This series of articles that originally ran as blog entries during the summer of 2009 seek to examine what one anothering looks likes as it is naturally put into practice with our children.
organic family life ~ part one
One of the phrases that my nearly 87 year old mother often repeats, as old women are apt to do, is “Your father would have loved….fill in the blank.” Rhubarb pie, a new baby, a good dog story, a grandchild’s college graduation, you name it, we all know what Dad would have loved.
Well, one thing he would not have loved is the penchant I have for showering my flowers with Miracle Gro. He hated the stuff, along with anything else that could either synthetically entice geraniums to bloom profusely or bugs to die on the literal vine. My dad was an organic gardener, a compost zealot, a manure connoisseur.
I often think of my dad and his gardening philosophy when it comes to relationships both with God and with other people. Too often books and articles that define and describe “biblical” relationships within the home and the rest of the body of Christ are anything but natural or organic. Instead, they are contrived and mechanical, propped up by gimmicks or ideals that have stood neither the test of time nor the wisdom of the ages. Often they even defy common sense. They may get results, even spectacular ones, but at what price?
Over the next few weeks I am going to look at what organic, natural, God-glorifying, and people edifying relationships look like, what it takes to make them happen, and what some of the threats are to their existence.
Organic gardeners will tell you that there are two very important things to know. The first one is that organic gardening involves continually replenishing your resources, making sure that you are adding healthy, nutritious, soil-enhancing material to the garden.
I think that this is one area where homeschooling families, for the most part, shine. Many of the areas of life that threaten a healthy Christian walk are just not part of how we live. We don’t accept wrong behavior as normal and we recognize sin for what it is, doing what we can to avoid it when we see it or repenting of it when we practice it.
Also, many of the materials we use for educating our children are exceptional and have been written specifically for parents as they disciple their children. But we need to always pay particular attention to the content of these resources. Sometimes they contain time-wasting “junk food,” useless trivia that is basically what Mary Pride always called “twaddle.” Other times they include poison, little seeds that are planted that can and often do grow into bad theology and life practice when they come to maturity.
The second thing organic gardeners need to realize is that there is always a bigger picture to consider, that growing plants naturally means cooperating with all of nature, seeing your own small garden as part of our whole Eco system.
There is a tendency within homeschooling families to become so self consumed and inwardly focused that we miss the fact that all Christians are part of the body of Christ, that we must work together to build His spiritual kingdom. The results of our efforts are to bring edification to the body, glory to Christ, and a thirst in others who have not yet tasted of the Living Water. It is as we work toward that end that we will be setting the stage for producing fruit that is pleasing and healthful.
Organic, natural family life does not just happen by itself. Next I will be sharing about the “soil” of organic family life.
organic family life ~ part two
“But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”
Summertime for my children meant spending evenings running through Grandpa’s yard, catching fireflies and playing hide and seek under the butter bean tent in his garden. Marching precariously through the perfect rows of pepper and tomato plants, pausing to follow the lady bugs as they wound their way around the squash vines, they came to a perfect parade rest in front of the corn, soft, black soil oozing up between their stubby little toes.
They were intrigued with grandpa’s homemade composter churning its way through coffee grinds, banana peels, and egg shells. Grandpa would often pull out the thermometer to proudly show them the ever-rising temperatures inside, its pungent smell causing them to wrinkle their noses and then off they ran to munch on radishes or sugar snap peas.
During the winter months my dad spent hours planning his garden, researching the best means of preparing his soil, knowing that an organic gardener’s top priority is having soil that will grow healthy, vibrant, fruitful plants.
The first year in his garden, he began the process of repairing the soil that had been damaged by harsh treatment from the previous owner. So every fall he planted rye that could be turned over in the spring to enrich the soil. He composted and recycled anything that would add nutrients to the earth, trying to put back into it as much as he took out of it. He recognized the need to feed the soil itself, not just the plants, purposing to work with nature and not against it. He knew that he had to rotate his crops, that diversity was a key ingredient to gardening year after year. He also had learned from years of experience that tending the soil in his garden was an ongoing process, that keeping bugs at bay and the ph make-up of the soil balanced was crucial and a never ending job. But he also knew that his commitment and perseverance would pay off in the end.
