Fullness of Life Through Freedom in Christ

Galatians 5:1: “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” 

If you’ve ever seen the movie Braveheart, the first image likely to come into your mind is  Mel Gibson’s blue painted face screaming, “FRRREEEEEEDDDOOOMMM!” as he rides into battle to bravely defend Scotland.  And if you’re a proud American, you likely proclaim that our country is great because it is free.  Our beautiful National Anthem even resounds this triumph with the concluding words, “O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”  No matter how many times I’ve heard it, those majestic lyrics are enough to bring me (or any other patriot) to tears.  

It’s amazing how much strong emotion is brought on by the word and concept of freedom.  And rightly so- for it is the inborn desire of every person to be free. We yearn for the ability to think, speak, and act without hinderance or restraint; to not be governed by a foreign entity; and to not be imprisoned or enslaved to any person or thing.  

The quest for freedom takes form in many aspects of our lives.  This is evidenced by advertisements aimed at helping us find financial freedom, or advertisements informing us how working at home allows freedom in schedule setting or travel.  We even seek freedom in our physical appearance, choosing clothing, accessories, and hairstyles that reflect who we are as a person. And when it comes to relationships (or even our appearance), we might lean into phrases like, “I’m free to be me.”  We go after freedom in every category of life because it brings relief, joy, and peace.  Some might even say freedom is the foundation for life itself.  

As much as I enjoy the freedoms of this country, or believe in the benefits of financial freedom, or value the right to self-expression and healthy relationships, the truth is, these are not the freedoms I really need.  They are the freedoms I love and enjoy…but they cannot save my soul.  

Galatians 5:1 tells us it is for freedom that Christ has set us free.  This freedom is twofold: 1)Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we are forgiven. Meaning, no longer can Satan (or anyone else for that matter) accuse us before God.  Our sins have been paid for in full, and for those who are in Christ, we can stand before God Almighty, uncondemned, covered in His grace. And 2) We are no longer slaves to sin; sin has been dethroned as our master!  Instead, we become servants to Christ. If you find this unsettling or confusing, take comfort in Romans 6:22 which says, “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.”  

It may seem paradoxical, but a life lived in service to the Savior of the world is the life of true freedom.  There is no lasting joy to be had when we are in slavery to our sin- for this is a slavery that leads to death.  There is however, infinite and eternal joy found in living obediently to Christ- for this is a servitude that leads to life.  

Indeed, it is for freedom that Christ has set us free.  This freedom is the entire theme of this website as well as my book, Remade: Living Free.  I humbly invite you to join with me in the pursuit of understanding the depths of this freedom given to us by the God who loves us immeasurably.    

Starry Grief and Grace

Without a doubt, the worst part of writing is the start- dealing with that ever present question, “Where to begin?”  So rather than stare at my computer for the next 30 minutes thinking of the perfect introduction, I’m opting instead to start with the stars.  

But first, an honest moment: I can already tell that writing this piece will bring many tears.  But that’s okay, and even good, in fact.  As Mr. Hemingway said, “Writing is easy.  You just sit at your typewriter and bleed.”  Well, here I am, ready to bleed from a very personal vein. 

And so, the stars.  In early 2018 I was fresh off the boot and physical therapy and had been slowly getting back into running.  I had no idea what the rest of the year would look like in terms of racing, but as time passed, my chronic heel issue seemed to be at bay.  Slowly but surely my fitness improved, and by the summer, I was in pretty decent shape.  So much, in fact, that I began to train for the Columbus Marathon which takes place in mid October.  

September and October had been an incredible block of training and I was doing many of my runs in the dark early morning hours.  I grew to love running the quiet streets of my hometown before the bustle of the day came under way.  But most of all, I loved stepping out of my house and looking up to the stars and moon above.  It was a joy to run under their light, and without fail, every time I was reminded of God’s promise to Abraham when He told him his descendants would be as numerous as the stars.  Those were some of my most cherished runs.  

By God’s grace, not only was that season of training a time of physical and spiritual growth, but the race was as well.  On a very crisp October morning, I toed the line in Columbus and had one of the best races of my life.  It was such a gift to feel not only physically and mentally strong throughout, but to feel God’s presence with me.  I know it’s just running, and I know it may sound strange- but that race was such a gracious gift.  And I am so thankful for it.  

As I stepped into my driveway earlier this week, once again in the darkness of the morning, I looked up to those same stars and the same moon.  I smiled as I thought of Abraham, and as I started down the street it occurred to me that I was coming upon the 4 year anniversary of that race.  I simultaneously felt grief and gratitude.  

