Prayer & Parenting

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Prayer. Keeping up a consistent prayer life has always been a struggle. I’ve always found myself attempting different things – prayer journals, iPhone note prayers, prayer meetings, prayer requests written in a notebook. The Apostle Paul, in I Thessalonians 5:17, calls us to “pray without ceasing,” as if it’s supposed to be natural, like breathing.

Like breathing. 

Then there’s parenting, a struggle to say the least, but at the same time a natural instinct that has always existed in nature. Nurturing and protecting your own almost seems like a moral obligation and common sense, yet this is not what we always see, either, in both humans and animals.

Prayer and parenting – the former being something that sustains the life of a Christian and the latter an instinct that seemingly accompanies reproductive ability. 

What’s my point?

I have a family now, which has only been the case for the last 14 months. I have a husband and a 9-year-old daughter, who are on my mind daily and constantly creep into my thoughts when I’m grocery shopping or cooking food or cleaning the house or plotting out the next few weeks on the calendar. And with this new life, I am finding myself increasingly challenged to pray. To put it more directly, I find myself gasping for air – often. 

My lack of oxygen correlates conveniently with my need to pray – pray for my husband, pray for my daughter, pray for strength and wisdom and patience to care for them and, most importantly – point them to Jesus.

During the first half of this last year, I largely depended on knowledge and experience to deal with my daughter. When methodologies failed, I tweaked, revised, and changed them and tried again. I created order through structure, routine, and schedules. It was madness.

Then, like an unexpected whoosh of unpleasantly cold water dumped over my head, conviction took hold, and I realized I was doing too much. Too much everything – thinking, planning, strategizing, organizing, worrying. I simply needed to pray.

Commitment to prayer changes your life. It alters attitudes, perspectives and priorities. It brings you and those around you closer to Jesus. 

But I didn’t need to just to pray more by myself, proverbially kneeling by my bed before tucking in for the night. I needed to pray with my family, actively, intentionally, and consistently. I needed to pray with and for my daughter more than lecture her about the endless things parents feel like they need to lecture their children about. I needed to pray for and with my husband more than air out my complaints and frustrations to him.

I needed to stop cutting off the oxygen supply to my family and PRAY, not because the life of my family depends on it but because my own life as a Christian depends on it. 

So this is what I’ve started to do, and the pitfalls of self-righteousness are everywhere. It sounds simple enough to merely advise my daughter to say a prayer every time she has a problem and then walk away and continue loading the dishwasher. But am I saying a prayer every time I have a problem? I could check it off my list every time I prayed for my husband’s devotional life, but am I being faithful in studying the Word every day?

In closing, I am going to share with you all just a snapshot of what I’ve begun to experience as a parent.

Wednesdays are our home school day, since my daughter’s school is a home school extension academy that only has classes four days a week. Suffice it to say that I deal with a child who’s emotions and attention span are akin to a roller coaster or a bipolar mood storm. Things today were off to a rough start, so I decided that we were going to start with prayer before going over the plan for the day.

My daughter began to pray, adhering to my request. I bowed my head with her. She began thanking God for all the things that he’s given us, for her little sister, for her family, for dying for us – and that’s where her words became tears.

(I saw myself right then. Just another soul struggling to accept God’s love, a struggle I was personally familiar with. Another soul coming up against the difficulties we all face.)

I prayed for her silently. After a few minutes, she finished her prayer. We looked at each other, tears in both of our eyes. She came over to me and we hugged. When she finally pulled away, I sent her to clean out her nose and then got out the white board with the day’s agenda.

That was how our day began. No lectures or inspirational quotes or motivational speeches about being positive and confident in ourselves. Just prayer. And whatever happened in my girl’s heart that altered her mood was beyond any parenting trick I could ever invent.

It’s in these moments that I remember I do not have the power to give my children what they truly need. God does

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faith like a child

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I’ve been on vacation. Ok, that’s not entirely true, considering I’ve been back for a week now; but let’s be honest: family vacation recovery is real. And I’m not talking decompressing from all the insanity that may or may not have relapsed. I’m simply talking about the process of unpacking and resting – which, mind you, still isn’t finished yet! (Which reminds me, I need to go air out the tent fly before I forget; I’ll be right back.)

Anyway, I have understandably been taking a break from this blog due to vacation; and today I am picking up on Day 3 of the Yell Less, Love More challenge. 

FAITH LIKE A CHILD. That is what all my reading inspired this morning, this beautiful and biblical concept that Jesus himself taught and proclaimed during His ministry on earth. It’s incredible how clearly I notice separate pieces of my life come together in a thematic shape whenever I seek to be spiritually in tune with my Creator, and child-like faith has been the thread pulling it all together recently.

Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”

………

“And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck.”

