Hello friends, sorry I haven’t written in a couple of weeks. I have at least one post swimming around in my head, but haven’t had the time or energy to get it down in a coherent way. In the meantime, though, please hop over to Good Reads if you’d like to learn about a brilliant, short, Biblical, short, helpful and potentially life-changing book. Oh and I should tell you (because I know if you’re a mum that this blog post might be the first thing you’ve had time to read in about eight days) that it’s nice and short. Hope to write again soon!
‘Which best describes you? a) You like to get things done, or b) You like to know that everyone’s getting on well’
I said ‘b’ because surely people are more important than tasks!
My Mum-in-law (who knows me too well) said, ‘Really? Are you sure?’
‘Yes, of course.’
Since that conversation I’ve often looked back and admitted regretfully, ‘No, I should have said ‘a’.’ I’d like to think that, in a house full of guests, I’d be content just to know everyone was having a good time and enjoying each other’s company. But really, I’d be mentally totting up the jobs that need doing in preparation/clear-up. And when I can tick something off my list, that’s what gives me a buzz. I think in personality-test-world this is called ‘Task oriented.’ Sigh. Now don’t get me wrong, I know we need task-oriented people in order to get things done, and thankfully I have many relationship-oriented people around me so I think we do OK. But that’s not why I’m harping on about this.
I recently wrote a post about making sure you have a quiet time (Fight for your Life) and since then I was blessed to hear some teaching on why we don’t do quiet times. One reason stood out to me because it applied to me and I’d never thought of it before (my dullness (aka stupidity) never ceases to amaze me). He said that sometimes we don’t do quiet times because we don’t have the patience. If I read my Bible at 10am, I probably won’t see the results by 10.45. So, if I’m honest, I find it hard to see the point. It takes too long, the results aren’t usually tangible, I can’t really tick anything off my list, so it just gets shoved down my priority list along with phoning my great aunt and going for a coffee with that eccentric lady at church. I know, I’m a wretch.
This isn’t just a 21st Century problem. Look at Mary and Martha in Luke 10:
38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Jesus knows I’ve got many things to do. But let’s get our priorities right. Mary chose what is better. I need to sit down and shut up. I need to read my Bible and hear the Lord speak to me.
God is so kind that he forced me into this the other day. I was feeling really stressed and wound up because I had lots to do and I didn’t think I had enough time. And to top it all off, I had to go to the dentist. Thankfully a kind friend offered to look after my younger children for me, and she told me not to bother coming home again in between the appointment and the school pick-up. Then the dentist appointment only took five minutes, so I had 45 minutes to spare before I had to be at the school gate. What to do? The only thing I could do, friend – I went to Starbucks and read. For the first ten minutes or so I was still on edge. But as I sat there reasoning that I couldn’t do anything else anyway so I might as well just try to calm down and read, I slowly started to unwind. Heck, I really enjoyed myself. And I went home feeling much calmer and generally less crazy. Sometimes I whip myself into a frenzy, and reading the Bible gives me the perspective I need to go back to my to-do list and realise that the world will not end if I don’t get it all done today (well it might, but the two will be unrelated).
Again, I do know that task-oriented people are not bad, but there’s no way I need to remind myself to be more task oriented! If you, however, are completely the opposite and never get anything done, all the while getting on marvellously with everyone, then you probably can’t relate to this! However, if you are a bit like me (but maybe less frantic and a bit nicer), I hope you’ll be encouraged. Relationships take time, don’t they? We know that because our kiddiwinks demand so much of our time (or friends/family if you’re not a parent). Sometimes you do have to abandon the chopping board in favour of a jigsaw, or let the wet washing sit a bit longer so you can listen to your child’s long-winded account of the day. And you know that’s right. Nobody gets to the end of their life and thinks, ‘I wish I’d hoovered more often. Once a fortnight just wasn’t enough.’ But the time you spend now with your kids will be paying off for decades, and even generations to come. How much more so, then, with your time spent with the Lord? I want to look through the photo albums in my old age and say, ‘Yes, we never did paint the kitchen or put up that garden fence!’ and then sing another song about Jesus. So I’m going to try to slow down, and choose what’s better. I hope you’ll join me.
