Thirteen.

Thirteen years. Sounds like a lot and a little all at the same time.

When we spent our very first anniversary moving, renovating, and hugely pregnant, we should have guessed that the majority of the ones to follow would be commemorated while doing one or more of those same three things.
I guess when you love making homes and you love each other, you end up with a plethora of broken houses and babies.

We sometimes joke with couples who are young and freshly in love that they probably shouldn’t do what we did. We say all sorts of foreign-sounding things to them like “wait” and “travel,” and “date nights,” and “family planning,” and “maintenance-free apartments.”

Some evenings we talk and dream about what our life would be like if we had just done a tiny bit more “normal.”

But the more we’ve talked and lived, the more we’ve realized the limitations of “one-size-fits-all” types of advice. We’ve made some naive and crazy decisions, and have a bad habit of biting off way more than we can comfortably chew, but I just can’t imagine we’d have the same marriage if we’d lived such a different life.

There’s something about saying “I do” and immediately jumping blind-folded into the deep end, young and barely knowing how to swim that can do crazy things to two people.

You either sink or you ungracefully cling to each other with everything you’ve got. And sometimes the whole becoming one flesh thing happens seamlessly almost by accident. Not because we were good at it, or read the right books, or knew what we were doing, but because it’s the only way we could keep from drowning, and God is good and full of grace.
And while I don’t necessarily recommend that approach, I don’t regret it either.

Because I wonder if we’d have figured out how to love each other so deeply, and fiercely, and necessarily, if we had cautiously eased in. I’m a pretty independent, self-reliant, never-ask-for-help type when I’m not drowning.
But God is big enough and loving enough to use these tsunamis we probably keep bringing on ourselves, to show me we’re so much stronger in our clinging and togetherness than we’d probably ever have pulled off on our own or if we’d cautiously eased our way in.

And here I am four babies, seven renovations, ten houses, twelve bathroom remodels, and thirteen anniversaries into this whole marriage thing and to be completely honest, I am still drowning. We’ve been living out of suitcases for over a year and are more unsettled than we’ve ever been. But while life and marriage can be hard, being in love with this guy can be just so easy. He has a kind heart and really strong shoulders. He loves me so patiently and practically and thoroughly.

The great thing about learning how to be in love when you’re gasping for air, is it’s just that much sweeter and appreciated to be able to do it when you finally catch your breath (even if just for a moment).

And man, I can’t wait to do just a little more normal and slower and settled together.

“If it’s half as good as the half we’ve known, here’s Hail! to the rest of the road.” ~Sheldon Vanauken

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Detox Your Soul

[Originally published HERE at www.DesiringGod.com]

When times become turbulent, it’s easy to lose focus. We may feel like the disciples in Matthew 14 on a ship in the middle of the sea, tossed by angry waves and battered by contrary winds. We fear disaster, we question the trajectory of the ship, we forget to row, we overlook how our own sin or faith impacts the storm, we cry out in fear instead of truth, or maybe we fail to look to the one who can calm the sea.

Storms can be consuming and so easily distract us from the state of our hearts, the gaze of our eyes, the words of our mouths, and the actions we should be taking. Before we know it, we are likely in serious need of a spiritual detox — a cleansing, purging, recalibrating, invigorating soul treatment.

While there are many places in scripture we could go, my favorite tends to be Psalms. Something about the way it covers so many ranges of seasons and emotions compels me turn to its pages when I’m not exactly sure where to go. It is raw, relatable, deep, convicting, beautiful, thought-provoking and heart-provoking. There are so many truths to meditate on, prayers to borrow, promises to declare, words to memorize — it can be just the place to begin a detox on four key areas of my spiritual life:

  1. My Heart:

This is where I begin, as my heart is always the first thing in desperate need of a detox. We can’t effectively fight the Lord’s battles if we neglect the war in our own hearts. Countless times I have tried, advancing in haste or self-righteousness before realizing it’s my own battle I’m fighting, and I must go to my knees to stop, repent, and reset. When times are tumultuous and emotions are high we must be particularly vigilant about sin creeping in. The enemy knows when there is much at stake.

The way the psalmist pours out his soul, encourages me to do the same, as I search my heart before the Lord.

