This blog is aimed at Christian parents and kids who 1) find themselves on the back foot in terms of current culture and popular opinion and wish to equip their kids and themselves with both love and truth, and 2) have a deep awareness that this is only the beginning and a very real sense that the conservation of biblical truth, especially in terms of scriptural sexual ethic, will be the next battleground of Christian persecution. If this is not you, don’t bother reading this. Also, you know this is not going to be a short blog post, right?
Reading time approx: 17 minutes.
I cannot discuss every angle of this in this blog. Lots of people have written about this more and better than me, plus they are all cleverer than I am (the fact that I am not even sure if “cleverer” is a word serves to prove this point! Ha!), So here are some helpful articles if:
Someone said to you that homosexuality is not actually in the Bible, and if you have the appetite for a theology lesson: here are 2 articles that might help you further understand the revisionist/ affirming position.
I was in no mood to write this blog. A lot of my blogs start off this way. I had to write this blog for myself AND for my son, who came home from school recently after his Math teacher wanted to teach them about fractions in class by dividing up the girls and boys and one little girl refused to participate because she doesn’t “identify as either”. My son is 12. It’s already a minefield out there for our kids! We are past the time of pat answers, about God and about culture. We are as parents as always called to lay a foundation, something we can’t do if we ourselves don’t even know the truth we stand on in terms of all the cultural narratives swirling around us and our kids. So I leant in, to the point where I can now, hopefully, through this little bit of writing, at least give you a view steps of light, a few bricks for your foundation.
This is not a black and white issue. I mean, biblically it is. But socially and conversationally and relationally it calls for immense grace in the grey, it calls for huge sensitivity that I pray I can bring to this writing. You can’t always draw straight lines across a crooked world, and I am not about to try. Here is what I will try to do:
Be as tender and nuanced as possible here as I
understand that this is close to home to many, raising kids in an environment where gay or lesbian is not just the parents of a friend at school but a loved one or close family member, or a class or teammate
understand that our kids as young as 7 are having to navigate social settings with puzzling pronouns and a social contract where the rules of friendship (and everything else) seem fluid, and all values and beliefs are not always considered as equally worthy of respect, and certainly not biblical ones.
Share with you what I shared with my sons, to equip them with understanding so they can navigate relationships – NOT POLITICS. Let’s leave that to someone else.
Considering that our kids are already being confronted with the LGBTQ+ issue, from the classroom to the Disney Channel, I want my kids to
So here is what I told my kids:
It has never been more vital for all of us to understand what the Bible says, about God, about people and about sin. Any thorough reading of the whole of scripture will confirm that the premise and practice of the LGBTQ position is incompatible with the Bible. It is important for us and our kids to 1) know what the Bible says and 2) know that we can trust what the Bible says.
The way we deal with Scripture in our homes should attest to our kids that our definition of truth does not get set by the world but by the Word.
So begin by talking with your kids about God’s good design, set out for us from the beginning of scripture and why this design is good for families and communities and our world. And talk with them about sin, which is the deviations, temptations and desires that move us (yes, all of us!) away from God’s design. That is what all sin is, a departure from God’s plan. This is something we are all always tempted with, in what we do and say, how we think and reason, what we desire and long for. We can have compassion for the way in which LGBTQ people struggle with sin, because we all struggle with sin. Sin is not God’s best and it’s not His plan or intention.
If you’ve read anything I’ve written you will know that God’s word is always my jumping off point. We have a saying in our house: “Truth is God’s opinion about everything”.
In light of that, this is what I told my kids:
I read Romans 1 with them. This is a great starting point. We are all born sinners. Paul points out that we all have this 1 big problem, which lies at the root of every problem in our heads, our hearts, our bodies and our communities: that we exchange God’s truth for a lie. This is not just a problem the LGBTQ community has. This is a problem we all have. All humans everywhere. This is also a helpful starting point because often what our kids are hearing are people saying they where “born this way”, but the truth is, we were all born this way. Born into sin because of the fall of man. And we all have natural tendencies that are contrary to God’s design. One person might struggle with same sex attraction, but another might struggle more than others with greed, with selfish ambition, with lying. We all have areas in our lives where we feel tempted to sin more than someone else might struggle in that same area. It is the nature of fallen man.
We need to be clear with our kids that this is a problem we all have. Not just some people. But then we need to be clear about why the LGBTQ conversation differs in the following ways:
What God’s word calls sin is now being normalized. In fact, if you just look about what Hollywood and the media present to us, our current culture is not just trying to normalize what God has called sinful, it’s trying to promote it. In this way the world is trying to define for us what is and isn’t sin, and that definition does not line up with what God says.
Yes, we are all sinners, but the Bible tells us that sexual sin is different from other sins and here is why:
It corrupts God’s representation of his full character in the world. Both male and female represent the image of God (Gen 1 v 27).
It corrupts God’s intention: God’s model of male and female matters. God’s sexual ethic as revealed in Scripture is 2 sexes, male and female, created in God’s image, for the sake of family, for the sake of community, and ultimately for the sake of a fulfilled representation of the loving, sacrificial relationship between Him and us, His bride, the church. God is against anything that disrupts this sexual ethic because it’s a disruption of His intention, plan, and purpose with and for us. The way God creates, the way He does things, always has a purpose!
It corrupts us on every level, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. It defiles more than just our bodies because we are sinning against ourselves, our nature, our design, and that is why Paul says in 1 Cor 6 v 18 that it stands apart from other sins.
Even though homosexuality is one of the most vivid representations of this breakdown, any disorder of God in our hearts leads to disorder in our lives and in our communities. We were all born sinners, with desires and longings contrary to God’s design, because of the fall of man. We all stand condemned (Ps 14 v 1 – 3). It is not about having less of a desire for what is wrong, it is about having more of a desire for God. We all have to deal with sin when we come to Christ, and not just some sin, all sin, because all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3 v 23). That is why the healing of someone struggling with same sex attraction is the same as the healing of any other soul, in repentant returning of God to His rightful place in our affection.
As Christians, we believe that God tells us who we are, because He created us – not the other way around. We read about how we were made in Genesis 1 v 27. Biblically, sex and gender are one and the same. What is now referred to as “Gender Identity” is not a biblical or even biological concept. Some people might tell you that gender is a social construct, meaning people came up with it. Now, of course, some ideas about how men and women “should behave” have been socially and culturally constructed over time – like for example saying all boys like the colour blue and all girls like the colour pink. But the biological categories of male and female is not a social construct. It is not a feeling. It is not fluid. People cannot claim an internal identity that trumps their external reality, that man decides himself who and what he is, is simply people playing God and that is a sign of our times. But that doesn’t mean it’s true or accurate.
Eventhough we may live in a world where, in the name of “love” anything goes, and we are expected to change our truth in line with what is popular, God doesn’t change. The first words of the Bible is “God created”. That means He is in charge of it all. That means He gets to say what is right and wrong, true and false, and what is male and female too. Read these scriptures with your kids about the unchanging nature of God: Heb 13 v 8, Malachi 3 v 6, James 1 v 17, Numbers 23 v 19, Is 40 v 8.
Many today reject biblical authority by saying that certain texts in scripture have either been misinterpreted or need to be revised. People will base these arguments on for example the fact that Leviticus forbids homosexuality (Lev 18 v 22) but it also forbids eating shellfish (Lev 11 v 9 – 12), yet, how many Christians do you know who don’t love a plate of prawns! But this view does not consider the full counsel of Scripture. , The perfect life of Christ fulfilled all the ceremonial laws (i.e intended to make us physically clean) of Moses around the sacrificial system and ritual purity, which were in place in the Old Testament to facilitate the relationship between a Holy God and a sinful man. We know from verses like Heb 10 v 16, that the moral laws (i.e to govern our spiritual, mental and emotional cleanliness) of the old testament are now written on our hearts (i.e still in force), even though Hebrews also tells us that we are no longer bound by the ceremonial laws. But the prohibitions against homosexuality is re confirmed in the new testament (Romans 1, 1 Cor 6, 1 Tim 1). PS, the prevalence of this message across the entire canon also puts to bed any argument that specifically the references to God’s sexual ethic, across both Old and New Testament, could have been mistranslated in Romans 1.
Lastly we must always be honest with our kids about the counter cultural nature of our faith. The ways in which our position on this and so many other issues alienate us should not be surprising to us (Matt 10 v 34 – 36), because the counter cultural way we are called to live affects everything from how we spend our money and our time, to how we vote, to what we watch on TV (and what we don’t watch!) and to what we believe is the best way for society to function. Just because there is something in the Bible that makes us feel uncomfortable or sound unpopular doesn’t mean it’s not true. This is the tension every believer is called to live in until The Day that all is set right and this is something we need to be honest about with every single person who comes to faith, including our kids. Jesus was honest about it in Matt 16 v 24.
“Forever O Lord, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens” Ps 119 v 89
We need to help our kids understand both tolerance as it is required of them to live along with others, but also to understand what I believe is a higher value than tolerance, which is kindness. Because tolerance as a word, can feel a little bit loaded, right? And with the compromise of Christian beliefs in many countries including the US now being set into law (and soon with the PEPUDA act here in SA too!), where standing on what you believe and value now is something you can be prosecuted for (not to mention culturally persecuted for), what is set before believers is a difficult road that must be walked with wisdom, the kind of wisdom that most of us grown ups can scarcely manage!
Even if this is something we as adults still struggle with, here is something I think we would be wise to help our kids understand:
It is possible to love someone without agreeing with them. It is possible to disagree with someone without hating them.
Yeah! Read that again!
So in terms of tender responses, this is what I told my kids:
God calls us to look at people the way He looks at them (2 Cor 5 v 16). This is why Jesus was never mean or unkind to people. But He was firm. He was uncompromising. He could do that because He was perfect, representing both love and truth at once.
Jesus’s example of compassion towards the woman at the well should be our template for engaging with people in sexual sin of any kind. Jesus saw people through a lense of love and truth, he didn’t see her through the labels others had for her, or that she had for herself. Understanding this, and having a deep awareness that we are all sinners and image bearers at the same time, will help us be more tender with people. When we see ourselves and others as God sees us it means we can have empathy for anyone else deceived by sin, stuck in sin, struggling with sin (even if they/ society does not name it as such and rather calls it a choice or an identity) because we have been there. This is where grace comes in. It is only possible to be gracious out of the position that we are all sick and in need of healing, that we are all sinners in need of saving.
So seeing people the way God sees them means being gracious. But it also means seeing their need for Him and responding. That is truly loving. God has a missional heart and so should we. It’s what we are all called to – to share the gospel. The gospel displays the kind of love people really do need, not the watered-down lipservice kind of the World.