When I consider the importance of the organic nature of family life, the first thing that comes to mind is the type of soil into which our families are planted. As with the gardener, moms and dads know that it is the most important first step in producing Kingdom fruit.
In Matthew 13, Jesus told the following story about soil:
“A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop–a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown…..
Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away. The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful. But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”
In this story, Jesus stresses the importance of the quality of the soil into which the Gospel message is planted and I believe it holds true for family life as well, since the Gospel is central to all relationships we have within our families. So what are some things that will give us the kind of soil we need for organic family life?
1. Family members must put at least as much back into the life of the family as they take out. Families are made up of givers and takers and these roles change depending on the seasons or circumstances of life. Infants and small children require constant care and tending; they have needs that must be met at the expense of the needs of others. The same is true for elderly family members who can no longer participate in ways they once did. So those who are able must meet the needs of others, restoring and renewing each other. We cannot only take from a family, we must give as well, naturally caring for each other as the seasons of life wax and wane. Like replenishing the soft, black soil into which we place tiny plants, each one giving to the needs of each other replenishes the souls within each family.
2. Healthy organic family life happens as we recognize the strength it has in its diversity and as we encourage the natural abilities, gifts, and talents of each one. Half the fun of being part of a family is learning to enjoy the differences each member has that make up the whole of the group. Just because children are created from the same gene pool doesn’t mean that they will be the same in gifts or temperament or personality. Delighting in those differences refreshes and enlivens family life.
3. Sometimes reclaiming the soil of family life requires that parents recant their previous harsh teachings and repent, seeking forgiveness from their children for past wrongs. Many evangelical parents over the past couple of decades have succumbed to the harsh teachings that abound in the church regarding raising children. Many of those teaching have done so much damage that the soil of little hearts cannot receive any message. Before they will hear, they must see fruits of repentance for past sins against them. The same is true for the family soil. Showing favoritism or allowing children to have mean spirits toward each other can also prevent the grown of healthy relationships.
The same can also be said for the relationship between mom and dad. In the business of raising children, the marriage is often neglected and what might begin as small irritations can turn into anger and grudges that are even shared by the children against one of the parents as they take up offenses for the one who was hurt. Healthy soil must begin with cleaning up past messes!
4. Healthy families recognize those influences that harm either individuals or the entire group and they seek to remove them from their lives and avoid further entanglements. It requires much discernment to recognize those things that may seem so good but that can lead to even bigger problems.
A few years ago, farmers in the Midwest brought in Asian beetles that would eat the pests from the leaves of soybean plants, believing this would organically solve many of their problems. Now we have regular infestations of these smelly, biting bugs, something that seemed like such a good idea until they took over!
Wise parents and children who are taught discernment will be on the lookout for those things that could harm the soil of their organic family life and will do whatever it costs to protect each other.
5. Healthy family life rests on the principles of placing good nutrients in the soil of their “family garden.” Gardeners will know what nutrients are needed in their soil by testing. Even what looks like fertile ground might contain elements that would damage young tender plants. Times of testing and struggle, even for young children, will give us clues as to what they are lacking in their spiritual lives, in much the same way we can tell if our children are hungry or in need of rest.
Like the rich, fragrant compost that organic farmers mix to feed their soil, we, too, need to be certain that our families “feast” upon good spiritual food. Regularly reading God’s Word, hearing edifying and grace-filled messages from pastors and teachers, and sharing the testimonies of God’s grace in each others’ lives on a regular basis will all build up the soil of family life, creating an environment that is fertile and producing good fruit, a harvest for God’s glory.
organic family life ~ part three
During the summer of 1988 we experienced the hottest and driest weather I can ever remember. Days and weeks and months went by without any pattern of rain. Wells went dry, garden plants shriveled on the vine, extreme heat day after day kept me indoors with three grade schoolers, one toddler, and a very pregnant tummy. We had only one window unit air conditioner in our house and we all parked in front of it, taking turns leaving the “cold room” to get drinks or pop cycles for each other, reading books and watching way too many movies.
At night we placed the window fans on high and I would soak a bath towel in cold water, ringing it out and draping it across my stomach as I tried to find a comfortable position for sleeping. We were certainly a miserable lot. Too much dry, hot weather produced nothing fruitful in the garden or in our home!
