Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Peace In, Peace Out

One of the hardest things for kids to learn is how to be a friend.  Somewhere around twelve or thirteen we begin to run our own social lives – long gone are playdates and mommies arranging social time.  These days my kids tell me what’s happening and can I go and these people will be there and it starts at this time and I don’t know when it’s over, I’ll text or call.

And then they’re gone and I pray that they remember their manners and that all their behavior decisions are the right ones.

In any relationship, bumps and bends in the road can be difficult to navigate.   Adolescents don’t yet understand the nuances that are key to effective communication; they still largely operate from a “me first” position.  Clashing is common.  Throw in all the feelings just under the surface and friendships run high and flame out frequently.

This is where I have found the most difficult work as a parent.  Allowing my kids the space to grow means sometimes holding back from swooping in and taking charge when they do and say the wrong thing.  Waiting in the wings while they fumble around interpersonally or waiting to be asked for help is so much harder than just taking charge.  It’s hard to deny myself the very thing that I have been training to do their whole lives.  Letting them grow means I also have to grow.

Sometimes my kids mess up and suffer so much that I do interfere.  When they’re in the middle of a mess like this, I have to know when to step in carefully.  Guiding them to clean up their own messes – not doing it for them – is tough when frustration spills over in the form of tears and emotional pain.  It’s really tough when I can see the edges of the mess they haven’t quite cleaned up completely.

Doing everything for my kids isn’t my role anymore.  By the time they are twelve, I have spent every waking hour teaching and modeling and instructing.  But I can’t be them.  They have to be themselves.

Living in peace with everyone is what we are instructed to do as Christians.  We can each do our part in relationships and interactions with others to facilitate peace.  We all have the choice to retaliate or live in peace, to hate or to love. 

When we choose peace, we build ourselves and others up.  One thing that sits in the back of my mind when I choose to fight is this: why am I ruining my reputation just to appear tough?  Being hateful is not strong.  It is letting the other person have control.  When someone is ugly to me, and I respond with ugliness, I just willingly entered into the ugly game.  That person threw the first pitch and I threw it right back.  I agreed to be ugly; I allowed that person to dictate who I would be today. 

When we choose conflict, we choose negative over positive, hate over love, breaking down others and over time, our own character.  A good character that only chooses bad responses will eventually become a bad character. 

This is what we teach our kids.  They may not have control over what a person does to them, but they sure have control over how they respond.  At twelve, they enjoy the freedom of choosing how to act in a way that reveals their character and makes them feel good about themselves and others.  They learn that God will take care of those who are horrible to us; it might not be fun in the meantime, but God always has our backs.  He will take care of us; his power is stronger than anyone else’s.  When Mom can’t (or won’t) swoop in, he will in ways that make us stronger.

When God is the focus, relationships become stronger.  God can turn a friendship around.  When we don’t know what to do, he can teach us how to behave and what to say.  He can turn hate into love.

I am grateful for God’s lessons on friendship.  Nothing I try to teach my kids comes close to what he can teach all of us.


Wednesday, November 11, 2015

One Way

“Nobody listens to me!”

“I’m bored.  We never do anything fun!”

“You’re bothering me.  Go away.”

“You’re all being annoying.  I’m leaving.”

These four sentences could be said at any time by any person who lives in my house.  As a group, we can get along fairly well, but not always.  Individual needs sometimes take center stage, to the detriment of our relationships.  And to the peace.

The facts are that

We do listen to each other.

We do fun things.

We want to spend time together.

We love each other.

But sometimes, we can only see one way.  When irritated, our irritations become too much of a nuisance and cloud our judgment.  We only see a part of the picture, and we don’t like what we see.  We feel put upon, harassed, misunderstood.

And we pout, blame, and push each other away.

I feel like this is normal, that all families bicker and complain and get on each other’s nerves.  We are all human, after all.  Just because we normally enjoy each other’s company, we also all have feelings and get hurt and offended.  We voice our displeasure and use words to hurt.

We all want our way at the same time.  But this is ridiculous.  A family can’t be pushed and pulled in four separate ways and still function properly.

The Bible is filled with instructions on how to live life.  If you have a problem with someone, go to that person and have it out with them (Matthew 18:15).  Watch what you say; it affects your reputation (Proverbs 11:12).  Do the work that you were asked to do without complaining (Colossians 3:23). The book of Proverbs contains wisdom from King Solomon, the wisest person in the land.  Jesus’ ministry focused on the right way to live life.  Paul continued his ministry across the world to teach new Christians how to keep the faith in spite of obstacles.  Modern Christians read the Bible and go to church to learn how to do life according to his will, to spread the gospel in ways that make sense in our time and in our lives.  Through all of this, we learn God’s will, his way.

