Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The Word we Banned from our House


  We had struggled with the idol of perfection since we were dating.  My marriage has been flaunted on the altar of perfection perception.  By me.  By my husband. By extended family.

It was unclear to me the depths of my idolatry until our marriage was attacked.  But even after that, I still white-knuckled my outward persona to match what I had hoped to convey to the world: we were still perfect.  We were still the perfect couple.  So then God threw a couple more blows my way to completely humble me where I finally saw it.  I finally saw Him in His splendor, and me on my knees begging for forgiveness.

I saw some of the deep-rooted sins in my life; one of them being my view of marriage.  I didn't know how to view it but I kept hearing the word 'perfect' all around me and it kept bringing me back to inadequacy.  Then I noticed how often I said it and wrote it. My husband was saying it, and so were my kids...  and pretty much everyone around us.  I realized our culture is driven to perfection in so many areas.  Not many of them are Godly or Biblical, and yet we strive so hard to meet an unattainable standard.  And if we can't, we show off the illusion that we have concocted.  We fight so hard to show off.

I lasted about a week listening to the all-too-common use of the word 'perfect' and then I was done.  I had had enough.  I threw my hands on the table, stood up out of my chair, and told the kids my new rule.  We would not be saying the word 'perfect' in this house.  Let me show you some of the definitions of 'perfect' from


[adjective, noun pur-fikt; verb per-fekt]

-conforming absolutely to the description or definition of an ideal type
-excellent or complete beyond practical or theoretical improvement
-exactly fitting the need in a certain situation or for a certain purpose
-entirely without any flaws, defects, or shortcomings
-accurate, exact, or correct in every detail
-thorough; complete; utter
-pure or unmixed
-unqualified; absolute
-expert; accomplished; proficient
-unmitigated; out-and-out; of an extreme degree
verb (used with object)
-to bring to completion; finish
-to bring to perfection; make flawless or faultless
-to bring nearer to perfection; improve; make better
-to make fully skilled
Look at some of those descriptive words: conforming absolutely, ideal, excellent, complete, improvement, exactly, without flaws/defects/shortcomings, accurate, exact, correct, pure, absolute, expert, accomplished, proficient, extreme degree, flawless, faultless, improve, make better.

This was the message I sent my kids. Daily.
I was prodding my kids to display perfection in every area.  I was the one driving stress and anxiety right into their developing minds and hearts.  Just as I had done with myself and my marriage, I was beholden to this god of perfection.  And I was cramming it down the throats of my little ones.  My eldest son hates (HATES!) to lose.  Second place holds little value for him.  Learning from mistakes is a foreign concept to him. Reading slower than his sister is like a slap in the face to him and he shrinks into himself and retreats from the world.  Guess where he learned that from?!  Ugh. Me.

We talked with the kids about what that word means and what it represents. We made it clear we do not ever expect perfection.  We expect obedience and respect.  We expect them to try their best and give things their all.  We expect them to learn from mistakes; to let the mistakes fuel their progress in trying again.  Of course we tied that into the Bible since that was where we gained our knowledge of this concept and shared how God doesn't expect perfection but our obedience and respect.
It turned into a game to recognize someone saying the word 'perfect' and call someone out for saying it.  And I was the worst at it.  I failed time and time again.  My daughter called me out even in the first hour after implementation.  It made me realize how much a subtle influence one word actually has on people.  I subconsciously was demanding perfection from my kids without outright saying it. Looking back, it felt like it was almost the appropriate "Christianeze phrasing" for shaming my kids to align with my screwed up values.

I do apologize when she catches me saying it, but just as sanctification cleanses you, so to have I noticed it with how little the word comes to mind now.  But I have lifted at least one heavy burden off their shoulders... and mine.  It has lightened the air and I have already noticed a difference with our eldest son.  I think it has made for a safer emotional environment where we are free to be ourselves and express our individuality without fear of retribution.
I challenge you to listen to the words your family says, the people around you, and how often tv shows will use the word perfect.
It is the one word I have banned from our house.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

A Mom's Struggle with Gravity

As a Mom, we are given one of the highest callings.  I feel as though I have heard it all before, "You are their theologian", "You are their most important teacher", "You have the ability to lead them."  I agree with all of those.  But I never understood the true gravity, the depth, the gumption, the weight behind it all until I was forced to put it into practice.

