Teachable Moments

Kids, Jesus, and Dr. Seuss

“And this mess is so big
And so deep and so tall,
We cannot pick it up.
There is no way at all!”
― Dr. Seuss, The Cat in the Hat

When you tell a child a story, the more details you give them, the more the story comes alive.  Take the invincible Dr. Seuss and the incorrigible Cat in the Hat with the irrepressible Thing One and Thing Two.  Has making a mess ever been more entertaining or more terrifying? I suggest not!

“Oh, what will she do to us?
What will she say?
Oh, she will not like it
To find us this way!”
―Said by Fish, 
Dr. Seuss, The Cat in the Hat

Fish Fear – who hasn’t had “fish fear”?! It seems Fish Fear is our fear as who isn’t terrified with the idea that when Mom comes home, if she finds this mess, she will not like it – at all.  The sense of pervasive anxiety that riddles the poem brings the juxtaposition of ‘the laid-back, let’s-not-get-too-upset-for-long Cat in the Hat with the life-is-just-one-disaster-away Fish’ to life.  

In telling children bedtime stories like Dr. Seuss’ Cat in the Hat, the same influence of bringing fanciful narrative to life also works with the non-fiction, historical stories of the life of Jesus.  Scripture needs to be more than trivial pursuit, a collection of stories, or bullet points to obey. It is our responsibility to bring Scripture to life for our children, and I would suggest, especially Jesus!  Making Jesus real to our kids as well as engaging both their heart and mind are key to any child’s long-term spiritual formation.

Let’s look at the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem (Matthew 21:1-17).  If we explore this narrative, there are several details which can help bring this well-known event to life.  Remember, to help children be “in the moment” of the triumphal entry, we as adults need to do our study so we can pull out all the hidden treasures.  Here are my top 3 points that will help children engage with Jesus as He begins the week prior to his crucifixion:

  1. There’s a donkey!
    A domesticated member of the horse family, this working animal is mentioned several times in the Old Testament as well (1 Kings 1:33, Judges 10:4, 2 Samuel 16:2, and – what is quoted in the gospels for Jesus’ entry – Zechariah 9:9).  Donkeys are known to be peaceful animals overall as they are not easily startled and, coincidentally, peace is what donkey-riding represented for Middle Eastern world leaders who entered a city. You would ride a horse to battle, but a ruler would ride a donkey if they were coming in peace.  The donkey was not just a mode of transportation for Jesus, but truly embodied the idea that this King came in peace! And indeed, Jesus is “the Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).
    Ask your children: What does it mean that Jesus is our “Prince of Peace”? Jesus brings peace between us and God. He did this as God who died in our place to pay for our sin and when we repent and place our faith in Him, He becomes our King and we are now children of His kingdom.

  2. People asked questions!
    Scripture says, “When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the WHOLE city was stirred and asked,“who is this?” (Matthew 21:10).  Can you imagine? An entire city whispering and murmuring and asking each other, “who is this?”.  What a buzz must have filled the air! Such curiosity, such excitement, such interest. It’s something to imagine, isn’t it?  What did that sound like and look like? But better yet, that same sense of “wanting to know Him” – does it fill our lives today?  Do I consistently ask, “who is this Jesus?
    Ask your children:  “Do you want to know Jesus?  Who He is? What is He like? Let’s explore and learn every day more about Him – He is infinitely amazing.  It will take more than a lifetime to know and love Him. Let’s not lose a moment!”  Make sure as you interact with your children about Jesus that it is not just facts and attributes that you discuss, but show your children your heart of fascination about Him.  Develop a sense of wonder that you can pass on to your children. Motivate and inspire them to want to get to know Jesus more. If I were to ask your children, “how does your Mom or your Dad feel about Jesus?”, what would they say?  And if I asked them, “are your parents curious to get to know Jesus more?”, would your children say that you are indeed a follower who pursues knowing Christ?

