Exhausting, long, constant are some of the words I would use to describe my year. As our children have moved into adulthood, Clay and I have upped our work in our ministry-more books, more blog posts, more launches, more international meetings, and sometimes the drain of it catches up with us.
A few weeks ago, I awakened one morning and rolled out of bed slowly, looking forward to a cup of tea and a few minutes to gather my wits about me before I started another long day. Joy was home from college. As I walked down the stairs, I heard soft acoustic music gently bringing peace to our living room. On the table was my favorite tea cup, steam coming out, with a rose standing tall in a crystal vase, and Joy smiling up at me.
"I wanted to surprise you and make you your first cup of tea."
"You know, mama, I look back over all of our years at home, and I didn't ever appreciate all the ways you intentionally shaped our lives. The devotionals every morning, the thousands of hours of reading together, the constant training in work that irritated all of us, the prayers at my bed every evening, the thousands of hours you spent personally talking to me and training me. Now that I am out in the world, I realize what a heritage of wisdom and faith you built through every fiber of our lives. Every day, I hear your voice, know how to discipline myself, understand hard work, know how to love and forgive-so much more. But most of all, thanks, mama. It all mattered!"
It is such a sweet satisfaction when someone encourages us in our hard work, so I savored that moment. When we train our children in righteousness, it goes deeply into the brain patterns of their minds, gives their heart a vocabulary about God, so that when they respond to His call, the ways of God are familiar. And training teaches our children the wisdom of how to live life every day. So now, the rest of the blog post.
My living room, a china cup of tea, candles and fire lit and music playing--such a grace that morning.
Part 2: Will training and learning the vocabulary of God
Very young children, toddlers, don't always process our wishes--sometimes when they are distracted, it takes their brain a 30 seconds to a minute to understand. We need to exhibit appropriate patience and gentleness to toddlers and babies so that they will learn to be gentle and loving. We also learned that we could distract our children to help them learn patience. "Mommy wants you to wait until I have finished talking to my friend. Here is a small cup of fruit and cheese. I would like you to sit on my lap (or in your high chair) and when you get through with your cup, it will be time for me to be finished with my work."
When we were in church or a meeting, we would talk to the kids about how long they needed to be quiet and listen-we prepared them to know what to expect before we got into a situation. Clay made a "brief-case"--each a different color--a favorite Christmas gift--for each child that traveled with them for long meetings or times in the car or waiting at the doctors. We would look for fun puzzle books or coloring books or hand toys or a little legos or car, colored pencils, sewing cards, etc. We would pull these out for the kids to use when we visited others or had a situation that would require them to wait patiently. They never got to use these other times so that they always felt special--the quiet bags!
Training our children to our expectations also helped. "We will be in the grocery store for about a half hour. Here is a cup of cheerios that you can nibble while we are inside. If you stay patient and quiet for Mom, then when we are through, I will take you to the park and we can swing for a few minutes. If you choose to fuss, I we will have to go home. (or whatever consequences fit the plan.) "Can you help mama get this done quickly by sitting still today?"
Before we went to someone's house for dinner or before we had guests, we told the children what to expect. "Tonight, Mommy and Daddy are having some grown up friends over for dinner. We want you to serve them the rolls, Sarah; Joel, you greet them at the door and ask if you can get them a drink, and Nathan, you think of one question to ask our guest so that you can get to know them better. Let's use our best grown up manners.
"This means eating your meal quietly, listening to the conversation and not interrupting too much, but we do love it when you participate and listen. I may not be able to serve you for a little while, so please wait until I serve my guests, and waiting until Mommy can serve you. If you can practice your good company manners and sit at the table without fussing, like grown ups, then you can stay up an extra hour tonight to play! If you interrupt us too much, or choose to fuss, you will have to go to bed at the regular time and stay in your room and play until bedtime."
"I hope tonight will be fun for you. I love having you meet my friends and I am hoping you can choose to obey mama and daddy tonight."