Two years ago, I took a parenting class; I had two options at Church for the women's Bible Study--one was the parenting class and the other was to study a book of the Bible in detail.  I was torn because I really enjoy studying word for word through a book to understand the context; besides, I told myself, my kids are great, well-behaved, good enough children.  I was proud of who they were, that they were generally very respectful, all the hours and consistent training I had endured, what I had accomplished with them, how they presented themselves in public, and how they acted. But I decided to take the parenting class in hopes of getting to know more Moms as I had not totally reached out to anyone.

The first week, I was brought to weeping tears when I discovered just how crucial my role was--my pride was swept up in my kids' outward appearances, my heart was full of ugliness because my kids obeyed and theirs didn't, my kids knew who was boss and that they knew they needed to listen to me and their Dad.  But wow, I have been broken many times in the last three years, and you would think I would be used to it as my pride continually has been shattered over and over, but I did not expect the weight of what was missing to hit me so hard.

My heart.  Their hearts.  I had missed it.  I had not only passively missed it, I bypassed it completely to focus on external things.  I had set up my children to be obedient idols to hopefully incite jealousy all to boost my own pride.  I had been humbled yet again, with good reason.
In my few years of parenting, I trained them to obey and had pretty well succeeded.  But what occurred to me when studying this book was that their roots were lacking.  I had not watered them properly to encourage their hearts and their consciences to think for themselves.  What an empty wasteland I had encouraged.  And my heart was no different.

I repented a lot while studying that book, cried through almost every chapter as the Lord worked more on my heart and understanding to really get it through how I ought to be living needed to first be changed, then I could pass that along to my children.  I couldn't very well teach them heart and knowledge issues if my heart was hard and my eyes blind.

Then my husband and I attended a Sunday School class about parenting, that is enforcing the ideas behind the first book.  The first class we sat in the back, thank goodness, because I started weeping uncontrollably.  Seriously.  I could not stop.  And it was ugly crying. The weight of my responsibility as a Mother had hit again.

It reinforced to me the gravity of what God had called us to as parents.  It is the hard things in life that this really comes into play that I have been made more aware of.  It means protecting your kids when God calls you to; even if that means you need to fully cut off family members. It means living out that God is number one; even if that means you need to confront those around you who have evil patterns of sin and destruction.  It means living out your life in accordance to His Word; especially so your children can see you strive to honor God.  It means choosing His path; especially so your children can witness you doing hard things to keep His commands.  It mean confessing your sinfulness in front of your kids; especially so your children can know that you are not perfect. It means apologizing to your kids when you have wronged them or acted out of anger; especially so that your children can know that you do not expect perfection from them, but that their hearts are in the right place.  It means living transparently and being open and honest to invite them to also live that way.  It means encouraging them to not keep secrets as that may lead to a secret life one day.  It means so much.  It really means so much and when you stop to think about the gravity of it all, and how that has played out in your life, with the steps you have been called to take to raise your kids, it can feel overwhelming.

Not overwhelming in a sense of despair, but in how much God has brought us through and led us to this point.  We have had to endure a lot to raise our kids in a way that we feel God desires us to, and it is SO worth it.  I know I would give up the world and all it's riches, and glory, and people, if God will be their God in the end.  I would do it all over again.

"Then Jesus said to his disciples, 'Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.'" Matthew 16:24

I am slowly understanding now the gravity of this statement and what it means in this life to live this out.  We have a cross to bear as Christians and I pray that God may continue to peel back the layers over my eyes to see His truth accomplished in my life and through my life.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Biblical Forgiveness

