Sunday, November 24, 2013

"Missional" Parenting

Multi-tasking 2 year old
 So all parents know how their children imitate them, and it can be super cute sometimes.  The times when it's not is when they are imitating the bad behavior that they see in us.

A few months ago we were going to a new church and seeing if it would fit our family well or not.  It was a new church plant and we wanted to give them enough time to settle a bit along with us to really see if it would work.  They kept talking about being "missional" in the community and so forth though and wanting more and more involvement from people.  Note:  I'm definitely NOT going to be saying that is wrong by any means.  Personally though, every time I heard that stressed I felt like the Holy Spirit was impressing upon me the need to be "missional" with my own kids and that instead of going out I needed to stop and focus in my family.  I needed to be present to them.

Now I get all the info out there about parents who should take care of themselves. The Mom needs to be renewed so she can have something to give to her children, oh, and the marriage needs to be strong.  I really think people can take that too far though and just be selfish.  Or maybe I should just speak for myself.  *I* can get to a point where I feel like I need more "me time" and never seem to get enough. Inevitably,  I don't really feel renewed by getting away from them.  I think the trouble though is in how I view my "away" time and my time with them.
2, 5, and 7 = the triple scoop  :}
When someone tries to tell me that our family can't be all about our kids, on one hand I agree (it should be all about Jesus,) but on another hand, I compare it to what someone would tell a missionary.  Say you go to China to live life with the people there and serve them to show them the love of Jesus.  Sure, you might need a break some times, but is anyone really going to say, "Your job there isn't about ministering to the Chinese people.  It's not all about them."  And if you do take a break, what does that break look like?  Is it going out with other moms, or to a mall, or whatever the other mothers here usually do to "get away" or do they get away to pray and seek God?

I've been thinking about these things for quite a while, and even when I just had one child and she was about a year old, I could see how I felt when I wanted to get a break.  Whenever I kept trying to "get my own time," I just never had enough "me time." However, when I accepted focusing my attention on her and really embracing this calling of ministering to my child, I felt like I didn't need that "away" time in the same way.  God gave me sweet moments of quiet and everything I needed in bits here and there throughout the day.  Perhaps I can be so worried about what *I* need that I can't see or appreciate what God has already given.
One of our lessons this month was "V" for vegetable and remembering that "God gives me all that I need"

I decided to write this blog post because I really, really don't need to read another post about "how mothers need to have time to recharge" and "20 ways to find time away from the kids."  Not saying those aren't helpful or valid to a certain extent.  I'm just saying that, personally, I am far too concerned about *me* already and need to be reminded again of where God has placed me and how important this mission field is.

What's more, we've chosen to homeschool, which puts our children even more in our lives -- and they see me ALL the time.  They see my good days and bad days.  The playing and happiness and the depression and occasional yelling (sad to say).  But hopefully they see me repent and grow as well and seek God when I'm overwhelmed. 

Rather than being told how to feed my own selfish desires to get away, what I need to hear is that my kids are important.  They are my mission on this earth (for this season in their young lives. Obviously as they grow things will change) and serving and teaching them is an act of worship to God.  When I do feel overwhelmed I need to be reminded to seek God and to repent and to pray and grow in Him.  I need to make those moments throughout the day mean something.  I can choose to listen to a sermon while I do dishes or sing praise songs while I'm vacuuming, for instance.  As the girls talk before bed and ask questions about spiritual matters, it can spur me on to keep reading my Bible and learn more myself so I'm always prepared with an answer.  My whole perspective changes when I look at my family in this "missional" way, and it should.  Our society is too prone to wanting something different and coveting in every way that it can. 
The Daddy got his hand traced for our "thankful tree," too.
I see our marriage a little differently as well.  When I view my children as a mission field and the most important job (right now) in my life, how do I view our marriage?  I feel like we are partners working together for a good cause, or warriors on the same side, fighting a battle.  When I think about "me time" and needing to get away, I can get annoyed with my husband and not see us as on the same side.  Just my perspective can cause imaginary "problems" between us that really don't need to be there. When we are on the same side, I see us praying together and praying for each other and overall just caring for each other more.  For marriages, I think it's important to talk about what God has for you and what that ministry is.  When our children grow older, our ministry will change too from what it is right now, but right now with young kids, it really does need to be about ministering to them.

