Why Women Wander

sad-woman-looking-out-dark-window[1]

From the time we’re young, society feeds us a steady diet of lies—find the right man and you’ll be satisfied, attain the right figure and you’ll be beautiful, wear the right clothes and you’ll be accepted.  So we try it, only to discover there’s still this quiet ache.

Like a boat without an anchor, our hearts drift restlessly on a constant quest for fulfillment.  And boy does the world have a lot of suggestions for where we might find fulfillment.  I’m not much of a magazine reader, but I recently picked up a magazine promising to divulge how Jennifer Hudson “lives it up at Christmas without putting on a pound.”  Inadvertently, I stumbled upon an article entitled “12 Things We Learned about Love in 2012.”  The list was nothing short of devastating, boosting the pornographic novel Fifty Shades of Grey and the male-strip-club movie Magic Mike.  Really?  These are the things we learned about love?  But the sad reality is yes, these are the tutors shaping the hearts and minds of countless women.

And it’s all counterfeit.  We desire intimacy, and we’re offered lust.  We long for significance, and we’re handed a J Crew catalogue.  We want a Hero, and the world suggests 007.  Speaking of heroes, the other night I watched The Bourne Legacy with my husband.  One particular scene had me especially hooked.  In it the female doctor is running from the police.  She escapes into a narrow alley, only to find a police officer on either side.  Meanwhile, her partner, the medically enhanced super-duper spy is also running from police on the rooftops.  Just as you think it’s all over for the doctor, her partner leaps from a roof, flies down this tight alley, and saves her.  Ridiculous, sure, but I loved it!  I always love that image of the mighty hero rescuing the girl.  I think a lot of women do.  You know why I think it appeals to us?  Because it’s a dim reflection of a true story.

The next morning, after watching the movie, we were singing at church when a particular line from the song struck me: “The King of Glory rescued me.”  Unbidden, the image from the movie flashed through my mind.  With it came the joyous thought—there really is a Hero!  The world may offer an array of counterfeits, but there is a real thing in existence.  There is a Hero who longs to be deeply intimate with you, who has the power to bestow true significance, and who makes the Hulk look like a girl scout.  He is the ultimate leader, stronger than any super-spy, and fiercer than any warrior.

Listen to the heroic imagery of Psalm 18, as David cries out to God for help.  With fire from His mouth and anger that makes the mountains tremble, God flies swiftly on the wings of the wind, His voice thundering like hailstones.  He battles with arrows and lightning, until the channels of the sea are seen and the foundations of the world laid bare at His rebuke.  And then David declares, “He sent from on high, He took me; He drew me out of many waters.  He rescued me from my strong enemy…for they were too mighty for me.”  Talk about a rescue!  Talk about a Hero.

Why do women wander?  Because our souls were made for this Hero, and nothing less can satisfy.  As a Christian, do I still feel the temptation to wander aimlessly?  Absolutely.  It’s why I’m writing.  But I take heart because I also know the truth.  That restless stirring in my heart is not the need for a new pair of skinny jeans, or a few more dates with my husband.  It is my soul’s soft reminder that I was made for Christ.  It is my Savior’s invitation to come and be satisfied.

You May Also Like:

The Marriage Conversation You Ought to Have
The Marriage Conversation You Ought to Have
Confessions of a Housewife
Confessions of a Housewife
The Things in My Life I Don't Like
The Things in My Life I Don’t Like

The Slave and the Son

E06FIM41Bhr

If Ishmael was a child of flesh,
His birth an ode to bondage,
O may I be of Isaac’s seed,
Saved by the Son of promise!

For Ishmael stands daily to mock,
My weary war within.
His laugh is ready ever I fall,
To judge me a slave to sin.

But I will cling to Isaac’s God,
Whose covenant to me,
Declares that though a sinful wretch,
My soul is forever free!

O cast out the slave and her boy!
There’s not a single one,
Who stands to inherit the riches of life,
Eternally held for the son.

