Why we don’t prioritize time with God and what we can do about it.
I detest blogs that sound like they want to inform me about something that would be to my benefit, but then all they do is make me feel guilty… like I fall short in some way…make me feel like there is yet another thing that I should be doing that I’m just not getting to. That’s why I often avoid parenting books (don’t we already have enough mommy guilt!) and why the one I wrote was written specifically NOT to make you feel that way, because the minute you become a parent, you become instantly and regularly familiar with all the ways you fall short, am I right? So let me assure you, this blog is not like that
Friends share the good news, the great recipes, the tidbit about that child friendly restaurant or that cheap travel deal, right? When you care about someone you want to be generous with the very best information. And that is why I wrote this blog. Not because I want to add something to your list that you already know you should be doing (you know, like finally cleaning out the garage) but just can’t get to, but because spending time in God’s word is one of the most fascinating, nourishing and deeply impactful activities I’ve ever engaged in, and I want that for you!
Here are some of the reasons I think we don’t spend time with God:
We are Saturated
I have 2 teenage boys in my house. They are never not hungry! When you are a mom of boys you are only ever busy with 3 things: Making meals, planning meals or shopping for meals. Ask anyone! My boys approach the dinner table with enthusiasm, because they are, in their words, “starving”. One of the reasons we do not prioritize time in God’s word is because we are not starving. We are saturated. We have many teachers regurgitating for us pre digested morsels. A verse of the day here, a pretty Instagram quote there, a page a day devotional or a 15 minute podcast while driving. What we are choosing to consume takes very little effort from our side, but also little discernment. Kind of like eating processed foods instead of a from-scratch-made-with-love meal. You would not keep yourself or your family fed on processed fast foods indefinitely. But many of us keep going on that kind of spirit diet. And when you are full of candy floss and cupcakes, do you know what you don’t feel like eating? Real food. And that works fine, until things get hectic. Until a trial, a race, a war erupts in our lives.
We have forgotten that we are in a race so we don’t eat like athletes. We have forgotten that we are in a war so we don’t fill up or dress up like soldiers.
And then, when it comes time for perseverance, when it comes time for testing of our faith, mostly through suffering and trial, but also through temptation, that the bible warns us is an inevitability, our tanks are empty, we’ve long ago used up the low GI fuel supplied to us by our light crudité style snacking.
Jesus wants to be our sustenance in the time of uncertainty, trial and difficulty.
He says that in John 6 v 35. He himself was in the wilderness and what sustained Him is the thing that will also sustain us. God’s word (Matt 4 v 4). God doesn’t want to give us certainty instead of our uncertainty, he wants to give us a certain grip on him. And He does that faithfully when we prioritise His word.
The Christian life thrives with the bible, just like the body thrives with good nourishment, exercise and hydration. Jesus said I am the bread of life, He said “come to me for living water”, so when we come to the word of God we are attending to the health of our soul and our spirit, we are feeding our greatest and truest hunger.
We are Intimidated
I often hear people say that they wish to hear from God. That they hope to know His will. Then I always ask them what they read that morning. Because to this day, the primary way God speaks is through His Word. And you don’t need a theology degree to hear Him. Jesus himself said that His revelation is more often hidden from the wise and revealed to the childlike and simple (Matt 11 v 15). We read a lot of things every day, without the need of translation, but for some reason when we come to God’s word our expectation of ourselves is usually too high and our expectation of God is usually too low. He promises us in His word when we draw near to Him He will draw near to us (James 4 v 8). James also tells us that when we ask for wisdom He will give it to us without reviling us (James 1 v 5 – 6) if we ask in faith. Faith is asking knowing that God wants to give us wisdom, not asking hoping that He will but fearing that maybe, just maybe, He doesn’t really want to or He won’t, which is often the attitude with which we come to the word of God. Is it any wonder we treat God’s word as something we have to “fit in”? We treat it like a chore because we think we have to work on it, we do not come with the expectation that it will work on us, which is what the Word was made to do! God himself watches over it to ensure that it will accomplish what He pleases (Is 55 v 11). You don’t have to worry about that. But what you do have to worry about is what kind of expectation you have as you approach your time in God’s word.
Often our problem is that we have forgotten that reading God’s word is an act of love not an action on a to do list, that our time with God is a relationship to build not a box to tick, that it is the daily momentum we need to move towards meaning and maturity.
We have underestimated our true state
When I feel lukewarm towards spending time with God, I always remind myself of the story in Luke 7 of the sinful woman who came to kiss Jesus’ feet and anointed Him with oil. And Jesus said those who have been forgiven much love much. The reason we don’t prioritise time with God is because we forget that we have a deep need. That, our deep need, much more than an obligation or a “should”, must be our “reason why”. Our love wanes and our devotion lapses because we lose sight of who we really are and what we really need. We are so distracted and entertained that we forget about our own spiritual state. We are so over saturated with candy floss Christianity that we forget how much we need God’s grace, God’s involvement, God’s direction in our daily lives. When we become disconnected and distracted from the essence of the gospel in our lives we quickly and easily start underestimating our need for God, because the gospel remains compelling only to someone aware of the truth of their spiritual state.
Many of us live lukewarm lives, no different from the world around us because we do not consistently connect ourselves with the transformative and victorious, which is only found in God’s Word. And just like time in God’s word will manifest as faith, joy, hope, growth, maturity, direction, focus and blessing in our lives, so lack of time in God’s word will also manifest in different ways:
Persistent struggles with fear, worry and anxiety, and having your inner peace and joy dependent on your circumstances;
Not being able to discern the truth and being ensnared by deceptive teaching and heresy which places you outside of the will of God and the blessings of righteousness;
Lack of direction, which not only has personal consequences, but it also means you are ill-equipped to equip your children for a hard and difficult world;
Lack of fruit and thriving;
Lack of victory over areas of stubborn sin;
Lack of meaning, leading us to idolatry as we try to create meaning for ourselves;
Defenseless against spiritual attacks without the Sword of the Word;
An inability to respond when people question your faith, which diminishes your witness and influence for the Kingdom.
These are just some of what we suffer when our lives are devoid of connection with God via His word and prayer. If your faith feels powerless and empty, consider how you view the Bible, which is your primary exposure to the truth
GK Chesterton said “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.” And it’s true. I think we live in a time where we have thought because we have Bibles and we say we love them we have truly seen what the Word can do in people, in us. But I don’t think we have.
