…in knowing all the ways you’ve sinned against your kids & failed in parenting?
…in the sting of the brokenness you feel in motherhood that seems to be affirmed by the lack of appreciation from your kids?
…in the insecurity that comes from remembering childhood hurt & wanting tangible affirmation that you are doing better than your parents?
We long for, and sometimes even demand, special gifts, lavish expressions of love that make us feel seen, and words of affirmation because they help cover guilt over real sin and sense of shame that we are not good enough.
If that is you today, if the sting of fresh tears is in your eyes, can I sit by you & take your hand?
I know maybe you want to pull away. Shame wants us to hide and disconnect. We hide from ourselves, failing to recognize what we truly feel. We disconnect from others: we can’t tell them what we are wrestling through… and functionally, it feels God is shaming us too. So we don’t talk to him either about the shame we feel in motherhood.
So we just shove it all down. And we hope appreciation & gifts will help cover our shame, will soothe our fears, will make us feel that God is close.
But dear fellow mama. Your Father ::is:: close. He sees you fighting off shame in all forms and he is giving you His Son. In Christ, he has covered your shame in ways that appreciation, gifts and lavish expressions from your husband and kids can never ultimately help. Christ died and rose again not only to take away any real guilt but also to deal with our shame. The shame of our sin and the shame of sin committed against us. The shame of failed expectations that we put on ourselves or that others have piled on us.
He is not covering shame in the way we cover something up but it is still there under the covers. He covers our shame by melting away all unworthiness & dishonor, giving us the worth and honor of his Son. Christ is good for us and in us. This is not wishful thinking: Christ has truly made us good and faithful (Romans 15: 14; Ephesians 1:1).
When we feel overwhelmed by our true failures or when we wonder if our family thinks we are good enough mothers, our Father comes close and soothingly reminds us that our accomplishments or failures are not the source of our honor. His Son is.
So whether or not you get that special gift you hoped for, breakfast in bed or a meal out with your family- your shame is already covered, my friend. Breathe in a little deeper. Receive your Father’s lavish generosity and delight. Feel him holding you today, and hear his voice whispering in your ear, “Well done, good and faithful one. I love you, I see you and I know.”
It has been a season where I have been tasting paradox so tangibly. Feeling displaced and yet also rooted more deeply in Christ. Being shaken in my faith just to see how, in Christ, I am always standing in grace. Being really limited by circumstances but also freed up to have margin for the things that matter most. Having my heart so tender yet also discovering the strength of Christ. Grieving for the Church yet tasting its unwavering hope. Feeling lost and confused in one level, and yet so wisely guided by our Shepherd on another.
As I have been living in this dance of loss and gain, joy and sorrow, grief and hope, the Lord has kept my attention on…birds. Yes, friend. On birds! It started last summer, really. I could almost hear him saying, “Pay attention to the birds.”
On every early morning run, and when I watched our kids play in the playground at the park, on 24 glorious hours away by myself, and when I went on walks by the lake, birds kept my attention.
There was one bird, in particular, that made me literally laugh out loud. It loved to stand under a fountain in a man-made lake for hours, getting terribly wet. I would walk past it back and forth during a conference, and no matter what time of day, I would find the bird just sitting there, getting a shower. It felt like a joke between me and God.
And I kept asking him, “What do you want me to see? What are you teaching me?” My mind went to passages like Matthew 6: 26, about how my Heavenly Father cares for the birds, and how that means he is caring for me too. But I think he wanted me to see more.
One day, as I sat outside, and watched how playfully they flew, and as I listened to them sing, I was struck by how birds were just being birds. In all their “birdiness”, they dug for worms, sang, danced in flight, followed their instinct, stayed in flocks, and hunted for food.
They glorified God and made me glad with their beauty and their song (and their love for showers) but they were not really performing for me or anyone else. They were just doing what they were made for.
It made me think about how I live. And how stuck I can get on wanting to be productive. And while productivity is not a bad thing, it is not an end in itself. Our Father doesn’t want us stuck in performance and goal-achieving mode because when setting and achieving goals is what drives us, we easily miss our purpose.
A few months ago a friend asked my husband and I, “what if the chief end of man is to be loved by God as Father? What if that is how we glorify God? Knowing all that God is for us in Christ and enjoying that manner of love?” (1 John 3:1) I think my friend is on to something.
Think about Christ for a minute. He really delighted in doing God’s will (Psalm 40: 8). But where did that delight come from? His Father’s love and delight in him. The gospels record 2 instances where the Father proclaimed his love for the son. Right before Christ begun his ministry, before he had accomplished anything publicly – the father publicly declared his approval, commitment, and love for the Son (Matthew 3:17). And then at the mount of transfiguration, as the disciples watched Jesus with both Moses and Elijah (representing the law and the prophets), the Father affirmed his love for the Son and charged them to listen to his beloved Son (Matthew 17: 5). In the gospel of John, if you listen carefully to Jesus’ words, he repeats often how much the Father loves him – it was the guiding conviction of his life.
