legitimacy of our struggle, the impossibility of being a mother of young children and a devotee of Scripture at the same time.

There is much kindness in such reassurance.  I have no doubt that it is well-meant.

But while pithy reassurances are comforting, they aren’t necessarily biblical or helpful. My heart is bleak; I am not strong enough to stop burying myself in the Word of God.  And letting go of my desperate hunger for it is not what Scripture teaches us to do.

God didn’t tell David to stop writing psalms while he was on the run for his life.  Job, in the midst of his incomparable affliction, tells us (23:12) that “I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my portion of food.”  The prophets were persecuted, starved, locked up, and dumped into muddy wells, yet God continued to call them to very active servanthood.  In Scripture, we see so many situations that were so much worse, so much more time-consuming, so much more emotionally demanding than motherhood, and yet there was no message to those people saying “okay, maybe you’d better cut back on the morning prayer time.”

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In fact, one of the most stunning examples of hardship in Scripture I can think of—Jesus in the desert—is also one of the clearest.  When Satan attempts to get Jesus distracted by His physical needs, Jesus answers him very clearly, pointing out that hunger isn’t satisfied by “bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).  Though His hunger was physical (v. 3) and acute, His most necessary food is spiritual!

This is us, too.  When we are exhausted from a lack of sleep, we need “rest for our souls” (Matthew 11:29).  When we “eat the bread of anxious toil,” we need the blessing of the sleep God alone provides (Psalm 127:2) to ease that anxiety.  When we are struggling with impatience from relentless toddlers, what we need is not a momentary break, but the fruit of the Spirit which is patience (Galatians 5:22).  When we are sad and downcast, we need the joy of the word of God to lift us up (Psalm 119:2).

Our physical and emotional challenges require spiritual solutions.

J.C. Ryle, in his little pamphlet about the importance of Bible-reading, specifically addresses those who struggle to find the resources to read the Bible, and his words are convicting and ring true:

You are the man that is likely to “get little comfort from the Bible in time of need.” Trials come at various times. Affliction is a searching wind, which strips the leaves off the trees, and exposes the birds’ nests. Now I fear that your stores of Bible consolations may one day run very low. I fear lest you should find yourself at last on very short allowance, and come into the harbor weak, worn and thin.

You are the man that is likely “never to be established in the truth.” I will not be surprised to hear that you are troubled with doubts and questions about assurance, grace, faith, perseverance, and the like. The devil is an old and cunning enemy. Like the Benjamites, he can “sling a stone at a hair and not miss” (Judges 20:16). He can quote Scripture easily enough when he pleases. Now you are not sufficiently ready with your weapons to be able to fight a good fight with him. Your armor does not fit well. Your sword sits loosely in your hand.

You are the man that is likely to “make mistakes in life.” I will not wonder if I am told that you have erred about your own marriage—erred about your children’s education of spiritual things—erred about the conduct of your household—erred about the company you keep. The world you steer through is full of rocks, and reefs, and sand bars. You are not sufficiently familiar either with the search lights or your charts.

You are the man that is likely to “be carried away by some deceptive false teacher for a time.” It will not surprise me if those clever, eloquent men, who can “make the lie appear to be the truth,” is leading you into many foolish notions. You are out of balance. No wonder if you are tossed to and from, like a cork on the waves.

All these are uncomfortable things. I want every reader of this paper to escape them all. Take the advice I offer you this day. Do not merely read your Bible “a little,” but read it a great deal. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Colossians 3:16). Do not be a mere babe in spiritual knowledge. Seek to become “well instructed in the kingdom of heaven,” and to be continually adding new things to old. A religion of feeling is an uncertain thing. It is like the tide, sometimes high, and sometimes low. It is like the moon, sometimes bright, and sometimes dim. A religion of deep Bible knowledge, is a firm and lasting possession. It enables a man not merely to say, “I feel hope in Christ,” but “I know whom I have believed” (2 Timothy 1:12).

I have seen this in my own life over and over again.  I have seven children, and, oh, they are small.  They are relentless.  If you are a mommy of small or needy children, you know what I mean.  I understand why wise men like Lloyd-Jones and Carson think we mommies don’t have the time to read Scripture.

But what happens when I stop?