Galatians 4:21-31

(Painting by George Soper)

Eating to Honor God: Part 2

001

It’s time to get practical.  In my last post, I shared a personal theology of eating.  The challenge has been to translate this theology into a daily reality.  Realistically I know that changes in lifestyle take time, so I’ve created a plan that can be implemented in stages.  Please know I am NOT equating this particular plan with godliness!  It’s a vision for our household given our current struggles, habits, and goals.  I don’t know where you are in your philosophy of eating—you may grind your own whole grains in the basement, or you may pat yourself on the back when you buy baked Doritos.  I most certainly leaned toward the latter.  But regardless of where you’re coming from, my thoughts are meant only to be a launching pad.  You, more than anyone else, know what will bless and benefit your family the most.

That being said, my family plan includes five steps.  Along the way, I’ve noted corresponding biblical principles in red, as a means of ensuring that my plan does in fact reflect my theology.  As a reminder, here are the six biblical principles regarding eating from my previous post:

  1. We are called to eat for God’s glory.
  2. We are called to be free from legalism.
  3. We are called to be faithful stewards of our bodies.
  4. We are called to humility.
  5. We are called to seek refuge, comfort, and satisfaction in God alone.
  6. We are called to serve others.

With God’s help, this is the plan I want to implement in our home:

Step One: Establish and maintain an eating schedule. 
In my opinion, eating at fixed times throughout the day helps children realize that food has a purpose.  It’s meant to fuel the body, not calm cranky souls or entertain restless spirits (principles 1 & 5).  I’ve also seen that established meal and snack times can promote healthier eating (principle 3).  When kids graze all day, they’re more likely to be picky at meal time since they’re not really hungry.

Establishing and maintaining an eating schedule can benefit adults as well.  If I determine that I’ll eat three meals a day with two scheduled snacks, and then I find myself eating at an irregular time, I’m forced to ask why.  If the answer is that I’ve just exercised and I’m extra hungry, no big deal—I’m not a slave to legalism! (principle 2)  But if the answer is that I’ve been thinking about that big fat problem and I’m feeling anxious, then I need to put the trail mix down and go to the Lord (principle 5).

Step Two: Get rid of processed snacks.
AAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!
Okay, now that I’ve gotten that out of my system, let me remind myself (and you) that we have been called to be faithful stewards of our bodies (principle #3).  Truthfully, processed foods are harmful to the body.  Gloriously convenient, but harmful just the same.  We can do better!  Here’s my list of whole food alternatives, divided into three categories depending on the day:

We’re late—eat in the car!

A Typical Day

Supermom planned ahead!

Pre-packaged Raisins Yogurt (go for Greek—it’s got twice the protein) Sweet Potato Fries (chop, toss in olive oil, and roast at 400 for 15-20 min.)
String Cheese Fresh Fruit Smashed Sweet Potatoes with Butter and Cinnamon
Nuts and Dried Fruit (3 yrs+) Natural   Applesauce Steamed Edamame
Rice Cakes Raw Veggies and Hummus Hard-Boiled Eggs
Pretzels or All-Natural Crackers Whole Grain Toast and Jam A Home-Baked Treat (muffins, pumpkin bread…etc.)

Listen, if you want to feel overwhelmed, google “Whole Food Snacks.”  There are people who earn their livelihood blogging about every possible way to make a cookie without adding sugar.  If you’re feeling adventurous, give it a shot.  Your snack list can be a lot more exciting than this, complete with homemade organic pop tarts.  But if you’re like me, take a deep breath, and don’t sweat it.  Remember: this is a process.  No need to get your panties in a wad over where to buy agave syrup and brown rice paste yet.  Baby steps.

One more thought—the easiest time to exercise discipline is when you’re in the grocery store.  It’s much easier to say “no” to Oreos when they’re on the store shelf as opposed to the pantry shelf.  What’s more, I don’t think you have to get rid of all packaged snacks in order to be healthy.  A lot of whole food gurus recommend that you simply learn to read labels.  Your goal is to find snacks containing food ingredients you’ve actually heard of, like “wheat flour” and “sesame seeds” as opposed to “thiamine mononitrate.”