But we cannot share the gospel in a vacuum. The Gospel is God’s message of love, and so we cannot share it void of love for the person we are sharing it with. Otherwise the gospel becomes a weapon or a stick, something it was never meant to be. So tender compassion is the only valuable starting point. We need to be kind in our conversations, and tender in our telling of the truth, because what people need before they need to understand what the Bible says about their lifestyle choices is the gospel. We cannot lead people to God’s greatest act of love by leading with a theological argument. Before people need a lesson on doctrine, biblical literacy or the inerrancy of Scripture (ps, tell you kids what the inerrancy of scripture means!!), they need the Gospel. Not the other way around. It is a person’s relationship with Jesus that will help them see what He says in His word and start applying it. Without the gospel, none of us can change. My teenager can’t stop being disrespectful, the bully on the playground can’t stop being aggressive, that bachelor can’t stop looking at porn, that neighbor can’t stop gossiping, and someone struggling with same-sex attraction or stuck in sexual sin has no means for change without the gospel. (if you need help talking to the kids about the Gospel’s relevance to our hearts and lives, please consider getting a copy of THE MOMMY DIARIES to foster Gospel-driven change conversations with your kids!)
Always remember that how we act is as important as what we believe. We are, for Christ, both messengers and witnesses. If we want to be messengers of His truth, we have to be witnesses of His love.
God’s love doesn’t mean we accept ideologies and ideas contrary to scripture because that seems “more loving”. It’s actually the opposite. The world tells us that to be truly loving is to “love people just the way they are”. But that is not loving. God loved us so much He died so we wouldn’t be stuck “just the way we are” (Rom 5 v 6-8), relegated to a life separate from Him, His peace and His purposes.
“What separates Christianity from other faiths is found in the scandal of grace. It is when we acknowledge our brokenness and inability to live as God wants us to that we begin to experience inner transformation.”
In Jesus we saw the example of how love and truth must always go together. He showed us in the way He lived his life that they cannot be separated.
Bring truth in love, and do not sacrifice either, because only truth in love is the fullness of Christ.
And to His followers, Jesus said: “If you love me keep my commandments” – Jesus said (John 14 v 15). But truthfulness gets tricky when the LGBTQ issue or any other type of lifestyle sin hits close to home. Like when it’s someone we know and love. And we are tempted to tell our kids, when they ask why “so and so” has chosen to do “such and such”, that it’s “it’s ok for him but it’s not ok for us”. What we don’t realise is that this definition categorises truth as 100% subjective, exactly in the “your truth is your truth, my truth is mine” way the world presents it. If you’re truth is your truth and my truth is my truth then what we are talking about is not truth, but opinion. Rather say “it’s not ok for anyone, but he/ she does not believe that. That doesn’t mean we don’t love him/ her. It just means we make different choices.” In a post-truth culture, we need to be clear with our kids about understanding the nature of truth.
And one of the things we need to be the most truthful about, is love, because this is what our culture tells our kids about what love looks like:
Loving our neighbor = affirming every narrative our neighbor holds to. Every latest sitcom normalises alternative lifestyles and shows our teens that real friendship means saying “You are so brave, I support you no matter what!” But what if that is what God had done for us? What if He had said to us – “you do you! I support you no matter what!”. That is not merciful, loving or gracious. And brazen sin is not brave. And being supportive of it is not loving. We live in a world that tells us that hurting someone’s feelings is what we should truly fear, not the ultimate spiritual position and the health of their eternal souls. It is indeed a most unloving approach to love and as those set apart we have become really terrible at loving people enough to tell them the truth.
“Our culture has wrongly equated loving everyone with approving everything”
So how then do we bring the truth to conversations about love and tolerance, identity and gender, biology and feelings, choice and freedom? What will be their foundation in current culture’s arguments against truth?
This is what I told my kids:
Soulish love and spiritual love are not the same thing. Love covering all cannot be used as an excuse for the acceptance of sin. One theologian said “better bad theology with love than any theology without love” but these things cannot be mutually exclusive. It can’t be love at the price of truth or vice versa, well it can, but then we can’t call it Christlike. We can’t call it “what Jesus did”. Jesus is 100% love and 100% truth, that is the fullness of who He is (Eph 4 v 13-16). So without that what we are preaching, what we are representing, is simply not Christ.
In a world obsessed with “freedom” which means the absence of restriction, the Bible calls us to a new kind of freedom. Tim Keller puts it this way:
“A fish is designed for water. It is meant to breathe and move in water. Only in water is it free to realize all its inner potentials. But if it is not confined to the water, it cannot realize this freedom. If it is “free” from any restrictions—free to go up on land—then it will die.”
True freedom, then, is not the absence of constraints or restrictions. It is finding and complying with the right restrictions, the ones that fit the givens of our nature and being. Who better to tell us what those are than the One who called into existence our very selves? History is a wasteland of people who pursued the worldly freedom to dispose of the “yoke” of morality and Christian values, to their own destruction. Being left to ourselves has not worked out well for any of us. That is why Jesus came!
We live in a world where people believe that how you feel dictates who you are. That it’s our desires that define us. The very nature of the LGBTQ argument affirms this. But the Bible says that Jesus came to restore us from the desires that are at war within us (Gal 5 v 17). The world says those desires define us, but Jesus came to truly set us free!
We are all broken, every last one of us, even if our brokenness is expressed in different ways. Brokenness = sin. Sin = the distortion and depravity that is part of every person. Paul states so clearly in 1 Cor 6 v 9 – 11 how we are all sinners, justified only by faith (Rom 5 v 1), battling all our different genetic, hormonal, environmental, and contextual difficulties and disorders that constantly incline us towards sin. It is important for our kids to understand this because the distortion of our affection is justified everywhere around us, the loudest voices in the crowd is calling us to love ourselves first, put ourselves first and be true to ourselves first, because, according to the world, that is what freedom is and that is what is the truest truth and the highest love. But that is not the truth of Scripture.
The world and its Instavangelists tell us to just trust ourselves, to follow our hearts, but you just have to be around people for a second to realise that we don’t have to be taught to lie, cheat, steal, be selfish. Original sin is a reality, and that is what has made the heart deceitful above all things (Jer 17 v9) – certainly NOT worth following, until you can – through faith receive a new heart, and a new spirit (Heb 8 v 10). In a world where gender-confused individuals believe their desires reveal their “true self”, it really only reveals the sin nature that is true for all of us. The Bible doesn’t speak of the “true self”. It speaks only of the old self (dead to sin) and the new self (alive to Christ). So the best thing we can do is not to become more like ourselves (whatever that means in terms of feelings/ desires) but to rather become more like Jesus. Putt off the old self, and be constantly renewed (Eph 4 v 22 – 24). All of us need this.
That is why the gospel is good news for every single person.
But the Gospel is hard, that is a fact. Why? Because it represents a dying to self (Gal 5 v 24), it represents a cross to carry (Matt 16 v 24 – 26), it represents repentance of everything that is contrary to His order and ordinances. The cross will always make us choose. An old way of life, or a new one as I’ve already mentioned. And secondly, when God calls us He doesn’t just call us out of some sins. He calls us to repent of all sin. God does not call us out of these things to be a party-pooper, His biggest driver is always love. And so He calls us out of these things because He knows, they can never bring about our ultimate, eternal good and thriving.
“To carry a cross means you are walking away, and you are never coming back.” A. W. Tozer.
Especially in the teenage years and going into young adulthood, our kids are going to be confronted with these things and drawn into conversations about them, whether in person or online.
“You need a thick skin and a soft heart to stay faithful in this world”
Jackie Hill Perry
Here are some things that are good to know for them (and us) to be prepared in these conversations:
Not everyone is going to want to hear what you think about this. And that is ok. If you are a kind person, you will in your life have many opportunities to walk with people, and they may even ask for your help or guidance. Always be ready to share what you believe. Also always be ready to defend what you believe. That’s 1 Pet 3 v 13! But never confuse these 2 things. God is a relational God, and it’s not your job to go out and crusade for truth in the absence of relationship and love. Especially in this space and in these conversations, we need to have soft hearts for people who are hurting.
Our kids live in a way more volatile world than us, the internet brings aggression, anger, and hate right into our hands, our homes, our hearts. So we need to be sure they know: Yes, your convictions can be expressed, but be sure to express them with compassion. That whole sticks and stones thing is “malarkey” as my dad would say, words ignite, words explode. And we will get it wrong, all of us, all the time. Sadly, what has happened in the church around this issue is an example of this. So remember to be gracious. There is only ONE Word that is infallible, the One that became flesh (John1v14).
Walk in step with the Spirit and always practice discernment. 1 Cor 2 v 14 tells us that not everyone is open to the things of the Spirit of God, that to some, it’s foolishness. Seeds cannot be planted in soil like that.
Remember that love and compassion should not demand agreement. But, and this is a pretty big but, the rights of one group should not be used as a weapon against the beliefs of another. And that is what we now see happen in the US and it will start to happen everywhere. Disagreement is not the same as discrimination, but there are many agendas today that will try to make it seem such. We need to be aware of this and do what He told us to do when the love of many start to grow cold, which is to endure, with His help (Matt 24 v 11 – 12).
We don’t have to honor someone’s lifestyle or choices. We do have to honor their humanity because we have to honor God. We do have to love much because we have been forgiven much (Luke 7 v 47). Remember God looks at our hearts.
“Theological zeal must be subject to the test of love. Not all zeal is from God. Even when the error we oppose is clearly heresy, our aim must be to heal, not to disgrace”
If you want to engage with me on this, I would love to hear from you, so please connect with me where I am most of the time, which is here.
I will try my best to respond. Know that every single one of my readers and subscribers are in my prayers.
Sending your kid off to “big school” is hard, even if it wasn’t during a pandemic! If you have a new Gr1 in your home this is a uniquely challenging year, and I get it. I was the mom in the oversized sunnies weeping haplessly in the car on the way home on that first day. Like trying to hold water in a cup made of toiletpaper. That was me trying to hold back tears on my eldest’ first day of school. He’s 14 now and won’t read this so I am not embarrassed to say it (or to post a picture of just how adorable he was mind you!).
As I recently mentioned over on www.wifemomtravel.com, being a boy mom is like someone breaking up with you very very slowly. But regardless of whether you are sending your boy or girl off to school, that walk away from the school gate feels like a tear in the fabric of your heart, here are 10 things I learned that I hope will help you through that first year (and all the ones to follow!)
Remember that anxiety is contagious. Kids are like dogs in that way, it’s like they just know when there is fear, panic or anxiety around. What has really helped me is to shroud this day, this event, and me and my child in it, in prayer. Need help with this? 5 Ways to pray for your child in the new school year
Expect more from God and less from yourself. Remember, parenting will test the fiber of your faith. Your biggest battles will not and should not be fought in the principal’s office or at the parent/teacher meeting, but on your knees before the Lord. That is where you will make the most progress and see the greatest results in the life of your child.
