Category Archives: Christian Parenting

The Prodigal Father

My pastor recently preached a sermon about the parable of The Prodigal Son and I have been chafing ever since.  She suggested that maybe the story was not about the wasteful spending and reticent behavior of the son, but that of the father.

Apparently, the word prodigal doesn’t mean all the things I always assumed it means.  It means wasteful, extravagant, lavish.  Not ‘returning from making bad choices’ or ‘regretful and sorry’ or ‘ready to receive deserved punishment, good and humble’.

Nadia (those of you who wince at the idea of a female pastor can just call her Pastrix Bolz-Weber) suggested that we focus on the lavish ways the father spent love and resources and take a lesson from that.  The older son is the character that makes the story hard for me.  He’s doing all the ‘right’ things and ‘good’ things and then throws a fit when the father celebrates the return of the younger son.  It’s easy for me to accept that we should celebrate the returned sheep, the returned son, the lost souls coming home.  But when the father tells the older son ‘all I have is yours’ I want to stop reading.

Maybe it’s because I’ve always enjoyed a science classroom, or because I grew up very outside the church, or because I don’t care to learn the social game and hierarchy within ‘normal’ churches, but I spend a lot of time around people who’ve been really hurt by church people.  People who are now actively rejecting church and even sometimes poking it with a stick because they’re trying to regain their sense of power.

So when I read this story, I see my friends in the young son, and the mean church people in the older son. I see people who said that people like my husband and I aren’t welcome in the denomination he grew up in.  People who say that my friends shouldn’t have access to the grace of God if they don’t understand and believe the right things.  People who say that my friends need to make the first move, when it’s church people who started the fight (and sometimes ended the relationship too).

And I don’t like hearing that the father in this story, or my Father in heaven, is going to give all that he has to these people who are hurting my friends.  And doing it in the name of God!  Ah!  It’s like saying Michael Pearl gets to pass through those pearly gates and that I’m going to have to play nice with him.  !!!

But I don’t have to check my pastor’s facts to know that she’s right.  I don’t need a dictionary to check her definition of prodigal, I don’t need to even crack my bible to know that she’s not misrepresenting the story.  The Holy Spirit does live within me, and sometimes when words pass through my ears and into my heart, the Holy Spirit does the stadium wave.  There’s no mistaking that feeling.  I can tell when I’ve heard Truth – even when it’s Truth I don’t like.  And so I’ve been changing the subject whenever my inner dialog goes back to this.  Suddenly being oh-so-happy to think hard about loading the dishwasher or signing a loud song with my girls or find some other activity that will engage my brain *just* enough to block out the knocking of an idea that makes my stomach turn.

The people who throw a tantrum about ‘welfare moms’ getting food stamps or having more children, the people who claim that the local university is trying to tear apart the church, the people who vote Republican after being GIVEN nearly everything in life -and don’t even see the irony!- they all get the same heaps and mounds of love and grace as everyone else.  Same as my friends.  Same as me.

The reason it hurts is not because I’m jealous.  It hurts because I’m judging them.  I want to see them held accountable for the ways they’ve hurt my friends and they ways they’ve hurt me.  I want to see them cry real crocodile tears for all the times they’ve made other people cry for feeling not good enough for God.  And I don’t know if any of that is going to happen.

At some point, it’s not about revenge anymore.  Not even the revenge I was pretty sure God was going to lay down on them.  It’s not about payment or punishment or even just knowing the repercussions of their words and actions.  It’s about accepting grace.  For myself.  And the inherent (and more fair than I have been able to admit) spreading of that wealthy love on everyone.  To everyone.  Even the Mean Girls (or, more traditionally in the church, Mean Boys).  

I don’t think I could have gotten that lesson without the parenting that I practice.  I am fully against demanding punishment or retribution from my children, because I believe their sins are paid for.  And extending the grace of God to them has familiarized me with the concept in a way that makes me now aware of its extension to the adults I judge as guilty too.  If I am going to pray without ceasing about anything, it’s about that.  Learning to extend that grace, forgive them, forgive myself, and live in a way that reflects the gift I’ve been given and not the gift I want withheld from them.  