The well dries up.  See, when I do find time to be in the Word every day, there’s this fresh ever-bubbling source of spiritual nourishment that is continually applicable and new.  It doesn’t have to be anything fancy; God still uses it.  He promises in Isaiah 55:10-11 that His word is like rain:

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

Even when I’m doing a lousy job of reading—when the words begin to blur together because I’m so tired, when my brain is so fried that I would have zero insights to offer to a group study, when I’m distracted by screaming toddlers—still God’s word does not return to Him empty.

Truly, it is amazing.  As I write this, I am exhausted.  Baby seven was born three days ago after a difficult and long build-up to final labor—which was itself a very rough time—and our days since then have been consumed with more medical appointments and stresses, and I am at the point where I can barely remember what day it is.  I’m a wreck.  But I have been able to read the Bible passage that is programmed to arrive in my email inbox every day, and spend a little bit of time praying (albeit fairly incoherently!), and in return, there have been many—three or four—incidents every single week of the past month when something I have read right now has been immediately applicable to my life.  Either it has served to encourage me, or been relevant to a spiritual conversation I’ve been having with someone else, or it has provided a great example of a principle I’m trying to illustrate to my children… in short, even my very bad Bible comprehension right now is bearing a lot of fruit, and it has been a powerful testimony and encouragement to me of the inherent usefulness of reading Scripture.

Even in the midst of my exhaustion and physical struggles, the time and energy that I invest in the Word are amply repaid, over and over again.  And not just in little soundbytes of encouragement here and there.  So often God enables my feeble mind to snag on some item in the text that I hadn’t noticed before, and make tiny little gains in spiritual knowledge and understanding.  Scripture feeds me in the now, when I desperately need it, and it builds up spiritual food-stores that God will continue to use and grow for His glory in the future, too.  Though I feel like I have the I.Q. of a turnip and struggle to comprehend some of the Bible’s longer sentences, time in God’s word and time in prayer bear fruit.

But if I don’t find that time?  If I decide I’m too tired, or that it can’t possibly be worth the effort to even try?  Nothing happens.  There are no fresh spiritual insights floating into my brain, no recent flash of biblical wisdom to share with those around me, no encouragement waiting to shore up my soul.  There’s no growth.  The things of godliness are not lurking in my mind ready to help me deny sin and pursue righteousness; they’re buried deep in somewhere that I’ve been “too tired” to think about recently.  I may still retain the head knowledge that being impatient with my children is wrong, but it’s been a while since I’ve been reminded of the consequences of that kind of sinfulness.  God’s justice and fearsomeness are not freshly impressed on my mind.  The well—the very well which gives us life and leads us to holiness—is running dry.  The Christian cannot live like this.  The Christian Mommy cannot live like this.

The times when we don’t have the energy or motivation to spend time in God’s Word is the time we most need to do so anyway.  The person who is too parched with thirst to drag themselves to the stream is the person who most needs a drink; the person fainting with hunger who can’t contemplate the effort of cooking a meal is the person who most needs nourishment.

So, when you are too exhausted to read the Bible, read it anyway.  It will give you life.  Find a way, find a time, because God’s word is more essential than food, and times of refreshing come from the presence of the Lord.  He is the answer to our exhaustion and inability, and He is faithful!

Musings

In Your Anger Do Not Sin

Julie / February 8, 2018

Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.
Psalm 37:8

As a perpetually sleep-deprived, perennially hormonal mother of seven, I have come to realize the great importance of a solid theology of anger.  When I first started on this journey about a decade ago, I didn’t have a very good grasp of biblical anger at all: I knew the Bible said not to let the sun go down on it (Ephesians 4:26), and to be “slow” to it (James 1:19), but I couldn’t reconcile “be angry [and do not sin]” with “refrain from anger” (Psalm 37:8).  It was too easy in the heat of the moment to find false refuge in “anger is okay so long as you don’t do any sins while you’re angry,” which was my very limited (and errant) understanding of Ephesians 4:26.

Admitting Anger

The first little glimmers of better understanding for me came from the writing of Richard Baxter, whose definition of anger was immediately helpful:

624px-Richard_Baxter_by_Robert_WhiteAnger is the rising up of the heart in passionate displacency against an apprehended evil, which would cross or hinder us of some desired good.