“Test me, Lord, and try me, examine my heart and my mind” (Psalm 26:2). Ask the Lord to examine, prove, and try our hearts and our minds, as if testing a metal to determine value and genuineness. We are prone to be partial to ourselves and make allowances where we should not. Lord, determine the deep motives of my heart and actions, for only you can correct them.

“But who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me” (Psalm 19:12-13). Our greatest temptations come not from about, but from within — from the secret sins that begin in our hearts and give birth to almost every evil deed. They are so easily disguised from ourselves and from others — pride as conviction, self-sufficiency as diligence, fear as attentiveness, skepticism as discernment, timidity as humility, gossiping as caring, lukewarm-ness as temperance, vengeance as justice, selfishness as self-care, laziness as patience, self-righteousness as righteousness. Lord, forgive my secret sins and help me be diligent in identifying  and cleansing them before they enslave my heart, because they will apart from you.

“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10).  The state of our heart is not something that can merely be mended — it is corrupted and we need a new one, a clean and pure one. We are justified once, but sanctified continually. We should desire that purification with persistence. Every day. Every hour. It frees us to experience his joy. Lord, give me a spirit that is constant, steady and determined, no longer bound and disgraced by my sinfulness. I need your word to speak into it, your Spirit to move upon it, and your Son’s blood to wash over it.

“Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name” (Psalm 86:11). Ask that the Lord instruct our steps, for without his teaching we will go astray. Ask that we will live and act in accordance to God’s truth and pursue his will, not our own truth or our own will. Ask that God would join all the purposes, resolutions, and affections of our hearts into a singular purpose to worship, obey, and honor him, because that is our end-game. This is a prayer that should be on the tongue of every Christian. Lord, direct my steps and give me an undivided heart, for if that is wanting, all will be wrong.

2. My Eyes:

There are a million things we can look to, but the psalmist reminds us where to set our gaze. Like a compass in need of recalibration, we will be prone to wander if our eyes are set on the wrong things.

“Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways” (Psalm 119:37). There are so many things likely to lead us astray from what is real and true, and our incessant prayer should be that God would make our eyes pass quickly over them. In the words of Albert Barnes, a nineteenth century theologian, “Make my eyes to pass rapidly from such objects, that I may not look at them, may not contemplate them, may not dwell upon them. There is danger in looking on sin steadily; in surveying its features; in returning to contemplate it.” Lord, every day and every minute, graciously turn my eyes from anything that could block my view of you, for you alone lead to life.

“I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken” (Psalm 16:8). What is continually before our eyes is of the utmost importance because it shapes us. If we lock our gaze upon our Lord amidst the struggle, the pain, and the change — we will be anchored and not disturbed by fear. Lord, help me act and regard myself whether night or day, in private or in public, as always in your presence. You are my anchor, may my eyes never wander from you.

“You will make known to me the path of life; in your presence is fullness of joy; in your right hand there are pleasures forever” (Psalm 16:11). In the words of Augustine, “Lord, show me the road I must travel that I may see you.” God’s hand will provide us with not simply pleasure but *eternal* pleasure, and not merely joy but *full* joy. Lord, may I look to you to continually reveal the path that leads to life, for you are the author of joy and pleasure and you alone can provide them fully and eternally.

3. My Words:

The psalmist knew the power of words. He used them to create beautiful poems of praise, to poignantly pierce the soul, to paint glorious pictures of God’s character. Words have the power to build or break, to decimate or make — choose them with wisdom. They flow out of our heart, so if they are a continual struggle go back to number one.

“May these words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord my Rock and my redeemer” (Psalm 19:14). May our lips speak nothing that is not true, kind, and profitable. Meditate on what is pleasing to the Lord, because he is the fountain and origin of them, and that’s what should overflow. These sorts of words carry power when offered in the strength of our redeemer, as opposed to our own efforts. Lord, help every word that comes out of my mouth be pleasing to you, and draw others to your strength and your loving salvation.

 “We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done” (Psalms 78:4). Let us be a generation that is faithful in speaking the truths we have been entrusted with, handing them off to the future generations. Not corrupting the truths or using them to fulfill our own agendas, but speaking them in order to draw attention to and advance the works of the Lord so that he might be praised. Not for our own glory, but for his. Lord, may the great things you have done, ever be on my lips!