This week I’ve been looking at 1 Samuel 8, where the people of Israel ask Samuel, the prophet, for a king, ‘such as all the other nations have.’ In case we missed it, they say it again later: ‘We want a King over us, then we shall be like all the other nations.’ They had the unique honour of being God’s chosen people, set apart from the other nations. But here, they’re looking around and they decide they want to ditch God and be like the other nations: ‘they have rejected [the LORD] as their King.’ It’s just astonishingly ungrateful, rebellious and, well, stupid. The Lord has shown them over and over that he’s the one who provides for them and fights for them, but they’d rather trust in something else instead – be it a box (the ark), a foreign god or, now, a human king.
One reason for their rejection of the Lord seems to be a sort of peer pressure. They look around them at all the other nations, and they feel very small and very different. I suppose this feeling is what many of our children might experience when they’re with unbelievers, be it at school or anywhere else. In his excellent commentary on 1 Samuel, Dale Ralph Davis quotes Alexander Maclaren:
‘One of the first lessons which we have to learn… is a wholesome disregard of other people’s ways.’ (p.88)
I don’t know about you, but in my gut there lurks a fear my children will be more influenced by their peers and teachers than by us, their parents. From seemingly little things such as which trainers to wear and which scooter to scoot, right up to, I suppose, whether or not to take drugs and jump of a balcony (argh!), peer pressure is always going to be a part of children’s lives.
I’m so thankful that, as yet, my four-year-old seems naively unaware of the issues of fashion and what’s cool, but I know that, eventually, all kids want to fit in. I remember it well myself – the desperate desire to be doing the right thing, listening to the right music, saying the right words. I was terrified of being noticed for the wrong reasons. I wish I’d known then that it’s actually OK – even a good thing! – to stand out from the crowd.
So I’m going to be asking God our Father to help my kids to know that, actually, they don’t need to fit in because they are always welcome in the Kingdom of God. They’re always noticed for the right reasons. They’re always accepted; always loved; always understood. One of the reasons I treasure my church family is that they give my kids that kind of security. And I hope and pray that as they see this lived out through God’s people, my children would know that it’s just a shadow of the love and acceptance they have from their Heavenly Father. Then, even if we can’t afford a Nintendo DS or we’re the only ones not going to the Halloween party, that won’t consume them because they’ll know that their identity is in Christ.
So I can pray, and I can teach my children this stuff, but there’s another thing I really should do. Yep, there it is! Live it out!
Peer pressure – remember that teenage problem? Oh hang on, you mean like the pressure to put my children’s education first, to get on the property ladder, to go on nice holidays, to keep up with the latest fashions and music trends, to dress my kids nicely, to have a clean and tidy home, to go back to work and fulfil my “true potential”, to spend my weekends taking my children from ballet to swimming lessons, to go to the gym..? This pressure to conform to a certain standard will look different depending on your culture and background, but whether it bothers us or not I think we all experience it to some degree. Some of us don’t mind standing out, but even so we are bombarded daily by the idolatry of our society.
I think 1 Samuel 8 should teach us to be on our guard. The values of the culture around us can easily creep into the church, and before we know it our Christian community is putting their trust in something other than the Lord, such as success in education, or job security, or having nice stuff. (These are very Western examples, so please forgive me if you can’t relate to them!)
We have made decisions as a family which make absolutely no sense to our friends who aren’t believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. Of course! And so we try to avoid their mystified, sometimes offended and occasionally angry gazes, and plough on. That can be hard enough, but even amongst the Christians we know we’ve had some rather awkward conversations about the choices we’ve made for our family. And don’t get me wrong, we’re not exactly radicals – I wish we were! But some things, especially when children are involved, can be seen as just taking this Christian thing a bit too far.
So what I’m trying to say is that, naturally, we’re like the Israelites. We want to fit in, and we’re inclined to put our trust in whatever those around us are trusting in. And if I’m not battling against that inclination, then how can I expect my kids to want to stand out for Jesus? And what an honour it is to do that. Look at Israel – The Lord had made them a people; rescued them out of Egypt, and brought them into the Promised Land. Why wouldn’t they want to stand out? But how much more should we desire to be different, to stand out for our King Jesus? Think of all He’s done for us, rescuing us from slavery to sin, and fighting for us the battle we could never win – against death! How can we look to anything else to provide for us and protect us? I’m so thankful that we have the Spirit in us, giving us that desire to keep turning from idols and trusting in the Lord. And let’s keep reminding each other what a privilege it is to be children of God. Here’s how Peter puts it:
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 1 Peter 2:9-10.
How precious it is to be God’s people. Let’s pray we’d set an example to our children, showing them that as the people of God we might not always fit in, but belonging to God is much better than belonging anywhere else.