  3. Children were shouting!
    Jesus turned over tables, healed the blind and the lame and offended the religious leaders of the day.  What a day! And how did the children in the temple respond?  They saw the wonderful things He was doing and SHOUTED. They didn’t quietly nor with hesitation discuss their feelings; no – they SHOUTED their praise, recognizing Jesus for who He was, “Hosanna to the Son of David”.  Hosanna can be translated “Praise God” and some believe it refers to the salvation that Jesus would procure for the Kingdom He is ushering in. Hosanna has its roots in the Old Testament in which it can be translated “save” or “salvation”.  One thing is for sure, these temple children recognized the importance, the impact, and the influence that Jesus brought and they had no hesitancy to shout it out loud, even to the indignant acknowledgment of the chief priests and teachers of the law.  If Dr. Seuss’ Fish was fearful, these children are fearless!
    Ask your children:  “If you could shout one thing at the top of your lungs about Jesus, what would it be?  What would be the one thing you would want Him to know? What would be the one thing you would want others to know?  God is so great He is worthy to be shouted about, isn’t He?!”

Dear Reader, how exciting it is to know Jesus and to have this amazing opportunity to pass on our knowledge and our love for Jesus.  Let’s pass on a life-long curiosity and sense of wonder. Let’s help the next generation get caught up in the details and pursue discovering “who is this Jesus?”.

Blessings to you! Fondly yours, Elizabeth

Teachable Moments

Framing Family Ministry

On the walls of our home, you will find many, many pictures of our family through the years. From when our children were babies all the way through to their recent weddings, our walls tell our story.  The frames I carefully choose for these precious memories enhance the image and help put the unfolding narrative in context. The frame often gives clues as to how to interpret what we are looking at. Without a good frame, any picture leaves the viewer confused and the picture seems incomplete.

Pick the frame, you pick whether the picture will be a success in telling the heart and soul of the image’s story.

The same is true in Family Ministry in the church.  When we examine Family Ministry, knowing the frame of reference helps us understand what the ultimate mission and vision of the ministry is.  

  • What does the church want us to see?  
  • What is the ultimate goal the church has for families and the spiritual formation of children?  

If we understand the frame of reference, then we have a better idea of what we’re looking at and how we can enjoy and use what is being offered.

Frame 1 – Family Integration Model: A Family of Families The emphasis of this model is almost primarily on the family.  It is in the family unit children learn about faith and grow in their spiritual formation.  Families worship together, often eat together and children learn by being in the presence of their family.  Observation and imitation of behavior modeled by adults are key features of learning as children are usually in the supervising presence of their parents.  Considered a top down model, parents are very much in charge and children are to be recipients and obeyers of the truth families impart to their children. This model’s benefits certainly bring to our attention the importance of family and honors the responsibility God has given to parents to raise their children spiritually (Deuteronomy 11:19).  

Frame 2 – Family Equipping Model:  An Intentional Parent Discipleship Strategy  The vision of this model is to disciple parents more than provide programming.  It is about making sure parents have what they need to teach their children biblical truth in a solid theological framework.  The focus is more on working with parents to work with their children than directly working with the children. It is a focus of the church that is strategic throughout – it is more about an intentional philosophy of training parents to disciple their children than a calendar of programs.

Frame 3 – Family Engagement: Age specific programs in which children and youth are nurtured spiritually within the church family along with their parents  The church is a place that supplements what parents are doing.  Therefore, churches offer opportunities in programming to learn spiritual truth at different specific age-appropriate levels.  Parent pages, activities as crafts and games, and family programs that encourage children and parents to come together to learn God’s word are created within an intentional church calendar.  Spiritual formation of children is a cooperative effort where the church and family work together like a hand in a glove to help children grow spiritually.

Dear Reader, which ministry is right for the family and the church?  It’s not so much which one is “right” but which one is “right” for you!  All these models believe in both the church family God’s Spirit creates (Matthew 12:49-50) and the family unit of which you are a part.  No matter which model is right for you, consider how you frame out the decision of how you are discipling your children and how your church is framing out the ministries they provide for families.  There are different visions and missions that God has imparted to different churches. I encourage you, with prayerful thought, to choose which ministry will frame out your family story.