And speaking of expectations, right now, going in, set your hope in the right place. Especially among some spheres of our society, the school convo is a big one. But the majority of our countrymen do not have a choice about where their kids go to school. This one thing I know for sure: My child’s future is not in the hands of a school – regardless of how fancy, a principle – regardless of how well regarded, a set of strategically executed moves – regardless of how well reasoned. It is in God’s hands. We should not rely on things, people, countries, institutions or relationships to deliver in the lives of our children what only God can deliver – a secure future and an eternal destiny.
You cannot control what is about to happen. But I couldn’t say it better than Lysa Terkeurst when she said: “One of the best things you could do as a mom is recognize that God is good at being God.”
Get clever with the time in the car. Whether it’s a 10 minute trip or whether you have to get up early to trek across the city, the opportunity of having your child as your captive audience for that time is precious. Use it wisely. My book, the mommy diaries, evolved out of conversations I had with my kids in the car. Conversations about winning, losing, about things that happened to them at school, among their friends. on the news, and it’s a great tool to help you transfer your values so you can raise kids with courage and character, simply by using their everyday experiences and your everyday opportunities.
Be prepared. You are inevitably going to arrive at school when it’s raining. Or wish you had change for the tuck-shop cause he forgot his lunch on the counter. Again. Or you’re going to arrive at 7 and it will already be scorching and no one thought to pack sunscreen. Here is what I keep in the car for the 433 hours a year I spend between home and school . Also be prepared with some clever questions so you can draw out more than a “fine”/ “nothing” to your “How was your day?”/ “What did you learn?” questions on the trip home after school. Be sure to check out my stories on Instagram this week OR check the Mom of Boys highlight on my profile here!
Get involved at school. And no, I don’t mean be one of those parents who are forever complaining about things. Go ask anyone, it’s always the parents who complain the most who do the least! Don’t be that mom! Research reveals that there is a direct link between your involvement at your child’s school and your child’s performance. No matter their income or background, kids with involved parents are more likely to have higher marks in class, attend school regularly, have better social skills, show improved behavior, and adapt well to school. And your involvement will not just bless your child. If you are in a racially and economically diverse school, your involvement will bless the kids whose parents are not able to be involved, bless the teachers and the school as a whole.
Embrace this transition in your child’s life as an opportunity to foster independence. For example prepping/ packing their own schoolbag/ using a planner/ diary, setting up a study space or desk and using an alarm clock in the mornings. Why not make a list of skills you want your child to learn by the end of the first school year and put it on the fridge so you can track his/ her progress together.
Have the big discussions early. I heard Hettie Brits speak about it this way once. When we are intentional about discussing certain things with our kids, for example sex and other tricky things, it’s like we open a file in the filing cabinet that is their brains. If we open the file first, giving them God’s truth about that topic first, every other thing they hear and see into the future needs to line up with that truth. But if we lack the courage or intentionality to have that discussion with them, someone else might open the file and place information in it that does not agree with your values or world view. Do not underestimate the spirit and insight of your child, have the hard talks. And do not underestimate what of the world your child will be encountering in the first year of school. It is both your job and your calling to prepare him/ her.
Be nice to the teachers. Not because you are trying to get into anyone’s good graces, but because, well, they deserve it! Teachers have a tough job at the best of times, and the last year has taken a toll on our teachers as they had to adapt to changing conditions, as they had to continue to try to serve our kids under challenging circumstances, as they risked their health to be with our kids and as some of them unfairly bore the brunt of many parents’ unwillingness to continue to pay school fees. We can honor teachers by not complaining about them in front of our kids, and we can serve them by recognizing the challenges of their job, doing something kind for them and by staying involved with our own child’s educational development. Check out this great gift idea for the beginning of term!
You are going to be tempted to worry about a lot of things. You are going to find yourself outside the school gate with other worried moms, with concern over this teacher/ that news bulletin/ the fact that your kid keeps losing his jersey gathering like a storm in your heart. Breath, remember Who is really in charge of it all, and then parent like that’s true.
How can we help our kids cope with COVID19? Do you also feel like at the moment we are making a gazillion dreadful decisions every day, go to work/ stay home, go to school/ school at home, eat out/ eat-in, visit/ don’t visit? All the regular things of life have been upgraded to monumental declarations of position, opinion and faith. And our kids have a front-row seat to the whole thing, to the anxiety, the struggle of work, finances, “home” school and the constant flux in context and every other impossible challenge this pandemic has thrown at us, with their own little lives, not to mention futures, currently residing under a giant question mark. These are hard days.
The undercurrent of anxiety that is now part of our homes affects all of us in different ways, even our kids. Their stress might not look like ours does, like too much coffee and too little sleep, or too many hours escaping in Netflix, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there. Kids become unmotivated, discouraged and younger kids even regress due to stress. Have you seen any of that happen at home? Here are some helpful focus points in shepherding our kids through this season:
Stress is most often a product of uncertainty, and so in this our kids have the same needs we have when we are stressed – predictability, security, and practical tools! These must include regular exercise, and a daily routine that takes at least some of the uncertainty out of a very uncertain time and helps them know what to expect in a time of a lot of unexpected things. One of the things that kids stress about the most is not knowing what’s going to happen next. And even if the one minute they can go to school and the next minute they can’t (which is one of many uncertainties we as parents can’t control), there is a lot of comfort in creating a little bit of predictability in their day in order to better cope with the unpredictability of life. Doing this for them (even if it doesn’t come naturally) and for ourselves is one of the best ways to deal with the stress of this season. If you are suddenly juggling work/home/school a flexible but predictable routine will be your saving grace.
Learn to Pivot
No, this point does not oppose the first one! If you’ve been around here for any length of time you will know that I believe flexibility is like a superpower. And by flexibility I don’t mean chopping and changing, I mean creating structures and routines that are more task bound than time-bound. That means our routines can adapt to changes in our circumstances, like someone getting sick or a car breaking down (or some new and unexpected news from the President’s command council let’s say). It’s about knowing what you want to get done but being flexible about the when and how. A goal-driven routine (as opposed to a time-driven one) will help you accomplish that and allow you to pivot when you need to. Keep an eye on the blog for a course on this coming soon.
In my book I used some of the many names of God to teach my kids about His character. As AW Tozer rightly says, what comes into our mind when we think about God is the most important thing about us. In the face of a global tragedy, what do we tell our kids about God? Did God cause this to happen to us? What does this tragedy reveal about His character? Our faith remains the lens that we view all of life through, so we need to help our kids (and maybe even ourselves) to have the right perspective on this pandemic. Our older kids might have questions, and our younger kids are at the perfect age for us to deliberately bring biblical understanding to this confusing context. I will just briefly highlight some helpful discussion points.
God did not cause this pandemic:
Like other natural disasters and pandemics, it’s a product of living in a fallen world, where there exists natural evil and moral evil, sometimes acting separately and sometimes converging to cause disaster. The pandemic once again evidences to us that there is brokenness between us and creation and us and our Creator and in a broken world, human sin, suffering, and pain are simply inevitable. If we did not want to recognize this fact before we have to recognize it now because it cannot be ignored and it’s a wonderful waypoint to discuss the gospel with our kids and what it means for us today and into eternity. God didn’t cause this pandemic, but He can use it in the lives of people.
We live in scary times but we don’t need to be scared:
What did Jesus want us to know about being here on earth before He left? In his “farewell discourse”, in the 13th to 17th chapters of the Gospel of John, Jesus clearly displayed the truth that his death and resurrection had both temporal (for today) and prophetic (for eternity) application, and these are great words to go over with our kids. Some of His final words to us include tellings us to “take heart”, in Greek the word means to take courage. How can we be courageous? By remembering that Jesus took the sting out of death and the teeth out of suffering, both of which we will face on earth but neither of which have the final say over us. This truth means we face the realities of COVID 19 differently. It has to!
(I know sometimes the gospel/ biblical concepts can be hard to explain to kids, and as adults sometimes we understand something in our heads/ hearts but we don’t have the words for it. My book helps with this. Just saying.).
Disappointment. It’s become a staple of this season for grown-ups and kids alike. On some level, we are all mourning losses, canceled plans, even the death of loved ones, all the “could’ve been’s and shoud’ve been’s” of school tours and galas and matric dances and hopes and dreams and plans and goals.
Validate their experiences
One of the best ways to help our kids deal with their disappointment is to validate its existence. To acknowledge that it’s terrible that he won’t be going on hockey tour/ she can’t have a birthday party/ we can’t go to granny’s house. It’s sad and sore and unfair. One of the most precious things we learned as a church this year has been the value of lament (Thank you Pastor Richard!).
The examples of lament in scripture is of people allowing themselves to come before God with their heartbrokenness, their disappointments, not with complaining as the end goal, but for the sake of drawing them near to a God who hears, sees and understands. Why not use this opportunity to teach your kids to mourn and then release their disappointing experiences to God? There are almost 42 Psalms of lament that you can use to help you.
In lament, we mourn the loss of something good, and in that sense, it is also an acknowledgment of all that has been good in our lives. That we have things/ people that are worth mourning is a wonderful privilege! Is your son sad about not going on a hockey tour? Why not talk about what he would’ve enjoyed about it most? Frustrated at not being able to visit her favorite places? What makes it a place she loves and misses? In the context of loss and disappointment, we can highlight for our kids how much good we truly have in our lives, and in doing so shift the focus to what remains good instead of what is less than ideal right now.
I think we talk way more now about what we can’t do and don’t have, much more now about what we lost than what we’ve gained. But this is not the example set for us in scripture. Asaph in Psalm 77, in the context of his difficulty and disappointment, after a heartfelt lament, pivots, makes a diligent search, and comes up with a list that reflects God’s faithfulness. And then he goes one step further, he talks about it.
Lean into Prayer
I honestly don’t know how people are getting through this season without Jesus. With so many burdens and concerns, within our own homes and outside our walls, understanding the power of prayer has never been more important. Prayer is also our (and our kids’) first line of defense in helping them bear up, process and cope with so many emotionally and mentally challenging truths of this time, such as increasing poverty and fearful situations and unpredictability. This is what I taught my boys about prayer.
Protect them from the Media
TBH I use to listen to the news a lot more. One of the reasons I started writing the blogs that ended up turning into The Mommy Diaries was because my kids starting asking me about things they heard reported on in the news, such as #FeesMustFall and #metoo
But the old adage, don’t believe everything you read, remains true, especially in South Africa where we do not have a well-regulated and appropriately accountable news media. I learned first-hand this year that even the most “reputable” (and I use this word VERY loosely) news outlet will do anything for clicks and shares even if it means exploiting children and their trauma or blatantly reporting in an unbalanced way. This is what we need to know when we engage with the news: the side of the story that wins every time is the side that induces the most fear, anger and morbid fascination because that will keep us clicking. If we don’t tell our kids this they will also haplessly follow every trend or news story down the rabbit hole of half-truths and sacrifice their very peace in the process!