What a weighty subject: forgiveness.
Does the Bible call us to forgive everyone for everything?  Yes. Unabashedly, the answer is yes.
“If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them.” -Luke 17:3b
But it looks different than what a lot of Christians initially think.  I grew up with the (mis)understanding (to no one’s fault than my own) that forgiveness was to be offered once an apology had been sought and that I was required to give it to that person no matter if they were sorry or not. Biblical forgiveness though, is ultimately a heart issue.  It is a matter of saying to God, “I recognize who I am as a depraved individual, who I would be if You had not called me, what you have saved me from, and I promise to not harbor bitterness to someone who is ultimately no better than I, a sinner; I seek to glorify YOU in all I do and say, and that requires letting go of earthly offenses.”  Before you consider your own situation and wonder, “yes, but how can I forgive this person, they did __________ to me”, keep reading as we delve into the real meaning of this command.
Read verses 3-4 now for more context.
“If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.” -Luke 17:3b-4
The first thing to remember is that forgiveness is between God and you.  Forgiving someone has to occur in your heart first and foremost in order to be genuine.  The ability to forgive for some offenses is truly a gift from God as He works in and through you. Sometimes, this takes TIME, so please don’t fall under the illusion that you are not a true Christian or your heart is not right if it takes you time to process the situation and can’t immediately forgive someone an offense–we are wired with emotions for a reason, and He wants us to work through them and grow from every experience–seeking to see His sovereignty in all of life’s occurrences. It’s the old Christian adage, “there’s a reason for everything”; while hearing it may sound callous while you’re in the midst of an emotional upheaval, it is so true.  God really does work through every situation for our good; not earthly good with relationships/things/money, but for our spiritual good.  He uses every situation, good or bad, for our spiritual good and there is a reason why He brings us into and through EVERY situation we encounter in life.  To say otherwise is an affront to who He is in our lives and sets us up for creating a false idol of a god that we selfishly would prefer to serve so as to receive earthly blessings and not spiritual.
To really understand what the author is intending to convey, it is helpful to understand the meanings of the words in the original language.  We can utilize our understanding of the words to formulate how we carry this verse out in life today.  In Strong’s Concordance, the definition for “forgive” is as follows, in part:
aphiemi. From [the root hiemi], to send forth, in various applications (as follow): cry, forgive, forsake, lay aside, leave, let (alone, be, go, have), omit, put (send) away, remit suffer, yield up.
From [the root] apo, to send. To send forth or away, let go from oneself: …
(II) To let go from one’s power, possession, to let go free, let escape.
It is also important to remember that forgiveness does not necessarily need to occur directly between the offender and the receiver.  There are situations where it is not wise to maintain, encourage, continue, and/or open up communication between the two parties.  You may not have as much closure as you would directly communicating the freedom of forgiveness to the other party, but that is something you should continue to pray about that God would release any need you feel you have for it, should a face to face meeting not be safe or wise.
Also, tying in with the occasional and unfortunate necessity for separation between parties, we would be wise to note, and I can’t stress this enough, that Biblical reconciliation is NOT the same as what some deem as ‘Biblical forgiveness’.  Forgiveness can be granted in full with no contact, love can be offered without any contact; though those relationships will most certainly look different moving forward. Forgiveness in your heart can release the other person from the control you maintain that they owe you (the definition says “to let go from one’s power”, “to let go free”).
However, as in a court of law, the offender must still make restitution (jail, community service, financial judgments, etc.) if reconciliation is to occur before they can re-join society as a functioning member; so, too, with our relationships, it is okay to be cautious during this time if a relationship is something you desire with this person–see that they are making restitution, see that they have accepted natural consequences, see that there is more than just wordly remorse. Trust and relationships are sacred gifts you have to offer those around you; “… [d]o not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” (Matthew 7:6)  And now for additional context (emphasis added):
“Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come.  It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble.  So watch yourselves. If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.” -Luke 17:1-4
So. Watch. Yourselves.
Be alert and on your guard; on guard against your own heart. We need to consciously be aware that the enemy is capable and very willing to use whomever is in our lives to further his end goal.  Our hearts and minds need to be in a constant state of repentance or we will be unable to truly let go of earthly transgressions.
We know that if the Bible mentions a word more than once, it is to take note of.  And we see the word ‘repent’ all throughout its pages.  In Strong’s Concordance, it is defined as follows (in part, emphasis added):
