The Pharisee’s Guide to Parenting

The following two mundane moments are so revealing in my parenting journey. Both happened the day that we had parent-teacher meetings at my boys’ school. The first teacher looked at us and said, “Your son is so well mannered, so well behaved, whatever you are doing, keep doing it!” Ah, the deep pleasure of parenting arrogance overflowed in my life. I’m surprised I didn’t pull out a recording device and ask her to repeat it in to the little microphone. Well behaved! Well mannered! Keep it up, you are parent of the year! Just think of all those rude children causing havoc in the classroom… not my child, not under my watch.

The second meeting just deepened my Pharisaic heart. The teacher looked at his report card and said, “What a smart child you have, I honestly can’t say anything he should be doing differently, he just consistently improves and achieves to a high standard”. I’m surprised my pride could fit through the door as I walked out. I was floating on cloud nine of outward behaviour, outward accomplishment and outward manners.

Compare this to a situation I had afterwards. Now, I’ve documented my to-be-unamed son’s expertise in lying. Garett has a problem and its been a work in progress.

It was the end of the school day. As he walked out off the school grounds with me I said, “Did you give my note to your teacher?” “Yes I did Mom.” he smoothly replied. “Well, what did she say?” Without skipping a beat he said, “She will think about it and reply to you on Monday.”

Innocent conversation. Except my husband found the “note to the teacher” in his school bag over the weekend. And when confronted he admitted that the whole and entire conversation was a lie. He never gave her the note and “what the teacher said” was entirely made up.

You know what? When someone asked me how my day was I replied, “Rough! What a day, Garett lied to my face and we are trying to figure out what to do about it.”

Do you see what just happened there? Let me write it as a math equation.

Desired behaviour by child+public knowledge of said behaviour = Good parenting day.

Undesired outward behaviour by child+public knowledge of said behaviour = bad parenting day.

This isn’t the Jesus guide to parenting. Jesus shows to us parenting of the Kingdom.

Jesus seemed to revel in the moments of failure. When failure happened it’s like Jesus was given a treat. The exposure of failure and sin was to Jesus as a blank canvas was to Michelangelo.

Think of Peter. Peter covered up his black heart at the last supper (Who me? Never!) Jesus jumped right in there with Peter and didn’t sulk and say, “Have I taught you nothing?!” In fact he promised Peter it was about to get really bad! I imagine Jesus rolling up his sleeves at that moment and saying, “Great, now we’ve got something to work with, Peter!”

Jesus was seeking out the messy and sin-prone children. He could work with that. He couldn’t work with hiders, cover-up artists and those with a facade of outward behaviour, accomplishments and manners. The Pharisees, the perfect ones did not appeal to Jesus. The failures, misfits and mess-makers were right were Jesus wanted to be.

The only difference between the messes and the pharisees was one was socially acceptable and one was not. The inward heart was quite possibly the same. Jesus didn’t get too excited with outward success. He got very excited with outward failure.

Do I do that? Do I get excited when my I catch my child in a lie? Do I think, “Wonderful, now we’ve gotten to the good stuff!” I should.

If I make parenting about my reputation or my pride, then I can’t parent well.
If I make parenting about outward accomplishments and not inward heart change, I will not parent well.
If I make parenting about minimising problems and keeping life calm, I will not parent well.

Jesus never changed course when people said, “Look at your disciples, what bunch of failures!” He didn’t get defensive or hopeless. Jesus was going for the heart change and that takes time. It takes outward lies and sins to be exposed. It takes disciples fighting and threatening violence. It takes bad days when everything is going wrong.

Those are the teachable moments. That is when all the good stuff happens.

We all want grace and mercy for our children without them actually needing grace and mercy. Let me not be afraid to see clearly their need for grace and mercy. Let me not make it about myself and my parenting failures but rather about Jesus and his hope for them.

Parenting pharisees feel defeated by the failures, messes and disobedience. Jesus saw it an opportunity for the truth of the need to meet the answer of grace and new life.