“I say to the LORD, ‘You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.'” (Psalms 16:2). God is our good, all of it. Apart from him we have none and we can’t add to his goodness in any way. The entirety of our sin and death can be exchanged for the entirety of his goodness and life, and though our flesh will fight against this daily while we’re here, our redeemed soul can rest in his complete goodness from here until eternity. God, you are the Lord of my life, and every good thing I have is because of you. Help me rest in you as my portion, my hope, and my stay.

4. My Actions

When the world is weighing heavily on my soul, my first instinct is often to retreat. To pull away from the heaviness and stop rowing — forgetting that God’s way is not necessarily ending the storm but giving me the strength to row in my weariness. *He* is our rock and our strength, we needn’t be paralyzed.

Let his love and truth lead to action. Not that we must never rest, but while the world tells us to spend our days caring for ourselves so we’ll have the strength to fight our own battles, God flips that on its head. He tells us to give up our own battles, rest in Christ, and use his strength to fight for and serve others so they can enjoy the rest and peace that we’ve been given. So many are in need of healing and help at this moment and when we purge our pride and our sin, our actions that follow have the potential to bring great glory to God.

 “Turn from evil and do good. Seek peace and pursue it” (Psalm 34:4). Act intentionally in ways that decline and shun the evil that is near in this fallen world, and at the same time, search out good to be done as directed or suggested by God’s word,  in faith and love for the glory of God, and in the strength and grace of Christ. Lord, help me do good for others in ways that will have eternal impact, and seek ways to live peaceably with all — as something worthy to be pursued, not just when it’s offered but when it’s difficult. 

“Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed” (Psalm 82:3). Over and over throughout the psalms, we are reminded that we are the natural protectors under God of the weak, the poor, and the oppressed because they often have no one to defend them. Lord, may I always see that right is done to those who need an advocate. At all times and for all peoples.

“Direct my footsteps according to your word; let no sin rule over me” (Psalm 119:133). As we act, my not just our life but our *daily* life, not just our paths but our *steps* be habitually obedient to God’s will. It’s in these small, seemingly mundane spaces that we can often reflect God’s glory the brightest as we walk with him step-by-step through this life into the next. We have no hope of properly arranging them for his utmost glory, apart from him. Lord, order my steps and kill my sin. May you alone be my ruler.

Spiritual Detox Leads to Life

In the words of Charles Spurgeon:

“Come divine Spirit, and exercise Your cleansing power upon us according to Your promise. … Oh, that everything might help us toward purity, for we crave it. We attend the things of the Spirit, and there is groaning within us to be utterly delivered from the things of the flesh, so that we may be a cleansed temple in spirit, soul, and body, fit for the indwelling of the Holy One of Israel. Lord, help us, we pray, in our daily lives, to be as Christ was. … In all ways, may we seek the good of our fellowmen and the glory of our God.”

While our flesh will never fully stop battling against our redeemed souls in this broken world, the more we live as ones aware of this contention — diligently ready to identify and confess our vices — the more God can use us for his purposes in his glorious battles that always lead to life. A spiritual detox, though potentially difficult at the time, enables us to more clearly hear the Spirit’s voice and see our Savior’s face. Whether in the loud storms, the drenching rains, or those contrary winds, we are able to press on for the prize with Christ in view and excitement in our hearts — pursuing things unseen as we walk in the way of life and our Lord.

 

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A Revolution for the Weary

Revolution for the weary

I overheard one of my kids describing the New Year, as “that time when grown-ups make New Year’s revolutions.” It made me think. I’m not one for resolutions—the cold and dreary arrival of January rarely incites enough excitement for me to add things to my endless to-do list. The holidays are over, everything is starting up with a vengeance, the expectations of the new year are before me, and I am WEARY. And weary people have no business making resolutions. Those are the things I make every night of my life. Tomorrow, I’m going to [insert well-meaning and lofty goal]. So many things I could put there. I just can’t.

A revolution, however, is a dramatic and wide-reaching change in the way something works and by the time I actually get around to buying a calendar with the accurate year on the front of it, the reality that things just aren’t working could not be more apparent. A hard look at what my weary soul is revolving around is the only fix for something a resolution band-aid could never mend.

