Saturday, December 6, 2014
And while gifts for each other are great and yes can still remind us of the incredible gifts God gave us in sending His Son to earth, I wonder if there aren't some other less tangible, yet more valuable gifts we might give this season. Let me suggest a few, ones that can last and be enjoyed all year long.
More of you. No, I don't mean that you will show up at more of their events or drive the kids to more places in the family taxi. Rather, give them more of you when you're not exhausted, more of you at your best, more of you in casual, relaxed times when they can just be with you and you with them. Let go of some of the usual demands and obligations you've placed on yourself and family and leave some time and energy to just enjoy one another.
Surprises. What if this year instead of doing the same activities, going to the same events, and spending your money on the usual things, you found a couple of special, unique things to do with them that they will never forget? It will depend on your abilities, interests and resources but you can do a special trip or getaway, visit or invite someone they haven't seen for awhile or attend an event or show they've wanted to go to. The possibilities are only limited by your imagination.
Serve together. Consider finding not just a holiday commitment but a year-long opportunity, perhaps once a month or several times in the next twelve months to care for other people together. The gift? The blessing of doing something for others and together. Plus you'll be modeling for them how real life and joy are more often found in giving not getting.
Slow down. This is necessary for most good gift ideas but what if this year it was simply more obvious that the whole family is going to be less busy than past years. And while kids might balk at first they will most likely see and reap the benefits of not living in the angst of running ragid and meeting the demands of others all the time. You may take some flak from outsiders too, but so what? Try it.
Deepen your family's faith walk. When we make significant changes in other priorities we open up our options for growing spiritually too. Parents will have to set the pace on this but think about some ways that you all can grow more spiritually, both individually and together. One size doesn't fit all here and chances are you're not looking for a program or course to do this. It might start with just praying more, adding more spiritual growth options at home or talking more about spiritual things.
You might serve this year on a missions trip or at a local shelter or other organization.
Whatever you do this season and subsequent new year, be sure to include some gifts that won't ever be under the tree but will shine brightly for months, even years, to come. And once they're opened I'm pretty sure they will be enjoyed long after the boxes and other gifts are set aside for something else.
Saturday, November 22, 2014
Most of us could provide our own list of stories where we or others are hurting deeply. As one of my professors said once, People are hurting more deeply than we know. The question is, "when hard times come will our family be ready or at least be prepared to handle them as wisely and helpfully as possible?"
Of course, like climbing mountains, it's tough to ever be fully prepared for what's up there on that mountain. But you can try and get ready as well as you can. And if we're wise we will not take preparation steps lightly.
Where do we start?
First, develop an openness at home including parents and kids to talk about things honestly. If we won't discuss the simple issues or events we probably won't talk about the challenging ones. Ideally you have to start early. Waiting until the worst comes and then expecting teens to talk, for example, will often be fruitless. But even if you did wait, try anyway now in the small things.
Second, avoid easy answers. When tragedy and hardship hit there are usually few simple responses. Talk often about how sometimes answers will differ depending upon the situation. People grieve in different ways and intervals. What specifically worked for someone else might now be the answer for you or the person you know.
Third, focus on principles and actions that are true and helpful for us all. For example, teach the concepts of God's goodness no matter what happens. Remind one another that Jesus said he would never leave or forsake us. Talk about the fact that God gets sad, Jesus shed tears and the Spirit can be grieved so we can too.
Finally, tell each other often that you love each other. We all need to be able to rest in the fact that our "accounts" are up to date, that we've said what we need to say to each other and that it will be natural to say those things in the struggle.
No, we can never fully prepare for the worst, but we can prepare the soil of our relationships so that in spite of the storm, growth and healthy change will still occur. But it won't happen by just hoping. We have to start and we have to start now.
Monday, October 20, 2014
Sometimes we'd get them all into bed and quiet at night and we would just collapse.
And I was reminded of when we were those parents and had the daily, non-stop responsibility for our two. How did we do it? I'm not sure other than by the grace of God.
But I wonder how many parents under the pressures of parenting their little ones, saying "no" fifty times a day and being worn out much of the time also miss the little joys along the way. Perhaps we need to laugh and giggle a little more in the middle of our kids immaturity, challenges and being prone to look at themselves first.
One day, Silas, the three-year-old, was jumping on the couch. So I said, "Silas, don't jump on the couch please." To which he responded, "Don't watch me do it." It took everything I had in me at the time to not laugh and unintentionally condone his actions, but inside I was cracking up. Somehow there was joy in seeing that little mind at work.
