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The Perfect Promise for the Broken Parent

The Perfect Promise for the Broken Parent

Scrip­ture is full of beau­ti­ful promis­es for par­ents, but one pas­sage in par­tic­u­lar holds a promise that’s easy to over­look. But if we’re miss­ing this one, we’re for­get­ting a major bless­ing from God.

Romans 8:26–27

Like­wise the Spir­it helps us in our weak­ness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spir­it him­self inter­cedes for us with groan­ings too deep for words. And he who search­es hearts knows what is the mind of the Spir­it, because the Spir­it inter­cedes for the saints accord­ing to the will of God.

Par­ents, the Holy Spir­it is stand­ing as an advo­cate for you before God. He’s pray­ing for you and inter­ced­ing for you and plead­ing for you accord­ing to the very will of GodAnd he’s pray­ing specif­i­cal­ly for your next step, even if you don’t have a clue what that is.

A Prayer for the Broken

I love the hon­esty of this promise — even as it starts: “The Spir­it helps us in our weak­ness.” Romans 8:26 isn’t aimed towards the faith­ful or the bold or the coura­geous or the right­eous Chris­tian — it’s aimed toward the weak. This is a promise for the par­ent at the end of her rope, over­whelmed and exhaust­ed, beat­en down and con­fused.

This is a promise for the par­ent who’s been bro­ken.

You’ve been there, right? It’s that moment when you throw up your hands and say, “I know I should  pray, but I don’t even know what to say!” This verse promis­es that in those moments, God is gen­tly reas­sur­ing, “Don’t wor­ry. Don’t fear. Just rest in me. The Holy Spir­it, who knows you per­fect­ly, is already pray­ing. You don’t have ways to express your bro­ken­ness, or wis­dom to direct your next steps. But I have both, and I’m pray­ing for you.”

Led By Prayer

The incred­i­ble promise tucked in here is that no mat­ter the sit­u­a­tion, you are bathed in per­son­al, real prayer that per­fect­ly aligns with God the Father’s will for you and for your life. Think about that! Every par­ent­ing sit­u­a­tion you walk into has already been prayed for. The Holy Spir­it leads us in our par­ent­ing by prayer.

Mom — Dad — you might be walk­ing through a sit­u­a­tion right now in your fam­i­ly in which you have no clue how take the next step. You feel par­a­lyzed by con­fu­sion or fear or anger and the ques­tion, “What does God want me to do?” only com­pli­cates the mat­ter! You don’t know what you CAN do, much less what God might want you to do.

Take heart. The Holy Spir­it, in this moment, is stand­ing before God, pray­ing for you and inter­ced­ing for you per­son­al­ly. His prayers are in per­fect step with God’s will. He knows exact­ly where you are. The Holy Spir­it knows your best next step, even if you can’t pic­ture a sin­gle step, and He is ask­ing God to lead you the right way. His prayers are per­fect, and his prayers are lead­ing you.

This promise ulti­mate­ly doesn’t just give us hope — it gives con­fi­dence. Walk bold­ly. Pray con­fi­dent­ly. You will nev­er walk into a par­ent­ing sit­u­a­tion that hasn’t already been prayed for by the Holy Spir­it.

Parents: Stop Posting About Alcohol on Facebook

Parents: Stop Posting About Alcohol on Facebook

It’s become cliché — Par­ent 1 shares a pic­ture or sta­tus about a strug­gle or crazy moment or insane kid sit­u­a­tion, and Par­ent 2 chimes in with “Get out the wine!” “Can’t wait for the kids to go to sleep — a bot­tle of red is wait­ing!” 10476496_10153839415764993_5632342585470158718_n“Tonight isn’t a wine night — it’s a whole bot­tle night!” Every­one laughs, shrugs, thinks, “Yup, me too!” and goes on with their night.

Par­ents, I would like to respect­ful­ly sub­mit that we need to stop casu­al­ly post­ing about alco­hol on Face­book (and social media in gen­er­al). Full dis­clo­sure: I’m an avid Face­book user and cer­tain­ly not a tee­to­taler. I have noth­ing again­st the appro­pri­ate and wise con­sump­tion of alco­hol, and I think Face­book can be a bless­ing and even a min­istry tool when used well. But the two shouldn’t mix.