I’ve been excavating this week. When you have your second or subsequent baby, you have to unearth all of the baby paraphernalia that you’d hidden under the bed/on top of the wardrobe/at your mum’s house. It’s quite heartwarming in a way, because it takes you back to those early days with your older child(ren) which seem so long ago. But in other ways, it’s a tiny bit disheartening. What I mean is, I find it really satisfying to get rid of stuff I don’t need anymore because I’ve moved on to a new stage. So going back to the earlier stages and starting all over again can bruise my organisational ego. I’ve realised that I often look forward to the day when I won’t need an entire kitchen cupboard dedicated to plastic crockery, sippy cups, bottles and baby food. Or when I won’t need to buy kiddie snacks or dairylea slices, because the kids will eat what we eat (this may never happen but shhhh don’t tell me). But even as I long for this I do have a sneaking suspicion that it’s not a very godly way to think.
Growing up I was always told, ‘Don’t wish your life away.’ I think that was because I always wanted to be about three to five years older than I was (those days are gone, I can assure you). Although this isn’t a phrase from the Bible, it is wise advice. Always pining for the next thing is really a recipe for discontentment. While I’m longing for the days when I can have a serious conversation with my son, I’m missing the blessings of the here and now. While I’m pining for the time when I won’t have to cadunk my buggy up the steps because my buggy will be long gone, I’m ignoring the beauty of cute babes in a pushchair.
I’m reading a really interesting book which has encouraged me massively – One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. Today I read this, as Ann recollects holding her sleeping daughter, the youngest of six children:
‘My baby is five… She is leaving me, she’s growing up and moving away from me, and she stirs and I sweep back the crop of golden ringlets. Stay, Little One, stay. Love’s a deep wound and what is a mother without a child and why can’t I hold on to now forever and her here and me here and why does time snatch away a heart I don’t think mine can beat without?’ (p. 160)
I felt so rebuked by this. My eldest isn’t five yet, and I often wish she were just a bit older. But I’m sure one day (maybe soon) I’ll turn around and mourn the loss of their early years. That will also be discontentment of course! So what’s the solution? How do I enjoy the here and now; savour the moment? Well, Voskamp’s book is all about thankfulness. I know I should be thankful for today, but how?
One wonderful thing about being a parent of young children is that you have someone showing you how to live in the moment and enjoy the here and now, every single day. Here are a few things my tots were excited about today (and these are just the ones they shouted about):
– steam from a chimney
– an aeroplane (many, many times, we live under the Heathrow flight path)
– a blue van
– ‘Sparkles’ (Actually the sunlight reflected in raindrops on a grey, dirty pavement)
I want to be more like that. I want to be enchanted by the mundane and thankful for the ordinary. If I can learn to do that, then I’ll start to focus on the beautiful things in my life, great and small, and to sideline the hard things that I can’t change.
At the end of a wearying day, I want to tell my husband every detail of the battles I’ve endured. I don’t want to focus on the lovely things, because… hmmm, if I’m honest I don’t want him thinking I’ve had an easy day. Then he might not sympathise with me. If I tell him all the blessings, then who gets the glory? Not me, of course, but the Lord, the giver. I want this, and I don’t want it. My new, spirit-filled heart wants to praise the Lord; it’s my sinful, self-centred self who wants to wallow in self-pity, ingratitude and dissatisfaction.
I’ve heard many times before that being thankful is a way to find joy and to be content. But it seems so hard to do. It is hard, but I’m realising that it’s a lesson to learn, and a lesson that takes time. We can train ourselves to be thankful. Ann Voskamp trained herself by writing one thousand things she loves, or in other words one thousand gifts she is thankful for. I’ve started trying to do this myself. I’m making quite slow progress, partly because I’m out of practice (I’ve never been in practice), and partly because I don’t have my notebook lying around all day (for fear of it being splattered/snatched/accidentally recycled), so I have to remember things and write them down later. But even so, I can tell that God is gently changing me as I discipline myself to find the beauty in my life.