Step Three: Create a whole food breakfast and lunch menu. 
Have you ever felt like you scarcely cleaned up the breakfast dishes before pulling out the sandwich bread for lunch?  Me too!  All the time, in fact!  Creating a breakfast and lunch menu can help on two fronts.  It reduces some of the stress of meal preparation, making for a more joyful servant-Mama (principle 6), and it ensures that you’ll feed your family healthy meals (principle 3).

BREAKFAST

LUNCH

Homemade Granola with Milk or Yogurt Peanut Butter & Jelly (fruit & veggie on the side)
Toast with Peanut Butter & Fruit Grilled Cheese (fruit & veggie on the side)
Eggs, Toast (or plain Cheerios), and Fruit Homemade Chicken Salad on Toast or with Pretzels
Hard-Boiled Eggs and Mini Muffins (banana, pumpkin, bran…again, you can google a thousand   healthy muffin recipes) Spaghetti with whole wheat pasta, ground turkey and spinach in the sauce.
Cottage Cheese Pancakes–my mom’s recipe:
Beat   together 3 eggs, ½ cup milk, and 3 Tbsp vegetable oil.  Stir in ¾ cup flour and 1 ½ cup cottage   cheese.  Cook on a hot griddle.  (I hate cottage cheese, and I LOVE these   pancakes!!  The cottage cheese melts and the end result reminds me of a thick crepe.  A FAVORITE in our house!)
Pizza Burgers—Put leftover spaghetti sauce on whole wheat English muffins, topped with mozzarella cheese (fruit & veggie on side)
Veggie Platter—Pick 3 or 4 kid-friendly veggies (broccoli, cheesy cauliflower, green   beans, sweet or white potatoes, peas, corn…etc.)
Steel-Cut Oatmeal –My mom’s trick has always been to add a little flaxseed and wheat bran into the mix after it’s made.  For most babies, a mashed banana will make it sweet enough.  For toddler and you (who are old enough to know better), sweeten it with honey, maple syrup, or brown sugar & cinnamon. Black Bean Quesadillas—Put black beans and cheddar cheese between two whole wheat quesadillas and warm on the stove until cheese melts.  Serve with salsa and a veggie.
Chicken Wraps—Fill a high-fiber, low-carb veggie wrap (I buy them at Sam’s Club) with fresh chicken, lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, and hummus OR use the wrap to make a quesadilla with chopped chicken, cheese, and spinach.

P1050968

Cottage Cheese Pancakes

Step Four: Plan a weekly dinner menu. 
Again, this preparation helps me serve my family more joyfully (principle 6) and healthfully (principle 3).  I employ a simple strategy to speed things up: I think in terms of the same categories every week.  For instance, once a week we have church small groups and once a week we eat out as a family or go on a date.  That leaves me with five meals to plan per week.  So I have five categories:

  1. Freezer-Friendly Meals—Every week I choose one freezer-friendly meal and cook a double (sometimes triple) portion, freezing the extra for another night.
  2. On the Grill—Because grilling is so healthy and so EASY, I plan one grilled dinner a week.  Usually it’s as simple as Clint grilling the meat while I roast some vegetables.
  3. Veggie Night—I was inspired by Cracker Barrel to institute veggie night.  I made a long list of vegetables that remind me of Cracker Barrel (with a little less butter).  Each week I pick five items off the list for our veggie night.  Believe it or not, this is usually one of the most popular nights of the week, because like Cracker Barrel I include items like homemade “macaroni and cheese” and “cinnamon apples” on my list of “vegetables.”
  4. Frozen Meal—Because of my first category, once a week I’m able to pull out a previously frozen, homemade meal for a no-cooking night.  Hooray!  (And we didn’t even have to buy a Stauffer’s lasagna!)
  5. Other—This is my “miscellaneous” category.  I may choose to make an extra freezer-friendly meal to bulk up the stock pile, plan a meal according to what’s on sale, pull out a favorite recipe, make a crock-pot dish, or try something new.  Often, the grandparents will invite us over and that works too!

