Teachable Moments

The ABCs of What Kids Believe

How do you know what a child believes about God?  If you want to know, just ask them!  When one Sunday School teacher who was teaching through the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22,23) asked their 5-8 year old students what they thought “peace” was, the responses were varied; here are some of my favorite answers.

  • My Mom says “it’s when everyone is asleep, but her”
  • Sharing one of your favorite toys and then, not hitting your friend even though they sat on it and broke it
  • When everyone gets exactly what they want to eat at dinner
  • When my Dad gets to sit in his chair and control the remote control
  • Grandpa said without quiet, there is no peace and since it’s never quiet in our house, peace doesn’t exist

These children’s God-knowledge brings a smile to our face; out-of-the-mouth-of-babes we discover what we have taught them.  Life observations that often occur in everyday conversations reveal our child’s everyday theology.  As they grow older, staying on top of these perceptions is key so we ensure our children are building a foundation of solid truth about God and who He is, how He works and how they can know and love Him.  To discover what our children are thinking and remain influential in their spiritual faith formation, consider the following A, B, C and D.

A.  Ask questions and listen well before you give advice.  No matter how old they are. Do you want them to respect you?  Then, model respect to them first by giving them an opportunity to explain themselves. Try not to jump in too soon so they have the time and space they need to make themselves heard.

B.  Be in consistent conversations. Theology is a process of learning and growing both in orthodoxy (beliefs) and orthopraxy (living out our beliefs).  This requires conversations every day whether we are walking, relaxing or driving to church (Deuteronomy 11:19 ). Hint: if a conversation isn’t going well, think about walking away and trying again another day; remember – faith formation is a marathon, not a sprint to the finish line.  Winning an argument could cost you future conversations and thus, your influence is diminished in their lives. 

C.  Communicate with them over dictating to them.  Fear can lead us to try and control our children (preschoolers and young adults alike).  To live by faith, not fear, be self-aware of your stress and worry, take a deep breath and seek to respond with calm wisdom, avoiding knee-jerk reactions.

D.  Depend on God in prayer.  We won’t be “quick to listen and slow to speak” unless we are depending on God’s Spirit to guide our thoughts, calm our hearts and produce the fruit needed for godly influence.  Ask God for His peace that passes understanding for in that stillness, we will sense God’s voice guiding and leading us.

What do our children believe?  Building a solid theology that informs our children’s everyday lives comes in all shapes and sizes, just like our children.  As children grow, it will come to mean different things to them and they’ll have different questions. Approaching our everyday conversations about their everyday theology can be as simple as A, B, C and D.

Here are some final thoughts on peace to encourage you as you parent:

  • Silence is usually associated with peace, unless they are yours and are upstairs playing – then silence is suspicious…
  • Peace is only one drive-through away when your child doesn’t need a sippy cup because they have finally reached the magical age of drinking through a straw.
  • I could get a medal for world peace and not feel as accomplished as potty training a child.
  • Peace is that glorious moment in the morning when no one is conscious but me!
  • Of course my children experience peace – ​I’m the one up most of the night overthinking their lives for them…

Blessings to you and the precious children in your life.  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

 

Teachable Moments

What Traveling Can Teach You

I just got back from traveling overseas.  I enjoy the chaos of travel – its unexpected trials, my new best friends that I sit next to on the plane, and the airport food that is twice as expensive but just as satisfying.  I like looking at possible souvenirs I won’t buy and rifling through magazines I would never have time to read in my “everyday” life. I even enjoy the waiting for delayed flights.

When our children were younger, we traveled with them.  We loved showing them new places and teaching them to navigate the airports, unique travel challenges and meeting people who spoke different languages, wore unique clothing and had traditions that had little to do with their “everyday” life.  They even enjoyed waiting for delayed flights with us.

We all learned a lot about ourselves and who we were as family during our travels.  Our trips’ Teachable Moments are our souvenirs that we still enjoy remembering and using today in our “everyday” lives.  These souvenirs bring a wisdom that only comes through travel.

SOUVENIR #1 – Plans Always Go Awry

You can plan; you can obsess; you can detail every second, but I guarantee you, something will go awry.  There is no perfect plan and there are no guarantees. The only one who is perfect and knows the plan is God Himself, “I make known the end from the beginning…” (Isaiah 46:10).  

T.M.:  Having the expectation that the journey of life as well as any travel routes will never end up being what we initially expect is a wise truth to remember, especially when the unexpected arises.  Get ready to be surprised, uncomfortable and interrupted and remember – all of these build character.