metanoeo. to think differently or afterwards, i.e. reconsider (moral feel compunction)–repent.
From [the root] meta, denoting change of place or condition, and [from the root] noeo, to perceive with the mind, think, comprehend.  To repent, change the mind, relent; implying the feeling of regret, sorrow.  Distinguished from metamelomai, which may mean only to regret to have remorse:
(i) Generally
(ii) In a religious sense, implying pious sorrow for unbelief and sin and a turning from them unto God and the gospel of Christ.
There are two verses given as examples after “Generally”, above, and they are Luke 17:3-4 and 2 Corinthians 12:21.  If you read the context of 2 Cor. 12:21, it is Paul exhorting the Corinthians and declaring that he is afraid upon his next visit there will not be true repentance among them. I challenge you to read it and let me know if you think it is inferring that Paul is concerned with people merely stating they are sorry or that they are sorry AND are making restitution for their sins while turning a 180 degrees away from who they were.
In the “(ii) religious sense” definition, it is almost synonymous with verses in the Bible with a call to action to turn to God.  As in, the people on the receiving end of hearing these words were not looking and heading toward Christ with their actions and choices, but part of true repentance requires that act.
As we go back to re-read Luke 17:1-4, let’s take into account the meaning of repentance. “[I]f they repent, forgive them” comes into a whole different light now.  The parables were given to us, in part, as earthly examples to understand how we ought to view ourselves with God; the same is true here.  God will forgive us if we repent which requires more than just mere talk; an actual turning away from sin and toward God.  My Grandma would share with me the illustration to imagine you are on a freeway headed one way, and when you repent, it’s as though you have zipped around in a U-turn and are now heading in the complete opposite direction than you were before.  That is repentance, it is a complete reversal of your heart, mind, soul.  Do not deceive yourselves that it is anything less than that… we are to abhor our sins! If your understanding of repentance is merely the acknowledgement of a wrong, you are sadly mistaken, there is an entire new world of promises that are yet to be uncovered if you delve into what the Bible truly says about repentance and His requirements for our sins to be forgiven.  I guarantee you the Holy Spirit will not be living in a home (your heart) where sin is allowed to dwell and fester and remain unchallenged; your hearts will be changing as He makes His home there and molds you in preparation for eternity with Him.  Nothing short of true repentance will get you to that point as you realize how wretched our true selves are and how deeply we are in need of a Savior.
God promises that the act of repenting wipes away our sin (Acts 3:19); how utterly gracious!  This is why, if someone offends us, and they truly repent (are more than just remorseful or scared of consequences–but truly sorry and change their behavior over a period of time for you to verify and willing to reap the natural consequences of their behavior because they know they wronged you), we are called to forgive them and I believe this means we are to enter back into relationship with them with a clear understanding of what new boundaries should surround the relationship to protect yourself and those in your care. Remember that the verse above says to ‘watch yourself’ in relation to those who cause us to stumble; so be aware and be watchful that you don’t automatically fall back into the same destructive routine with that person.  (Keep in mind, this does not necessarily mean the same relationship that you had before.  It might look very different based on the nature of what has occurred.  For instance, a new relationship will have to be earned after a foundation of trust has been re-established–that can and most likely will look vastly different than the relationship before.  If there is any form of abuse and especially if little ones are involved, that should mean necessary measures are taken to protect the children and to no longer facilitate a relationship with such person, possibly forever, but possibly until severe counseling has occurred and change has truly been sought out by the offender. Again, you will never hear me advocate going back to an abusive situation, especially when it’s of a physical or sexual nature; it might be helpful to note that sometimes it’s okay and warranted to let a relationship end to no fault of your own as you protect what God gave you to protect. The Bible speaks often about these types of relationships all throughout the Bible.)
However, forgiveness and repentance all come back to a heart issue; if you are living in a continual state of repentance seeking to live according to His Word, you will be looking Heavenward with regard to your relationships on earth which heals some of the sting from our wounds.  Having a heart aimed at Heaven will help you understand more clearly why it is okay to forgive that person in your heart and then carefully determine your next steps with that person based on their choices.  Just as the verse says, “Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come”; watch yourselves and your heart that you don’t end up worse off than your offender by harboring feelings God requires us to let go.

[Disclaimer: If you find that I have mis-represented, mis-construed, etc. the Bible in any way, please let me know so I can review and modify if something I have said needs correcting.]
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