You see, 4 years ago I never could have imagined my life now: that my heel would not only not stay good, but that it would deteriorate to the point of limiting my runs to a few slow miles at a time.  Equally, and maybe even more astonishing, I could never have imagined being a writer.  

But first, the grief. 

As I moved slowly along, I felt the familiar pain at the back of my left heel.  The pain that quietly eked its way into my life 8 years ago has been a constant companion on the road.  Though for brief times it has been almost silenced, as of late, it has been oh so loud.  I thought, “I still can’t believe this has happened, that my running has been reduced to this.”  Though I am so thrilled to be able to do what I can even now, it’s almost impossible to not think about what once was…and to not think about what likely won’t be.  

I’ve struggled to even know how to pray about this, vacillating between asking God for complete healing and praying that He will give me contentment for what is.  Sometimes I’ve wondered if perhaps my faith has been weak; wondering if I haven’t fully trusted in His willingness to heal me (even though I in no way ascribe to the word of faith movement).  Countless times I’ve imagined what it would be like to see Jesus face to face, and like the accounts in the Gospels, to be healed by his touch or the power of his word.  

But he has given me more grace.      

The truth is, most of the time I’m okay with the status of this situation.  I still tear up every now and then, and writing this piece so far has been extremely emotional.  But I have so much gratitude for the gift of 28 years of running (20 years totally pain free).   I’ve also come to understand what a blessing it is to love something so deeply for such a long period of time; for not only did God give me the gift of the ability to run, He also gave me the gift of the love for it.  Now when the tears come, I view them as evidence of this love and of His great grace.   

But God’s grace has been more than even gratitude for the gift and love of the gift.  It would seem that this injury has been God’s providence for more blessings-  and in this light, the injury itself has been a measure of grace. 

And so, my gratitude increases.

Continuing to run under the starry sky, I was struck by a new thought: “2018…wow, that was before I even started writing.”   This thought led me to reflect on how much my life has changed in the last 4 years- and how thankful I am for this.  I began my writing journey in 2019 not knowing what it would become or what it would bring to my life.  And let me tell you, the blessings have been abundant.   

Over the last 3.5 years of writing, I have been driven deeper into God’s Word, which has by far been the most precious blessing of all.  Not only have I grown in my knowledge of God and His Word, but my love and affection for both have only increased all the more.  This in itself has not been without effect.  He has been transforming me by His truth, growing my love for prayer, the church, and His Word.  Even if nobody ever reads the words I have written, the many hours spent reading, studying, and typing on my computer have been nothing but a glorious spiritual gain.

I’ve also been blessed with the gift of new and beautiful friendships through the connections I have made through writing.  I never could have imagined this when I sat down to write my first piece in January of 2019!  The blessing of true fellowship with sisters in Christ is yet one more testament to the wisdom and goodness of God.         

In many ways, writing has been the most comparable to running as anything else I’ve experienced.  The spiritual formation, the experience of friendship, and the “feeling like me” feeling I get when I’m engaged in both are the marks of their similarities.  And still, God has given me not only ability, but the love of writing as well.  He has truly given me grace upon grace. 

I have no way to know, of course, if I would have begun my writing adventure without an injured heel.  However, I can clearly see how the presence of it allows time for me to write the words I feel God has given me to write; and how through this earthly trial He continues to mold me so that in all things He might be glorified.  Whatever the days ahead of me hold, whether on the road or not, it is my deep prayer and desire to minister to people through words.  Just as Paul prayed for the church at Colossae, so I pray that those who read my writing will bear fruit and increase in the knowledge of God (Colossians 1:10).  

As I came upon my driveway at the end of the run, I looked once more to the sky.  The light of day was just breaking through and the stars which reminded me of God’s promise could no longer be seen.  And yet, I knew that they had not moved.  Even more, I knew the God who had called them into existence is himself immovable and unchangeable.  This truth, along with the testimony of this written piece, continues to heal the vein that once was bleeding. 

He is Better

Over the last week or so I’ve been feeling increasingly uncertain about what the future holds for me as both a counselor and a writer.  For no real reason, doubtful thoughts and feelings of inadequacy have been a very real presence.  As I prayed over these things this morning, the answer I received was not in the form of specific directions or a miraculous revelation of what the future will bring.  Rather, by God’s grace I was reminded of the beautiful truth of the supremacy of Christ, that it is he who is better than anything. 

