The God of Apple Juice and Spilled Milk
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To trust God to act in our best interest is an essential part of growing in faith. Yet, when life seems unfair and our best plans come unraveled, even if we don’t say them, many of our childish accusations, once directed at our parents, are now directed at God.
The childish, “You’re mean,” becomes “Why do you let me suffer?”
“Everyone else gets to…” becomes “Why do I have to obey God’s moral laws?”
“Why can’t I have what I want?” becomes “Why don’t You give me everything I pray for?”
It isn’t until we grow older that we understand how the child’s own good lies at the basis of a loving parent’s actions. It isn’t until we mature in Christ that we understand God’s reactions are also for our own good. His love for us and our love for our children can be compared in common everyday parenting experiences. These experiences can help develop a faith that trusts in God even when we do not understand His actions, just as our children must trust our motives when they do not understand our decisions. This trust can develop a peace in our lives that allows us to direct our energy away from confusion and bitterness and toward trust and acceptance. Let’s begin.
In The Beginning
“The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep;” Genesis 1:2a (RSV)
Many young couples begin to feel there is a void in their lives that only a child could fill. They long for someone to love and protect, care for and teach. (Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; Genesis 1:26a RSV).
We long for a child, made in our image. When we get the good news, we collect items for the expected arrival and plan the nursery with great care, keeping the baby’s needs and comforts in mind, just as God prepared for us. (“And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food…” Genesis 2:8 ESV).
Could it be only a co-incidence that the scriptural accounts of God’s preparation and feelings for mankind compare so closely with those of human parents for their children? Surely not. Perhaps God, in His wisdom, allows us insight into His nature by allowing us to share, in a small way, in the act of creation and the resulting feelings and responsibilities we share with Him in the act of parenting.
It follows that, until we relate our relationship to God as that of a parent, He may seem far away, His actions difficult to understand. Though we cannot hope to fathom the mind of God, we can gain insight into His nature when we compare our own parenting decisions with the choices God makes for us.
As we love, discipline, comfort, and direct our children, we find parallels of God’s love and direction.
Perhaps God planned parenting as one way to understand His love. He invests Himself in us just as we invest ourselves in our children. Whether you are a parent or not, it is my hope these parenting parallels will lead you to a greater understanding of the relationship God desires with you, His child.
In His Own Image
“Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed says the Lord, who has compassion on you.” Isaiah 54:10 (NIV)
Want a crash course in unconditional love? All you have to do is become a parent. When I held my first born, I discovered what it meant to love someone with unconditional love. I stared at the red-faced, wrinkled, bundle and marveled that she was part of us. She had her father’s eyes and my nose. Even so, when her grandparents came to visit we heard, “She looks just like your baby picture,” from each set. Though there may have been some nostalgia at work, she did, indeed, favor us.
I couldn’t wait to get her home and watch her grow. I had so many plans for the things I would teach her and the experiences we would share. Though I knew there would be tedious moments when she would try my patience, I knew from her moment of birth, nothing could separate her from my love.
Likewise, the Father of the human race “created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them;” Gen. 1:27 (RSV) God’s role as the parent of mankind is confirmed by the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer, “Our Father who art in Heaven.” And again, when Jesus says, “If you knew me, you would know my father, also.”(John 8:19, NIV) He must look at His children and feel an even greater unconditional love than we feel for our newborns.
The Parent Loves First
“We love because he first loved us.” 1 John 4:19 (NIV)
We love our children unconditionally, simply because they exist. We love them through failures and disappointments. And most remarkably, we love them before they are able to return our love. Likewise, God’s love for us comes before our love for Him.
Frederick Whitfield wrote a beautiful hymn that declares in the chorus, “O how I love Jesus, O how I love Jesus, O how I love Jesus—Because he first loved me!”
And God’s love for us, like ours for our children, is not based on what we may do for Him. When I resigned from teaching to stay home with my baby, my self-worth unfortunately stayed with my job. I confided to a Christian friend, “Now that I’m staying home with the baby, I don’t feel important. It’s what I want to do, but I don’t get the feeling of being respected I did from a career.”
“Your baby is valuable to you even though she doesn’t hold a job, right?” she asked.
I raised an eyebrow. “Right.”
“I suppose God feels the same way about you. It’s not the job that makes you important. You are important in God’s eyes simply because you exist. You are His child.”
She was right, of course. I’ve yet to hear any parent tell his or her newborn, “I’ll love you as soon as you make something of yourself. Grow up and become a famous surgeon or a powerful lawyer. Then, I’ll love you.”
We love our children simply because they are… not because of what they are. It is a love that endures even when we disapprove of words or actions. It is unearned love. It is similar to God’s love for us.
The Bible assures us that “…neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39(NIV)
Human parents understand this bond. It begins before birth. There, in the womb, a tiny baby is loved before he can return love or is aware that he is loved. He is loved merely because he exists.
It doesn’t matter whether the child will be a boy or girl, have brown eyes or blue, hair or no hair. While they are yet unable to show affection (in fact, the kicks and squirms can be uncomfortable) the parents have a deep love and sense of protection for this small being who has no awareness of them.
Comparing the feelings of human parents to the Biblical account of God, we realize how much we are like children to God. As we kick and squirm our way through life, God watches over us, caring even when we are indifferent or unaware of His interest. Like a baby in the womb, we are loved even when we are unaware of that love.
Love Overcomes Failure
“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” 1 John 3:1a (NIV)
The fear of failure should not keep us from reaching for the personal growth God wishes us to attain. Though we may feel insecure, we must remember God is not impressed by titles or stations in life. He has often used people of very humble stations for His most important missions.
Along these lines, I am reminded of a story I recently heard. A little boy came home in tears from a baseball game. He told his Dad, “I struck out three times in a row and the other kids laughed at me.”
The father put his arm around his son and said, “We’ll work on your batting together. But you know I’ll always like you just as much whether you strike out or make a home run.”
That father knew what a hurting child needed to hear. He offered love which could not be bought by success or lost by failure.
Jesus’ disciples made mistakes. Yet, he still loved them. They were as close to Him as perhaps anyone could be. Yet, when Jesus was arrested at Gethsemane, all of the disciples “forsook Him and fled,” Mt.26:56 (RSV). Peter denied knowing Jesus while Jesus was held at the house of the high priest. He must have felt that he had failed the Lord when he heard the cock crow. His remorse was so bitter that he went out and wept.
Remorse can be a good thing. It can spur us to higher achievements. However, God expects us to move past the remorse, turn to him for direction, and get on with our lives.
Jesus saw the possibilities his disciples possessed instead of their failures. He knew they had what it took to carry on the works he had begun. He entrusted them with his ministry and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Jesus believed in them. This trust inspired them to put their failures behind them and accept God’s call.
As we pursue God’s will for our lives, He will be with us whether we triumph or fall flat on our faces. His love is so complete that, though we may fail, we are never failures. Enveloped in God’s great love, we are free to risk mistakes and failure as we strive to develop the talents He has given us.
The Praise of Men
“For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.” 2 Corinthians 10:18 (NIV)
Surely it pleases God when we use our talents to our best ability. However, it’s hard to remember that earthly rewards for these talents don’t earn us higher status from God. As with our children, the accomplishment of one child does not take away from our pride for another.
I’m reminded of an essay contest which my two oldest daughters entered.
“I hope I win,” said the oldest.
“What about me?” asked her sister.
“I hope you win, too.”
Then they asked me, “Which essay do you think is better?”
“You know I’m not going to pick. I think they are equally good.”
Unfortunately, there were not two first place prizes.
“I won!” shouted the oldest as she fingered her blue ribbon. A look at my second daughter’s face told me she was struggling with feelings of rejection.
I pulled her aside. “It’s hard to compete with an older sister. She’s had more time and experience to learn how to write. And, even so, you don’t have to be good at the same things. Remember, the Bible says, “If the whole body were an eye where would be the hearing?” (1 Co. 12:17 RSV)
I don’t know if I made her feel better, but a few days later, I realized those feelings are hard to outgrow. I was talking at the pool with a group of neighborhood moms when one said, “Our summer has gone so fast. Every day we have swimming practice. Then, there’s scout camp, piano lessons and all the little extra things the kids want to do.”
“Not us. We’ve taken this summer easy,” said another mom.” Each afternoon one of the kids picks a book and we spend an hour on the couch curled up together while I read to them.”
I’m not sure which mom made me feel worse. I didn’t take my kids as many places as the first. I didn’t manage a quiet afternoon of togetherness each day either. No matter which mom I compared myself to, I came up lacking.
My attention drifted to my third daughter who was conquering her fear of the water. She put her face in and splashed violently with her arms, while standing securely in the shallow end. She was making progress. The summer before, she wouldn’t put her face in the water.
I treaded into the water. “Slow down with your arms and take long strokes like this.” I moved her arms for her.
“Watch me,” called one of my older girls, swimming effortlessly across the pool.
“That’s very good. I’m proud of you.”
“I saw the frown on my little one’s face.
“Of course swimming is easy for the big girls now. But they worked hard to become good swimmers and I am proud of them. Still, I’m just as proud of you. You are trying hard and learning and that’s what counts.”
I want my children to know I measure their success according to their own abilities and not against each other.
If I feel this way about my children, surely God feels this way about His children. I thought about my conversation with the other mothers. Measured only against ourselves we can have the freedom from low self-esteem and envy to develop the talents with which God has uniquely endowed us.
“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the hairs of your head are numbered.” Matthew 10:29-30 (NIV)
No matter how many children we might have, each one is special. No child that is lost can ever be replaced. My experience with our third daughter made me terribly aware of this fact.
At five months of age she became very ill. We rushed her to the doctor, who, upon examining her, said, “It’s bacterial meningitis. We’ll admit her to intensive care and do what we can.”
The disease had advanced so quickly I had not realized she was desperately ill. Dazed and frightened all I could do was pray. My heart had always ached for parents who had lost a child. Would I be one of those parents?
“She looks so small and fragile. I wish I could trade places with her,” my husband said.
I felt the same way as I watched her lying in a crib with an IV in her scalp. Even though I had two other children, I would have gladly given all my worldly possessions if it would have made this child well. Even if I had twenty children, I knew it would have made no difference. Each child is a unique and precious individual and each is equally important to a parent.
The first critical night passed. By morning, she was holding her own. We breathed a sigh of relief when, a day later, a nurse said, “We’re moving her out of intensive care and into a room.”
A week later, she was able to come home. As her sisters bounced about her, I thought of how happy we all were to have her well again and how important each of the children was to me.
I realized, with particular clarity, the magnitude of God’s sacrifice of His son. Loving each of His children as He does, it must have been terribly painful to sacrifice one child for the sake of many.
I could not imagine making such a choice. Loving Jesus as He does, He must have suffered great pain in that decision. How much God must love us to make a willing choice such as that!
The Prodigal Child
“My son, the father said, “you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” Luke 15:31-32 (NIV)
Each child is special to God and each child is special to a parent. So special that we continue to love them, even when their choices cause us pain and disappointment.
We’ve all heard the story of the prodigal son. He had a father who illustrated God’s love of a repentant sinner. He also had a brother who could not understand the father’s heart and reacted with anger and jealousy. The father loved both sons even though the older son’s bitterness towards his brother was a disappointment.
This point was brought home to me when my two oldest daughters were very small. The baby, too young to be a “prodigal son”, nonetheless had a jealous sibling. My older daughter, at two and a-half, resented the way the baby took my attention for feeding and dressing while she had to feed and dress herself.
“Come finish your lunch,” I told her.
“I don’t like peanut butter,” she whined.
“You’ve always liked peanut butter. Now eat it!”
Jennifer took two bites of her sandwich and spilled her milk.
“Get a towel and clean it up,” I said, busy spooning mouthfuls of peaches into the baby.
“The milk got my sandwich all wet and I can’t find a towel,” Jennifer said.
“Look in the drawer.”
Jennifer found a towel and made a listless effort at sopping up the milk. When she was done, she dripped it across the kitchen and tossed it in the sink. Then, losing interest in lunch, she left the kitchen.
I heard water running in the bathroom.
“What are you doing?”
“What are you doing?” I asked louder.
This time Jennifer appeared. The front of her sundress was drenched with water.
“I need another dress, Mommy.”
“Why are you all wet?”
“I washed the milk off my dress.”
“Get a dress from your closet.”
“I can’t reach them.”
Her voice held a familiar whine.
“All right. I’ll get you one.”
I placed the baby, in her infant seat, in the living room. “Keep an eye on Tiffany while I get your dress.”
I was just slipping a dress from the hanger when a wail from Tiffany told me something was wrong. Hurrying back to the living room, I found the infant seat tipped over and Tiffany lying on her side.
Jennifer sat nearby, her foot near the seat. Her brown eyes were full of guilt.
“Tiffany fell over,” she said.
I examined the baby. She was unharmed and easily comforted.
“You knocked her over. You can’t be around the baby if this is how you’re going to behave. You’ll have to go to your room.”
She left in a flood of tears.
A little while later, when I had cooled down, I went in to talk to her. I wanted her to know that I loved her even though I did not love her actions.
“It’s all right for you to feel angry with Tiffany but it’s not all right to hurt her. Will you promise to remember that?”
That night, I watched the news. There were stories about convenience store robberies, car thefts, and murder. How could God love people who hurt others, I wondered?
My experience with Jennifer reminded me that God loves the wrongdoer just as He loves the innocent. Though he dislikes the actions, He loves His children with an unconditional love. It is the nature of unconditional love to want to give the repentant sinner another chance.
So, like the father of the prodigal son, (Luke 15:11-32), God is ready to forgive and let us start again.
“Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him.” 2 Peter 2:15 (NIV)
Because of the pressures I allowed in my life, I was not always the loving, patient parent I wanted to be.
Though I always loved my children, my love did not always show. When the telephone rang and there was a broken glass on the floor, and the kids wanted a drink, I snapped, “Not now, I’m busy.”
God is the parent I would like to be. His love is always available. It is not dependent on whether He is having a good day. He is there for each of us in a very personal way any time we need Him.
Fortunately., His love includes a generous amount of patience. This patience is described in the Bible when Moses led the Hebrew people to the Promised Land. Again and again they failed to obey God’s commands given through his servant, Moses. They failed to trust in God’s care. Yet, God did not abandon them, for they were His children.
Adam and Eve. God’s first children. So much to teach them, so much to share. They disappointed Him by their disobedience. Still, He did not separate them from His love.
God’s patience was again clear in the words Jesus spoke upon the cross, “Father forgive them; for they know not what they do.” Luke 23:34 (RSV) Those words show us a father who waits patiently for His children to return His love.
Patience is one proof of love. It is often seen in the willingness to wait. Most parents spend a lot of time waiting on their children. We wait for them to put on their shoes when we are going out. We wait for them to get ready for bed. We wait for them to get to the table at mealtimes.
One day, my children were in the backyard when it was time for lunch. Since they were having such a good time, they paid no attention to my call.
As I sat down to feed the baby, I thought, “The door is open. They can come in when they’re ready.” After awhile, they did appear. Driven by hunger, they came to eat the lunch what was on the table.
Sometimes I am exasperated by their slow response. Yet, I am never so exasperated I would turn them away. No matter how frustrating I find them, they will always have a place in our family. The door will always be open to them, though I may stop them at the entry to clean their muddy shoes.
I wonder how often God calls me when I am busy with something else. At those times, does He leave the door open and wait until, driven by need, I am ready to seek Him out?
God, the perfect parent, does not lock the door on His family. He calls them again and again and waits for them to come seeking His perfect plan. Of course that doesn’t mean He doesn’t back off sometimes and let us make our own mistakes. God, like us, must sometimes be a hands-off parent. Even then, His love is unconditional, patient and eternal. What a wonderful thing!
Why would God let bad things happen to innocent people? Crime, traffic accidents, or illness is painful when it affects either ourselves or someone we love. God has the power to intervene. So why doesn’t He use it?
This seeming contradiction in God’s nature becomes less of a mystery when compared to the relationship of human parent and child. As every parent knows, as soon as children are allowed the freedom to explore the world, they begin to get hurt.
Every step they take toward independence involves an element of risk. It begins early, as soon as they begin to walk. The bumps are usually few and minor. As they grow and become more imaginative, the injuries grow more imaginative too. Fingers are pinched in anything with a hinge and teeth are dislodged before their time. Children fall from everything they are able to climb and break anything possible, especially their own anatomy.
I once watched a baby play peek-a-boo beside a coffee table. She was laughing and having a good time. Then a lunge toward the table and a bump on the head ruined the fun. For a moment she stared at the adult in shocked accusation before bursting into tears.