There are a thousand reasons I really, truly should exercise more, eat better, sleep longer, spend less, de-clutter, and parent more effectively but these things must never be my life’s orbit. My soul matters infinitely more than my body or my diet, God determines my future (not my savings account or 401K), my messy house and dirty laundry are not eternal (praise the Lord), and contrary to what all the blogs imply, motherhood is not my highest calling. There are so many good and noble things I can do, but the truth is, I will do them immeasurably better and more effectively and they will not be wasted when my life revolves around a perfect, holy, unchanging foundation—the person of God, rather than the hundreds of great things that will ultimately lead to the opposite of rest and peace when they become my focus, rather than my fruit.

“A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord determines his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9)

We are drowning in choices. It’s hard to know which fight to pick, which cause to rally behind, or what to make our life’s work.  We can become so obsessed with finding our purpose and knowing God’s plan for our lives, that we forget HE is our purpose and knowing HIM is his plan. Not accomplishing our next (even godly) goal, but knowing the creator of the universe in a real and intimate way. God’s wisdom, direction, and his purposes are so intertwined with who he is. The deeper we know the person of God the more our hearts and passions (and resolutions!) will align with his. Oftentimes, this means letting go of the goals we already have.

I’m not sure why I fight this so much—embracing surrender. On paper it sounds beautiful and easier and simpler, but giving up goals is hard. “Surrender” is the last word that comes to mind when we think of revolutions. But God’s ways are not our ways. The world tells us to fight it and make it and do it and take it, while God says, “be still and know that I am God.” How’s that for a fight song? Instead of taking back our life we are called to give it up. We can say “in God we trust” all day long but if we can’t surrender our job, our children, our marriage, or our future then it’s not him we’re trusting in.

 “The Lord will fight for you. You only need to be still.” (Exodus 14:14)

Still can be the hardest. The word conjures up images of just sitting here oblivious to reality while our house degenerates into shambles, our children eat leftover Christmas candy for dinner, and our un-exercising selves just get more flabby and out-of-breath as we hide in our room reading the Bible all day. Or maybe that we give up on our dreams, stop applying ourselves to our work, or turn a deaf ear to the needs and battles around us because we need to “focus on God.” It just sounds lazy. But lest we think we are destined for a dreary existence of just quitting and eternal waiting, we must remind ourselves, that is not God. Why? Because that is not life, and God assures us that: “Whoever finds me finds life”! (Proverbs 8:35).

 “The people who know their God shall stand firm and take action.” (Daniel 11:32b)

God sent his own son to the middle of our mess and Jesus did not merely sit home all day praying and neglecting the broken world around him—because he was in perfect fellowship with his Father. He knew God’s will because he knew God. And there were times he waited. He was a carpenter for thirty years before starting full-time ministry because sometimes God’s purpose for him was to live excellently with what was before him, sometimes it was to turn tables, and sometimes it was to rest and pray and literally give up his life. The more we know our God, the more his wisdom overflows, and the clearer it becomes whether we need to sit still and stand firmly in his presence or whether it’s time to act and fight his holy battles. We must cease striving for one hot second and seek him before searching for answers.

“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11)

As we set out to know God and bring him glory he opens our eyes to paths we weren’t aware of before. He wants us to have that unrivaled feeling of living out what we were called to do. These changes often happen in subtle almost imperceptible ways, but when we walk in his presence he directs our days and our thoughts and our work and our conversations and our errands in ways we never would have on our own.

“Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will act.” (Psalm 37:5)

It can’t be an afterthought, checklist, or just another read-through-the-bible plan. If we truly want our life to revolve around God rather than all the things competing for our heart and our thoughts and our time, we must expect to do life differently. There is a cost. A revolution can’t be one of our many nightly resolutions to do better tomorrow—it’d be like the earth trying to revolve around the sun in addition to a dozen other things. It will fail. God wants our all not just our Sunday mornings. But this can be different than our feeble attempts that rarely make it to February, because this one doesn’t just depend on us. In our distractibility and weariness, he is strong. His power is perfected in sleepless nights, 60-hour-work-weeks, mom-brain, failing bodies, and A.D.H.D. prayers. We need to be willing and open and fervently commit this to the Lord, but it is him who will act. He will show up every day and do beautiful things and show us who he is. Will we stop and look and listen and learn? Will we let him change our days so he can change our life?

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) It’s the only answer to our busy, un-restful, un-peaceful lives. So let this be our desperate prayer and our rallying battle cry whether we’re crawling or sprinting into this new year before us:

Dear Lord,

Help me open my weary eyes in the morning and immediately seek you rather than the world. Turn my eyes from worthless things and let no sin rule over me. Make my weaknesses clear and your strength blindingly clearer. Transform my thoughts and my lists and my habits. 