And now, our kids have phones and WhatsApp and they hear and see everything. And it is 100% up to us to teach them how to walk the line between being watchful and informed on what is necessary to know on one hand, and unaffected, unoffended and unafraid on the other. I don’t get this right all the time, I don’t know many people who do. But in this season where we are constantly being overloaded with information that provides no solutions and burdened by bad news we can do nothing about our discerning consumption is a vital act of safeguarding our kids and our own soul- and spirit-wellness.
This blog is focused mostly on kids between the ages of 8 and 15, but if you’re kids are younger and you are looking to spark a conversation or simply give them a tool to help them process the mixed emotions of a global pandemic, I can highly recommend you visit https://www.stronganchor.co.za for some very helpful resources. 1 New subscriber to this blog will win their books, Monster in my neighborhood and Monster in my School!
As parents, it’s up to us to equip our kids to contextualize, understand, and engage with what is happening around them on a basis of truth, compassion and hopefulness. But that’s not always easy. But in an era-defining pandemic, if we do not concern ourselves with our and our kids’ worldview, both our approach and perspective and even our faith and hope will be on shaky ground. The Mommy Diaries was written to help you with this and you can get it here!
Teaching kids about prayer in times of uncertainty
In this year we have faced trauma at school, family members threatened by a dire drought, and now, Covid 19, it’s effects reaching into every corner of everything we do, have, own, trust in. Never before has it been more important to be able to pray. And I was confronted through all of this with this question: Do my kids really know how to pray? Do they know why we pray? Do they truly have access to the power of prayer in times of loss, uncertainty, worry, fear and trial, or do they just know how to pray before they eat or before they sleep?
So here is what I told my kids about prayer:
We should pray because it’s a conversation with God:
Imagine living in your house with your parents and your siblings, and never talking to them. Imagine going to school and flat out ignoring your friends. That would be so weird. It would make you feel awkward and it would make your friends and family feel awkward too. Talking is one of the things we do to maintain, foster and build relationships. And prayer is talking. With God. That is why prayer must be honest, just like any conversation between you and someone you love whom you know loves you back. Just like when you talk to that person, prayer doesn’t have to be full of fancy words, not flowery or over the top. Prayer is a conversation, not a sermon, a monologue or an eisteddfod performance. And just like talking to someone who you know fully accepts and loves you, prayer can change the way you feel, the way you see things and even the way you act. And that is why prayer must go both ways and include talking AND listening, just like any conversation. Otherwise, you are just making a speech. The problem is that we are all better talkers than listeners for the most part, and that is true when we are around people we can see and hear! So listening to God, whom we can’t see and whose voice is not audible, is even harder. But it’s not impossible, and prayer can be a time of talking and listening if we do exactly what we would do if we had a friend we wanted to listen to, which is to intentionally keep quiet.
Set aside the time and create an opportunity for God to speak to you. Yes, you can pray any time and anywhere, but setting aside disciplined prayer time where you are not just venting to God means you are creating space for Him to speak to you.
We should pray because it’s a command from God:
And just like all other types of commands, God insists on them because he knows they are good for us. God through prayer wants us to keep the channel of communication open between us, because He knows that without communication, relationships don’t survive and thrive. And if prayer is a command, that means when we pray we are being obedient, right? And before you think obedience is boring, think about it this way: Another word for obedience is trust. So every time we obey God, we are also trusting Him, and when we trust someone, we share our hearts with them, everything about our lives, the good and the bad. And that is what prayer is, and act of obedience and an act of trust. And that is why prayer is so powerful
We should pray because Jesus did it:
Which shows us that it must be a very important thing. And when we start copying Jesus, the more we will become like him. And the great thing is that Jesus, in the way He himself prayed with and for His disciples, shows us exactly how we should pray
Faithfully (Rom 12 v 12)
Even for our enemies (Matt 5 v 44)
In watchfulness about what we notice and gratitude for what we have (Col 4 v 2)
With the help of the Holy Spirit (Eph 6 v 18)
We should pray because prayer is the most important part of the thankfulness God requires of us. And also because God gives His grace and Holy Spirit only to those who pray continually and groan inwardly, asking God for these gifts and thanking Him for them.
We should pray because it’s powerful and releases God’s power into our lives and the lives of others:
The Bible tells us that the prayer of the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective (James 5 v 16), and thanks to Jesus dying for us, we all are “righteous” because we have Jesus’s righteousness. God uses prayer in the lives of us and of others because His desire is always for a relationship, to partner with us in bringing about His will on earth.
The Bible we read about many instances where the power of prayer overcame enemies (Ps 6 v 9 – 10), brought about healing (James 5 v 14 – 15), conquered death(2 Kings 4 v 3 – 36) and defeated the power of the demons (Mark 9 v 29). God uses prayer to bring healing and restoration, to give us wisdom and to open our eyes. It is a way to draw on the infinite resource of power that is the God of the universe!
Note to parents:
Prayer is a posture, it’s a conversation, it’s correcting and it’s a contribution to the work of the Kingdom, and in The Mommy Diaries I expound on how to journey with our kids on this and also how to teach them to pray. All orders of The Mommy Diaries during lockdown will come with an amazing free resource by Rev Leigh Robinson called “A solid foundation: Biblical Truths our children must know by heart before the age of 12”. Perfect for discipling your kids and using all the time at home to sow eternal seeds!
For blog subscribers, there is also a handy infographic with an easy rhyme that teaches kids about praying anytime about anything, some quick crib notes to help you answer those tough questions on prayer (if God knows everything why should we pray?) and how to use the ACTS acronym to teach your kids how to pray.
The sobering news about having kids is in the realization that you are not as in control as you thought you were. And few seasons in life attune us to this reality like sending our kid off to school. There our child encounters a thousand situations, relations, temptations that we will not even be present for, won’t even know about, cannot choose or control. In that, prayer is not just a comfort but a call. It is the admission, the submission, that there are things our kids need that we can’t provide, situations they will be in we can’t control and that there is a God who is God over it all. How humbling to be a parent!
But has this ever happened to you: You sit down to pray and you have nothing to say? By your conviction of the power and importance of prayer you come to pray for your children only to find you have dull words, mundane requests and circumstantial insights that don’t make a dent in the eternal, true needs of your child and do not spiritually connect you to God’s vision for them. I have felt like this many times. In these moments I have found God’s word to be a great tool to direct my prayers to be more powerful and effective.
I have written a lot about expectation, and that we, especially as moms, often have a very high expectation of ourselves and a low expectation of God. Moms are the “do-ers” in the lives of their children, and we often mistakenly get into a mode of “if I don’t it won’t” when it comes to parenting by faith. I know, I’ve been there. But what if we placed all our expectations on the promises of God instead of our own abilities in the life of our kids?
“If you believe in prayer at all, expect God to hear you. If you do not expect, you will not have. God will not hear you unless you believe He will hear you; but if you believe He will, He will be as good as your faith.”
Luke 18 v 1- 8 must’ve been written especially for the parents of teens! It’s the parable about the persistent widow. When prayer becomes a practice, it encourages persistence that actually guards our hearts against discouragement. And let’s face it, parenting can be discouraging at times. An attitude of persistence &perseverance in prayer springs from a heart that acknowledges that God’s love for us is a fact that exists above and often despite what we see in our circumstances. That’s faith. Our steadfastness in praying for our children declares that we know God loves them. Set an alarm of your phone if you want to, pick a day of the week, find a way to make persistent prayer a habit.
“The one concern of the devil is to keep Christians from praying. He fears nothing from prayerless studies, prayerless work, and prayerless religion. He laughs at our toil, mocks at our wisdom, but trembles when we pray.”
Some of the most touching and beautiful prayers in the Bible where written by Paul, but here’s one thing I’ve noticed. In all his prayers for those he loved, he never requested a change in their circumstances. Now as parents we all want the same things for our kids, for them to be well adjusted, you know, not sociopaths. For them to be kind, happy and hardworking. But more than that I want them to encounter Christ in a real and relevant way, follow him with passion and perseverance, see the world through the eyes of His word so they can face their personal challenges and the challenges of their day with courage and character. That is why I wrote The Mommy Diaries. And that is why when I pray for my kids my prayers focus on these areas:
And their future.
By subscribing to the blog today, you will receive a free printable one week prayer calendar along with a template to make your own. Print it out, pop it on the fridge or in your journal or planner. It focuses on praying God’s word over these areas of your children’s lives!
I keep what I call a “Warrior woman’s book of prayers” – I know, what an ambitious name! It’s actually just a little ring bound notebook. But in it I have written down scriptures and prayers for all of my loved ones, including my kids, my family members, my friends. And as I sit down to pray for them, my heart and my prayers are guided by God’s word and that way I know they are guided by His will. I do it this way most of the time not because I’m such a clever excellent Christian, but actually because of the opposite. I am a doubtful, worrying, wondering, perpetually distracted ants-in-my-pants Christian with a desperate desire to be a faithful prayer. This way really helps me.
And let me tell you the truth, I have seen more accomplished in the lives of my loved ones through prayer than I have ever seen accomplished through my own efforts, cleverness or ability to turn situations around.
Why do I use God’s Word to help me pray?
So much of what is written in the bible match our circumstances. It gives us words when we don’t have any. Even Jesus used the Word to pray – for example when he prayed from Psalm 22 in Matt 27 and Mark 15.
It helps me focus. Often I find my worries, anxieties, my concerns and my “lists” become the highlights of my prayer time with God. They take up so much space that aligning with His will in prayer, reordering my priorities and desires to line up with scripture, praising and worshipping Him get crowded. Praying God’s word is an intentional way of making those things a more weighty part of my conversations with God.
It helps me pray with confidence – especially in situations where I don’t know what to pray. It contains God’s will, reveals his character, explicitly lays out His promises.
It instructs my heart – actually praying through the Word changes the desires of my heart as His Spirit ministers to my spirit.
It helps me fight earthly battles with heavenly weapons. God calls us to pull down strongholds (2 Cor 10 v 3 – 5) and for that, we need a spiritual arsenal. That is what the Bible is.
Praying God’s word with our kids, lays for them a foundation of understanding about what truly matters in life. God’s word is applicable to every area of challenge our kids face, from bullies, to worries, to friendships and everything in between. In the next blog I will share some insights from my book about how to talk to your kids about prayer and teach them how to pray.
Most recently we have prayed persistently for rain in the Eastern and Northern Cape. It showed my kids not only that God cares about the everyday challenges we face and is deeply invested in the lives of those He loves, but after a time, it showed them how powerful prayer can be and how amazing it is to see your prayers answered. Thank you Lord for the rain in those drought-stricken areas!