Having that deep belief in the Father’s love for him, how did Jesus live? He embraced his humanity and did what his Father gave him all authority to do: walked on dusty roads, ate bread, laughed with his friends, touched the sick, slept on a boat, was hungry, taught his disciples, rebuked the pharisees, carried a heavy cross, cried bloody tears, and finally entrusted his spirit in the Father’s hands. Jesus lived an incredibly earthly, human life because he had a perspective on it that went beyond what human eyes could see. And friend – in his oneness with us – Jesus has given us that same deep belief. It is the Spirit’s ministry to us to feed that conviction – that our Abba Father is for us.
Knowing our Father’s delight in us is what begets our delight in him. And it is that life – the believing, delighting life – that truly glorifies him. It is that belief in his goodness and personal love for us that shows to the world and those in unseen places the beauty of his holiness. It is only that belief that enables us to delight in his purpose for our lives season after season.
So back to the birds. They are so well cared for by God and because of that, they live out their birdiness every day….giving glory to their Creator.
What about you and I, friend? We are of far more value than the birds. We, unlike them, know our Father cares for us. This frees us up to be humans – embodied, limited, deeply flawed and terribly needy in beautifully “gospelly” ways. We are dusty yet tethered to unseen, glorious places because of Christ (Hebrews 6: 19-20).
And so we can live out our “humannes” just like the birds live out their “birdiness” and be confident we are showing the glory of our Father to the world around us. We are spreading his joy in all our human activities – baking bread, playing piano, going on nature walks with our kids, laughing at their jokes, picking up dirty socks, sorting laundry, reading a poem, drinking tea, getting interrupted, gazing at the sunset – when we do it all as beloved children.
So this is my encouragement to you (and to myself) – by faith in Christ, receive your Father’s delight and care. Open your hands to take hold of his unstoppable love for you in Jesus. The love that is holding you fast. He cares for all you are, not just your to-do list.
And then, embraced by Him, embrace your humanity – be creative, limited, needy, funny, ridiculous. Forgive, ask for forgiveness, laugh, mourn, rest, repent, write thank-you cards, say no to some things and yes to others, lament, ponder, sing. Live in the tension of very real loss and very real hope. Do those things that God wired YOU to do and that when you do them, you feel his deep joy welling up inside and overflowing.
By looking at the birds, I think the Lord was teaching me to enjoy being a wildly loved human who lives in Jesus and through him. Tethered to him and to the truer reality he bought for me with his life, death, resurrection, I can face my neediness with full honesty and still dance.
I wrote this article back in 2015 on another blog I had. Reposting it today.
Recently I have been poignantly reminded of the brokenness of this world. I have read stories that have made my mother’s heart tremble and weep. The story about a mom of four young children who is about to die from cancer (and is finishing so well!). Or the one about a father who had already lost a daughter and then died to brain cancer, leaving his wife a widow with two young sons.
Trials show up in our lives in so many ways: from the tragedy of losing a child to having to cancel our long awaited (and needed!) vacation due to illness; from the child diagnosed with an autoimmune disease to ongoing chronic pain; from relational problems to distance from our loved ones. What do we do with these reminders that this world is not what it should be?
When I was pregnant with my kids I experienced Braxton Hicks contractions that were preparing me for labor. During active labor, contractions intensified into sharp pain that left me breathless. Those contractions reminded me of Romans 8: 18-23:
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with
the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the
revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly,
but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the
firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”
As I read this passage, several things struck me. The idea of eager longing and hope is repeated three times. Paul speaks with the certainty of knowing that glory will be revealed. We are hoping for something that we know is coming and not just that we desire.
Yet, it also struck me that even as we know that there is future glory stored for us, we still groan. All of creation is groaning. The certainty of glory doesn’t take away our suffering but it does impact how we groan. We are groaning knowing that our suffering will end, believing that something wonderful beyond belief is coming: we will inherit God!
Life on this side of Eternity is a rhythm of contractions. All forms of suffering are contractions getting us closer to starting our real life, to being fully adopted as sons of God. Each contraction is preparing us for glory. Each loss, pain, death-a contraction; weakness, temptation, sickness–a contraction; disappointment, unanswered prayer, conflict- a contraction. Waves of contraction after contraction, but because we are His each one is preparing for us a glory we cannot fathom.
When Paul says that we have received the Spirit of adoption as sons it applies to both men and women. In Hebrew society sons were the ones with a right to be heirs. But in the new covenant era, if you are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8: 1), you have received the Spirit of adoption as SON and you are heir of God and fellow heir with Christ. Stop for a moment. Please think about this. You, sister, will inherit everything Christ will inherit from God!
Your life is hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3: 4). Being united with Jesus is being united with his life, death, burial and resurrection. Yet suffering is the current experience of our fellowship with him now. It is part of the birth pains that creation is going through now as it waits for the sons of God to be revealed.