He is better.  I’ve learned this lesson many times over, but most significantly during my years at Huntington University.  In chapter 1 of my book, Remade: Living Free, I shared how God used a 2.5 year running trial to reveal that nothing compares to knowing Him.  Re-reading my own words and story reminded me that this truth has not changed.  I wrote: 

“As I sat back at the conclusion of that track season, I could hardly believe it.  Running had been so important to me all throughout my junior high and high school years, and I had wanted nothing more than to go to college and improve as a runner.  To have such a successful season after so much struggle was an incredible blessing and an amazing feeling. 

As I reflected on the season and thought about the races I had won, placing at Conference and Little State and that awesome run in Indy, I was struck with one very powerful thought- well, not really a thought from my own brain as much as I felt God speaking to my heart and saying, As great as all that felt, I am better than that.

While I absolutely will continue to pray for guidance and direction in all areas of my life, I am so thankful for the reminder that nothing this world offers compares to the satisfying love and joy that I have in my Heavenly Father through Christ.  As strange as it may seem, there is true comfort in knowing that no matter the outcome of my professional and personal endeavors, He will always be better.  

Only God knows what the future holds.  But in this present moment I do know this: when my mind is focused on Christ I have confidence in place of inadequacy and peace in the uncertainty.  A beautiful answer to prayer, indeed.   

The Great Multiplier

For the past few days I’ve had the privilege of vacationing in the beauty of the Missouri hills with extended family.  Writing this now from our cabin balcony, the view is spectacular: As far as the eye can see are blue skies and abundant sunshine- something my warm-weather loving heart can never get enough of.  The rolling green trees outlining the perimeter of the lake form a picturesque scene.  But even better than the scenery is the company.  I have truly been blessed with a family whose members are kind, thoughtful, intelligent, generous, and fun-loving.  Yet more than that, they are my brothers and sisters in Christ.  

During these beautiful vacation experiences I can’t help but wonder if this is a glimpse of what life will be like in the new heaven and the new earth.  With a finite mind, it’s difficult to imagine something better than my current here and now!  But like a child who can’t fathom how the ocean differs from a puddle they enjoy splashing about in, is my ability to imagine what God has in store for those who are His children.  But like a good Father, God, in His grace through His written Word, has been revealing to me His infinite generosity.  He indeed is the Great Multiplier. 

Multiplication was part of God’s plan from the beginning.  From the dust He created Adam, and from Adam’s rib, He brought forth Eve.  From there he gave the gift and command of multiplication to the first man and woman:  “Be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28).  With this multiplication came the institution of the family, and with it, the creation of generations.  During this vacation I have been greatly reminded of the blessing of generations and the wisdom of God in His design!  What a blessing to belong to a family line, to learn from the older generation and to pass along that wisdom and faith to the younger.  

We see again a mighty multiplication in the establishment of the Church as new believers were added daily in great numbers (Acts 2:47, 16:5).  Inspired with boldness and guidance from the Holy Spirit, the new believers spoken of in the book of Acts could not contain their joy for their Savior!  And still, two thousand years later, the Church continues to grow through multiplication- from believers sharing the gospel message with those still dead in their sin.  Though salvation is from the Lord, what a privilege to be used by Him for the advancement of His kingdom!  What a blessing it is to go into all the world, to be a part of the multiplication of the body of Christ. 

As I thought of the beauty in God’s design of multiplication, I was reminded of the feedings of the 4,000 and 5,000 recorded in the Gospels.   Not once, but twice, did Jesus multiply a humble offering of loaves and fishes to more than satisfy the hungry crowds.  The 7 and 12 leftover baskets attest to this.  So great was our Lord’s multiplication that thousands of people were fed and completely satisfied!  While this was a demonstration of the infinite power of God, what strikes me is the motivation for his action- this was a multiplication fueled by compassion (Matthew 9:36).  As with the gifts of multiplication of familial generations and the church, this multiplication was an example of God’s desire to bless and care for His creation.  

Still, Psalm 40 speaks of another multiplication- how God has multiplied His wondrous deeds and thoughts toward us (Psalm 40:5).  Far too often I assume my heavenly Father looks upon me with displeasure or indifference.  And yet, this verse reminds me that His thoughts toward me are greater than I could possibly know.  Yes, He knows our sin.  But in Christ, we are forgiven and these sins are no longer counted against us.  Imagine: not only does He mercifully forgive, but our God multiplies His wondrous deeds and thoughts toward us.  This is all grace upon grace, totally unmerited and undeserved.  As His children, He lavishes His love upon us; a love that multiplies and never subtracts.  