SOUVENIR #2 – Picking Your Travel Partners

Not everyone is built for travel.  Some do it much better than others.  Some struggle with the confinement that is inevitable when you are negotiating how to get from point A to point B.  Some hate the amount of time it takes to reach one’s destination, no matter the mode of travel. Some feel edgy thinking of all the other things they could be doing until they reach their destination.  And some HATE figuring out out of all the stuff they own what stuff they need to take with them. These types of worried, anxious individuals who usually expect the worst-case scenario and have no hope that they will enjoy life as they travel make the journey more difficult than it needs to be.  Proverbs is correct when it says “anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down” and Proverbs is also correct when it says, “a merry heart makes for a merry countenance”.

T.M.:  Besides packing a toothbrush, pack a good attitude that is hopeful and leans upon God for contentment!

SOUVENIR #3 – Perspective Matters

My husband has said as long as I’ve known him (over 30 years now) that it is not perfection, but the direction of our lives that count.  Focusing too much on having the “perfect” trip or focusing too much on where we are going and not where we are currently at are both perspectives that will kill any decent travel plan.  Focusing too much on any moment of time other than the moment we are currently in is a great waste of time.  I can’t change either the past or future, but I can influence this moment – and since a trip is just a series of moments – it’s wise to make every moment count.  As for considering just “getting there” as the very definition of success, that is a misguided idea that process is inferior to results. It’s just not true – how we get somewhere, what we learn and enjoy as we get there, the relationships we build as we get there – these are all significant in their own right.  

T.M.: Realize the current way being made for you (Isaiah 43:18-19) and celebrate the moment you are in (Romans 14:17).

Dear Reader, if you travel, you have a whole bunch of Teachable Moments that direct your life.  Recognizing what God has taught you and how it informs your life is an invaluable collection of souvenirs. Have you shared with your children what you have learned from life’s journey and specifically, your own travel experiences?  What has God taught you? What Teachable Moments are your souvenirs? Next time you come home from even a day trip, start a conversation with your family that begins with, “On my trip, God taught me….” and let them see how God had been at work within you as you had been away from them.  

May you enjoy picking through your collection of Teachable Moments and giving testimony and thanks to God for each one.

Blessings to you as we travel this life together.  Fondly yours, Elizabeth

 

Teachable Moments

What You Can Learn From a Snowflake

There has been so much snow this winter that even the local weatherman is tired of talking about it.  But while we have the snow for at least a couple more weeks, we may as well as make the most of it. Thank you to a wonderful article by Charles Q. Choi on LiveScience (2007) for all the great snowflake facts.

Just like snowflakes, children are both strong and fragile.  “Snowflakes are created when snow crystals stick together. Some contain several hundred crystals.” They are so strong, they survive atmospheric changes and winds yet, catch one on your finger tip and it can immediately melt away.  

Each child holds within themselves a strength that can help them overcome incredible odds; not all children, however, have the opportunities or resources to nurture that strength.  Psychologists call this internal working aptitude resiliency.  One of the keys to a child accessing and exhibiting resiliency is if they have adults who believe in them, coach them, and cheer them on toward goals they can attain.  While strength emerges, children need intentional care and gentle responses to help guide them into that strength. Carelessness can make a child weak and vulnerable with just an arbitrary word or action.  We should honor both the strength in the child and the gentleness required to nurture it.

Just like snowflakes, no two children are alike.  “The exact form each snow crystal takes depends heavily on tiny changes in temperature and humidity it encounters as it falls, resulting in extraordinary diversity.  “It is probably safe to say that the possible number of snow crystal shapes exceeds the estimated number of atoms in the known universe,” Nelson said (Jon Nelson at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, Japan). While smaller crystals that are not yet formed may be the same, it would be impossible to find the two that might be alike.

Individuation is the gift of being and expressing one’s self as a unique individual. Children from the age of 2 realize they are their own person and start making choices to set themselves apart.  Have you ever asked a 2-year old what they want to wear to church? Many will enjoy putting together ensembles that reflect bizarre preferences that both delight and embarrass.  God in His infinite creativity, created each child in their own way, and the best way to celebrate our God-given differences is to both acknowledge and accommodate them when we can.  Next time you see a 2-year old with purple tights, a pink tutu and a cowboy hat, smile and enjoy!

Just like snowflakes, children can respond to the light of the gospel and reflect the grace of God in illuminating ways.  “Ice crystals in the atmosphere are also believed to influence the production of lightning by helping electric charges build up in clouds.”

The Spirit of God can move and work in the heart of a child. Teaching the gospel to children and giving them the opportunity to respond to the light of the gospel is key to their faith formation as well as to the well-being of the church.  All generations are important in the body of Christ. Teach children truths about God, pray for the Spirit to touch their hearts, and watch for signs of spiritual fruit. “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12a) – and this light is available to children as well as adults.  