That is why as I thought about the brokenness of this world in the situations mentioned above, I was reminded the believer is actually being born through suffering. Each form of suffering that the Lord allows into our lives is a contraction that will bring us to life. Even as we are dying in this world, we are being born.
This gives so much hope to our suffering! All suffering we experience in this world has a purpose. It is not wasted. Just as you cannot stop labor when it has started, our suffering is pushing us forward, and it is inevitably, without question or doubt, bringing forth our life.
If you have been around this blog for a while you may know that I have a laser focus on union with Christ. It has become the framework in which I live. Lately, I have been pondering the beauty, goodness and truth of this reality. On this blog post I want to explore why union with Christ is a good thing. Why does it matter? How does it meet us in the nitty gritty of life? Is it just a doctrine that is amazing but somewhat irrelevant? How is it good for us today?
Why is union with Christ a gift when you recognize consistent and habitual patterns of sin in your life that seem to define who you are? How does union with Christ help you when you are, for the first time, naming the trauma you experienced as a child and start seeing how much your soul has been shaped by shame? Why does union with Christ matter after the 10th sleepless night in a row with a sick child, and now you have a full day ahead of you to care for that child and your other kids?
Think about your day to day life. Typically, what drives you or enables you to do what you do? Often, it is one of these three: your sense of identity, your felt safety or your sense of agency. You are able to live out your humanity more fully when you have confidence in who you are, when you feel safe in what you are about to do, or when you have a sense that you are free and able to do something.
When God first created man, he made him with innocence, power and honor. He made man and woman into his own likeness. He blessed them with goodness, gave them power over the earth and crowned them with honor (Psalm 8).
Enabled by innocence, power and honor, man was able to live in close intimacy with the triune God, live without shame together with his wife, and exercise dominion over creation.
But when man chose to disobey God, he lost it all. He was now riddled with guilt, shame and fear. He couldn’t live the way God intended. He had no way of reflecting the glory of God fully (Genesis 3 cf Rom. 3:23).
In Adam, we are all born with an utter inability to be humans the way God intended. And so when Christ came to rescue us, he came to rescue us completely. Not only did he come to forgive us from our sins and make us right with God, but he came to redeem humanity in a complete way. Which means, my friend, that he came to redeem us in the very nitty gritty of life.
When Christ died, we died too. All that we had in Adam died. And when we rose, we rose as completely and truly new. And everything we now have we have in Christ.
At the cross and upon his resurrection he took our shame and gave us his honor, took our guilt and gave us his righteousness and took our fear and gave us his life and supernatural ability to to live. He embraced us within himself, giving us the safest place from where we can live our lives.
That my friend, is the goodness of union with Christ. In giving us himself the Lord Jesus has given us theway, the newway, to be human. Like the Newsboys song says,
“There’s a new way to be human It’s nothing we’ve ever been There’s a new way to be human It’s spreading under my skin There’s a new way to be human Where divinity blends With a new way to be human New way to be human
You’re throwing your love across my impossible space You’ve created me Take me out of me into…
A new way to be human You’re the only way to be human”
My friend, Christ is the only way for us to be humans the way we are meant to be.
Please read on with me as I explore a little more each one of these gifts that Christ gives us through the goodness of his oneness with us:
The Goodness of Identity
Sometimes I hear Christians talk about how God sees us. “God sees you as righteous.” But friend, it isn’t just that he sees us as righteous. God is not a mom that first sees her newborn and sees it as beautiful even though the baby is all wrinkly. It isn’t that he sees what he wants to see. He sees what is true and real about us. Jesus completely changed us. He changed our very being. In him, we truly are saints, we are light, we are free (Ephesians 4: 24, 5: 8).
That is amazing good news for us. When we are really struggling with anger, or fear, or lust – we start feeling that is who we are: angry people, fearful people, lustful people. And a huge reason why we struggle to break free of those patterns of sin or to grow into Christ-likeness is because we think we will be Christ-like when we no longer continually give into fear, or anger or lust. But Paul’s logic in the New Testament is the opposite. “You are like Christ already,” he says. “Your nature has already been changed into his. You are no longer slaves. Be who you are.” We can only put to death the sin we trust Christ crucified.
Being who we are is not wishful thinking. It is the life of faith. Faith in who Christ is, faith in what he has done to make us like himself. I went to a bible study in Arabic recently and noticed that in Arabic Ephesians 4: 24 says we are to put on the new human that has been created into God’s image. I love that. We are new humans in Christ.
The Goodness of Agency
Are there moments, days, or seasons when you feel trapped? Paralyzed? Manipulated? Oppressed? With no real sense of true agency? Christ is the only one who gives us footing to live when the waves around us crash on us and threaten to drown us.
I am way too familiar with those moments. Recently it feels like wave after wave comes – paralyzing doubts, uncertainty, illness. I have felt lost, and have struggled to know the way forward.
