Tuesday, April 22, 2014

"It's Just a Game"

We love games.  With games, my children have learned to take turns (Candyland), to do addition (Yahtzee), to spell (Quiddler), to understand numerical values (Racko), to increase vocabulary (Scrabble), to carefully remember (Maask), to keep a stiff upper lip in defeat (Othello), to win graciously (Sorry), to keep hope because fortunes can change quickly (Chutes and Ladders), to think ahead (Chess), to think way ahead (Life), to describe (Catch Phrase), to see patterns (SET), to communicate in pictures (Pictionary) and actions (Charades), to understand a bit of capitalism (Monopoly) and authoritarianism (Mao), and to deduce (Guess Who).  

This week I played a game of Quirkle with my 9 year old daughter.  We kept the tally of points and at the end of the game she added them after I left to take a phone call.  The next morning I saw the tally paper on the floor and thought, "I wonder who won?"  And my next thought was, "It really doesn't matter who won."  It matters that we were together, enjoyed each other, developed and maintained character, grew and connected.

And then the thought that was more like an awakening came:

"Yes, it's just a game...in your life too." 

And that was about more than Quirkle...

Do you recall as a child having that sinking feeling when you started to lose?  That feeling that made you want to quit or cry or pout or cheat? Do you ever get that same foreboding, sinking feeling as an adult when your lot isn't adding up as you had hoped?  

And do you recall that victorious feeling you had as a child when you realized that no one could catch up with you in a game? Perhaps that same feeling of victory over others buoys you now, but you sense its tenuousness. 

Those feelings come from playing "the game."

But behind "the game" is a deeper reality that we too often miss when our eyes and hearts are focused on the game.  The veil that blinds us to the deeper place gets removed when, for example, a diagnosis of cancer comes:  suddenly bank accounts, fashions, homes, trophies, and ranks matter little.  Suddenly relationships are supreme. Character matters. Thoughts of God become highly practical.  And reportedly, living "in the moment," and experiencing gratitude and joy becomes possible in a way that is elusive to most of us.   

I want to live in the reality that is beyond the game, before cancer strikes.  If I get that sinking feeling, let me recall, "It's just a game."  It is not what is most real.  I want to habitually see beyond the game, to the relationships, the character, the light of God Who Is.  

And a word about our children.  What percentage of their lives is being lived in the game?  While games can teach valuable skills, living a whole life immersed in intense competition does not effectively develop good character, does not train children to see and know what is Real, and does not give children a secure sense of self.  That bedrock is laid in the settled assurance that they are unconditionally and sacrificially loved by someone (Someone) who is good, who is with them and delights in them, and who is committed to their growth and long-term well being, not just their winning.  

In fact, I think this is the beauty of children playing games with their parents.  Children instinctively know that with Mom and Dad it really isn't about the winning and losing; it's about time and joy and relationship.  It is a safe place.  The game is obviously "just for fun," because "Mom couldn't possibly love me less if I lose."  

Dear God, let me see the game for what it is.  Sometimes pleasurable, a training ground, a necessary pursuit, but not the deepest reality.  Keep the veil rent so I can see beyond the game to what is Real. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Grace -- Opposed to Earning, Not to Effort

I got grace.  Nearly 30 years ago I came home to a beautiful realization of God's love and forgiveness which washed over me.  Jesus had already done what I never could.  He was real and able and willing to swap my mess and performance for his real goodness.  I was freed from a burden of guilt and shame -- like the song says, it was both amazing and sweet.

Since then, I've been trying to live in that grace.  And that has been a bumpier road for me, with potholes as deep as my to-do list.

This spring a friend gave a book to me and this quote has been bouncing in my head ever since:

"Grace is opposed to earning; but not to effort."

Nearly 30 years ago it sunk in that I couldn't earn my way to God or to salvation.  To try would be like trying to swim to Hawaii.  No go.  But only this year am I figuring out that whenever I try to earn approval from someone or from God, I step outside of the ways of grace and try to find a security that has already been given in Christ.   And only this year am I figuring out that effort, on the other hand, is very much compatible with grace...

A motorhome and houseguests...