Blessings as you frame out your family!  Fondly yours, Elizabeth

 

Teachable Moments

Fruit Check: The Necessity of Gentleness

I love apple picking in the Fall!  My husband and I took our kids out to an apple orchard every fall to pick apples.  (If Mom liked it, then everyone got to join in the fun.) Applesauce, apple pies, fried apples, apple chutney – you need an apple recipe, I probably have it.  Besides a feast of fruit, we also used this opportunity to teach some basic theology. The question we discussed one fine Fall day was, how do you know if someone is a Christian?  What do apples and Christians have in common?  Glad you asked!

Scripture teaches that you will know a Christian by their fruit.  Galatians 5:22,23, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

Fruit is referring to what is produced out of the life of a believer who is filled and walking in the Spirit.  If I have come to Christ as my Savior, then God has deposited within me His Spirit (2 Cor. 1:21,22) and in fact, the Spirit of God within me is proof that I am a believer (Romans 8:9). But in explaining this to children, how do you explain to a child someone they can not see?  Children won’t argue that the Spirit exists, as most children have vivid imaginations and live in the world of all-things-possible. But they will want to know, what is the Holy Spirit like and how can I know if I have the Spirit?

The Spirit is likened to fruit.  When we went to an orchard, there were pears, apples, pumpkins and corn that we could choose from the harvest.  We could easily tell what type of plant we are looking at because we could see the fruit. How do I know if we are picking from an Apple tree?  Because there are apples. How do I know if I am picking from a Pear tree? Because there are pears. Trees bear the type of fruit that is in their DNA; the fruit bears witness to what type of tree it is.

Same for believers – what kind of a person am I – a believing person or a non-believing person?  The answer isn’t how many bible verses you can quote (though memorizing scripture is important) nor how much doctrine you can explain (though solid doctrine is important).  More important than knowledge is the character that is produced as a result of faith. Do you want to know if someone knows Christ? Then you should SEE their faith.

One of the characteristics of a believer should be the fruit of gentleness.  Gentleness is described in scripture as both a believer trait as well as something we can do.  If you do a study of gentleness (sometimes translated meekness), you can find 4 thematic qualities that help define it:

  • Gentleness is NOT harsh – calm and kind in demeanor
  • Gentleness is NOT thoughtless – considers the other person more than one’s self
  • Gentleness IS protective – cares for the welfare of others
  • Gentleness IS powerful – strength under control

The Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology defines gentleness as, ”Sensitivity of disposition and kindness of behavior, founded on strength and prompted by love.

The fruit of gentleness has for the many centuries been touted as a key characteristic of faithful believers. Jonathan Edwards said, “All who are truly godly and are real disciples of Christ have a gentle spirit in them.” Jesus was described as the gentle King (Matthew 11:29); Paul defined his ministry to the church in Thessalonica as gentle as a mother caring for her little children and in Philippians; Paul gives a final charge to Timothy to pursue gentleness and finally, Paul urges everyone “to let your gentleness be evident to all.”

How important is the spiritual fruit of gentleness?  I’d suggest very!

Dear Reader, grabbing every opportunity as a teachable moment to help our children know and appreciate theological truth is a great habit to get into.  And besides our children, it’s good for us. Are you going to eat a piece of fruit today? As you do, remind yourself that the fruit the Spirit produces in you is an indicator of how your relationship with God is going.  Are you walking with Him closely? Do a fruit check! And start with the fruit of gentleness.

Gentleness fruit check – NOT harsh, NOT thoughtless, IS protective, IS powerful:  does this describe you?

May we today be obedient to the challenge Paul gives all believers, “May your gentleness be evident to all.” And I pray others will be gentle with you.

Fondly yours with gentle blessings!  Elizabeth

 

Teachable Moments

Socially Anxious Kids

Children feel anxiety too; for some, anxiety in social and performance situations can be so intense the child is unable to function well, if at all.  It can result in lower academic performance, negative self-confidence and unsatisfactory social relationships. Children may avoid engaging in sports or other extra-curricular activities for fear of being embarrassed in front of their peers.

Newest research shows that 40 million Americans are currently diagnosed with an anxiety disorder of some kind and not all of these are adults.  Right behind specific phobias, Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD for short) is the most common anxiety disorder with onset typically beginning in youth.  Statistics estimate 7 – 9.1% of our population suffer from SAD.