This year, up until the past week or so, it has been just the opposite. We were still seeing 40 degree temperatures in the middle of May and even now are way ahead in rainfall. Cold, wet weather is not conducive to lush crops either. Balance has tremendous impact on fruitfulness.
As I have been thinking about the external factors that affect the organic nature of family life, someone asked me if I wouldn’t consider looking at the whole concept of parental repentance that I briefly touched on last week. As I write, I am certainly not implying that parents are the only ones who sin in their homes. I believe that the Bible says is true, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Perhaps I will write about the sins of children one of these days but, quite frankly, it seems to me that there is a glut of information out there that dwells on the things children do wrong and very little that talks about what we as parents have done to sin against our children.
So today I am going to begin to look at those areas of family life where parents are required in Scripture to do certain things in their families, how we fall short of obeying these commands, the fruit that is produced in these environments, the need for repentance in these areas, and what that repentance ought to look like. I am starting with the admonitions to parents.
First and foremost, parents are instructed to love their children. Initially we might think it is silly to be told to love our children. From the moment they are welcomed into our home, we have a natural affection for them. As moms, we notice every little move as they float around in our wombs, being aware when their movements slow down and frantically calling the doctor when there is a concern. We endure the inconveniences of pregnancy, the pain of childbirth, the sleepless nights of infancy out of love for our children. It all seems so natural.
But Scripture repeatedly admonishes us to “love one another” and it instructs the older women in the church to teach the younger women to love their children. Love isn’t something that simply comes to us in our sinful state as human beings. We have to be reminded that love is a willful act, something we decide we will do. And yet, the closer we walk to the Lord and live in obedience as faithful Christians, the more naturally our genuine love for our children will flow from us. 1 Corinthians 13 tells us what that will look like: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”
The second admonition we have as parents is to pray for our children. In warning the children of Israel to stay away from false gods and useless idols, the prophet Samuel acknowledged that he, too, would be in sin if he ceased to pray for them. (1 Samuel 12:23) So often we have expectations on our children that they will stay true to the Lord and not be overcome by the world, but we fail to lift them up in prayer. We forget to recognize that only by the grace of God and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in their lives, will they accomplish the will of their Heavenly Father. “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:14-16 And when we pray for our children, we are to expect that He will answer: “In the morning, O Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation!” Psalm 5:3
organic family life ~ part four ~ the importance of the blessing
Penelope and I sat snuggled on the couch. We had just finished reading a Little House on the Prairie book and began talking about our long-awaited and upcoming trip to the American Girl Doll store. Perusing the latest catalogs for the past few months, she had decided on Felicity, the Revolutionary War era doll. At five, she is just now beginning to have a small concept of history, of times long ago before she was born.
In the midst of our very grown-up conversation, she said, “Grandma, I know you are so glad to have me. You had boy after boy after boy after boy after boy and then you finally got me. You are so glad I am here.” I had to smile, those big round eyes were so sparkly and serious! I had told her that a long time ago and I meant it.
While she was at my house, she and I baked bread. She was intrigued by the yeast, how it bubbled clear over the top of the bowl and the fact that it was “alive.” We rolled dough with the old wooden rolling pin that had belonged to Clay’s great grandmother, carefully shaping the ends and placing them into pans. Penelope placed hers in the miniature pan, one just for Grandpa.
When they came out of the oven, she was delighted and couldn’t wait for Grandpa to see what she had done. Of course, he praised her, emphatically pronouncing it the best loaf ever, and thanked her for baking one just his size. And she was so proud, so happy to have pleased him.
Through these simple acts, of showing a child their value to us in the history of our families, of praising them well and often, of continually recognizing the use of their gifts, we are extending a blessing to our children (and grandchildren) that will hold a life-long influence over their choices and in their ability to bless others.
In part three of organic family life, I began discussing the topic of parental repentance by listing some of the duties that parents have toward their children. Today I am continuing by looking at another one of the greatest duties that is needed and one that, if ignored, will cause life-long pain and brokenness in the lives of children. Moms and dads must pass on a blessing to their children, individually, while they are in the womb and all throughout their adult lives.