So may I encourage you now to try this – you don’t have to write it down or set yourself a target of course, but if you would like to find more joy, try learning to be thankful for the ‘now’ you’re in. Maybe you live in a beautiful location, in which case your list will probably be full of natural beauty. However, may I refer you to the title of this blog, and remind you that I live far away from wildlife (unless you count pigeons and the odd urban fox, which I absolutely do not!) or sweeping landscapes. But there is still beauty in my life, and I’m learning to find it. Here are ten items from my list so far, just to encourage you to give it a go:
7. Help up the stairs
10. Soft slippers on aching feet
16. My children stopping at the road
20. Double glazing
23. A cup of tea by the bed
26. The listening ear of a friend
44. The kitchen bin, empty
60. The radio
62. The generosity of friends
Nothing spectacular I know, but they’re God’s gifts to me and it’s right that I thank him for them. You can probably think of something more joy-filling than an empty kitchen bin, and I encourage you right now to thank God for whatever that is!
So I’m hoping, by God’s grace, that by cultivating a thankful heart, I will bring glory to God with my attitude, I’ll find joy, and I won’t get to the end of my life and realise I’ve spent it wishing I were somewhere else.
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.
A friend of mine was recently working on an Intensive Care Ward in a hospital. She told me she was really struck by the human survival instinct: bodies everywhere, usually unable to breathe by themselves, often unable to communicate, often with very little hope of a decent quality of life. But still they fight. And their families fight for them. She made the powerful observation that actually our spiritual lives are more precious than our physical lives and yet we often don’t have that same level of spiritual survival instinct. Do we fight for our spiritual lives with as much passion and determination as those poor Intensive Care patients?
When I was pregnant with our first child, we went to visit some very experienced and wonderful parents to attempt to find out what we were letting ourselves in for. We talked a bit with them about trying to fit in a ‘quiet time’ (daily devotional/bible reading time) once you’re a mum. They said they’d heard a pastor once say that the only people in the church who have an excuse not to do a daily quiet time are mums with young children. Now I know what the pastor means, because it seems to be uniquely hard to fit it in once you have a baby, especially in the early weeks. But at the time I thought it seemed a bit unfair on mums. Surely they need God’s word in their lives every day, just like everyone else in the church. So giving them an excuse not to read their Bible seemed almost to be cheating them out of the chance to be spiritually nourished each day. And usually when I look back on things my pre-motherhood self said about motherhood, I point and laugh and say ‘Ha! Idiot!’ but in this case I think I had a point! But as I’ve got deeper and deeper into sleep-deprived motherhood, I’ve often lost sight of that and fallen back on the excuse: ‘Um… I’ve got a baby.’
So how important is it that we feed on God’s word? Let’s see what God’s word says about it:
These are the commands, decrees and laws the LORD your God directed me [Moses] to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the LORD your God as longs as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life… These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts… Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door frames of your house and on your gates. Deuteronomy 6:1-2; 6; 8-9.
Here God’s people, freshly free from slavery in Egypt, are being told to remember God’s word. And they won’t easily remember! I think when he says, ‘stick it to your forehead; wallpaper your house with it,’ he is implying that you can’t rely on remembering the last sermon you heard (which was probably three weeks ago).
And Jesus himself quoted this same speech from Moses when he was tempted by Satan in the desert: ‘It is written: “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”’ (Matt 4:4) To Jesus, God’s word was more important than food. Do you believe this too?
I need to remember than amidst the battle against the washing up and the battle against the dirty laundry and the battle against the clock in the morning, there is a much greater battle taking place. Whether I like it or not, every day I’m in a spiritual battle: ‘Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.’ 1 Peter 5:8.
This is easy to see when you think about it. Things that seem innocent or just coincidental ‘just so happen’ to get in the way of time you could be spending with the Lord in prayer or reading the Bible or hearing the gospel preached. Your happy baby starts to scream as soon as the sermon starts. Or the gas man comes when you’re sitting down to read your Bible. Coincidence? I think not. Sometimes these things that get in the way will actually stop you from being fed on God’s word, but let’s keep fighting against that. We must fight for our lives. I hope that your husband or church family will help you to do this too.
Sometimes you have to put yourself first in order to best look after your family. (I don’t mean you need a spa day once a month, sorry!) When I was training to be a teacher I was told, ‘Your most valuable resource is you,’ meaning you need to look after yourself first: you can’t teach very well if you’re in bed with the flu because you’re run down. You can apply the same principle to motherhood. If you’re breastfeeding (and if you’re not!), you need to eat and drink. Even if that means you let the baby cry for five minutes longer while you make some toast and find a clean pint glass, then do it. It goes against your instincts, but it’s the right way around. You’re no good to your children if you can’t function. Sometimes putting them first means, practically, putting yourself first.