Outward accomplishment is good. Outward success should be rejoiced in. But Jesus went for the heart and so should we. The quickest way there is the mess and moments of failure.

When my children succeed outwardly I rejoice. But I don’t let it blind me that all is necessarily fine. I want their hearts like Jesus wants mine. Lord, let it be so.

Dear Church, Give me Jesus.

I love the local church. Any one who is part of a local church has to love it (although the converse isn’t always true). There is no other choice in my mind. It is so imperfect and so messy that only love would ever keep us there.

I was raised a Pastors’ kids. When I say, “I grew up in church”, I mean it in the most literal of ways. I literally grew up in church. I slept under pews for my naps and ran wild through the building playing hide ‘n seek after school while my Dad finished up counselling sessions.

My history with church has been messy to say the least. I’ve seen the best and the worst. When people hear my story the response is always, “and you still go to church?! How is that possible?” Well, I’m not sure but I suppose only love could keep me there. (Ok, or stupidity but I like to think love.)

As I’ve gone from my childhood, through my teens, survived my twenties and am now finishing up my thirties. I’ve reached a place of both gratitude and honest acceptance of the realities of this dysfunctional and messy thing called church.

Sometimes I think I accept the dysfunction of the church to easily. Other times I think I need more grace than I have. I have a lot of opinions about how things could be done on Sundays and the rest of the week. I mostly keep them to myself.

The past few years, though, one cry has been rising up within me that makes all others fade.

It is this: Church, give me Jesus.

Give me Jesus.
Show me who He is.
Enlarge my vision beyond what I know.
Shine all your lights on the breathtaking beauty of this divine man.
Help me to to go from seeing mere shadows of Him to being blinded by his grace.
Bring me down to the dusty roads he walked in the most normal of ways.
Help me to reach out to touch him, hear him and know Him.
Start with Jesus and end with Jesus.
Simply, give me Jesus.
Give me Jesus, simply.

A while back I was at a Christmas service and we began to sing songs as is done in church. Three songs in we had not once mentioned His precious name. Not once did we remind ourselves of who he was and is and will always be.

We sung of our great need. We sung of our determination to serve the whole world. We sung of our desire to be radical in our faith.

Church, I need Jesus.

When the church is at it’s best, Jesus is most clearly seen. When we are at our worst, Jesus is but a mere shadow. He is the clear picture of an invisible God. Show me that clear picture. I’m desperate for it. Don’t leave me desperate. Show me how it could possibly be true that my deepest longings could be satisfied in knowing a Jewish carpenter.

That’s my cry. That’s my longing. Give me Jesus.

3 Easy Ways to Damage Your Marriage

I’m an eager yet amateur gardener. Moving to South Africa was a challenge because all the plants I grew up with aren’t here. I suddenly had to learn a whole new way of gardening that was specific to a coastal South African town. Needless to say, I’ve killed a few plants along the way. All of this death because of simple things like sun and water… how hard can it be!?

The same is true in marriage. The little things are the big things. The silent things are the deadly things. Here are three areas I have seen which bring damage instead of life to a marriage.

Tunnel Vision

It is so easy to forget that our experience and our expectations are only one side of the story. We can only be ourselves and don’t often step into someone else’s body (ok, never).

When we get frustrated or go through a difficult time it is our default to forget that the way we saw that situation or the way we experienced something is only 1 slice of the pie. We need to constantly be “crucifying our flesh”… that temptation to only consider your own wants and desires. Remind yourself that there is another important perspective in the marriage: the perspective of your spouse.

Even when we rationally and calmly think thru a situation, we most often still end with a list of how we want the other person to change, do more of this, less of that.

Score Keeping

Keeping score is great for soccer, not so much for marriage. It is a dangerous and silent game since it happens in our minds and usually our spouse is losing badly. In fact, they aren’t even aware the game is happening let alone what the score is!