Let me share three rea­sons:

You don’t know the story of every one of your Facebook friends.

I wrote a post in April explain­ing why we need to be extra-care­ful post­ing on Face­book: it’s not just our imme­di­ate friends or those who will com­ment who can see what we write; often, it’s a wide group of friends and past friends and acquain­tances and occa­sion­al­ly even the pub­lic. In that group of peo­ple is a broad his­to­ry of alco­hol use, abuse and pain. Very pos­si­bly, some­one read­ing a casu­al and jok­ing post about wine has strug­gled with alco­hol depen­dance, or suf­fered the ter­ri­ble effects of a par­ent wrestling with alco­holism. In your Face­book friend list might be a teen who’s wrestling with neg­a­tive peer-pres­sure. A mom who’s been sober since find­ing out she was preg­nant, but who had one of her rough­est days, or a grand­par­ent who lost a child to alco­hol abuse.

I wouldn’t sug­gest that other’s actions or deci­sions should be blamed or jus­ti­fied by casu­al and jok­ing posts on Face­book, but if you know there’s even a chance a Face­book post could hurt some­one, don’t you think it might be best to hold off?

Your kids will get Facebook.

Dad, mom: Face­book is here to stay, and your kids are get­ting old­er every day. There is com­ing a moment when each of your kids will sign up for Face­book, and there is also com­ing a day when they will scroll through your News Feed. Your dar­ling daugh­ter or strong son will most like­ly be in Jr. High, acne rid­den and wrecked by social pres­sure and neg­a­tive self-image when they do, and they’ll be think­ing, “Oh, my good­ness, what did dad post about me on Face­book?”

Do you want the answer to that ques­tion to be any­thing relat­ed to alco­hol?

In every way, each of us wants to raise our chil­dren with a healthy under­stand­ing of alco­hol and a healthy self-image. I don’t think it’s a reach to say that occa­sion­al, even jok­ing posts about alco­hol — espe­cial­ly in rela­tion to our kids — can under­mine both of those goals.

There are nor­mal, reg­u­lar par­ent­ing con­ver­sa­tions you have with close friends that you would nev­er want record­ed and read back to your kids, because those con­ver­sa­tions are raw and con­tex­tu­al­ized and some­times with­out nuance. But in post­ing them on Face­book, you’re doing just that — prepar­ing your kids to be con­fused and ques­tion both you and them­selves lat­er.

Demonstrate your dependence on Christ, not on substance.

soothethesoulFinal­ly, we should do every­thing we can to embrace and demon­strate of our depen­dance on Christ, rather than any oth­er sub­stance. Post­ing in the way we often do about alco­hol can poten­tial­ly reveal a strug­gle in our hearts with Christ-cen­tered depen­dance.

When you’re over­whelmed — be it with par­ent­ing or friend­ships or work or life in gen­er­al — where do you turn? What do you look towards for peace and com­fort and relief? God has blessed us with so many recre­ations in this life: the gym, friends, sports, Net­flix, snacks, Face­book. Few, if any of our recre­ations are inher­ent­ly bad. But there are none that should take the place of God as a sus­tain­er and restor­er and heal­er and com­forter.

This is not an accu­sa­tion. We can look for­ward to and enjoy wine or Net­flix or any­thing with­out being depen­dent on it. But this is a cau­tion: every time the thought flick­ers through you mind, “I need _____,” pause and take a spir­i­tu­al inven­to­ry. Is ____ becom­ing an idol? Is your heart tend­ing towards emo­tion­al depen­dance on any­thing oth­er than Christ? Be wary of this!

Let me be clear: I don’t scoff at any of my friends who post on social media about alco­hol — I get it! But my biggest con­cern is that we often post on Face­book with­out think­ing. We’re com­fort­able, we’re casu­al, and we’re look­ing to be fun­ny. It’s easy to for­get the long-term ram­i­fi­ca­tions and unseen con­se­quences of a mis­in­ter­pret­ed or mis­un­der­stood com­ment. There are plen­ty of argu­ments that can be made for post­ing about alco­hol, I’m sure, but the biggest ques­tion to wrestle with is sim­ple: “Is the risk worth it?”