If this is true with physical care and nutrition, how much more so with spiritual vitality. You can’t pastor your kids if you’re running on empty yourself. They need to see that you really believe that you need and love the Lord Jesus before they can believe that they need him too. By God’s grace he saves kids despite our flaws, so please don’t feel condemned, but I am trying to encourage you (and myself) that by carving out time to spend with God, we are actually doing a wonderful thing for our kids. Even if it means parking them in front of the TV for fifteen minutes so you can read your Bible. Oh yes! Remember that Jesus always took time out to spend with the Father, despite all the people who were desperately dependent on him: ‘… crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their illnesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.’ (Luke 5:15-16)
You might be thinking, ‘Yes I know all this, but how do I do it?’ This varies depending on who you are and what your situation is. It might be that you could listen to talks at home, or that you and a friend can check up on each other, or you could get up earlier (no, really!) to start the day with the Bible. One mother-of-many told me once that she has three time slots in the day in which to do her Quiet Time, and if she misses the first one she’ll do it the second, etc. Giving yourself three chances a day seems realistic to me. I could list a dozen ideas, but I think the main thing is this: believe it matters. Believe what God says about his Word – that we need to feed on it every day. We need to remember it! And pray for God’s help – by his Spirit he can give us more faith that His word is what we need, more than coffee and a crumpet. Recruit babysitters, or early-morning-texters, or crèche helpers – whatever it takes. Fight for your life.
I wrote a few posts ago about comparisons: comparing myself to people around me in order to make myself feel good, aka pride. But there’s also another type of comparison which also escalated to a new level when I became a mum. I compare myself to people who I think are better than me, or better off than me. This makes me feel insecure, anxious and, self-pitying. I don’t mean my many friends who are more patient, kind or God-dependent than me – they’re my godly role-models. I can thank God for what I see in them, and ask Him to make me more like that. If I’m honest, what bothers me more is the other stuff – the mum whose house is spick-and-span; the mum who’s thin three weeks post-birth; the mum who remains serene whilst packing for a holiday. And it doesn’t even have to be real – oh no, I can invent comparisons. I look around me and think, ‘I bet so-and-so’s living room never looks like this.’ How do I know?! This is laughable in a way, but it’s a symptom of a serious problem.
When my second child, Ezra, was born, it quickly became clear that he had acid reflux. This meant that after each feed he would be in a lot of pain and would squirm and cry until he fell asleep. Then he’d wake up quite happy, have another feed and the crying/squirming routine would start again. It was very upsetting, not to mention noisy.
At the same time, another lady in our church had also had a baby boy, and a mutual friend had been round to meet him. I asked how they were doing, and my friend said apologetically, ‘Yeah they’re fine – he’s a really easy baby.’ Now of course, I didn’t want my friend’s baby to be ill or for her to be having a hard time at all. But in the midst of my struggle with a sad baby, I was very upset to hear that another baby was easy! I kept rebuking myself, but for days I couldn’t think about it without getting a sinking feeling in my stomach. I was jealous! But it was more than that. Nothing like that should cause such a strong emotional response without it ringing alarm bells. What was my problem?
The sad truth is, I do believe this huge upset was caused by idolatry in my own heart. I know that ‘idolatry’ is a nasty word, but it’s true. I’m not sure if it came down to wanting the perfect children, or wanting an easy life, or wanting to be the perfect mother, but it was probably a combination of these things which had taken a higher place in my heart than, well, God.
Here are three (not the only three) reasons that I should have been genuinely pleased for my friend’s blessing:
One – to God be the glory
‘For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To [God] be the glory for ever! Amen.’ (Romans 11:36)
Everything that happens is for God’s glory. He is sovereign and good, and worth all the praise. So if my baby is absolutely marvellous, that’s for God’s glory. If he’s a screamer, that’s for God’s glory. This can be hard to accept. I know some of you have had terrible, hard experiences with motherhood and with the rest of life. Many things are not good. But one answer to the ‘why’s of this life is that God is showing (glorifying) himself and making himself known. And although it can be hard to accept, it’s actually wonderful news that everything is under God’s control, and he is in the business of showing us how perfect he is.
Two – God does not withhold good things from me
‘And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son…’ Romans 8:28-9
This amazing promise tells me that everything that happens in my life is for my spiritual good. God could give me the following: mould-free walls; step-free access to my home; children who enjoy tidying up. He hasn’t given me those things (yet), but I know that this is for my spiritual good. So anything I think I’m lacking (i.e. stuff I’m coveting) is not evidence of God being unfair or unkind to me. How dare I even whisper this! As Spurgeon says:
“As for his failing you,
never dream of it –
hate the thought of it.