The concept of giving a blessing to our children is rooted in the practices we find in the Old Testament. As we read the stories of one generation handing down a blessing to the next, we see that it is done from parent to children and also from church leaders to their congregations. It is part of passing on our faith and instilling a picture of God’s purposes in the lives of His own.
As I have been thinking about the concept of blessing our children and have been reading references to this idea in Scripture, several key things have caught my eye. This list is by no means exhaustive but I hope it offers food for thought.
1. Receiving a blessing from your parents is something that is highly coveted and hoped for. The story of Jacob and Esau in Genesis 25 shows us the great desire that children have to be loved and accepted by their parents, sometimes to the point of sinning against others in order to receive it.
2. Sibling rivalry can come from not blessing all children. This same passage also demonstrates the fruits of favoritism in a family. Verse 28 tells us that Isaac loved Esau but that Rebekah loved Jacob, a situation that set everyone up for conflict. In fact, Jacob, though he wrestled in the wilderness with God and received God’s blessing, still showed partiality to his own son, Joseph, causing bitterness and jealousy among his children and furthering the conflict into the next generations.
3. Blessings vary from child to child and family to family and are often expressed in the names that children are given. The sweetest sound to every human soul is that of their own name. How much more valuable is that name if there is a special meaning attached to it? How often we are told in Scripture that someone’s name means such and such, implying that it has defined that person.
4. Blessing is not based on works, but on grace, and is not given because of what we have done but because of who we are in Christ. This is one of the greatest gifts we can give our children, the sense that they are valuable to us simply because God has given them to us. When I was a small child and heard my father talk about me being adopted, it was also told in the context that God had given me to my parents. What a precious memory that is for me!
5. In Jesus Christ we have every blessing we would ever need, so for those of us who might not have received a blessing from our parents, we can take great comfort in this truth. Have you ever known someone who was several decades old who had never received any sort of affirmation or approval from a parent? Perhaps this is the saddest thing imaginable, to believe that you are not loved solely because of who you are, because of who God made you to be, to feel that you are a disappointment to a parent not only by the things he said to you but by the things he didn’t say. These are burdens that are so difficult to bear that they often cause future generations to stumble and fall.
I know a woman whose mother often told her “you are not like me at all” implying that the right way to be was like the mother, which was quiet and introverted; she was nearly a recluse. But this young woman was gregarious and outgoing. For many years she lived with the idea that something was wrong with her because she loved being with people so much! The difference in personalities between the two of them was so obviously annoying and distressing to the mother that she would often tell her child “you are the bane of my existence.” The daughter never fully understood what that meant until she was looking up a word in the dictionary one day and her eyes fell on the meaning of the word “bane,” which means poison. Imagine the sense of worthlessness she experienced at that moment. Cruel words from the lips of a parent can cause lifelong pain. Not hearing encouraging words can also be a grief that is too painful to bear.
I knew just such a man who struggled with this pain his entire life. Growing up on the mission field, he spent many years attending a school for missionary children, only seeing his parents during holidays and vacations from the time he was 5 years of age. He could not remember hearing his mother or father say “we are so sad to be apart from you” instead he continually heard them admonish him to be willing to sacrifice all for Christ.
As he grew older and answered the call to the ministry himself, he struggled as his father criticized everything from his choice of seminary and denomination to individual sermons. Eventually he gave up trying to please a father who did not accept him and their relationship was one that produced grief and unfulfilled longings. In spite of a series of personal losses that included the death of his beloved wife and children who rejected the Gospel, he preserved until his father died. Only a few months later, this dear man took his own life. I have often wondered what might have been had this missionary who had given his life to serving and ministering to others had invested in his own family, in a son who so desperately wanted the blessing of his father.
For those of us who have suffered from this experience, the precious truth that we were chosen by Christ before the foundations of the world, were purchased with His blood, are saved by His grace alone, and are of immeasurable worth to Him, is what ought to bring us healing, comfort, joy, and a great hope.
I would encourage you today to consider how you might bless each of your children, in word and in deed today, that it might give them confidence in the Lord and in their relationship with you. And I would also encourage those who struggle as the result of not having received the blessing of a parent. I pray that the Lord will continue to pour out His grace and healing to you.