What Social Anxiety Is Not

Social Anxiety Disorder is not extreme shyness, though many teens and adults diagnosed with SAD report experiencing extreme shyness as kids; but, this correlation does not infer causation.  Shyness does not necessarily produce SAD, but it surely can set you up to more likely experience it.

What Causes SAD

SAD is characterized by the emotion of fear of social judgment which manifests itself from feelings of embarrassment, criticism, rejection and scrutiny.  SAD is also characterized by the belief that “I do not have what it takes to deal with what life requires of me.” Social anxiety is both intense fear and an overly critical self-appraisal which cripples a person from living happily, at peace while building relationships and meeting goals.

Does my child or myself have SAD?

If you answer yes to the following questions and can have said yes for over 6 months, you or your child may be suffering from SAD.

  • Do you experience extreme, persistent fear of others judging you?
  • Are you painfully self-conscious?
  • Do you avoid social situations where you meet new people?
  • Even though you have positive outcomes in your social interactions, do you still find yourself criticizing yourself and discounting the positive feedback you get to the contrary to your own negative self-evaluations?
  • Do you consistently try and avoid most of the following because of how bad it makes you feel?
    • Beginning or ending conversations
    • Walking in a room where you know no one
    • Asking or answering questions with others watching
    • Asking for help
    • Asserting your “no”
    • Talking about yourself

Social Anxiety Disorder is diagnosed with the fear of being judged or rejected in  a social or performance situation, to the point where the intense anxiety significantly impedes everyday life functioning and inhibits us reaching our life goals.  It is painful and it is real and there is help.

How Can I Help My Child

First, listen carefully to how your child is feeling.  It is important that you listen without judgment or comments, but with acceptance and compassion.  Show mercy. Be gracious. (Colossians 3:12)

Second, pay attention to the judgmental and overly critical comments that the child says to themselves.  What is the dialogue going on in their head? What negative statements is the child saying again and again to themselves?  Does the child recognize their negative self-speech? Self-awareness is the first step toward coping with anxiety. (Proverbs 4:23)

Third, accept what the child is saying without trying to change the meaning.  Accepting their reality is more important than understanding why the reality is there. (Romans 15:7)

Four, help the child focus on what feedback they are receiving from others – real evidence (often the positive results of social interactions) vs false evidence (the negative self-critic that they anticipate, but doesn’t occur). Reinforce the positive experiences they have with others. (1 Thes. 5:11)

Five, when the child doesn’t know what to do, ask for their ideas versus giving them answers.  We don’t want to reinforce their belief that they aren’t capable of dealing with life. Instead, help them realize their ability to come up with ideas of how to solve their problems by asking questions and processing with them vs. producing answers. Go for talking with and not talking “at.” (Ephesians 4:2)

Six, encourage curiosity.  Encourage the child to consider others’ lives and who they are. Redirect the focus off of self-criticism to engaging in curiosity of others.  (Phil. 2:3)

Dear Reader, Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) is a real, painful and often debilitating fear that interferes with life.  It is not the abundant life Christ would desire to give to those who follow Him. However, as with any pain, SAD also gives us the amazing opportunity to be compassionate, patient, thoughtful people who love unconditionally and offer timely wisdom.  What a pleasure especially when the people we most lend a helping hand to are our children. I pray the suggestions offer hope and help where help is needed.

Blessings and peace, fondly yours, Elizabeth.

Teachable Moments

Adulting is Hard: The Unexpected Cure of Self-Compassion

One of my favorite conversations I had with my daughter when she was in college was regarding the reality of adulthood. She and I were reminiscing about her childhood – the good old days.  After remembering days of sleeping in, an ignorance of how expensive life really is and a schedule that had a lot more wiggle room, she summed up her experience by saying, “Adulting is hard!”

Adulting Is A Time of Anxiety.  Even though my daughter’s days of college are over, as a college professor, I interact with college students on a regular basis and most of them would sympathize with the angst of adulting. For some, the angst grows into a disabling anxiety. Unsurprising, the majority of directors of university counseling centers report the number of college students with significant psychological problems is on the rise and the most commonly diagnosed mental health illness across colleges (and the US) is anxiety; a recent study showed over 40% of college students considered anxiety more of a problem than their relationships.