Gathered up in comforting arms, it was still hard for the baby to realize she had done it to herself. She expected the adult to protect her from the natural consequences of her actions. She was too young to understand that by modifying her behavior (staying away from the table) she could have changed the consequence.
No matter how hard we try, we cannot protect them from all danger, yet still give them freedom to grow. The only way to keep them safe would be to lock them in their rooms. And in some cases, that would be most unsafe!
As long as we hold their hands, we know they will never lose their balance. But if they are ever to stronger and wiser, we must give them the chance to balance or fall.
As with God’s children, many of the bad things that happen go with the territory of “growing up.” He could only protect us from all danger by designing us as puppets on strings. Then He could pull the strings and orchestrate all of our actions to ensure our safety.
But we are not puppets. We are His children, made in His image. As children, He desires to guide us. Yet He gives us many of the same freedoms and choices we give our children. We may make wrong decisions and we may disobey. And we will learn from the consequences, just as our children learn.
“He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8 (NIV)
When my youngest was a toddler, she loved to climb, especially on the furniture. And especially on the couch. She’d wait until I turned my back, then climb up and run the length of the cushions.
Consequently, I spent a lot of time lifting her down. I grew weary of explaining, “Don’t stand on the couch. You’re going to fall and hurt yourself.”
One day, I passed the living room and saw her sitting nicely on the couch. Wanting to reinforce her good behavior, I said, “I’m glad to see you sitting. You won’t get hurt when you follow the rules.”
I continued to the kitchen, put away the dish towels, and walked back past the living room. She was now standing up.
“How many times have I told you …” I began.
Seeing she was in trouble, she sat down backwards on the edge of the cushion.
“Watch it,” I cried.
Too late. She fell back with a thud on the living room carpet. As I comforted her, I felt bad she had insisted on learning the reason for my rule the hard way. It wasn’t my desire for her to get hurt. That’s why I had warned her so many times.
If I had been only a few feet closer, I could have caught her. However, I realized that if I caught her every time, she’d never learn the reason I said to sit down on the couch. Some things she had to learn for herself. My rules are for her own good. She is not capable of understanding all my reasons, nor can I always explain why they work the way they do. Trying to explain the law of gravity to a two year old would have been useless. Nonetheless, the consequence of disregarding it turned out to be a bump on the head.
Like our children, we sometimes insist on testing the consequences of God’s rules. Colossians 3:5 admonishes, “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.” (NIV)
The Bible repeatedly states rules for righteous living. Sometimes the effort to be faithful to these Biblical standards may be unpopular. Not engaging in the lifestyles of non-Christian neighbors and friends, and expressing unpopular social and moral views can feel as comfortable as standing up from a fox hole during the heat of battle. Yet, it doesn’t take much more than a casual look at the world to realize the pain invited into lives which ignore these commands.
Jesus did not strive to win a popularity poll. What he did and said was often unpopular. Bet He carried on His work regardless of other’s opinion.
The rules for right living are clearly laid before us. So are the consequences for those who choose to disobey them.
To Grow Strong
“Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go.”
Joshua 1:7 (NIV)
Because coping with new situations leads to growth and spiritual muscle, I sometimes let my children to cope with situations they disliked. Though I am available to encourage and advise them, I try to resist the urge to step in and solve their problems. If I were to do so, they would hide behind me and become weak and timid.
Though God was advisor for the Israelites, He made them fight their own battles. When the Philistines heard that David had been anointed king over Israel, they went in force to search for him. David inquired of the Lord, “Shall I go and attack the Philistines? Will you hand them over to me?” 2 Samuel 5:19 (NIV)
Though God advised David to proceed, and even gave specific directions for the manner of attack, He required David to participate. As in other battles, God went before, not instead of His people. And when His people turned away, ignoring the plans He made on their behalf, He let the consequences teach the lessons.
The ancient Israelites turned from God many times and took on pagan ways. Each time, they suffered the result of their actions. When they repented, they found that, while God does not vengefully inflict pain, the very nature of an ordered universe made by an orderly Creator requires rules.
For every action, there is an equal reaction. Willful disobedience reaps a natural consequence. Like the ancient people, we learn from consequences.
For example, I had a rule that my children must pick up one mess before making another one. One of my daughters hurt her foot on a doll brush that had sat on the floor all day. She had not followed my rule. And she had suffered the consequence. While commiserating with her injury, I asked, “Why didn’t you pick it up? You left it out. Were you waiting for someone else to put it away?”
Likewise, God does not always protect us from the results of our faithlessness and mistakes. Perhaps, as with my daughter, that is the only way to learn respect for the rules of higher authority. Only by consequences can we learn what happens when we disobey.
Scrapes and Scratches
2 Corinthians 1:3-4 “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” (NIV)
Though we don’t want our children to get hurt, it is sometimes the only road to new growth and accomplishments. I realized this when my second daughter first climbed onto a bike.
She was so terrified of falling she insisted someone hold on or she would not ride. After the millionth trip around the block, I told her, “You have the balance and coordination to ride by yourself. You’re going to have to give it a try.”
She frowned. “You don’t care if I hurt myself.”
“Of course I care. But I know you are well prepared. If you’re not willing to chance a fall, you’ll never know the fun of riding by yourself.”
I was willing to let her take this risk because of the joy I knew her accomplishment would bring her. (I was also tired of running along beside her.)
During the next few days, she had a fall or two. She also learned to ride her bike by herself. She found the fun of riding far outweighed the scraped knees and elbows.
Likewise, God could hold us tightly and protect us from all falls. Yet this protection would deny us the chance to fulfill our potential. With no sense of accomplishment, we would be no more than pampered house plants.
God prepares us for our battles and He walks along beside us. Still, He does expect us to come along. Sometimes there are bumps and set-backs along the path. God allows us to experience these trials on our road to accomplishment.
How does He feel when we take a “fall”? Does He care when we get hurt? I believe He does.
While my second daughter was learning to ride her bike, my oldest daughter jumped a curb and fell from her bicycle. I knew a certain number of falls were inevitable. That didn’t mean I didn’t relate to her pain. When she came limping over with a skinned knee, I was there to give her a hug.
I was glad she came to me for comfort. It would have hurt me if she had ignored my waiting arms and blamed me for the fall. I want my children to come to me when they are hurt. After all, I don’t cause their accidents! I merely allow them the freedom that allows for the possibility of accidents.
The desire to comfort our children helps us appreciate God’s desire to comfort His children. He does not allow pain or suffering into our lives that will not increase our personal growth. And often, He is no more at fault for the painful occurrences in our lives than we are for those of our children.
We make wrong choices, become a victim of the choices of others, or contract devastating diseases. Still, there is one thing for sure. No matter why we are in pain, God holds out His arms, longing to comfort us just as we want to comfort our children. God is a parent, and these are parental feelings.
Growth or Blame
“In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright, he feared God and shunned evil.” Job 1:1 (NIV)
Some hurts can be healed by repenting from sin and changing our behavior. But what about the consequences of events not under our control? It takes a mature Christian to understand that hurtful events can cause us to grow. The perspective to make the choice depends on the maturity of the Christian.
An example of such a Christian comes immediately to mind. Several years ago, I was privileged to belong to the church of a well-loved and dedicated minister. He had served our church for over fifteen years when a tragedy shook his life.
One Sunday morning, Dr. Jones did not open the service as usual. Instead, one of his associates announced, “Dr. Jones can’t be with us today. His wife, Ellen, suffered a massive heart attack. He’s with her at the hospital. I know he would appreciate our prayers.”
We prayed for two years while she lay in a coma. Dr. Jones came back to the pulpit to preach. He spoke of Ellen occasionally, always with prayerful hope for her recovery.
Despite everyone’s prayers and hopes, she never regained consciousness. In the second year, she developed complications and died.
“I’m sorry I didn’t get to tell her, one more time, how much I love her before she died,” Dr. Jones confided. After thirty years of marriage he missed her terribly.
Dr. Jones could have been bitter. After all, didn’t a long-serving servant of God deserve better than that?
Instead of becoming bitter, Dr. Jones became stronger. He immersed himself in the needs of his church and community. After he retired, he stayed active as a public speaker, sharing his love of God with many groups.
Because he did not allow his pain to turn him from God, this man was able to inspire countless people to hold onto faith in the midst of tragedy. He became a living example of the peace of God’s comfort and God’s ability to lead through the valley of the shadow of death.
If we hold on and trust, we can be like Job, whom “the Lord made prosperous again and gave him twice as much as he had before.” Job 42:10b (NIV)
All God’s Children
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)
Another opportunity for growth comes in the unlikely form of rejection. Though kids can often be cruel to one another, our children can learn that God, like their parent, is a good source of support. It is to that support, which possesses their best interests at heart that they should turn.
On the playground one day, my daughter watched a group of children playing. Knowing she wanted to join in, I said, “Why don’t you ask if you can play?”
She glanced at one of the girls. “That’s Susan. She doesn’t like me. She never lets me play.”
I pointed out another little girl. “Isn’t that Heather? Why don’t you ask her to play?”
Children concoct many rules regarding who is accepted, who may play and who may not. They may leave each other out of games and purposefully hurt each others’ feelings.
“Give it a try. What do you have to lose?” I asked.
She wandered over to where Heather was playing. I couldn’t hear what she said, but after a moment, they began to play. My daughter learned an important lesson. While a parent’s love can remain constant and secure, that of her peers will not. Some of them will like and accept her, some will not.
Years ago, in my kindergarten classroom, some of the children that I thought were nicest were the ones spurned by others. One little girl is particularly memorable.
Amy was a pretty child, but her soft brown eyes betrayed her shyness. Perhaps that was why she seemed to have no friends. While the other children chattered and invented games on the playground, Amy wondered along the fence alone. She made no effort to join the other children and they never sought her out. Each day, I encouraged Amy to join the games, but she only stared down at her scuffed little shoes.
One day after their work time, the children were at their play centers. As usual, Amy played alone, taking out puzzles and other solitary toys.
I circulated the room observing the children. Suddenly I realized that Amy had company at the puzzle table. Philip sat close, chatting to her in Spanish as he worked a puzzle. I edged closer, hoping that Amy was taking an interest in her friend. To my dismay, Amy burst into tears.
I rushed over. “What’s wrong?”
Amy continued to cry and gave no answer.
“What happened, Philip?” I asked.
He squirmed uncomfortably, and looked down. “I don’t know,” he said.
I wanted to get in touch with Amy’s mother, but Amy rode the bus to school and I knew there was no telephone in her home. I guessed I would never know what had made her cry.
The next day, Amy came to school with a note pinned to her dress. “Amy tells me that Philip made fun of her clothes yesterday. She cried and did not want to go to school today.”
I saw so many good qualities in Amy. How could Philip be so cruel? The story had a happy ending when Amy was paired with a learning partner who was an outgoing child with many friends. She and Amy became good friends and played together in the play centers with the other children
This experience made me realize that, though Amy had been rejected by the children, it had not influenced the way I felt about her. My desire had been to build her up and help her see herself as the capable and confident child that I knew she could become.
Though the desire for approval is not always a bad thing, if we base our self esteem solely on the opinions of others, we’ll ride an emotional roller coaster. Sometimes we are loved, sometimes rejected.
Unlike our peers, God seeks always to lift us up and help us build confidence in our gifts and abilities. He possesses none of the jealousy and self-service that clouds our human relationships.
Sometimes a misunderstanding of God’s nature keeps up from embracing His comfort. When we have been rejected by others, we may feel unworthy of any love. Like a child we may sit miserably alone and cry. However, if this were our child, we would know majority rule does not apply to our feelings for that child. No matter what opinion one child holds of another, we love each of them. The rejected among peers does not become the rejected of the parent. The same is true of God. The opinion of men is of small importance in God’s eyes, for was not Jesus despised and rejected by men? God’s acceptance of His children does not depend on the approval of men, but rather, the acceptance of His grace.
When we are secure in this grace, it is easier to hold onto our self-worth, even amidst a storm of rejection or criticism. It’s nice to know, that, like our love for our children, God’s love of us does not depend upon how acceptable we are to other people.
(God’s) “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trust, always hopes, always perseveres.” 1 Corinthians 1:4-7 (NIV)
Such is the love of God.
“They will neither hunger nor thirst, nor will the desert heat or the sun beat upon them. He who has compassion on them will guide them and lead them beside springs of water.” Isaiah 49:10 (NIV)
Another area where there may be growing pain is in facing change. Just when we become comfortable in one stage of life, we have to adjust to another. This is the only way for growth to take place.
When my oldest daughter started kindergarten, she was full of worries.
“What if I do something wrong? What if I don’t know anyone?”
This went on for days, until I was at a loss as to how to reassure her. When the big day arrived, she posed for our “first day” photo, looking small and insecure in the new dress I had made.
The dress gave me an idea.
“Did you know that when you were a baby you wore tiny baby clothes?”
My daughter nodded.
“They fit you then. They were comfortable. But they would not fit you now. You’ve outgrown them and now you have new clothes. Going to school is just like getting bigger clothes.
Your mind has grown and you can learn new things. You would get bored if you stayed home to play or kept going to pre-school. You are ready for a change.”
The changes and challenges God allows in our lives are necessary for growth. Just as a body must grow to reach maturity, so must a soul. We grow or we become stagnant. Though it can be frightening to grow as Christians, God sometimes calls us to leave our past and venture into new experiences. And, like my daughter, whom I knew was mentally and physically ready for school, God knows when we have what it takes to move forward.
This forward motion involves trusting God to lead us where He wants us to go and trust He will go with us. This can be challenging when the benefits are not immediately observable. However, it is just such trust which enables us to view change as constructive.
I faced such a crisis of trust when we had one child and another on the way. Our lack of room in our little house told us something would have to give. My artist husband was tired of painting on one end of the kitchen table and longed for an extra room to use as a studio. I knew he was right. The Lord seemed to be leading us to move on.
However, there was sentimental value attached to our first house. Our oldest child, almost two years old now, had been brought home from the hospital to sleep in the front room.
Besides fond memories, I thought of practical concerns. I dreaded the initial isolation of a new neighborhood. I didn’t want to leave the friends we had made and I hated to take our daughter out of her play group.
Then one day, I took her shopping for shoes. When we reached the store, I said, “Take off your old shoes and try on these new ones.”
Jennifer took a step backwards.
“Come on,” I urged. “Mommy wants to get you new shoes. The ones you have on are too small.”
“I don’t want new shoes.”
I knew my toddler old became attached to things easily, but I’d hoped we could manage new shoes without a struggle.
Kneeling down, I told her, “When you got the shoes you are wearing, you didn’t think you would like them. You cried when I took the outgrown ones away. But you got used to the new ones.
Soon you liked them better. Let’s give these new shoes a try.”
For two days, she cried every time I put the new shoes on her feet. But eventually, she did like them better.
I saw myself reflected in her behavior. I did not want to move because the old house and neighbors had become as cozy and comfortable as old shoes. Yet, we had outgrown our house. It was time to let go. I knew that resisting change because I was attached to the familiar could deprive us of the chance to experience something better. Like my daughter’s attempt to fit her feet into shoes that were too small, I realized my fear of change pointed to a faith that was too small.
Accepting God’s call to let go, I began to pray for the strength to believe our new neighborhood would become as comfortable as the old. I asked Him to bless our move and help us settle in. Soon, we had more friends and more opportunities for our daughter to socialize with other children than we had before. And, we were certainly more comfortable in a larger house.
Accepting God’s leading to “new shoes” was the best thing we could have done. It provided challenges and opportunities we would have missed had we stayed entrenched in our old house.
“For the Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.” Proverbs 2:6 (NIV)
If growing means learning to cope with life and take responsibility for mistakes, it also means knowing when to seek help. When my children were toddlers, they went through a stage of wanting to do everything themselves. Even when the milk they were pouring was spilling all over the floor or they had two feet in the same pant leg, they refused my attempts to help. I have watched a child scream for ten minutes over a puzzle she could not work. Did she welcome my help? No. It was only when she became more mature that she began to ask for help.
“Mom, would you help me reach the juice?” was a question that was music to my ears. Asking for help is often a sign of growth.
Our adult temper tantrums, more dignified as they may be, push God aside, even as He stands ready to help. We are no more capable of our own spiritual care than our toddlers are of their physical care. Like our toddlers, there are times when we need help. To turn our problems over to God in true surrender, is to know peace. This doesn’t mean that we quit trying. It means that we go back to our stumbling block and trust God’s greater experience to teach us what we do not know.
Of course, this is not an easy lesson to remember. Sometimes we learn it in a time of desperation. When I was a young teacher I was assigned to a school with a rather stern principal. She had many years of experience. Consequently, she had very little patience with the mistakes of novice teachers.