Just like snowflakes, children are immeasurable in what they bring to this world.  “A typical snow crystal weighs roughly one millionth of a gram. This means a cubic foot of snow can contain roughly one billion crystals. A rough estimate of the number of snow crystals that fall to Earth per year is about 1 followed by 24 zeros,” Nelson told LiveScience.

Underestimating what a child can contribute hurts the child’s sense of self-efficacy (the belief that they can do something successfully).  If the child does not believe they can, then they won’t.  Just like one little snowflake may not weigh very much, in the right circumstances, it makes a huge difference  Encouraging children to achieve goals, work hard, contribute what they can and enjoy the ability to accomplish tasks are key ways to help foster a child’s positive attitude as well as motivation to discover and use the gifts and talents God has given them.  Children can make significant contributions to those around them given the opportunity to do so.

Dear Reader, we might as well make the most of this winter.  If you can’t beat it, join it – and discover from a little part of God’s amazing world what can be learned in our everyday lives.  One of God’s tiniest creations, the snowflake, can give us teachable moments about the tiniest ones amongst us – children. Let’s not overlook an opportunity to learn even at this time of year.

May your winter be white and your temperatures increase to above freezing!

Fondly, and warmly yours, Elizabeth

 

Teachable Moments

Whatever…

I remember the first time my little boy looked at me and told me he was worried. He was four years old.  Four! What in the world did a little boy who was in his car seat on his way to the store with his Mom have to worry about?  He let me know that he was worried that we would get lost.. I don’t know how that idea popped into his head, but I asked him if getting lost would be a bad thing and he assured me, “Yes, Mommy, that would be very bad.”  I’m glad I immediately recognized this as a Teachable Moment.

In asking my little guy “why” getting lost would be so very bad, he let me know that getting lost was scary and no one should ever be lost.  My response to him was, “You are feeling worried; you believe that it is a bad thing to get lost. But honey, in our family, if we get lost, we call it an adventure.”  At the time, I didn’t realize how life changing that discussion was, not only for him, but also for me.

The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another” (sayingimages.com). Stress happens to everyone, even our children. We have to help them navigate it. I have no other response to stress, but to tell myself and my children a different truth than the one we’re currently experiencing.  We change “lost” into “going on an adventure.”

Scripture says, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things and the God of peace will be with you” (Phil. 4:8).  No matter the situation that brings stress to life, bring a whatever thought to counter it.

Whatever is the one word in scripture that reflects a totality of commitment to having what we believe transform our everyday experiences; it’s the best response to stress. Don’t run from the tension that results from whatever – instead, press into it with truth.

  • Mary, Jesus’ mother, told the workers at Cana to do “whatever” Jesus told them to do; they were to believe what Jesus said and then do it. Without hesitancy or question.  Wow – Mom – what a tense situation. But – voila – we have Jesus’ first miracle as the wedding planners pressed into their whatever.
  • Colossians 3:23, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart.”  My entire day is filled with things to do from brushing my teeth to speaking on the radio.  Whatever it is, in private or in public, my whole Christ-absorbed heart should be fully engaged. In whatever I’m doing, I must try to live my life everyday with my heart on the line, which  brings a purpose and passion to my everyday existence.
  • A favorite “whatever” of min is found in Phil. 1:27. “Whatever” happens, I am always to conduct myself in a manner worthy of the Gospel of God.  This all-in, all-the-time awareness that I represent my God who died for me before a watching world is stressful, for every believer I imagine.  But, I don’t want to miss one of my whatevers.  I want the world to see my God in me and to show my God how grateful I am for the gospel He has provided.

As I was driving my son to the store that fateful day many years ago, I am grateful that I remembered that whatever we do as a family, we are to do to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31).  Whether we get lost or not, and with me as the driver let’s be honest, we could definitely get lost.  But when we admit our tension and respond to it with a whatever thought, we engage our hearts to live a life that shows radical obedience to Christ that is worthy of the gospel and brings glory to God.  Life becomes the adventure God intends for all of us. Tension does not draw us away from God; rather, it is our whatever moment that draws us back to Him.

Dear Reader, what will stress you out today?  Where do you hold tension? Whatever it is, choose a whatever thought (there are 173 verses in scripture that speak to whatever) and turn your tension into an adventure in which God meets you at every turn, whether you get lost along the way or not. Go do it – I know you can!

Blessings to your whatever moments.  I can hardly wait to see what God has in store for each of us and our families today.  

Fondly yours – always, Elizabeth