"Now, tell me what I want you to do tonight."
Helping our children know what we expected of them in most situations before they happened gave them guidelines to follow. God was also this kind of trainer--he was very specific in the law to teach his children how to live life well and so we sought to let our children know, without fail, to know what the guidelines and expectations would define their lives.
We could gently correct them and help them develop life and relational skills gradually and systematically every day. This is what the verse means, train up a child in the way he should go---giving them patterns of life, relationships, ministry, relating to the Lord, over and over and over again, so that the patterns of righteousness we are training into their lives becomes familiar and second nature.
I am amazed now, at how naturally our children are in ministry relationships. Each year before our conferences, we would instruct all them as to what to say to the adults they served, how to greet them, how to help them in our book store, how to set up the luncheons, and how to prepare something to speak or sing or read for our conferees. We told them we could not do the conferences without them. Joy would pass out chocolates from a basket and had so much fun being the "Hostess" to greet people. The older kids loved working the book store as it made them feel quite adult. We always did something fun afterwards to thank them for helping so much.
Now, each of them, having been trained and corrected and rewarded and engaged in their parts of the conferences, added this experience to their souls and it became a natural part of their life's expression. Each step along the way did not seem like we were necessarily making great headway, but after years of consistent training and experience, they became like the lives we required them to live.
Training does not lead to salvation. But when the Holy Spirit stirs in their hearts, and our children respond to His calling, His ways and the obedience to follow Him, is already familiar. Some of the training simply leads to living in wisdom and making wise choices. The Holy Spirit takes my words and efforts and transfers the truth of His words into their hearts as they mature.
Often, I see parents reacting to their children and blasting all over them harshly or on the opposite side, because the children were just acting out what they were natural at--immaturity--but had never been given guidelines and training. Or the other extreme is parents meeting their child's every whim or not correcting them and finding children exhaust them. (All of our children exhaust us some of the time and all children resist training, even as I do the Lord. Sometimes I just want Him to make my life easy--and my bad attitude shows.)
Sometimes when people find out that Clay and I are grace-based in our approach to parenting, people assume that that means lenient and undisciplined. However, we were very idealistic and had high expectations for our children, but we instructed them through consistent training, not primarily through force and multiple spankings but through relational discipleship based training.
Our philosophy also looked at each child differently--as an individual--so that we could best figure out what appealed to and reached teh heart of each child. Introverts responded differently and behaved differently than our extroverts. Boys were differently wired than our girls. Learning issues and maturity levels greatly influenced a child's ability to be mature. All factors which cause us to understand that we needed to appeal to each child's heart based on knowing the heart of each child.
No matter what philosophy we as parents have for disciplining children, we need to remember that our goal isn't primarily to make them obey, but to motivate them to obedience from a sincere and loving heart. I did always feel that if I expected them to learn self-control and the ability to work harder, I also had to be sure I was meeting their essential needs in order to expect them to perform well. I needed to give them a routine life--plenty of sleep, naps when tired, not too much over-stimulation, nutritional food, life-giving, soul-filling words--so that their bodies could support my ideals and expectations for them as a mom. If they were exhausted because of being out too late, then if they cried, I would put them to bed--they didn't need discipline, they needed to go to sleep.
Bottom line, discipline is more about relational righteousness training and taking time to instruct, train, praise and correct and strengthening a child's moral character and will through the variety of all the moments of life, than a list of rules about and mandates about when and how long to spank or punish. The Holy Spirit grants each parent wisdom how to apply Biblical principles of training to each parent according to their own puzzle and their unique children--it can look different for each family and each child, but all philosophies that focus on reaching and training the heart, have a deeper influence on the outcome of the child's soul. I have learned so much from reading scripture and pondering God's parenting of me. May He give all of us grace and skill and patience!
Don't be hard on yourself. There is lots of time to keep growing so we can become the mamas Jesus made us to be. Praying for all of you sweet ones today.
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