In light of God as the Great Multiplier, I am filled with confidence in His goodness and loving kindness.  Truly, He delights in giving good gifts to those who can never be snatched from His hand, both in this age and in the age to come.  As I once again consider eternity in the new heaven and the new earth, I have a sure hope in the words of Scripture- that Jesus has gone to prepare a place for us which is incomparable to anything we have heard or seen in this world.  There we will reign as heirs with Christ and bear witness to His glory unveiled.  For eternity we will be the recipients of grace multiplied.   

Grace, Truth, and Timothy

Truth and boldness.  Love and grace.  Social media alone is evidence that our world is in desperate need of both.  Too many posts to count are replete with strong opinions, fruitless rhetoric, and outright hate.  Scrolling Facebook this weekend, I found myself experiencing the heaviness of strong emotions.  And I began to wonder: As a follower of Christ, what does it really look like to stand for truth while showing love?  How do I respond with love to those who support something I don’t?  How do I hold both grace and truth without compromising either? 

Throughout the weekend I prayed for God to show me these answers.  I prayed that He would allow the Holy Spirit to govern my heart and mind and that He would sanctify me with His truth, which is His word.  

Though I’m about as pro-life as they come and rejoice greatly with the Supreme Court decision made on Friday, I began to experience an extra measure of compassion in my spirit for those who feel the opposite- especially for those who who are pregnant and scared; those who if given the opportunity would choose abortion.  Though my conviction on the issue did not waver, my heart seemed to soften.   

God continued to answer my prayer in Sunday School.  Though we were looking at a verse in 2 Timothy 3, my eyes were drawn to chapter 2 verses 23-25:

 “Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.  And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth.”  

There it was.  We are called to utilize wisdom and self-control in order to abstain from controversies that breed arguments.  And yet, when we do speak the truth we are to do it with kindness, patience, and gentleness.  Ahhh, of course- the fruit of the Spirit.   In the midst of anger, hatred, and fear, we are to display love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22).  As much as we like to believe we can conjure up these qualities in our own power, we undoubtedly come up short. Instead, these fruits are produced in increasing measure through the Spirit as we abide in Christ.    

Make no mistake: God’s Word will stand forever, and I pray we will boldly proclaim its truth.  But speaking truth without love only results in the worthlessness of a clanging cymbal or a resounding gong (1 Corinthians 13:1).  It is only with the fruit of the Spirit that we are able to effectively point others to the hope of Christ; to the very One who is himself full of grace and truth.  

Welcome Home: Grace Upon Grace (Conclusion)

As this series comes to an end, it strikes me that nothing I have written has been complicated.  In a sense, it has been, well…basic.  And yet, simplicity is not the same thing as easy.  It is simple to understand the importance of servanthood in marriage and using gentle and gracious words with our kids.  The difficulty lies in the application of these simple truths.  Without question, we will fail over and over again.  But praise God, He gives us more grace (James 4:6).  

In regard to my salvation, I know that I am a sinner saved by grace and that I was justified by faith the moment I trusted Christ.  I know my eternal inheritance is secure and that nobody can pluck me out of my Father’s hand.  And yet, as long as I’m on this earth I will remain a sinner in need of grace.  But God, being infinitely rich in His mercy and grace, lavishes these upon His children (Ephesians 1:8).  By His word, we know that He is gracious to forgive and that we receive grace upon grace from the fulness of Christ (1 John 1:9, John 1:16).  Lamentations 3:22-23 reminds us that the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases and that His mercies never come to an end; indeed, they are new every morning.          

To think that I could apply the truths in this series flawlessly and without fail would be a grievous (and blasphemous) error. Whenever two imperfect, sinful people are in a relationship with one another the relationship will also be imperfect.  Sin is sure to abound!  We will never cease to be sinners in need of grace.  But as the above verses demonstrate, it is impossible to out-sin the mercy and grace of our great God.  And not only that, He Himself will supply us with the strength and ability to carry out His commands.  I assure you, as sinful people, we go off the rails when we count on our own strength and willpower to apply these God-given truths and principles!  These can only be done through the power of His Spirit. 

It is the work of the Spirit to sanctify the children of God; to conform them more and more into the image of Christ by growing them in holiness.  As we continue to abide in Christ through time in the word and prayer, and as we ask the Spirit to govern our hearts and minds, He will produce within us the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control- all that is needed to rightly love our spouse and children.      

All of this is for one purpose only: to bring glory to God and point others to Christ.  When we build our homes upon the firm foundation of Christ and the gospel; when we apply the simple truths that create a home environment of emotional safety and joy, our Heavenly Father is glorified.  Moreover, our homes become a ministry- first and foremost, to our spouses and children- and then to the outside world.  By His grace, we will persevere in the mission of building our homes.    