Help me parent my children the way you parent me, and don’t let me forget that being filled by you first allows me to fill them better. Make the minutiae of my life matter eternally.

Trouble me more about the state of my heart than my body—help me train and exercise my soul to pursue you. Don’t let me use relationships to fulfill me in ways only meant to be satisfied by you. Enable me to use every cent that comes or goes to advance your purposes rather than my pleasures or security. Convict me that your Kingdom is more important than my house.

Help me rest in your hope rather than wallow in my fear. Thwart my feeble yet habitual attempts to rely on my own abilities. Burden my heart with what distresses you rather than what stresses me.

Help me seek you more than answers. Help me pray more than worry, and worship more than grumble. Be my rest after sleepless nights and my peace in the chaos.  Help my mind wander to you when I’m weary. Show me your glory today.

Amen.

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Busyness Is Not the Problem

Originally published HERE at www.desiringgod.com

Every so often, my head hits the pillow and I curl into a fetal position, trying not to hyperventilate at the realization that in not nearly enough hours, this finish line will become the starting line. And I’ll have to tackle life all over again. Oh come again, Lord Jesus.

I wonder how I got here — the chaos, the mess, the failing — and I strategize how to make tomorrow better. This is just a season and it will pass. But is it? And will it? I suppose the seasons have been different. Whether it was adolescence, or insecurity, or exams, or finances, or breakups, or stressful jobs, or moves, or pregnancies, or anxiety, or babies, or hard relationships, or traveling, or sickness, or parenting, or just sheer exhaustion. But so often it’s just one thing replacing another thing. Another fire to put out. Another mountain to climb. And as a doer and a fixer, the to-do list is never-ending and there’s always something to improve or put back together.

I can do this. Just tweak the schedule. Get up a little earlier. Simplify. Re-organize. Streamline. Plan better. Focus. Pare down. Clear out. Divide and conquer. Tomorrow will be better. I’ll sleep more this weekend. It’ll slow down next week. Just waiting for summer. It’ll get easier when they’re older.

Self-Sufficiency in the Storm

But there are storms in every season. Whether it’s a constant, dreary spring rain, an unexpected summer thunderstorm, or a driving, relentless blizzard, there’s no avoiding storms.

And while I might cry out to God when the storms get really bad, it’s those long, weary rains that are most dangerous for my soul. Not quite bad enough to scare me, but they get me wet enough to distract me from my purpose. I put my head down, hide under the umbrella of my self-sufficiency, and forget to look up at the one who has power over every single raindrop.

Maybe it’ll hit me as I collapse into bed, battle already fought and lost. “Lord, please just pause life for a bit and stop the rain so I can catch a glimpse of you.”

But that’s not who God is.

He is not a genie who merely takes away bad things and gives me good things. He is my good thing. He is my peace and my rest and my life and my hope — in both the storms and the calm.

When Plans Fail

“Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). Rather than commanding us to try harder to find him, God tells us to be still and know him. Stop. Enough. Cease striving. Because he is God and he is moving and doing glorious things in both the sunshine and the rain, whether we stop and notice or not. We must not miss out because our hearts are too busy.

Though I would never admit it, it’s almost as if I want to streamline and organize and simplify my life to a point where I no longer need God to get me through my day. But my strengths and abilities will fail, again and again. I need a Savior every day.

Perhaps feeling overwhelmed and inadequate isn’t such a bad thing if that is what brings me to my knees and shatters my false sense of security. To the place where I realize my planning and intelligence and coping mechanisms mean absolutely nothing if I’m not becoming more and more like Christ and resting in the strength and presence of my creator, the author of my day. More of him and way, way less of me.

Christ Our Rest

We don’t need answers to all of our questions and problems; we need the onlyanswer. Seek him first and allow the Holy Spirit to lead and problem-solve and prioritize. He’s way better at it.

Yes, we probably are too busy. Yes, we probably have too much stuff. Yes, we probably need more sleep. But fixing these things should be the fruit of seeking first the face of God, trusting in the blood of Christ, and yielding to the power of the Spirit — not the focus.

