A Wise Woman Builds

“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).

A leading reason people need marital counseling is difficulty with in-laws.  Sometimes a wife compares everything her husband does to what her father did and is quick to express disappointment and criticism when her husband does not meet expectations. Sometimes a husband is more loyal to his mother than he is to his wife.

Ever seen one of those difficult marital situations where the husband has never cut the apron strings from his mother? Ever witnessed the pain resulting from a wife idolizing her hero-daddy to the neglect of her husband? Both situations spell trouble. How can this be prevented, especially when the parents in these situations are often emotionally and spiritually needy to the point where they are dependent on the unhealthy attachment to their married son or daughter? Let me share a story with you.

I have a godly friend named Flo who is the mother of four boys. All four of her sons are Christians. All four are married to Christians. All four couples are raising their children in church faith-communities. Flo has devoted her life to her family, having been a full-time, stay-at-home Mom during her child-raising years. She was involved with each of her boys and supportive of their various activities and areas of involvement. As her boys grew older, she developed healthy adult friendships with them.

Flo once shared with me some advice she shared with each of her sons before they married. Her words went something like this: “Son, you have to love her more than you love me. You have to choose her over me. If you are not ready to do that, you are not ready to be married. She has to come first.”  Even though Flo loved her boys and had a good relationship with them, she knew that her boys needed to “leave father and mother” so that they could be united with their wives.

These words of wisdom helped shape her sons’ devotion to their wives. In situations when she felt like interfering, she would remind herself of that advice she had shared with her sons. And so these words also helped prevent Flo from speaking words that might have been hurtful to her sons’ marriages.

In an age of helicopter parents who hover over and interfere in their children’s lives, even if they are married adults, I appreciate the wisdom Flo shared with her sons. In an age where mothers and fathers are so emotionally and spiritually needy they cannot bear to “cut the apron strings,” I admire a woman who is emotionally and spiritually healthy enough to release her sons so they may be fully devoted to their wives.

“The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down” (Proverbs 14:1).

What are we telling the kids?

“O God, we have heard it with our own ears—our ancestors have told us of all you did in their day, in days long ago: You drove out the pagan nations by your power and gave all the land to our ancestors. You crushed their enemies and set our ancestors free. They did not conquer the land with their swords; it was not their own strong arm that gave them victory. It was your right hand and strong arm and the blinding light from your face that helped them, for you loved them” (Psalm 44:1-3  NLT).

The psalmists had heard it. All the people had heard it. They had heard it with their own ears. They had heard it all their lives. They had heard it from their ancestors. It had been passed down from generation to generation.

This really connects with us, right? We really need to tell it to the kids. We need to pass it down. We need to make sure future generations know it.

It.

It?

So what exactly is it?

For many of us today the it we have heard from our ancestors is very different from the it passed down to the psalmist.

For many of us today the it we want to pass down to our children is very different from the it the psalmists would tell their children.

For many of us…
The it we tell our children is what we have done.
The it we tell our children is how we have done what we have done.
The it we tell our children is that they should do what we have done the way way we have done what we have done.

But for the psalmists…
The it they heard from their ancestors was about what God had done.
The it they heard from their ancestors was about how God had done what God had done.
The it they would tell their children was that God could be trusted.

Are we telling it to the kids?

What is it we are telling the kids?

I often hear people talk about the kids have rejected God. Before we reach that conclusion, we better take a long hard look at what they have rejected. Could it be that what they have rejected has more to do with us and our ways and less to do with God and God’s ways? And could it be that what is sorely needed right now is a generation that will tell the kids not about themselves and their ways, but about God and God’s ways.

What are we telling the kids?

Daddy-Daughter Date Night

Some of my best memories are of Daddy-Daughter date nights with my daughter, Laura. I remember a night at the Circus, Sesame Street on Ice, concerts, and one dinner-date at Olive Garden that neither of us will ever forget. Both of us love the garlic bread at Olive Garden, so we decided to ask the waiter if we could have “extra, extra garlic” on our bread. Let me tell you, we got exactly what we asked for! We smelled like garlic for a week! Nearly 15 years later, we are still laughing about that experience.