The Bible only becomes a sword when we become it’s soldiers. The Bible only becomes a kiln when we become it’s clay, the Word only becomes our standard when we become it’s students.
If this is something you desire for yourself, for your family and for your life, why not sign up for my 5 day Biblestudy Course, called DWELL, aimed at equipping you with the basic steps and tools to truly engage with the Word of God. Sign up here – it’s free!
Now let me just confess this upfront. I’m a list maker by nature. I love the idea of ordering my thoughts and hopes and dreams into the most beautiful outline, most creative presentation, as though simply the act of putting pen to paper and making it look instapretty can provide the impetus required to push through on every lofty ideal for the new year. And when the 31st of December rolls around I am just about giddy with the”blank page, second chance, do-over” 1 January presents. But here is the problem with New Years Resolutions:
The truth is that we are all actually plagued by this one question: “How best should I live my life?” In recent years this has changed to “How do I live my best life?”… like it’s some kind of external construction that a vision board and a protein shake with kale will bring us. But deep down we know, our life flows from the inside out (Luke 6 v 45), not the other way around. Whatever we might want to change on the outside (exercise more/ spend less/ eat healthier/ be more patient) must first change on the inside (understand why I don’t exercise/ understand why I overspend/ understand why I comfort eat/ understand why I yell in the traffic), and there is only one way to change on the inside. Transformation doesn’t happen with goals or lists or plans. New Years Resolutions bring with them the allure of “This year I will “do” differently, when what we all really need is to “be” different before we can “do” differently. What we really need is an inner work. And so I have struggled and written many times about how best to approach a new year that doesn’t call us to fall into a more/more/more or a do/do/do trap that has no lasting impact.
The only thing I’ve ever seen cause true change in people’s lives is a deep and overwhelming understanding of the Gospel. And the only thing I have seen cause that change to be lasting and enduring is the work of the Holy Spirit through God’s word in the life of a believer. God’s word is penetrating (Heb 4 v 12) and more effective (2 Tim 3 v 16 – 17) than any insta slogan or vision board or hustle culture book with a relatable catchy title on the front and a lot of self-help covered in Christian-ese sauce on the inside.
And so at the start of every year, I ask God to give me a word for the year. I pray for it, and it starts to take shape during my devotional time, as I read and meditate, where a theme or word just keeps popping up or just deeply resonates and drives me in my reading. This word then serves to inspire me to live a life of faith, serves as a daily reminder of His truth and can become a prophetic marker in making decisions and moving ahead.
As you read and pray over the next few days, here are some questions you can ask yourself to help you identify your word for 2021:
What area in your spiritual development has your conscience, the Holy Spirit been directing you to pay attention to?
What do you most need that only God can give that will help you take the next step in your calling?
What familiar themes are you noticing in your reading of God’s Word that seems to come up repeatedly? Remember His word is the first place He speaks. Whatever else we “hear” in the world must first line up with what we see in the Word.
If you could ask God to accomplish one thing in your heart this year, what would it be?
If you came to the end of 2021 and you looked back, what would you be praising God for accomplishing in you?
Hustle culture and its proponents have, by and large, ignored the fact that the call on the life of a believer is primarily about 2 things: Others and God’s Kingdom. Not self. In fact, to follow in Jesus’s footsteps is not merely less of self but the death of self. Not our vision for our life but His. Not our benefit but the benefit of those around us and the advancement of His Kingdom. If we say we believe the Bible we cannot separate ourselves from these truths.
So, whether you choose a word of whether you are a new years resolution or goals type girl, the best way to stay aligned with God in the way we enter into a new season is to choose goals/ words/ verses or markers that will:
Glorify God and Grow us
Give God space to move and guide us
Grounds us in His love more and more so we can be truly, deeply, internally transformed more and more.
Any good equestrian will tell you that the best way to measure how good someone is at riding horses is not by how many ribbons they’ve won, but by how many times they’ve fallen off and gotten back on the horse again. If one can be qualified on the topic of friendship by that same measurement then I am supremely qualified, ‘cause I have messed this up, like, a lot! I am not writing this blog because I think I am an expert, but because I think I have a bit of insight on how to navigate this with at least a measure of grace and peace. And because, well, we never talk about this, and maybe we should.
Whether it be a change of season, a change of location, a change of circumstance or a change of opinion, facing the end of a friendship is an inevitable part of life. Maybe there was a break in trust. Maybe the friendship has started affecting your calling, your spiritual potential or your relationship with God or others. Whatever the reason, friendship breakups are hard and they can be messy. So how can we deal with this difficult thing with grace and peace? Here are a few do’s and dont’s:
Don’t miss the opportunity for introspection
There are 2 sides to every story, that is for sure, and whether you are the one exiting the friendship or not, these painful yet significant life moments are important times for taking stock. Usually it’s someones junk, their issues, or your junk and your issues, that affect one’s ability to engage in meaningful healthy friendship. In female friendships – and I will just come straight out and say this now because it’s true and you are already thinking it – this often looks like envy, jealousy, comparison or fear that is dealt with in the wrong way and affecting the relationship to the point where it becomes toxic or there is a break in trust or both. There are 5 things that I believe help friendships stand the test of time and help them thrive. Read about that here. These elements represent a great litmus test for the health of any friendship, so as you pause to take stock,why not re-envisage what you value most in friendship and what you hope to commit yourself to and look for in your friendships in the future?
Don’t over-explain yourself:
Give the other party the curtesy of a clear explanation and apologise where you need to. But don’t over explain. Some of us are relentless over explainers and as much as we think we are making things better, we could be making them worse, cluttering the conversation and clouding the clarity that we knew existed when we resolved to end the friendship. Here is something I learned the hard way: Sometimes people are committed to misunderstanding you, and trying to explain yourself to people who have already made up their mind about you is both harmful and wasteful. Sometimes people need to make you the bad guy in the story, and you over-explaining yourself will not move them from that position. Be ok with that.
Binding and loosing (Matt 18 v 18) are both spiritual principles so we must deal with them carefully especially as it pertains to who we walk through life with, and so the end of a friendship is not just an emotional occurrence but also a spiritual one. Often the more you talk and rehash and confront, the more pain and hurt can be caused. Be as clear, kind, and concise as you can be without inviting further drama, we are all grown-ups after all. The other party is bound to come to some sort of insight as to your position eventually, and vice versa. With a little bit of common sense and self-awareness people usually get to a place of insight and understanding as they regard in hindsight where things went wrong. And that is often where the grace lies.