The God who has been sufficient until now,
should be trusted to the end.”
If God chooses to give my neighbour a beautiful house, the ability to bake bread, a giant food budget, winsome and orderly children and a post-baby figure like Davina McCall, then I can be happy for her! Because God has given me exactly what I need the most in order to make me more like his Son, Jesus.
Three – I need to be thankful to God, and get on with it
‘… when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work – this is a gift of God. He seldom reflects on the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart.’ Ecclesiastes 5:19-20
In light of points One and Two, I need to stop looking around at everyone else’s lot and accept my own! I can ask God for the ability to accept my lot, then stop my self-absorbed reflecting and rather get on with the work God has for me to do today. While I’m fretting, green-eyed, over my friend’s lot, I’m ignoring my own. And I’ve so much to be thankful for.
If Jesus is number one, then I will a: want him to get the glory; b: want to be more like him and c: be thankful for everything he gives me. If something else is number one in my heart, then I will be discontent, jealous and, frankly, not very nice. Who wants to be friends with the ‘me’ described in those opening paragraphs? Not you, I’m sure.
Perhaps you don’t play the comparison game, in which case you’re probably just wondering what on earth my problem is (I refer you back to the nasty word). But whether you do or you don’t I hope that you can be encouraged today that God does not withhold good things from you, he deserves all the glory, and by putting him first you can be satisfied in him, and happy with your lot!
P.S. I do think that comparisons are a huge issue with parents, and I’d love to say more on this. I’ve only scratched the surface, but I’d like to recommend the following book: Compared to Her by Sophie de Witt. I’ll write a proper review of it too, but just wanted to plug it here because I learnt a lot from reading it – all credit to her!
Did you have a nice Christmas? I don’t know if you went to someone else’s house or whether you were cooking the dinner yourself this year. Did you get any time to rest? Did you feel appreciated – not just for your efforts on Christmas day, but also for the hard work you do all year? Did you get a (small) gift which really showed you that you are noticed; that someone really knows what you like; that you matter? I hope so. But it’s not always the case. Sometimes your ‘holiday’ comes and goes, and you haven’t had a break at all. And you’re looking into 2014 knowing that it’s going to be the same hard work, day in and day out right up to the horizon and beyond. You might be wondering, ‘What’s the point?’ Maybe you feel you could be doing something more. More than wiping noses; washing school uniforms; grilling fish fingers. Where’s your life gone?
Judith Kerr, the woman who wrote, amongst other things, The Tiger Who Came to Tea was on the TV recently. The BBC made an interesting documentary about her life. She had to flee from the Nazis as a child, and on this programme Michael Rosen (children’s poet) had come up with a theory that the tiger in the story represented a threat – someone who could turn up any time at your house and take your things. I know: this is rather a ‘Santa isn’t real moment’ for Tiger fans, if it’s true.
But do you want to know what Judith Kerr said about it? She said that she and her young daughter were at home all day together, every day, and her husband worked long hours. ‘We wished someone would come’, she said. And then she said something like, ‘And why not have a tiger come?’ So she made up the story. So here is a woman who as a mother is so lonely that she’d rather have a tiger come to her house and eat all her food (and drink all the water in the tap) than have another mundane day where nothing you’d like to remember happens.
Do you have tiger moments? The days can seem very long, and a neighbour popping in for a favour can sometimes be the social highlight of the day.
And motherhood isn’t just lonely, it’s also really hard. I think the hardest part is the fact I’m forced to deal with my own sin all day long. There’s nothing to distract me from my impatience; on the contrary I’m erupting my impatience all over my 2-year-old. My pride keeps slapping me in the face because there’s nobody to say ‘well done’ when my child shares without being asked to at home, and then has a tantrum in the supermarket because he can’t have a doughnut.
I’m battling with sin day after day, week after week, and it’s such slow progress. God in his grace is changing me by his Spirit – amazing! – but I get so impatient with myself. Sometimes you think you’ve cracked something, swept out a sin, and then it’s so disappointing when you realise you’ve done it again the next day. I recently chatted to a friend who felt convicted about a particular way she could love her husband more – we talked; we prayed; she felt encouraged to change. The next week she did almost exactly the same thing again. How deflating! We want to stomp out the sin in our hearts, but it just keeps reigniting.