………

“People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such of these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.

Mark 9:35-37; 9:42; 10:13-16 (NIV)

Mark’s Gospel account of Jesus’ life makes it clear that our Savior did not view children as lesser, immature humans that needed to be constantly scolded and corralled to behave. Jesus loved children, and He even showed us what we can learn from them. Wow, there’s a biblical parenting tip: learn from your kids. 

Sheila McCraith explains how she created the “Orange Rhino Game” to incorporate her sons’ help in her journey to stop yelling. She realized her children could read her emotional cues and facial signals that led up to yelling better than she could brace herself for it. And it not only instilled a sense of empowerment and confidence in her kids but was also an example of asking for help that spoke louder than words. I’m realizing more and more lately that a relationship of accountability between parent and child is not only biblical but also beneficial to the whole family. 

What does this system of accountability look like? It’s simple, really. Both parent and child are accountable to God for our actions; and when I realize I have sinned against God in something I have done to my daughter, it’s my Christian responsibility to apologize for my behavior and ask my daughter to forgive me.

Ok, I fully realize that last paragraph is LOADED. When I was first introduced to this concept, I was moved by it. What a good idea! Then I listened to a sermon one Sunday morning that drove this concept home, and I found myself writhing in spiritual pain and conviction. And then when the moment came for me to apply this concept to my life, I didn’t want to. All my “parent pride” was getting in the way. (And I’m not talking about being proud of being my kid’s parent kind of pride.)

I overthink things. It’s one of the burdens of being an experienced adult. If I had lived while Jesus was on earth, I would have generated my own list of questions for Him and a bullet-pointed summary of why I should travel to wherever He might be to listen to the man. Children don’t overthink. That is what makes them such glorious and delicate people. This is why they can receive the kingdom of God while the twelve disciples, who bore firsthand witness to Jesus’ power, were still dumbfounded by His teachings and miracles. In fact, I find it rather ironic that the disciples felt like they should turn the children away after Jesus had told them, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me.”

Time to tie all of this together with a personal anecdote.

I stood up in front of about 20-30 people this past Saturday and shared how none of my knowledge and experience from all the years of teaching and children’s ministry has helped me over the past year of becoming a parent to a child I did not give birth to. Parenting books offer guidelines for ideal situations. My patience runs dry. I am at a loss at the end of the day. But God is not! He’s still going strong when I am ready to thrown in the towel avoid my daughter for the rest of the night. He can step into any situation and make it right – as long as I let Him.

So I’m learning to let Him. To bring my daughter to Jesus in all of our interactions and let Him comfort her, show her the way, convict her of own sin. And I need to do the same in my own life – turn to Him, be comforted by Him, and seek His love and forgiveness.

I apologized to my daughter last night for not treating her in a Christ-like manner. It was one of those nights when attitude was getting out of hand and I lost it. Then just a few moments later, I almost cried when she asked God to forgive her when she prayed for dinner.

The conclusion I’m drawing from all of this is two-fold: Jesus Himself pointed out that we can learn from little children. He also demonstrated that children can come directly to Him, just like us. So as a parent, I teach my kids, and I learn from my kids; but – most importantly – point my kids to Jesus. He will not cause any of these little ones to stumble.

menu of emotion: frustration for breakfast, anger for lunch, & guilt for dinner

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I was almost having a surreal experience this morning as all my reading from two different parenting books and the Gospel of Mark began honing in on one profound theme: self control

It was so clear, so cut and dry, yet so humbling and difficult to swallow. 

In her book, Yell Less Love More, where Sheila McCraith breaks her own life-altering parent journey, into a 30-day guide, day one is all about admitting the need to change. Her moment of admission came when she realized she was more interested in impressing the world outside her home than she was her own four boys. She went lengths in public to maintain composure and refrain from yelling at her children. But when she thought it was safe and no one was around to hear…the volcano erupted. Then one day the handyman, one of the many she would strive to impress, bore witness to the truth.

In the book When Your Child Has a Strong-Willed Personality by Carl Pickhardt, chapter 4 honed in on parenting methods. Both practical and psychological explanations were given as to why trying to maintain control of your child is the best way to LOSE control of your child. Case in point: yelling at your child to stop yelling. BEHAVIOR SPEAKS LOUDER THAN WORDS. Control the child, parent cannot; influence the child, parent can – and must!

In the fourth chapter of the Gospel of Mark, after Jesus gave His twelve apostles a botany lesson about the word, he throws some other tidbits their way such as “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you – and even more” (Mark 4:24a, NIV). I’m not pretending to be a theologian here, but when I read those words this morning, the picture of me yelling at my daughter to stop yelling popped into my head. And then she yells back at me. A yelling match from hell, as far as I’m concerned. And I’m not proud to say that this has happened.