During my orientation week, the new teachers were called to the office for a meeting. We were lectured on lesson plans, sick leave and other things that were to be done strictly by the book. At the end of an hour, she took a look at her watch.
“You’re all due at a meeting at Pershing Junior High in twenty-five minutes. You should get there in time if you leave right away. Do you all know where it is?”
We all shook our heads “no”.
With a sigh of exasperation the principal unfolded a map. Pointing, she gave quick directions. She did not know that I had already begun to panic. I have a terrible sense of direction and maps have never made sense to me.
But when she said, “Does everyone understand how to get there?” The other teachers nodded. I didn’t have the nerve to tell her I had been unable to follow her directions.
I swallowed my panic and made my way to the parking lot. I had been so proud of my teaching certificate and so full of confidence I hadn’t prayed much about my new job. But now, like a toddler needing help pouring her apple juice, I needed help finding that school. In desperation, I prayed, “Lord, please help me get there on time.”
I felt sure the principal would never believe me if I became lost and missed the meeting. She would shake her head and say that new teachers always try to get away with this sort of thing.
The thought of this confrontation brought tears to my eyes.
I prayed again, “Lord, I can’t do this alone. Please help me.”
Feeling a sense of calm, my mind cleared. Pershing Junior High was near the area where I lived as a small child. Maybe I could remember some of the streets.
I entered the freeway determined to keep going until I felt led to get off. Finally, I reached a sign that sounded familiar. I exited and praying, “Which way do I go now, Lord?” My inclination was to turn left. I did.
As I followed the long, winding street, I began to wonder if God was still listening. Then I came to a cross street whose name I recognized. Feeling ecstatic, I knew my prayers had been answered. This was the side street to the junior high. I could see the building just ahead. I wouldn’t be getting off to a bad start with the principal before school even began.
I didn’t know how I’d gotten there, but I did know I hadn’t done it alone. As I’ve watched my toddlers spilling milk and crying over difficult puzzles, I’ve realized how God feels about helping me. He was as willing to provide assistance as I am to my children. All I had to do was ask.
“For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way; bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.” Colossians 1:6-12 (NIV)
When my children were babies, it was acceptable for them to make a mess with their food. I didn’t expect them to feel bad for smearing applesauce or spilling their juice. This was simply the best they could do.
However, as they got older I began to expect more of them. When the three year old dumped her pudding upside down, my reaction was different than when the six month old did the same thing. My standards of behavior varied with the maturity of the child. I expected the older child to be sorry (the first step toward forgiveness) for actions that I tolerated from the baby.
On the other hand, I trusted the older ones with more tasks and privileges than I could allow the baby. Though I gave myself only to the physical care of my children when they were young, I found I could share my dreams and aspirations with them as they grew older. Our communication was on a deeper and more mature level.
Just as we expect more of our children as they grow and mature, it makes sense that God expects His children to achieve higher standards of wisdom and behavior as they grow in faith and in the knowledge and understanding of God. Some of the outward signs of spiritual growth are patience, endurance and thanksgiving. Though, they do not usually come without a struggle, and a daily diet of Bible reading and prayer, like all growing pains, the blessings they produce are worth the effort.
A Willing Heart
“Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 2 Corinthians 9:7 (NIV)
When my children were young, the church we attended had a large children’s department. There were never enough parents who volunteered to help in the nursery to fill the need each Sunday.
Though we took our turn each quarter, we were sometimes called upon to take an extra Sunday. Since we already taught our middle daughter’s Sunday school class, I was sometimes less than enthusiastic about being asked to do more.
“Where are all the parents who never take a turn at anything?” I grumbled.
Since the need was there to be filled, I grudgingly obliged. I did not think of it as a help to God, but rather, as an obligation. My attitude remained unchanged until I saw myself reflected by my two older daughters.
Every time they played together they created chaos. The room became a shambles of crayons, books, dolls, and small building toys. When they stopped playing, they could never agree about who made what part of the mess.
“Pick up the colors and put them back in the box,” I said to one daughter.
“She took them out,” came the predictable reply.
“I did not! Besides, she spilled the markers and I’m not going to pick up her mess.”
At this point my temper would rise. Why couldn’t they do this for me, I wondered? It would make my job of running the house so much easier if they picked up cheerfully.
“Let’s just pick up and not worry about who did what,” I answered.
The answering babble of arguments inevitably ended in tears as I barked, “I don’t care who made most of the mess. You pick up the crayons and you pick up the dolls. What does it hurt if one of you does a little more than your part?”
Since this talk usually failed to convince them, I would add, “Sometimes I get tired of my chores. But I do them to take care of you. If you love me, you can show it by helping.”
If I staggered under a load of laundry, I wanted them to offer to help, not out of a sense of guilt, but of love. I wanted them to know the words, “I love you, Mommy,” meant more if backed by loving actions.
When I was tired I wanted them to ask, “How can I help?” After all, it’s a lot easier to believe someone loves you when they care enough to help.
I thought of the times I had been asked to do a little more than my share. I know that if I profess to love God, but never help with His works, my words have little meaning. If I serve in an unwilling spirit, it must be as displeasing as not serving at all. Just as a cheerful clean-up from my daughters was a pleasure to me, a willing heart is a joy to God.
In the Hands of the Potter
“There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working but the same God works all of them in all men.” 1 Corinthians 12:4-6
Besides doing their regular chores with a cheerful heart, I wanted my children to do the other chores that I asked them to do. One day, I told my daughter, Kimberly, “Pick up the floor of your closet before lunch today. We need to put away your clean clothes and, right now, we can’t even step inside.”
An hour later, I came in to find Kimberly sitting on the floor with her dolls. Thinking she had finished cleaning the closet, I looked inside. I wished I hadn’t.
“Kimberly, this looks worse than before.” She had emptied all the doll clothes from the small chest in her closet. “I know, Mommy, but I dressed all the dolls pretty so they would look good on the shelf.”
Sure enough, the doll shelf was carefully arranged with neatly dressed dolls.
I appreciated her effort, but I wished she would have done the job I asked her to do. It wasn’t as much fun as dressing her dolls, but it needed doing. Now, she would have little energy left to complete the closet-cleaning task.
I began to wonder how often I insisted on performing one task when God had another in mind. I cried, “Use me, Lord,” and looked for important jobs to do…great humanitarian efforts.
After my experiences with my children, I’ve slowly realized that God has a need for the small jobs. Perhaps, it is taking a meal to a sick friend or offering a sympathetic shoulder when someone needs to talk. Whatever it may be, if I am willing to be humble, I won’t be dressing dolls when He is asking me to clean the closet!
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 (NIV)
God’s priorities are sometimes different than our own. Romans 10:4, (RSV) states: “For Christ is the end of the law, that everyone who has faith may be justified.” Jesus always put the needs of people above what society expected Him to do. He was willing to heal on the Sabbath and He often set aside His schedule for the benefit of someone in need.
Such flexibility with schedules can be a difficult example to follow. One particularly busy day when I had planned many things to do, my youngest daughter came down with the flu. When she was sick she wanted to be held. In frustration, I abandoned all the chores I thought I would get done and held the feverish child on my lap. I soothed her gently, but inside, I battled frustration.
“No wonder I never get anything done. Something always comes up to stop me,” I mumbled to myself.
Since I had plenty of time to sit and think, I began to feel that Jesus would feel differently about holding a sick child. Perhaps in His eyes, comforting a baby was more important than the projects I had to postpone.
In a busy and abrasive world, it is easy to forget what is really important. But Jesus never put His own needs to accomplish things above the needs of people. His priority was a life of love and service. By His example, He valued loving behavior above “getting a lot done”.
Since God’s priorities are not always the same as our own, it would be helpful to have a guide to tell us how to daily live as obedient children. In my home, I gave my children a chart that listed the jobs I wanted them to do for our family. The behavior and attitudes they displayed helped them to mature.
No job is unimportant. When they set the table on time, dinner was not late. When they weeded the strawberry patch and picked the berries, we enjoyed the fruit in desserts. Like parts of a body, it takes all of us working together to make the family run smoothly.
So it is with the larger family. God provides His children a practical guide to develop behaviors and priorities in keeping with His will. After seeing how helpful the written chart was to my children, I see why God has provided His written word. By reading the Bible, we learn what behaviors are pleasing to God and what “chores” He considers important. Just as my children referred to their chart to see what was expected of them, the Christian can refer to God’s word. There, He has it all laid out. Concisely written, are the rules and attitudes whose application lead to a fruitful life.
Attitudes that are pleasing to God are spelled out in scripture. “For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and my please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.” Colossians 1:9-12 (NIV)
Learning to Talk
“What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him?” Deuteronomy 3:7 (NIV)
The notes I tucked in my children’s lunches, encouraged a closeness that inspired day to day dialogue. Reading my notes let them know that I cared about the concerns and joys that filled their days. When they got home, we found some quiet time to talk.
God’s written word, full of promises for guidance and comfort, invites us to commune with him. But why do we need dialog with God? After all, He already knows our needs and thoughts. Psalm 94:11 tells us, “the Lord, knows the thoughts of man,..” (RSV) So, why pray?
I wondered about this until I brought a newborn home from the hospital. We had hardly settled in when I began to wish she could understand my explanations of this strange new world. As I paced the floor at two in the morning, trying to comfort her she stomach ache, I could not make her understand that she would soon grow out of this stage.
Each assurance was met with a new round of wails. I looked forward to the time when she could communicate her needs in words so that I might comfort her or explain confusing experiences in the world in which she now lived. I knew this would not be possible until she matured enough to send verbal messages.
As the months passed, my daughter developed the desire to talk. It took effort on her part and lots of practice. We worked at it together. My response to her efforts encouraged her attempts. As time passed, her ability improved. By the time she was two years old, she was able to express her thoughts and feelings. Finding I would listen and respond helped us develop a close relationship. So it has continued. The time I spent listening and talking with each of my children, increased our closeness and understanding.
Though God knows the needs of His children, communication is necessary to develop a close relationship. Like an infant, we must first desire to speak to the Parent. Then comes the effort.
Through practice, we move beyond the infant stage, growing spiritually as we communicate with the One who has greater knowledge and skills. It is as essential to spiritual growth as a child’s learning to speak. For it is not for the benefit of the parent that the child learns to speak, but rather that of the child. Like the child, we learn by communicating with the Parent.
“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” Psalm 19:1
Before being drawn to a life of prayer, there must be belief that God exists and cares for us. That requires the belief that He is close by and ready to listen. Yet, how can we believe in a God that we cannot see? How do we know He stands ready to hear our prayers? We know because the Bible points out the obvious physical proof of God’s existence. From the miracle of our ordered universe to the ordered workings of the human body, we see evidence of a loving creator. A sun that gives warmth and rain that waters rich earth that grows our food offer proof of that Provider. For what human among us could produce such wonders? Who could provide so perfectly for our needs?
As parents we are sometimes examples of a caring, yet unseen provider. My children were aware of my presence by the things I did for them, even when they could not see me. When they came in for lunch they found the table set and food on the table even though I might be out of the room. They knew I was home even though they could not see me.
When they saw the cord of the vacuum cleaner trailing down the hall, they knew I was cleaning the bedroom carpet. The evidence they could see and hear told them I did not cease to exist when they couldn’t see me.
Similarly, it is not a far jump in logic to assume that the evidence of our Maker resides in the beauty of His world. We no more formed the world than my children put their own sandwiches on the table. Each act required a maker. Unseen, perhaps, yet still in existence.
Works of Love
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” Genesis 1:1 (NIV)
On the sixth day, God created man and gave him dominion over “all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” Gen 1:26 (RSV) In the physical world around us, we see evidence of God’s loving providence.
When our family took a trip across several states, I was impressed by the variety of scenery. We passed grasslands and rolling horse ranches. There were grazing lands dotted with cows and fields full of corn.
I began to realize how God’s careful planning allows the earth to meet our needs. The sun gives light and warmth by day, and then sets to give us time for rest. Crops are possible because there are yearly seasons to plant, grow and harvest.
As I thought about God’s nurturance, I understood how it resembled the tangible ways our children experience our love. We wash their clothes and make their meals because we love them. We derive satisfaction from meeting needs that give them confidence in their parents’ care.
Likewise the alternation of day and night and the seasons of the year give us confidence in God’s care because we are God’s children. “See what the Father has given us that we should be called the children of God;” 1 John 3:1 (RSV)
As I thought about God’s nurturance, I understood His desire to replace our anxiety with security. Sometimes, the surety of God’s desire to meet our needs can be found in answered prayers. Early in my marriage, I had an experience which convinced me, not only of God’s existence, but of His interest in individual lives.
In the summer of l979, my husband was in his final year of graduate study. Though graduate students often have to struggle to remain financially afloat, we were getting along within our budget. Our income included not only my husband’s small stipend, but also my salary as a kindergarten teacher. By rarely indulging in such luxuries such as movies and take-out food, we had even managed to save a little bit.
Despite our frugality, I eventually found that handling our money could be a real challenge. I was expecting our first baby in late September. We decided I would quit working in order to assure her of the care we both desired.
Though we had planned financially for her birth, we had very little insurance coverage. To save money we planned for me to come home twenty-four hours after the baby was born and we would try not to use the services of an anesthesiologist.
My husband was a budding free-lance artist and had just found a gallery which had agreed to carry his work. It was no sure source of income and we knew that we would have to live on less money now that I would draw no salary. But with our savings and his stipend we hoped to make it until spring graduation.
The summer was long and hot. I worried constantly about our future. Then on September 17, I went into labor, two and a half weeks early.
The labor was uncomplicated but long. After twenty hours we decided the forceps delivery the doctor suggested would be best. Despite our desire to save money, we had to call in an anesthesiologist. Soon after, we had a beautiful baby girl, small, but perfect in every way.
We had to dip into our savings more and more that fall. There were vitamins and diapers to buy and monthly doctor visits which had to be paid for at each appointment. Then the hospital bill arrived. We had two extra hospital days to pay for and services that included the anesthesiologist. We scrimped our savings together and paid the hospital bill, but there was not much left.
It was November and I was beginning to panic. “How will I pay the house note, buy groceries and handle all the other expenses with only the small stipend we get each month? Winter’s coming and we’ll have heating bills. What are we going to do,” I asked myself every day.
Fortunately we were having a long mild fall, but when the cold hit, the baby would have to be kept warm.
I felt increasingly frazzled. Every time I went to the grocery store there was less money to buy food. We had Thanksgiving dinner with relatives and I was grateful not to have to buy groceries for the meal.
Money continued to be tight. Even if it had occurred to us to try and borrow a small sum, it would have been difficult because we had no credit. There seemed to be no solutions.
On a beautiful balmy day in that last week of November I sank into the rocking chair with the baby on my shoulder. I felt depressed. I had thought we knew God’s will for us and were trying to follow His plan. But now it seemed that we were in a real mess.
I had prayed off and on about our problem for weeks, but never like I prayed in that rocking chair. I rocked the sleeping baby and prayed until I felt a sense of peace. I had finally turned the problem over to God. But was He listening?
The next morning, the phone rang and my husband answered. I heard the excitement in his voice. He hung up elated. “The gallery sold three paintings. The money will last us into spring.”
Selling one painting would have been helpful, but three at once was terrific. It couldn’t have come at a better time. Not only had God been listening, He responded just when the time was right. Knowing we had a real need, God acted to take care of us. I learned how alike His desire to care for us as was that of our desire to care for our child.
Convinced of God’s existence, I’ve continued to ask God to provide for our needs, both large and small. There are times I do not get what I request. Instead of doubting whether God is still listening, I remind myself there were reasons I did not always grant my children’s requests.
When We Don’t Like the Answer
Each year, when birthdays drew near, my children gave me a list of suggestions. I knew whichever toy was most popular would be at the top of the list. When I went shopping I kept their lists in mind. However, they did not get everything they wanted. I bought what I thought was appropriate because I learned that many things held only momentary interest and were soon put aside.
One year my oldest daughter told me, “I want to collect the characters and castle that go with the show I watch. Please, Mama, I only need the queen and prince and castle. Can I please have the castle this birthday?”
“The castle is expensive and I’m not sure you’ll like it as much as you think,” I said.
“Oh, I will. I’ll play with it all the time,” she assured me.
She got the two dolls and the castle. At first, it was great. Then the newness wore off. After several weeks it sat, collecting dust in the corner. A year later, it was abandoned for cash during my garage sale. (She kept the money.)
God, too, knows when our requests are not appropriate. At those times, He listens, but the answer is “no.” Or, sometimes, the answer is “not now.”