This is not meant to sound pessimistic. I realize that when I say we will continually fail and face hardships, it can come across as bleak. But I’m telling you, battling the storms while understanding our utter hopelessness and resting in the power of Christ is infinitely more peaceful and invigorating and impactful than a thousand chaos-free days. He is our rest. He is our peace within the chaos. He is the means and the end. Don’t spend so much of your energy running from the mess that you’re too weary to run to him.

A Different To-Do List

But how do we do this? Knowing something means nothing if we aren’t letting it change us. We have to start right now. Ask him for help. It will look a bit different for everyone, but try putting aside your own list of things to accomplish today for just a few minutes, and make a spiritual to-do list. Here’s my own:

  • Before I even open my eyes in the morning, seek God’s face and bask in his presence. Awake, my soul. Turn my eyes, Lord, from things that are unworthy.
  • Before I climb out of bed and let my feet hit the floor, confess my sins and my weaknesses and mentally lean on him. Carry me, Lord, so I can accomplish your goals.
  • As I get dressed, beg God to cover my unworthiness with Christ’s righteousness. Lord, clothe me with your armor, because I need your power and protection for the dark parts of this day.
  • Before I gaze into a mirror or look at a screen or to a single thing of this world, pray that he will show me his glory and goodness today. That I will see it. And that I will reflect it.
  • As I sip my morning coffee or fill my belly, ask him to fill me with his Spirit and the joy of my salvation. That I would taste and see that he is good. That I would hunger and thirst for him.
  • As the world and the day get louder and louder, remember to stop and listen for the Spirit over the noise. Learn to recognize him.
  • When I find myself growing weary, run to my God any way I possibly can. Not to the world or to myself, but to him. Whether I read his words, worship him, pour out my heart to him, or ask his Spirit to pray on my behalf because I just can’t. And then repeat over and over again, until my mind effortlessly wanders to him.
  • Don’t let a single hour go by without asking God to sustain me. Not tomorrow, not next week, but right now. Set an alarm if I have to until it starts to come more naturally. Like breathing.
  • As I climb into my bed, look back and identify God’s providence woven throughout my day in both the good and the bad. Help me fall asleep praising him for his goodness to me.

Start Now

This is not something you learn, conquer, and move on. You can’t cross it off your list so you can tackle the next thing. I’m ashamed at how many times I’ve had to relearn this. How many wasted hours have gone by that I’ve forgotten him. How many days I’ve foolishly spent relying on my own strength and overlooking his presence. But if you didn’t seek him yesterday, seek him today. If you failed to look for his glory an hour ago, look for it now. If you forgot who gave you your last breath, remember who is giving you the next. Be still and know.

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Let’s Teach Our Kids ‘Beautiful’

Originally published HERE on www.desiringgod.com

On a recent vacation, I sat on the beach enjoying a sliver of one of those exquisitely designed days: clear sunny sky, warm breeze, the Atlantic Ocean that stunning mix of clear and steel blue.

My four kids were content and un-requiring (for once), so I sunk into my chair to take it all in. Almost immediately, a child walked into the expanse of sand between me and the sea. I watched as he aimlessly wandered up and down the beach, cell phone in hand, eyes squinting at his little screen, completely oblivious to everything around him.

It made me think about parenting — not this particular kid or his particular parents — but my own parenting.

Oblivious to Beauty

Vacations tend to provoke all kinds of ideas about life, work, balance, and everything you want to do differently when you get back. The quietness and loveliness contrasts real life so much it begs for some recalibration. You realize, at some point along the way, you may have started heading the wrong direction.

It hit me as I watched this wandering, distracted kid, mesmerized by a tiny handheld device, oblivious to the glorious beauty stretching in every direction. Are the things I am consistently putting in front of my children helping them see and enjoy God, or are they blocking the view of him? It’s easy to simply focus on what not to put before them, but forget to show them beauty, or forget to teach them about beauty when they’re exposed to it.

Children Learn to See

My one-year-old was new to the beach this year. It wasn’t enough for me to plop her down in the hot sand, and tell her to have fun. I had to teach her how to experience and enjoy the beach — carry her to the water and help her begin to dip her toes in the waves. I had to point out the shells, and show her how to rinse the scratchy sand off her hands.