Or, do you feel like there are well worn paths in your brain in the way you respond to specific circumstances? There sometimes are neural pathways that have formed over time in response to traumatic experiences, or to hurt that has been done against us. We have automatic, visceral responses to certain cues. Sometimes it feels as if they hijack our ability to respond in healthy, godly ways to stressful circumstances. Friend, even for this our union with our Savior is a huge gift.
Through the help of the word, prayer, counselors and therapists and maybe even medication, new pathways can form. The brain can be shaped and grow. We can develop new muscle memory. But we don’t do that in a vacuum. We draw on the life of Christ for that. Trusting in his ability to live through us, new neural pathways can form as we begin to consciously live in the safety of our “in Christness” in God. We draw on his life and his capacity. Because he has faith, trusts his Father, loves sacrificially, chooses holiness, we can too!
You may have heard someone say or even said yourself when faced with very real limitations, “I am only human.” And while it is true we are human – limited, weak, vulnerable – in Christ we are not just human. As Christians that live by faith, we are humans that live in and through the supernatural Christ.
A caveat: Even in Christ, we are still human, just as he is. So to know our limitations and honor them is a very Christ-like thing to do. He grew tired. He slept. He ate. He said no. And he did all that in dependence on the Father. We are meant to live out our humanity in and through Christ – limited, yes but also as partakers of his divine nature, owning all things that pertain to life and godliness in Christ (2 Peter 1). All of Christ’s resources are ours by faith. His wisdom, his humility, his love, his grace. By faith, let’s tap into all of his riches, which he gladly has given us.
Another caveat: There may be very real circumstances that make us feel trapped and oppressed. If you are experiencing abuse of any kind – emotional, physical, spiritual, sexual – your sense of agency has probably been attacked over and over again. In a twisted way, safety has come at the expense of your autonomy and independence. My friend – if this is you, please read Psalms 9 & 10. Your Father knows the hopes of the helpless. He surely hears their cries and comforts them. He brings justice to the orphans and the oppressed. This is true of all the oppressed – whether they are in Christ or not. The Lord has great compassion and is deeply stirred to deliver from abuse and oppression. But for us in Christ we have even more hope in the midst of abuse. We have a Father, and his great help to us is his very own son, who saves & enables us and takes away our helplessness. Through his strength, we have every confidence to seek protection, to walk away from oppression, to find safe people, and speak up about the abuse.
The Goodness of Honor
Oh friend. Do you struggle with feeling worthless? Unclean? Humiliated? Not good enough?
And I don’t mean, if you have ever felt that? But rather, do you often struggle with that sense of shame that somehow never seems to go away completely? Does it seem to color every experience you go through? Do you feel naked, or exposed somehow? Does self protection shape your decisions and actions?
Shame reinforces our negative view of self. If you have experienced abuse, it is likely that at a very deep level you feel unclean or unlovable. And it leads you to hide or at least hide what feels shameful. Maybe even reading this paragraph is triggering a faster heart rate, or a sense of sadness because you recognize yourself in this. Oh how I pray the Spirit comes to you right now and comforts you with the goodness of your Savior for this very struggle.
Dear friend, if you struggle with shame consistently, it is likely you have suffered a lot. You may be carrying on your body the hurt of sin done against you. Maybe you learned to cope with that suffering in ways that are not mindful of God. And so there is a sense of guilt over real sin you have committed. Which adds to the sense of shame of not only being less but also not good enough.
My sister – your Savior took all the shame. He really did. He saw you and me, friend. He saw our hurt, he heard our cries, he pitied our filth and he took us in. Not only did he pour out all his love on us, and completely cleaned us up…he really gave us his very being. He gave us his honor. When we died, all our guilt and shame died with him. It stayed buried with him. That is the very real unseen reality that he bought for us. And when he rose, we rose up with him….as royalty. He sat us down with himself in the heavenly places (Ephesians 2:6). That is where you are today.
Because you are completely new in Christ, he takes not only the guilt of sin you have committed, but also the shame of it and the shame of sin committed against you. And then he gives you all that is completely true about him, so that it is true about you. We don’t have to hide behind all kind of fig leaves to pretend we are honorable or to feel worthy. We really are honorable through Christ. Through Christ we are able to have complete confidence, not only before our Father but also before others.
The Goodness of Safety
Lastly, my friend – union with Christ means we are hidden with him in God (Colossians 3: 1-4). We can’t ever be safer than what we already are in Him. You are at home with Christ in God. That at-homeness really changes everything. It enables you to love sacrificially, to repent, to endure, to have joy in the midst of suffering, to cast off guilt and scoff at shame, and, to have unfettered hope in the face of limitations and difficulty.
You have a Father, friend. A father who delights in you, who sits you on his lap, who invites you to weep on his chest. He knows our frame and so he gave us His Son. So that through his Son we may have sure safety, capacity, a new identity and his honor to be the humans he made us to be. He really is our life. Our only life.