Welcome Home: Joyful Parenting

As we conclude our focus on parenting (and the book in general) I wanted to return once more to the idea of joy, for no other reason than this: It’s so easy to get caught up in the heaviness of parenting.  The weight of raising Godly sons and daughters, of teaching and training, and of correction and discipline, can be daunting and overwhelming.  The tiredness we feel from the everyday duties of parenting- dishes, laundry, taxiing, and schedule-keeping- is yet another weight we often carry.  And then there is the weight that is the challenge of raising children who come pre-packaged with a full-blown sin nature.   

And yet, it is for joy that we persevere.  There is immense joy in raising children in the knowledge of God, so that they may grow in their love and obedience to Him.  And because of our love for our children, there is joy in walking with them through all of life’s highs and lows.  There is joy in the simple enjoyment of who they are as people.  And there is exceeding joy in the giving of our love to them.  It was for joy that Jesus endured the cross, and it is for joy that we continue in our work of parenting.        

In the midst of the heaviness, we can turn to Psalm 127:3-5 to remind ourselves of this truth: children are a blessing from God to be enjoyed.  Consider these words.  “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.  Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth.  Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!”  Even on the hardest days, our children are a heritage and a reward!  As we continue in the God-given work of raising children, let’s also be diligent to delight in our arrows in the following ways:

  1. Spending time together.   When it comes to kids, there is no such thing as “quality time.”  It’s just time that matters.  While special trips and big days out are fun and memorable, time with our kids does not have to be something that is elaborate in nature.  In fact, it’s the seemingly small, daily interactions that matter most.  Everything from car rides across town, short walks, working on household chores/tasks together, chatting at bedtime, and everything in between, are golden opportunities to delight in the company of our kids.  While this, of course, is likely not a new insight, I know for myself the value of being reminded of the significance of these shared moments- especially in light of the brevity of time our children actually live in our homes. 

As our kids get older, we may be tempted to disengage a bit, believing they don’t want to spend time with us.  While their interest in their friends does increase during adolescence, this does not mean that their interest in us decreases!  During the teenage years, our parenting roles may shift, but our kids’ needs for us do not.  Case in point:  studies show that teenagers benefit psychologically and socially from time spent with parents (https://www.futurity.org/hanging-out-with-parents-boosts-teen-self-esteem).  Because God is the great designer of the family unit, it’s not surprising that research backs up the vital role of parents taught in Scripture.  

As we leave this point, I want to give some consideration to the importance of giving our kids our undivided attention.  I know as well as anyone how easily cell phones can distract.  However, it’s vital that we intentionally put our phones down, make eye contact, and really look at our kids when spending time with them.  While our presence is powerful, being a fully present presence is even more so.  

  1.  Making Room for Play.  Contrary to what we may believe about adulthood, we are never too old to play!   After all, at any age, is anything more delightful than play?  Even more, play is a major mode of connection for kids.  When our kids ask us to play with them, they are inviting us to know them and engage with them.  While not all forms of play may be our cup of tea, if our kids are inviting us into it, we should regularly oblige.  I’ll admit: make-believe Barbie play was not always my favorite form of playing with my daughter (however, this could also be due to the fact that she gave me very little creative license when it came to plot lines and dialogue).  But play we must!  Whether it be sports, board games, dolls, or tea parties, through play we demonstrate joy and delight in our kids.       

While of course play includes all that was just discussed in the previous paragraph, I thought it was worth noting that play also includes our attitude/demeanor.  Does this mean we have to go out of our way to be a comedian?  Of course not.  But it does mean that keeping a light, playful attitude with our kids is another way to demonstrate our enjoyment of them.  I truly believe that humor is a great gift from God and is part of being created in His image.  This gift is also a wonderful tool for deepening our connection with our kids.     

Every age and stage of parenting is not without its challenges, heaviness, and intensities.  But let us not forget the immense joy that exists not only on the other side of the struggles but even in the midst of them.  As we make delighting in our kids a priority, I have no doubt that the joy in our homes will also abound.

Welcome Home: The Language of Parenting

As we transition to discussing communication in the parent-child relationship, please remember that the same principles and applications already addressed for the marital relationship are still applicable.  (For instance, in our communication with our children, we should aim to edify and speak the truth in love.)  This post aims to capitalize on what has already been addressed so that we can build a home culture of emotional safety and joy.    