Don’t desire closure over forgiveness:
We often say we desire closure when what we really want is:
to have our say. But if we are honest, we will know, that is just the ego talking.
to put a neat little full stop after an emotional event. But if we are honest we only desire that so we can better cope with what happened.
Even though we understand cerebrally that relationships can be messy because people are messy, we like this idea that we can have things wrapped up in a neat little bow. Be ok with that not always being possible. Most of the time our deepest need is not for closure, but for forgiveness. To recieve God’s forgiveness for our contribution to the demise of a relationship. And to have His forgiveness clear the way for us to forgive the person who hurt us. If God has extended grace to you, would you not extend it to yourself and to someone else? Forgiveness is accepting the apology you may never receive. Forgiveness is also the first step towards healing, which is so much more life-giving, with the spiritual and emotional power to re-allign you. Closure cannot and does not accomplish this, only forgiveness can.
Don’t rally for support:
I know you want to! It’s natural! Especially if you are feeling wronged. Especially if you may be the one walking away with the more than just this relationship being caught in the fray. I feel you! I’ve been there! But don’t be tempted to rally support. It’s not only ungraceous but it does not make for peace.
That means you cover over the transgressions of the person that might have been the very reasons you left. Do this especially if that person is in ministry/ a fellow believer – God specifically tells us not to speak against His anointed (Psalm 105 v 15). Hear me here: of course, I am not talking about covering over abuse of any kind, I am talking about the context of the friendship and whatever hurts, slights or sins caused toxicity and disruption leading to the end of the relationship. Very often (and I have first hand experience in this) we have to protect someone’s reputation by not telling our side of the story. That can be costly. It can cost you your reputation and other relationships that were a part of a specific friendship circle or season in your life. God knows that and He sees you doing the right thing even when it’s hard and seems unfair. Being in right standing before God is worth way more than appearing to be right before others. Go ahead and read that again.
Don’t force things:
Sometimes we hold on for longer than we should. It might be that we feel like we would be “losing” our history with this person, even-though our attempts to hold on to that past might be skewing our perspective of the present day state of the relationship. We hold on because we can’t bear this idea that people are sometimes supposed to exit our lives. We hold on because we have this concept that being a Christian means always sticking it out with people, although that is not the example we see in scripture. Sometimes walking in step with the spirit means walking away. We have this idea that loving people like Jesus did means hanging in there at all costs. The Word does not set this example for us. Samuel knew when it was time to leave a longstanding relationship for the sake of his calling (1 Sam 15 v 27) and Jesus himself set a boundary to ensure He could do what He was called to do (Matt 16 v 23). We all want our relationships to be more and more grounded in the character of Christ and what we saw reflected in the way He managed all of His relationships. I think if we were to look at the the entire Word as a directive we will be less plagued by guilt and shame when friendships end for the right reasons.
Do not stay where your entire authentic self is not welcome or where your calling, gifting or healthy boundaries are under constant threat. There is a season for everything, even friendships. Friendships are not guaranteed to be lifelong relationships. In fact most aren’t and that is ok. There can be reconsiliation, but there doesn’t have to be relationship. You don’t have to reconstruct friendship with those you have forgiven. Those are 2 seperate things.
Pray for them:
The end of a friendship can be nothing short of dramatic. Don’t give resentment and bitterness time to fester and grow. Prayer is one of the best ways we can combat this. Read this if you want to know how.
Grieve them and forgive them:
Even if the friendship simply ended because the person moved on/ away, if we are honest with ourselves we may have disappointments and unmet expectations to deal with surrounding the friendship. It hurt because it mattered! It’s healthy to acknowledge this. I think some of the self focussed narrative of cancel culture etc exists because we don’t want to acknowledge the hurt in a situation, we think we are tougher, more evolved, more mature when we just make a “clean break”, walk away and never look back. It might be harder to acknowledge that something truly hurt, but it’s also better. It gives the relationship the acknowledgment within a certain time and space, that it probably deserves. Maybe say a private good-bye, giving full vent to your hurts and owning your parts. Journalling is a great way to do this. Above all, get your conscience clear before the Lord, do the work of grieving and forgiving so even this difficult event can bring you closer to God and His purposes for you.
And then lastly trust God in this process. I have experienced in my own life that man’s rejection is often God’s redirection. Grow from what you know and understand. Make ammends where you can. Hold on to your peace. And trust that nothing escapes purpose in the life of a believer, and even our missteps and mistakes have redemptive potential if our hearts are soft towards God. Dealing well with these things mean we can walk on, not just walk away.
PS: Friendship breakups are just one part of the complexities surrounding human relationships. Especially moms of girls have a difficult time helping their kids navigate the often stormy climate of female relationships. My book can help with this so check that out if you like! And hopefully, we can share some friendship lessons with our kids, so they can better navigate the reality of this in their lives.
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!
What word would you use to describe your faith in this season? In our online prayer meeting at church a few weeks ago (yes, cause that’s a thing now), a live poll indicated that more than 70% of people felt that their faith had grown during lockdown! Yay for them, but if I am honest I know that I have struggled to stay within that 70%. I wanted to. But it felt like a fight. A fight for faith. A fight I refuse to walk away from because I know what a life apart from Christ is like and to me that is just not an option. But that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been hard. Most of the time I felt like I was faltering. To be fierce means to show heartfelt and passionate intensity. I want to be a fierce woman of faith, who intently and intensely displays faith.
But what does the fight for fierce faith look like in this season? I don’t know about you but it feels like there are blows coming at me from all sorts of directions! How can we keep choosing the walk of faith when the journey is this hard? Faith is more than a spiritual position. Sometimes, no often, it’s also a response. And a response is always a choice! Job gave us that example, so did many others in the Bible. So how do we keep choosing fierce faith when we feel like we’re faltering?
We choose fierce faith when we stay fully convinced of God’s intention to perform what He promised:
If anyone needed ferocious faith it was Abraham and Sarah! Am I right? I mean talk about unlikely people in the kind of circumstances that made what they hope for flat out impossible nevermind what your God promised! But even as the years ticked by and the promise remained just a highlighted set of verses in his bible, Abraham remained fully convinced (Rom 4 v 21) that God was able to perform what He had promised. How did he remain convinced? In him and Sarah’s waiting, they continued to “judge God faithful” (Rom 11 v 11) They fixed their eyes not on the impossibility of their situation, not even on the set of highlighted verses of promise, but on the intention of God to do what He said ((Is 14 v 24). They assessed His track record and became fully convinced that yes, He is able, and in His time also ready to perform His word (Jer 1 v 12).