May you and I live in the goodness of our oneness with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Disclaimer: I enjoy reading widely – not only genre wise, but also author-wise. Ultimately God’s word is my authority and so I read with discernment, evaluating what I read from the worldview that the Spirit has given me through his word. I encourage you to do the same.
I am working towards getting accredited for biblical counseling. We also live in a country under trauma – both collective and individual. So I have been doing a lot of research and learning about trauma informed counseling in the past year. Some of the books on this list reflect that:
Is It Abuse? by Darby Strickland – Abuse in the church is very difficult to identify and address. Especially in churches with a strong emphasis on headship and submission. This book, while hard to read, is a very important gift to the church. I am thankful for Strickland’s perspective. I would caveat that as counselors we need to be careful not to have a one dimensional view of the oppressor or the abused.
The Connected Child by Karyn Purvis – I really appreciated this book and the podcast associated with it (Empowered to Connect podcast). Although its audience is adoptive parents, I appreciated understanding how trauma impacts children and how understanding this also helps us know how to parent kids that have gone through trauma. This is personally relevant to me for many reasons.
Boundaries with Kids by Henry Cloud – this book has been really helpful to me. The authors define boundary as “the property line that defines a person; it defines where one person ends and someone else begins.” It has given me a lot to chew on – especially in how to teach my kids to see themselves primarily in relationship with God and how to live faithfully and responsibly in light of that. It also helps me understands important dynamics in helping people that grew up in trauma settings, because often that is one of the ways they learn to survive: not knowing where they end and where others begin.
Try Softer by Aundi Kolber – This book is a helpful look into how trauma rewires our brain, and how often anxiety is not simply just a sinful response but a survival technique after being exposed to trauma (either big T trauma or little t trauma). It offers practices to help retrain our brains and souls how to respond to triggers. I really appreciated her tone and her insights. As with any book you want to read it with discernment. She sometimes will talk about how we need to parent ourselves. But I think that language misses that we have a Father that is parenting us. In counseling, especially counseling believers, I don’t want to assume union with Christ and all the gifts that come to us because of it (including that Christ has shared his Father with us). At the same time, I think it is important for biblical counselors to grow in their understanding of the body/soul connection and the complexity of the way both them and their counselees are wired, and this book was helpful to me in that.
In Our Lives First by Dianne Landberg – this is a devotional for counselors, with six weeks’ worth of readings based on Landbergh’s experience as a counselor. They are short and to the point but tremendously insightful and encouraging. She is very aware of the temptations and discouragements that counselors and mentors face, and breathes fresh hope with her words. I would recommend it for anyone in mentoring and discipleship relationships.
Memoir: Glitter and Glue by Kelly Corrigan – this memoir explores the relationship between mothers and daughters and how it changes over time. She recalls her time as a newly college graduate on an adventure around the world and reflects on how her nannying for a family that had lost the mom to cancer, made her think a lot about her own. It also explores grief.
A Place to Land by Kate Motaung – I met Kate this last summer when we were in Grand Rapids. This is a memoir that explores the idea of belonging. I laughed and cried reading about her life growing up in West Michigan (where my husband is from), her move to South Africa and her new life there, and her eventual return to the US. I related to her so much, with all the layers of both loss and joy that come with a cross-cultural life.
Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh- Anne Morrow is a writer who spent many seasons by the sea. She writes reflections based on different shells she found. These were thought provoking and helped me slow down.
Historical Fiction: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford – I really enjoyed reading this story about a young Chinese boy who meets a young Korean girl in the 1940’s here in the US. I learned a lot about US history at the time and how all Asian were treated on the West coast, during the Second World War. The book goes back and forth between 1940’s and 1986 when the boy, now a grown man in his late 50’s is trying to follow clues to help him find that girl that he so loved.
Spiritual Formation: Truth on Fire by Adam Ramsey – This book was such a breath of fresh air. I really appreciated reading this early in the mornings along with my daily reading of God’s word. It truly led me to worship and to sing for joy for the God we have.
I Forgive You by Wendy Alsup – this book is coming out in January. I am on the launch team for it. Wendy and I were on a writer’s group many years ago and I was really impressed back then by her gracious yet discerning mind. She has suffered a lot and has been hurt by those who should have protected her. When I saw she had written a book on forgiveness I knew I wanted to read it. Her take on forgiveness was unexpected yet so powerful. She writes as someone in the trenches who understands the ache of betrayal and sin, but who also has tasted the beauty of the gospel and how it helps us work toward reconciliation. Her heart for racial reconciliation was especially moving to me. While I would be careful to caveat a little more than she did in talking about repairs, I think her heart for God’s people and for the oppressed is beautiful. This book will especially help those living in the complex & excruciating intersection of trauma & sin.