I recently returned home on a Sunday evening from an all-school camping trip with my daughter.  My husband and boys had remained in the mountains to continue some great Colorado fishing.  I had a motorhome to unpack, its kitchen and bathroom and floors to clean, emails and calls to return, a messy house, and guests arriving within 24 hours who would need fresh sheets and food.  (A typical day!)  I went to work.  I put forth effort, actually with gratitude for a great weekend, with a sense of satisfaction in knowing clearly what I needed to do, and with gladness that I had the physical ability to do it.  I had joy (really!) in the work, pleasure in seeing the disorganized and dirty become organized and clean, and anticipation for the dear friends about to visit.

And then a thought came to my mind. "Wouldn't my husband be impressed by how much I was getting done?"  And the NEXT THOUGHT was:  "Grrr, he isn't here to help me.  He is off lolly-gagging on a fishing stream while I am working."  As soon as I started to perform for him, I stepped out of the realm of grace, and I stopped giving grace.  I did the very same work, but with a completely different heart.  Gone was the lift of gratitude, peace, and joy of doing the next thing in fellowship with Christ.  Instead was the weight of striving, resentment, and the desire to control.  "See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up." Heb. 12:15

Thankfully, this time I saw the choice in the moment, and was actually able to refocus my attention to (mostly) move back to the gratitude and grace where I had begun the evening.   Here is the holy habit I want to develop: to regularly put forth effort in communion with God, and to stop being motivated to perform by earning approval.  

School days and D.O.G.s...

I attended mostly public schools as I grew up in California, with a couple "Christian" schools tossed in. They were pretty much like the public schools, but with God talk and guilt replacing the worst swear words. Same basic behaviorist system in each:  you do well, you get a treat (star, sticker, grade, happy chair, etc.); you do poorly, you get punished (demerit, name on board, bad grade, sent to principal).  You play the game well and you get patted on the head, a "Good Girl;" you play the game poorly, and you might hide, make up your own game, or quit in truancy.

One school my son attended for a short time even gave "dog treats" when kids were good, and had a "dog house" for when they were bad. This took all illusion away from what was really going on.  And the sign that suggested that D.O.G. stood for "Depend on God" did not change students' view of the system; though it may have changed students' view of God.   My son came home and asked, "Mom, why are they treating us like dogs?"  Good question, son!

I think the answer is fear.  How else will children put forth effort if they are not motivated (manipulated) by constantly earning?   I wonder if deep down we fear that the materialists are right, that our children are really animals to be controlled?  Maybe we have forgotten that they are persons who have God-given desires to know, to explore, to create, to see beauty, to worship in awe, to connect, to ponder, to grow, and to rejoice in a challenging job well done.

Here I would love to insert an observation day at my children's school where students grow to put forth amazing effort, sustained attention, and diligence, without an external "treat" in sight.  Work is seen as a gift of God and they learn to "work well, regardless of variables."  (Also called steadfastness, a sign of maturity.)  They become motivated intrinsically rather than extrinsically, and that motivation goes with them after the scaffolding of school structures have been removed.   How they do this is for another blog, but suffice it here to note that effort can and does take place apart from earning.   And where effort is exerted under grace, rather than earning based in fear or pride, the stage is set for joy, peace and "the holy emotion of gratitude" to have free play, and little space is left for anxiety.

The grace excuse; the challenge of effort...

"Oh, there is grace for that." "We are under grace, so we don't have to do anything." While grace is opposed to earning, it is not opposed to effort.  So I'm also trying to let excuses fall away.  When we co-labor with Christ we choose a yoke.  We are no longer heavy-laden, but we are also not asleep in the field.  His burden is easy when we are connected to him, but he is plowing and he is going somewhere.  This passage shows the dynamic tension of unearned grace and good deeds of his choosing:

"For it is by grace that you are saved, through faith.  This does not depend on anything you have achieved, it is the free gift of God; and because it is not earned no man can boast about it.  For God has made us what we are, created in Christ Jesus to do those good deeds which he planned for us to do." Eph. 2:8-10.