Joy came when we picked out and then carved our not so exotic pumpkins. And more joy arrived the next morning when we got up in the dark and had lit the pumpkins for them in the dark. Joy came when they rode the swing or their scooters with all their might grinning from ear to ear.
Joy showed up when they got their favorite donut with sprinkles or made a simple tower out of blocks. Joy was there when the oldest began to read words he never thought he could read.
All those little things could have been missed if we'd only focused on the BIG stuff or been too busy being productive.
And remember joy doesn't only come in the good moments. Joy isn't just another version of being happy. Joy can also be the feeling we have when we see something great, some work of God, some specialness in the difficult times when life isn't going as we'd hoped. We can bring some joy to our kids when we love them anyway when they've messed up.
We can exude joy when we teach our kids important lessons through their mistakes. We can have joy when we see those little bodies and minds attach themselves to new little learning moments or special times that don't require a lot of fanfare, money or fame.
Find some joy at your house even if times are tough. It's there if we'll look for it.
Sunday, September 28, 2014
So how do you handle it as a parent? Some choose to skip it, others find alternative activities while many think it's just pretend so what's the big deal?
First, to me skipping Halloween without any discussion or substitute seems unwise and probably confusing to the kids. All their friends are involved for the most part though that alone is not a reason to let them do anything we oppose. However, to just not participate in any way doesn't seem to be the answer either.
Alternatives are good, many churches and clubs offer them, but that doesn't answer the question for older ones which is, "So what's the problem with Halloween in the first place?" But just jumping in to Halloween activities without some cautions is a bit dangerous, too. The movies, videos, comic books and TV programs out these days have taken the blood and gore to new extremes and wise parents ought to notice.
I want to suggest a couple of things. One, whatever you do consider celebrating All-Saints Day the day before. Do some research online and learn the bigger history and biblical, spiritual implications that the healthy side of this holiday implies.There are wonderful models and stories that our kids shouldn't miss out on.
Two, participate in some way with appropriate attire and only at homes of people you know well. Many families put out fun decorations without all the gore and guts stuff that will keep your day fun and wholesome, not gruesome. Some parents actually work together and share the load with each other and throughout a neighborhood.
Three, if you can find an alternative activity that substitutes other kinds of characters and images as well. But frankly, some of the activities out there simply aren't very good and are actually pretty hokey. Use your judgment and maybe talk to others before just jumping in. No need to go to something that is just a waste of time.
Four, and maybe most important, talk to your kids. Of course, be age appropriate. Don't demean any other family or child who just loves Halloween or imply that your family is better. They don't need a Hell, fire and brimstone sermon. But you can talk about having fun, about concerns with evil, demonic images (even though they are hopefully fake) and that you as a family want to focus on only the good and enjoyable parts of it all.
You'll probably have to say no to some of the outfits and images and you should. Some of the video game characters represent nothing good or healthy. Your older kids should be able to understand that. Show them that in your faith and God there are better alternatives and that our minds need to be on what is good, right and positive.
Halloween can be just a fun time of the year without having to keep our kids from any of the good times they could still have. You will have to be the ultimate guide through it all. And maybe if work it right there will be a few pieces of candy left just for you!
Thursday, September 25, 2014
"You have to go," the woman replies. "But I tell you I don't want to. No one likes me, church is boring and I'd rather be at home. Give me three reasons why I should go."
"Well," the woman says, "One, going will make you a better person, two, there are people there expecting you and three, you're the pastor of the church."
Perhaps you're not dealing with the pastor not wanting to go to church but it's one of your kids. What do you do? Do you force them? Do you make them go and hate it? What if they're almost eighteen and you're trying to help them learn to make their own decisions?
First of all there are things that kids still living in your home under the age of eighteen really don't have the right to decide and in my opinion one of those is church attendance. Ideally, wise parents make church an important part of their home and family experience starting when the kids are little. Often that will help those children to want and expect to go as long as they are at home.
And yet we know that kids will often still balk at church attendance for a variety of reasons and I encourage parents to address the reasons before they consider letting a student stay home.
Maybe the options provided aren't very good ones - poor student ministry leadership or no programs per se. Perhaps there has been a relationship struggle with someone or a certain group that needs addressing. If that's the case then work on changing those things.
Go help with the student ministry. Help your son or daughter navigate the relational issues. Meet with the teacher or student leaders to get more insight on what might be done to improve things. Start by being proactive.
Second, consider that there may be a spiritual issue. Perhaps your child doesn't have a relationship with God. Maybe they're unsure how to grow spiritually or has received some flack from friends about Christianity. Spend some time with them talking about spiritual things and listening to their questions. Maybe you could read something together that will help you both learn.