Proverbs 18:21 is an incredible reminder of the weight of our words. It says: “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.”  Did you catch that?  Death and life.  With our words, we build up, and with our words, we tear down.  When communicating with our kids, this is absolutely a crucial truth to remember.  Our words are powerful and have consequences- for better or for worse.   With this in mind, let’s look at 3 key components of life-giving communication: 

  1.  Gentle words.  Before I begin, let me first clarify that gentle does not mean weak.  Nor is it the opposite of strong or direct.  What it does mean is “having or showing a mild, kind, or tender temperament or character.”  This means gentle words are simultaneously truthful and kind, bold and respectful.  Of note, gentleness is named as one of the nine fruits of the Spirit and was a word our Savior used to describe his nature (Matthew 11:29).  As followers of Christ, we are called to bear fruit and to be conformed to his image.  Gentleness is for sure to be on our radar!   

And if that is not enough to convince you of the importance of gentle words, consider Proverbs 15:1 which says, “ A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” A few verses later we learn, “A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit” (Proverbs 15:4).

Part of being an effective communicator with our children is remaining calm and ensuring we have our emotions under control before speaking.  A gentle spirit, and subsequently, gentle words, can only exist in conjunction with self-control!  As tempting as it can be to match our child’s level of discourse, smart comebacks or sarcasm only adds fuel to the fire.  Ephesians 6:4 reminds us that we are not to provoke our children to anger but to bring them in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.         

  1.  Building and gracious words.  Turning again to the book of Proverbs, we see vivid descriptions of using our words to bring life to others.  Consider Proverbs 16:24: “Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.”  By definition, gracious words are courteous, kind, and pleasant.  But even more than that, as followers of Christ, our words are to be gracious in that we seek the good in others and look for ways to build one another up.  Statements such as, “I appreciate your hard work,” or, “You bring so much joy to my life,” take but a few seconds to say but add sweetness to the souls of our kids.      

Likewise, Proverbs 25:11 says, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.” Though we previously applied this verse to the language of marriage, I wanted to bring it up again as it also relates to parenting.  Speaking fitly spoken words takes a bit of discernment, and again, self-control.  For our words to be received well, we must be mindful of when they are said (timing), and of our child’s capacity at the moment to receive our message (mood/disposition).  Though sometimes it’s difficult to hold our tongues, I’ve found the most fruitful conversations seem to happen when I choose to wait for a more opportune moment.  

  1. Genuine and Non-Judgemental.  As much as we want our kids to come to us with all of the important stuff in life, this will only happen when we listen with genuine interest and without passing judgment. Kids, and especially teenagers, will clam up faster than anything if they feel they are being criticized or judged.  They can also quickly sniff out ulterior motives.  

As parents who teach and instruct our kids in the ways of truth, being non-judgemental can prove challenging.  However, as we consider this point, it’s helpful to remember that Jesus himself was full of grace and truth (John 1:13).  In speaking with the woman at the well, he did not condemn her, yet directly confronted her need for a Savior.  What a beautiful model for us to imitate!  While we will not always get it right, we can strive to speak truth with a loving and gracious spirit, knowing that our kids won’t always get it right either.   

While this point is really more about our attitude than specific types of words, I included it under the category of life-giving communication because grace and truth foster safety and freedom.  And when our kids feel safe and free with us, they, and our homes, will be filled with life and joy.  

Welcome Home: Parenting with Respect

In the previous post, we discussed the importance of parenting with an attitude of humility.  As the last post focused on 3 practical applications of humility, this post will focus on the attitude of respect, and 4 practical ways we can demonstrate this in our parenting. 

When we talk about demonstrating respect for our kids, one important thought comes to mind: taking them seriously.  While we as parents have more years of life experience, more wisdom, and more knowledge, this does not mean we have a license to diminish the thoughts, opinions, and feelings of our kids.  In fact, we should be mindful to do the very opposite!  By keeping these four tips in mind, we can demonstrate respect for our children and build a home environment of emotional safety.  

  1.  Respecting their thoughts and opinions.  It’s easy to forget that our view of the world and all of the problems of life are vastly different than that of a child/teenager.  Just as we can’t help but think with a fully developed adult brain, our kids can’t help thinking with their still-developing brain!  Couple that with an ample difference in life experience, and we’re bound to have some disagreements! But here’s the catch: we need to listen to understand our kids rather than merely convince them that our way of thinking is right.  This, by the way, is very difficult and requires a great deal of patience and humility!    

While of course, we teach our children the truth and lovingly explain why we believe what we believe about any particular issue, we cannot neglect the importance of understanding as a major goal of communication.  Even when we disagree with our children’s perspectives, we can still show them respect by listening to understand, using the same skills previously discussed in this series: reflection and a curious stance. (For more on these, see the following post: https://nicolebyrum.com/2022/03/27/welcome-home-the-language-of-marriage-part-ii/ )  

As I shared above, it is critical that our kids know we take them seriously.  When we take the time to hear them- when we listen to understand- we demonstrate that we value and care about what they think.  Furthermore, we show them that they can trust us to respect them even if we disagree with them.  As an added bonus, having these types of conversations increases our children’s critical thinking skills and trains them to have productive discourse. 