For some incredible insights into the concept of the importance of blessing, I would highly recommend the book The Blessing by Gary Smalley and John Trent. I will be reviewing this book in the future as well.
organic family life ~ part five ~ repenting of provoking our children to anger
A couple weeks ago while I was relaxing poolside, watching Grandpa Clay playing with the grandchildren in the water, I couldn’t help but hear and see an interesting interaction between a mom and her near teenage daughter. While three younger siblings were splashing around and enjoying themselves, the oldest girl sat under a beach umbrella, sullen and pouting, her arms crossed and daggers coming from her eyes. Someone had offended her and she was letting everyone know.
A few minutes later, her mom spoke up from the pool. “I can’t believe you scratched him like that. Just look at the marks on his back,” she shouted.
I looked over at the younger brother who was swimming and joking around, oblivious to the scratches but obviously delighting in the dressing down his mom was giving to his sister. “But he kept trying to dunk me and wouldn’t stop pulling on me,” the girl replied.
“I don’t care,” said the mom, “You can just sit there until you can behave.”
At this point, the girl answered her, “I might as well go back to the room then.”
“No you won’t. You will sit right where I have told you to sit.”
This conversation was louder with each retort and eventually the girl said nothing while the mother continued to let her know not only how she had misbehaved but how she had embarrassed her in front of everyone and that her whole attitude in life needed to change, etc.
I felt very uncomfortable and I was embarrassed for both of them. This girl was just at that age, needing to feel approval and acceptance as an emerging young woman who feels unattractive and unsure about herself every day. She may have been completely wrong in what she did, though in watching her brother’s glee, I was not so sure he didn’t get the desired affect he sought. I suspect that this conversation was only one of many just like it that was shared in that home.
I was also embarrassed for this mom who needed to let everyone within ear shot know that she was in charge, her parental authority feeling challenged by a daughter who would soon be grown. I knew that whatever the relationship was between the two of them, it had been damaged by the mom’s decision to admonish the daughter in public and in a manner that belittled her. Though the daughter may have been absolutely wrong and her attitude was a problem, this mother was provoking her child to anger by public humiliation and it was her responsibility as the parent to set the example of proper relationship building.
I think that one of the greatest assets a mom can possess is the ability to empathize with her children, to be able to put herself in their shoes and actually try to look at situations from their vantage point. In organic family life, this is perhaps the most essential ingredient to good communication.
We are exhorted to admonish one another, to confront each other in love when we see sin. As parents, this is an important part of teaching and instructing our children. But we must also be mindful that our words and actions hold much more significance in the lives of our kids than we realize. Correction and reproof when done ought to be administered in privacy and with the goal of further building unity and trust. Think of how you would want them to admonish or correct you.
As I thought of ways that I have failed in this area, things I have done that I have had to repent of because they caused my children to be provoked to anger, I began to make a list. I cringed as I typed, the thoughts coming fast and furious. I know from experience, either from my own life or from listening to what others have shared with me, that these are areas where we easily fail as parents.
Jumping to conclusions
Not trusting them
Talking about them to your friends
Not expecting the best of them
Not showing empathy
Trying to make them like the same things you like
Belittling them, especially in front of others
Failing to praise them or even reward them for the good things they do
Telling someone they will do something without asking them
Critically looking them up and down, examining their clothing choices, hairstyles, friends etc.
Being nitpicky; making mountains out of molehills
Not paying attention to the things that really matter to them; minimizing their hopes, dreams, beliefs, questions, concerns, convictions
Dissembling information to them; being hypocritical by “interpreting” the Bible to them in ways that only show your legalism rather than your dependence on the Word of God and the grace of Christ; calling things sin that the Bible doesn’t call sin in order to manipulate them
Refusing to give them increasing responsibilities all the time or giving them responsibilities but continuing to treat them as though they were younger
Assuming their time is your time and they can be interrupted at will to meet your needs
Ignoring the gifts God has given to them
Showing your preference for another sibling
Forgetting things they have told you
Yelling at and scolding them
Belittling, minimizing, or ignoring their doubts and faith struggles
Not protecting them enough
Being overly protective
Thankfully, by God’s grace we are promised that if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9) We need to continually recognize what things provoke our children to anger and then to repent of this behavior, seeking forgiveness for doing these things to our children and purposing to not do them again. Relationships with our children depend on it.
organic family life ~ part six ~ comforting body and soul
Sometimes mothering experiences sprinkle down upon you like a gentle rain, the shirt-spotter kind of rain and nothing more. Other times we are overwhelmed and things “come in threes” as my grandmother used to predict that they would. I will never forget my initiation into the world of multiple sick children, a flash flood upon my garden of pre-school parenting, my grandma’s words making sense to me for the first time. My older three children were 4, 2, and 1 when they came down with chickenpox within hours of each other.