Sometimes I follow God’s path and I’m pretty good at being a model Christian. Other times, I veer off and crash, hard.  But then I remember. 

God is bigger than me, than all of us.  He’s so much bigger than our biggest accomplishments and even our most devastating failures.  We need him in our lives to right us when we fall.  Only he can guide us with any kind of success through this world.  Often I need to know my place and see that I am not in the center, that I am not in control, that I don’t have all the answers.  It is humbling and freeing to know that God is in control, that despite my desires for order and my way, his way will prevail.  Just as children crave structure and the safety of a secure and loving home as a landing place, so do we seek the loving, capable arms of God.

God is more than enough, despite what we can see. –Shelly Beach

When my family members and I assert our will upon each other, we experience conflict.  We are a microcosm of what is going on in the entire world – everyone battling for his or her own way.  When I disengage from the fight and the chaos and see God’s way, peace floods my heart and mind.  I may not be able to see clearly how his way will lead, but I trust that he has the answers, that he is in control, that he is the center.

Of everything.


Tuesday, November 3, 2015

It Never Ends

When I got my first full-time job, and having no more school looming on the horizon to buffer the tedium of working every day, I was struck by the fact that I would be doing just this for the next very long portion of my life – going to work and performing tasks that were not all captivating or even a little interesting.  I would be doing these tasks for the biggest part of every day except for short breaks called “vacations” and even shorter breaks called “weekends.”

I despaired.  The working part of being an adult was not on my list of favorite things.

Over time, I got used to working every day, and learned to enjoy it. I made friends at work, was treated well and had a good rapport with everyone except for one person who I tried very hard to kill with kindness.

Eventually life took a turn and I quit my job (by this time just part-time) for a dual position, an even fuller-time job – motherhood and housekeeping.

For a time, both jobs fulfilled me – although there’s a lot of downtime with infants at home, their growth demands more hours, and a house, well, there’s always something to do in a house – but after a while, I started to despair again.  Is this what I went to eighteen years of school for?  To change diapers and wipe dust off of surfaces?  There has to be someone more qualified.

After a while, I settled in.  One baby was now two babies, and a house crumbles a little every year, demanding constant maintenance and upkeep.  I was busy, and although my tasks were tedious, I learned how to mix them up to trick myself into thinking that I wasn’t doing the same exact thing Every. Single. Day.

Sometimes, the old thoughts crept in: Is this really what I am doing?  I watched friends and former fellow at-home moms launch themselves back into old careers when their children started attending school full-time.  Some women went back to school to start new careers, and others got jobs to fill the hours before the kids returned home from school.  My social circle of stay-at-home moms shrank, and I found myself alone a lot of the time.  They were contributing.  What was I doing?  Should I be following their cues and returning to the workforce?  The very idea of donning appropriate clothing for work filled me with dread.  I considered that my jobs as mother and housekeeper were still valid – after all, I still had children, and the house required even more of my attention now that there were four fully-formed people running through it all hours of the day.  I ignored that the women swirling around me now had new work to do, and put the idea of going back to work out of my mind.   

Through it all, I became close with God.  I went to church and to Bible study and learned about the history of my belief system, nurtured my faith, and listened to other women utter words that were on my heart.  Is this really what I’m supposed to be doing?  I want to do something, but what? Am I doing enough?  Am I wasting my life?  I shared that I felt the same thing.

Then, it clicked.  God put me Here.  Right in this spot, right in this very moment.  Like my first real job, I was chosen to do this one, too.  The only thing that needed to change was my perspective.  God gave me this time, these children, this house, to work at nurturing and caring for and filling with the discipline of love.  It might be non-traditional in our current culture, and it for sure isn’t compensated in any tangible way, but I can see the fruits of my labor every day in my family members and in our home.

I no longer worry or stew about what I am doing with my life.  I realize that I am doing it.  My life is happening right now.  God handed a job to me and I ran with it.  Along the way I have learned that no matter how tedious or challenging the task laid before me, when I do it from a holy perspective, I am most fulfilled.  When God is my focus, I do my job with an attitude of what I am to learn from him through it.  I trust that when the time comes for me to change my career path, he will show me what to do.

Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people. 
Ephesians 6: 8