It’s the only way I can be authentic.  Or honest.  Or face God in the morning.  I can’t love God when I’m absolutely refusing to live a life in response to salvation.  It doesn’t compute.  Even though I feel like I’m standing up for the oppressed and the marginalized and the lost sheep, I’m acting like that older son.  I’m stomping my foot all mad throwing a tantrum.  There is a fine line between advocacy and damnation.  I know it’s there, but I don’t seem to have any idea where it is.

And that is why I don’t like that sermon.

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What do I say to them?

My Facebook newsfeed tells me that Mr. Rogers had this to say about tragedy:

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.

 

I don’t know if that quote is really his, but I believe the sentiment is true.  So many of my non-Christian friends are crying out today – toward Your God, as they call him.  Wanting to know why My God didn’t stop this.  Wanting to know what kind of God allows this.  There are passages that talk about the answers to those questions, but I don’t think that’s what my friends are looking for.

Unfortunately, what I want to tell them might even hurt them more.  I want to tell them that God allows this out of love.  Which sounds callous and cruel and would get me flagged off of Facebook in no time.  But what good are acts of kindness if they are not acts of free will?  God’s love for us allows us to make decisions about our actions.  God’s love in us and through us brings us to a place of loving each other.

Free will is the means which God allows this to happen.  He allows us to make choices about our actions.  It’s a hot topic, and many Christians believe there is no free will, or that it is limited, and that good only comes from God, not from the individual.  “I can do nothing but from God.”  I don’t know about that.  I believe we do make choices, and the spectrum of choices ranges from a shooting in an elementary school to risking your life protecting your students from a madman.

ABC reported that a first grade teacher barricaded her students into the bathroom.  Would her actions have meant anything if she had no choice in them?  Whether you believe God did this through her or that she did this herself, God allowed that course of action too.

When you choose to spend more time with your kids tonight than on Facebook, that act of love matters.  It means something.  When you choose to stay a little longer at bedtime, that act of love matters.  When you choose to make a special breakfast tomorrow morning, that act of love matters.  Your choices, to treasure your children, even if prompted by tragedy, matter.  They matter and they mean something because God has loved you and given you the chance to make these choices.

 

I believe there is more good in the world.  I believe more people are good, do good, and try to do good.  I believe more people think about the good, and look for the good, and assume the good.

 

In the end, Love Wins.  In the end, the greatest of all things is always Love.

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Obedience

There’s something to be said about obedience.  I’m not sure what, exactly, I’m supposed to say, but the ghost of a post has been following me around lately, poking me slightly and asking to be written.

Obedience, Biblical Obedience, Christian Discipline

There is some relationship between obedience and love and faith that I can’t quite put my finger on.  Romans 1:5, 2 Corinthians 9:13, and 2 John 1:6 all reference the way that we become obedience when we follow Christ.  A potentially causal relationship, but not exclusive.  What I’m seeing is this: As Christians, we obey the commands of God (to the best that we understand them and have courage for anyway) because we trust Him.  We have faith in Him to be asking the right things of us, so we do the things He asks.

I don’t expect my three year old to obey me blindly.  At this point I like to believe I’ve given her ample evidence to trust me, but I’m not teaching her to suspend her critical thinking skills in the presence of authority.  I want her to learn the nature of obedience – that she assesses previous behavior from someone and decides whether or not they are trustworthy and deserving of her obedience.  I want her to learn to decide what is right, whether that be compliance or defiance in any given situation, and to have the courage to do what needs to be done. Her obedience will not always be popular and her defiance will not always be without consequence.  Both require her strength.  Breaking her will for my own ease and laziness does not build her strength.  And it certainly does not build up strength in the body of Christ.

Obedience is the application of one’s will to the wishes of another.  Obedience is choosing to comply. You cannot be obedient if you have no will.  You cannot be obedient if you have no choice.  If I go to church because my livelihood depends on it, I’m not obeying God.  I’m not choosing to worship God because of my faith or my relationship with God.  I’d be choosing to go out of self-preservation, not obedience.  Which makes going to church the wrong thing.

This is one of my major qualms with spanking.  “Do it or I’ll spank you” and “Don’t do it or I’ll spank you” only teach selfishness and self preservation. They only teach our kids to look out for themselves.  They don’t teach our children the WHY behind our requests, and they don’t teach our children how to choose obedience out of faith or trust or love.