Third, learn to worship together. Tell your kids that you're going to discuss the message later and would like their thoughts. Model for them your active and passionate involvement in the music, prayer and teaching. Let them see your faith in action!
Finally, be patient. Most kids have times of wondering, rebelling and needing to make your faith their faith. They will grumble, pout and question at times. Don't let deter you from parenting them and pointing them to Christ. Someday they might still reject their faith but Proverbs 22:6 reminds us that when we train them well the odds go way up.
And letting them stay home doesn't usually help those odds.
Saturday, September 13, 2014
If there is one thing that parents hate as much as anything when it comes to disciplining our kids is when they lie to us. We can tolerate juvenile mistakes and actions much of the time but when they outright lie, that angers us more most of the time, right?
But have we ever thought about the lies that we consciously or subconsciously help our kids to believe? Yes, there are un-truths that they are exposed to all the time that if we're not careful they will adopt for themselves and even live according to much of their lives. Those lies probably come from outside of our home much of the time but some even originate with us at times.
Let me suggest a few that we would all be wise to respond to, oppose and teach the truth about in our parenting:
The lie that my (our) stuff will make me happy. Most families spend a lot of time, energy and money getting more and keeping up with their neighbors. And there is nothing wrong with enjoying some of the fruits of our labors. But if we keep giving our kids or filling our homes with the newest of everything, the latest, the best and the coolest we send them a message that all of those things matter more than they do.
The lie that I am entitled to most everything I have, get or am awarded. And yet nothing could be further from the truth. We don't deserve anything other than what we get for working hard, doing our best and receiving because of God's grace. Our culture is now saturated with an I-deserve-to-get-this mentality that has sapped our government resources and caused parents to often demand of school and community leaders that their kids get special privileges.
The lie that mom and dad should provide and fix everything. And if we do that where will our kids learn how to fend for themselves, take care of their own needs, save money and problem solve on their own? They won't. They'll bring this needy, whiny, helpless attitude into a marriage or other relationship that will tax both people more than is necessary.
The lie that casual sex and fun, party-filled relationships are free, don't hurt anyone and don't require any responsibility. And yet the social landscape continues to be littered with broken relationships, abuse, divorces and dysfunctional families because no one ever taught our young people how to grow a healthy, vibrant and caring relationship and home.
Finally, the lie that God, Jesus and the spiritual side of life are either mere fantasies and nice stories or at best just one option for people who actually care about such things or need that crutch. I am old enough to have watched for five decades the slow metamorphosis of our culture's views on faith and Christianity. It has certainly been under attack for centuries, even millenia, but never to the degree it is now.
Christians both here and around the world are not merely tolerated anymore. They're being beheaded in other countries and culturally killed everyday here. We must help our kids make our faith their faith. We dare not leave the teaching merely to the church, Christian school or helpful media. Scriptures tells us in Deuteronomy 6 that WE parents must be the foundation of their faith learning.
Ever look at an X-ray and not see the problem that the doctor sees? I do that all the time. But I finally realized that doctor's can see the defect easily because they've seen the right version so many times. If we teach our kids truth, they'll know the lies more quickly too because we've shown them the right version over and over.
Saturday, August 30, 2014
However, I do think it would be shortsighted and a clear missing of a powerful opportunity if parents, teachers, coaches and other leaders allow this to merely be their feel-good deed for this month, year or decade.
In other words, what will be happening, if anything, after this challenge runs out of gas?
I think we have a huge chance to use this effort to explain, especially to our children, that serving, giving and sacrificing are where real life is. Maybe it could sink it a bit more deeply that all the fun, accolades, games, accomplishments and victories really don't compare that much to truly helping someone else.
Maybe true caring could become more the norm than the exception.
Because my fear is that too many will simply go back to living a life focused on self, me, my and ours. That many young people will think, "Yes, that was a cool way to raise money and I'm glad a lot of people were helped, but I'm headed back to my sports team, computer and video games. Catch me later."
What if the millions involved decided that they would soon find another way to help others, one that lasted a bit longer and required more involvement, investment and sacrifice? I think for that to happen adults, especially parents, are going to have to become intentional about making serving more the norm than taking, getting and enjoying just for our own pleasure.
What will that look like? I don't know. Every person and family are unique. Come up with your own strategy but do something to make and keep caring for others a true family value. Find an organization, family or cause that you will give to regularly.
Build relationships with real people who are invested or involved in this same cause.
If you do, then you'll keep the value of serving and caring warm, even hot, at your house and in our culture and not on ice for another time.
Posted by Gary Sinclair at Saturday, August 30, 2014