Earning vs. pleasing:

Here is what I'm pondering now...Trying to earn God's approval is an affront to grace, but seeking to please God by my actions is good.  Where lies the difference?  Earning tries to fill a gaping hole and has fear at its core.  Whereas pleasing overflows from gratitude, wholeness and the joy of communion with God.   Christ never had to earn his Father's approval; at all times he was the "beloved Son" with whom the Father was "well pleased."   Pleasing has the "chivalrous temper of proud submission and dignified obedience." C. Mason

Help me "get it," Lord.  I want to walk through my days giving forth effort and bringing pleasure to you; rather than trying to fearfully earn approval or avoid shame from those I meet.  May my habit be dignified obedience to You, the Audience of One, the One who has graciously given us grace.  

Friday, May 31, 2013

What I Learned at My Son's Graduation

Today our firstborn dons the cap and gown.  He towers over me, fully a man outside and in.  As I set pictures out for the celebration we will throw, and see the baby I brought home, whose diaper was the first I ever changed, and the boy who his whole life has had to endure first-time parents learning and experimenting on him.  This day I reflect on what I have learned these 18 years...
  • A child is a person, not a competition.  I recall playgroup conversations about growth rates, developmental milestones, academic achievements, and I realize now how our tendency to view a child as a pawn to compete with others diminishes their unique value as a person.  They are more than can be measured; their value is intrinsic and is God-given and sacred.
  • My job is not to control, but to gently lead.  As a new mom I felt responsible for everything my child did, and for his whole world.  With the perspective of time, I see that less concrete words like guidance, mentoring, and nurturing better fit with raising a person.  
  • The outer is less important than the inner.  Whether the shirt is properly ironed or the floor picked up is less important than the tone toward a sibling or an attitude toward life.
  • God makes the person, I merely have the privilege to participate in co-creation.  Somehow I began with an illusion that I was making this person, that I could take credit (or blame) for who he became.  Then I had additional children, and realized that "they are who they are," and we can only help to shape in small degrees these persons whom God has created.
  • Parenting is spiritual work and I need to look deeper.  With only my human capabilities, parenting would be overwhelming and defeating.  But when I pray amidst frustrations, I find spiritual breakthroughs.
  • The darkest times are often the portals to light, and repeated painful pangs often precede new birth.  I can trust rather than despair.  I have been surprised by the joy that follows hopelessness.  God is at work and there is more than my eyes can see.
  • I will be surprised by what my children will become.  My sweet toddler is becoming an engineer.  That kindergartener who first walked through the doors of Ambleside School now delights in feeding the homeless, fills our home with worship through piano and song, and played in the state tournament in basketball -- who knew?  What surprises await us?
  • There is joy in watching my child surpass me.  I couldn't do many things he has -- it is a pleasure to watch a person unfold and be more than the sum of his parents.
  • God loves my child more than I do.  Sometimes that means they will hurt in ways I cannot help, so only Christ can meet their needs.  Broken heart, disappointments -- they also are beyond my control; only God's love is sufficient.  Maybe that's the point.
  • He must increase and I must decrease.  I sat in a Senior Presentation where my son honored those who have made a difference in his high school years.   I did not know many of the 50 people present.   I was part of that event, but only a small part, and in his next stage of life my part will be smaller still.  This is the letting go, the giving of wings.  I must do it gracefully and gratefully.  
Go with God, my son.  Make good use of the wings you have been given.  Treasure your roots. Your father and I couldn't be more grateful this day.  

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Women: Life-Givers

A significant factor in the longevity of men...is being married to a woman.  
A significant factor in the longevity of women...is having close female friendships.  

I giggled a giggle that smacked of female superiority when I first heard this conclusion from research noted in The Tending Instinct, by Shelley E. Taylor.  But then I began to mull, "Why is that?" "What does that mean for my life?" "Why are relationships with women linked to longevity for both men and women?"

As I pondered, the meaning of the name "Eve" came to mind: "Life-Giver."  Could it be that God designed women to "give life" not just physically through childbearing, but in other ways?  Am I doing that?  Am I receiving "life" from other women?  Is there something we have lost as a culture that needs to be regained?  

Shortly thereafter, I had a talk with my husband about stress -- his and mine.  While excessive stress isn't good for anyone, (warning: sexist statement to follow) we concluded that our home works better when he is under too much stress than when I am under too much stress. 