In the end, par­ents, I think it’s wis­est if we say, “I won’t risk my friends, my kids and my wit­ness for a snarky post about wine.”

Disciplining from Authority and Love

Disciplining from Authority and Love

You know the sit­u­a­tion. Some­thing has just hap­pened to your child – whether major or minor – and all warn­ing signs say it’s time to sound the airstrike siren and seek shel­ter.

The area’s about to be turned into a war­zone. You quick­ly inter­ject, send­ing the offer­ing par­ties (or indi­vid­u­al – because when it comes to kids, it real­ly only takes one to tan­go) to their respec­tive cor­ners and try to get your emo­tions under con­trol. Now, all you need to do is find the per­fect few phras­es to turn your seething and bel­liger­ent mess of child-emo­tions into an apolo­get­ic and sub­mis­sive angel.

When my daugh­ter Eden was three, I start­ed a using a pat­tern of phras­es when I would first sit down to talk to her – even if she hadn’t yet cooled down (read: she’s still red in the face from scream­ing). I’ve found them to be incred­i­bly help­ful. They go some­thing like this:

Eden, who am I?”

*Snif­fle, snif­fle, snort. Pause. Sigh.* “Dad­dy.”

Right, Eden. I’m dad­dy. And how do I feel about you?”

*Snif­fle. Loud pflem sound. Gri­mace* “You love me.”

Yeah, I love you. So what does that mean?”

*Eye shrug (you know what I mean)* “You’re in charge.”

Right, I’m in charge. And because I’m in charge, and because you’re not act­ing right, and because I love you so much, we’ve got to fig­ure out how to help you act right.”

There’s three ques­tions I ask every time I kneel down to look her in the eye: ‘Who am I?’ ‘How do I feel about you?’ And ‘What does that mean?’ Over the past two years, I’ve found this is an incred­i­ble way to estab­lish my author­i­ty, calm her down, and move for­ward.

 

It Establishes Authority

 

At the heart of dis­obe­di­ence is always a con­fu­sion of rela­tion­ship. This is not rev­o­lu­tion­ary – it tracks back to Gen­e­sis 3 and the Gar­den of Eden. “God is keep­ing good from you!” Satan lies. “He doesn’t want you to have some­thing you deserve.” If at that moment Eve had looked at Satan and said, “My Father would nev­er do that,” well – we wouldn’t need to be hav­ing this dis­cus­sion of child­hood dis­obe­di­ence.

When a child dis­obeys, it’s because they’ve decid­ed they know what’s best and that they won’t sub­mit to parental author­i­ty. But when the par­ent rais­es his or her voice, shout­ing (or say­ing loud­ly), “I’m in charge! You need to lis­ten!” the child’s nat­u­ral ten­den­cy is either to cow­er or entrench – the flight or fight mech­a­nism is trig­gered. Nei­ther respon­se moves the sit­u­a­tion towards healthy res­o­lu­tion, and nei­ther helps estab­lish author­i­ty.

On the oth­er hand, when you ask a canned, reg­u­lar ques­tion about rela­tion­ships, you chal­lenge the child to remem­ber – and accept – your nat­u­ral author­i­ty. You’re not doing so accus­ing­ly or aggres­sive­ly – rather, you’re sim­ply say­ing, “Who am I? Remem­ber, that title from God gives me author­i­ty.” A child can under­stand and accept this at a young age – but only if they’re think­ing about it and calm. And this leads to the sec­ond point:

 

It Helps Defuse the Situation

 

Often­times, one of the biggest imped­i­ments to deal­ing with frus­tra­tion and dis­obe­di­ence is that by the time I’m get­ting involved, it’s all snot and tears and lots and lots of emo­tion. A child can’t think – much less think clear­ly – about a sit­u­a­tion at this point. You need some­thing to calm the child down and move past the emo­tion to the truth.