The “not now” answer is easier to accept when seen in the context of our growing children. Sometimes, what children want is fine but asked for at the wrong time. The baby may think she wants a bicycle like her big sisters, but she is not yet ready to ride it. As parents, it is up to us to decide which things they should receive and when they should receive them.
So it is with God. It doesn’t mean He is not listening when He does not grant our desires. If we do not receive what we ask for, it may mean we have asked at the wrong time, or that it is not the right thing at all.
And being the parent, God knows best.
“Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons.” Hebrews 12:7 (NIV)
One Christmas, we bought the older girls matching dolls. After hard wear, one of the dolls lost a leg.
“Can you fix it, Daddy?” asked Tiffany. Her blue eyes were full of trust.
My husband tried gluing it back on, but the glue would not hold. He had the hard job of telling her that daddies could not fix everything.
“It’s not fair,” she cried. “My doll broke and Jennifer’s didn’t.”
“We’ll get you a new one for your birthday,” we told her.
“I don’t want a new one. It wouldn’t be the same as this one,” she said.
Tiffany learned the hard lesson that some things can’t be fixed. Sometimes, she would have to accept loss. To save her from ever experiencing this pain, I could have deprived her of all possessions. Yet, I doubt life in a bare room would have made her very happy. Instead, I chose to let her enjoy her toys as long as they lasted.
I knew how she felt. Our idea of fairness may be having things turn out the way we desire. When my mother was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, I prayed desperately for her healing. Instead, she grew worse. Why didn’t God heal her? Why didn’t He fix things the way I desperately wanted them to be?
She was only fifty, quite young to be stricken with this illness. It wasn’t fair.
I felt cheated by life. When my children were born, I was filled with self-pity. My friends’ mother’s came to provide loving support when their babies were born. My mother didn’t even recognize her youngest grandchildren. As I prayed for a break-through in treatment or a miracle cure, I thought of God as a sort of genie in the sky. He had the power to grant my wish. So why didn’t He do it?
The answer came several years later as I watched Tiffany carefully arrange her collection of ceramic Easter eggs. She had gotten over her broken doll and now collected figurines and ceramic eggs. Now that she was older, her most valued possessions were also the most breakable. She treated them carefully. Would she do so, I wondered, if she knew anything broken could be fixed good as new? Would she appreciate them as much? Probably not. From their broken toys, my children have learned to be more careful with their possessions.
The truth is, God allows us to lose that which we love. The experience has the ability to cause us to grow and appreciate our blessings. If there was never a chance of losing loved ones, we would not cherish them as much. If we all lived forever without ever a loss or hardship, we would not respect the gift of life. The gift of love is heightened by the possibility of loss.
Of course that doesn’t mean that good parents don’t suffer along with their children. Though I didn’t break Tiffany’s doll, or choose for it to be broken, I hurt for my daughter when it broke. Sharing her emotion, I was sad because she was sad.
And like any good parent, I believe God hurts when we hurt. And I am sure that, Jesus, who wept at Lazarus’ tomb, shares our pain when we lose a loved one.
Who’s to Blame?
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” Matthew 5:9 (NIV)
Though our difficulties are sometimes no one’s “fault”, it is human nature to want to fix blame. When we aren’t blaming God for our troubles, it’s tempting to blame each other. Once, I was in the bedroom making the bed when I heard the sounds of giggling and running in the living room. Noise was such a normal part of my household that I automatically tuned it out. However, the sudden thud and the absolute silence that followed filled me with dread. What now? I wondered.
Tossing the bedspread across the bed I hurried to the living room. There, I saw two guilty faces. On the floor, an upturned flower pot spilled black dirt on the beige carpet.
“It wasn’t me!” piped two voices at once. “It was her.”
Two small fingers pointed to each other.
“It was both of you,” I said firmly. “Now you help each other clean it up.”
As I watched the girls put the dirt back in the pot, I realized, had I not stopped them, they would have argued for hours over who was at fault. If I had told one of them to pick up alone, she would have insisted it was not fair. But having them work together took away the blame and they worked companionably to clean up the mess.
It was so like children. Each one has to be right, I thought. But it’s a lot like adults also. At least it’s like this adult. At supper, my oldest spilled her milk. At least one child spilled a drink at every meal! As I wiped the mess from the floor, I fussed at her to be more careful.
“You set it too close to the edge of the table,” she countered, hurt by my irritation.
“You spilled it because you weren’t paying attention,” I insisted, getting in the last word.
Like the children, I argued over who was to blame. My energy would have been better spent thinking of a solution to the problem. Instead, I had wanted instead to escape unfair blame.
That night, as I thought about the temptation to blame, I remembered the words of Proverbs l9:11. “Good sense makes a man slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.” (RSV)
God calls us to move beyond self-righteous indignation and consider His will in solving our problems. Things are not always fair, but becoming a peacemaker is more important than determining who is wrong.
“Vengeance is mine,” says the Lord.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” 1 Corinthians 4-5 (NIV)
Overlooking an offense usually goes against our idea of fairness. My daughter, Jennifer, came home from kindergarten one day with her feelings wounded. She had been disciplined for something she felt was not her fault.
“Susan was tickling me and I grabbed her hands. Then a teacher I didn’t know yelled at me,” she said.
“Honey, this teacher didn’t know that you try not to misbehave. “Don’t’ worry about it,” I coaxed.
But my daughter would not accept my reasoning. She barraged me with heated demands.
“I want you to go to school and yell at her. Tell her she’s a bad teacher.”
Resentment shone in her eyes.
“You want me to yell at her because she made you feel bad?”I questioned.
“Yes. It wasn’t fair. I hope she gets fired,” she said.
Revenge. My daughter wanted revenge.
There are times when I feel the same way. When cut off in traffic, I think the person probably breaks laws every day. I hope a policeman gives them a ticket.
When someone pushes ahead in line, I feel my blood pressure rising. After all, I’m in a hurry too. Maybe I should tell them off.
Yet Jesus moved beyond fairness to a compassion for those who wronged him. I am finding that, like my daughter’s experience, the injustice I suffer is rarely as serious as my reaction.
Another reason life may seem unfair is that we expect God to deal us an even hand. What He does for one, He should do for another. Why should my neighbor have a better car, job, etc. than I do?
Certainly children feel the same way. What we do for one child, we must do for another. They have a hard time accepting different treatment for different needs.
Once when my oldest was three years old, she threatened not to eat unless I fed her.
“You feed Tiffany. I want you to feed me,” she said.
“But you can feed yourself. When the baby is older, I won’t feed her either.”
“It’s not fair. You love her better than me.”
Why could she only see the things I did not do for her? She never seemed to remember the books I read to her or the privileges she was old enough to enjoy. Couldn’t she trust me to do the things for her that she really needed? I didn’t treat my children alike simply because they had different needs.
Do you ever suspect God of favoritism? Does it seem like some people lead a charmed life while you have to struggle? It’s hard to remember that if God does not “feed you” as he “feeds” another it may be because you do not need it. God judges our unique needs and responds accordingly.
Though our needs may vary, it is important to know we are equally valued and loved. When my older daughters were small they sometimes sought reassurance with questions such as, “Whose pictures do you like better, mine or Tiffany’s?” or “Who do you think is prettier, me or Jennifer?”
“I think you are both beautiful and I love both of you,” I answered. I wanted them to learn there was a special place in our family for each of them to fill.
And yet, no matter how careful I was in words and actions, one of the girls often felt slighted. Then I heard, “It’s not fair. You love her better than me.” Trying to justify myself was a waste of time, so I gave them an example.
“I like peppermint ice cream and I like strawberry shortcake,” I said. “They are very different desserts, but I like them both. In fact, I don’t think I could ever decide which I like better. That’s the way it is with you. You are very different people and I like you for different reasons. But I don’t like either one of you better than the other.”
There are times when I have put God in the position of proving His love according to my idea of fairness. But as a parent, I know parents do what is best for each child without confusing it with what is best for another. It is not favoritism, but individual treatment.
Tell Me Why
“…but I gave them this command: Obey my, and I will be your God and you will be my people. Walk in all the ways I command you that it may go well with you.” Jeremiah 7:23-24 (NIV)
Children may think we are unfair when they don’t understand the reason for our rules, especially when we ask them to do things they don’t want to do.
One day, Tiffany played with tiny building blocks in the middle of the living room. Then she left to play in her room. Discovering the blocks I said, “Please pick up the blocks before the baby eats them.”
“But I’m still playing with them,” she said. She was too young to understand the danger of having her younger sister choke on a block.
“Pick them up anyway,” I replied. “Now.”
On my next trip through the room, I saw the baby grinning at me with colored plastic teeth. I removed her newfound food and confronted Tiffany.
“I told you to pick these up. When you don’t pick up the small toys the baby puts them in her mouth…”
I was interrupted in my tirade when my oldest daughter came sobbing into the room.
“I bumped my head on the table doing a cartwheel,” she said.
“How many times have I told you not to do cartwheels in the house? When will you two learn to obey our rules?”
They broke rules because they didn’t understand that rules are meant for their good and the good of others, even when they didn’t understand the “why?”. As God’s children we do the same thing. Consequences, from major world problems to personal crises can be traced to a disregard for God’s word. War and crime, marriages broken by adultery, and lives ruined by jealousy or greed, are all results of not heeding God’s word. His teachings are meant to guide us into a better life and save us from the consequences of our mistakes.
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And the second is like it, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” Mt. 22:37-39 (RSV)
Such rules are a safety net placed beneath us for our own benefit. Like our children who do not always understand the reason for our rules, we must trust His greater knowledge as we hope our children will trust ours.
For Our Own Good
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;” Proverbs 3:5 (NIV)
When we must deny our children’s wants, it is sometimes hard for them to believe it is for their own good. It is hard for us to say, “No”, and face their disappointment.
One Christmas, Jennifer was invited to a caroling party.
The day of the party she still had a cold and a slight sore throat.
“Can I still go just for a little while?” she asked.
“No. It’s cold out and you’re still sick. It wouldn’t be good for you,” I said. It was hard to say “no” and see the tears in her eyes.
I can imagine that it hurts God to deny His children something they want very much, even though it is for their own good. But He holds His ground because every loving parent wants to do what is best for his children. And the judgment of the parent is better than that of the child.
When Tiffany was two years old, she pointed at a bottle in the cleaning closet and said, “Dink,” I was horrified. She was pointing to a bottle of bleach.
“No,” I said emphatically. “That is not a drink. It would hurt you.”
I knew by the uncomprehending look on her face that I had made no impression. She was simply too young to know how much it would hurt her. So, I locked it away.
It seemed I was always worrying about her getting into things that would hurt her, always saying “no.” This same daughter threw a temper tantrum when I would not let her jump into the swimming pool with her sister. She couldn’t swim. But she did not understand the consequences of jumping into water that was over her head.
We have times when we feel we know better than God what should be done. If He would just listen, everything would be all right.
But God is not a genie, granting wishes whether they are good or not. As a loving parent He must sometimes withhold what is harmful, even when we do not see the harm. Looking back, we may find what we desperately wanted was not right at all.
Whether we were asking to jump in over our heads or asking for something that would hurt us, God’s judgment is better than our own, just as our judgment is better than that of our children.
The Call to Excellence
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord you are serving.” Colossians 3:23-24 (NIV)
My daughter, Jennifer, had a hard time leaning to print neatly. One day, she brought home a paper that was marked down because the teacher could not read the words.
The mark-down made her angry.
“I tried to be neat. I don’t see why it wasn’t good enough,” she complained.
I felt sorry for her. Though she had no problem accepting her less than perfect handwriting, her teacher did. Jennifer thought I was being unfair when I said she was not doing her best and told her, “You’re going to have to practice each night. If you write slowly and carefully, the practice will go quickly. If you hurry through it, you’ll have to do it over.”
When she did her homework, I was tempted to correct the messy letters myself. Instead, I made her do them over until she got them right. I knew she would need legible handwriting all her life. It would be a disservice to let her get by with less than her best.
Eventually her grade went from unsatisfactory to satisfactory. She was proud of herself, as she should have been. She earned the success and became more confident in her ability to succeed through hard work. And she succeeded because we demanded that she live up to what was expected of her.
There are times when we wish God would hand us success. Sometimes it’s hard to put in the effort it takes to be what He expects us to be. Just as we want our children to rise to their full potential, so does God. He does not lower His expectations. It is God who puts a desire in our hearts to know His purpose for our lives. Once we know that purpose, He calls us to pursue it to our best ability. No half-hearted effort will do.
God knows the best that we are capable of giving and will not settle for a short-cut to meet that end. It is not unfair of God to expect our best. After all, as the giver of abilities, He is the best judge of whether we are fully using the gift.
“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” 1 Peter 3:3-4
Becoming a calm nurturing parent, the kind who does not rush around saying, Hurry!” all the time is a worthy goal. In reality, this is not easy to accomplish. The stress of too many demands and too little time can sabotage a valiant effort.
Often, these demands come from the children. While we’re concentrating on lacing one child’s skates, there are two more children at our elbow asking for food, drink, or a ride somewhere. Amidst these simultaneous requests, our calm intentions fade. And how about getting everybody out the door on time on busy mornings?
Since this was one of my major stresses, I decided to try something new as a new school year began. We would plan ahead.
“Put your shoes next to your beds and lay out your clothes for tomorrow,” I told the kids.
Everything began smoothly. They were up on time, dressed and eating breakfast. Then, it was time to walk to the bus stop. We collected backpacks and lunches and headed for the door. Then one of us discovered she was missing a shoe. In a frantic and frustrated search we combed the house.
Finally, my first grader, found it.
“Here, Mommy. Your shoe was under the couch.”
Perhaps children are not the only ones who need help managing time. Adults often race the clock, feeling tension mount as they rush though the day.
Since medical evidence shows that stress contributes to mental and physical illness, surely there exists a cure, inoculation or treatment. Perhaps the key lies in consulting the ultimate physician. The Bible gives no account of Jesus becoming rushed, though His schedule was often interrupted by those who needed his help. With patient compassion He responded to their needs.
How did He do it? Besides the obvious fact that He is God, Jesus knew how to pace himself. He knew when to draw aside to a quiet place.
The importance of pacing is illustrated by the way God has designed the universe. The planets move in predictable rhythm around the sun. The sun rises and sets and the great oceans ebb and flow. Each day, by steady motion, the earth completes its orbit. In these processes, there is neither hurry nor fatigue, only a steady rhythm.
Unfortunately, the order of the universe may seem far removed from daily life, where there are schedules to be kept and errands to run. Much of our rush, however, is simply habit. We rush even when there is no real hurry.
One morning, I planned to finish half a dozen errands. I wanted to be home in the afternoon so that the baby could take a nap.
After a hectic round of stops, the grocery store was last on my list. Pushing exhaustion, I wheeled my cart wearily down the aisle, trying to finish and take my hungry children home for lunch.
Every basket that blocked my path was an obstacle of frustration.
Eventually, we finished and hauled the bags to the car.
As is common among women who shop with young children, I drove home enveloped in fatigue. At last we pulled into the driveway. I planned on keeping up my frantic pace. But, as I drug the groceries into the house, my energy sagged. I felt like a wind up doll that had finally run down and was ready to be carried.
It took me twice as long to unload the groceries as it would have if I had not been so tired. I had not paced myself and had run out of energy. Consequently, I accomplished very little the rest of the day.
I could have avoided this burn-out by finishing the errands after the baby’s nap. Instead, I pressured myself to accomplish things at a rapid pace that should have been spread out.
I began to understand this mistake when I took one of my daughters for a walk. She started with a burst of speed and I soon fell behind. Soon, however, she ran out of stamina and her pace slowed. Halfway through the walk, she begged to be carried.
“You have to learn to pace yourself,” I chastised.
“Don’t use all your energy at the beginning.”
On the way home, I realized by the life of Christ and the planning of the universe, God tells His children the same thing. Pace yourself. There is time for all that must be done. And like the well-planned movement of the planets, all will go better with an even pace and the daily habit of drawing apart to a quiet place.
The Better Portion
“Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods, your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua 24:14-15 (NIV)
As we use our gift of time, it becomes clear that all activities are not equally important. Since we have limited hours in a day, we must constantly prioritize and then live peaceably with that choice.
When the older girls were small, one incident showed me that what I thought was important quickly paled when an emergency came along. In the check-out line of the grocery store, my toddler was rearranging every pack of gum on the rack. Seeing her mischief, her older sister began pulling her away amidst shrieks of protest.