Raising my voice.

Fighting for control.

I’m feeding myself frustration for breakfast, anger for lunch; and by the time dinner comes around, all there is left to eat is guilt. So upon this negativity I feast. I am being the person I do not want my children to be: prone to emotional outbursts and utterly out of control.

This brings me back to one of the fundamental lessons about communication back in college: the medium is the message.

The words I speak are not devoid of feeling. My kid doesn’t just hear my words, she hears my feelings; and those are what influence her the most. So how do I take this influence and turn it into a godly one? SELF-CONTROL.

I work on myself. I rein myself in when emotions get too hot. I calm myself down. I don’t depend on people around me to get their act together just so I can be normal again. I can’t wait for my kid to stop throwing her fit before I stop throwing my own.

Being a parent means my actions and attitudes are constantly influencing young and fragile minds. I want to feed those minds with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. And the only way to do that is to change my own menu first. 

But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Galatians 5:22-23, NIV

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volume control

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I have been working with kids since I was 12 years old. Different experiences throughout my life triggered my “inner teacher,” though I never did pursue a teaching degree. I chose a more exciting and unconventional and international path for myself, but it never stopped from teaching.

Having the heart of a teacher, however, doesn’t not naturally include characteristics such as patience, compassion, gentleness, discernment and self-control. Anyone who has spent any time in the classroom knows that these traits are vital to cultivating a healthy and safe classroom environment. Without them, your hair turns gray, dark circles from under your eyes, and your voice goes hoarse at an early and premature age.

So over the many years, I have learned as many (possibly more) lessons as I have taught about not only teaching, but actually becoming a teacher. It’s bee a personal transformation, and this transformation took a surprising turn within the last year.

On September 10, 2017, I became a parent. 

I was instantly thrown into limbo. I came home from the classroom where I competently and confidently deal with 15 variations of learning styles and levels and emotional needs on a daily basis to possibly one of the most difficult and needy kids I had ever met. But this was nothing new! I deal with difficulty and neediness of all kinds at all levels and ages all day! But what I faced at home was very, very different. 

I had to make the emotional and mental move from teacher to parent.

This is not easy for a number of reasons, namely:

  1. Teachers are experts at management, routine, and control. Should anything disrupt this flow, certain steps are carried out that over time keep all the students in line. Running a family requires a much more stretchy and flexible version of this, where unpredictability and change are always being accounted for. 
  2. Teachers carry out discipline with relatively non-emotional methods. Since the level of familiarity with each student varies, it is very important to keep things objective and fair, holding each child to the same standards in order to maintain order. Let’s be honest, this is not how order is maintained at home. Discipline can get emotional, messy, and feel extremely unfair. 
  3. The teacher’s priority is the learning objective, whether it’s something abstract such as kindness or factual like state capitals. Learning objectives are measured, documented, and tracked to record the student’s academic growth. Learning objectives at home are not this cut and dry. In fact, it sometimes hard to believe anyone is learning anything when there is food on the floor, the TV is blaring obnoxiously high-pitched noises, and there are un-flushed specimens in the toilet. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg. 

I began reading blogs and researching articles, as I am accustomed to do, and struggled with the conflict between my own expectations and standards and the reality of my new and sprouting relationship with my step-daughter, who, though she shared so much in common with my students, was not my student.

And that was key. My daughter was not one of my students. Yes, I would teach her things and show her how the world works and help her when she was stuck; but I would do all of that as her parent, not her teacher. 

There was a common thread of personal struggle as I transitioned from teacher to parent, however, and that struggle has been volume control.

Twice I have been confronted by educators for whom I had the utmost respect about raising my voice in the classroom. Yes, I am talking about yelling. I am notorious for letting my emotions get the best of me, and any teacher knows that this is possibly one of the “Achilles heels” of teaching. As a teacher, you need to earn and maintain the respect of your students. Losing your shit in the classroom is not how you do this. It’s not how you earn the respect of your kids at home, either.

So I found myself at that familiar and humbling position on my knees again when it came to my own volume abuse. I needed to change.

 

Yell Less, Love More. This is the name of a book I recently grabbed off the library shelves in the parenting section. It’s a 30-day guide that includes

  • 100 Alternatives to yelling
  • simply, daily steps to follow
  • honest stories to inspire

written by Sheila McCraith, mother to four boys. I got those bullet points right off the cover the of book.

Starting tomorrow, I am going to blog through this book over the next 30 days as my start to a new blogging season, because I definitely need to yell less and love more as a parent. 

Just as having the heart of a teacher doesn’t automatically make you the kind of person your students will love, having a minor in your care doesn’t automatically make you a parent. I am still becoming, and there is so much to learn. And I’m starting with volume control.