Time can cer­tain­ly be that some­thing – and it often needs to be. But ask­ing reg­u­lar ques­tions to which the child knows the answers can help calm those nerves and get him or her think­ing again. This in turn helps move the whole process for­ward.

 

It Centers on Love

 

Eden knows in her heart that I love her. She knows the with­out reser­va­tion or doubt. But by gol­ly, when I’ve asked her to eat that sec­ond flow­eret of broc­coli that she’s already said she doesn’t want – well, that doesn’t sound like love to her five-year-old mind. That sounds a lot more like a dec­la­ra­tion of war.

Our chil­dren must be taught to view our dis­ci­pline through the lens of love. I believe there are few more impor­tant lessons. This is essen­tial for our par­ent­ing suc­cess but also, far more impor­tant­ly, for their dis­ci­ple­ship. God dis­ci­plines those he loves. God is going to dis­ci­pline our chil­dren – because he loves them far more than we ever will.

We must do every­thing with­in our pow­er to teach our kids to expect God’s dis­ci­pline and cor­rec­tion – not as a excep­tion to His love, but as an exten­sion of it. This starts by couch­ing and explain­ing our dis­ci­pline with the lan­guage of love.

Over the past two years, this process has been one of the most effec­tive in pulling my daugh­ter out of her anger, out of her frus­tra­tion and emo­tion and help­ing her think calm­ly about her actions and mine. How­ev­er, I don’t think this process will stay as effec­tive, even over this next year. She’s going to get more cyn­i­cal about canned respons­es, and she’ll learn more eas­i­ly how to game the sys­tem – how to remain obsti­nate and defi­ant even in face of her answers.

But I don’t think I’ll change, at least for a while. Even if this process fails to calm her down, I want to make sure I’m remind­ing her of my love and author­i­ty when­ev­er we inter­act over a blowout.

After all, I’m dad­dy.

 

P.S. Eden and I have had con­ver­sa­tions away from crises about the fact that I’m in charge – the third answer – because I’m dad­dy, not because I love her. My love will nev­er change, I’ve explained, but that’s not why I’m in charge. Even if she feels I don’t love her, I’m still in charge. I guess we could switch the whole sec­ond and third ques­tions, but I’ve also felt get­ting to “you love me” as quick­ly as pos­si­ble has been pret­ty impor­tant.

Praying the Psalms for Your Kids

Praying the Psalms for Your Kids

Over the past week, I’ve been inten­tion­al­ly pray­ing through Psalm 23 for my kids, and it’s changed and chal­lenged the way I pray. This process is so sim­ple, and so good, that it should be a main­stay in every parent’s prayer­ful arse­nal.

Praying the Bible

Don Whitney’s short book, “Pray­ing the Bible” is the gen­e­sis for this prac­tice.  Whit­ney shares a reg­u­lar prac­tice he com­mends to his stu­dents in sem­i­nary: use a Psalm or oth­er pas­sage of Scrip­ture to jump­start your prayer life. His pre­scrip­tion is to read a Psalm line by line, and then pray what­ev­er comes to mind. It’s not a process of Scrip­ture inter­pre­ta­tion, he’s quick to point out, but rather an oppor­tu­ni­ty to let the Bible dic­tate and frame the direc­tion of your prayer life.

He explains:

I have enough con­fi­dence in the Word and the Spir­it of God to believe that if peo­ple will pray in this way, in the long run their prayers will be far more bib­li­cal than if they just make up their own prayers. That’s what peo­ple usu­al­ly do: make up their own prayers. What’s the result? We tend to say the same old things about the same old things. And with­out the Scrip­ture to shape our prayers, we are far more like­ly to pray in unbib­li­cal ways than if we pray the thoughts that occur to us as we read the Scrip­ture. So while it’s true that peo­ple may use this method and pray about things that are not found in the text, I con­tend that will hap­pen much less if peo­ple will pray while read­ing the text. By this means, the Spir­it of God will use the Word of God to help the peo­ple of God pray increas­ing­ly accord­ing to the will of God.

Whit­ney, Don­ald S. (2015–06-15). Pray­ing the Bible (p. 37). Cross­way. .