Be encouraged mom, your prayers are heard by God himself (Psalm 4 v 3), and your words of supplication move the heart of the King of the Universe (Matt 21 v 22) . Prayer connects you to the strength of God – and which mom could not use more of that! And prayer prepares us to be met by his blessing (Matt 7 v 11)
Do you need help explaining prayer to your child and teaching him/ her about it without all the “christianeze”? Check out the chapter on prayer in The Mommy Diaries – ideal for kids between age 7 and 15!
Holidays with family always sound nicer on paper than they are in real life. There, I said it! It’s all fun and games when it’s winter and you’re desperate for a change of scenery and that family WhatsApp group brings all the feels and all the ideas. But come December, once you’ve had to deal with a thousand more WhatsApp’s on dietary requirements, gotten offended at your aunts’ refusal to get on board with the “no gifts for the kids over R100” idea, and rolled your eyes at you’re a-type sisters’ insistence on capturing it all (yes all of it!) in Excel, it’s all about as fun as a visit to the dentist (no offence dentists!). And your daydreams of bonding with your sibs and your resolve to not allow that one disruptive personality to ruin.absolutely.everything seeps out of you like your confidence on the eve of your 20 year high school reunion.
Oh, and did I mention no one is every happy about where they are sleeping, the dustbin is always too small and every “look at our perfect huge extended family Christmas” post you read on Facebook (and there will be many) is going to make you feel like a failure. Maybe you can identify with this? Or maybe you’re thinking “Family holiday? Don’t be crazy! I don’t know if I’ll survive Christmas lunch!” I see you girl! There’s no judgement here. But here are my tips on how to survive Christmas with “the family”:
Keep your expectations in check:
This is a HUGE one. Expectations ruin relationships. Let me repeat that again for those of you in the back:
Expectations ruin relationships
I’ve seen and experienced this time and time again, and never more so than with family. Expectations set you up to be offended because if you are going to for example expect everyone to happily spend each day together and 1 or 2 people would rather do their own thing, you are going to be offended. Not because it’s wrong for people to want to do their own thing, but because your unmet expectations lead you to feel hurts and offended. When we build up a future scenario in our heads that looks like a very specific thing and we arrive and get something that is even just slightly different often the experience loses all possibility, meaning and joy. Blame that on your expectations! You are better off going with an open heart and mind and letting the time together be what it is.
Keep it short:
You can get through anything if you know it’s going to end. Most of us have jobs and our time off is precious, so yes, make time to see your family but make sure you don’t get stuck in a situation where you get robbed of your rest. Family visiting is like fish in the fridge, it’s fine for about 3 days, after that it starts to stink. Don’t hurt your family by deciding halfway through the holiday that you can’t do it anymore. Commit to a time that seems reasonable and realistic to you and make that commitment count. Three days of being willing, present, connected and available are better than 7 days where you can’t wait for it to be over.
Keep it to yourself:
Maybe your nephew only eats white bread and tomato sauce and spend most of his time playing Minecraft and your sister seems totally fine with it – to your absolute shock and dismay. Maybe your aunt would be a great object lesson if you had to explain the phrase “Mutton dressed as lamb” to your 10yo. Maybe your oldest nephew arrives with his new girlfriend without telling anyone (millennials am I right?) and you spend the whole afternoon scrambling to reorganize the Christmas table so she has a place setting to enjoy some Karoo lamb when she loudly (and with no shortage of pride) announces that she’s vegan. Of course she is.
Yes, these are inane examples, I realise that. But I bet you have a whole list of examples and situations from the last holiday you spent with your family that shocked or surprised you, that even hurt and concerned you. And because it’s family, we think we automatically have permission to speak some “helpful truths” into the situation. But unless someone has asked you to speak into their life and situation, i.e have actually given you permission, you really, really shouldn’t. Keep it to yourself.
Let me share a tip with you that has really helped me: People make decisions based on their values. And yes, even in one family, values can differ. Once we grasp that even the most simple decision was born out of a value that person holds dear, the decision might still hurt us, shock us, annoy us, but it can no longer offend us, because we simply don’t get to be offended by the values around which another structures their life and decisions. If you’re hurt or shocked, you need to let it go.
Keep the kids in mind:
This might sound strange, but there is great value in allowing our kids to develop their own relationships with their aunts and uncles. Because mark my words, there will come a time when your kid might need to hear a voice of reason, but they may have stopped listening to yours. They might need some strong wisdom from a grownup and he/ she WILL NOT want to hear it from you. Allow people you trust in the lives of your kids is priceless and your investment in the lives of your nieces and nephews is bound to be priceless for them (and for their parents!). Be intentional about investing in those relationships!
The other reason to keep the kids in mind is of course because our children are listening to us and understanding from us how family should be treated, spoken of, valued. And since we are all raising someone’s future wife, daughter in law, husband and son in law this is something we should not lose sight of. How do I want my kids to think about family? Because their beliefs will be based on my own actions, because my actions reflect what I value.
Always, always value people. This is never ever something you will regret.
Keep leaning into grace:
People are disappointing sometimes. Mostly because people are selfish. But you know what that means? It means you and I are disappointing and selfish.
So, what we all need is grace, grace and more grace. An anecdote to expectation, more than effort or planning or intentionality, grace will hold your family relationships together. Grace with grumpiness, differences, indifference and difficulty. Because grace is accepting when you could reject, serving when you could instead demand selfishly, forgiving when you could stand on your rights. Grace, more than blood, more than shared values, more than anything, is the glue that holds relationships together. You CAN choose grace over judgement and if you’re on holiday with your family, you SHOULD!
Don’t let God’s grace to you through Christ be wasted on you, rather let it be reflected in your most challenging situations and relationships.
Keep opportunities in mind:
Jesus’s example shows us that the path down is the path up. That it is in serving others, in being inconvenienced, in giving up agendas or positions, that we are truly learning to love. Because in all of that it stops being about us – and that is what love looks like. That is what love actually is. But how often in a family get together scenario do we do that? Do we willingly set aside our comfort, our agendas, or positions in order to love and serve? I can tell you truthfully and shamefully that I have seldom done that, and certainly didn’t do it when I should’ve.
But our time with family, with others, is not just an opportunity to learn to love others well, the way Jesus did, through service and sacrifice, but actually that same opportunity benefits us as well. Life in community makes us better people. The more isolated you live, the harder you are to be around. Other people, especially family, are there to knock the edges off us. Don’t avoid that growth opportunity! These couple of days (or hours) could be something you have to white knuckle through, or it could be the very thing God is presenting you with to help you become the mature, loving person you actually really want to be.
You might be reading this and thanking the Good Lord that you love spending time with your family and patting yourself on the back about what an exception to the rule ya’ll are. Good for you. You should thank Him! I am pretty sure you might be the exception! Maybe your people make a gorgeous “House & Home worthy” Christmas card, or maybe they put the fun into dysfunctional. Either way family can be hard, complicated, and time together often brings up many more hurt and frustration than it should. I feel ya! And I hope this will help you grow in love for your people while you are with your people, whether it be for 3 hours or 3 days (or 3 weeks for those brave souls out there who insist on embracing the triumph of hope over experience!).
(This is post 1 in a 2 part series about smartphones. The next post will be about what I told my kids about owning a smartphone. You can’t call it a “before” and “after” if you like)
Like all other parenting decisions, the choice to give a child a smartphone or tablet is a personal one. My son, God bless him, is the only GR7 in his class who doesn’t have a phone or tablet, a fact that he reminds me of with irrational frequency. But that is about to change. Soon he turns 13 and the winds of change, which smell suspiciously and strongly of Axe deodorant, are blowing through our house.
In this blog, I will be sharing with you why we decided to wait this long to give my son a phone. In the follow-on blog I will share with you what we shared with him things he needs to know regarding actually owning one. Our agreement with our eldest is that there are certain rules and responsibilities, attitudes and characteristics that need to be present by the age of 13 if he wants to have a phone by then. If you want this list, it’s available as a free printable to subscribers, so be sure to subscribe to the blog.
DISCLAIMER: This is not my judgment on parents whose kids have phones. Far from it! Spend one day with me or interview my kids and you will realise in about 5 minutes flat I am in no position to judge any other parent. Seriously, you do you! The reason I wrote this blog is because 1) People ask me all the time how we’ve handled the smartphone issue and 2) This blog arose from a series of actual convo’s I had with my actual stroppy and frustrated 12 yo in the car on the way to school. Use it don’t use it, like with everything else on this site!
This is what I told my kid about getting a smartphone:
You are still learning about relationships:
One of the most important skills to have is the ability to build relationships. As I mention in my book in the chapter on popularity, there is a distinct correlation between our general well being and our ability to build and maintain strong, lasting friendships with peers. I don’t believe having a cellphone helps kids with this. In fact, I think in kids, who are still learning about being around others, it actually hinders their ability to be socially comfortable.
Technology at its best connects us, but at its worst, it disconnects us and desensitizes us to the world.
Picking up social ques, looking people in the eye, discerning tone and timing, empathy, genuine connection, you can’t develop one of these skills if your only interaction with others is via a screen. Connection via a screen cannot, should not, ever be considered the same as actual connection with actual people and learning from those interactions.
You are still learning about responsibility:
Here are the facts: learning to be responsible is exactly that, something you learn. And you don’t start that learning by being responsible for a R3000 piece of equipment that gives you access to the internet. You just don’t. As your mom I will not be doing you a favor by starting to teach you responsibility at that level. You learn responsibility by starting smaller. Much, much smaller. You learn it by being responsible for the R60 swimming cap you keep losing. You learn it by taking seriously the small tasks entrusted to you. Here is what Jesus said:
“The one who manages the little he has been given with faithfulness and integrity will be promoted and trusted with greater responsibilities. But those who cheat with the little they have been given will not be considered trustworthy to receive more.”
Luke 16 v 10 TPT
So if you can’t keep track of the R60 swimming cap or remember that it’s your “responsibility” to take the recycling out on a Thursday without your mom telling you, well, then you are not yet responsible enough to own a smartphone. It really is just as simple as that.
You have to earn your privileges:
Privileges are earned. This is true for every single person in the world, in every job and sphere we operate in. And the fact is, a smartphone is exactly that. A privilege. Not a human right. Not a necessity for someone who doesn’t have a job or any of the complicated logistics of adulting to manage. And by delaying giving you something you desperately want, we as your parents are actually making you a better person. Some of the most awful people you will ever encounter are the entitled kind. You are not entitled to a phone. There is a tangible list of achievable things (remember to subscribe for this list as a free printable!) by which you can earn this privilege, meaning you are 100% empowered to do so.