Daddy-Daughter date nights were so special to both of us. When Laura served as a youth ministry intern in Abilene she organized a Daddy-Daughter date night that was a huge success. The daughters of the church were blessed by their fathers and grandfathers. The last such night I enjoyed with Laura was this summer when I went down to visit her in Houston. We enjoyed visiting an art museum and took in a performance of Spamalot. We had an awesome time just being together.

Daddy-Daughter date nights were pretty easy to arrange and were often inexpensive when Laura was living at home. But now she’s gone and guess what? Your daughter (or grand-daughter) will be gone from home sooner than you think. If you have a daughter or granddaughter, I want to encourage you to have a Daddy-Daughter date night.

If you are looking for a good event to which you can take your daughter on a Daddy-Daughter date night, may I suggest the Disney on Ice production that is running at the Fed-Ex Forum September 6-9. Here’s a description –

“Believing is just the beginning when Princess Wishes comes to FedExForum September 6-9. Witness the magic when Ariel, Cinderella, Belle, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Jasmine and Mulan all make their wishes come true in this collection of celebrated tales wonderfully told through artistic skating and acrobatics. With the help of the magical pixie Tinker Belle, the Disney Princesses’ embark on an adventure to find their heart’s fondest wish.”

For more information, click the link — http://www.fedexforum.com/displayEvent.aspx?id=371

From Peanut Butter and Jelly to Idolatry

Once when our children were young Lourene and I were getting ready to go on a church field trip especially for parents with young children. The children were supposed to have a sack lunch with them so they could eat a picnic lunch at a park.

There was one particular family that was going with us that was going through a trying time. The parents were straining to get done everything they needed to accomplish within the confines of a 24 hour day. They were burning the candle at both ends, as the old saying goes.

Most of the children were going to take peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in their sack lunch. Knowing how stressed this one family was, Lourene offered to make their son a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. When she made the offer to the stressed mother, her proud response was memorable: “Oh, no thank you, Billy only eats sandwiches I make. He says that mine are the best and he doesn’t want any made by anyone else.”

20 years later, I still remember this response. I think it was burned in my memory because it was clear at the time and became even clearer in subsequent years that this mother’s identity was totally wrapped up in her children thinking that she was it. The kids couldn’t eat food prepared by others. They couldn’t be left with a babysitter. They couldn’t go to the nursery at church.

Now I’m all for parents being devoted to their children. And I’m all for children loving their parents. But there is real danger when a mother gets her full sense of identity and fulfillment from her children. And there is real danger when children are not allowed to interact with and learn to trust people other than their parents. Put another way, there is danger when Mom tries to be God to her child. And there is danger when Mom becomes addicted to her child’s worshipping her as God. What looks like being a good mother (or father) can cross the line to idolatry.

O God, help us view our parental roles as that of stewards. May we realize that our children really belong to You and that You have entrusted them to our care for a time. And may we be content to be Your servants, giving You all praise and glory.

Kid CEO

In his helpful book, Kid CEO {How To Keep Your Children From Running Your Life}, Ed Young explores the challenges of marriage after children enter the family arena. Young is especially concerned about children becoming the center of the family universe. He colorfully describes the situation as children becoming “Kid CEO” while their parents becoming “the support staff.” The results, say Young, are devastating.

I want to share a couple of extended quotes from this book which might be thought provoking.

“What is happening in these homes is a crisis of leadership. The truth of the matter is that leaders aren’t leading. Parents in many families today aren’t stepping up and paving a path of purpose. In fact, what is happening is a role reversal. In other words, kids are running the asylum. They are leading, and the parents are following. As a result, the home has become a lop-sided landslide of mayhem – it has become kid driven rather than parent driven” (page 5).

“The tug of war begins the moment the ob-gyn slaps a baby on the rear end and says, ‘It’s a boy’ or ‘It’s a girl.’ Immediately, an organizational shift occurs. With the entrance of a child into the family system, a dual resignation takes place. The wife resigns from her primary role, that of being the wife, and she becomes a mother. She immerses herself in the lives of her children, their every need, want, and desire. In essence, she marries
them. . . . Likewise, the husband resigns from his primary role, that of being a husband, and becomes a father” (pages 5-6).