I hear people complaining that we’re a post-Christian nation, but it seems like many of us were raised to be that way.  We were raised to do what we were told lest we be hit – we never learned to do what was right because it was right.  Or to do what was right because it was asked of us by someone we trusted and loved.  Is it any wonder that teaching us to think only about ourselves taught us to be selfish?  Is it any wonder that teaching us to look at the consequences instead of the motives produced lazy people?  I’ve heard “If you don’t vote, you don’t get to complain about the government” but I want to add this: “If you teach selfishness and laziness to your children, you don’t get to complain when they act that way as adults.”

Where has this gotten me?  If I make a request of my three year old, she will either obey or not.  If she doesn’t do what I ask, she will nearly always engage me in a discussion about the request. She’s three, so we’re working on tact and word choice, but mostly she’s kind and thoughtful and insightful.  Sometimes she needs to know why I’m asking and she needs to know why the other choices don’t work.  She thinks about what I’m asking and she thinks about the situation.  She has on occasion come up with a better solution than the one my husband or I initially suggested.  She has offered compromises that we might or might not take her up on.  She’s learning how to make decisions, and she’s learning how to see her role in the world.  (She also sometimes flat out refuses because she’s tired or hungry or attempting to establish her independence.  She’s three.  Three year olds do that sometimes.)

I have no doubt that this path is less convenient.  I have no doubt that requiring first time obedience is easier on the parent.  But it hasn’t done much for society, it hasn’t done much for women, it hasn’t done much for the individual, and it hasn’t done much for the church.  It’s not worth the cost for me.  I’ll take the hard road, because it’s the right road.

Because luckily, I was able to restore my will and reclaim it after my childhood.

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Dulce de leche: The Beatitudes for Parents

Dulce de leche: The Beatitudes for Parents.

 

This is what I’m talking about.  All that stuff Jesus said about mercy and love and anger HAVE to apply to our relationships with our kids.  I am going to keel over with absolute shock if I get to heaven and God is chastising parents for not being mean enough to their kids.  Let’s take the same mercy and love and forgiveness that we show to others around us and let’s show it to our kids.  If God believes these traits are important to human interaction, let’s not let our fear of Him being wrong (and therefore our kids turning in to monsters) stand between us and following God.  Amen?

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And Another Thing

Prequel: No More Dead Kids

 

The other verse that I couldn’t quite put my finger on yesterday was this one:  Matthew 5:40 – “If someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.”

This verse has a sense of submission to it.  In keeping with Ephesians 5:21 “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”   But Michael Pearl had that excitement.  That challenge.  He wants to be pulled in to court.  He wants to go and have a grand show about him and his book.  He wants the media coverage.  Pride. Not once during the interview did he express remorse over the deaths of those three children.  Not once did he express sadness for that these children and their families have gone through as a result of Michael Pearl’s advice.  True, he doesn’t believe the parents followed his advice, but the parents sure did (as do the investigators in Lydia’s case) and even if they weren’t following the advice correctly, the fact is that they were trying to.  They were trying to do what Michael Pearl advised and they killed their daughter.  But Micheal Pearl has not even once mentioned going back over his book to be sure that the fellowship is what’s emphasized (as he claims) or adding another section of warnings about when to stop if the spankings aren’t working.  He is sure, without wavering, that no bad could have come out of what he wrote.  Arrogance.  There is something very strange, and very unsettling, deep in my soul, watching someone completely unphased by the mention of a small girl having been beaten to death.

And what Christian can hear about what is being done “in the name of Christ” and not feel misrepresented?  Or betrayed by these fellow believers?  Children are dying and being told that the beatings are what Christ wants for them.  What follower of Christ can hear that without flinching? In my life, I’ve seen this from people who have already started reading the publications by Michael Pearl and No Greater Joy Ministries.

The other day I heard that the author of a book I’ve started (and liked) wrote a blog post degrading women.  The post has since been removed, and the author seems to believe that what he wrote was wrong.  But I still see the book differently.  I have a clearer picture (a la 1 Corinthians 13) of the author and his character and his sin.  He’s more human and less idealized and that reminds me to check and question everything he wrote.  Because he is not Christ.  He is imperfect.  I’ve never seen that response from a follower of Pearl.  The adhesion to his principles must be dogmatic and unquestioning if they are to work.  And that adhesion seems to glue those followers to him as well.  Sad.  Because Christ didn’t seem to believe you could serve both him and another person.