You should still reap the benefits of being a kid:
Experts are now able to prove the negative impact smartphones and access to the internet has on the mental health of children. In the ever rising child suicide numbers and cyber bully headline we as parents are seeing the fruit of the access we have granted to humans who are simply not ready or equipped to cope with it.
Having a phone also makes you physically vulnerable. Just recently I read about a school in Cape Town where there was a robbery during school hours. Yes, a robbery. At a school. Why? Smartphones is why. In every decision we as your parents have to count the cost and if I have to choose between you being unhappy about not having a smartphone or you having compromised mental health, or being traumatized by a cyberbully or a robber well, I’m sorry, but the choice is obvious.
I am not made of steel. I want a happy child who feels like he fits in just as much as the next parent. Saying no to my kids is hard, even when I have all the wisdom and reasons why. But NO is not bad for you. Most wise no’s are for the sake of a bigger yes. I want my son to know there are values that far supersede the value of fitting in or getting what you want when you want it. I want my son to learn and know the secret to really living, and living well. I want him to know what it means to be free. But those lessons are not normally present in an environment where you 1) always get what you want and 2) get things you are not ready for 3) you do exactly the same thing everyone else is doing. And I trust that my son will eventually see the wisdom in this, if not today then hopefully some day. My job, my calling as mom, is not to give my son everything he wants and guard his happiness. My job is to equip him with what he needs to live a good life. To love and lead him into the Kingdom so that life might have a purpose, and to guide and guard his body, mind and spirit as I carry out that calling. Go with God mommas, I know this is a tough one!
My son saw the #metoo #amInext march in Cape Town last week on the news. The conversation went like this:
“Why are they marching Mom?”
“Because violence against women in South Africa is like an epidemic my son”
“But why Mom?”
“Because there is something fundamentally wrong in our society?”
“But why Mom?”
“Because my son, there is something fundamentally wrong in our hearts.”
I stand behind that protest 100%. But a protest is like a volume button, it get’s your attention. but making something louder doesn’t make it better. It is certainly no substitute for action (Yes this is actually also something I’ve spoken to my kids about). But action by whom? As a mom raising boys, I find myself at the coalface of where I believe the change must happen. Graca Machel was right as she addressed mourners at the memorial service of tragically slain student Uyinene Mrwetyana, when she said: “it is in our families”. The correction needs to happen much closer to home than in a courtroom or a police station or via some system or law. At home is where the shaping happens, make no mistake. Your home is the frontline where mutual respect (yes, boys should respect girls and yes girls should respect boys because people should respect each other. Bottom line ) is modeled or distorted, where we either uphold or disregard, instill or destroy the fundamental truth of our shared worth, value and humanity. We don’t need governments and systems to change. We need people to change. And we are people…raising people. That is actually why I wrote The Mommy Diaries, because we are raising kids in a complex world that is only set to become more so. But there is a way to live and lead in that complexity with courage and wisdom.
The hashtags of #metoo and #amInext and #femicide is a call to a higher standard of engagement. But as parents we must call ourselves to it if we are hoping to call our kids to it. And so I believe it is above everything not a call to governments and leaders, but a call to action directed at families, a call to parents.
It’s all of our responsibility to raise the kind of kids who appreciate the uniqueness, equality, dignity and value of the opposite gender. That doesn’t just happen.
It has never been more important to engage with our kids in a new and focused way around these things and to be intentional about it. So this is what I told my boys:
The way women are treated is an atrocity:
This is not limited to South Africa or certain communities or cultures. It’s true everywhere. And women have had enough. Our breaking point has been centuries in the making and now it’s here. And I want my boys to know why. It is based on certain misinterpretations of biology and theology, that didn’t take into account a full set of facts or context. Misinterpretations (i.e the “glasses” through which people “read” these things) that have been accepted as truths, but that are in fact lies. And I have no problem in calling them lies because the idea that women are somehow “less than” has no biological, cultural or scriptural basis. These lies have informed everything from how women are treated and paid, to where they are and aren’t allowed to be/ serve/work/play and have snowballed into the utter disregard with which they are hurt, abused, spoken of and to. These lies are present in homes, in businesses, in churches and in cultures. I know this first hand.
But the problem is not in how women are treated:
The true problem lies in the way women are viewed. The problem is deeper than history, than a culture of patriarchy, than biases and blond jokes. Because all of those things find their origin in one place, in the way one person sees another person. In that sense racism, xenophobia (another evil that rocked our nation again this week) and femicide/ gender based violence is not that different. Because at their root they all find their origins in the way one person sees another person. And as is always the case, the way you see someone else is most often based on how you see yourself. If you see someone as less than, it’s because you see yourself as “more than”. If you see someone for some reason as less deserving, it’s because you see yourself as more deserving.
So yes, it’s important that we address equality, pay equity, femicide and all those good and essential things, but lets make no mistake, real change happens in a different direction.
I don’t want to raise boys who know how to behave in a way that honors, values and respects women. Having the good manners to not tell blond jokes and not hit girls is not the same as holding firm to a fundamental believe that all people are worthy of honor, value and respect.
Because ultimately if we wish to see changes in our society, in legislation, in our communities, there can be no fundamental change effected on that level if we don’t dig down a little deeper and try to affect change at a heart level.
Change will not come through laws and loudspeakers if it doesn’t first come in hearts and homes
Always fight lies with truth:
This is the definition of truth in our house: God’s opinion about EVERYTHING. And if God sees everyone the same so should we. His opinion is that we are all equal (Gen 1 v 27/ Deut 10 v 17/ Rom 2 v 11/ Gal 3 v 26 – 29) and have equal standing with Him.
In God’s eyes we are endowed with worth not because of this or that attribute but because of His likeness in us and His love for us. It is not dependent on status, race, gender or culture. This is something that is true of every human person.
God gives us a different lens through which to see the world. In fact Jesus in word and deed was an example to us in how women are to be regarded and treated in society, in defiance of the social, judicial and religious customs of His day. In all things He is the embodiment of what loving others should look like. Jesus shows us that our lens must never be culture, or history, or tradition or popular opinion. The examples that proves that there is no “less than” attitude in the bible when it comes to women are too many to mention, but I like to throw some at the boys from time to time just to make sure they know: “The first person Jesus told He was the Christ was a woman, the first person He appeared to after He rose from the dead was a woman. Oh, and just incase you were wondering what God thought about women consider this: none of you would even be here if it wasn’t for us”.
The call on all of us is to regard everyone not by what we see on the outside, but by the truth of them as spiritual beings (2 Cor 5 v 16) and image bearers. Misogyny (and yes, my kids know what misogyny is because they understand prejudice. Thank you South African Public schooling) is based on a skewed idea of worth that we can only correct by acknowledging a higher truth.
Consider carefully, don’t consumer carelessly or accept mindlessly:
When we say things like “the problem is in society or culture or whatever” what we are often trying to communicate is that something has been “normalized” over time to a point where it is accepted. If we do not pinpoint those “accepted lies” and reveal them, they will hide in our hearts forever. That is why I encourage the boys to look and think a little deeper whenever I get a chance.
At a recent school prizegiving, a Gr 7 girl in The Elder’s class received an award for taking the most wickets in a cricket match at provincial level. Even though my kids attend a wonderfully integrated and dynamic school, there was still that ripple of suprise that went through the audience, and it made me chuckle a little. But it also presented a great object lesson for the boys. Why shouldn’t a girl perform well on the cricket field, or any field? Look, I’d be the first to tell you I don’t enjoy watching women play rugby, for example! Because frankly if I wanted to watch women shoving and bumping at each other aggressively I’d much rather just go to the Woolworths Quality sale, am I right? But that doesn’t mean women shouldn’t play rugby, or go to space. I don’t want my boys to just mindlessly go along with what societal pack thing dictates as the “norm” and so I look for opportunities to challenge that thinking and to put forward this truth:
Roles, jobs, positions and participation should be based on gifting, not gender! Always. Everywhere.
Our words reveal our attitudes and so I am pretty brutal when it comes to blond jokes, the use of phrases such as “women driver” and I strongly discourage the boys from listening to music that objectifies women. As an Afrikaans speaking female I am deeply horrified at how often in my culture songs contain those types of messages, but they serve as great object lessons to explain to the boys:
Make sure that even to the level of the content you consume and the jokes you tell you are reflecting the honor and respect that you yourself would like to be on the receiving end of.
Recognize and respect:
I tell the boys to pay attention to the contributions of not only the women in their lives (there are some epic ones!) but also the women in our world. Reading female authors, watching female athletes and considering the specific strengths and traits of the girls and women in their world that they admire. Not in an “anything boys can do girls can do better” kind of way, then all we are doing is swinging the pendulum the other way. That also doesn’t reflect respect or value. But in a way that sensitizes them to recognize and respect women equally in a culture and society that is possibly not set up for that to happen naturally.
We have the power to change things.
In a world of man-bashing (mostly rightly so), we as boy-moms should try to encourage positive masculinity and chivalrous behaviour that has nothing to do with long-dead ideas about men and women, but has everything to do with the heart attitude that there is never a reason to be mean, that kindness is always the best response, and the golden rule of putting others first that helps our kids to shine a light in the world.
When we sensitize our boys to inherent biases I believe we are actually empowering them. It equips them with an understanding of the world that helps them make sense of things, and an understanding of themselves that helps them grow. The power for real change lies not in the pressure we can put on a government or system or institution. Because at a fundamental level it’s not society, history or culture that govern what we do and don’t to, it’s what we have accepted as true, have bought into on a belief/ heart level.
It is only change at a heart level that helps us see things differently. Only then can we do things differently.
I can’t wait to talk to my sons about girls, sex, dating – said no mom ever! I know, I get it. But I once heard a parenting expert explain your child’s understanding of these type of topics as files being opened in the filing cabinet of the brain. The file will be opened, named and will start containing information gleaned from what they hear, see and their environment. By being intentional about these awkward topics, we are in essence taking the initiative to “open the file”, thereby having a chance to input shaping information that is in line with our worldview, convictions, and morality. Every other piece of information that then comes into the “file” get’s tested against the truth that we put in first. Should we remove our intention we give way to the alternative, a view on women, dating, sex, shaped by the barrage of messaging, content and images that the world is consistently producing and offering up.
I didn’t want to write this. Newsflash: Being a boy mom is not dissimilar to being a girl dad. You experience the same fierce protective streak and compulsion to grab a shotgun. However gracious and “live and let live” you may appear you still secretly harbor the conviction that no one will ever be good enough for your offspring. Even if he is currently obsessed with slouchy pants and continues to be amused by his own farts.