Embarrassed, I wanted to get out of the store as soon as possible. Accepting the receipt, I hurried for the door. The girls ran ahead. Forgetting the scene they had created, they stomped onto the automatic door mat, enjoying the power to make the door open.
Though their mood had improved, mine had not. I was tired from herding them through the store and dreaded our arrival home. It was lunch time and I knew they would ask to eat as soon as we stepped in the door. Unfortunately, I had a car load of groceries to put away.
They lagged behind as we crossed into the parking lot. Couldn’t they walk faster? It was frustrating to stop every few steps and wait for their short legs to catch up.
I was opening my mouth to tell them to hurry when I saw two elderly women sprawled on the pavement. Obviously in pain, one of them was trying to get to her feet. No one else had seen them.
“Could you help me?” she called.
I had not planned to let anyone or anything delay my schedule further. After all, I was in a hurry. But seeing these two women changed my mind.
Taking the children along, I went over. I was able to help the more agile woman to her feet.
“Would you help me with Mattie?” she asked.
Mattie had stopped trying to rise. But she took my hand as I reached down. Her friend took her other arm and we began to pull.
“Stop,” she moaned, “I’m going to faint.
I shook my head. “I don’t think we should move her.”
“I better call an ambulance,” said Mattie’s friend.
People began to gather as I knelt on the pavement cradling Mattie’s head on my lap. The pavement was hard and Mattie was cold. One woman hurried off to bring a blanket from her car.
While we waited for the blanket, concerned bystanders loaned their coats. There wasn’t much we could do, but lend our time to comfort this woman until the ambulance arrived. By now, we were all numb with cold. My youngest had begun to whine, so a woman offered to take my place so I could take the children home.
Only a few minutes before, I had been in such a hurry. Now I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to stay until the ambulance came. But the children were cold. Reluctantly, I turned over my post and gathered my children and groceries.
Just as we got in the car, I saw the lights of the ambulance flashing along the street. Now that I knew Mattie would be cared for, I felt we could go.
Like me, others who stopped may have thought they were in a hurry. Perhaps they learned as I did that if our schedules can be so quickly put aside, maybe they aren’t as important as we think.
The Priority Diet
“But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:41-42 (RSV)
Occasionally, when I realize we are eating too many junk foods, I put my family on a diet. We try to cut out some of the empty calories and eat foods which are more nutritious. Not only is it healthier, we cut expenses at the grocery store.
Even as a change in eating can be good for a body, there are areas of life which may profit from a diet. A too busy schedule does not allow for the pacing and quiet time which is essential for healthy spiritual life.
Even worthwhile activities can make life so full that we become “obese” with activity and deficient in spiritual content. Quiet time is a chance to “digest” God’s word and listen to His voice.
A balanced diet of time requires that we prioritize. When we don’t have time to complete all the chores and still spend time with our children, it is the chores that should wait.
Children grow up quickly and our chance to play is gone forever. Viewed in this relentless march, we are more likely to appreciate, and less likely to take for granted their precious time of childhood.
The importance of this prioritizing is evident when we ask God why, in His wisdom, He has given us limited days on earth. When I become a parent, I found when I wanted my children to get something done, I gave them only a specified amount of time. We often struggled to streamline bedtime routines. The children needed a proper amount of rest and their parents needed a break from parenting. But invariably, our preparations ran far over the time I set.
One night, I announced, “I’ll read a story to anyone who is ready for bed by eight o’clock. At eight o’clock, I had all my attentive listeners. Setting a time limit made a difference in what they accomplished.
This discovery opened endless possibilities. I found that settling time limits for my children kept them from dawdling. When the older girls’ room became an unbearable mess, I gave them a time warning.
“You have just time to clean up before lunch. I’ll put your food on the table and you may come eat when your room is clean.”
When they were hungry, it was amazing how fast they could pick up. If I had not given them a time limit, and incentive, I would have nagged them all day to clean up and very little would have been done.
Our use of deadlines helps us understand why God has limited our time. What would give us the incentive to produce fruit in our spiritual lives if our days were unnumbered? If we thought we had eternal time on earth, there would be no hurry to heed God’s call. With no time limit in which to do it, ultimately, we might accomplish little of use. Like human parents, God’s time limit spurs us on.
Living in the Present
“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.” Matthew 6:34a (RSV)
Time is a gift from God. He wishes us to surrender it to His care, not allowing it to rule over us. This was Jesus’ example of pacing and flexibility. It is a blessing to live each moment as Jesus did, with the understanding that it will never be repeated.
Children are always looking ahead to some future point in time.
“I can’t wait until my birthday,” says one child.
“I can’t wait until Christmas,” says another.
When my children were in pre-school, they could not wait to grow up enough to start kindergarten. They did not understand that time goes fast and some things are lost forever. I wanted them to enjoy each day and the small events that comprised them.
Like our children, we may find ourselves always thinking ahead while God, Our Parent, wants us to live in the present. We may sit down to play with our children only to find our mind is not on the game. I was tempted to let my thoughts wander to what I would make for supper. Or perhaps I felt I should be in the kitchen mopping a dirty floor. Instead of enjoying the moment, we are tempted to think of something else we think we should be doing. The hands of our watches are relentless masters reminding us of all the things we have not done. But if we can master the art of enjoying the present, we will look back to see that we have enjoyed life as a whole.
The Small Blessings
“Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” 1 Timothy 17 (NIV)
To enjoy life, we must take time to appreciate small blessings that come along each day. It is easy to get so set on our goals that we miss the beauty along the way. When my husband and I took the children to see their grandparents, I told them, “It’s a long way. Take some things to do.”
I prepared them for the two hour drive as though we were going across country. We loaded crayons, books and lots of paper into the car. Everyone took their favorite toy.
“Surely all of this will keep them busy,” I thought.
We got on the highway and I noted the lovely wildflowers that were in bloom along the road.
The children were quiet for the first two miles and then I heard what I hoped I would not hear.
“Are we almost there?”
The question was a popular one. It was repeated by at least one small voice every five miles.
“Enjoy the trip,” I suggested. “Play with the toys you brought along. Or, you could look at the wildflowers along the road. I shook my head at my children’s impatience. What a waste when there was so much to see and do.
Yet, how often do we take the time to enjoy our trip through life? Most often, we simply want to be there. We want to reach certain goals of attainment or success. While we are pre-occupied with arriving, we may forget to enjoy our children, homes, friends and the little blessings that happen each day.
“Am I almost there?” I ask God.
I hear His voice telling me what I tell my children.
“Relax. Enjoy the trip.”
Seasons of Life
“For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven:” Ecclesiastes 3:1 (RSV)
As we journey through life, we find there are many stages and seasons. I learned this truth from my children. Their babyhood was one season. Then came childhood. That was a new season. Activities that held their interest as babies bored them.
My youngest was sometimes frustrated by not being able to do what the big girls did. She was trying to cross into a season for which she is not yet ready.
Each stage requires adapting to change. Like my youngest child, we sometimes try to live in stages that are not yet right. Invariably, this causes frustration.
Recognizing our season is sometimes a challenge. One day, I decided to do some sewing. Since I had several young children at home, these projects were especially difficult. The constant interruptions ate up time faster than I ever planned.
This day proved no exception. I laid the pattern and material on the floor. Before I could get out my pins, I had to rescue my daughter, Tiffany, who had climbed on the cabinet to reach a glass. I returned to the material to find that my youngest had started without me. In a fight to “help” by removing the pattern from the baby’s grip, my oldest ripped it.
The doorbell rang. Kimberly’s friend had come over to play. My frustration began to rise. Another child to step on my pattern!
Why couldn’t I simply lay this pattern out and cut it? My frustration reminded me of how angry my youngest child became when she tried to work a puzzle that was too hard for her.
The problem, I realized, was that I was trying to live in the wrong season. I would have had no problem with my activity if my children were all older. But I was trying to put two seasons together without making any concessions.
With that in mind, I quit trying to accomplish the impossible and the put the material away until naptime when I would have the chance to work on it undisturbed.
Circumstances change as we move through life. What a mother can accomplish when her children are young is very different from what she may accomplish when they are grown. However, if she insists on sowing (or sewing) in the wrong season, not only will she miss a great deal, she may damage the harvest (relationship) later on. If I am resentful of my young children for things they make it hard for me to do, I may destroy our relationship and reap sorrow in the teen years.
There are many stories in the Bible comparing the times of our lives to the cycle of planting and harvesting. The message is clear. Everything works for good in the right season. It is no more productive to fight against the seasons of life than it is to plant crops in the winter.
My oldest daughter taught me a lesson about harvesting when she planted sunflower seeds. She had absolute confidence they would grow. Considering her unskilled gardening techniques, I wasn’t so sure. But they did grow and they turned into magnificent giant sunflowers. She was delighted with her flowers. She was even more pleased when we told her she could toast the sunflower seeds and eat them.
“You’ve eaten packaged ones,” I reminded her.
My daughter set out diligently to remove the seeds from the plants. However, they stubbornly resisted her efforts. Frustrated, she finally gave up.
Weeks later, she tried again. The seeds practically fell out of the plants into her hands.
What a difference the right timing had made. When the plants withered, the seeds were easy to remove.
There are times when we want God to agree with the time table we lay out for our plans. Sometimes it is not the right time. Like the sunflower seeds, we are not ready. Things come about much easier when we wait for God’s time, even if we have to wait awhile.
A Precious Gift
“So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:12 (RSV)
Just as our children will someday grow up, each of us will someday leave this earthly home. Everyone’s days are numbered. This makes time a precious gift. If we live to be ninety years old we have about 32,950 days of life. If we subtract the time we spend asleep, we have only two thirds of this time left. And that’s if we live to be ninety. Thought of in these terms, there is not much time to waste. But, on a day to day basis, that can be hard to remember.
Sometimes, when things are not going well, I find myself thinking, “This has been a lousy day. I’ll be glad when it’s over.”
Very soon, it is over. The chance to find the good in it is gone, also. Days go by quickly. Each one is a gift that must be used as it comes along. No day can be saved and lived again at a better time. Though any one day may seem unimportant, they add up to a lifetime.
Appreciating each day should begin in childhood. It is a wondrous time of acquiring new skills. We would not want our children to pass this time in passive inactivity. We know how soon their childhoods will be gone and we want them to make the most of the time.
Similarly, our lives on earth are little more than a childhood of preparation for eternal life. It is a short time and only God knows the number of days each of His children will be allotted. Though we cannot always choose the circumstances that fill our days, we can know that it is important to make the most of each day. Each is a gift that, once gone, will never be repeated.
Results of our Labor
“I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.” 1 Corinthians 3:6-7 (NIV)
My oldest daughter helped me plant vegetables one year. At harvest time, she showed me a carrot she had picked.
“You grew a nice carrot,” I said.
“I only planted it. God made it grow,” she corrected.
She was right. She planted the carrot, watered it and fertilized it. But the rest was up to God’s design for that carrot. She could not force it to grow.
I saw a similarity between my daughter and the garden she was raising. Just as she could not control all the conditions in her garden, I could not control all that happened in her life.
I could plant moral and religious seeds, but the results were not controlled entirely by my efforts.
This lack of absolute control on my part worried me when the children were babies. I spent many nights jumping out of bed each time they sighed to make sure they were still breathing.
As they got older, I worried about their safety away from home. Finally, I realized that my children, like the garden seed, were only mine to tend. I cared for them as Jennifer cared for her carrots, but it was God who made them grow. Their well being was in His hands.
Trust Casts Out Fear
“Not one of you will enter the land I swore with uplifted hand to make your home, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun. As for your children that you said would be taken as plunder, I will bring them in to enjoy the land you have rejected.” Numbers 14:30 (NIV)
God wishes to grow trust in the “garden” of our hearts. Trust allows us to respond to His lead when He calls us to grow and take new directions. Instead of fearing the changes the future may bring, we are to trust that God will bring them about for our ultimate good.
“The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.” Isaiah 58:11 (NIV)
This trust comes naturally to children who are secure in their parent’s care. They look forward to the future. Ask any child what he wants to be when he grows up and he will have an answer.
Yet, for adults, fear has obstructed the realization of many wonderful dreams. When my husband gave up a secure job to become a full time artist, we were surprised by the number of people who said, “You know, I always wanted to be in business for myself, but I was afraid to try.”
These people had one thing in common. Their fear of failure kept them from attempting to fulfill a deeply held dream or ambition. Lack of trust may cause us to cling to what we think is security while foregoing God’s blessing in a new calling.
When our heart is prayerfully convicted that it is God’s will, we must embrace change, plan carefully, work hard, and trust God for the outcome.
No matter how old we are, there is a place for dreams and new plans. We may proclaim the verse from Psalm 34:4, “I sought the Lord, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.” (RSV)
Wisdom embraces change, for change weaves the fabric of success.
“The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.” Psalm 9:9-10 (NIV)
God calls us to trust Him with our futures. He also calls us to lean on Him in present problems. This may be difficult in the face of stark fear.
One year, my second daughter, Tiffany, was old enough to learn to swim, but refused to try. To all my pleas to, “Jump in. I’ll catch you,” she turned a deaf ear.
Simply getting her feet wet took an hour to accomplish. Very simply, she feared the water more than she trusted me. After a great deal of coaxing, I finally got her to lie on her back while I held her afloat.
At first, I felt the tension in her muscles. Gradually, she began to believe that I would not let her sink and she relaxed. She learned that she could trust my word not to let her sink into the depths she feared. If I told her I would hold her up, I would hold her up.
Holding my daughter in the water made me realize there are times when fear threatens to overcome trust. Yet Jesus promises, “But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O men of little faith?” Matthew 6:30 (RSV)
How, with that beautiful promise can we be afraid He will let us perish? Remember how Peter, by trusting Jesus, was able to walk on water? Even when his faith failed, Jesus did not let him sink Jesus is worthy of trust. We, who are earthy parents, would not let our child drown and neither would He.
Reminding ourselves of this promise can strengthen our faith. He promises to give us his presence and protection when we are afraid. Psalm 91:11 proclaims, “For he will give his angels charge of you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.” (RSV)
When my oldest daughter was four years old she needed to remind herself of God’s promise to watch over her. She had suddenly discovered the monsters, robbers and wild animals that lurked in her imagination. They stayed quietly placid until the lights went out at night. Then they stirred to life. My husband and I tried to comfort her. Every night we checked her bedroom and assured her that it was safe. But no amount of reassurance seemed to relieve her fears. This went on for several months. Then one day, near Christmas, I read her the Christmas story from her children’s Bible.
“And the angel of the Lord said unto them, ‘Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”
My daughter sat quietly intent. When I finished, she asked, “What’s an angel?”
“An angel is a special helper of God.”
I turned to a picture in the book. “This is what some people think an angel looks like.”
“Do angels take care of people?” she asked.
“I’m sure they do. When people trust God to take care of them, He sends His angels to help.”
“Read the story again,” my daughter demanded.
When we finished, she ran straight to the playroom.
“I have something important to make,” she announced.
My daughter worked for a half-hour, busy with scissors and paper. When she emerged, she showed me two brightly colored cut-outs in hand.
“See what I made, Mommy.”
“Those are nice paper dolls.”
“They are angels,” she replied.
Sure enough, there were tiny wings on the two small figures. “I want some tape so I can tape them on the closet door by my bed. Then I won’t be afraid at night,” she said.
I gave her the tape and she taped up her angel. I was pleased that she had understood the story but I doubted that she would feel secure in the darkness of night.
That night we said our prayers. “I won’t be afraid tonight,” my daughter announced.
I wondered how long it would be until she called for me.
But the room stayed quiet. Finally I checked on her. She had fallen peacefully asleep.
The next night was equally uneventful.
My daughter had heard the Christmas story many times before. But when she needed it most, it had comforted her. The little angels on the door had given her a concrete reminder that she could trust in God’s care.
I learned from my daughter that there is peace in accepting God’s protection. Even though I haven’t drawn any angels, I open the Bible and read the verses of comfort and care. I know I can trust a loving God who comforts a small child.
Meeting Our Needs
“Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you , O you of little faith! And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom and these things will be added to you.” Luke 12: 27-31 (ESV)
When my children told me their needs, they trusted I would provide. They rarely gave it another thought. When they needed new school supplies, they handed me their lists, knowing the supplies would be in their backpacks when they left for school. They trusted me to provide for their hunger by keeping food in the pantry.
When my children were sick, I prayed for their healing and took them to the doctor with the belief that God had gifted this person with the interest and intelligence in medicine to cure my child. In the same way, God asks us to trust in His provision. Many times we take the first step of asking, only to fail to trust that He will respond. When people came seeking Jesus’ healing and help, He emphasized the importance of trust in the step of being cured.“Ask and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” Matthew 7:7-8 (RSV)
This trust involves letting go of the worry and remembering how God has kept His promises, both in Bible accounts and in our personal lives.
