Pages

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Ouch

My husband and I have been finding ourselves on the opposite side of the table from our tweenager more times than we’ve wanted to recently.  It seems every conversation becomes an argument, each interaction a learning experience.  For all three of us.

‘Tis the season, right?

Despite my tendency and love of talking an issue into the ground, even I can admit that these “family talks” are getting to be tedious.  They go long and get complicated; one issue turns into the next, and then another, and then another.  An hour passes and we end on a topic that was not present at the beginning.  There is usually an attempt at walking out.  There are almost always tears.  I won’t say whose.

His demands for independence and absolute fairness between him and his sister, my desire for peace and love and understanding over discipline and responsibility, and my husband’s general impatience all go into a soup that inevitably boils over.  Interrupting each other is a theme worth exploring during this spectacular demonstration of family time, and we talk over each other to try and explain why it is rude and inconsiderate to do so, yet another behavior to be tamed.

“We love you,” we say.  Love comes to the table often.  “NO YOU DON’T!” he explodes.  At least one of us agrees for the moment, if only in her mind.  I won’t say who does this.

Parenting is hard, ya’ll.  I want those baby days back, the ones where I looked and felt like a zombie, yet that small fleshy person giggled and drooled and cuddled and took naps twice a day and never voiced his loud opinion that salad three times a week at dinnertime amounted to a twisted form of abuse.  I will trade one of these punishing hour-long parenting sessions for a month of midnight feedings, anytime.

A couple of weeks ago I was fed up with my children’s bickering and criticizing, and, triumphant with our decision to add Christian education to our children’s lives, pulled out the clich├ęd and much-maligned, yet to-the-point What would Jesus do?  Their ears perked up when I posed the question.  They had never heard it from me before.

Me: Who are we called to be like?
They: Jesus.
Me: Would Jesus pick on his siblings like this?
They: No.
Me: Where does this behavior come from, then?
They: The devil.
Me: Are we to act like the devil?
They: No.
Me: Fine, then.  Do better.

The lesson sunk in, and they were chastened.  They vowed to do better.  

For like a minute.  But still.  A minute.

I forget to do this with my son during our table talks.  In all honesty, I am not much of an example of What would Jesus do? for my children.  I argue, interrupt, and yell.  I do not turn the other cheek, respond in truth and love, or do any of the other clear-headed and rational things that Jesus would do.  I don’t even pray for the right words to say.

But I am learning.  The lessons are sinking in.  This new style of interaction, this parent-child relationship, is shifting from his total reliance on our decision making to a more nebulous boundary shift on all of our parts.  It always amazes me how God teaches us through our children, whether by their own behavior or ours.  He’s got to; I can’t learn how to do this without him, without his example.

Growing pains.  We got ‘em.

*******

Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.  Proverbs 3:6 (NLT)

Friday, July 5, 2013

Sigh

What does contentment look like? 

For me, it’s always brief, and always changing.

When I was a kid it looked like a day where my brother wasn’t teasing me and we went to the park, or where my parents were off my case and upped my allowance.  As I got older it looked like As on all my finals the day before summer vacation, or a day where my husband took the kids out and I took a nap, or a day of getting all the chores and errands done early, and the kids are getting along.  Contentment always looks different, but the result of it is always the same: a big relief.  Sigh.

Contentment is fleeting; something always messes it up.  The world interrupts in the form of a phone call with distressing news, a forgotten task that needs to be attended to immediately, or an argument that comes from nowhere.  When this happens I grasp at the threads of my contented sigh as they float away and dissolve into the atmosphere.

I hate that.

A while ago I read a book about Heaven.  In the book it describes Heaven as a place that contains all the characteristics of the world we have today, the beauty and goodness enhanced and the pain and ugliness gone.  And then some.  We all have our own versions of what Heaven looks like.  We will have complete contentment.  Contentment with our work, activities, conversations, relationships – this is what characterizes our life in Heaven.