Step Five: Grow in Creativity.
Eventually I want to take small steps toward healthier, tastier recipes for the sake of whole-hearted service (principle 6), sound nutrition (principle 3), and doing all things to the best of my ability for God’s glory (principle 1).  I haven’t begun to explore this yet.  Honestly, I’m still struggling my way through steps 2 & 3 right now, reminding myself daily that I am free in Christ and not bound by legalism!  But in the future, by God’s grace, I look forward to seeing growth.

A Final Word 
I want you to know that a crucial component of my plan is embracing the freedom to break every single “rule” at any given time.  I’m happy for my kids to have treats in the nursery and candy bars when Grandma visits.  I’m happy to break our eating schedule to surprise Daddy at work with ice-cream.  My point is, I don’t want to be a slave to anything, least of all a man-made plan.  I feel so strongly about this that initially I included a specific list of “freedoms” at the end of each step, but for the sake of brevity, deleted it.  (I know what you’re thinking—the brevity ship set sail a long time ago.  I apologize.)  That’s the last point I wanted to make—eat intentionally, and eat with freedom.  Eat to honor God.

Eating to Honor God: Part 1

P1040396

Three months ago my documentary-loving husband put the movie Forks Over Knives on our Netflix queue.  Hoping for an action flick, I was bitterly disappointed when it arrived in the mail, but nevertheless we watched it.  About thirty minutes in, Clint was clutching his heart, certain it would stop beating at any moment.  If you’re unfamiliar with the film, it uses scientific and medical research to champion a Vegan lifestyle.  The movie underscores the link between processed, animal-based foods and cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and other illnesses.

When it ended, Clint was inspired.  “Let’s do it!”  He declared.  I was woebegone.  As the family cook, the thought of re-structuring our entire diet was not only daunting, but depressing.  But I couldn’t shake the guilt I felt, especially toward my children.  If I know that highly-processed foods are so unhealthy for my little ones, why do I still hand them out?  “Convenience” hardly seemed a suitable answer when their health was at stake.  So, I resolved to take baby steps toward healthier eating.  For three months I’ve been struggling along, until it finally dawned on me to ask the question, “What does the Bible say about eating?”

The moment I started to explore the topic, I grew encouraged.  The ocean of fad diets and whole-food-blogging-gurus slowly gave way to a stable and steady shore, one that promised to guide me with Truth, not trends.  In the end, I narrowed my study to six principles, probably not comprehensive of all the Bible has to say about eating, but the best I could do:

  1. We are called to eat for God’s glory.
    The first thing I saw is that eating to honor God is a biblical mandate.  I Corinthians 10:31 says, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”  As Christians, everything related to food—from what we eat to the attitude we have while preparing it—should glorify God.
    .
  2. We are called to be free from legalism.
    In the Old Testament, there were “unclean” foods that Jews were forbidden to eat.  Then, in Acts 10:9-16, Peter had a vision in which God declared the unclean food, “clean,” telling Peter to “Rise, kill, and eat.”  Symbolically, God was preparing Peter to receive Gentiles into the faith, declaring that He has made them “clean.”  As believers in Christ, there is no longer any food “forbidden” to us.  We do not have to plan our weekly menu enslaved by legalism, or as I like to think of it—I don’t have to feel guilty if I get in a jam and choose to order a pizza now and then.  We have been set free, called to freedom (Galatians 5)—therefore, I don’t want my philosophy of eating to be enslaving.
    .
  3. We are called to be faithful stewards of our bodies.
    Although we are permitted to eat anything, the Bible reminds us that our “body is a temple of the Holy Spirit” (I Corinthians 6:19) and we are to present it as a “living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” which is an act of worship (Romans 12:1).  Exercising wisdom and self-control in eating demonstrates faithful stewardship.  This is an especially serious responsibility for parents of small children, because they are entirely dependent on us to feed them.  They can’t make a grocery list, go to the store, and buy healthy foods.  They eat what they are given.  Therefore, we are accountable as stewards of their bodies.  (Yikes, I know!  My thoughts exactly.)
    .
  4. We are called to humility.
    Personally, I think the subject of food is particularly sensitive for women.  It’s a tender topic for numerous reasons—it’s tied to our abilities as a homemaker, our body image, our parenting style, our organization and planning (or lack thereof).  And because of this, it can become a source of pride for those who make it their pedestal.  But clearly God opposes both pride and judgment (James 4:6, Matthew 7:1).  So as we create our philosophy of eating, let’s remember that we can be an all-natural, organic superstar, but if we harbor a spirit of pride, we’re losing on the front that really counts.
    .
  5. We are called to seek comfort, refuge, and satisfaction in God alone.
    We must examine our motives for eating.  Repeatedly the Bible speaks of God being our only true refuge and comfort (Psalm 46:1, 91:2, 2 Corinthians 1:3-5).  Yet it is tempting to use food as a false refuge, seeking the comfort of a warm brownie, or eight.  At the same time, we can sin in the opposite direction by seeking satisfaction through not eating. So the question is why am I making these food choices?  Am I doing it to honor God, or to fill an empty place?  To honor God, or to seek a worldly self-image?  To honor God, or because I am in bondage to fear of disease?
    .
  6. We are called to serve one another.
    Finally, we must take a brief stop at the home of the Proverbs 31 woman, who “rises while it is yet night and provides food for her household.”  What a girl.  One of the things I hate the most about myself is that when I’m preparing food I often morph from “normal” Jeanne into “angry-bear-get-out-of-my-way-I’m-COOKING!!!” Jeanne.  The thought of this woman (with no stove, dishwasher, or microwave) rising while it is still night to prepare food is deeply challenging.  Here is a woman who embraces food preparation as service to her family and her God.  If you’ve ever been around a woman like this, you know how beautiful it is.  My mother-in-law is one such woman, and on many pre-holiday occasions I have quietly chopped vegetables alongside her and marveled at her whole-hearted, unselfish delight in ministering to her family via the humble avenue of food-preparation.