So there are physical and emotional things that are hard about being a mum – it’s lonely, it’s tiring, and you might feel that you’re wasting your time. There are also spiritual things that are hard, because your sin keeps exposing itself, and with your children watching (and pointing it out) it’s a bit difficult to pretend it’s not there.
So, parents, what is my Happy New Year message to you? Well, I read something recently in a book called ‘Washed and Waiting’ by Wesley Hill, which really encouraged me about my slow and agonising battle with my own sin. He quotes the film ‘The Two Towers’, in which Sam the hobbit is wondering whether people will one day talk about the journey he and Frodo have been on:
By rights we shouldn’t even be here [on this quest]. But we are… I wonder if people will ever say, “Let’s hear about Frodo and the Ring.” And they’ll say, “Yes, that’s one of my favourite stories. Frodo was really courageous, wasn’t he, Dad.” “Yes, my boy, the most famousest of hobbits. And that’s saying a lot.”
Then Hill writes this:
Many times in my experience … I have wished my life was different, that I had some other burden to bear – anything but this one. But I have also felt that if Someone is watching – taking note; caring about each footfall, each bend in the trail; marking my progress – then the burden may be bearable.
When you read or watch Sam talking like that about his journey it’s really moving because you know that one day they will be celebrated for their bravery, and rightly so. Their efforts do not go unnoticed. And (as Wesley Hill writes) there is someone watching our every move, and He will reward us much more greatly than any community of hobbits could ever do!
And in fact, the greater the struggle, the greater the glory we will receive:
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
Each time you again have to apologise to your daughter for losing it during tea time, or you lock yourself in the bathroom to avoid taking something out on the kids that’s not their fault, or you force yourself to give thanks because you’ve never felt so ungrateful in your life – it’s not for nothing. It’s not for nothing!
I don’t really understand how it’s going to work, but God in his grace and mercy will one day reward you according to how you handled each day with your kids. Your Father puts you in these situations so that you will become more like Christ. So there is a purpose, an eternal purpose, which by faith we can be sure of, even though we can’t see it.
People can encourage you, and so they should, that the hard work you’re putting in really does matter in this life too. Your kids do need hot food and clean clothes, and they need love and stability. They’re blessed to have you. Please don’t underestimate the value of what you do for them physically and emotionally. But also know this: that spiritually you are investing in your future glory. And not just your own, but as you teach your children the gospel, and as they see you live it out and follow your example, by grace they too will receive glory from the Father when they come at last to heaven. Stop and think about that! What better pension plan could there be?
So if, this January, you find yourself comparing your ‘career path’ with that of your old school friends, or what might have been if you hadn’t had children, why not remember what an incredible gift God has given you in making a mother out of you: Your praise is not from men, but from God.
I’ve been re-reading A Christmas Carol, because it’s just so darn festive, and it makes you glad you live here and now, and it makes you thankful that you can go to the hospital when you’re ill, and did I mention that it’s festive?
I wanted to show you this passage from ‘Stave Two – the First of Three Spirits,’ because it’s a lovely picture of childhood happiness. Here the narrator (not Scrooge!) is describing a scene in which a large family of children play around with their adult sister. I wish it had been their mother, but I think it probably is the sister and you just can’t rewrite Dickens! But let’s just say it could just have easily been their mum! You’ll see the narrator is really gushing over this young lady, and he can’t believe the audacity of her little brothers who are clambering all over her without any hint of inhibition. I don’t know if you read much Dickens (!), but I think you should probably read this passage a couple of times through. It’s worth it.
They were in another scene and place, a room, not very large or handsome, but full of comfort… The noise in this room was perfectly tumultuous, for there were more children there than Scrooge in his agitated state of mind could count… The consequences were uproarious beyond belief; but no one seemed to care; on the contrary, the mother and [eldest] daughter laughed heartily, and enjoyed it very much; and the latter, soon beginning to mingle in the sports, got pillaged by the young brigands most ruthlessly. What would I not have given to be one of them! Though I never could have been so rude, no, no! I wouldn’t for the wealth of all the world have crushed that braided hair, and torn it down; and for the precious little shoe, I wouldn’t have plucked it off, God bless my soul! to save my life… And yet I should have dearly liked, I own, to have touched her lips; to have questioned her, that she might have opened them; to have looked upon the lashes of her downcast eyes, and never raised a blush; to have let loose waves of hair, an inch of which would be a keepsake beyond price; in short, I should have liked, I do confess, to have had the lightest license of a child, and yet to have been man enough to know its value.