We choose fierce faith when we acknowledge God’s ability in the face of impossible circumstances:
If Abraham was taking our Corona Poll at Rosebank Union Church, he would have been firmly in the 70%, because rather than growing weak, his faith in God grew stronger while he waited. We read in Rom 4 v 20 that Abraham did not allow himself to waver through unbelief – he did not falter – which just blows my mind by the way! And through the act of simply holding on, his faith was strengthened. Wow, right?
Faith is not as some people might think, a denial of impossible circumstances. It’s not tattooing “with God all things are possible” on your arm and not watching the news so you are more able to maintain a “positive attitude”. Yes, I’m using inverted commas. And yes, with all the snark you’ve come to expect from yours truly. That is not faith. Faith is not a denial of the problem, it’s believing God’s word in the face of the problem. Biblical faith does not deny the problem or circumstances but holds fast that God remains greater than the problem or the circumstances. Is that the God you know? Because it’s hard to trust someone you don’t know, as I discovered in my fight for hope through the uncertainty Coronavirus.
We choose fierce faith when we choose to believe God has the final word over our circumstances:
Not our words. Not our feelings. God’s final word is yes! Because faith is taking God at His word, not taking our feelings so seriously that we can’t see past them.
We choose fierce faith when we choose what we know over what we feel:
Here is the thing that I am realizing. Pastor Dave one of our pastor’s said on Sunday during online church (cause yeah, that’s a thing now too) that our faith in suffering is really our biggest testimony. We are all, right now, becoming what we declare. How scary is that? Right now, all over the world, believers are wrestling, and it’s because our doctrine, what we truly believe about God and what we believe about the world in relation to God is never more apparent than when we are in crisis.
The fact is that our doctrine is our everyday companion, it is coming out of our mouths and our fingertips, rolling around in our thoughts and manifesting itself in our homes all the time, maybe without us even being conscious of it. What we believe about God and the world is evident in how we work, how we entertain ourselves (jip, in the TV series we pick!), how we speak and eat, and yes, in how we suffer and struggle. One of the reasons I wrote The Mommy Diaries is because of this fact, that our fundamental beliefs are not some random mental state we engage from time to time, but it actually shows itself in every action and situation. And that it’s ultimately our children’s beliefs that drive their behaviors, as is the case with us, whether we like it or not. So addressing the beliefs rather than the behaviors if you’re a parent, is critical.
All of my life is the outworking of my beliefs. If so many of us are experiencing a crisis of faith, what we should be doing is working back from that intense worry, anxiety, need for escape, emotional low to the core belief that drives it and measuring that against the doctrine we profess to subscribe to so it can reveal itself as either true, or a lie. So as we go through whatever we’re going through, I hope what we are asking ourselves more is: what do I believe – i.e what is my doctrine? About God…the world…all of this. And hopefully what we are listening to a bit less is: How do I feel? Faith is not a feeling.
Jesus calls us to do the “work of believing” (John 6 v 29). That work is this: consistently lining up your convictions and your action. And for that work to be aligned, correct, built on truth, not a house that will falter and fall when shaken, Jesus should be the plum-line, the ultimate reference point. That’s what a cornerstone is!
So how can I have this kind of faith? Paul said he could suffer while remaining full of faith because he knew WHOM he had believed and was persuaded beyond any doubt in His ability (2 Tim 1 v 12). The focus of his faith was more than just what he believed, it was in knowing WHOM he had believed. His faith was about more than merely holding on to a set of promises, it was about holding on to the Person behind the promises, so that even if the promises are not fulfilled, then he would remain convinced that even that would be, MUST be, for his good because of the character of Whom he believed, the one who works ALL for our good (Rom 8 v 28), even something that looks like a broken promise or disappointment. Fierce faith rests IN Him (1 Cor 2 v 5), abides in Him (John 15 v 4, 7) and cannot be separated from the loving personhood of God in the Lord Jesus (Rom 8 v 38, 39)
Choosing faith may not eliminate our present pain or difficulty. It probably won’t even stop the many questions we still have. It will not “explain away” our present circumstances. But it will remind us of Who is really in control and produce in us endurance (James 1 v 2 – 5), and yield in us even greater fruit (Heb 12 v 11). I know I want that, even if it’s hard!
This is all I’ve got. I know how hard it is right now. Remember I am praying for you.
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!
[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]I’ve have written about new years resolutions a couple of times. A new year is a great time to reassess and re- envision, and so we all enjoy making a list of things we think we should do, even of things we think we should stop doing. As a working mom with a side hustle, I was recently asked to write about work-life balance. And you know what. I couldn’t. Because there is no such thing! It’s all nonsense. Work-life balance is stupid. I think it was possibly invented by men. Not because I think they are stupid, but because, for example, a man invented the turducken, another thing that sounds much better than it actually is in real life. Work-life balance is pie in the sky, and it’s a concept that makes people (especially women) feel frazzled and unhappy and that they are invariable letting someone down (can I get a heck yeah?). And here’s why:
Balance is a static state, and I don’t know what your life is like but I can tell you right now my life is THE.OPPOSITE.OF.STATIC. Schedules, realities, priorities, energy levels and people are constantly in flux, they are not fixed. That is why it’s the very idea of “balance” as an expected or desired state that is making us feel stressed out and constantly guilty about all the things we are not doing. Aiming to have it all in balance is aiming for something that is not achievable. I advise we all ad it to the list of things we need to let go of, like fitting into those white jeans we wore in our 20s. Please, I beg of you, do not make this one of your new year’s resolutions. Here’s what I think we should aim for instead:
Work from a place of peace, not towards it…
Unwittingly, we all divide up our life between work and non work – “getting through” the one to “get too” the other. All of our life is in compartments, work in the one, play in the other, toil in the one, comfort in the other. We think, and work, and believe and prioritize like our peace will be found in peaceful circumstances and surroundings. But God calls us to relate to peace as something we already have, not something we have to “get to” or “work towards” or “bring about” by controlling/ changing our circumstances. His Word tells us that Peace is a Person, Peace is a Promise, Peace is a precious Gift. So in every task we do, in everything we engage in, we are called to do so from a place of Peace, from that Source of peace, from a Position of peace, not towards it. When we see our life like this, all the strands of work and play and difficult and easy, successes and failures start forming one single tapestry. It changes our perspective and infuses all aspects of life with more meaning. Not just the bush-break/ beach-holiday parts. And peace as something we already own, as something inside us, empowers us to withstand the pressures and strain that is evident and unavoidable in every season of life. We think of peace as a place we need to arrive at where it really should be a departure point. That perspective can change everything.