Expect Something Beautiful by Laura Booz – I met Laura two years ago and found myself thinking, “I wish I lived on her street and had her as my neighbor.” She is so winsome, humble and yet refreshingly joyful in Christ. Her confidence in Him oozes out of her. This book is such a gift for moms about how in Christ and because of him, we can expect something beautiful in motherhood. Christ’s wisdom and grace through her are a gift. She comes alongside you as a big sister would, and while acknowledging where she is growing and learning, offers what the Lord has taught her through 16 years of parenting 5 kids. I especially loved how she explored in the second part of the book each fruit of the Spirit and its implications in parenthood. You will both cry and laugh reading this one. It would be such a great gift for a mom who needs extra encouragement in parenting.
The Whole Christ by Sinclair Ferguson – If you want to learn a little about church history, you will appreciate this book. It is about the Marrow Controversy in Scotland back in the 1600’s and its relevance to us today. It is a book about legalism and antinomianism and the gospel. This book is from a strong covenant theology perspective and holds to the 3rd use of the law. I am still working through my own understanding of some of the categories of that theological framework but appreciated at least understanding better his position. This book made me glory in all that Christ has given us in Christ and in the richness of all that the gospel offers.
Suffering Is Never For Nothing by Elisabeth Elliot – I read this book in a harder season this last summer. And as always, Elisabeth Elliot challenged me with her thoughts on suffering. Her confidence in Christ and in the goodness of God in hard times is a huge encouragement.
Kids/Family: Beginning: Family Worship in Genesis by Joel Beeke – We have been reading this book in family devotions this summer and fall. I have been really thankful for it. Joel Beeke and Nick Thompson have a great understanding of biblical theology and know how to make it accessible for kids. These devotions are short and to the point but dripping rich with the treasures found in God’s word.
George Muller by Jane Benge (Audiobook on Scribd) – we have been listening to this audiobook during lunch times. George’s life is not only really encouraging to us as a family but also this particular narrator keeps us all (even Ethan and I) captivated. In case you don’t know who George Muller was, he was a man of God who depended on God in supernatural ways. He eventually opened a home for orphans and the stories of God’s provision for those homes will breathe fresh faith into your soul. If you are interested in reading his biography for adults, this one really challenged and encouraged me a few years ago.
Detectives in Togas by Henry Winterfeld (Read-aloud) – our family has been homeschooling this past year and a half. We have been doing a mix of classical education and Charlotte Mason. This story was a read-aloud set in early Rome. It is a mystery about a group of boys trying to figure out who desecrated the temple of the goddess Minerva in their city. It was really entertaining but also taught us more about what school looked like back then, and how society functioned.
God is Great, Gods Good by Sanna Anderson Baker (for babies and toddlers) – I just discovered this book this week and fell in love with it. It is an older book (first came out in 1987). It is a retelling of Job for toddlers. It is not only incredibly worshipful but it also has beautiful illustrations by Tomie de Paola.
On this side of Eternity not one place here or set of circumstances is permanent , nor our lasting home. So we live day by day knowing we are journeying to our promised rest.
For some Christian families the seen reality of our lives is a tangible expression of that unseen truth: that we haven’t made it yet to our permanent home. For our family it has been all the pain, grief and loss that comes from life overseas, chronic health issues and food allergies, among other things.
For your family it may be other circumstances: a child with autism, all kinds of loss, an impending death or serious illness, or dealing with the complex world of trauma. Or, it may be other forms of suffering -maybe not incredibly traumatic but constant and draining nonetheless.
But that is exactly why I am so grateful that our Father didn’t leave us alone to journey home to him. He gave us the assurance of his presence. His faithful love encircles and embraces all our realities and circumstances here. As we move onward and upward (through fire and storm), he moves with us in cloud and fire. This is his glory: that his love never stops.
We join millions of God’s people throughout the history of redemption who have had the surety of his home with them, him always moving toward them – in the garden, tabernacle, temple and ultimately in Christ who came to dwell with us. Now his spirit lives in us as the guarantee of the day we will hear a loud voice saying,
“Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man” (Revelation 21:3-4).
Dear friend, our homes are homes in motion – moving toward THAT day. Because his fierce and tender love never leaves us, we actually remain unmovable in the one permanent circumstance that Christ bought for us with his life, death and resurrection.
And while our kids may not yet know the Father through Christ we can teach them to abide, stay, remain in his love. As we talk to them about their sin and their need of a Savior, we tell them how we never repel him if we come to him needy and weak.
He is always saving, helping, keeping, loving…giving us in Himself the home that brings to our real, permanent, fully satisfying home.
Few things have impacted me more than women who know with all their heart that God is good.
They have suffered deeply sometimes, AND often. They know loss, grief, chronic pain – but they also are sure that God is good and that He is for them in Christ.
Christ’s mission on earth was to show the fullness of grace and truth of the Father. He came to reveal his glory. His life was an invitation: “Come and taste how good my Father isj” (John 1: 14-18). So that is our mission in all our mothering as well.
“God is so good” is no mere children’s song. It is our song as we mother our kiddos through transition, suffering, answers to prayer, walks in our neighborhood, shopping for groceries or process trauma with them.