What he said surprised me:  "When things are terrible at the office, and it is the end of the quarter, and the numbers aren't there, and the pressures are overwhelming, if I know I have a supportive wife to come home to, and if romance awaits there, it's all OK.  I can slug through whatever I need to, because I have you."

But then he added this: "But when you are under undue stress, and you come home, there is no helping you. Even if we help on the homefront to ease your burden, it seems we don't have what it takes to ease your stress."

It is true!  And my husband is wonderful. But when I bring stress home, it doesn't leave me -- I just feel added stress that I'm not spending enough time with the children, not nurturing my husband, not getting things done well, not being what I was meant to be.  I'm not happy and "ain't nobody happy."  I am all "to do," and lack life for myself or for anyone else. 

What helps?  I could insert some deeply spiritual statement here, and many would be apt, but... it's funny how a walk with a friend helps. A phone conversation with a supportive mother/sister/friend helps.  A deep connection with a life-giver helps.  A cup of tea with the right kind of woman (see Titus 2) gives perspective, direction, connection, conviction, inspiration, example, joy -- life to me.

Now I begin to see my power and my responsibility and my desire.  Life-giver.  I am the flesh-and-blood 'life-giver' for my family.  (And I'd like to remain the only one.)  If my family seems sapped of life, I need to look in the mirror. I sense the need to re-order my life so that what I do does not overwhelmingly stress me, suck the life out of me.  Because then everyone starves.  

One indicator of my health in this regard is whether I have time for female friends who give life to me.  If I can occasionally take the time to walk with a friend or have a deep conversation with a life-giving woman, I am more likely to have the energy to give life to my family.  A national survey from 2006 found a sharp decline in friendships. Research co-author Lynn Smith-Lovin, a sociologist at Duke University said, "From a social point of view, it means you've got more people isolated."  That means life-starved women and life-starved families.

As with so many things, Scripture from ancient days is confirmed psychologically and sociologically today.  God's truths are not only spiritual, they are "made flesh".  And this particular truth is "made flesh" today in our homes when over-stressed women cannot give to their families the life they desperately need.  And, now and then, we see it beautifully "made flesh" when a woman's soul is nourished and overflows and delights to impart life to those around her.  (I can count these women on my fingers -- and in my heart!)

Oh, let that be me.  What needs to change in my life so I can give life?  (Recognizing that, at times, the options for change seem few indeed.) May it be said of me, "she makes the hard choices so that she has life to give," "she overflows with life for others," "she can laugh at the days to come."  (Pr. 31:25)  

(Notes: Christ is the ultimate life-giver, and marriage relationships can also be life-giving.  This purpose of this article is not to discount those sources, but rather to explore the particular way that God uses women bring life to others.  Also, please avoid using these thoughts to beat up a spouse, "If only he would give me a break;" "If only she brought more life to our home." -- instead please ponder whether any still, small Voice is speaking gentle truth to your heart. )  


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Striving or Abiding

This Thanksgiving I went home.  I spent time with my 89 year old mother, who continues to 'say goodbye' to friends and abilities and pleasures.  I spent time with someone precious to me who has just been diagnosed with breast cancer, and is considering all that may entail.  I saw friends who are letting go of children as they leave for college, and others who are grappling with financial losses.  It dawned on me that I am entering a time in life when the "facade" of ever climbing and achieving is beginning to crack and crumble, and those whose well-being is placed in "success" are being disappointed.

And I have a choice to make:  I can strive (ever harder).  Or I can abide.

Striving is, of course, the most natural thing to do, and the most 'American':  "Go for it."  "Just do it."  "Be all you can be."  "Pull yourself up by your bootstraps."  It actually embodies much of what I value and love about my country, my upbringing, my life.  I came of age with Ronald Reagan in the White House, prosperity abounding, the Soviet Union falling, real estate prices soaring, grand opportunities for young women.  I grabbed the brass ring whenever I could -- an MBA, a mountain of moguls, a Capitol Hill career.  But I'm beginning to see cracks in the foundation of the shining edifice of achievement.   Inevitably must come the "letting go" of all that I can build, buy, attain, achieve, as it is swallowed up -- finally, by death itself.