Make flexibility a fitness worth mastering…
Now, let me be honest here, I love me a diary. I love a to-do list, a schedule, a planner, a nice crammed-to-the-brink-with-colorful-blocks google calendar. But nothing, and I mean nothing will give you a little productivity and planning reality check like a sick child. Or the school holidays. Or load shedding. Or a dead car battery. Sometimes things happen, things we don’t control, and when we have rigidly structured all of our time and focus because we believe that will give us balance, that will give us peace, those “life happens” moments really mess with our attitude, our perspective and our sense of accomplishment. In my dancing days, we learned that strength and flexibility are inextricably linked. For one muscle to flex, another must give and release. I used to believe white-knuckling it through my days, obliterating obstacles in the way of my sacred to-do list, was a show of strength, but sister, strength without wisdom is just brute force and it will flatten you because here’s the truth: when the wind blows, the grass must bend.
Your level of peace when calamity/ uncertainty/the unplanned strikes is directly related to where your faith lies and who (or WHO) you believe is in control. If that’s you, you will be anxious and overwhelmed. If its God you will have peace.
When we embrace flexibility, when we learn to “roll with it “ (yes, I know, the Enneagram 1 in you is literally wanting to run away right now, I feel you honey!) we are in fact surrendering our agenda to God’s plan, opening ourselves up to embrace the realization that yes, even the bumps in the road are a part of our live before God, Coram Deo. We are submitting to the One that has already called us to do everything, even the unexpected, and NOT just the things we planned to do that was on today’s list, as though we are doing it for Him (Col 3 v 23).
Flexibility helps us live from a place of surrender, not striving. If you can learn to be flexible when things don’t work out, then it’s just a “change of plan”, not a “disastrous disappointments”. And if we let them – those very disappointments can become divine appointments with God
Choose rhythm over routine…
This is the best way to practice your flexibility “fitness”. As moms, we are drilled about routine early on. It’s the holy grail of parenting when your kids are between 0 and 5. I think we are all in that mindset that if we could just be more rigid with our routine maybe we’d get more done. But it inevitably leads to disappointment when we’ve had 2 weeks of great workouts/ study times/ work or whatever and then suddenly our kids are writing exams or it’s the school holidays or Jesus help us Christmas time. Then we feel frazzled and upset because we had it all worked out and now we feel like we need to start from 0. Then even the call to respond to a person in need becomes something we have to “fit in” to our routine, which to be frank is just a terrible place from which to serve someone.
What if you chose rhythm over routine? The idea of rhythm is a flexible approach that is cognizant of the fact that you do not live in a bubble, but that your days and routines are influenced by the rhythms of your people and your context, the seasons of your journey and your city and ahem your kids. Sometimes there is intense, productive activity, sometimes there are periods where your focus must shift, and sometimes there is a need to respond to where you have an opportunity to serve others with Christ’s love.
Even Jesus’s life attested to this. When he was called on to turn water into wine, to serve and respond to a need, he wasn’t upset because he actually came to “party” and now he had to “work”. He didn’t say “hey ya’ll are interfering with my downtime here!” or “this was not on my schedule for today”. He was simply engaging with the very next thing, the very next good work that God had prepared in advance for Him to do. Rhythms help us to respond, routines keep us rigid. In a rigid routine, we sacrifice our peace and we deny that a sovereign God ordains meaning in all our moments, even the ones we didn’t plan (Psalm 139 – like all of it!)
Choose fruit over fear and meaning over more….
There is a guy who juggles at the corner of Republic and William Nicol Drive. Now, incase you didn’t know, here is the thing with juggling: every time you add a ball, you have to throw the balls you have HIGHER to give yourself more time to catch all of them. It’s almost diabolical. Doesn’t matter what type of mom you are, how many jobs you do in or outside of your home, or even how many kids you have and how many extramurals they do, we can all identify with how much the whole thing feels like juggling. Porcelain plates. Or hand grenades. And everytime we ad another goal, activity, to do or must do, another expectation, another yes, we have to throw the balls we already have higher and higher. Take more risks. Fit more in. Take more vitamins. Get up earlier and go to sleep later. But here’s the truth:
More does not equal meaning. Multitasking and doing/ adding more can never ever deliver on the meaning that you are hoping your life will have/ your kids’ lives will have. There is no fruit without focus and there is no focus if you have to do everything fast. But if you’re schedule is too full, fast is your only option. Focus is one singular thing, it cannot be divided into many things because then, ultimately, it’s not focus. Then it’s just dissipated, distracted, dividided attention that literally serves no one.
I know, I know, us moms wear many hats, we hustle that split shift of work/ wife-ing/ mothering/ all the other things like real hardcore mom bosses, but sometimes it just feels like we did a whole lot of stuff not very well. Something that helped me was to see my day as having various pivot points, each presenting an opportunity to be present. To sow focus so that those moments can bear fruit. Because if I am trying to serve my kids lunch but I keep checking the emails piling up, not only will my laptop be full of peanut butter (this is not good) but nor the emails nor my kids get my full attention. And in the end the precious time with my kids does not bear the fruit of connection it had the potential for and the work does not reflect the excellence I was aiming for and I am exhausted and I feel like a fruitless failure. This is a quote that challenged me this year and that I want to challenge you with:
“Never is a woman so fulfilled as when she chooses to underwhelm her schedule so she can let God overwhelm her soul”
Often we add more and more to our life and our schedule out of fear. Fear that we (or our kids) are going to fall behind, fear of not enough, but fear cannot produce anything of value. Fear is not fruitful. But faith is. It’s the only thing I’ve seen that produces anything of value in our life.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]
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!).