  1.  Respecting their emotions.  As a counselor, I can’t emphasize enough how important this one is!  Can teenagers be dramatic?  Absolutely.  Are elementary kids unreasonable?  Sure.  But when we as parents minimize our children’s emotions it creates a disconnect in the relationship and enforces the idea that their emotions aren’t credible or valued. 

One of the best ways we can respond to our children’s feelings is to name the emotion they’re experiencing.  This lets them know that we get how they’re feeling- and that is so powerful!  Statements like, “I can see by your facial expression and tone how angry you are,” or “It sounds like you’re feeling really disappointed right now,” communicate empathy and understanding.  Affirming their emotions is also critical.  For example: “I can understand why you feel that way,” or, “I’d feel that way too if that happened to me,” express validation.  The more we use these kinds of statements, the safer our kids will feel with us, and the more likely they will be to come to us in any given situation.  

A word of caution: In our attempts to help our children feel better (or perhaps at times in our sinful, uncompassionate natures) we can minimize what our kids feel.  Statements like, “Oh, it’s not that bad,” or, “You’re just grouchy right now,” are not helpful and do not communicate respect for their feelings.  Likewise, we should avoid comparing our life experiences to theirs.  For instance, “Well, when I went through my first break-up I just got on with it, I didn’t sit around and cry all day.”  Our kids are their own people and will respond differently than we did when they experience a similar situation.  Finally, we need to abstain from telling our kids they shouldn’t feel a certain emotion.  Nobody likes to be told how they should or shouldn’t feel, especially when they’re hurting or upset.  

3) Show enthusiasm for their interests.  When we are enthusiastic about the things our kids enjoy this is a way of demonstrating respect.  Alternatively, if we’re dismissive of something that’s important to them, this will only create distance- and possibly tension- in the relationship.  Even if we don’t get the appeal of their preferred activity or interest, we should still make a great effort to learn about not only what they enjoy, but why they enjoy it.  Engaging with our kids in their interests communicates support and encouragement and is a great way to build up the relationship.  This is also a wonderful opportunity for our kids to teach us something (see point #1 from the previous post).  When my son started golfing a few years ago, I knew pretty much nothing about the sport!  It’s been fun for both of us that he has been able to teach me about the game he loves.

4) Show an interest in their friends.  When I was a teenager, one of the qualities I appreciated most in my mom was her sincere and genuine interest in my friends.  As we’re well aware, friendships, especially during the teenage years, are a top priority!  By showing love and respect toward our kids’ friends, our kids will feel as though we are respecting them.  Getting to know- and enjoy- our kids’ friends is truly a gift we give to our kids.     

One way we can show our interest in their friends is by having conversations with their friends.  While we might be tempted at times to grill them with questions, this is not the way to go!  Instead, we should take time to ask sincere questions in order to generate conversation.  Another easy way to express interest is to ask our kids about their friends.  Simple questions like, “What’s Suzy been up to lately?” communicate that their friends matter to us.  Similarly, remembering details of what our kids have shared about their friends (or what their friends have shared with us) and then asking follow-up questions demonstrates our care for them.  Finally, being an enthusiastic supporter of their friends communicates we value them.  We should cheer their friends on at sporting events, musicals, or whatever else they’re into!  Not only does this build our relationship with our own kids, but it’s a wonderful way to be a light in their friends’ lives as well.  

One final note: As parents, it is our job to come alongside our kids to help them evaluate their friendships.  For sure, there will be some tough conversations concerning their friends.  Yet, these should always be done with an attitude of respect.  During these conversations, we must be careful not to demean our kids’ decision-making abilities or bad-mouth the people they care about.  “Suzy has a really great sense of humor, I can see why you enjoy being her friend! But I would like to talk to you about another quality of Suzy’s that concerns me,” will generate a very different response than if we say, “Suzy is no good and making terrible decisions for her life.  I don’t understand why in the world you would want to be friends with her.”       

Demonstrating an attitude of humility and respect towards our children reflects a desire to love our kids as Christ loves us.  This desire is a result of having a firm foundation and lives changed by the gospel.  It is also a reminder of why we need to continue to abide in Christ through his word and prayer.  We simply cannot do all of this in our own strength and wisdom!  Let’s continue to pursue Christ and give glory to him as he equips us in the good work of parenting.    