So these general thoughts about purpose and ministry that I've had as a Mom of young kids brought me to thinking of more specifics. You know how you can let tiny things slide and don't notice how things get worse and build up until it's really terrible?  I was already seeing some issues building but didn't realize how serious they were until I listened to a sermon on the ten commandments about coveting.

quote -- short, coveting is when you don’t want what God wants for you. The simplest definition I can give you of coveting is, God says, “This is what I want for you,” and you say, “That’s not what I want for me,” and then there’s conflict between what God desires for you and what you desire. That’s where coveting finds its inception. That’s where coveting starts to give birth to death.

He describes later what it looks like even in small children, and we can see it sometimes even more in little ones than we can in adults.  We've learned how to function in society and not snatch something away from another person or cry if we can't have it.  As parents, do we feed our child's covetousness?  Do we aid them in that sin or do we help guide them towards thankfulness?  What example do they see in us?  Coveting is the start to all the other sins.  If we start coveting a thing, we might be tempted to steal it; if someone covets another person's spouse, they can be tempted to commit adultery, and so on.

Another quote from the sermon to illustrate the main thing I got last week -- How many of you have seen kids playing together, let’s say in a playroom at somebody’s house, two little kids. One kid has got a red truck, and the room is filled with a thousand other toys. What does the other kid want? The red truck, OK? The red truck.

So now, the parent’s got a really important decision to make. Am I going to nurture their coveting? And parents will nurture the coveting by saying things like, “Well, wait your turn, and then you’ll get the red truck,” which is, “Coveting is fine, but you just need to add patience to coveting,” which isn’t really a virtue, right? Sometimes it is, “I’ll go get you a red truck. I’ll feed your coveting.”
“I’ll get you a blue truck. The blue truck’s even better,” which is, “You should covet bigger.” It’s nurturing a greater coveting. “Oh, you think the red truck—I’ve got a bigger truck. “The red truck’s little; the blue truck’s big. You know, here, take the blue truck. It’s better.” You haven’t even dealt with the coveting problem. You’ve fed it, you’ve nurtured it, you’ve increased it. 

What if you say, “Well, I’ll look around here. I’ll bet you there’s a red truck.” These are ways that we just train children to covet, which is a hard cycle to break when they grow up and get their own debit card. They’ve been nurtured, right? “Train a child in the way they should go and when they grow old, they will not depart from it.” The same is true for bad parenting. You’re setting them on a trajectory, on a life course, on a direction, of what they think is normative.

How many of you have tried this? How many of you have actually gone over and taken the red truck and given it to your kid? What do they do with the red truck? They don’t want to play with it anymore. Why? Because the issue wasn’t the truck. The issue was the desires in their heart.

Good parenting looks at the child and says, “Why can’t you be glad that they are enjoying it? Why is it not enough for you to be satisfied with what you have?” See, that’s biblical parenting. 
[emphasis mine]

Our thankful tree this year.  It's amazing how much happier and content the girls (and I) are when we focus on what we are thankful for.
So after hearing that sermon, I realized that the issues I saw in my two year old weren't just a "Please and Thankful" issue or a property rights issue (fighting over toys) and that I'd been feeding her covetousness.  I'd asked myself where my sweet happy girl went?  It was getting so bad that giving her anything fun wasn't fun anymore. Chocolate? No, because the piece was never big enough. God is generous and loves his  kids and wants to give generously to us, but if we act spoiled and keep wanting more or something different, He's got to back off, and that's what I needed to realize. I needed to be consistent with the little one and not reward her covetousness. I also need to fully make that mental shift into realizing that she's not a baby anymore.  When they are babies, I (rightly) give them what they need when they need it, but she's two and a half now, and I hadn't fully made the jump into looking at her like a child and not a baby.  I was trying to take the easy way out by not following through or not being consistent when my two year old would throw a fit over something she wanted and would even throw the thing down that she was given. 