“He has caused his wonders to be remembered; the Lord is gracious and compassionate. He provides food for those who fear him; he remembers his covenant forever.” Psalm 111:4-5 (NIV)
Each time we keep a promise, we strengthen our children’s trust. It is a sure sign a child has learned to trust when he allows a parent out of sight without feeling abandoned. When I was short of time, I dropped my kids at their activities, finished my errands, and came back to watch the end of the lesson.
The kids didn’t seem to mind. They trusted I would be back to get them as promised. When they finished, my reliable arrival helped them feel secure the next time they were away from home.
God, too, keeps His word. While we are on earth we are all away from home. Yet God wants us to feel secure, knowing that we have not been abandoned. He is here with us now and our home with Him is waiting. It will be there for us when life on earth is over. This reward of eternal life is an encouragement when life gets hard.
Who among us does not look forward to reward? My children got an allowance when they completed their weekly chores. Though the chores were not always fun, knowing there was a reward at the end made it easier to do the work.
God promises eternal life to those who believe upon Him. Though life is not always pleasant, when we have finished, there is a reward at the end. This is positive parenting and God is a positive parent. He encourages us over the hard spots by reminding us of our reward.
One and Only God
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned.” Galatians 1:6-8 (NIV)
My children sometimes came in from playing with friends to ask me questions. “Susan says it’s okay to eat any berries that grow on bushes. Is it true?”
“Absolutely not! You never eat anything unless you know what it is.”
I am glad they trust my knowledge more than they trust their friends. Sometimes it might be a matter of life and death. Suppose the berries were poisonous? I want them to come to me when they need information.
It is natural that little children turn to their parents, whom they trust, to answer the important questions in their lives. If earthly parents have the insight to guide their children, how much better must God be able to guide His children? No matter what anyone may say or what revelation they may claim, God’s word of truth, found in the Bible, will lead us down the right path. Trusting Him requires believing His word above all other sources.
Furthermore, if we want to stay on the right road, we must let God do the driving. When my children got in the car to go somewhere with me, they did not expect to do the driving. They trusted me to know where I was going.
So often, when we ask God to guide us, we want to do the driving. It is hard to sit in the passenger seat, being taken where God wants to go. But we know that, like our children, we have no idea how to drive. The only way to get to the proper destination is to let the parent make the turns, even when they are not where we expect them to be. Some of the most inspirational people in history became that way because they let God take direction of their lives.
The late Albert Schweitzer became one of the most esteemed doctors and humanitarians of all time. Yet he did not begin his adulthood working in the medical field. He began as a Protestant minister and head of a religious college in France. He did not begin studying to become a doctor until he was thirty years old. If Albert Schweitzer had not followed God’s direction for his life, many Africans would never have known the medical and spiritual care brought by this great missionary. Albert Schweitzer let God lead him to his destination. When God leads, truly remarkable things happen.
Part of submitting to this leading requires the humility of accepting that His rules are for our own good. Once a rich young ruler approached Jesus and asked what he must do to have eternal life. The first thing Jesus told him was that he must keep the commandments. (Matthew 19:17)
These commandments were sent down for our own good by our parent, God, just as any good parent lays out rules for her children. One of our rules in our house was that our children must do their homework every night. Keeping up with homework in elementary school meant they did not fall behind in their classes in high school. This gave them better opportunity in their careers.
Yet children do not always see the reason for rules. They are not mature enough to look ahead to what will happen if they do not obey us. They may not realize if they do not learn in school, they will not graduate with good enough grades to go to college or get a job. We ask them to simply trust that rules are for their own good.
The same is true with God’s rules. In Matthew 5:17-18, Jesus says, “Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.” (RSV)
God’s laws are good laws, made for the good of mankind. They are warnings from the One who is wiser to those who cannot see the consequences of their actions.
When I warn my children not to run into the street, it is a rule made to protect them. It is not an arbitrary rule, nor is it given out of a desire to test or punish them. It is a warning given out of love.
If they disobey, I don’t get in the car and run over them nor would I ever do anything to cause them to get hurt. However, that does not change the fact that the street is a dangerous place and they will get hurt if they ignore my rule. Likewise, God’s commandments are parental warnings. They are given, not out of a desire to punish, but out of a desire to protect.
“The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery, idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” Galatians 19-23 (NIV) These admonitions are for our own good, just like the rules we make for our own children.
It can be hard for children to believe that everything we do is for their own good. It is especially difficult when our actions cause them pain.
One day, I took my youngest child to the doctor for a check-up. Her immunizations were due and I held her while the nurse gave her a shot. I felt tears in my own eyes as Courtney clung to me and cried.
How can she understand that I love her when I let someone hurt her? She is too young to understand the reason for the shot. Not long after this episode, I urged her older sister, Kimberly, into a new classroom on the first day of school. The look on her face betrayed her uncertainty. I felt torn by my emotions as I left for home.
“She must think I’m abandoning her. How can she think I love her when I force her to go where she does not want to go?”
Despite these experiences, they my children continued to believe I loved them. And they still loved me. Why? It was a simple matter of trust. They trusted I had a reason when I allowed them to experience anxiety or pain.
As they get older they are better able to understand the reasons. My oldest daughter got a splinter in her foot. It began to get infected. She knew that it would be painful to take it out. She also knew that it would hurt more and more if she left it in.
She hobbled over to show it to me. “Would you take it out?”
I agreed with trepidation. In the past, she had objected strenuously when I tried to take out splinters. But I had little choice. This one was becoming infected.
I sterilized a needle and got a firm hold on her foot.
Prepared for a struggle, I found she had gotten a great deal braver than when she was younger. She surprised me by her self-control. Even so, I knew that I was hurting her and I was relieved when the splinter was out.
Then she surprised me again. She thanked me. Even though I had to hurt her, she thanked me. Perhaps this is the reason that Paul says to “give thanks in all circumstances;” l Thessalonians 5:18 (RSV)
When I allow my children to suffer, it is for their ultimate good. Do we trust God enough to love Him when he allows us to hurt? Perhaps we can, if we have the trust in God that our children place in us.
“Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the lands! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing!” Psalm 100:1-2 (RSV)
The day before Mother’s Day, my older daughters spent all afternoon secluded in their room. Though I could hear the sounds of scissors and paper, I was not allowed inside. At suppertime, they emerged with wide grins and told me they could not tell me their secret. It was all they could do to wait until morning (6:00 am) with their surprise.
“Happy Mother’s Day!”
With great ceremony, they laid numerous small presents wrapped in bright construction paper and sealed with lots of tape into my lap. Inside each package, were pictures of flowers and landscapes and cutout designs. They had put their hearts into the project and had even made one gift from the baby and signed her name.
Though I was truly pleased by their thoughtfulness, I got the most pleasure from watching their eager little faces as I unwrapped their gifts. They were so excited to be able to give me something.
Children know that gifts are one way parents express love to them. Since children love to receive presents, it is logical to assume parents feel the same. So, when our kids desire to return our love, they use what we have given them (paper, glue, money, etc.) to make gifts for the giver. We tuck away these small priceless treasures, because we know they were motivated by a voluntary desire to return our affection.
The key, of course, is that it is voluntary. For a gift to have meaning, it must be given freely, out of love. When my daughters wove pot holders or drew pictures for me, I appreciated the fact they had chosen to spend this time on me. If I had required my children to make me gifts, those gifts would be no more of an expression of love than those of subjects required to pay homage to a tyrannical ruler.
God does not force us to give any gift of our time, talent or money. In order to have meaning, we must give from our heart. Living within His unconditional love creates a desire to give something back to the One who has given us everything we possess. When we show love to another person, it is because we have first known God’s love for us. When we show patience, we are reflecting in small measure God’s patience with us. When we show a kindness, it is only a small return of what we are given. As we are the supply source for our children, God is the source of our supply. And since the child does not out-give the parent, we can certainly never out-give God! From God’s infinite supply, we return some of the gifts He has given us.
The Wise Steward
“As each has received a gift, employ it for one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace:” l Peter 4:10: (RSV)
God, being a generous parent, gives his gifts freely, asking only that we use them wisely. When the children were young, I began giving my oldest daughter a regular weekly allowance. I began with a small amount and planned to increase it when she proved she could use it responsibly.
I was pleased by her maturity. She resisted the temptation to squander the money on frivolous whims, and remembered to set aside a portion for a tithe. On the way to church one week, she even brought more than her allotment so that her little sisters could give some too. It was touching to see her modeling good stewardship for her siblings. As a consequence, I increased her allowance.
Our children can help us understand God’s reasoning in giving more trust and responsibility to those who prove worthy. Matthew 25:14-30 makes clear the meaning of the parable of the talents. Jesus sums it up in Matthew 25:29 (RSV) “For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.”
We want our children to be good stewards of what they are given, whether it is opportunities, talents, or money. Surely God feels the same way.
A Grateful Heart
“Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever, his faithfulness continues through all generations.” Psalm 100:4-5 (NIV)
Without a doubt, it is more fun to give a gift when it is appreciated. I recall my children’s early birthday parties. Like all children, they were proud to be three, four or five years old. Their eyes shone with excitement when their little guests arrived. They had such good times that it made all the party preparations worthwhile.
Nothing pleases parents more than making their children happy. Even a birthday party can seem a small effort to give them so much pleasure. But if they were to come to expect such treats as their rights and showed no appreciation, we would find little pleasure in indulging them. We would begin to feel they were spoiled if they took for granted all that we did for them.
Since we are made in God’s image, it seems safe to assume God must get more enjoyment in giving His children gifts that are appreciated. The Bible supports this assumption by the account of the ten who were healed of leprosy. “…Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As He was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”
“When he saw them, he said, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.”
“One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.
Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”
Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” Luke 17:11-19 (NIV)
It is easy to pray for God’s help, and then forget to thank Him when He supplies the solution. At such times, He must feel like the parent of a spoiled child who has tossed aside a present which the parent spent time and effort in choosing. The ungratefulness is distressing because it reflects the child’s deficiency in maturity and grace. At that point, a good parent takes action to correct the child’s attitude.
If God’s gifts seem sparse, it may be we are giving nothing back or have failed to appreciate the gifts we have already been given. And though he wants to give good gifts as seen in Matthew 7:11 (RSV), “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” He surely does not want to be taken for granted.
“I will bless them and the places surrounding my hill. I will send down showers in season; three will be showers of blessing.” Ezekiel 3426 (NIV)
In the tedium of a daily routine, it can be difficult to remember the gifts we’ve been given. Little irritations build and we forget to be thankful. At the end of a hectic afternoon, counting our blessings may be the farthest thing from our minds. As we cook a meal or fight our way through traffic, every minor obstacle adds fuel to our feelings of aggravation. It is these times that it is most helpful to mentally tally God’s gifts.
This takes effort. There are some afternoons in which the last thing we may feel like doing is cooking supper. At these times, it can be helpful to remember it is a blessing to have a family who needs a meal. And if we have been blessed with good health to take care of our family, we can remind ourselves there are parents who would gladly do our jobs if they had good health instead of infirmity. For these things, we can be thankful.
“We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.” Romans 12:6-8 (NIV)
Some gifts are easily recognized as blessings from God. Other gifts may not be as easily recognized. They may be taken for granted and lay dormant.
On a Monday morning, following one daughter’s birthday party, I was busy cleaning the kitchen when she wandered in, looking apathetic. In a whining tone, she began the refrain I had, long ago, grown tired of hearing.
“I’m bored. Can someone come play?”
I gritted my teeth, still recovering from entertaining fifteen six year olds.
“What happened to all the gifts you got at your party? How can you be bored?”
“I don’t feel like playing with them,” she persisted.
“How about dressing your doll in the new clothes?”
“How about reading a new book?”
“All right. Do you want to get out your new paint book and paint a picture?” I asked reluctantly because painting always meant a mess to clean up.
She thought a moment. “Will you do it with me?”
“For a little while,” I agreed.
With all her gifts, how could she be bored? Then, I turned the question on myself. Didn’t I sometimes feel lethargic and bored? Wasn’t I blessed with gifts that I did not appreciate or use?
Some gifts come in the form of talents and abilities. Though we are lent exciting possibilities by God, we can choose not to use them. They become like unappreciated gifts. The joy they could bring us is like the fun my daughter missed by ignoring her new toys. And like toys on a shelf, they sit unused, growing dusty. Even though we possess these exciting gifts in music, art, psychology, or, perhaps drama, if we do not use them, we grow bored. Like my daughter, we may have many talents and abilities, but being unused, they will not bring us joy.
“…as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.” Mt. 25:40 (RSV)
Some of the most lasting gifts require the least money. I discovered this principle years ago when the economy of our state was hard hit by the plunge of the oil industry. Like many of our neighbors, it was a struggle for us to make a living in the depressed economy.
As we headed into the Christmas season, I felt depressed too. There were so many worthy causes that came to mind at Christmas time. Charities needed donations and poor children needed toys. I felt I could do so little. Then I began to think of the gift of baby Jesus. He was a gift to all mankind. Growing up poor, Jesus did not have the money to give material gifts. Nor did he seem to think it was of great importance. He gave of himself. He gave concern for others, His teaching, His healing and finally His life.
Though we may not be able to give much in material possessions, we can follow the example of Christ and give of ourselves. If we can’t give much money to the poor, we can take a meal to someone who is sick. If we can’t buy gifts for poor children, we can teach a Sunday school class at our own church. As Jesus taught, worthy gifts do not have to be gifts of money. They can be gifts of self. And these gifts are valuable, indeed.
When we give our time to serving others, we are giving from a limited supply. Life is short and each hour given is subtracted from the limited hours in our lives. We could be spending time on our own entertainment, yet instead choose to do things for the Lord. Like any parent, God appreciates the time we spend giving gifts in His name.
The Gift of God’s Presence
“Preserve me, O God, for in thee I take refuge. I say to the Lord, “Thou art my Lord; I have no good apart from thee.” Psalm 16:1-2 (RSV)
Sometimes it is the most difficult to give of ourselves to those who are closest to us. One Christmas, I remember watching my children open their presents. Though most of my pleasure came from seeing them open the gifts, I had to admit I hoped the new toys would help entertain them over the holidays.
My hopes were dashed almost immediately. With great enthusiasm, Tiffany, ripped open a box of clay dough. “Come do it with me, Mommy,” she shouted eagerly.
We sat at the table making all sorts of things until we were interrupted by my oldest daughter.
“Daddy has my microscope focused. Come look.”
In the afternoon, Kimberly needed a push on her bicycle. Even the baby required help fitting shapes into a plastic box. The extra time I expected to have was spent sharing new toys. It seemed no present was complete until I had lent myself to experience it with its owner.
I had not intended to give this gift of myself. They had not asked for it when they made their lists. But it was what they wanted most of all.
God’s presence is what we need most of all. The most lavish possessions, without God, would eventually lose their appeal. As my children wanted my company along with their gift, so do we desire God.
My children knew something else, too. As the giver of the gifts, I knew the best way to use them. I knew how to fit the plastic shapes into the box. I knew how to roll clay into long wriggly snakes. From me, they learned how to get the most fun out of their toys.
So it is with God’s gifts. He is the giver and the one who knows to best use and enjoy what He has given. Surely He expects us to turn to Him for companionship and instruction.
And as I learned from my children, possessions, no matter how wonderful, are no fun without the presence of the parent. This presence is desired because children want their parent’s love above all else. To show us this love, God sent Jesus to teach, in human words and example, about the One whom we cannot see.
Though we may give of ourselves in love and gratitude toward God, our Parent has already given the greatest gift of all, the gift of eternal life through the blood of His Son.
To Know God
“If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” John 14:7 (RSV)
We can learn a lot about people we have never met from those who knew them. This becomes a way of passing on truths about that person, a sort of inheritance.
I found this to be true with my mother. When I learned she had Alzheimer’s disease, I was devastated. As the months passed and she grew steadily worse, her medical needs forced her placement in a nursing home.
I was frustrated by the senseless devastation of this disease that caused a black void in the lives of those who loved her. And it hurt to know my children would grow up without the blessing of knowing their grandmother. What was left of her for them, or for any of us?
As I prayed to find something positive in this experience, I slowly become aware of the blessings we had retained. The example of loving parenting which my mother had instilled would be my model in raising my children. They would know their grandmother, in part, by knowing me. As I shared stories about her life, they were able to feel close to a grandmother they never knew.
This made me realize how, through Jesus, we are able to know God. His life and teaching tell us much about our Father. And, after the resurrection, the disciples carried on His ministry, helping others know Jesus through their example and witness. To preserve this witness for future generation, the New Testament was written.