Throughout the book Young explores ways in which to keep this from happening. I think young couples especially would find some of the material very helpful, including his thoughts on maintaining sexual intimacy after children are born, discipline, and raising well-rounded children (he has some very strong words about limiting your child’s extra-curricular activities).

My wife and I have always thought one of the keys to successful parenting is to parent with the end in mind. Throughout our years of raising kids we frequently asked, “Where will this ultimately take us?” Or, put another way, “If we start down this road with our children, where will it lead us and them?” We had a specific goal in mind for our children, we wanted them to be able to turn them loose and let them function as Christian young adults. As a result of these long-held beliefs, I really enjoyed the closing section of Young’s book on embracing the ultimate goal of parenting.

“No other job is as rewarding, fulfilling, or difficult as that of being a parent. But just like our professional careers, parenting does have a beginning and an end. Some may say that once we have kids, we are parents for the rest of our lives. That is true, in a sense. But in very hands-on terms, it is a finished responsibility when our kids leave home. After that, our relationship with our kids morphs into one of counselor and friend. We might even say that, as parents, we are actually working ourselves out of a job” (page 214).

Here’s one more quote taken from the book’s concluding thoughts.
“When it comes right down to it, parenting is a celebration of the uniqueness and individuality of children. And when your kids do finally leave home, you will be rejoicing, not because you you’re glad to see them go, but because you have done what God wanted you to do. That’s what it’s all about – coming to the end of the adolescent road and seeing your children blossom into loving, caring adults with all of the character qualities, skills, and confidence they need to make it on their own” (page 227).

If I were to summarize what I think is one of the keys to successful parenting it would go something like this: if you want to be ready to confidently send your kids out into the world prepared to run their own lives, don’t let them run the family while they are growing up. That’s very close to what Young is saying in this helpful book.

Daddy-Daughter Date Night

Since my daughter was just a little girl she and I have regularly shared Daddy-Daughter Date Nights. We have done all kinds of things together — from Sesame Street on Ice to concerts to travelling Broadway productions. One of the most vivid memories of a Daddy-Daughter Date Night was the time when Laura was still in elementary school and we went to an Olive Garden for dinner. Laura decided to ask for “extra-extra garlic” on our breadsticks. I think she was somewhat surprised when the waiter said, “Sure.” We both smelled of garlic for nearly a week after we ate it. To this day we still talk about that being the best bread we have ever eaten.

Well Laura is not a little girl anymore, but we still enjoy an occasional Daddy-Daughter Date Night. Tomorrow I am going to make a quick trip to Houston so we can see the production of Spamalot together. I am so excited to have this time with her. I don’t know where we will eat dinner before or after Spamalot, but I bet one of us will joke about ordering “extra-extra garlic.”

God is so good.

Parenting As Self-Worship

Back in graduate school I read a book by Larry Crabb out of necessity. A professor assigned it as required reading for a counseling course I was taking. Some assigned books you read and once you have taken the test you never think of them again. Not so with Crabb’s work. In fact, through the years I have read just about every book Crabb has written. I have enjoyed watching his spiritual journey through the years. Whenever I finish reading his latest release I begin looking forward to his next book.

This morning I have been reminded of an especially memorable passage from SoulTalk, published in 2003, in which Crabb shares what he believes was his biggest mistake as a parent. Through the years I have tried to express this same thought to parents, particularly young parents just beginning their task as stewards, but I have never been able to state it as clearly as Crabb does.

“My biggest mistake as a parent was to love our two sons too much. When each was born, I immediately added him to my list of first things. I didn’t see it; the mists of self-deception formed a thick dark cloud in front of my eyes, and what I thought was godly love for them was really narcissistic love for me. I was caved in on myself as I went to their ball games, coached them in tennis, disciplined them firmly, and taught them Scriptures.

“Seeing them turn out well—a legitimate second-thing desire—became a key piece of the good life I was convinced I needed in order to know joy. My religious journey as a parent was an exercise in self-worship dressed up to look like godly fathering. I was a fool” (Larry Crabb in SoulTalk, p. 207).