There are normally two modes of score keeping:

  1. Keeping score of what you do vs. your spouse. For example, “I’ve washed the dishes 47 nights vs. his 1.5 times in the past two months”.
  2. Seeing every action you do as an investment into getting a return payment back. For example, every time I put my kids to bed and do the night time routine, I assume that this act wins me back a sleep in the next morning. It’s only fair right?

Both of these forms of keeping score are toxic. They can come out of the modern concept of marriage being a 50/50 endeavor. Men and women are equal and marriage is a partnership. Right?

The reality is never 50/50. In fact, if you want a happy marriage you should probably just remove the word “fair” from your vocabulary. Marriage is going to require a lot more than 50% from you!

A 50/50 view of marriage sets us up to keep score. If it is 50/50 then how are we going to know we are accomplishing this? The only way is to keep score and constantly see who’s on the loosing end of that equation. In each persons mind it’s normally the other one.

The reality of marriage is that one of us is always lagging behind and needs the other to pick up the slack. Marriage needs to be 100/100 with a dump truck full of grace.

Mind Reading

Loves means serving and helping the other person without having to be asked.

Wait. Is that right?

Well, yes, if you are a mind reader.

So often we diminish our relationship from being mature adults to trying to be clairvoyant prophets. This is the Hollywood ideal: a person who truly loves you will just know what you need and want. They will anticipate your every thought and want.

The reality is that being married takes the Garden of Gethsemane approach. No matter how obvious it was that Jesus needed a friend (he was loudly weeping right next to them, obvious clue #1) he still did the mature thing and said, “will you pray with me, I’m really having a hard night”.

Somehow, we assume we should be better than Jesus. The truth is we need to be committed to sharing what we need and want just like he did. Over and over again until we die. We do this no matter how obvious we think it should be to our spouse.

It took me a while to learn this simple act. I’m embarrassed to say how long it took me to simply walk upstairs to my husband and say, “I need you to come to the kitchen while I cook dinner so you can listen to me talk about my day.” That sentence saved us a night of sighing and brooding. (Sometimes we are just toddlers at heart aren’t we?!)

Next time, instead of keeping score, being caught in selfish thinking or assuming that the your spouse is a mind reader, just say, “Hey babe, I’m really tired, would you mind letting me sleep in tomorrow morning and you get the kids breakfast.” It really is that easy and that hard.

Are any of these 3 present in your marriage? What adjustments could you make?

Christopher Robin Got it Wrong on this One

I work in an organisation I innocently nickname, “The cult of encouragement”. Seriously, if you are a student or staff with us, we will encourage you to overflowing. Giftings we recognise. Character we see displayed. Traits we love. Heck, if you are having a good hair day, we’ll let you know. It’s a wonderful thing and can be very healing for a lot of people. Their proverbial “love tank” get’s filled to overflowing. We don’t always get it right but, in general, it is part of our culture.

Sometimes I see staff that almost become addicted to it. They live from one encouragement to another. It’s almost as if they can’t survive without constant reminders, “You are a wonderful person! God loves you! You have so many giftings and talents!”

Is it possible to be encouraged too much?

winnie_and_christopher_robin-t2On my flight today I was looking through the infamous SkyMall magazine. I came across a must-have sterling silver engraved necklace with this deep and profound quote:

“Promise me you’ll always remember: you’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem and smarter than you think.”
-Christopher Robin to Pooh

As I read this I smiled to myself and thought, “Oh, poor Pooh.” This is a mantra for those going through tough times, challenges and difficulties. What is Pooh to do in those times? According to Christopher Robin, encourage himself that he’s got the bravery, strength and wisdom all within himself. You can do it Pooh!

This may be the creed in the 1,000 Acre Woods but it shouldn’t be the mantra for followers of Jesus.

I think we need more reminders that go like this:

Promise me you will always remember: you may not be as brave as needed, as strong as you believe or as smart as anyone else. But, Jesus.”

When it comes to encouragement let us remember that who we are is not the ultimate thing. Who we are in Jesus is.

Be cautious when a good thing becomes the ultimate thing. Encouragement is a good thing. I shouldn’t let it become the ultimate thing. The ultimate thing is Jesus.