All this sounds a bit depressing until I lay down my "striving" glasses and put on "abiding" ones. If I change my goal to abiding -- with Jesus Christ, and with others -- then I will ultimately gain fullness and real relationship rather than loss.  Even death itself will only bring me face to face with the object of my supreme affection.  Only in abiding rather than in striving do these passages begin to make sense:
  • "...make it your ambition to lead a quiet life."  1 Thes. 4:11
  • “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in youyou will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing."  John 15:5
  • "that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you." John 17: 21
My dictionary defines 'abide' as to "continue without fading or being lost.  Live, dwell."  What would  abiding look like in my life? 
  • Living with Christ, where he is invited to dwell in and transform my thoughts, anxieties, etc.
  • Time with Jesus, to gain His heart, His perspective, His direction for my day and my life.
  • Walking 'in step' with the Spirit - not ahead, not behind.
  • Actions done out of 'glad surrender' to Christ, dependent on Him, with His energy behind it.
  • Unhurried time with family and friends, where it is "good to be me, here with you." 
  • Forgoing of my agenda; seeking of His.  
  • Trust in Jesus for fulfillment and results, rather than in myself.
  • Love and value of others as persons rather than seeing them as a means to achieving my goals.
  • More romance with my husband, as 'one flesh' means abiding with him.
  • Worship, humility, vulnerability.
And, what lies/fears must be blown away about abiding?  
  • That I will become lazy, get nothing done, and that my needs will not be met.  
  • That God is not fully real, involved, good, trustworthy, powerful or "for" me.
  • That if I'm not stressed out, I'm not doing enough.
  • That others will think poorly of me for not doing enough.
  • That I "am" what I "do", vs. that I "am" a fully accepted and loved child of God. 
The truth:  Christ was perfectly loved by and one with the Father.  He got everything done that the Father sent him to do.  It did not look particularly "successful" from a human perspective -- no earthly throne, riches, sustained popularity, but instead death on a cross, with all His followers scattered.  He simply abided and obeyed:  "The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.  Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me."  Through the cross and Christ's deep impact on a relatively small group of people, God's will was accomplished and the world was turned upside down.  Small was big.  Death was overcome by Life.  

And this same Jesus who is gracious, loving, and on my side, is my model and my savior who "pulls me up into the freedom of grace."*

"Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it."  Math. 10:39

Lord, let me lose my "striving" life by abiding in you.  In abiding with you, Lord, I receive Your life, real life, abundant life, life that overflows to others, life which does not end.  

*Thank you for this phrase, Lorna Armani.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

'Appearing Good' vs. 'Being Good'

The other day I intended to wash my car before meeting a friend for lunch.  My car had the effects of four children and a dog and a weekend in the mountains, and my friend is always immaculate, with a beautifully maintained vehicle.  But then the call came.  One of my children needed a ride and a talk – during what would have been my car-washing time.  What to do?  It seems I face choices like this all the time…Do I get my shaggy hair cut or help someone in need?  Do I clean my house to perfection or play a game with my daughter who is hungry for some 'Mommy time'?  Do I make an impressive meal for company or choose a simple alternative so I won’t be snapping at my children in the process?  

So often, the choice I must make is between that which appears good and that which actually is good; between the "sizzle" and the "steak."  The “sizzle” is enticing, but the “steak” is what actually nourishes.  The “sizzle” appears good; but the “steak” is good.  

Today I was reading the last chapter of Galatians where Paul discusses the pressure some Christians were under to be circumcised in order to please their peers.  Paul states:  “They want to present a pleasing front to the world and they want to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ... But they want you circumcised so that they may be able to boast about your submission to their ruling.  Yet God forbid that I should boast about anything or anybody except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, which means that the world is a dead thing to me and I am a dead man to the world.

The pull I feel to appear good is so that I look good to the world and avoid the shame of not “matching up”.  It is linked to the whole performance-oriented, justification by works, competitive system of the world.  But here Paul says I am to be as a “dead man to the world”, no longer part of the system of having to perform in order to be accepted.  Rather, I am to boast only in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, in whom I am fully justified.  He is the only source for any goodness I have or do. 