The sweltering July heat and Illinois humidity grows bumper corn crops and even bumperer rashes. I don’t believe there was a single crevice on those miserable little bodies that wasn’t affected! Having air conditioning in only one room of our old farmhouse, I set them up on the hideabed with fans blowing the air around them and a baking soda paste covering them from head to toe. I rationed out the Benadryl and fed them popsicles while we watched endless episodes of Sesame Street and Reading Rainbow. Why wasn’t that the week Mr. Rodgers did a special on skin and childhood diseases? And we all waited, day after long day, for Dad to get home from work!
When our children are sick, the world seems to stand still. They are needy and restless, they are not easily entertained and our hearts break for them because they are feeble and cannot understand why they feel the way they do. I remember thinking of Psalm 103: “for He knows how we are formed, He remembers that we are dust.
I was so blessed by my conversation with Kathie Kordenbrock as she talked about this “dust factor,” the physical limitations of children and the importance of mom’s remembering how children’s bodies work and the needs that are unique to them.
As moms, we often forget that children need lots of time for physical activity and just as much if not more time to explore the world around them without being encumbered by “seat work” and pre-scheduled lessons. They need time to think and process the new experiences they have and they need to continually be introduced to new thoughts and ideas as well.
It had been a long time since I taught anything to a 5 year old but while I wandered through the natural history museum with my granddaughter, I consciously bent down to look at the exhibits from her eye level, to see what she was seeing, to answer the many questions she had about the animals and plants we were discovering together.
As she talked to me, I realized that it was comforting to her when I explained what we were looking at, for a grandma to know answers to so many things that were new to her. I could feel her small hand relax in mind as I told her about the buffalo and the raccoons and the huge skeleton of the whale that hung above our heads. Children need the assurance that they are being mentored by people who adore them and that no questions are silly and all are worthy of real answers. They need to feel that both their bodies and their minds are safe.
Children also need the comfort of having a family meal time where the food is nutritious, delicious, and almost as satisfying as the conversation around the table. In our American culture, people eat meals in between their other activities; it is the half-time refreshment. We have much to learn from other countries where the meal is the main event and begins with choosing the best ingredients, preparing the food in the kitchen, often together as a family. The culmination is the relaxed time of eating and discussion, the coming together after a long day, each sharing their own day’s experiences.
As my children have begun leaving home, I have come to realize that there was a certain comfort for them around the table. They could count on the fact that, no matter how bad the day had been, supper time would be spent enjoying a meal mom had prepared with them in mind and that we would all be together. And that relaxing time was spent talking and listening to each other, laying the groundwork for greater talking and listening yet to come.
A very important part of feeding our children is making a space for those great thoughts and exchanges to take place, an opportunity for children to stretch their ideas and impressions in a safe and relaxed environment while the whole family is participating in something they enjoy. After all, Ronald Reagan was correct when he said “All great change in America begins at the dinner table.”
We also need to remember that comforting a child’s soul is a responsibility we have been given and we ought not to take it lightly. While we spend many hours helping our children memorize Scripture or the catechism and even more hours in actual Bible instruction, comforting a child’s soul, one of our greatest responsibilities as moms and dads, happens when we spend lots of time with them, walking alongside them every single day.
Back when my first children were toddlers, the phrase “quality time vs quantity time” was all the rage. I can remember Phil Donahue blathering on and on, assuring moms that they didn’t need to worry if they were away from their children for 12 or more hours every day as long as the time they spent with their children, no matter how little it was, was “quality” time. This seemed as nonsensical to me then as it does now. It is like saying “well, I can only give you one little bite of food so I will make it steak instead of a bite of a jelly sandwich.” How satisfying would that be? Children need both quality time and quantity time and giving it to them is a duty that God has given to us as parents. Nothing comforts the soul of a child as much as time with a parent who loves and cherishes him. And nothing is as important…no job, no ministry, no special interest, no hobby.