Some ways we can help our kids live in the goodness of God are:
Celebrate the gospel. When we do, we are celebrating the goodness and lovingkindness of God our Savior (Titus 3: 4-6).
Train them daily and teach them about God. By studying the names of God and his attributes, we ponder together the multi-faceted glory of our beautiful God.
Be gentle when they fail or sin. Our kids are complex beings. Their meltdowns, outbursts of anger, and meanness is multi-layered – with sin being just one component of many. Try to understand them, get down to their level, be aware of your body language and all it communicates. Yes, be faithful to their soul remembering what leads to repentance: God’s kindness (Rom. 2: 4).
Abide in the steadfast love of the Lord when you apologize and face your own limitations. Sometimes we hijack ourselves. Functionally we live like wanting our kids to be grounded in our goodness. We need them to approve of us. Instead of apologizing, we shame them when they don’t affirm or reflect the good job we think we are doing…because *we* are feeling shame. But friends, his steadfast love assures us redemption is real. So it frees us up to say, “I am sorry,” and to boast in the Lord – “oh sweetheart, God is so much better than me.”
May we pour forth the fame of his abundant goodness so we all know that the Lord is really good to all and his mercy over all that he’s made (Psalm 145: 7, 9).
I think we all have a complicated relationship with authority. We may have experienced the gift of kind authority AND may have suffered under harsh and needy displays of authority as well. Maybe we swing back and forth on the pendulum – going from authoritarian to permissive continually and struggling to know what the middle looks like.
Are you glad you are in authority over your kids’ life? Or, do you fear misusing it? Are you convicted by how you use authority in the lives of your kids and are tempted to abdicate it?
I know I have. And yet in wanting them to know the Father’s grace we are tempted to walk away from authority altogether. But to live without authority is not really how our Father parents us, his beloved kids.
It has steadied me to look at Christ, who is my life. I wanted to learn from him, who is gentle and lowly. So I studied the Scriptures asking: Is he authoritative? How does he wield authority? How can we, as parents that are one with Christ, use authority in a way that gives life?
I observed three things about Christ’s authority:
Christ’s authority is a stewardship. The Lord knew authority had been given to him (Matt. 28: 20). His teaching was not his own but came from the one who sent him (John 7: 16). He only taught what His father had taught him to speak and did what he had seen the Father do (John 8 28).
Christ’s authority is humble. I am astonished at this.
He didn’t use it for himself but to empower and save. It enabled others to go to the ends of the earth, make disciples and teach them all that He taught them (Matt. 28: 20). With his authority, he gave the assurance and comfort of his presence with them, that would be with them always.
His was not a needy authority. Knowing the Father had given all things into his hands and that he had come from God and going back to God, he washed his disciples’ feet (John 13: 3). He used his commands to save his disciples and those under oppression (Matthew 8: 23-27; Mark 1: 27). All authority was given to him and he used it to lay down his life and take it up again so that with his life we might have life too (John 10: 18). That is why His Father loved him.
But not only did he wield power to enable others but also to reveal the glory of Another (Luke 10: 22). He has the name above all names so that when every tongue confesses his lordship, they glorify his Father (Phil. 2: 10).
Christ’s authority is confident. One of the distinctives of Christ’s teaching was it’s authority (Matt. 7:29). He didn’t teach with insecurity or self doubt. He was never embarrassed about having so much authority. Rather, after his resurrection, it was that truth that encouraged the disciples who still had doubts, “All authority [not some authority] but all authority in heaven and earth has been given me.” He gladly used his authority to teach his disciples everything about the Father, to preach the good news about the kingdom and explain how to live in a way that brought honor to his Dad.
Dear Christian parent, this is our Christ. Let your heart melt as you consider his life-giving power and authority. If you have been on the pendulum swing, I offer these thoughts:
Embrace your role of authority as a Christian parent. The fear to misuse it might be warranted – you have seen how often it happens. But you are not alone. Christ has gifted you his presence so that in his name, you can make disciples of your kids, teaching them to obey what you’ve learned from the triune God. You can joyfully guide, train, enforce boundaries, and discipline them because it is about revealing to them the beauty of another. May I gently encourage you to take your focus off from what you are able to do and rejoice in Christ and what he is able to do through you.
Remember to use your authority as a stewardship – it is a temporary role, not a permanent identity. It has a purpose that is bigger than your family, your needs, or your desires. Have you ever found yourself needing your kids’ love, approval or affirmation? I have. But when I remember how deeply loved I am, Christ enables me to steward my role humbly so that from his abundant goodness to me, I generously show the Father’s fullness to my kids.
Steward your authority relationally. I am so overwhelmed by the thought that Christ, who has all authority in heaven and earth, promises his presence with us. He is always near. Sometimes we give relational consequences to our kids – withdrawing affection, acting offended and forcing them to initiate relationship with us after they sin. But Christ’s love actively pursues us, and stays in relationship with us.