My daughter talks about Heaven a lot.  She is a sensitive soul who craves contentment.  She worries about nearly everything that could shatter her current level of comfort. 

She gets this from me.  

She worries that Heaven will be so different that she won’t know anyone, and life, however wonderful, will be foreign.  She worries that she might not like it.  She worries that Heaven is forever, and living a forever life that she knows nothing about is unappealing to her.  She worries that Heaven will be boring. 

I tell her about the Heaven that God promises, that everything will be perfect, that he will make sure we don’t get bored, and that every day will be an opportunity for us to discover something new, that we can’t imagine what God has in store for us.  We have to trust that God will do what he says.  I tell her that I’m not afraid of being bored in Heaven.  I assure her that she will not be scared, that she will not be alone.

I know she is not content with these answers.

The truth is that our contentment on earth looks nothing like our contentment in Heaven.  We try to think about what perfect contentment looks like, but we will never approach it.  I believe that God gives us glimpses of what it feels like here on earth, but we won’t know until we get there.  I believe that he has contentment planned for us that is beyond my imagination.

I believe when we get there, we will each let out a huge sigh, and nothing will ever take it away.

*******

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone.  Revelation 21:1 (NLT)

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Daily Lent

It started one Lenten season when people start talking about purging something bad from their lives, the way Good Christians do when that season comes.  Everyone talks about what they are giving up; listeners ooh and ahh about the willpower and holiness exhibited, and mutual admiration flits about the room and everybody’s halo gets bigger and brighter.

It’s so much pressure.

I had never successfully given up anything for Lent before.  All my efforts at fasting revolved around giving up things that I didn’t do anyway, like robbing banks.  I always found a way to replace the given up thing with something else, like the one time I gave up drinking wine and I drank vodka instead.

Missing the whole point of Lent was my specialty.

I heard the conversations about what Lent was all about, to reach out to God when you feel weak during a fast, to pray and pray and pray when you decide to abstain from pizza and your show up to a dinner party and the host is serving pizza.

At some point I heard that giving up something for Lent isn’t worth much if we only give it up for six weeks.  If we give up pizza for 40 days and have a pizza party on day 41, how strong is our faith?  It’s only been tested for 40 days.  Have we really grown, or changed anything about our lives?

This, along with the fact that I had thus far proven to be a failure at giving anything up for 40 days, bothered me.  Lent felt like a religion contest, and I’m not interested in that kind of competition.  I already felt like enough of a hypocrite when I reflected on my sins.  Imagine how relieved I felt when the conversation veered off into a direction that I had never considered: How about adding something to our lives for 40 days?

This interested me.  I am much better at adding something good than taking something bad away, especially if I thoroughly enjoy it, and if I could make it a thing that strengthened my faith, then I would be much better off anyway.  If I added something that might take away from the time I spent doing something bad, then I was on my way to better living overall.

I decided to read a daily devotional, write about it, and make this a part of my morning routine.  It was doable: I am a morning person anyway, so starting off the day reading something uplifting with coffee sounded like the perfect thing.  That it was simple, quick, and could be faith-building added to the appeal.  So one Sunday after church I grabbed a daily devotional book off the information shelf, bought a composition book at the drugstore, and planned to start the following day.

I loved it.  It was so simple, so quick, so faith-building, that I kept going.

That was three years ago, and I never gave up this Lenten practice.  Yes, I skip days.  Sometimes a week here and there.  But I always go back to it.

It is not a perfect practice.  I am not perfect, and do not deserve a pat on the back.  Sometimes I find myself growing bored with my insights to God’s word, zipping through the devotional time just to get it over with.  I am nothing if not task-oriented.

But I keep going, because the times when I really learn something new about God and faith are worth it.  The frequency with which the reading contains a theme that I so need to hear amazes me.

I am not planning on ending this Lenten add-on anytime soon.  It still works for me; it has become part of my life and my faith.

Plus, the pressure of Lent is no longer there.  My halo is far from the biggest or the brightest, but I feel okay about working on it all year long instead of just 40 days.



*******