There you have it—the groundwork for my rudimentary theology of eating.  So, how does this translate practically?  Honestly, I struggle with all six principles.  Nevertheless, in our household I am the primary meal planner, grocery shopper, and chef (although I do have a cute dishwashing boy) 🙂

Since I hold so much sway over our eating habits, I am in the process of drafting a plan to align our practical habits more fully with these biblical principles.  Because this post is growing longer by the second, I will post my practical plan separately.  Until then, I welcome your feedback.  As always, it is great fun journeying with you!

Legendary Loss

lance26_custom-00442ce358537a23e223fc698ffa4f305cc2f378-s6-c10[1]

This morning Clint, who always wakes up at least two hours before me, crawled back into bed and woke me up with lots on his mind.  For thirty minutes we lay under the covers, talking about Lance Armstrong.  I tried to convince him to be my first guest blogger, but he graciously declined. 🙂

So that leaves me and you to carry on the conversation.

For months, I’ve wanted to write a post entitled “Why Jesus?”  I’ve approached the topic from many angles—historical, logical, emotional.  But the truth is, I can sum up the number one reason I’ve chosen Jesus in two words: Lance Armstrong.

I know exactly what it’s like to be him.  Okay, not in the cycling sense.  But in the big fat phony sense.  I know what it’s like to long for a worthy identity, to stash my failings way down deep where nobody but me can see them.  I know what it’s like to be a fraud.  To win the middle school Christian character award and be mean as a snake on the inside.  To hand out advice like candy canes and secretly be falling apart at the seams.

Ultimately, that’s what drove me to Jesus.  People come to worship Jesus for many different reasons.  Need was mine.  I was completely broken.  Shiny as Armstrong’s spokes on the outside, but broken on the inside.  And truthfully, I still see it.  Anytime I peek into my heart, I see my sinful humanity alive and beating.  Selfish.  Afraid.  Cruel.  Weak.  I need Jesus.  Continually.  Jesus offers me hope, not to become a worthy person, but to stake my worth on Someone other than myself!  Secure in Him, I no longer need to be secure in myself.

Can you relate to being broken?  Let me ask it this way—when you heard about Lance Armstrong, you were probably shocked, but were you confused?  Did it seem unthinkable?  Or did it make all too much sense?  We recognize the thoughts and feelings that drove Armstrong’s choices because they are our own.  The longing for significance, the addiction to performance, the hunger for self-glory born out of insufficiency.  They are testimonies of our need for Someone transcendent—not another human just as messed up as we are, but a God.  Someone outside of this fallen realm, Someone unstained by guilt, Someone with the power not only to save but to impart identity, significance, and hope.  Someone to restore what’s been lost, to journey with us, changing our heart and our destination.