I think one of the biggest imped­i­ments to reg­u­lar, vibrant prayer for our kids is the feel­ing that we’re sim­ply pray­ing the same things over and over again. So I decid­ed to give Dr. Whitney’s idea a try. The result has been won­der­ful.

Praying the Bible in Parenting

I’m con­vinced that Psalm 23 is a per­fect chap­ter to pray through, on repeat, for your kids. It’s also a per­fect excuse to mem­o­rize an extend­ed pas­sage of Scrip­ture if you haven’t already. Psalm 23 has per­son­al­ly be stuck in my head since my days in AWANA, and it’s easy to bring the lines to mind.

Over the past week, when I’ve found myself in a qui­et, undis­turbed place I’ve turned my thoughts to Psalm 23 to work through for my kids, line by line (this is par­tic­u­lar­ly good if you’re lying in bed help­ing a child fall asleep). Through the process, I’ve found myself mak­ing rich and diverse requests of God for each indi­vid­u­al child.

Let me give you an exam­ple of how I might pray for a fic­tion­al 14 year old son, Ben.

The Lord is my Shep­herd

God, be the shep­herd for Ben. Be before him, guid­ing him and lead­ing him closer to your will. Help him to keep his eyes on you through this next week — I know this sched­ule is busy and it’s easy to lose track. But also be alongside him, and prompt him when need be to be closer to your will. Don’t let him stray. If his friend Jeff is pulling him from you, please grab him back — use what­ev­er means you need to. I trust you, Good Shep­herd!”

I shall not want.

[You think briefly about phys­i­cal needs, but he doesn’t have any at the moment. But that leads your mind to a need at school, and so you pray]: “Help him too, this week, in study­ing for his math test. I know he’s hat­ed this sec­tion, but help him to do his best and to rely on you.”

He makes me lie down in green pas­tures.

God, I’ve seen Ben so flus­tered recent­ly about the choic­es his friends are mak­ing — par­tic­u­lar­ly Jeff. He seems so dis­traught and con­fused. Give him peace and calm as he fol­lows you. Help his heart to be focused on your heart and his mind to med­i­tate on your thoughts.”

And so on! Can you see how rich that time might be, as you reflect on each of you kids? It can be led in so many direc­tions, and with the pas­sage mem­o­rized, all you need is a qui­et moment.

The Why?

Pray­ing through Psalm 23 has been so reward­ing par­tic­u­lar­ly because 23 is so rich in care lan­guage. I des­per­ate­ly want my chil­dren to be led by, cared for and direct­ed toward God. The visu­al lan­guage has sparked plen­ty of dif­fer­ent thoughts as I’ve prayed for my four kids. And being led through this incred­i­ble Psalm time and time again has been good for my soul, as well — the­se are truths we all need to inter­nal­ize.

Pray­ing for our kids is one of the most essen­tial and impor­tant tasks we have as par­ents. Give pray­ing through Psalm 23 a try, and let me know your respon­se. Any oth­er Psalms you think are par­tic­u­lar­ly well-ori­ent­ed toward pray­ing through for your kids?

 

A Parenting Prayer Team

A Parenting Prayer Team

Vaca­tion Bible School is offi­cial­ly under­way at our church, and I’m thrilled by the ener­gy, kids and vol­un­teers serv­ing this year. It’s amaz­ing to know the gospel of Jesus is touch­ing hun­dred of kid’s lives through this inten­sive, inten­tion­al week.

One of the major changes to this year’s pro­gram is the addi­tion of a prayer team — ded­i­cat­ed fol­low­ers of Jesus who are show­ing up each day dur­ing VBS to be inten­tion­al­ly pray­ing through needs, con­cerns and issues. They’re through­out the build­ing, bathing the vol­un­teers, kids, fam­i­lies and facil­i­ties in prayer. We want God to move in the­se places, so it’s good to start by ask­ing for it! I am so thank­ful for their ded­i­ca­tion and sup­port.

