Order! Order!

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I went on our church’s weekend away last weekend.  It’s only the second one we’ve ever had, and it was absolutely smashing.  Not flawless, but certainly a little foretaste of the new creation.  God’s community; God’s word; beautiful weather.

We were learning about God from Genesis, Chapters 1 to 3.  I expect you’ve read those chapters, or at least have an idea what they’re about.  You may feel you’ve ‘done them to death’ (not the ideal expression), but we can always learn more from God’s word.  And as my circumstances change, I find God graciously teaching me new things from familiar bits of Scripture.

As you’ll know if you’re a parent (or ever speak to one), much of what you do when you’re caring for children is repetitive.  Phyllis Diller said ‘Cleaning your house while children are growing is like shovelling your driveway while it’s still snowing.’  My children follow me around the flat, undoing the work I’ve done.  Yesterday I did some cleaning, and for a few minutes the kids’ bedroom and the living room were clean and tidy, so I took photos.  I sent the photos to my husband to show him what I’d achieved, because I knew that by the time he got home the work would have been largely undone.

Other times, you do manage to create order in a little part of your home, but it goes pretty much unnoticed.  You tidy a shelf in a cupboard, or you sort out your husband’s sock drawer.  You may (as I do) feel you’ve won a little victory, but that moment of triumph makes no difference to the pile of washing up there is still to do in the kitchen.  Sometimes you can feel that your hard work just seems to have been wasted.

So what does Genesis 1 have to say about all of this?

‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.  God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.’ Genesis 1, 1-4.

Before God spoke the light into being (feel free to ponder that mind-blowing fact for a moment or two!), the world was formless.  Like a lump of clay that hasn’t been yet fashioned into anything, it wasn’t any use.  Not only that, but the ‘darkness’ and ‘the deep’ are symbolic of chaos.  Chaos is not funny in the Bible; it’s not a word used to describe messy play or pancake day.  It’s dangerous.

So what does God do?  He creates order.  He separates.  Creating order and structure are good things to do; they’re godly things to do.

Depending on your personality and gifts, you might love order and structure, or you might not.  God has made each of us different, and that should be celebrated.  I have friends who run their homes with military precision, and I have friends who just ‘go with the flow.’  And don’t worry, I’m not saying that Genesis 1 commands you to go now and organise your child’s bookshelf or make a cleaning rota for yourself.   What encouraged me was that God separated the night from the day.  So even when we separate our day up, we are doing a good thing.  “It’s breakfast time!”  “It’s bath time!”  “It’s quite play time!” (Worth a try?)  So if you’re a bit of a ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ type parent, then please be encouraged that as you structure your day you are behaving a bit like God, in whose image you’ve been created.  And if you spend a lot of time organising things and creating order in your home, but nobody really notices, please remember that God appreciates order.

I probably should mention, that there is a challenge or here to us, too.

Some of us might be tempted to find our refuge in organisation.  These are the mums who, on maternity leave, felt their world was falling apart because they no longer had any structure to their day.  Structure feels safe; structure makes us feel we’ve achieved something.  This is my tendency, although by organised I do not mean tidy.  I like to have my admin sorted, but picking stuff up off the floor is a different kettle of fish.  So I need to remember that whether my day has structure or not, God is my refuge; God gives me significance; God satisfies me.

Others of us might rather not have order.  We feel stifled by structure.  We love spontaneity and we don’t like to plan.  I suppose for those parents, it’s good to remember that God actually is a God of order, so it’s not something to avoid as though it’s going to trap us and make us feel powerless.  I recently heard someone say that she felt that planning was a bad thing, because if you don’t plan you rely on God more.  I will now resist the temptation to write 2000 words on why I disagree, and instead will just say that in order to be good stewards of the time and money God has given us, we probably do need to have some structure and planning in our lives.  Even if that just means writing a shopping list today for tonight’s tea.

(An aside: my husband is from an impulsive, spontaneous family and I am from a plan-ahead family, and thanks be to God he has kept us happily married for eight and a half years!  We are learning, by God’s grace, the benefits of each other’s way of doing things!)

Have you noticed that your kids love structure too?  My children certainly know when it’s breakfast time!  Whether you’re a demand feeder or a Gina-Ford-Handbook wielder, your day will have structure.  And in my days as a secondary school teacher, I saw how much the children I taught felt safe in a structured environment.  For some of them, school was the only place where they knew where they stood and what was happening next.  So the next time you tell your children that it’s lunchtime soon, or bedtime was half an hour ago, or that we don’t get undressed at the dinner table, I hope you’ll remember that you’re blessing your children, and you can thank God for that.

Book Review Alert: ‘Compared to Her…’

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!

Quick, Quick, S l o w

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‘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.

Misfits

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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. 

Learning to say ‘Thank You’

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One day this will be a nostalgic image for me!

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

111. Anaesthetic

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.

Fight for Your Life

Resist the urge to tidy; read your Bible instead!
Bible time trumps tidy-up time! Resist the urge!

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.

A Nasty Word (Comparisons Part 2)

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Duvet in the kitchen – I bet this never happens in so-and-so’s kitchen!

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!