The very nature of the gospel is that I don’t need to be brave, strong and smart. In fact, I’m not as brave, strong or smart as I need to be. But, Jesus.

How can we tell when we have bought into the cult of encouragement more than the freedom of the Gospel?

We should be able to hear things like this and it bring peace:

“Well, you are not good enough to accomplish this task. There are other people that are more talented than you in this area. But, Jesus does like to use inept people! You never know, in spite of yourself this might turn out alright!”

If that would devastate you, you likely have a Savior that looks more like you having to be perfect than Jesus who was perfect.

Perhaps this is why scripture didn’t stop at “Let us encourage one another”. It kept going, “Let us encourage one another in Christ“.

Encouragement literally means to “put courage in”. Nothing puts courage in like being reminded that we don’t need to be strong brave or smart like Pooh. We can fall short in many ways. But, Jesus.

Let’s promise ourselves that we will always remember that.

I’m Not a Good Mother and Neither Are You

It’s Mother’s Day, such a great holiday in my opinion. Well, not just because I’m a Mom. I love the opportunity to honor our parents… it’s one of the 10 Commandments after all!

On this Mother’s Day, I think it is a good chance for all Mom’s to remind ourselves of a few things.

God didn’t invent Pinterest.

Pinterest has become the symbol of societal pressure on women the world over.

Mother’s can no longer bake a simple cake for the Birthday party. Move over sheet cake, hello Dora in buttercream.

We can no longer just decorate our homes, they need to be gorgeous, unique and reflect our “personal style”.

Don’t just take your kids to church, family devotions with a craft each night would be better!

Let us remember this Mother’s Day that God didn’t invent Pinterest. The pressure we feel. The expectations we carry. The standards we hold to. Those are not from God. They may be real to us but they ain’t from the Father.

No matter what type of Mom you are, it’s not good enough.

So what about the things that do matter? Well, we fail at those too.

We yell when we shouldn’t. We show endless re-runs of cartoons just to survive certain days. We hold secret guilt over our failures. We hide in the bathroom reading People Magazine while our children fight outside the door. We take pride in things that don’t really matter.

Basically, we can be a bit of a mess.

The good news is we don’t have to hide this. With Jesus, our role as Mother can be enough because it’s not about what we can do, it’s about what He has done and will do.

God made us a Mother and he will sustain us… He was “good enough” so that our “not good enough” can be enough. Got that?

It is a miracle that God would trust any human being in to my care… truly. I think of this every day. Some days more than others, as I’m sure you can relate. On those days that we wonder if we are ruining these young persons lives, remember this: He’s not entrusting us to be good enough. God is trusting us to trust Him.

When it comes to being a mother, let this be our motto: God draws straight lines with crooked sticks. It’s his speciality. That is exactly why he made you a mother.

I’m not succeeding because I’m so great. I’m succeeding because He is so great.

Mom’s need Jesus to survive.

Today, while everyone is celebrating us we can have a different celebration that is going on inside our hearts. A celebration that looks like this: Falling into the arms of the Father.

We need Jesus to survive this journey. We need Jesus to make straight lines with our crooked sticks of a life. We need Jesus to rescue our children from our own inabilities.

Our hearts are willing but the flesh is week. That’s ok. Jesus is in this journey. He knows that secret list we have of “Top 10 Reasons my Children might end up in Prison by their 21st Birthday.”  Let us throw ourselves, with all our weaknesses and worries, in to the hands of the Father who will carry our family in to the future.

May our children not remember any craft projects, wonderful meals, or well planned birthday parties. May our children honestly say, “Mom wasn’t perfect but she sure did trust Jesus.”

I don’t know about you but that sounds doable to me. I can throw all my mothering dreams and failures into the hands of Jesus and trust Him with this journey. I can’t trust myself always. But I know He is always trustworthy.

That’s the type of mother I want to be on this Mother’s Day. I’ll leave everything else to Pinterest.