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No More Dead Kids

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Michael Pearl’s interview by Anderson Cooper.  (In most of the country this aired on Friday, but for PST it’s airing right now)
There is just something about the way he leaned forward and whispered, “Go for it.” when AC asked the district attorney if any charges were going to be brought against MP.  I just can’t quite shake that image, and that sound.  Matthew 5:25 says “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court.”  There’s more to the verse, but I want to point out two things.  1.  Michael Pearl’s comment and demeanor in no way reflect that verse.  Challenging an officer of the law to bring about charges (that the district attorney has no intention of doing, for the record) in that sort of cold, excited way is incompatible with the bible that says ‘as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone’ (Romans 12:18) and “Settle matters quickly”.  2.  Matthew 5:25 is at the start of the Sermon on the Mount.  Beginning in verse 21, Jesus speaks about murder and anger.  This juxtaposition is especially chilling because Michael Pearl’s insistence that parents have complete domination over their children and settle for nothing less than instant compliance is what drove the parents using his books to kill their children.  Michael Pearl declares that spanking in anger is abuse, but that spanking sessions that last for hours and eventually break down the muscle tissue to such a degree that the discharged bits of skeletal muscle collect in the organs and kill the child is not abuse.  On TV, he says that if spanking isn’t working, parents should stop.  But in writing, he has expressed a very different opinion on the effectiveness of spanking.  He postulates over and over that anytime spanking seems ineffective, the parent should look inward and blame him or her self.  (and then, of course, spank again)  I won’t link to Michael Pearl from here, but go ahead and google the phrase “a proper spanking should leave the child without breath to complain” and see what you find.  It’s Michael Pearl’s response to what a parent should do if an angry child hasn’t relented and become submissive after a spanking.  I’d like to throw out another definition of abuse: one that includes Michael Pearl’s ideal spanking.

If you’re hitting your child, in any emotion, you have a problem that needs to be solved.

Hitting is abuse.  There are too many other options available to parents that are both more effective, more in line with biblical teachings, and less hypocritical.  And that’s before we begin the discussion about combining the phrase “I love you” with repeated spankings on naked flesh teaches a child.  Ever wonder why our culture is so sexually depraved?  Let’s start with what we teach children about love and pain.

I’m not really on the twitter scene, but I think the hash tag against Michael Pearl really sums things up #NoMoreDeadKids.  Why is this even a debate?

 

Continuing this train of thought: And Another Thing

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Stupid Radio

“I’m glad we have child labor laws, but it’s harder to teach kids a good work ethic now.”

I’m not kidding you, that’s what I heard on the Christian radio station on Monday.  Honestly, I should really stop listening to that station, the DJs are always saying something stupid/horrific/mean.

Because really, should anyone ever follow ‘I’m glad we have child labor laws’ with ‘but’?  There is no but!  Child labor laws are wholly and completely good.  There is no downside to keeping 4 year olds out of factory jobs.  A work ethic isn’t learned from slave labor.

You know where a work ethic is learned?  From parents.  Kids learn what their parents model for them.   If you are lazy and calling in to work and trying to avoid every task and chore you can, your kids learn to have no work ethic.  If you get done what needs to get done with a happy heart and without complaining – guess what your kids will learn?

That’s what kills me when my parents generation talk about how terribly lazy my generation is (and this conversation is not new, every generation thinks that the next one is sooooo lazy and sooooo spoiled).  If you think that your kids’ generation is lazy, you really have no one to blame but yourself.  Who do you think raised that generation?  Where did they learn their laziness?  Did they learn it listening to you complain about work?  Did they learn it watching you sit around the house while pinning housework on them?

I’m not saying kids shouldn’t have chores, or that parents can’t take a break once in a while.  Obviously they can.  And should.  But a parent’s overall attitude toward work will teach a child how to view all tasks.

Are you teaching your kids what they need to know?  Are you modeling for them the ethic they should have?

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