For, along with personal example and witness, writings are a precious gift left to us by those who have come before us. I hold dear a box of recipes that have been in my family for three generations. Several are preserved in my mother’s handwriting.
I point these out to my children when we bake together. In this age of microwave, it’s comforting to bake, from scratch, things that were made in country kitchens of the past. Yet, without the directions, my mother left me, I would never be able to make many of the old-fashioned desserts and main dishes she skillfully prepared.
When we want to explore our Christian heritage, we have the gift of the Bible. This written account helps us understand the Parent whom we cannot see. Like my mother’s recipes, God has put, in written form, a plan for His children to follow. These recipes for life are to be passed on to future generations as an inheritance to tell how the great gift of Heaven lies ahead for all who wish to accept it.
For God, as a parent, has planned for His children’s inheritance. He wants us to receive the blessings of heaven promised in Mt.25:34 “…the King will say to those at his right hand, “Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;” (RSV)
The Earth: A Gift to Us
“Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” Genesis 1:26 (RSV)
Though our spiritual inheritance is heaven, while we are on earth, God has given us an inheritance over the earth. It is passed along to each generation.
Little children especially enjoy this gift. I remember when my youngest discovered the backyard. There was no place she would rather be. Her world revolved around two cats, a swing set, and several small trees that we had planted. When she went outside, I had to keep a watchful eye on her. As a new mistress of animals, I wanted her to show care and gentleness. Sometimes her care was misdirected, yet I had to smile as she tried to feed the cats their dry cat food. Other times, I was disappointed by her actions. She was known to occasionally step on an unsuspecting tail.
I wanted her to learn to care for her domain and discover the joy it could bring her in return. As she stood before one of the small trees, I watched her debate about pulling off the leaves.
I had told her, “If you leave it alone, in time, it will give you shade and strong branches to climb.”
Before I had to reprimand her, she directed her attention to the sandbox. There, she took a shovel of sand and carried it to the slide. She watched gleefully as it spills down the long metal surface.
I shook my head. How many times had I warned her? If she spilled out all the sand, there would be none left to play in.
Even though she did not always care for it perfectly, we allowed her to play outside because we love her and want her to enjoy her yard. Still, I hoped she would learn to care for it and to conserve her resources.
She reminded me of the larger world God has given His children for their enjoyment and use. It was given out of love to mankind to be the masters and caretakers. He must desire for His children to be wise stewards of His gift.
“For the Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. He holds victory in store for the upright, he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless, for he guards the course of the just and protects the way of his faithful ones.” Proverbs 2:6-8 (NIV)
When my children were only toddlers, I realized they were growing away from me. I saw this most clearly when my oldest daughter began a Mother’s Day Out program. When she walked through the doors of her classroom I saw her, for the first time, as a small independent person, not an extension of myself.
In a small way, it was time to let go and let her make some of her own decisions. I knew I would also have to let her face the consequences of those decisions. This involved some hard lessons. When she decided to hit someone with a block, she found they might hit back. From her mistakes, she learned there were always consequences to her actions.
On the positive side, she learned that she could be independent and successful. She learned to hang up her coat all by herself and she learned to throw away her trash after snack.
Each day, she had to choose a play center and decide whether to color a picture or play with clay.
As my daughter learned about independence and making choices, she saw the wisdom of the social codes we taught her at home. Share, take turns, and don’t hit were only a few. Though I wasn’t there to insist she employ those principles, she found they worked best for getting along in life.
The same is true of God. He does not rule over our lives with an iron thumb forbidding us to make some decisions and forcing us to make others. We are allowed freedom.
There is risk in that freedom. There is the risk that we will make mistakes. And as we face the trials and temptations of our mixed-up world, there is a risk that we will reject God’s wisdom.
These are the same risks we take with our children. They are free to love us or reject us. They are free to accept or reject our values. We cannot force them to believe what we want them to believe. Only by allowing this freedom, do we allow them to grow to maturity, for they truly accept our values if they do it freely, of their own will.
God, like any parent, can possess his children only by letting go. Unfortunately, letting go means allowing children the freedom to leave.
Contending with God
“The Lord said to Job: “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!”
“Then Job answered the Lord: “I am unworthy—How can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer—twice, but I will say no more.” Job 40:1-5 (NIV)
When my children were very young they used to threaten to run away from home. When this happened, I told the unhappy child I would miss her and I hoped she changed her mind. I also told her I would not force her to stay.
They used this threat in the hope of pressuring me to give in to a demand. When I did not give in, they hoped to hurt me by rejecting our family. By their absence, they expected to make me suffer. This was their way of saying, “You’ll be sorry when I’m not here.” (Fortunately, no one ever made it past the front door.)
I always thought of these threats as childish words that would soon be outgrown. Then I realized, as adults, we sometimes say the same thing to God as we struggle to accept difficult circumstances.
Becoming angry we say, “Why should I pray and go to church if it doesn’t do any good?”
In a sense, we want to punish God by rejecting His church. Like our children, we may threaten to withhold our presence because the Parent has displeased us. Blaming Him for something that went wrong in our lives, we withhold ourselves as punishment. It is if we stopped going to church, we could somehow punish God.
But doing what is best for a child is an act of love, even if they do not agree with our actions. There have been many times my children have become angry when I have not allowed activities I thought were dangerous or unhealthy. Just as it would be disastrous to let childish threats influence our decisions, God cannot be threatened or cajoled into changing His mind. He does what is best for His children and hopes they will choose to remain in the family.
“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.” 1 Corinthians 13:11 (NIV)
Depending on the stage of the children, some rejection is more serious than others. I remember when my oldest daughter, then a toddler, said, “I don’t love you anymore.”
Even though I knew she said it only because she was angry with me, I was devastated by her words. I had expected disagreements with my child, but never such outright rejection. But as I got used to the temperament of a two year old, I took her words less to heart. I knew that her feelings were quite temporary because, soon after the outbursts, she would be back in my lap.
Even though I got used to toddler behavior, angry words still stung a little. Rejection from a child hurts a parent even when it is spoken out of immaturity. However, knowing that it was a momentary anger that would soon pass made it less painful. I learned to ignore outbursts and reassure my children that I loved them even when they did not express love for me.
In any relationship, there are moments of anger and rejection. There are times when God’s children are angry with Him. Most often, like the toddler’s fit of temper, it is soon over. The more serious rejection, that separates God from His children, must hurt Him as it does any parent.
Parents who have experienced the rejection of a teen-agers know it is nothing like that of a toddler. Unlike the young child, a teenager may feel he no longer needs his family. He may pull away until life becomes a one sided affair as the parent reaches out to a child who no longer wants reconciliation. In these relationships, rejection is a serious and painful wound for both parties.
If the child has moved out of the house, the parents may not only lose contact with him, they may be entirely unable to locate him. For whatever reason it began, the longer the separation, the more difficult reconciliation becomes. Yet, a parent’s love does not stop when a child leaves. Loving parents never give up hope that their child will return. Their desire for reconciliation is unending.
Surely God, as a father, feels the same way about His children. He attempts to contact even those who do not appear to want His love. And like any loving parent, His desire for reconciliation is as unending as His love.
And God, in His love, watches over His children even when they do not think they want His care. There is nowhere they might go, where He is unable to see them. And all it takes to come home is the desire to do so. For it is the child who rejects the parent and not the parent who rejects the child.
Though my children have never run away, I know that I would have attempted to watch over them if they had gone. They might have rejected my care, but they could not change the love I have for them. And since I care what happens to them, I would have been watching them wherever they might have gone. In wouldn’t want them to be out in the world alone with no one to protect them. So, even though they might not have seen me, I would have been nearby in case they changed their mind.
“If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” James 1:5 (RSV)
Though there are various degrees of rejection, disagreement between parents and children often stem from the desire of the child to be as knowledgeable as the parent. Disagreements between me and my children often occurred when they rejected my advice.
This advice comes from years of trial and error on my part. I hoped to save my children from some of the same mistakes I have made. But they insisted on trying some things their own way.
One of my daughters wanted to bake cookies. I offered to help her follow a recipe in the cookbook, but this was not her plan. She wanted to bake cookies from her own recipe; one she made up all by herself.
“Until you’ve had some practice baking cookies, it’s hard to know what kinds of ingredients to put in. Maybe you should wait to experiment until you’ve learned what makes the cookies taste good,” I said.
My suggestions fell on deaf ears. She was sure she could bake better cookies than we could find in any cookbook. So, with some reservations, I turned her loose in the kitchen.
My memories of my own cooking disasters came back with a vengeance. I had created some awful tasting concoctions. But my mother had stepped aside and let me try out my ideas. It was the wisest thing to do. If she had insisted that I follow her recipes, I would have refused to cook at all. By letting me try and fail, she knew I would soon accept her advice. When my desserts did not match the taste of hers, she knew I would want to learn how to do it right.
My daughter watched proudly as I put her “cookies” into the oven. We baked them and cooled them. But when it came time to eat the cookies, I let my daughter take the first bite. Though she wanted to like them, she could not hide her distaste.
“These don’t taste like cookies,” she admitted.
“Let’s look at several recipes and see what ingredients they all have. Once you know what things to put in and how much, it will be easier to make them taste right,” I said.
This time my daughter was ready to accept my advice. She had to learn for herself what I had already told her. I could not force her to accept my greater experience, but I could wait for her to come to me when she was ready to do things right.
It seems that God’s advice is sometimes rejected until we try our own way first. God does not force His wisdom upon us. He waits for us to come to Him when our way does not work and we are ready to accept His guidance.
Besides arrogance, a streak of stubborn independence may keep us from seeking God’s help. I saw this in my children. They rejected my assistance even though they became emotionally exhausted from their own efforts. When my youngest daughter began to work puzzles, some were too complicated for her. I cringed when she picked these out because I knew what was to come.
She began with patience. Soon she was kicking in frustration.
“Would you like me to help?” I offered.
“No! I can do it myself!!”
I went about my business, waiting for her to exhaust herself in a fit of temper. Finally, she was ready to let me help her. Why did it take her so long, I wondered? I didn’t mind that she tried to do things for herself, but when she began to get upset, why did she stubbornly reject my offer of assistance?
There are many times when we struggle to handle situations without God’s help. It is not until we become exhausted that we bring it to God. Like our children, if we turned to the parent sooner, we could avoid much stress. As with our children, God waits for us to release our stubborn insistences to “do it myself” and invite Him to help us put the pieces back together
Going it Alone
“I will praise the Lord who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me. I have set the lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” Psalm 16:8 (NIV)
In this tough world, it is good to stay close to a parent. Going it alone is not only dangerous, but scary, as well. One day, I took my daughters and several of their friends to a movie.
It was an afternoon show that was popular with the children. At this time of day, it was crowded. Mothers and children stood in a long line waiting to buy tickets. The older children waited patiently. But my youngest became bored and restless. She struggled out of my arms insisting she wanted to get down. For a little while, she stood holding my hand. But soon she pulled loose.
“Stay close by. I don’t want you to get lost,” I warned.
Giving me a grin, she began to edge away. I watched her as she wandered over to a step near the building and sat down. She was content to sit there enjoying her freedom until she began to look for me in the crowd. I could see her but she could not spot me. Her face filled with fear as she stood up and walked toward the line. I sent my oldest daughter to get her while I held our place. By then, the little one was crying.
When she reached me, I scooped her in my arms and said, “I’ve been right here. You’re the one who moved.”
How often this is true for God’s children. In trying our independence we may move away from God; sometimes losing sight of Him altogether. We may not feel the need to pray or seek His guidance until we become as lost and bewildered as a little child. It is then that we may find Him nearby telling us, “I’ve been here all along. You’re the one who moved.”
“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” 1 John 4:18 (NIV)
When they were small, my third daughter loved to play with her older sister. Whatever this big sister did or said was the absolute truth in her eyes. Of course, this did not mean she always followed her sister’s advice.
One day, they were playing tea party in the bedroom when I heard the water running in the bathroom sink. I was pretty sure one of them was filling teacups.
“We’ve had enough soaked carpets,” I muttered. The girls knew they were not allowed to bring water into the bedrooms.
I was on my way through the house to give a reprimand when the younger one began to cry. As I reached the bathroom I heard her sister say, “I told you not to fill those with water. Mama’s going to be mad at you for spilling it and you’re going to get in trouble.”
I paused in the doorway. “What happened?”
The older one rolled her eyes. “She slipped on the wet floor and hit her elbow. I told her we didn’t need water in the tea cups.”
Tiffany wanted to be sure I knew she had no fault in this accident. After all, she had done her part by warning her sister. She especially wanted to be sure she was exempt from the punishment she was sure would come.
Though Kimberly was not really hurt, she had taken her sister’s ominous prediction of my anger to heart and had burst into tears as soon as she saw me. There was no need to do so.
She had already punished herself by the consequence. Her hurt elbow would punish her far better than anything I might do. Now she would understand my rule about carrying water around the house.
But her sister’s words, “Mama’s going to be mad”, had worried her.
I lifted her into my lap. “Does your elbow still hurt?”
She nodded. I rubbed her elbow and she relaxed in my arms. Her fear of punishment had almost caused her to reject my comfort.
“Do you understand why I don’t want you to play in the water? It always makes a mess and sometimes you get hurt. I don’t want you to get hurt. You won’t do it again, will you?”
She shook her head.
I gave her a hug and stood her up.
The incident reminded me of how easily we reject comfort when we feel we deserve punishment. Dwelling on God’s wrath and our wicked deeds may make us feel beyond redemption. Though warnings are sometimes useful, well meant words may serve to make us fear God’s punishment when we could be accepting His love and forgiveness.
As in my daughter’s experience, our mistakes usually carry their own punishment. When we have realized we’ve made a wrong turn, true repentance can lead us to expect comfort and forgiveness instead of anger and rejection
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” l John l: 9
When my oldest daughter was very small, she found a pencil and scribbled on the wall. When I discovered the mess, I had her wash the spot. Though it didn’t quite come off, I hoped the effort of cleaning it would discourage her from doing any more murals. To hide the damage, we rearranged the room and moved a shelf against the wall. The scribbling didn’t show anymore and I forgot about the incident.
Years later, her little sister moved into this room. When we rearranged the furniture, we re-discovered those markings. Since they hadn’t improved with age, we decided to paint the room.
In teasing, I told my oldest, “Remember when you did that? I think you should have to re-paint.”
She smiled. “You forgave me, remember?”
She had accepted forgiveness long ago, and like myself, wiped the incident from her mind. She had every right to believe that my forgiveness was complete. That is the way it should be.
A lingering sense of guilt is not good for a child.
And, of course, I had no intention of punishing her twice. It would hardly be fair to hold her responsible for something she had done when she was young and immature.
I expect my children to make mistakes. Facing and correcting these mistakes is a positive learning tool. If they were born perfect, they would have nothing to learn from life.
Therefore, I would never want my children to be so upset by any wrong that they refused to go on with life. I would want them to accept the assurance of my love and forgiveness and begin afresh with the determination to do better the next time.
In light of the loving nature of parental forgiveness, why do we often find it easier to forgive our own children than to accept God’s forgiveness? Feelings of guilt may lead us to try and atone for a mistake again and again. Though it may have been committed during the immaturity of youth, we suffer the effects into old age.
Such guilt is best disposed of quickly. Failing to do so, may cause physical as well as emotional problems. I once read a story about a man who was so consumed with guilt that he constantly used the phrase, “I would give my right arm if only I had not done what I did.” He developed such stiffness in his right arm that he could hardly use it.
In Matthew 9:1-8, Jesus describes what may have been a physical result of guilt. A paralytic was brought to Him. Instead of laying on His hands or assuring this man that his faith had made him well, Jesus spoke to this man words of forgiveness. He sensed the real reason for the illness. The man was, perhaps, consumed with a guilt that left him paralyzed.
Jesus told this man, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven,” and the man rose and went home. Romans 9:2:b (RSV)
Guilt, in itself, is not bad if it is the catalyst to seek forgiveness and the resolve not to repeat mistakes. But such growth is only possible if we move beyond the guilt and allow ourselves another chance.
When guilt and shame prevent us from accepting forgiveness, they can paralyze our ability to lead productive lives. The desire to pay for our sin can lead to self-destructive behavior.
Such behavior is clearly out of God’s will, for God does not wish our lives to be consumed in self-condemnation.
Young children are not usually prone to harsh self-judgment. To learn the habit of letting go of guilt, watch a young child who has just been disciplined. After their punishment, they are eager for forgiveness. After a hug, they know everything is alright. They go off to play with a clear conscience. This is how it should be.