What causes this disabling anxiety? This is a tough, complicated question! There are many factors that contribute to a diagnosis of anxiety- biochemical, environmental, psychosocial, spiritual, cognitive – but there is one common theme that rises to the top over and over again.  Overly self-critical people are much more likely to suffer from anxiety than persons who have a more balanced assessment of themselves and handle their self-criticisms with self-compassion.

Anxious persons, including college students especially, demonstrate a significant lack of self-compassion.  This lack of compassion can result in obsessive thoughts, compulsive behaviors, general anxiety disorder, and is even a possible precursor of PTSD, more so than those who have survived a war.  Not only do larger doses of self-criticism without self-compassion result in pathology, but it also can be a predictor of how well someone will respond to help. Self-compassion is key to overcoming problems, dealing with negative and erroneous thoughts, and is especially key to minimizing anxious feelings.  

What helps?  Self-compassion is an unfamiliar word to many.  To clarify its meaning, it is not really any different than compassion expressed to others.  Compassion (translated, “to suffer with”), whether for others or to ourselves involves:

  • an acknowledgment of suffering (admit when you are sad, hurt, stressed or have reached your limit)
  • an honest evaluation of pain which results in empathy (it matters that I feel emotional pain and I should extend kindness to anyone in pain (Gal. 5:22,23) even myself)
  • an understanding that all of us will fail at times (we are not super humans; we are merely human; we are saved by grace and kept by grace.  We don’t become perfect until we reach heaven. This is truth to live with daily.)

The myths about self-compassion produce unnecessary fears. To allay any fears, self-compassion does not promote self-love, worry, narcissism or pity parties.  Research clearly shows there is no cause for alarm here and that these fears are a myth; it may feel uncomfortable initially, but we need to look at what is helpful or right more than what “seems” godly.  But even as we understand what self-compassion is and is not, self-compassion is still typically an uncomfortable topic for some Christians.

Why is self-compassion so problematic for Christians?  I believe it is because we usually understand compassion exclusively in terms of our response to others more so than how we engage with ourselves.  Some may suggest that self-compassion be limited to secular psychology and it should be disregarded in biblical counseling as it is just another term for selfishness or our flesh; we are called to give compassion to others, but not to ourselves.

Why self-compassion should not be a problem for Christians. This type of thinking creates problems for believers as it is antithetical to Christian beliefs.  We are called to live consistently with scripture so we demonstrate what we believe in all areas of our lives.  Paul exhorts others to follow him as he follows Christ (1 Cor. 11:1) and Paul tells us we are to look not only to our own interests but also to the interests of others (Phil. 2:4); notice this does not say disregard your life without a thought for yourself as you serve others.  Paul also encourages responsibility for self in Galatians 6:4,5 and 1 Thessalonians 4:11,12. It is incorrect for Christians to say compassion is meant for everyone else, but not for themselves.

Martin Luther’s self-compassion changed history.  Martin Luther believed that Satan’s attacks of condemnation against a believer’s soul were to be expected.  Our enemy attacks us relentlessly and would encourage our despair and hopelessness which we also heap on ourselves, then handle, in wrongful ways.  Martin’s self-condemnation without hope led to despair from which God in His good grace rescued him. Like Luther, as believers, we are wise to admit our suffering and take pity on ourselves as we embrace Christ as our Savior and Lord. Coming to salvation is the ultimate act of self-compassion.

Self-compassion…so what now?  If we begin our journey with an act of self-compassion, then why would we live the rest of our lives doing the opposite?  As we practice self-compassion, we then possess a peace that passes understanding (Phil. 4;7); the anxieties of this world are put into eternal perspective and diminish. What a witness this is to the watching world! And especially to our young adults who are just beginning to get the world of “adulting” under control.

Dear Reader, remember to practice what you preach.  As you extend compassion to a needy world, don’t forget to extend it to yourself as well.  May the peace of God be yours in abundance.

With His grace and compassion, fondly yours – Elizabeth