My five-year-old is a bit further along. She knows how to dig for sand crabs, and points out how the ocean changes shades of blue from day to day. My older boys can now swim out to the sand bar and catch waves. The oldest notices cloud formations, warning me there will likely be an evening storm. They’re each learning to see and savor the beach. Just like I am.

Five Ways to Teach Them Beauty

As I watched this all unfold, I realized how badly I want them to be able to experience and enjoy God. I want them to see him in ways I was oblivious to for such a huge portion of my life. My eyes were glued to lesser things that seemed so big and wonderful at the time, until I finally exchanged the poor shadows and reflections for the true and full source of all beauty.

And yet so easily with my parenting, I slip into rules and lecturing that (in the words of my 10-year-old) “make God sound like a grumpy old man.” I hide the beauty and the wonder.

How do I avoid this? Here are some resolutions I’m working through as a mother.

1. Put before my children what is true and lovely and excellent.

Saturate their lives with God’s word and God’s creation. What I put before them is often more important than what I am not. It’s so easy to surround them with what’s mediocre, flashy, and dumbed-down, and then wonder why they don’t respond to excellence when finally confronted with it.

2. Parent them like God parents me.

Am I parenting from God’s strength and grace, or from my emotions? My ultimate goal should be that my children desire to do what is good and right and excellent because that’s who God is, not just because I say so. Yes, children need to learn obedience and boundaries before they can enjoy freedom, but they are never too young to learn beauty.

3. Teach them and show them how everything points to God.

Teach them about beauty that makes our soul soar, and about ugliness that makes our soul ache. It could be the sunset, or an artistic masterpiece, or Greek mythology with its capricious and temperamental gods, or a musician singing about sorrow or longing, or a movie that make us laugh, or well-written literature about the triumph of good over evil. It all points to God.

And don’t waste the ugliness that ends up before them, because it can make the beauty that much clearer. Point it out if needed, and talk about it with them. The goal isn’t developing cynicism, but identifying truth and valuing beauty. If we’re regularly showing them beauty and excellence, it quickly becomes easier to identify a counterfeit.

We might talk about why an overheard word is wrong, or why acts of violence in our world are so contrary to God’s character, or what that TV commercial is trying to sell us and how. The light shines through far brighter in the darkness. Use discretion, but make sure they understand that it’s the gates of hell that shall not prevail against Christ and his church — not the other way around.

4. Stop relying on someone else to do the majority of this for me.

God has not given this particular job first to teachers, or Christian radio, or even our church. God entrusted these sons and daughters to my husband and me. Teaching them should be a constant, intentional, organic process in our home and outside of it — at times, requiring surprisingly few words.

Point out God’s handiwork in how plants grow and in the beauty of nature. Pray together and often, and about lots of things. Read God’s word, and memorize it together. Lead them to the source. Resist the urge to lecture or package it up into entertaining little child-friendly snippets, while underestimating the power that simply God’s word and his creation can have on a child over time. Let the Holy Spirit work. Allow them to experience the wonder and joy of God as he wants them to see it, not the weariness that can so easily come when I hit them over the head with God’s truth as I want them to see it.

5. Enjoy God in my own life and allow them to witness it.

Don’t focus so much on my children’s souls that I neglect my own. How can I point out beauty to them if I can’t see it myself? Why would they yearn for the joy of knowing God if that joy is not evident in me? My life needs to revolve around Christ, not my children. I can parent far better when my heart is set on him first.

I’m slowly learning this in my own life. I’m learning how to see and savor God in the peaceful moments, as well as in the chaos. But knowing God isn’t a journey we begin once we’ve hit adulthood; it’s one we embark on the second we can see, and hear, and smell, and taste, and touch.

My children belong to God, not to me, and they were created to know and enjoy their Maker in the same way I do. We are on that journey together. My job as their parent is to point them to their Father, teach them to truly see him, and help them grasp their need for a Savior. That is why we teach them “beautiful” — because there is nothing more beautiful than the cross and the One it purchased for us — the One whom every other beautiful thing reflects.

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The Finer Things Club

Every day at 2:30pm, the 10-year-old, and I drop whatever we’re doing and he makes us each a cup of tea. I clear off the kitchen counter and we sit. Usually we flip through art books, listen to music, or talk about books we’re reading. And we chat.

Today it was about The Wind in the Willows, Manet, and our NCAA brackets.
Hands down, the nerdiest thing we do. I love it.

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