There are various reasons that young adults who were raised in Christian homes abandon their faith but research repeatedly shows that a nurturing, open, and comforting relationship with someone older who has invested lots of time in them is what keeps children true to the Lord.
Organic, natural family life is lived in the presence of comfort and nurturing of both body and soul, giving bread and not a stone to our precious children, turning our hearts to them as unto the Lord.
organic family life ~ part seven ~ refusing to be the unfaithful shepherd
“Jesus said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.” John 21:17
My first introduction to 2:00 am feedings did not come with the delivery of my first child 34 years ago. Rather, I learned this very important aspect of caring for an infant when I was about 7 and my dad brought home an abandoned lamb from a nearby farmer.
The vet told us to mix up a formula of cow’s milk and Karo syrup and to serve it warm in a pop bottle with a special nipple attached. Though I was sleepy-eyed and uncertain, I trudged down to the basement a couple times each night to feed my “baby,” her wobbly legs and wiggly tail delighting me each time.
Soon she was able to eat grains and run through the grass in the field behind our house and we kept her until she was older and had a few babies of her own. It wasn’t until I was grown-up with babies of my own that the concept of shepherding in Scripture began to make sense to me and my heart was quickened at the similarities between my children and that tender little lamb that had needed my care.
Mothering is a job of total sacrifice; it begins while that child is in the womb and I am not sure when it ends. It requires not only all your time, energy, and resources, but it requires a measure of attentiveness that, prior to motherhood, you don’t even know exists. Like the shepherd who is mindful of those things that are prone to attack sheep, moms keep their eyes open for any signs of danger that might harm their little ones. In the heart and eyes of a mom, harming a child seems like impossibility. But sometimes we do harm our children in spite of ourselves.
In the past few months I have been struck by the need to discuss parental repentance as it relates to homeschooling parents. It began when Clay and I met a young homeschooled woman who is struggling to find her identity both in Christ and as an adult after years of emotional and spiritual abuse at the hand of her parents. In listening to her story, we were so grieved at the broken relationships and the unnecessary severing of both family and extended family ties.
As time has gone on and we have considered this woman’s story, we have thought about how difficult repentance can be, how moms and dads, especially homeschoolers who have given, in some instances, decades to raising children, find it so hard to acknowledge that perhaps their paradigm or personal preferences weren’t necessarily the “biblical” way, that their agenda was not appropriate for the various callings the Lord was placing on their lives of their children. What makes someone hold on to something that can neither be supported by the Word of God nor shown to build solid family relationships? What motivates someone to shepherd sheep, ie, raise children, in such a way as to destroy the lambs under their care and render them ineffective in service to the Great Shepherd?
Interestingly, the Bible is not silent on this. In Ezekiel 34, we read about the treatment of the sheep at the hand of unmerciful and wicked shepherds, those who were given the duty of nurturing and protecting their charges but who, instead, destroyed them for their own selfish gain. Though we typically look at this passage in light of cult leaders and abusive church leaders, I believe there is much for us to learn as we examine our own shepherding methods as homeschooling moms.
Here are a few observations I would like to make:
1. The shepherds fed themselves, taking the best food and the finest clothing to use for their own purposes. I believe this is talking about shepherds not only indulging themselves but it implies using the sheep and what the sheep can produce to profit themselves.
When I read this I couldn’t help but think of the series of podcasts I did on the militant fecundity movement and the teaching that having a large family will increase the family economy as well as the kingdom of God. Instead of seeing children as the precious treasure they are, they are looked at as a means for financial success and shepherds who do this are condemned by the Word of God.
It is good and right for children to contribute to the family through helping with family chores and even perhaps a family business. But parents should never see their children as a means for providing for the household expenses either by requiring that they work full time without pay or by confiscating their outside earnings to add to the family till.
Not long ago I was reading in an online forum where the mother was talking about her adult son working in the family business alongside her husband and hoping that he would marry one day. But rather than paying the young man so that he could be saving to prepare for marriage, she talked about how he will occasionally pick up the tab for him when the family goes out to eat and he is allowed to eat at the family dinner table. This is exactly the attitude I believe this passage of Scripture is addressing.