That is the hope of the gospel.  Made for God and destined for purpose, we have been crippled by sin ever since the fall of man in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3).  Knowing we could never be good enough to reach a perfect God, God Himself came down to us in the form of a man–Jesus Christ.  Because He was the only sinless man to ever live, Jesus was able to pay the penalty for our sin.  Think of it this way–if you were on trial for murder, a righteous judge would not allow a thief to stand in your place.  That thief must pay the penalty for his own sin.  Only a blameless man could stand in your place.  What’s more, in the analogy, it is the Judge himself who chooses to stand in your place.  This demonstrates both uncompromised justice and extreme mercy.  There are two responses to such an action–you can accept the Judge’s generous trade, or you can choose to await the judgement yourself.  One will result in eternal life, and the other eternal wrath.  How do you make the trade?   By sincere faith in what Christ has done…faith that will manifest itself in whole-hearted devotion to Christ (John 3:16, Romans 10:9-10).

It took Lance Armstrong 24 hours to lose everything—achievements, status, wealth, identity.  Learn from his mistake.  Put your hope in something lasting.  Hear the Psalmist’s cry–“Put your hope in the Lord!  For with the Lord is unfailing love, and with Him is full redemption.”  (Psalm 130:7)  In the wake of legendary loss, there is legendary gain to be had.

2013 Book List

P1050947

I was inspired by one of my favorite bloggers, Lindsay of Passionate Homemaking, to create a yearly book list.  My goal is to be intentional about reading books that strengthen my walk with God, deepen my perspecitive of biblical womanhood, and refresh me in my role as a wife and mom.  I’ve also included books that simply cater to my personal interests.  As you can see, I’ve kept the fiction list short.  For me, reading fiction takes about as much discipline as eating Klondike bars.  That being said, the fiction list is likely to grow throughout the year as I peruse the library.  The non-fiction list is a different story.  It will be a challenge to read all these.  Like everything in my life, the list is subject to change throughout the year, but for starters, here it is:

Non-Fiction

Biblical Womanhood in the Home by DeMoss, Kassian, Mahaney, et al.–Written by a powerhouse of godly female authors, this book is meant to counter the feminist revolution and its lingering effects in the hearts and minds of women. 

Don’t Make Me Count to Three by Ginger Plowman–This short book on discipline comes highly recommended by friends.

Give Them Grace by Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson–This book has been on my reading list for a while.  I’m eager to learn more about raising our kids with a grace-centered, gospel worldview.

Humility by C.J. Mahaney–Not only do I love C.J. Mahaney, I could use a good dose of humility.  Excited to read this little book and hopeful about the fruit it will bear.

Joni and Ken: An Untold Love Story by Ken and Joni Eareckson Tada–Joni Eareckson has been a longtime hero of mine.  As a child I use to put her cassette tape in our tape player and listen to her songs over and over again.  Her story has always captivated and inspired me, so when I saw this new book being released in April I nearly jumped out of my skin.  Expect a book review!

On Writing by Stephen King–One of my favorite fiction authors (Charles Martin, seen below) recommended this book for aspiring writers.  I will confess, it was so good that I read the entire thing before I could get this book list up.  So, there are two things you should know: King truly is master of the craft, and he has quite a potty mouth.  If you’re able to overlook the latter, he will be the best writing coach you’ve ever had.

The Call by Os Guinness–This past year my husband and I have spent significant time discussing our calling.  We decided to read this book together with another couple in our church.  Only on chapter three, and already loving it!

The Hospitality Commands by Alexander Strauch–I chose this book because I want to grow in hospitality.  I’ve never felt particularly strong in the area, and I think a fresh biblical perspective is in order.

The House that Cleans Itself by Mindy Starns Clark–Do I really need to explain the appeal to this one?  I didn’t think so.