When we confess, God forgives completely. Like any loving parent, He does not remember past sins. If we can forgive our children their foolish mistakes, surely God, the perfect parent, does the same.
As We Forgive Our Debtors
“Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Luke 23:34 (RSV)
There are times, of course, when my children do not want to forgive their siblings for the similar acts for which they have been forgiven. When my daughter, Kimberly, “borrowed” some crayons and colored in one of her big sister’s coloring books, the older one was livid.
“Look what she’s done. She’s ruined this whole page.”
Kimberly had been told to leave her sister’s things alone and knew she was clearly in the wrong. She was simply hoping that her sister would not mind. Now, confronted with the evidence of her misdeed she began to cry, “I’m sorry! I’m sorry!”
Her sister stomped away. “You know you’re supposed to leave my things alone. I’m never going to play with you again.”
These were harsh words from a sister who could do no wrong in the eyes of the younger. This was the sister who was closest to her age and played with her the most. This was her best friend.
I knelt down for a talk with Kimberly. “You know you’re not supposed to use your sister’s things unless she says you may play with them. When you do it makes her angry.”
“But I’m sorry.”
Her tears were sincere. I doubted she would do it again anytime soon.
“Go knock on your sister’s door and tell her you’re sorry,” I suggested.
Her sister had slammed herself in her bedroom after her dramatic words. I hoped she would let Kimberly apologize.
But she was not yet ready to forgive. “Go away. You can’t come in.”
Now it was my turn. Escorting my youngest, we entered the room.
“You know she really is sorry and she’s upset that you’re angry with her. Maybe it’s time to tell her that you can be friends again,” I said.
“No. I’m not going to play with her and she can’t play with my things,” was the reply.
“You know when you were little and you first had crayons, you sometimes marked on my things. One time you even drew a picture on the bottom of my skillet. I was angry but I forgave you. I still let you help me cook. It’s nice to give people another chance when they are sorry.”
My daughter thought about my words. After a few moments, she smiled. “Did I really draw on the skillet?”
“Yes, you did.”
“Okay. She can play with me if she leaves my books alone.”
The issue happily settled, the two went off to play.
Being reminded of her own error made her more willing to forgive her sister. This was what I hoped she would do. For, like most of us, the desire to extend forgiveness is directly related to our awareness of our own sin. Out of this awareness, God expects us to forgive each other. This is illustrated in the parable of the unmerciful servant. “Then his lord summoned him and said to him, “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you besought me; and should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” Matthew 18:32 (RSV)
This forgiveness carries an obligation. This obligation is God’s desire and expectation that His children will forgive one another.
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39 (NIV)
Is there a limit to the number of times God will forgive? Is it too late for any of us? When I’ve lost my temper for the tenth time in one day, I begin to wonder if God will forgive me again and again for the same sin. God has great patience, but is it unlimited?
I think of the days with my own children. Sometimes one child got into a cycle of crime and punishment. I felt like I spent all day involved with the discipline of a particular child. How many naughty things could she do in one day, I wondered?
On these days I heard myself say, “Don’t do that one more time!” Sometimes they did it again to see what would happen after the warning. By the end of those days, I was more than ready to send the children to bed.
But what about forgiveness? Could I forgive a child that spent all day causing me trouble?
As I looked in on my children as they slept, I knew I could forgive their irritations on this day and the days to come. Though I might run out of patience with their behavior, I did not run out of love. I might not like the behavior of a child, but I still loved the child. Because of this love, I could forgive and start again- no matter how many misdeeds the day had held.
Perhaps it is because of God’s love for His children that He forgives again and again. Surely, the ability of the Parent to forgive is more than that of His children. When Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?
Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.” (Mt. l8:21 RSV) If this is a measure of the mercy of God, surely it is not too late for any of us to be forgiven, no matter how many times we have sinned.
“And Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him; Luke 23:ll (RSV).
It is sometimes quite easy to forgive others when they are truly sorry. But what about when they are not sorry? It is easier to pardon someone who is begging for forgiveness than to forgive someone who has wronged us and does not seem to care.
Out of jealousy, or perhaps misunderstanding, someone may say or do something that is unkind. When they are not remorseful and even continue to be unkind, it is very difficult to forgive them.
How could God even expect us to do so?
As a good parent, God sets the example. Jesus was taken prisoner by the chief priests, elders and captains of the temple. They led Him away from the garden of Gethsemane to be questioned and ridiculed. Then, instead of showing remorse for their actions, these people turned Him over to Pilate for punishment.
When Pilate found Him innocent of any crime, the rulers were insistent. When Pilate learned that Jesus was a Galilean, it put the matter in Herod’s jurisdiction. So, Pilate turned the problem over to Herod to handle. In front of Herod, the chief priests and scribes vehemently accused Jesus. Refusing to answer their accusations, Jesus was once again sent before Pilate. Now, the chief priests and rulers of the people demanded His crucifixion.
It would be very hard to forgive anyone who treated us with such brutal hatred. Yet this is what Jesus did. Though they did not ask His forgiveness, upon the cross Jesus prayed for the Father to forgive them.
Though we may never face such an extreme test, the example was set before us by our Lord. As hard as it may be, we are to forgive those who have done wrong to us, even if they have not asked for forgiveness.
The Gift of Forgiveness
“Surely it is for my benefit that I suffered such anguish. in your love you kept me from the pit of destruction; you have put all my sins behind your back.”
From watching my children, I have learned that genuine forgiveness must be given as a gift. When there are strings attached, the wrongdoer can never seem to make up for the transgression.
I have seen this happen often. When one child has done something that hurts or irritates another, they will usually apologize rather than have the other refuse to play. However, the injured party sometimes sees the chance to take advantage of the situation. The conversation may go as follows:
“I’m sorry,” says the wrongdoer.
“I’ll forgive you if you do what I say from now on,” says the forgiver.
This initial agreement works well at first. The forgiven child picks up all the toys for her sister. Then she lets her sister choose what they will play next. (And once again does all the clean up.)
By now, she is beginning to wonder just how much she must do before she is completely forgiven. After a few more demands, she balks at the, “I’ll forgive you when….” situation. Sensing that she could never do enough to earn forgiveness, she stops trying.
After a break from each other, things usually return to normal. Sometime, the children will learn that forgiveness means wiping the slate clean. Forgiveness cannot be dangled like a carrot before the wrongdoer so there is always something else they must do to be forgiven. At that rate, they could never do enough.
Fortunately, when God forgives us, our sin is immediately wiped away. It is remembered no more. Forgiveness is a gift, given out of love; for how could we ever do enough works to earn God’s forgiveness? Instead we are encouraged to “be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Eph 4:32 RSV) And this forgiveness is not only an act of pardon but a willingness to forget all that is past.
Does this mean that we may simply do whatever we please secure in the knowledge that we will be forgiven? Certainly not. “For if we sin deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins,” Hebrews l0:26 (RSV)
When my children deliberately disobeyed me, it meant they had no respect for my rules. Repeated disobedience told me they were not sorry for their misdeeds and must learn that there were consequences for this attitude. Though I forgave them when they repented, I would not relinquish my responsibility to teach them.
One thing I taught them is that it was they, and not I, who suffered the consequences of their misdeeds. Even when they thought they are getting away with something, there was always a penalty. Sometimes the penalty would not appear until later. If they succeeded in being irresponsible when they were young, they might not be able to keep a job when they grew up. If they are not honest, they may go to jail. One way or another, they will pay for their own mistakes
Like the children, when we choose to sin, we are the ones to pay. We cannot put anything over on God, for He knows what is in our hearts. Though God is forgiving, He loves us too much to remove the consequences of sin. These consequences encourage obedience. And obedience is always for our own good.
“Praise the Lord, O my soul; and forget not all his benefits-who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. The Lord works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed. He made known his ways to Moses his deeds to the people of Israel: The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; nor does he treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.” Psalm 103:2-10 (NIV)
I have found there are two approaches to get children to do chores and other unpleasant tasks. One way is to emphasize the consequences if they don’t comply. The other is to emphasize the rewards if they do comply. Each system may have the same results. However, the choice shows a striking contrast in the attitude of the enforcer.
First, we’ll look at the negative approach. Amidst threats of punishment, things may eventually get done. However, this approach leaves everyone unhappy. After all, children usually look at chores as boring activities that give them no benefit. They don’t care if their rooms are clean. The only benefit they see to cleaning is to stop our nagging.
Another approach is to offer children incentives for jobs well done. On a reward system, they collect tokens for tasks they complete. When they earn enough tokens they are given a special privilege or treat. This may work so well, there is little need for punishment. When they feel like the parent is on their side and appreciates the things they do, they may even began to do extra jobs without being asked and discover that it feel good to give. At this point they become a team with the parent, working together to accomplish, in a positive way what has to be done.
Like ourselves and our children, we must feel that God is on our side. We are a team with the positive Parent who chooses to deal with us in a positive manner. Even though God could force our compliance with His will, He chooses not to do so. Instead, He instructs His children of the reward for their faithfulness in living a Godly life.
Such was the approach Jesus used with His disciples. He did not threaten or shame them into doing His will. Instead, He convinced them that He had their ultimate gain at heart. In return, the disciples did what He asked; some even losing their lives for the sake of His message. They were willing to make such a sacrifice because of their first hand knowledge of God’s love.
Jesus was a positive teacher who knew encouragement and instruction was a better incentive than threats and punishment, thus inspiring others to follow Him. He inspired instead of compelling His followers, for such is the positive nature of God.
As a positive parent, God chooses to convert instead of destroy lives. At all times, He encourages us to do what is just and good. He does not lead His children into evil and He does not tempt them to do wrong; for God does not delight in punishing His children. James l:12 states, Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted with evil and he himself tempts no one;” (RSV)
Another example of God’s desire to affirm and bless is seen in Jeremiah 9:24, “…let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth; for in these things I delight, says the Lord.” (RSV)
Saint Paul was, at first, a persecutor of early Christians. Would God have struck Paul down on the road to Damascus if He were a God of anger and revenge? Instead, He gave Paul a sign and led him to repentance. This encounter led Paul to choose to serve this Lord who had touched his life with purpose and love.
In Philippians 3:7-8, Paul assures us, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ…” (RSV)
Paul found great comfort and purpose in his life when he began to serve the Lord. His experience of the positive power of God’s love made him desire to lead others to the same state of grace. In this calling, he felt truly blessed.
The Perfect Example
“I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.” John 13:15-16 (NIV)
There is nothing that God asks us to do for others that He has not already done for us. For every situation, God has set an example. When we are called on to forgive, we know that we have first been forgiven. As we are called upon to love others, we know that God already loves us. And when we are called upon to share our resources, we know that we cannot out-give God. In 2 Corinthians 7-8, Paul writes, “Each one must do as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that you may always have enough of everything and may provide in abundance for every good work.” (RSV)
When we adhere to God’s call to cheerfully give, we find He is faithful in rewards. And the more we give, the more we receive. One of my daughters helped me understand God’s love of a cheerful giver and His desire to reward generosity. On her birthday, I had bought her a can of foaming bath soap. I did not expect her to share it with her sisters. However, since I knew the other children would want to play with it, I bought an extra can for them to share. I felt smug in my plan to prevent any squabbles. Then, Jennifer’s generosity changed my plan.
After the birthday girl finished her bath, I heard her sisters begging to play with the soap. Feeling sure she would tell them “no”, I was on my way to tell them there was another can when my daughter surprised me.
“Hold out your hands and I’ll give you some.”
She let her sisters “borrow” her soap while they took their baths. I was so impressed by her unselfishness; I gave her the extra can. As long as she was going to share, I wanted to make sure she had plenty.
God surely delights when His children are unselfish. He replenishes the needs of those who give when they could keep all for themselves. Jesus tells us in Mark 4:24, “…. Take heed what you hear; the measure you give will be the measure you get, and still more will be given you.” (RSV) He is a positive parent who blesses those who follow His example.
From His Great Storeroom
“And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:19 (NIV)
Like any loving parent, God wants to care for His children. And He wants us to trust that He will provide instead of turning His back to our needs.
When my husband started his business, we found that we had to carefully budget our expenses. When I checked our supply of winter clothes, I found that the children and I had very few things to wear. No matter how far I tried to stretch our dollars, there was only enough money for warmer clothing for my young daughters. Unfortunately, I had only one pair of jeans (my winter uniform) and they were nearly worn out.
I presented the problem to God. “Lord, I have only one pair of jeans and they’ll soon be worn out. What am I going to wear?”
I’m not sure I really expected an answer. After all, would God be concerned with such a small problem? I made up my mind to make do with what I had. But in the back of my mind, I never forgot that I had turned this problem over to God.
Though I had not mentioned my needs to anyone, late in the fall, a relative called to ask if I could use three pairs of jeans that she could no longer wear. I was delighted. I knew that I could get through the winter with four pairs of jeans.
A week later, a friend called to ask if I could use some extra clothes. Her mother sewed for her and she had more than she could use. A few days later, a large box arrived containing some dresses and slacks—and nine pairs of jeans.
My next door neighbor cleaned out her closet and added another two pairs of jeans to my growing collection. With fifteen pairs of jeans, I now had more than I could use. Out of my need, God had multiplied an abundance that could be shared. I discovered that it is God’s way to take what is lacking in our lives and give us more than we could ever use. Out of that abundance we are able to give to others. Just as Jesus turned five loaves of bread and two fish into a feast for a multitude (Matthew 14:19), He provides for the needs in our lives.
There is no problem that is too insignificant for God’s care and no situation too negative for God to turn it into a positive result. God is a parent who reassures His children with love and cushions them with forgiveness. God is the perfect parent who knows that, as His children understand His unconditional love, they will adopt His ways. It is painful for a child to disappoint a parent who bestows upon them complete love and trust. Facing the disappointment of this parent is, in itself, a punishment. So it is with our loving Father. He wishes His children to accept His great love and follow Him willingly, as the example set by Jesus.
We are God’s children. Just as our children learn and grow, supported by our love and care, we learn and grow in spirit, supported by the love of God.
Our experience can be summed up by these words (l Corinthians 13:11-13), “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (RSV)
Wherever we are in our journey, we are always God’s child. And the perfect Parent loves us with perfect love.
Jesus told a parable about willing workers for His Father.
Have you ever asked your child to complete a task, such as, “Would you please clean your room this afternoon?” You are met with a willing answer.
You come back three hours later and the job still isn’t done. It reminds me of a story my mother told me when I was a child. It is called “Who Loves Mother Best?” The mother asks her two daughters to sweep the house for her. One of the girls willingly agrees and then goes off to play. The other girl initially refuses. Later, feeling sorry for her attitude, she sweeps the floors clean. The moral, of course, is that the second girl showed greater concern for her mother.
I suppose that can be true with God. There have been times I’ve felt a tug on my heart to perform a certain act, perhaps take a meal to the elderly woman down the block. I’ve answered “yes” and weeks went by without ever performing the task.
My heart is not tender towards God at those times. The Bible tells me what matters to Him. Show concern for others. When I put Him off because I don’t have time, I am like the child who pays lip service to His requests without being willing to give up my agenda to serve Him.
You Are God’s Child
For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. 1 Corinthians 13:12 (ESV)
My daughters used to steam up their bathroom mirror in hot showers and then wait impatiently for it to clear so they could fix their hair. We don’t get a clear picture of ourselves in a foggy mirror. Neither do we get a clear picture of what Heaven will be like by comparing it to this life. We see dimly.
Though the Bible describes our resurrected bodies, it is impossible for mortals to fully understand the change we will undergo. It is also difficult to grasp the idea of living in a perfect world without sin, immersed in the Father’s love. We are His children in this life and we will be His children when this life ends. We can look forward to experiencing the fullness of His great love for us, a love that began before we were formed and never ends. By trusting in Christ, you are, for eternity, a child of God.
May God Bless you in your journey. It has been a privilege to be your fellow traveler
A native of Houston, TX, Karen spent her early years enjoying life along the Gulf Coast. After high school, she attended Texas A&M as well as the University of Houston where she obtained a B.S. in early childhood education. She has written numerous articles and stories, books for children and novels for adults. She particularly enjoys writing contemporary, historical and inspirational romance.
She now lives in the Southwest with her family and assorted pets.
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Parenting can be an eye-opening experience. My purpose in writing this devotional and study guide is to compare our experiences as earthly parents to God’s leading and teaching of His children. The similarities give insight into God’s parental nature. In Matthew 6:9-13 (NIV) Jesus says, “This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, Of course God is a perfect parent, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28 (NIV) We learn much about God through our love for our children. Let’s explore this idea together!