When my focus changes to actually being good because of HIS life in me and from a desire to please HIM, I find everything changes...

Fast to Slow.  “Appearing” is faster than “becoming.”  Real growth takes time, sacrifice, and struggle.  Compare the construction of a  “McMansion” with the skilled workmanship of a real one; or the time required to ‘cram’ for a test compared with the study necessary to really know material for a lifetime; or the results a fad diet compared with a real change in eating habits.   Most often, the slower path of "becoming" is the right one for me.

Bondage to Freedom.  That which makes me merely appear good tends to enslave me and make me compulsive.  My facades need to be constantly tended and propped up and they usually "rest" on a shaky foundation of fear; whereas that which is real is solid, lasting, and based on truth, which sets free.  I love the little line, 'Truth is your friend."  If I can make peace with the truth about me, my children, and the way things are (and, even more, with Truth Himself!), then I can live in freedom.  For example, when a new decade of my life arrives in a couple years, I can either expend lots of energy and money in trying to appear to be 25 (as if that was so great), or I can thank God for the gift of long life and ask Him how He would have me live well, with broadening joy, in the next decade of my life. 

External to Internal.  “A person is not built up from without but from within.” Charlotte Mason  “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”  1 Samuel 16:7  So, the question: Would this thing make me, or my children,  look better on the outside, or actually be better on the inside?  Am I expending my energies primarily on the outer trappings of life, or also considering the inner life of my family and my self?  For example, when we consider a  highly competitive extracurricular activity for our child, I need to ask whether it is primarily to make them (and me) look good?  Is it at the cost of the time they or other family members need to connect with family and friends, to be trained in habits, and to experience the leisure necessary to become a whole person? 

Flesh to Spirit.  “A man’s harvest in life will depend entirely on what he sows...  If he sows for his own lower nature his harvest will be the decay and death of his own nature.  But if he sows for the Spirit he will reap the harvest of everlasting life from that Spirit.  Let us not grow tired of doing good, for, unless we throw in our hand, the ultimate harvest is assured.”  Gal. 6: 8,9.   Silk flowers are showy but gather dust, whereas sowing seed is largely unseen.  But when we reap from that which is sown to please the Spirit we experience love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control; whereas our flesh tends to produce strife, jealousy, rivalry, and factions.  The Spirit tends toward unity; the flesh tends toward separation of God’s people from one another and from Him.  

Competition to Oneness.  Consider how difficult it is to really be friends with someone you envy or who envies you.  The trust necessary for friendship is eroded by that kind of competition.   Think how the messages all around us urge us to constantly "one up" one another, in sharp contrast to how Scripture continually urges us to "be one."    As I become good as He is good, my priority will become 'relationship' over merely 'winning.'  

Pride to Humility.  “Let every man learn to assess properly the value of his own work and he can then be rightly proud when he has done something worth doing, without depending on the approval of others.” Gal. 6:4.  Appearing good depends on the approval of man; being good seeks the approval of the “audience of One” and lets us “assess properly” in humility rather than being puffed up by the good we do.  All praise goes to God.

Remake me, Lord, to be good because You are good.  Remind me that I play for an audience of One.  Help me to lay at your feet my desire to appear a certain way.   Be my life, Lord, my joy, my all, my sufficiency.  Amen.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Growth, Hidden but Bountiful

Recently we had overnight guests in our home, an adult dinner, a board meeting.   The kids were pretty much left on their own.  My 7 year old daughter quietly interrupted to ask if she could use my Bible to memorize a little.  I said, "For school?" "No, just for fun," she responded.  I directed her to my nightstand.

Later I was tucking her into bed, where she lay with the Bible turned to the Psalms, and she read some verses out loud to me about David questioning God, and we talked about how honest he was in telling his feelings to God, how he cried out to God, and what he learned.  Then she read a few more verses silently and said eagerly, "Mommy, can I write in here?"  "Sure", I said, handing a pencil to her from her nightstand, "What do you want to mark?" And she said in her 7 year old way (she is in speech therapy to learn to say her "R" sound),
"...the Lowd has dealt bountifully with you."
The Lord, indeed, has dealt bountifully with her, and with me.