The Prodigal God by Tim Keller–Although books about Christian issues are helpful, I think it’s encouraging to read a book focused on the character of God Himself once in a while.  Since I enjoyed The Meaning of Marriage so much, I thought I’d give another Keller book a try.

Fiction

The Mountain Between Us by Charles Martin–This is just for fun from one of my favorite Christian fiction authors who writes like a male, sanctified Jodi Piccoult.  In this particular novel–a young doctor, a bride-to-be, a fateful plane crash, a fight for survival…oh boy!

Two Crosses by Elizabeth Musser–One of my followers responded to my post on “Confessions of a Housewife” with the suggestion that I check out Christian fiction author Elizabeth Musser.  I am always on the hunt for good Christian fiction and can’t wait to sit down with this historical novel!  The book is the first in a trilogy, so if I like it, I’ll add the next two to my list.

If you want to follow my progress or check out my 2012 list, you can click on the “Yearly Reading” page above.  Happy reading!

Helping Little Hearts Overcome Sin

171737_10150101493647141_569603_o-1

*Note: This article is based on the doctrines of original sin and total depravity.  To learn more about these doctrines, click here.  
A few years ago, while my husband was in seminary, I took a biblical parenting class.  I was pregnant at the time and blissfully ignorant of all the challenges to come.  But under the tutelage of one remarkable woman, Dana Stinson, I crammed life lessons into my heart like money under a mattress—tucked away for a rainy day.  In the years to come, I have pulled the lessons out repeatedly.  One, in particular, is worn with use.  Ironically, it is the very first lesson she taught us.

On the first day of class Mrs. Stinson warned us that there is a great temptation in parenting to excuse away a child’s sin.  Often this is done through labeling a child (she’s just shy, he’s just active).   It can also be done euphemistically by calling defiant behavior “stubborn” or manipulative behavior “emotional.”  And who hasn’t used circumstances to excuse a kid’s sin now and then?  (She’s exhausted; he’s hungry; it’s way past nap time.)  All of it may be true—maybe she is shy, emotional, hungry, and tired.  But she is also sinful.  And ultimately, she is refusing to share her toys not only because she is tired, but because her sinful heart loves self more than others.

Mrs. Stinson taught us that sugar-coating a child’s sin is no favor to the child.  If you really want to help little Johnny overcome sin and mature in godliness, you have to be willing to call a spade a spade.  So for our first assignment, we had to observe a child (if possible, our own) and identify the chief sins this child was drawn to.  Then, we had to create a plan of action to help the child overcome his or her greatest sin struggle.  The assignment was so helpful that I thought I’d share it, in hopes that it might benefit your household as it has ours.  Here’s what to do.

Step 1: Identify your child’s chief sins.

Everyone is prone to some sins more than others.  For instance, one person may struggle with aggression while another battles passivity.  Children are no different.  Each has a unique make-up and will be particularly drawn to various sins in various seasons.  To pin-point your child’s chief struggles, start by pin-pointing the chief behaviors you see.  The easiest way to explain this process is to give you a case study.  Suppose you notice that your toddler’s primary negative behavior is tantrum-throwing.  The question is what sin is behind tantrum-throwing?  Or to re-phrase it, why is tantrum-throwing sinful?  First, it defies authority.  (Think about it—a tantrum is a reaction to the mandate of an authority figure: it’s time to go, you have to eat your broccoli, you may not wear your batman mask to school…).  Secondly, a child throwing a tantrum is seeking to control not only the situation, but the authority figure making the unpleasant mandate.  Ironically, while seeking to control everyone else, the child is evidencing a lack of self-control over his own emotions.  Overall, we can characterize one chief sin—pride.  A child throwing tantrums is saying (or screaming), “I want everyone and everything to revolve around me right now.  I want to be the authority, I want to be in control, and I want to do whatever pleases me.”  This is a serious sin!  Which means it’s also a serious opportunity for gospel truth and training.