Now I KNOW I have to take that thing away.  If I give her a piece of chocolate and she complains that it's too small, she doesn't get to keep it. End of story.  I needed to know what a big deal this was. In little kids, it just looks annoying or frustrating or like they are "fighting" too much, but call it what it is (covetousness) and now the parent has a choice to feed their sin or not -- and that's is a big deal in this mission field.
Sunlight shining in.
The start of last week felt awful.  I felt like it was a ongoing battle of wills as I tried to be consistent and kind to my littlest child.  The thing is though, that they don't even want what you give them if you give them what they say they want.  Just like the quote from the sermon.  They don't want the toy until someone else has it and if you give the toy to them (giving into their covetousness) they don't want it anyway. 

I want to give good things to my children.  I love giving gifts and making cookies and treats for them.  Most parents do, right?  But what happens if they act spoiled?  Is the answer to take everything away?  Paul said that he'd learned to be content in all circumstances. Whether wealthy or with nothing, he said, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."  Yes, that verse, quoted for practically every sort of ability we might need help with, is actually talking about being content, no matter what you have or what you don't have.
The girls enjoyed Grampa's visit a couple weeks ago and made good use of the pictures that Gramma sent along
 So what is the answer to coveting?  It's learning to be content. I know that I have not been content in many ways in the past three years and seeing that reflected in my youngest is a big deal.  I'm modeling life to my children, and I want to model thankfulness above all because it seems that everything else falls into place when this becomes a habit.
I'm thankful for my family.  Even though they are far away, I'm thankful that I miss them.
And just a little bit ago, I was interrupted by another issue with the little one.  She knocked over a lamp and I asked her big sister to pick it up and the little one says, "No I do it!" 

Normally I might have told the older one to just let her do it, but after all this changed perspective I couldn't let her.  "Oh thank you for offering." I said, "but I already asked Lily to do it." At which point, she got mad and threw a bowl of dry cereal on the floor.

What I would have done before might have been to ignore her bad behavior and clean it up myself (no wonder I was so exhausted, right?) But this time I stayed there. She fought me and cried and freaked out and wouldn't pick up the cereal.  Then an amazing thing happened.  I confessed to her.  I said something like, "When you were littler, you saw me throw things when I was angry didn't you?"  She seemed to put on the breaks and nodded. I explained that it was a sin for me to throw things when I was angry. The Bible says, "Be angry but do not sin." I also talked to her about sins and how yucky they make us feel inside. We talked a bit more too, but it was really neat to see how she responded when I owned up to my own sin.  She was just copying me after all, and I was being a hypocrite by telling her to not do something that I'd allowed myself to do in the past.

I felt like we'd be sitting on the floor for hours, but it didn't take hours. 

I was ready to wait with her that long but she responded so much quicker, especially when I told her of my own sin and made sure she knew I was not mad at her.  She needed to obey me and pick up the cereal, but it wasn't about who was in control.  It's a matter of the heart, and I needed to show my love for her in a difficult way. 

I see the sweet girl again under there more and more as we deal with these things.  It's not easy.  It's been terrible, but it's also been encouraging to see some positive changes this week.  I don't want my children to be good to make me look good or to become something I think they should be. 

When I work at training them and seeing them as my ministry and as people, discipling them as individuals, my whole perspective changes.
The two year old LOVES to scribble little pictures, then fold the picture up, put it behind her back and say, "Mommy, I've got something for you." Then she'll pull it out from behind her back, unfold it, and excitedly hand it to me. Notice the stack she created by doing this over and over again? Yep, that's how she rolls.