I am struck by how naturally that interaction transpired.  I did not need to dictate that she read or memorize so many verses a day... indeed, I was too distracted to do so!  Rather, I believe that her appetite was whetted by the intimacy with Bible reading and joy in memorization she experiences at school, and by the way she hears the Scriptures discussed around her.  She had the beautiful realization, that "Oh!  I can participate in this as well!  I'm old enough to understand it on my own!"  It was no chore, nothing was forced, but she was drawn into a deeper relationship with God by His word -- or more accurately -- she was drawn in to a deeper relationship with the word, by God.  And I had the blessing of realizing that I can trust God to draw her, as he drew me, to himself.

I have been struck lately how growth is so often hidden, and cannot be forced, but beautifully surprises us now and then.  We do things with our children to bring them along in maturity, but somehow, if we insist on forcing and exactly measuring the growth (in order for us to feel better), we corrupt, even kill, the very thing we seek.  

In the physical realm, we feed them healthy food and encourage exercise, but if we continually compare them to a growth chart or another child's performance or shape, we  make them self-conscious; rather, we simply go along doing the right things, and one day we are surprised when they are looking at us eye-to-eye, or when their pants come to their ankles, or when they zoom down a slope of moguls in front of us.

In the emotional realm, if I try to force them into maturity, I loose my patience at any failure.   I'm better off considering each failure as an opportunity to grow.   They will mess up.  Their friends will mess up.  It may get worse before it gets better.  But over time, with proper modeling, instruction, and adult relationships, they will come to increasing emotional maturity themselves, and one day I am delightfully surprised by a real apology, or a refusal to gossip, or a simple offer to serve.  My major contribution is how I model maturity in my response to disappointments, failures in others, apparent unfairness, etc.  

In the academic realm, is my focus on their "score" that makes me feel good, or not?  Or is it on the intellect being made more curious, the habit of diligence being forged, the interest in a new subject, the ability to endure through a difficult task, the delight of a skill newly mastered?   Sometimes the growth is obvious, sometimes it is hidden, but if a child is in a rich thought environment at home and in school, trained diligently in habits of responsibility, etc., and given a vigorous curriculum, they will grow.  Yes, that growth will eventually be reflected in their writing, their math exams and their standardized tests.  But if we place our performance anxiety on them, we may snuff their natural love for learning that is meant to be their inheritance for a lifetime; for the pittance of our seeing an improved score on a spelling test this week.

Similarly, in the spiritual realm, we foster growth primarily by allowing God to change us into people who are kind, dependent, forgiving, genuine, self sacrificing, and we let our children know that any good they see is only because of Christ, and that his word is sweet like honey, and powerful to transform.  And, that the cross Mommy they sometimes see, who is selfish and barks about messes, and wants life to be convenient, and gets too wrapped up in her "to-do" list -- that Mommy is a sinner, who has not yet surrendered every part of her self to Jesus, and would they please forgive her and pray for her and be patient with her, as she tries to be likewise with them?   We can have prayer and acts of kindness to others, and a life of faith lived in an effort to please Jesus, continually before their eyes.  We will not necessarily see steady, measurable growth this week in our children's spiritual maturity, but we can know that God is at work in them.  And though they may not remember everything we say, they will remember, and are likely to model their lives upon, that which we consistently do.

Yesterday I was reading in Matthew where the religious leaders asked Jesus for a "miraculous sign" -- they wanted proof!  And Jesus responds saying, "None will be given except the sign of Jonah."  Jonah, hidden in a fish for three days, was picture of Christ, who was hidden in a tomb for three days before he rose to life.  LIFE CAME, but only after time of waiting, a time where everything looked dead, hopeless.  We don't like that time of waiting, uncertainty, powerlessness -- we want proof, a sign, a guarantee, a measurement, right now.  Oh, Lord, help me to "take hold of the life that is truly life", to walk by faith and not by sight, to know your goodness and that you are at work, to know that you have dealt bountifully with me...and with my children.

Where do you struggle to have faith that growth is really occuring?