I think Dickens has really captured something true and beautiful about childhood here. The last part describes, I think, a universal truth about kids. By the time children are old enough to appreciate the blessing of relationships they have, those relationships have changed and they can’t go back to being children. By the time your children appreciate all of the times you’ve changed their nappies, often while they thrash around and scream, they’ll probably be changing their own children’s nappies. I’m not saying they don’t appreciate anything, but from their childish perspectives they can’t see the value of their parents (or other people in their lives) in the way that they will once their grown-ups. They enjoy the relationships massively, but they’re not ‘man enough to know their value’. And actually, like the children in the Dickens scene, they enjoy you more because of it.
This isn’t a bad thing. So much of what you do for your children, and what you give them – and the fact that often it’s yourself you’re giving them – is taken for granted by your children. My husband has said to me more than once, ‘The kids take you for granted, and that’s how it should be.’ I know that sounds a bit strange, because we think of ‘taking for granted’ as being necessarily negative. But he means that they expect me to be there, always, and to keep being Mum. It’s a given. You might – I hope – have people around you who appreciate what you’re doing with your life. They know that you’ve made sacrifices for your children, and that, frankly, your kids are very privileged to spend so much time with you. But your kids don’t know any of that. Even if you say to them (which I hope you don’t), ‘I gave up a rewarding and lucrative job for you!’ or something similar, they still won’t get it. You’re their Mum (or Dad) – and they can’t take a step back and see you in any other light.
But most of the time, even if you’ve got lovely family and friends who appreciate you, nobody sees what you do. There is no omniscient narrator, no fly-on-the-wall cherishing the happy moments in your home, or sympathising with you when everything happens at once and you’re really being tested. You can tell your spouse or a friend at the end of the day, but it’s not really the same. But, (and I suppose you know where I’m going with this) there is someone who sees everything you do. And He thinks you’re precious, He values you, and He forgives your wrongs as well. Please be encouraged, especially in the run up to Christmas, with all of the shopping and the list-making and the running between Nativity plays, that God values you most highly. One day, you’ll meet God face to face and he’ll say, if you’re trusting in Christ, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant!’ and it will all have been worth it. In the new creation, nobody will underestimate or overlook you. Alleluia!
But there’s something else that we mustn’t forget. When we serve our children, especially when it’s hard for us, we’re following the example of our Lord and Saviour. There’s One whose entire life was a sacrifice. He gave himself, and not for people who loved him and liked to play games and kiss him, but for his enemies. There’s One who knew that only God his Father valued him. The King who didn’t even have a bed to be born in; the King who was a child refugee; the King who as an adult ‘had nowhere to rest his head.’ There’s One who was underappreciated beyond our understanding – who was priceless, and yet was killed like a worthless criminal. And in the end, when we see face to face King Jesus, who is our role-model and our righteousness, we won’t be saying, ‘Oh, finally someone who appreciates me!’ We’ll be casting our crowns before Him – the One who is worthy of all the glory and honour and praise.
I know I’m already quoting Dickens, but this isn’t the proper Christmas Carol post – that’s still to come.
Have you ever tried to do something festive and beautiful with your family? Christmas music on; candles lit; cattle lowing. Here’s a reminder that the execution of such plans is often not quite as soft-focus and magical as we’d hoped.
Here, Swiss Family Brooks attempted to decorate a gingerbread house. We even bought it flat-packed from Ikea to reduce the risk of meltdown. However, in the end not even Mike’s Structural Engineering expertise could reverse the sabotage of Miriam’s elbows.
But of course, the children loved it – and the gingerbread house tasted the same. I do have a video of Ezra laughing his head off every time he added a smartie to the roof, but it’s far too blissful to show you here.
If a similar plan of yours has gone awry, please be encouraged that it’s not the end result that matters, but the fun you have in the process. Now please excuse me while I go and apologise to my children for losing sight of this!
Please pause the internet Christmas shopping and take a couple of minutes to hear this excellent spoken word about Santa, and how we often view God. It’s no bah-humbug! (Christmas Carol post to follow – don’t think I’m joking.)
This was the trigger for an in-hindsight-amusing conversation with Miriam about Santa in Peppa Pig: ‘So you see, Miriam, Peppa had never met Santa but you can speak to God every day’ (Cue blank/confused/’can we watch another episode now?’ expression from eldest child.)
“Santa rewards those with good behaviour; Jesus draws near to the broken as Saviour.”