(A word of caution here: Sometimes you will notice a negative behavior and be unsure whether it’s sin-related or development-related.  For example, unlike her classmates Suzie may never sit still.  It’s possible she’s capable of sitting still but choosing to disobey her teacher, or it’s possible she’s struggling with this developmental milestone.  In my opinion, if you’re unsure, you should err on the side of grace and treat it as a developmental issue.  You can still create a plan of action to help her learn this important skill, but your plan will rely more heavily on practicing and coaching, not disciplining.)

Step 2: Create a plan of action.

Typically a plan that I create includes prayer, dialogue, practice, modeling, and discipline.  Using our case study regarding temper tantrums, here’s an example:

  1. PRAYWe will pray for and with our child, asking Jesus to help her value other people, obey willingly, and develop self-control. Specifically, we will pray Philippians 2:4 and Proverbs 29:11 over her:
    • “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” 
    • “A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control.”
      .
  2. DIALOGUE—In calm moments (while working on a craft or going for a walk) we will dialogue about the following issues related to tantrums:
    • Why Mommy and Daddy sometimes say “no”
    • How to respond when Mommy or Daddy says “no”
    • Everybody’s desire to throw tantrums (including parents)
    • Why throwing tantrums is sinful
    • Jesus as the only hope for helping us not throw tantrums
    • The consequences of throwing a tantrum in our household
      .
  3. PRACTICE—We will role-play right behavior, giving our child the opportunity to experience success.  Example: I will say, “Let’s practice doing the right thing.  Here, pretend you’re playing with Mommy’s cell phone.  I’m going to say, ‘No don’t play with this.  Please give it to me.’  Then you say, ‘Yes ma’am’ and give it to me, okay?”  (I discovered that my kids absolutely LOVE this game.  They smile widely, hand it over, and proudly say, “Yes ma’am!”  Then we dance around and applaud their great behavior.  We practice with a variety of situations—they may pretend they’re playing and I tell them it’s time to go…etc.)
    .
  4. MODEL—We will relate to our child in his struggle against sin by modeling repentance and speaking in biblical categories.  Every outburst will be called a “temper tantrum,” including Mommy and Daddy’s outbursts.  (I cannot count the number of times I’ve yelled in frustration, then later apologized to one of my kids and admitted that Mommy had a temper tantrum, that Mommy is a sinner, and that Mommy needs Jesus.  Apparently, it’s easier than I thought to model repentance because I so frequently blow it.  No need for role-play with this one—the real thing is happening all the time!)
    .
  5. DISCIPLINE—Every time we see a tantrum beginning we will respond the same way:
    • Bend down on her level, look her in the eye, and tell her to close her mouth.  “You can do it, close your mouth!  You don’t have to have a temper tantrum—you can obey Mommy!  Close your mouth!”  If she successfully controls her emotions and obeys then we CELEBRATE!  (“Yay!!  What a wise choice!  Let’s thank Jesus for helping you!”)
    • If she continues to cry, immediately enforce disciplinary action we discussed with her in “dialogue” phase.
    • Talk it out.  “Why did Mommy discipline you?”  (Because I threw a temper tantrum).  “Is it sinful to disobey Mommy and have a tantrum?”  (Yes)  “What would you like to say to Mommy?”  (I’m sorry.)  “I forgive you and I love you.” (*hugs and kisses)  “Let’s ask Jesus to help you not have temper tantrums.” 

Now that you’ve seen a sample plan, I have one final thought.  If I could, I’d flash it across the screen in neon lights, (but since I don’t know how to re-write HTML code, I’ll settle for capital letters): ONLY JESUS CAN CHANGE OUR CHILDREN.  Developing a plan is not about taking the salvation or sanctification of your child into your own hands.  It’s about trusting God to save and sanctify your child, while being intentional in your shepherding.  The Bible tells us to raise our children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph. 6:4).  This is just one way to do that.  It is a method of training, but Jesus is the hope of change.  There are two opposite temptations constantly alive within me—one is to ignore my children’s sin and hope it goes away.  The other is to play God and attempt to micro-manage their souls.  Neither is the answer!  And neither is a fun way to live—constantly in denial or constantly under pressure.  The answer always was, always is, and always will be CHRIST IN YOU, THE HOPE OF GLORY!  (Col. 1:27)  Hallelujah!  That is great news for this mom.