Maybe this is one of those things that only some people struggle with. Like complaining about bad service or sending food back in a restaurant or wearing flowery patterns. But here’s the thing. I need help…to learn to ask for help! I recently embarked on the most terrifying, anwer-to-prayer passion project of my life, a project that I hope to be the first of many. And in the last 2 months as I have struggled to fit the rest of my overfull life around accomodating this big dream I realised, sadly, terrifyingly, that I needed help. I wish I needed to have a root canal. I wish I needed to have ducks tunnel into my scull with their beaks. I wish I needed to look after a spoilt 2 year old on a sugar high. I would rather have to do any of those things instead of having to ask for help. Is it just me?
So I’ve analysed it and here is what I have so far:
Normally when we don’t want to do something or struggle to bring ourselves to do something it’s because we think it’s going to be bad for us. Here is why we don’t want to ask for help:
Our story: We all have one. Maybe in yours, like in mine, you where praised for being independent and strong as child, or maybe in yours, like in mine, there where seasons where you realised that you needed to be responsible beyond your years because there was no one else to do what needed to be done. Family of origin can influence whether we see letting people in and asking for help as a part of normal life or as a sign of weakness, whether we view not needing anything from anyone as a definition of our value or whether we view needing help from others as being not at all connected to our sense of self. Or we may have been brought up to believe that asking for help is a weakness.
Being told you don’t actually need help: Sometimes when we try to ask for help, the response we get is one of a reframed perspective. Sometimes what we really need is a reframed perspective so yay! But sometimes what we need is help. Like, actual help. Sometimes the person we ask just ends up telling us why we shouldn’t see this as an actual problem, or telling us to just get over it. Sure, we all need a “put your big girl panties on” kinda talk from time to time, but if you’re anything like me, those panties are kinda the only ones you got and so when you do ask for help it’s usually not because you need to “woman up” to something, or because you need a pep talk, it’s because you do actually need help. But these ironically unhelpful responses to us reaching out for assistance can be the thing that keeps us from doing it again in the future.
Fear of being judged: We want to appear to be self reliant and independent. That is the be all and end all and shame on us if we appear to be dropping some balls am I right?
Fear of rejection: I don’t want to ask because what if they say no.
Pride: Pride is insidious and tricky to spot. My husband likes to call pride the “sin behind the sin”. It hides in all kinds of respectable and justifyable places. So let me save you some time and tell you what I figured out:
am covering up my shortcomings = pride
feel an offer of help is an insult to my capabilities and it makes me prickly and hard to serve = pride
am embarrassed and ashamed at being an inconvenience to someone when they offer to help me = pride
Needing helpforces us to admit to our shortcomings and vulnerability and exposes the lie that we have it all together – one we thought all the while everyone believed. Sure, I can call out to the Lord, He already knows I am weak and wobly. But other people don’t. I would like God on my side as my superpower behind the scenes, all the while hoping everyone thinks I am a super mom. You know like when you take all your Le Creuset dishes over to Olivia’s and they put the ready-made food right in there and you present it as your own to your dinner guests! I secretly love it when people say, I don’t know how she does it, voices tinged with awe, but mostly with envy. I know. I’m bad. But I don’t think I’m the only one!
Fear of reciprocity: I have a sibling who literally has a mortal fear of reciprocity. He can think of nothing worse than “ someone doing him a favour” and so he never asks for any. Isn’t it funny how we often measure our relationship interactions almost in an economic way. I think it’s called transactional interdependence. Also, IF we generally say yes too easily and regret it afterwards (in other words do not guard our words and motives) we are hyper aware that someone else might be similarly motivated and don’t want them to be put in that position where they can’t say no. Twisted right? And I think it’s kinda sad for us, as a human race.
Because it’s just hard ok: like I said, maybe not for everyone, but certainly for introverts. It just takes so much energy, all that explaining and answering questions, all that interacting. It seems so overwhelmingly exhausting that I’d just as soon avoid it all together.
We are all adults here, I am not trying to convince you of the benefits of kale or colonoscopies or anything, so let’s just keep this in perspective. What if I told you (and myself) that asking for help is a good thing? What if I told you what you’d be missing out on by refusing to ask for help if you need it?
Here is why it’s good to (learn to/ force yourself to) ask for help:
Because we develop courage: Vulnerability is truly brave and thanks to Brene Brown it’s also the new black. It takes allot of self-awareness and understanding to ask for help. That is not weakness ya’ll. That is courageous. It means we are aware of our strengths and our abilities and where their limits lie. That is why God said to Paul to write this down:
“My grace is always more than enough for you, and my power finds its full expression through your weakness.”
“So I will celebrate my weaknesses, for when I am weak I sense more deeply the might power of Christ living in me.” (2 Cor 12 v 9 TPT)
Because we develop community: Our recognition of the boundary of our strength in asking for help also means our recognition of the skills and strengths of others. When we ask for help we give someone an opportunity to use their strengths, to collaborate and pool resources with us, resulting in a stronger whole. How often do we say we value authenticity but we are not authentic. Because are we not most authentic when we admit to areas where we need help? Could our strong sense of independence and our preference for pretence be the reason why we struggle to develop significant
community? God wired us to need connection, to need each other. Actually refusing to ask for help stifles community. If we are not good at asking for help, we are likely not great at giving it. This is because we see other people not as they really are, but as we really are, and that drives how we relate to them. If we find our own need for help as unacceptable, we will project that same orientation onto someone else, hardening ourselves against their need the way we’ve hardened ourselves against our own.
Because we all need feedback: Feedback is good. We have to let people in. In his book PEAK, K Anders Ericsson explores the process whereby people gain expertise and become excellent. He proposes that the process of deliberate practice is the key to superior performance and one of the building blocks of deliberate practice is feedback.
Because rejection won’t kill you:I’m serious. When we ask for help and the answer is no, we need to remember that the answer is a no to our question, not a no over us as people. We tend to over personalise rejection way too much, making very”no” a definition of us instead of a response to our request or the outcome of a situation. What if the person we asked didn’t have the resources, whether mental or emotional to assist us? NO is a full sentence and just as much as we need to learn to say it we need to learn to hear it and be ok with it.
Because, reality: I know you are amazing at lots of stuff, in reality you are not amazing at everything IN. THE. WORLD. None of us know everything about everything. You are not Google. And none of us possess every skill in the world. We don’t expect that from other people, why do we expect it from ourselves.