Anger is that powerful feeling that arises in us when we think some wrong has been done that prevents or makes it harder for us to do something we wish to do.

I have found this a very useful way to think of anger because it acknowledges that my feelings are in response to someone else’s wrongdoing—or at least what I perceive as someone’s wrongdoing.  I know I used to think “sinful” anger was unjustified anger… but in the heat of the moment, nobody is going around thinking, “ah, yes, I am angry, but for no reason!”  I always think I’m right to be angry!  So when I start to feel those emotions welling up in me, and I go through my little checklist in my head to evaluate them—am I feeling a strong emotion?  Yes.  Is it because someone else did something wrong?  Yes.  Hmm, this is probably anger, then: what do I do next?

And so, Baxter’s definition gets me in a very good frame of mind to seek out and find the righteous reaction at that point, because it acknowledges that the other person is wrong, or may be wrong, and yet puts the focus back on my behavior—because the Bible has a lot to say about what we do with anger, and the Bible never says “unless the other person is wrong, then go into ballistic attack mode and fire at will!”

So I’m angry, and I’m admitting it to myself… what do I do now?

The Right Kind of Anger

I read an article by John Piper on anger a few weeks ago (it’s very good, go read it), and he said this one little sentence that resonated with me profoundly:

I was much more optimistic about a righteous place for anger when I was thirty than I am now.

Yes!!!  Speaking for myself, my anger is hardly ever righteous.  It’s almost always self-centered, emotional frustration that something isn’t going the way I think it should, and often fury that I am the one who is going to have to “deal with” the consequences.  I get mad when people screw up my life, one way or another.  If they run me off the road, fail to communicate something I need to know, run late, misbehave, insult me, insult my children… if I sat here and made a list of all the reasons I’ve gotten angry in the past year, I guarantee 99.9% of them are going to be things that made my life less pleasant.  Sinful anger.  This is what I am about.  Nevertheless, the other half of Baxter’s definition above is about righteous anger, and I want to mention it, because even while I am failing, it is good to be reminded of for what I ought to be aiming:

[Anger] is given us by God for good, to stir us up to a vigorous resistance of those things, which, within us or without us do oppose his glory or our salvation, or our own or our neighbour’s real good.

So, anger, when it isn’t perverted by sin, is our “vigorous resistance” to things which oppose God’s glory, our salvation, or ours or our neighbor’s “real” (I think a more thoughtful word in 2017 might be “eternal”) good.

It is not, in short, about “me me me.”  It isn’t about my being inconvenienced or offended or persecuted.  It’s about God’s glory and His plan for our good.  This is the kind of anger we see from the Psalmist towards his enemies (Psalm 7:6).  This is the kind of anger that can find solace in God’s judgment and sovereignty, that can be patient:

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices! Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil. For the evildoers shall be cut off, but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land. (Psalm 37:7-9)

The Wrong Kind of Anger

Then we get to the wrong kind of anger, about which Baxter has far more to say—things that I have found immensely convicting.  He lists off nine kinds of sinful anger:

  1. Anger “against God or any good.”
    Genesis 18:25 reminds us, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?”  We have no lawful reason to be angry with God.  He is never wrong and never in discord with His own will, His glory, our salvation, our neighbor’s good, or… any reason why we may be angry at Him. Let us not be like Jonah, that God should ask, “Do you do well to be angry?” (Jonah 4:4)
  2. Anger that “disturbeth reason, and hindereth our judging of things aright.” And,
  3. Anger “greater in measure than the cause alloweth.”
    “A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back,” Proverbs 29:11 reminds us, and Scripture is overflowing with commands to self-control (Proverbs 25:28, 1 Corinthians 9:26, many others).  Proverbs 16:32 says that “he who rules his spirit [is better than] he who takes a city.”  One of the most likely venues of sinful anger for me is that it upsets my self-control.  It clouds my thinking.  It even can make my physically unwell.  The Bible’s warnings to us about ruling our spirit—our emotions—are not to be taken lightly!  When my reaction to a wrong is so emotionally strong, I am not likely to carefully evaluate either the wrongdoing or my own reaction to it.
  4. Anger that “casteth us into any unseemly carriage, or causeth or disposeth to any sinful words or actions.”
    Similarly, anger that carries us into sin is in stark contradition to Ephesians 4:26.  Righteous anger does not tempt us to react by returning evil for evil (1 Peter 3:9).  I love the example of Christ in 1 Peter 2:23: “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.”  This is the key: rather than retaliating, the righteous reaction is to trust God and His judgment.  Romans 12:19 reminds us, “never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God.”  Ephesians 4:27 reminds us, in the very context of anger, to “give no opportunity to the devil.”
  5. Anger that “is mistaken, and without just cause.”
    This is a huge part of why anger that clouds our judgment is wrong—because our judgment might indeed be wrong! There are few worse feelings in the world than regret for having come to a hasty judgment and then being found to have been unfair.  This is a huge part of being “slow” to anger.  Proverbs 18:13 tells us, “if one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.”
  6. Anger that makes us unfit “for our duty to God or man.”
    Our duty is love, and 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 is a tall order: anger that makes us impatient, unkind, envious, boastful, arrogant, rude, selfish, irritable, or resentful is wrong.  Anger that makes us happy over wrongdoing is wrong.  Anger that makes us unloving is wrong.
  7. Anger that “tendeth to the abatement of love and brotherly kindness, and the hindering of any good which we should do for others.”
    My husband likes to remind me that “the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:20) and Proverbs 15:18 says that being slow to anger “quiets contention.”  It’s very rare that a person getting angry at another person is going to do any good, no matter how hard the angry person tries to “not sin” in their anger.
  8. Anger which “stayeth too long, and ceaseth not when its lawful work is done.”
    Proverbs 19:11 says “it is [one’s] glory to overlook an offense,” and that’s a good duration of anger—a fleeting offense that we can immediately overlook!
  9. Anger that “is selfish and carnal… [for] your pride, or profit, or sports, or any other fleshly will.”
    Anger is listed off in Galatians 5:19-21 as a “work of the flesh,” not the “fruit of the Spirit,” and I think that’s exactly what Baxter has in mind here.  Much of our anger doesn’t even pretend to be godly; it’s just selfishness, pure and simple.

Why to Forsake Anger

I want to close with one more Baxter quote that as a mother, I find terrifying:

And it is much the worse in that it suffereth not a man to sin alone, but stirreth up others to do the like.  Wrath kindleth wrath, as fire kindleth fire.  It is two to one but when you are angry you will make others angry, or discontented, or troubled by your words or deeds.  And you have not the power of moderating them in it, when you have done.  You know not what sin it may draw them to. It is the devil’s bellows to kindle men’s corruptions; and sets hearts, and families, and kingdoms in a flame.

When we get angry, our anger often spreads.  As mothers, it spreads to our children.  We snip at them (as anger “casteth us into an unseemly carriage”) and they get frustrated and start snipping at each other.  James 3 warns us, “How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.”  How we deal with our anger is no idle question, no casual issue.  When we speak, it spreads.  Anger can be a wildfire that ravages our entire home.  We have to beat our bodies into submission and learn how to deal with it properly… another subject where Baxter offers some excellent advice!

Old Wisdom

Because ‘tis less.

Julie / October 26, 2017

I was reading John Bunyan’s “Prison Meditations” tonight and these three little stanzas make a solid little sub-poem that I found very encouraging.

We sell our earthly happiness
      For heavenly house and home;
We leave this world because ’tis less,
      And worse than that to come.

We change our drossy dust for gold,
      From death to life we fly:
We let go shadows, and take hold
      of immortality.

We trade for that which lasting is,
      and nothing for it give,
but that which is already his
      by whom we breathe and live.

—John Bunyan, from Prison Meditations

Musings

Ecclesiastes in the Waiting Room

Julie / October 21, 2017

At first, I thought she was coming to coo over the baby.  I was, after all, sitting in a hospital waiting room with a newborn baby peeking out from under his carseat shade.  She meandered into the waiting room, looked it over, and made a beeline for us with an expectant look on her face.

She looked at him.  She looked at me.  I smiled, the tolerant but tired smile of an introverted mother a little weary of all the strangers exclaiming over her baby continually.

“I just can’t believe anyone would choose to have a baby anymore,” she said.

I gaped, and felt my smile waver—but nodded in mute acknowledgement and waited for her to continue.