So you can imagine my reticence when The Elder returned from Holiday Club with a hand full of notes secretly passed (some things never change). He had an expression somewhere between bemused and confused on his face as he read me a note from one girl who asked to wear his beanie, another his jacket. When I asked “what do you think about that son?” and he said “I guess they like my clothes?” Ummm, I realized I had some work to do in helping him work out how he should respond. Because how he respond doesn’t just affect him, but as he is being shaped by this interaction so are the girls he is interacting with, all of them at an age that is forming the neural pathways and emotional understanding of those interactions for years to come. Yes, we have ticked the boxes on the body and sex conversations. But this blog is about the fuzzy stuff. The stuff I want him to keep in mind as my son, as someones’ future boyfriend, as someone’s future husband. So here is what I told The Elder about girls…so far….
Be honourable – Every night before my boys go to sleep I say to each of them: “You are my treasure”. And so I have told The Elder that he must remember that when he is interacting with a girl, she is also someone’s treasure too, her mom’s, her dad’s, and God’s. And all treasure must be seen as precious and must be handled with care. Every person we encounter is an image bearer.
Be kind – “respond to girls in a way that protects them and protects you”. My son is 11, an age where possibly there is a disconnect between the feelings he has and his ability to express them. So arming him with “scripts” that enables confident responses that are also kind is how we have chosen to help him. For example: “ I am too young to have a romantic relationship, but I would enjoy getting to know you as a friend. “ or “I am too young to have a girlfriend, but I know how to be a good friend so let’s do that instead.”
Be a gentleman – Even as a 40-year-old woman, I can still recall valentines day slights, offhand comments that I shouldn’t have heard, boys being insensitive boys, all of these things I remember from being an insecure pre-teen girl. So if I am going to be the mom of a pre-teen boy, maybe I can spare some girl having similar, shaping, sore memories. My boys don’t have sisters, but they have 3 girl cousins, and a slew of friends who are like family, so when I tell them to treat every girl like she is Lila, Isabel, Jua, Hannah, Sophia or Ava, Pia or Sienna, they get it (please Lord Jesus, I hope they get it!). I take pains to help them make sure the little girls in the class that the boys know might not get anything for Valentine’s day gets something, albeit anonymously. I (try) to keep sexist joking and name calling out of the house and discourage them (strongly) from participating in it at school.
In a world of man-bashing (mostly rightly so) we as boy moms should try to encourage positive masculinity and chivalrous behaviour that has nothing to do with long-dead ideas about men and women, but has everything to do with very much alive #everybodyalways #kindnessalways thinking and the golden rule of putting others first that helps our boys to shine a light in the world.
Be careful – puberty and its company of feelings and hormones are hard to manage. And in the right (and by that I mean the wrong) situation, it can be like a car rolling down a hill, i. e hard to stop. Encountering attraction and trying to understand it is tricky for boys, so sound advise for this life stage is to stay in a group. “Don’t put yourself in a compromising position!” For now we steer clear of concepts like “dating” or “going out” until a more appropriate age.
Be aware – “Not only are you as a boy going to be dealing with your own growing awareness of the opposite sex, but you will also be dealing with girls who are going through the same thing.” In every person, the outside is most often a reflection of what is going on on the inside. So I told my son than when he encounters a girl who seems like she is overly desperate for male attention (albeit via what she wears or how she acts), give her a wide birth and keep a careful but kind distance. There are possibly things going on in her heart/life that you can’t help her with and that your attention is not the answer to.
Yes, the pre-teen and adolescent path is a messy meander of navigating confusing, overwhelming thoughts and feelings. However unpopular it might be, that’s where we as parents come in.
Make peace with the fact that you are going to be the good guy in your movie and the weird guy in theirs (there will be allot of “Awww Mom ! Gross ! I don’t want to talk about this with you!”), and launch as deeply as you can and as quickly as you can into the “girls” conversation. Yes, if you are a boy mom, leave the sex convo to the father/ father figure in your boys’ life. But when it comes to the emotive stuff, remember what it was like for you when you were a girl and use that as a jump-off point to help your boy be the kind of boy your 10-13-year-old self would’ve wanted to encounter.
My youngest asks allot of questions. His quirky, inquisitive randomness is a great insight into how his 9 year old mind works. Of course, these often present a teachable moment, case in point:
“Mom, I have a question..if you’re a policeman and you just got takeaways, can you put your lights and sirens on to go home faster so your food doesn’t get cold?”
I am sure he wanted a simple yes or no, but me being me, he got a mini tutorial on integrity, privilege, power and Mandela day. It went something like this:
Power is a big responsibility: Just like having access to lights and sirens when you’re a policeman.
With great power comes great responsibility – as Uncle Ben repeated to Peter Parker. (Spiderman quote, BOOM! This mom is off to a great start!)
What you do with your power directly relates to your level of integrity. The policeman has the position and privilege of serving people along with the power to do it, but when he decides to use his sirens for personal gain, he is considering himself above others, his own good as higher than the greater good. A good metaphor for what has happened in SA? I think yes.
Whatever power, position, and privilege we get given in life must be used for the good of others:
In the words of Spock (by this time I was on a roll!)
“Logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few”.
We are yet to have a party in power that displays this kind of integrity. Because despite the hard-won power, privilege and position, those who gained it has for the most part considered their wants needs and desires as more important as the call of their office and the needs of the masses. And I dare say, they are not the only ones. As we the people have the power to vote and the right to protest, these powerful privileges have by and large not been used in line with our call to Ubuntu. Nowadays I dare say protest action is simply mimicking giant temper tantrums that serve a few to the detriment of the many (think Eskom strike action and it’s the direct link to higher electricity prices for everyone. Think school protests that literally rob the innocent of their right to the very education you’re are striking over. Thankfully and tragically these are examples my 9-year-old and 10-year-old actually “get”)
I have no illusions about my 1% life. Neither do my kids. We have the privilege conversation allot. We talk about the poor allot. We talk about what we can do to make a difference and being socially responsible, allot. But this Mandela day, what I want my boys to know is that what he did can’t have all been for nothing. As I show them the footage of Tata Mandela being released, a day marked in my memory as a girl, I want them to know that there is a lot of work to be done still and we, the regular South Africans, whether you are the 1% or the 90%, have each our own power, position and privilege to enable us to make sure it wasn’t all for nothing.
We have the power to make our voice heard: We can vote. This is a democratic superpower (superpowers are things boys understand!) that we are to use wisely and with eyes wide open.
In view of our beautiful democracy and the hard won right to vote, if leaders who lack morality, integrity and responsibility remain leaders, then the problem is not the leaders.
We have the privilege of freedom: Freedom to access education (yes, I realize not everyone has the access they should have or the quality they deserve, but don’t negate the good news stories of motivated individuals who took this privilege seriously and rose above the challenges in the education system. And don’t negate your own ability to influence the system, for the good of the many, something I consider to be the responsibility of the “few”.) We have the freedom to engage with our government, freedom to engage in healthy debate, freedom to live out our convictions without fear of persecution. Not all countries have this.
We each have a unique position of influence: My housekeeper wanted to be a teacher. Thanks to apartheid-era “Bantu” education she never got the chance. But she has not let that stop her from using her influence in her community to find an outlet for her teaching passion. She teaches sewing and crocheting and focusses that on young women in the community so as to create an opportunity for ministry and relationship. She takes her influence and her position seriously in her community and I learn so much from her.
As a 1%”er” I don’t’ have to wait for a wage bill to pay an employee a living wage, I just need to educate myself and listen to my conscience. As a suburban mom I don’t have to start an NGO to help someone in need, I just need to step outside my door and be a bit proactive. As someone with access to the internet and thriving relationships, I don’t have to print a billboard to inspire a fellow mom to live with intention and meaning, I just need to post something or have coffee with someone. I think you get where I am going with this.
We have the most amazing country! Seriously, what’s not to love? Check out this cool article on 100 Best Things to do in South Africa if you need some SA inspiration. Now is not the time for giving up, but ramping up!
May we as South Africans resist being mere branches in the flow of negativity about our country, and instead be kindling that sparks action and ignites hope. May we as South Africans take our power, privilege and position seriously. We don’t need more protesters, protagonists, patronisers and problem-pointer-outers! We need more boots-on-the-ground, BHAG Believing, brave ones who refuse to stop moving forward. So I told my boys, don’t be fence-sitters, naysayers, complainers! Be dreamers, believers and doers. And may that not just be a Mandela day thing, but an everyday thing!
When did ordinary become a bad word? Was it when social media started making even a grilled-cheese-sandwich dinner look “extra”ordinary? (Thank you Amaro filter!) Instagram feeds full of “Don’t let average describe your life” #mondaymotivation has all of us drinking the cool-aid, and unwittingly buying into a side order of perpetual dissatisfaction with it! Is that not why we have a generation of unmotivated, deeply depressed millennials? Simon Sinek (you’ve seen the Youtube video right?) describes millennials as people who want to make an impact, but who want to reach the summit of impact without climbing the mountain required to reach it (a problem by the way, that he lays squarely at the feet of failed parenting strategies. That and unfettered access to technology. Ouch!). I for one think the argument is legit. Because ask anyone, ask Steve Jobs, ask Billy Graham or whoever you view as someone who has done something extraordinary and they will tell you that 99.9% of the steps taken to reach anywhere or anything extraordinary in life are unbelievably ordinary.
So this is what I told my boys about being ordinary…
That it takes courage to be ordinary: If you asked my kids what my husband has achieved in his life, they are likely to be vague about the longevity of his business and his acumen on a mountain bike and with a calculator. But they will be able to tell you in detail about the after work ping-pong matches, the daily swimming pool maintenance and the conversations around the dinner table that their dad was present for. Sure, it’s an ordinary middle-class life but I can tell you right now, that there is nothing ordinary about dads going home daily and diligently to see their families instead of staying late for just a few more emails or just another drink. Nothing ordinary about saying yes to cleaning the pool or killing the spider or hanging the picture on a Saturday and no to becoming better at golf or entering Ironman or whatever other bucket list item will take them away from their families for more hours. Those are the thousand small deny-thyself moments that declares something about where someone’s heart is at. Ordinary is hard because it’s unseen, un “post” worthy, unremarkable. Like the laundry pile and the admin file and the go the extra mile of any messy mom life!
Ordinary is all the seeds of surrender and submission and all the hard and unpopular
choices that build a life God rewards. There is nothing ordinary about faithfulness. It might not be glamorous but is sure is rare.
That we shouldn’t value achievement over discipline: My kids have the amazing privilege of having world record holder Peter Williams as a swimming coach. At our recent club awards ceremony, we were struck by the fact that swimmers received recognition both for points scored/records broken in races and for characteristics and attitudes displayed during training. It spoke to their coach’s conviction that coaches are daily called to the deep purpose of character building and that they are doing more than preparing kids for races, they are in a thousand laps and a thousand ways preparing kids for life. Because the truth is that how you train builds your character, and how you win tests that character.