While I could quibble with some of the language used in this passage, I strongly agree with Crabb’s point. Sometimes parenting is an exercise in self-worship.

Having a child is an amazing gift from God. And the greatest gift we can give to that child is to have God as our first love, loving Him with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength.

A Prayer for My Children

Paul’s prayer for the Philippians (1:3-11) is a beautiful passage revealing the heart of Paul’s prayers for a church with whom he was so very close. Since the birth of my first child in 1984 it has served as a model prayer for me as I pray for those to whom I am closest.

Thanksgiving for the memories. When I lift up my children, I do so with thanksgiving. This does not mean that everything has always gone great. Like any father, I have experienced a lot of ups and downs as I raised my children. But even in the times when something has gone wrong or I was stressed about something happening in the life of my children, I tried to spend time thanking God for them. In fact, I have found when I have been the most aggravated as a parent, going to God with thanksgiving can be a great way to lower the aggravation factor. Recalling the times when things were good. Re-living the times when we worshiped and prayed together. Remembering the times when God was faithful to bring about good even through trouble.

Confidence in the future. Paul was confident God was going to keep working on the Christians at Philippi. They were not the finished product, but God was going to see them through to the end. Through the years I have prayed, acknowledging the faithfulness of God to continue working in the lives of my children. They are not the finished product. God will see them through to the end. It is easy as a parent to grow discouraged when our children don’t learn something the first time we tell them. Sometimes the lessons they are slow to learn are the same ones we still haven’t learned after 20 or 30 years. God is not finished with us or them. God is faithful. So we pray with confidence in the future. Confidence in God. Confidence in our children. Confidence in what God is doing with our children.

Sharing God’s grace. God’s grace is what saves us and sustains us in our walk with God. Paul writes of sharing God’s grace with the Philippians. Likewise, we need to share God’s grace with our family. It’s easy to have one standard for my children to live up to and another very different standard for me. Truth is, we all are dependent on God’s grace. I need to be ready to share it with my children, because they are, after all going to sin, just like I do. God pours His grace out on me. God pours His grace out on my children, too. I need to share, not holding them to some standard of perfection that I could never keep. I pray for God to pour out His grace on my children, that they may know Him more fully.

More and more love. When praying for our children it is easy to get caught up in praying exclusively for material or physical desires. There is nothing wrong with praying about our child’s physical illness or for a job opportunity, but how much more valuable is it to pray for spiritual growth. “God, help my son love more and more. Father, help my daughter to abound in love. Help them to love You with all their hearts. Help them to love people with complete sincerity.”

Knowledge, insight, and discernment. Paul prayed for the Philippians to know God. We need to pray the same prayer for our children. Praying that they will come to know God. That they will grow to know Him more through every year of their lives. Praying that their knowledge of God will determine their worldview, giving them insights into all the challenges they face. When my children were young I watched them with a close and careful eye. But as they grew older I relinquished my control and turned it over to them. Especially during those years of transitioning control did I pray for them to have discernment. Discernment to know right from wrong was the prayer in the earlier years. Later it became a prayer for them to discern good, better, and best in their choices.

Pure, blameless, and fruitful. Paul’s prayer for the Christians at Philippi to be pure, blameless, while bearing the fruit of righteousness is a most timely prayer for our children, with all the challenges to purity they will face. But we need to understand praying for your child to glorify God can sometimes be a dangerous prayer. Sometimes the greatest glory comes only through struggle, problems, and pain. Do we really believe that when we are at our weakest that is the precise moment we are at our strongest? Are we ready for this prayer to be answered with our child with faith facing a tremendous challenge? Are we ready for this prayer to be answered with our child at a mission point 4,000 miles away in some remote location? Our prayers for our children need to be God-focused. Too often we pray for earthly success. Any pagan can desire that. But a Christian parent prays for matters of vital importance, like purity and righteousness.