And continue she did.  She told me baby daddies are never around, never do any work, never help out—just I wait and see!—and that I was going to be up all night every night and clean up all the throw-up forever.  She told me there’s never enough money for food, never enough good jobs to go around, never any stability.  She told me the job was thankless, and that nowadays, it wasn’t even useful to send them off to school, that probably by the time my baby was old enough, all the kids would just be taught by inhuman computers, and what good was that, anyway?  She told me if someone just had to have a baby to hold, that they ought to foster, because at least then they’d get paid for it, and they could give them back when they got worn out of it.

I never could figure out what to say back, although she paused plenty of times for me to get a word in edgewise.  I wanted to tell her that she was wrong, that my husband had a good job and my husband wasn’t like that at all, and that my kids aren’t going to those schools and my kids aren’t ungrateful brats.  I wanted to tell her my baby was beautiful and that every single one of my kids is a blessing and delight.  How could she sit there and berate infants when such an excellent specimen was sitting right in front of her?

But it seemed disrespectful, considering that she was sitting there pouring out the bitterness of her own experience.  She talked about her children; her grandchildren.  And so I said none of what I wanted to say.  I just sat there smiling and making polite noises of agreeableness when I could, and freezing nervously when she made her more outrageous remarks. 

I didn’t know what to do, really.

The much-younger woman who was with her came back, then, and the older woman quickly stopped talking to me at all.  I listened as she made some extremely neutral remarks about my baby to her companion. (“Look at that baby!  He’s a little one, about as new as they come, I’d reckon.”)  Then they called her back, and there were no more words.

All I could think of was Ecclesiastes.

I hated all my work that I labored at under the sun because I must leave it to the man who comes after me.  And who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool? Yet he will take over all my work that I labored at skillfully under the sun. This too is futile.  So I began to give myself over to despair concerning all my work that I had labored at under the sun.  When there is a man whose work was done with wisdom, knowledge, and skill, and he must give his portion to a man who has not worked for it, this too is futile and a great wrong. For what does a man get with all his work and all his efforts that he labors at under the sun? For all his days are filled with grief, and his occupation is sorrowful; even at night, his mind does not rest. This too is futile. There is nothing better for man than to eat, drink, and enjoy his work. I have seen that even this is from God’s hand, because who can eat and who can enjoy life apart from Him? (Ecclesiastes 2:18-24)

The poor woman in the waiting room waxed eloquently about the futility of life, at least of the life of mothers.  Her whole speech was so bleakly devoid of hope, so… honest about the reality of existence apart from the grace of God.  The hurt and damage bled through her every sentence.

I felt, acutely, how blessed I am.  How blessed with joy, blessed with children, blessed with a loving husband.  Blessed with the Spirit.  Blessed with salvation.  It is from God’s hand—it is God’s hand that made my life so different from hers.  And sin and the broken, fallen world that made her life so wretched.  So many points I could not disagree with her: absentee fathers are pervasive.  Employment and money is a struggle.  Public schools, especially where we were having our conversation, can be very bad indeed.  I once taught at an elementary school near this hospital, and the school was in such bad shape that the computer keyboards used for typing class didn’t even have all the keys.  Her bitterness was laced with no small amount of cold truth.  The world is heartbreakingly broken.

Here is what I have seen to be good: it is appropriate to eat, drink, and experience good in all the labor one does under the sun during the few days of his life God has given him, because that is his reward. God has also given riches and wealth to every man, and He has allowed him to enjoy them, take his reward, and rejoice in his labor. This is a gift of God, for he does not often consider the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with the joy of his heart. (Ecclesiastes 5:18-20)

I am thankful for the reminder of how indebted I am to God for every joy that fills my heart.  I am thankful for the reminder of how much the people around me need the Gospel, need redemption and rescue from the pain and hardship that batters them every day.  It is too easy for me to get in my Christian-and-happy-family bubble and forget the very real suffering of other humans around me.

I hope next time God puts me in a situation like that, that I am better able to find words.  That I might speak words of a better way, of a Redeemer who lifts us beyond the misshapen circumstances we find ourselves born to.  Ecclesiastes ends with Hope, with justice—the futility of life being answered with the promise of eternity.

Those are the words I could have said today.

When all has been heard, the conclusion of the matter is: fear God and keep His commands, because this is for all humanity.  For God will bring every act to judgment, including every hidden thing, whether good or evil.  (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)

pexels-photo-235243

Musings

Faith from the edge of my seat.