It’s not what we do once in a while that shapes us, its the consistent habits and behaviors of every day. Having goals is great, but who will you become on the way? Saul had many achievements, but David was a man after God’s own heart. The loud flash of achievement might be what the world honours, but the small daily grind of discipline and service is what God’ honours. If my kids won every medal out there but did not have love or the guts to show up for the everyday ordinary of their own lives, I couldn’t be more of a failure as a parent!
Everyone wants to be special, shine in a moment. But the truth is that it’s the mosaic of unremarkable events that make up days and years that end up making a person.
That obscurity is not the enemy: We live in a world where the humblebrag has been cultivated into a fine art, with everything from how many books we read to how well we rode or ran a portion on Strava (even if we stuck to our Bible reading plan) being broadcast to the world. My kids know that a portion of my day job deals with industries built on celebrity and fame. And it’s normal for kids of a certain age and stage to gravitate towards careers and talents that would get them noticed, like playing a sport for your country or gaining recognition as a musician (both ideas that I actively, maybe obsessively discourage. And no I don’t feel guilty about it. I flipped that switch years ago).
I have noticed that as parents we spend an inordinate amount of time trying to get our kids to aim for a definition of special that has been shaped by the world. Instead I hope to show them that God makes us all in a very particular way to tell His story to the world, and this has nothing to do with fame and celebrity. Every pot for a purpose (2 Tim 2 v 20)! Some people are charismatic leaders who bring out the best in others. But it takes equal if not more courage to be ordinary and do the ordinary things and respond to the most ordinary of callings with extraordinary passion.
If we can guard against comparison and a world-shaped-view of value and worth we will stop being so uncomfortable with obscurity.
That each day counts, not just the big days: The message of Scripture is not that only the big days, big things, big people count.
“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.” Rom 12 v 1-2 MSG
God calls us to number all of our days (Ps 90 v 12), even if they are not stand-out, red letter days. Because He knows, you are what you repeatedly do. He knows, the ordinary is where the true story lies, where the true you is crafted and revealed.
“The only way to live a truly remarkable life is not to get everyone to notice you but to leave noticeable marks of his love everywhere you go- Anne Voskamp.
Wise people know that their present will one day be their past and it will show up in their future. This is why the Apostle Paul calls us to “ redeem the time” (Eph 5 v 16). A quiet, ordinary life, unknown to the world, can still be one of much fruitfulness and joy to God. That fruitfulness grows in the realisation that nothing God does in our lives is ever wasted. Most of the time we don’t have to be awesome, we just have to be obedient.
We pass 7 traffic lights between our house and school, and 7 beggars, 8 if you count the toddler accompanying the woman at the entrance to our local mall. Sadly, in South Africa, this is disturbingly commonplace. And just like you are suddenly more aware of how crooked your handwriting is when the teacher is looking over your shoulder, you are suddenly more aware of how crooked your society is when your kids are in the back of the car. Asking you hard questions.
Stats SA’s poverty report shows that 30 million South Africans live in poverty out of a population of approximately 58 million people. If these numbers alone don’t confront our hearts, then the daily confrontation with the poor among us definitely should.
But how do we teach and model to our kids the right way to interact with the socio-economic needs of our nation? Is it really to just randomly hand out money or food at every street corner? I don’t think so.
“She sets her heart upon a nation and takes it as her own, carrying it within her. She labors there to plant the living vines.” (Prov 31 v 16 TPT)
So here is what I’ve told the boys:
We MUST give, and we must give with joy:
Our privileges and yes, our blessings too, are in our lives for the sake of others, not just for our own sake. We are blessed in order to bless! Our giving is not benevolence for the sake of assuaging our conscience or giving ourselves a (usually public by way of Facebook) pat on the back. According to God’s word, our giving is an act of both obedience (Heb 13 v 16) in response to God’s goodness, but also a joyful opportunity (Rom 12 v 7-8) in response to God’s love.
“God has given us two hands, one to receive with and the other to give with” – Billy Graham.
If we consider where God placed us, and what He placed in our hands, how could we not give? I have written before how I’ve tackled what I call the “burden of privilege” with my boys, so that they can deal rightly, carefully, generously, and intentionally with the privileges that are a part of their lives.
We must be intentional and obedient in our giving:
As believers, our giving takes 2 forms. As citizens of South Africa, both my husband and I honor God by paying our taxes. A portion of our taxes goes towards social grants. More than 17 million South Africans receive social grants, which is our governments’ way of bringing to fruition Section 24 through 29 of our country’s impressive Bill of Rights, which focuses on the socio-economic rights of citizens, including the right to social security. The social grant system is a verifiable, standardized system of care, and the grants available include the child support grant, older person’s grant, disability grant, foster child grant, war veterans grant etc. So already, by merely following the laws of this land, (and God’s command Mark 12v17), we are already taking care of the poor. All people may not be able to make all the choices I have the privilege of making, but in a welfare state, they at least have some protection offered by law.
The second way we respond to the poor is by our tithes and offerings, where we commit our first fruits to our church and it’s various ministries, including it’s outreach to the poor. At my church, as I am sure it is the case at yours, our social outreach is by way of focussed, intentional initiatives that take a long-term, holistic view of caring for the poor in both a physical and a spiritual way.
We must give to help, not to hurt:
According to a study done by Solidariteit, 90% of beggars in the Twane area use the money they obtain exclusively for drugs/ addictive substances. They make an average of R500 a day. The fact is that when we give money to someone on the street, we are often under the wrong impression that this money will go towards really helping, towards actual material needs such as shelter, food or clothing. But for the most part, this is not the case. Even the clothes and food we give gets bartered and sold. And in our thoughtless giving, we seldom realize the damage we do.
In my city women begging with one or 2 kids in tow is also commonplace. Very often, these kids are “on loan” and not even their real children. In the case of these scenarios, the damage we do in our “giving” is actually far worse and far-reaching. At my local mall there is a woman and a child begging on a daily basis. She keeps showing up with the toddler in tow because suburban housewives with their Woolies packets and their pampered guilt continue to happily part with a few bills on the way home from the mall.
They are under the wrong impression that they are making a difference, but they are in fact just keeping things the same, or making them worse.
By giving in that situation not only are we thoughtlessly enabling an adult to (ab)use a child for monetary gain (there’s a name for that you know! It’s slavery), but we are actually funding the long-term neglect and abuse of the child as a means to make money (and yes, there is a name for that too..it’s human trafficking). We are cooperating in depriving that child of his/ her basic rights as underpinned by our constitution to be educated, protected from exploitation and to be safe, keeping that innocent out of school and enslaved, likely having a shocking long-term impact on his/her development. The adult has a vested interest in keeping the child on the street, out of any early childhood development centre (of which many free or funded ones are available in poorer areas) or school (where a parent can apply for exception from school fees) because she knows if she is there with the child, motorists and passers-by are more likely to give than if she was there without the child.
So what to do? I have engaged (together with the boys) where it’s been possible especially with women and children in these situations, supplying walk-in centre information for organisations such as MES, which does amazing work especially in inner city environments, and who have the facilities and infrastructure to help with paperwork for Grants, who have Early Childhood Development Centres, Employment programs, Shelters and the like. Instead of arming yourself with small change, arm yourself with information about reputable non-profits or charities that are active in your area. Most soup kitchens and feeding points also have referral and ministry systems in place that go beyond “bread alone” for those in need.
So here is a key question: Does what I give and how I give it keep people enslaved, or provide a way out for them?
We can’t help everyone, but we can help someone:
Having worked at an NGO for 4 years, this is a very hard reality for me to stand in. And it’s a struggle to not become overwhelmed by the needs around us. We can’t help everyone. That’s the bad news. The good news is that, especially if you are a South African, you don’t have to go very far for an opportunity to make a difference. In our neighborhood, at our school, in our kitchens, and on our street corners we are every day presented with multiple opportunities to have an impact, be an everyday radical, to leave things and people, better than we found them. And in all of those encounters, we get to reflect Jesus to the world. In all of these encounters God is always asking, “who can I send?”
If we feel like we should change the world, maybe we will be too overwhelmed to do anything. But if we see how we are uniquely placed to change things for one person, maybe we will be inspired enough to do something. As a family, we recently signed up as sponsors for 2 kids via Compassion International. It an amazing opportunity to expose the boys to what it takes to break the cycle of poverty and how we can play a role (however small) what holistic care looks like, and by helping 2 boys not dissimilar to my 2, the journey is both relatable, practical and impactful.
Key question: are the people I encounter/ in my sphere of influence, better off or worse off because of me?
We must acknowledge the humanity in every person:
Even though the boys now know that we don’t hand out money to beggars, I try to model to them that we also make a point to greet every person that we encounter on our travels. Regardless of how far we have all fallen, we remain image bearers, and when we acknowledge a beggar by greeting them and making eye contact with them we are doing more than being polite, we are acknowledging our shared humanity, our shared brokenness, and fallenness. It’s both a restorative act as well as an affirmation of value. Their fall from grace might look different from mine, but fallen is fallen isn’t it? And our need for Jesus is the same. Because the gospel informs us that we are all poor. Of course it’s different types of poverty, physical, emotional, spiritual, but in each of those settings, our need for Jesus is the same. we are all in need of God’s grace and above all His deliverance, salvation, restoration and sanctification. Poverty is not the thing that separates us from the people we aim to help, it is, in fact, the one true leveler and the one thing we have in common.
We must continue to sow small seeds because many “ones” soon become “thousands”:
Acts of kindness are cumulative, and with our actions, we choose what we put out into the world. Whether we will thoughtlessly join the streams of negativity and hopelessness, or courageously resist, not allowing ourselves to become fatigued in doing good (Gal 6 v 9) is a choice. To help the boys choose to be a part of the solution, the good in the world, we use the Game for Humanity cards, the school version (there is an adult version as well). Have you heard of these? Every week the boys take a card with an act of goodness on it, for example:
Help with recycling at your school
Make a hungry child a sandwich
Help someone with their homework
Once they fulfill the action on the card they pass it on to another student, ideally the one they assisted, and so they spread good, one person at a time. It is a great way for them to see that they have control over their ability to infuse their environment with positivity, or the alternative, and to act responsibly within their little circle of influence to build on the cumulative effects of kindness and good deeds.
It’s tough out there. Doing good things takes a lot of bravery. But we don’t have to reinvent the wheels of response, opportunities are all around us. We are called to continue to choose empathy, even if it doesn’t come naturally because that is what Jesus did. I hope to raise children who are more deeply aware of the context they grow up in, of where they have been planted and why, certainly more so than I was as a white middle-class kid in South Africa. I don’t know if I will get this right but these types of conversations are a start.
This blog is an except from my talk about being and raising everyday radicals. For more on talks click here
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