Until the day of Christ. As a father, I tried to begin my parenting with the end in mind, always trying to think long-term about what I was doing. I pictured the end, the goal of my parenting, to set free my young adult children as responsible people and faithful Christians. Then I worked back in time, thinking, how is what I am doing as a father preparing them for the day I will release them? Is this preparing them for the day they will no longer be dependent on me? Is this preparing them to live out their faith in God? And yet, in reality, my best long-range plan was short-sighted. As Paul prayed for the Philippians walk with God “until the day of Christ,” so should we pray for our children. My children are both out of the house now. One is even “off the parental payroll.” And yet my prayers have not stopped, because as a father, I want more than anything for them to be ready when Jesus comes.

As Paul prayed for those he loved in Philippi, so we can pray for those we love in our household.

Love Overflowing

“May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you” (1 Thessalonians 3:12).

Think about it —

  • Have you ever really tried to love someone you didn’t like?
  • Have you ever heard someone ask how she could love her husband more?
  • Have you ever wondered how you could love an enemy?
  • Have you ever been called to love someone who was unlovable?
  • Have you ever had someone suggest to love others you must first love yourself?

What is the secret to having a heart filled with love? God.

So we can pray to God, asking Him to make our love grow, even overflow. After all, our capacity for love is not determined by how we love ourselves. Instead, “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). God pours out His love on us until our lives are full and then His love splashes over on those around us.

Not only can we pray for love to grow, but also we can spend time in worship, acknowledging God’s love. And as we receive God’s love in increasing measure, we can experience a change in our hearts as our love grows.

Only God can turn a scorched desert of a heart into streams of love overflowing.

Like A Father

“For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory” (1 Thessalonians 2:11-12).

Paul did not set out to write this passage to instruct the readers on how a father relates to his children. Instead, he is describing good church leadership in terms easily understood by the Christians in Thessalonica. He is contrasting his loving leadership style with a more heavy-handed approach. He is writing about leadership, not parenting, and yet his whole point rests on the assumption that people know what a father is to do. Paul could make that assumption with the Thessalonians. I am not sure we can make that same assumption today.

So to understand Paul’s illustration can not only be instructive about leadership style, it also can remind us what fathering is all about. So Paul dealt with the church members like a father deals with his children – what does that mean? What does Paul assume is common knowledge about the role of a father?

A father is an encourager. He works to give his children courage to do right things and handle any and every situation without fear. He gives support to his daughter so she knows she has someone behind her as she serves the Lord. He spurs on his son to live for God with love and good works. In an age of “positive action” we must remember not to confuse encouragement with flattery. Sometimes encouragement has a corrective side: “Hey son, that was a harsh tone of voice. Come on, show some kindness!” Encouragement does not mean “all positive talk, all the time!” But when a father encourages, he does inspire, hearten, and cheer his child’s growth in Christ.

A father comforts. He knows when to stand by his child, hold his hand, or embrace him. Life can be tough. One time or another everyone experiences hardship, affliction, distress, challenges and difficulty. A father’s words can be soothing to his daughter. A father’s presence can bring her solace. Of course all this implies this father is aware of what is going on in the life of his son or daughter. There can be no comfort without an understanding of the pain. So a father works hard to be in touch with his child’s feelings about his life experiences. What grief is he facing? What troubles her spirit? What sins have taken their toll? A father receives comfort, assurance, and forgiveness from God and passes them all on to his children. A father at war with God is not going to bring much real comfort to his children.

A father urges. He charges (KJV), urges (NIV, NLT), and implores (NASB) his children to live a life worthy of God. Paul conveys a sense of urgency about this responsibility. A father vigorously and earnestly advocates godly living. Fathers need to consider what they are most passionate about with their children: what do I most often urge my children to do or accomplish? Good grades? A leading role in the musical? Sports? Some fathers constantly urge their children to excel in the classroom or on the field of play but rarely, if ever, appeal for godliness. Paul’s assumption is that a Christian father is going to be urging his son or daughter to be living for God above all else. Eugene Peterson’s translation of this passage reminds us such urging goes beyond mere lecturing to modeling the Christian life for your children: “. . . showing you step by step how to live well before God. . . .”

Paul reminds the Christians at Thessalonica his leadership style was like a father. In doing so, he reminds us what basic fathering is all about.