Julie / October 13, 2017

In recent years, it has become exceedingly clear that God is teaching me to trust Him.  Within the space of a few months, two of our boys had acute medical issues that could have been catastrophic—in the long run, it turned out that neither issue was that serious, but the symptoms were terrifying.  In both cases, it took a few days to pin down the severity, and Philippians 4:6-7 was chiseled onto my heart in such a fearsome way that it has transformed my understanding of “worry” forever after.

I love it when I can look back and see how days of suffering are indeed transformed into endurance, character, and hope (Romans 5:3-5).  It is a great testimony of the sureness of God to be able to see how horrible moments are indeed for our joy, and, in retrospect, to appreciate the experiences that were so unendurable at the time.

So, when new trials arise, I can whisper God’s truths to myself, and know experientially that they are true.  I can whisper, God works all things for good, and I can remember the times it was true.  I can whisper, rejoice in suffering, because I have seen how suffering has been worthwhile.  I can whisper, be anxious for nothing, because I can still feel the restfulness of bringing my worries to His throne.

However.  God never stops teaching me, for which I am very thankful… and also appalled at my own ability to continue to fall short and need more instruction!

The past week has been jam-packed full of stress.

Nothing has actually gone utterly wrong, but there were many moments—maybe as many as ten—when we were waiting on test results, waiting to hear back from some doctor, waiting to see what was going to be done, waiting to see if labor was going to happen (I had a baby a couple of days ago, an event I totally failed to anticipate even as recently as this time last week).  So much waiting.  So much uncertainty.

I am really, really bad at uncertainty.  I often feel like I’d rather know the bad news than wait to hear the good!

I told Seth after the last of it (at least as far as I know, ha!) came to a conclusion yesterday that it feels like God is deliberately keeping me on the edge of my seat.  More particularly, like He is teaching me how to live and trust Him not just to hold us through the worst of times, but in the minute-by-minute uncertainty of daily life.  Do I trust Him to be good?  Do I trust His planning?  Can I hold myself and my “needs” for everything to be perfectly sketched out and just—wait?

I didn’t respond perfectly.  There were too many nights in the past week when I couldn’t sleep, and many hours of desperate internet research and trying as best as I could to control all the situations that unfolded.  But God kept bringing Himself to my mind and reminding me (often via my much calmer husband!) that I needed to trust Him, that I needed to quiet my spirit and rest in His goodness and sovereignty.  In short, I failed.  But even here just a couple of days out, and, oh, what I have learned through this experience!  How good God is to continue to lead us through these situations and teach us to stand up under them!  I have been learning much more vividly the meaning of 1 Corinthians 10:13:

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to humanity. God is faithful, and He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation He will also provide a way of escape so that you are able to bear it.

This is a dear truth.  So many times in the past week I felt the desperate war within myself between resting in God and giving into the strong pull of despair, frustration, anxiety, and even anger.  So often it was almost a conscious choice: am I going to give in to my wretched desire to be really upset about this situation, or to be really fearful, or… am I just going to let it go and be still (Psalm 46:10)?  Anyone who was within earshot of me this week knows how often I chose to be a wretch!  But even in the middle of my frustration and desperation, I could still feel the battle raging and know all the promises of Scripture—that He would be faithful. I knew that my fear and frustration were founded in the mire of my sinful heart, not in reality.

God promises us in Hebrews 12:10-11 that He disciplines us “for our benefit, so that we can share His holiness. No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it yields the fruit of peace and righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”  Then this little bit, that is so helpful:

Therefore strengthen your tired hands and weakened knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated but healed instead. (v 12-13)

I love this.  There is something lame in me.  Well, there are many things lame in me, but what I’ve particularly learned this week was lame is that I do a pretty terrible job of trusting God when my plans are going all awry.  And this past week has served as a marathon to show me my lameness and give me ample opportunity to repent of it and change my ways—to be healed rather than dislocated by the circumstances God brought my way.

We serve such a good God, that He is not content merely to redeem us and rescue us from the consequences of our sin, but that He also sanctifies us and purifies us and even, sometimes, lets us see how He is using circumstances for our betterment.  Rejoice in suffering.

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.