I have also known homeschooling mothers who expected their oldest children to become surrogate mothers to the younger siblings and keepers of their homes to the point where the mother did little of the actual raising, nurturing, or teaching of the younger children or the running of the household. Again, family members must work together and share responsibilities but moms and dads should work alongside their children.
Another way parents use their children for their own gain is to promote their children as the best examples of homeschoolers and putting pressure on them to perform in certain ways. Though no financial gain may be at stake, parents often demand perfection in order to gain popularity or status within their own homeschooling circles or to gain acceptance in their families or among friends.
2. The shepherds did not strength the lambs in their weakened state and did not heal them when they were sick. I believe this speaks to the need for moms to be attentive to all the needs of their children, the physical, emotional, and spiritual. Children are vulnerable and need our protection as well as our encouragement lest they become frustrated and want to give up. They are unable to withstand the pressures that an adult can handle. Especially during the tender years as they approach adulthood, hormones and self-doubt cloud their perspectives. If we minimize their very real feelings and thoughts during this difficult time, we have not strengthened them in their weakened states nor have we healed their infirmities.
I also think this can apply to the way we teach them. Some children are auditory learners, others are hand-on learners, and still others learn by sight. If we insist on teaching them in a way that they are not wired to learn, we are not strengthening them and are only adding to their sense of frustration.
3. The shepherds did not go after the sheep that had wandered from the fold and did not heal their injuries. This is perhaps one of the most difficult things for me to observe. There is the attitude of some parents who think once a child reaches a certain age they ought to leave home or, more commonly with homeschooling parents, if they are difficult to live with (perhaps not wanting to follow the family paradigm), they are turned out on their own so as not to influence the rest of the siblings.
The example of the Lord Jesus is not one of waiting for us to repent, hoping beyond hope as he “softly and tenderly” calls us. Rather, he pursues us with a passionate love, draws us to himself, and won’t ever let us go. Is this not the example we must have? If a child has wandered and is disobedient, do we not love and offer love and understanding? Are we not to do all we can to care for and maintain a relationship with a child, even one who is disobedient or perhaps wayward? Is this not the time to reexamine our beliefs and convictions under the influence of the Word of God rather than our own traditions or the teachings of some man?
And what of those children who have wandered from the fold and as a result have suffered consequences that perhaps will affect them for a lifetime? Is that not the time to extend grace and mercy to our children, bearing their burdens as the Lord surely bears our own? We are to restore our children in a spirit of meekness and gentleness, caring for them even as our heavenly Father cares for us. “And while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
4. The shepherds ruled the sheep with force and harshness, scattering them and leaving them vulnerable to wild beasts that would devour them. I believe this is one of the saddest things I have witnessed, the “my way or the highway” attitude that I have seen parents display, the child training with such harshness and often brute force that their children, in desiring to escape from their homes, go out on their own and become easy targets to the “wild beasts” in our culture.
Often young people who have been abused at home will find refuge in the first nurturing, caring environment they can find. Often, for girls, it is an older man who takes advantage of them sexually. Sometimes they find comfort in a cult. Other times they completely embrace philosophies and lifestyles that are wordly and they fall prey to alcohol and drug abuse. They become scattered and unable to have healthy relationships of their own.
If we read to the end of this chapter in Ezekiel, we learn two things.
First, for those who read here and are suffering from sins your parents committed against you, the Lord promises that if you come to Him by faith in the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross, you are one of His sheep. He will rescue you. He will give you rich grazing land for food, both physical and spiritual, and clean water for drink. He will bind your wounds, strengthen you, and promised that He will bring justice.
Secondly, we learn that God will punish those who have mistreated His sheep. And the irony is that the shepherd, who seeks to gain at the hands of the sheep, loses in the end. All the use of the sheep for his own agenda is gone and he has nothing. Sadly, this is what I have seen in families where the moms and dads treat those under their care in this way. They are alone with their principles and perhaps that is God’s punishment to them this side of the Last Day.
However, there is good news! We are promised that God will show mercy to us if we repent of the sin of lording it over those sheep who are under our watch care. What a merciful Savior we serve that while we were yet sinners, He loved us and saved us and redeems our lives for eternity and in the here and now!