I know this topic can be difficult to consider, maybe even painful. I really hope it comforts you to rest in the promise of Christ in Matthew 11:25-28:
“All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:25-30).
He has chosen to reveal the Father to you. And it is that relationship that gives you rest. He knows what wearies us in parenting so he invites us to learn from him – our gentle and lowly Christ, so we can find rest. And from that place of rest in the Father and Son’s love we will be able to be conduits of the life and authority of the Son – to the glory of our Father and the joy of our kids.
Do you know what the most quoted verse in the Bible is?
It’s probably the one we most need to commit to memory, the one we most need to recall while parenting, and the one we most need to teach to our children.
It comes from a powerful encounter that Moses had with the LORD after He’d given the Ten Commandments and the Israelites had indulged in gross idolatry. Moses again climbs Mt. Sinai, a new pair of stone tablets in hand (for he’d broken the first pair when his people had broken them in their hearts), and the LORD descends to the mountain top veiled in clouds to not just stand with Moses but also to reveal His heart. In the wake of their unfaithfulness as a people, He gives Moses a peek into His heart by saying He’s “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity, transgressions, and sins…” (Exodus 34:6-7)
This cloudy, mountain top revelation of God’s heart made such a lasting impression on Moses that he went on to mention it in both Numbers and Deuteronomy. Then Nehemiah, Joel, Jonah, Jeremiah, Nahum, Isaiah, and David—moved by Moses’ mountain top experience with the LORD—all make reference in their writings to how God revealed Himself on the mountain that day, making it the most quoted verse in the Bible.
But why? Could it perhaps have something to do with the very thing we’re exploring together this month? Might it have to do with abiding in His love?
Twice in this description of Himself God points His people to His “hesed”—His love—and my guess is that if He emphasized this to His children, then He wants us and our children to experience Him in this way as well.
But what is hesed? Hebrew scholars take stabs at translating this word as… Steadfast love… Faithful love… Lovingkindness… Unfailing love… Loyal love…
… all are used, yet none fit quite right. There isn’t one English word or phrase that fully captures its rich meaning. It’s a word that implies a strong covenant and drips with sacrifice. Far from a concept we believe in our minds or vague feelings we have, it’s devotion in action for the loved one’s benefit. It’s a word that epitomizes His posture toward us. It’s at the core of who He is and He invites us to anchor our lives to it. His hesed keeps Him moving toward His people, no matter what.
**So when Job’s life was overwhelmed by grief, he stood firm in God’s hesed. (Job 10:12) **David the adulterer could wrap up his life proclaiming that God’s hesed never had failed him and that it wouldn’t fail any of his descendants. (2 Sam. 22:51; Ps. 18:50) **Isaiah could comfort his people with the truth that even if mountains were to shake and fall, God’s hesed could never be shaken. (Is. 54:10) **While Judah was going to hell in a hand-basket, Jeremiah could say that God was drawing His people to Himself with cords of hesed. (Jer. 31:3) **As Hosea’s adulteress people trampled all over God’s hesed, he’d remind them not only of God’s reckless, extravagant love, but he’d boldly call their unfaithful hearts to give God hesed love in return. (Hos. 6:4,6) **When confessing the sins of his exiled people, Daniel could direct his prayer to his hesed-keeping God. (Dan. 9:4) **When the exiles return to Jerusalem, Ezra (9:9) and Nehemiah (9:17) both remind the rag-tag remnant that God’s hesed would never let them go.
And then when we turn the page to the New Testament, we see hesed incarnate in Jesus Christ. We see clearly in Him the one who stood veiled in clouds on the mountain with Moses, proclaiming and promising His always love. He wants us to know He always loves us so that when we live in unlovable ways, we’ll still go back to Him and find Him faithful.
Sweet friend, I bet the key to teaching our kids to abide in His love, is abiding in it ourselves. Turning to His love in our grief like Job, white-knuckle grasping hold of it when mountains shake like Isaiah talked about, confessing sin while standing on no other ground than His love like Daniel did, letting His love draw our rebellious, adulterous hearts back to His like Jeremiah or Hosea—and doing it all in full-view of the little ones watching us—is probably a pretty good way to teach them.
The more we read every page of His Story in light of His hesed (rather than combing its pages looking for what we must do to secure it), the more we let it anchor our soul—the more we’ll rest in it. And I know the more we rest in it, the more our children will see His hesed incarnate and know how to rest in it too.
Dear friend, as you go about the rest of your day, may the cloud around His love for you disperse, may you see Him clearly, may you rest in His always love—you and your children.
Sara Lubbers is a homeschooling, expat mama of four spending her days changing diapers, diagramming sentences, writing in the margins of her life, and learning to rest in God’s love. She wrote a book called Always Love that traces the whole storyline of the Bible in light of God’s hesed—like a Jesus Storybook Bible for older kids and adults. You can find her book on Amazon and snippets of her life in tiny squares on Instagram at @saralubbers.