The addi­tion of a prayer team, into some­thing like VBS, just makes sense. Any min­istry endeav­or should be cov­ered in prayer, but in an inten­tion­al, inten­sive week-long gospel-fies­ta like VBS, it seems espe­cial­ly impor­tant to provide as much prayer sup­port as pos­si­ble.

Have you put togeth­er a team of friends and fam­i­ly mem­bers who can be active­ly pray­ing alongside you through your par­ent­ing jour­ney?

But what about the inten­tion­al, inten­sive life-long gospel fies­ta called par­ent­ing?

Said more blunt­ly: have you put togeth­er a team of friends and fam­i­ly mem­bers who can be active­ly pray­ing alongside you through your par­ent­ing jour­ney? Do you have an reg­u­lar process to pass off inten­tion­al par­ent­ing prayer requests? And are you inten­tion­al­ly pray­ing for your par­ent­ing friends and their jour­neys?

Dis­claimer: I do not, I do not, and I am not. At least, not in the fullest clar­i­ty of those three ques­tions.

But shouldn’t we?

VBS is pow­er­ful and inten­tion­al, but it’s far less piv­otal than par­ent­ing. It’s far less intense. It’s far less com­pli­cat­ed! Rain dur­ing VBS might force plan changes, but par­ent­ing trou­bles can force life changes. Shouldn’t we be far more inten­tion­al in find­ing a prayer team for our par­ent­ing than our pro­grams?

When I was a young boy, my mom — who stayed at home — pulled in a few of her lady-friends and start­ed pray­ing for their kids. They met togeth­er often and reg­u­lar­ly, shar­ing real requests and bathing those sit­u­a­tions in prayer.

Their kids are now grown, mar­ried and hav­ing kids of their own; those moms con­tin­ue to meet togeth­er in prayer.

That lega­cy of prayer­ful sup­port and reliance is pow­er­ful and one to be imi­tat­ed. As I reflect on what this might look like in my own life, here are the steps that I think should be tak­en. In pub­lish­ing this, I’m pub­licly chal­leng­ing myself to take the­se steps — and pub­licly chal­leng­ing you to as well.

Build a Team

Iden­ti­fy 3–6 friends or cou­ples you know, trust and with whom you’re will­ing to be vul­ner­a­ble. It seems help­ful, though not essen­tial, for them to be at a sim­i­lar life stage. Ask them about cre­at­ing a prayer team togeth­er, focused specif­i­cal­ly on pray­ing for your kids (and theirs, if they have kids).

Identify a Time Frame

I think this is impor­tant, and over­looked. ‘Indef­i­nite’ is code word for, “soon to fail.” My mom’s lega­cy is impres­sive, but I think prob­a­bly rare. She is excep­tion­al, after all.

Many ini­tia­tives with clear time frames can become extend­ed due to suc­cess.

So, as you start and find a team, make a state­ment sim­i­lar to this: “I want to try this for a year. May­be it’ll work great, and keep going! May­be we’ll need to read­just. But can you give me a year?” (or 6 months. or 18 months. or what­ev­er.)

Clarify a Medium

How will you share prayer requests? How will you com­mu­ni­cate? What works best for one anoth­er?

It seems to me that Face­book is an ide­al medi­um for this sort of thing: a pri­vate group would be just the thing for shar­ing requests. But may­be every­one doesn’t have Face­book, and tex­ting is bet­ter. Or email (what is this, 1998?). Or even Snapchat. What fits best into your rhythm and pat­tern to share and receive requests?

Pick a Date and Time

Final­ly, make it offi­cial by set­ting a reg­u­lar day and time to get togeth­er and pray.

Yes, I know. This com­pli­cates it. This makes it hard­er.

But I think this is prob­a­bly the dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing point, where you decide whether you want a prayer team or a team of peo­ple who say, “Wow, yeah, that’s hard… I’ll pray for you.”

A prayer team, or a sym­pa­thy team.

This is where you decide if you want it to be real.

It strikes me that this is prob­a­bly one of the most inten­tion­al and impor­tant things par­ents can and should do. But my hunch is that it’s also fair­ly rare. So, let me know: do you have a team? Are you going to find one? And what about me? In a mon­th, will I have one?

I pray so.