Teachable Moments

How To Help Your Child Be Truly Happy

Scripture assumes that parents know how to (and would want to) give good gifts to their children.  If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:11)  In fact a parent’s desire to give good gifts to their children is the reference point we use to understand God’s giving of good gifts to us, as His children.

Good Gifts are not something we hold in our hand nor are they defined by a lack of angst.  Here’s what good gifts are NOT:

  • Giving your children everything they want
  • Giving your children what they want as soon as they want it
  • Making sure your children are always comfortable
  • Taking away all inconveniences and criticisms

Good gifts are defined by knowing what is good; they have much more to do with our perspective on life than on possessing any tangible thing.  “Good” is what we know more than what we have.   Aristotle, Plato’s student and a Greek philosopher who lived 384-322 BC, believed that a good life is a happy life. Helping our children be happy is teaching them to know and think upon what is good and then, how to use what they know to be good as the foundation from which their life is built.  Only in this, then, will our children ever truly be happy.

What can we learn from Aristotle and Scripture in helping our children have a good, and thus happy, life?

Point 1:  Live Purposefully

Aristotle believed that as we grow in wisdom and understanding of ourselves and life, our choices are all part of an overall plan which leads to an ultimate goal.  In other words, all that I do is thoughtfully considered and all my choices lead to achieving my life’s purpose. If you want to be happy, you must NOT live aimlessly, but live with intentional focus.  Aimlessness kills any chance of human happiness.

Aristotle is correct in that research supports the idea that achievement of our goals makes people content.  We experience peace, wellness, and yes, happiness, when we go after what we want. “What we want” we have usually deemed good.  Have you ever heard of anyone going all out for what they don’t want or what they believe is not good for them?  Even self-destructive choices are made because what they will give the person is what that person believes is necessary for them to survive or thrive.

OUR RESPONSE:  We need to question, as believers, what we understand is our purpose.  Romans 8:28 says, And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  When we know God’s purpose for our life, we find what is good as He is then working out our life for this good and we then experience happiness.  Scripture actually talks quite a bit about happiness and whenever it does, it always aligns with who God is; we are happy when our lives reflect the character of God.

TEACHING OUR CHILDREN:  We do not live for ourselves but for God. God has given us life, not to indulge ourselves, but to live for Him.  God is good and when we think about Him and live a life of faith which reflects His good character, we will find happiness.

Point 2:  Our desires determine our purposes

Aristotle proposed that the purposes we strive to achieve are determined by what we desire; some of our desires we all share in common as people (natural desires which are good for us whether we like them or not, like green vegetables which are a part of healthy nutrition) and some are unique to who we are as individuals (acquired desires which are wants or preferences more than needs, like desiring a vacation on an island vs a mountain).  We need to watch over our desires to make sure they are achieving for us our ultimate purpose for which God has called us.  

OUR RESPONSE:  Natural desires are most reflective of our everyday lives and what we all need to survive.  Scripture gives many mandates regarding how we live out and figure out these mundane matters. For example, paying our bills, our taxes, and how we run our careers are all important responsibilities that need to reflect our commitment to God.  Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. (Romans 13:7, ESV)  Living responsibly as believers is good and again, we will experience happiness when our choices reflect this.

Acquired desires are reflective of our individuality.  These desires will conform to our personalities, our likes and dislikes, our wants and dreams.  God is interested in what we want and if we delight in Him (we are preoccupied with who He is), then what we want aligns with what God wants for us and we will have the desires of our hearts; “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4)  

TEACHING OUR CHILDREN: We need to consider our desires and make sure that what we want aligns with how God has revealed Himself in His Word.  When we pursue our desires which are aligned with God’s Word, we will achieve the purpose for which we were created which is to know and love God.  Only then can we truly be happy.

Dear Reader, as parents, we all want our children to be happy and now, we know that they can only be happy when we give them “good” gifts.  The best gift you could give them is to help them align their thoughts and choices with the Word of God. In doing this, our children (no matter their age) will fulfill God’s purpose for their life to know and love Him.  And in that, they will truly be happy.

Proverbs 16:20  Those who give heed to instruction prosper, and HAPPY (blessed) are those who trust in the LORD.

May what you think and the gifts you give reflect who God is and make you and your children happy.  Praying for your pursuit of godly happiness.

Blessings (Happiness) Abundant!  Elizabeth

Teachable Moments

God’s Perfections, My Limitations

I’m not God.  I know you’re not surprised – I’m certainly not.  It may seem glaringly obvious, but it needs to be restated.  Do you need to remind yourself that you aren’t God either? You might have to, especially if you would describe yourself as an over-achieving, have a picture in your mind of what success looks like and can feel uneasy or guilty or unsure of your decisions pretty easily kind of person.  It can’t be overstated – neither of us are God.

What does it mean “I’m not God”?  In a recent blog article, I wrote about how contemplating the “presence” of God in light of how He describes Himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit helps the parents of newborns keep in mind that what they are doing is more than changing diapers – they are building a foundation of faith.  They are beginning the process of discipling their children. Establishing security and trust with their child, whether they are happy with a toothless grin or screaming at the top of their lungs at 2am, begins when the parent shows up. They are present – available – consistently.

But this is where the original idea of “I’m not God” comes in.  I can’t possibly be present every time my child wants me, especially not in a calm, patient, and joyful way.  This common complaint was expressed well during a New Mom’s group I once lead when one precious participant said, “I sometimes come to the end of my rope – I resent not getting a good night’s sleep, and I’m so tired that patience is almost impossible.  I cry and I have a hard time stopping.”  Yep – been there and done that.  I get it.

So, how do we put together the importance of being like God as we are called to be (Mt. 5:48), especially as parents, and yet, be fully aware that we are not like Him in so many ways – as we are radically limited and imperfect?  How do I keep the person of God as my template and standard with my imperfect limitations in mind? I will never be the parent I know I should be.

The conundrum and  the dangers can be seen as this:

  • God’s Standard – if I only think of God’s character and standard without my limitations, I am tempted to lower the standard of perfection
  • My Limitations –  if I only think of my failures and sin, I am tempted to wallow in a slough of despondency

What is the answer?  Look to a third option.

  • God’s Standard with My Limitations – if I think of both, I know I am to look to God for who I am to be and yet I know, because He is a God of grace and mercy, He will forgive me when I sin, give me grace when I fail and I am always filled with His Spirit and thus, I can often do and be what I never thought I would be able to do or be

Parenting from day one brings us to the end of ourselves – we realize we “are not God”.  I redefine my limitations, there are so many more than I thought, and yet, I also tap into unearthed depths of strength and love.  At times, I keep going even when I don’t think I can. And when I reach the end of that proverbial rope, I get to realize that God is at the end.  Reminding myself of Scripture such as Psalm 73:26, My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever, helps keep both truths held in suspension:  God is perfect; I am not. And then, as I think of who He is as my Heavenly Father, my Kind Savior, and the Spirit who fills my life,  I know it’s going to be OK.

Dear Reader, what Scriptures will help you keep both God’s character and your limitations in mind?  Focusing on one more than the other will get us into trouble every time. Just as getting rid of one and/or the other is also a problem.  We need to do “both/and” thinking and allow God to speak to us through His word to handle the balance of the two.

Keep your mind on things above (Colossians 3:2)!  Blessings to you – fondly yours, Elizabeth

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

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.