Because, progress: Progress is good. Needing help and being unable to ask for it leaves us stuck – trapped in our own heads. Sometimes that is the one thing that is the blockage to the flow towards resolution or completion, whether the help you need is with a project or a problem. The relief of realising there is help available frees you up towards progress.
I know how hard this is Momma, for me it’s almost paralyzing. But we can’t fully realise our potential in any given calling or area if we refuse to draw on the help God offers us through others, just like limbs in the body need each other. He kinda planned it that way I heard! We not only deprive ourselves, but also others of the blessing and the redemptive work that being in service to each other brings about in us.
God is always working. If God is moving you into accepting a new challenge or opportunity and preparing something in you, could He not also be preparing someone else to assist you? Don’t miss God’s goodness and help because you are relying too much on your own!
I have a friend that everything comes easy for. Doesn’t everyone? That one girl who just (looks like she) breezes through life, hair that requires no blowdrying, a figure that doesn’t require calorie restriction, kids who require no bribing or threatening, a confidence that doesn’t require herculean effort and all the things/ opportunities/ experiences/ achievements I wish where a part of my life. Can you relate?
We have never been faced with more temptation to envy others than today! We know we shouldn’t give in to it, that God isn’t cool with it and that entertaining envy does not your best life make. And yet, we are not as on our guard as we should be as we assess (judge?) the lives of others and we harbour and hide thousands of tiny resentments towards others and ultimately towards God about the comparisons we are inevitably drawing. Because that is what envy is, “a feeling of discontentment and resentment aroused by another’s desirable possessions or qualities, accompanied by a strong desire to have them for oneself”. Can anyone say: “I want what she’s having!”?
I struggle with this. So much so that I had to work out some anchor points for my own weary soul that I would easily remember when my green-eyed frenemy rears its head! In those moments I need some basic tools to steady my heart and direct my thoughts.
See more clearly what you hold dearly
When you clicked to open this blog you had a particular person in mind. Someone you experience a funny twinge in your heart over. I know you don’t want to call it envy, but that is straight up what it is. I think sometimes we walk with something below the surface for so long and we never call it into the light, name it and shame it. And that is why it continues to hold sway and privately shame us.
Once we get honest about envy, the upside is that we are taking an opportunity to look with greater honesty at the condition of our hearts. Envy can bring to the surface that which we would’ve otherwise kept hidden from ourselves and God, deep desires, hopes, dreams, wishes, beliefs that maybe we’ve never even been brave enough to verbalise.
What we envy is a revelation of what we covet.
Ps 37 v 4 God gives a promise, “Make God the utmost delight and pleasure of your life, and he will provide you what you desire most”
When we rest in the promises the rest will follow.
God can give this promise because he knows that if our delight is in the right place (with Him, coveting Him above everything) our desires will be aligned as well. Because when we put Him as the object of our delight, what we desire will no longer be in competition with our affections for Him in our lives, and then “all these things will be added unto us”(Matt 6 v 33). The Bible actually makes amazing promises about what God will gift into the lives of those who make Him their object of delight and desire. Just check out Rom 8v 32/ 1 Cor 3 v 21 – 23.
When envy’s at the table, love is not able
“ Love is large and incredibly patient. Love is gentle and consistently kind to all. It refuses to be jealous when blessing comes to someone else. Love does not brag about one’s achievements nor inflate its own importance. Love does not traffic in shame and disrespect, nor selfishly seek its own honor.” 1 Cor 14 v 4- 5 TPT
Let’s be brutally honest here. You can kind of talk yourself out of envying strangers. It’s a bit removed from your life and you don’t feel directly affected by it. But it’s harder when it’s someone you are journeying with. Because the things you envy about that person is more in your face, the opportunities for comparison more consistent. Plus you care more and feel more personally affected by it as you compare her life to yours.
And when you do that, right then, you are no longer able to rejoice when she is rejoicing (too resentful to rejoice) or empathize when she is sad (because you’re happy that finally, something in her charmed life is less than ideal. Please, don’t look so shocked!).
Right then, you judge whatever you can find to judge so you can feel like at least a tiny bit like you’re a Christian, wife, mom, whatever than her.
Right then, you can no longer be in her life what she needs OR who God called you to be.
If you have a friendship where envy has been given a seat at the table, ultimately love loses and leaves. And pretty soon, if left unchecked, envy will invite malice and slander to join in to poison your heart and your friendship. And then the devil wins. I don’t want that for my friendships, do you?
When we see her as God’s creation, envy can turn to admiration
Because for all our talk of tribe and gathering and sisterhood we are all still really terrible at cheering instead of jeering, we all still battle to support other women wholeheartedly and well and honestly and authentically wishing our sisters success. For all our lipservice to the contrary, we as women remain our own biggest enemy, the self-sabotage of our own collective efforts. We are all those people and isn’t it tragic! Even more tragic for the girls we are raising!
When we envy someone, we will not, cannot acknowledge their significance and the part they are playing in God’s story. Ironically we also lose sight of our significance and our part in the story! But being genuinely happy for someone and invested in them is very freeing. The best way to do that is to
Pray for that person. It’s very hard to harden your heart towards someone you are praying for.
Actively be happy for the women in your tribe. Hand out likes, hugs, compliments and support like there is more than enough to go around, because there is. Do it like it’s your job! Because it is!
Ask God to help you see them the way He sees them. He calls us to “ regard no one in the flesh” (2 Cor 5 v 16). Holding on to God’s picture of her, will help you see her through the lens of grace.
“Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit, let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.” Gal 5 v 25 – 26
God is faithful, focus on being grateful
Ultimately, envy is a faith issue. Because we are looking at what someone else has and we are “believing” that we need that as well in order to be fully satisfied. At the root of envy is unbelief, because as we look at someone else’s life with envy we begin to lose our trust in God, our peace in our circumstances and our contentment. So ultimately it’s an expression of discontent in what we have and where we are at and a distrust that God has a plan for us. Contentment counteracts envy. This is why the Psalmist in Psalm 37 (v3 – 6) maps a path out of envy by encouraging us to:
Keep trusting God
Ponder His Faithfulness
Fix your heart on His Promises
Get validation and approval from Him
Be honest with Him in prayer (ummm, see point1)
Own your space, run your race
Envy derails us and defiles us (Mark 7 v 20 – 23) warping our perspective and stealing our potential because we are too busy focussing on what is happening in someone else’s life. Life is no longer a journey with others, but a flat-out competition. On the outside, you might still be wearing the mask of friendship, but on the inside, even subconsciously, this person is no longer journeying with you but racing against you. And you are losing. And human nature, when we feel ourselves at the wrong end of the balance of power in a situation, is to try to restore the balance in a twisted attempt to help ourselves feel better. And soon you find yourself in a sick cycle of comparison, envy, bitterness, discontentment. Not focussing on your calling, not pursuing your purpose, not nurturing your passion, not owning where God’s placed you or the race before you. Don’t let envy steal your energy. We are all responsible for where our zeal, our passion, our energy goes. God’s zeal, his passion, is always for bringing about His purposes. Our zeal should be for the fulfillment of our calling, which is to make Him known. When our eyes are on what someone else is doing, it’s not on the work that is in front of us, and our energy leaks away!
“Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you’ve been given and then sink yourself into that (devote yourself to that!). Don’t be impressed with yourself, don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.” Gal 6 v 4 – 5
Devotion to your calling is a weapon against the distraction of envy
Whatever we envy in others we are unfit to carry ourselves, but what we honor and celebrate in others we position ourselves to receive – Lisa Bevere
If you want to be free, bend a knee
Every battle starts in prayer ya’ll. When we confess our sins He is faithful and just. When we confess our true desires that is causing envy in us, He is not surprised and His heart is always tender towards us. Envy enslaves and afflicts – but God is always fighting to keep our lives free. Join the fight by getting on your knees. It’s my prayer for all of us as women to start being the cheerleaders that we all need
Mother Teresa said when we are busy judging people, we don’t have time to love them. Maybe, just maybe, we can all believe together Mommas, that when we are busy (as in actively engaging in) loving one another, maybe we won’t have time to be so judgy?
It was one of those typical “gym bunny” T-shirts. It read: It doesn’t get easier, you just get stronger.
It made me wonder, am I too old to roll my eyes at her? (often at the gym it takes all my considerable strength of character not to be annoyed with people. And their outfits. I’m sorry. Kind of.) It also made me wonder, ok so I know it’s true about exercise, but is it true about life?
Do you sometimes feel under a lot of pressure? Do you sometimes find the pace of your life straight up dizzying? It’s like there is just so much to do and be and get to, and remember, and on top of that so much pressure to make it seem easy and not at all messy and to serve it all up with a smile that reaches all the way to our eyes! And that’s just everyday life, that’s not even when things go wrong as they so often do. Because in between the “standard” pressures of being and doing and giving and going and providing and achieving and solving and fixing and responding that life seems to be made up of, very often a fun cocktail of circumstances, my sin, the sin of others, people, their expectation, did I mention people, and bad timing all conspire to derail this very fast moving train that is your life.
The Bible has lots to say about “pressure”. The word used in scripture denotes the crushing of grapes or olives to produce something useful, precious and lasting – i.e wine and olive oil. You often find this word in the company of other fun words like trial, affliction, suffering, and trouble. So as one continuing to hold on to the promise that God is for me, working all things for my good, and one continuing to hold out for meaning in even the most mundane or maddening parts of my life, I decided to look a little deeper, because surely there has to be some method in the madness of all this pressure!
Pressure has a process: I recently watched a reality TV programme with my boys called “The Forge”. Because when you have boys you end up watching some weird stuff on TV! The science of stupid anyone? This particular one was about blade-smiths (people who make swords and knives and stuff. No worries, I didn’t know that either). I watched a guy banging on a piece of metal and heating it up until it was glowing red hot, and then he plunged it into icy cold water, using a scientific method called “drenching”. Under these extreme conditions of temperature and yes, you guessed it, pressure, the metal becomes stronger, unbreakable. Which is what you want if you are making a sword.
The intention of the process is always to strengthen us, and the dichotomy of it all is that we are strengthened only once we understand our own weakness. Because sometimes what feels like the flat out breaking of you, is actually the making of you.
The process has a purpose:
“The crucible is for silver and the furnace is for gold, but the Lord tests the heart” Proverbs 17 v 3
When gold or silver is purified, the heat brings the impurities to the surface. That is the purpose of the process of refining. So let’s get brutally honest here for a minute. Us girls are all willfully independent and for the most part extremely capable. It takes a lot for us to experience pressure. We all, to varying degrees (yes A types I am talking to ya’ll) experience an immense internal pressure to control everything, fix everything, know everything, do everything perfectly, be all things to all people. In other words, the pressure to be God. So in a way, a lot of our perceived pressure is internal. That’s the bad news. The good news is the pressure to be all things to all people is an opportunity to learn who God really is (the one who actually is all things to all people, the who works all things for good) and who we are (not that!). Sometimes we are trying so hard to control things that are not within our control, and the pressure that desire causes is actually for the purpose of helping us realise we are not God and we can’t do His job, or our own without His help.
When we learn to rest in Christ we learn to let go of our vain attempt to be God. So when we experience pressure through different circumstances in our lives the purpose of them is actually to rid us of these divine delusions.
The impurity that must be burned out of me is most of the time my pride. And when the heat is turned up and I experience pressure, that is what bubbles to the surface. Because really, how will I ever learn to trust on, lean on, rely on God without the pressures and trails that crowd me to Him?
The pressure has a product:
God purifies that which is precious to Him. And incase you’re still not up to speed, that’s you. YOU are precious to Him!
“You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows it’s true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well developed, not defficient in any way. (James 3. v 3-4 MSG)
In the pressures you are experiencing today, be they internal or external, God is bringing forth something new. That’s kind of His jam. Like silver, like gold, like diamonds, these shaping challenges are intended to reveal in you that which was always there. God uses pressure, not as a destructive force like a forest fire, burning up everything and leaving smokey destruction behind. The Refiners fire purifies, burns away the impurities, making that which remains more valuable, durable, precious. Aren’t you glad God doesn’t abandon us in our impurity, that He promises we will go through the fire but not be burnt up (Is 43 v 2), not even have the smell of smoke on us!
So right now, as you face that pressure, that person, that deadline, that demand that threatens to push you over the edge, trust in the purifying mercy of God, don’t doubt His expertise as a refiner. Remember that even if what is happening right now feels like a bad idea, a detour, an unpleasant challenge or unwelcome interruption, if it has the potential to align you with Christ (and it always does), the process is always meaningful. Because not only will a new picture of God emerge as we yield, but the even braver, even stronger, even more authentic us will too.
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