Welcome Home: Parenting with Humility

For those who have been following along in the series, you know we have focused on the following: building a firm foundation on Christ and the Gospel; marriage setting the tone for the home; the values of a home filled with emotional safety and joy; the language of marriage; and the theological (and subsequent practical applications) of joy in marriage.  As we shift our focus from marriage to parenting, we will keep the same principles in mind that have been previously discussed throughout this series.  

At first glance, some might bristle at this post’s title.  After all, aren’t parents supposed to be the ones in authority?  Don’t we need to be firm, especially in discipline?  The answer: Yes.  But please don’t be mistaken- this is not an either-or situation!  Kids need authoritative parents.  That is, parents who are nurturing, supportive, responsive, and firm.  Both firmness and support are needed, and one without the other spells disaster.  Firm parenting without a sense of love and support will lead to rebellion; lax parenting with a high degree of support and responsiveness will lead to entitlement and a lack of self-control.  While this post focuses on the parental attitude of humility and respect in creating an environment of emotional safety, please know that this safety is also created when parents firmly set and hold to rules and their subsequent consequences.  

Just as within marriage, an attitude of humility and respect is of the utmost importance in our relationships with our kids.  This is the attitude needed to create an environment of emotional safety and joy!  Remember, emotional safety is the comfort and security experienced in a trusted relationship; it is feeling safe from attack and ridicule and is the fuel for collaboration and connection.    

Let’s first turn our attention to the attitude of humility within the parent-child relationship.  Previously, we stated that true humility is non-threatening and invites security and trust.  It is the attitude described of Christ in Philippians 2:5-8 whereby he humbled himself as a servant.  How then, do we as parents demonstrate this attitude of humility? While this could be an entire book unto itself, today we will examine 3 practical ways: 

  1. Cooperation.  Whether our children are 3 or 16, we can demonstrate humility by asking for their help and input.  Of course, by doing this we are also teaching them practical skills and critical thinking skills.  Yet, something more is communicated: their help, as well as their thoughts and opinions, are of value to us.  When kids know that their thoughts matter- when they feel their voices have been heard- this greatly enhances their sense of confidence and security in general and deepens their trust and connection with us in particular.  It also lets our kids know that we don’t always have all of the answers and that we too need help- even as an adult.  By asking for their help, we model that it’s okay to not know everything and that it’s good and wise to ask others for assistance.  After all, the only way we can model humility is to be humble ourselves!

As we go about our daily tasks, let’s be intentional in seeking opportunities to ask for our children’s help- even with tasks we could do ourselves.  And with discretion and appropriate boundaries, let’s (at times) ask our kids for their input concerning problems or stressors we may be facing.  After they have helped or shared with us, let’s express our humility and gratitude by thanking them for their time, efforts, and ideas.      

  1.  Apologize.  Few things in life require more humility than offering an apology.  To admit our mistakes, faults, and wrongs does not come naturally to us!  Rather, we prefer to hang on to the bitter end, preserving the last bit of our pride.  But as the book of Proverbs reminds us, pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall (Proverbs 16:18).  Furthermore, Proverbs also teaches that a fool does what is right in his own eyes (Proverbs 12:15).  Certainly, hanging on to our pride is foolish- especially when it costs us peace and connection in our relationships.  

In light of these truths, we are left without excuse: when the situation requires it, we need to apologize.  As sinners, we will sin in every relationship we have.  If you’re a parent reading this, you no doubt know the depths to which this is true in the parent-child relationship.  And so, when we blow it as parents- when we lose our cool, use harsh words and tones, or fail to keep our word- our first recourse should be to apologize.  

Our apologies should be sincere, taking full responsibility for our actions and words, without placing blame on the child.  An effective apology also recognizes the emotion and hurt experienced by the one we have wronged.  Such apologies model humility as well as the proper way to apologize.  As example-setters, if we apologize well, our kids will be equipped to do likewise.  Most importantly, our apologies will lead to greater trust and safety within the relationship.    

  1. Curiosity.  In our prideful attitudes, we assume we know it all.  But a humble attitude makes the opposite assumption- that we have much to learn.  And when it comes to our kids, we will always be learning!  While we may (and do!) know much about our kids’ strengths, weaknesses, attitudes, and demeanors, we cannot truly know everything about them.  This is why it’s so important that as parents, we stay curious.  

Being a curious parent means holding a genuine interest in what our kids think and feel.  It means caring about how they see themselves and how they interpret the world around them.  To be sure, these kinds of conversations take intentionality and time on our part.  But when we invest in these conversations- when we ask questions and attentively listen to their responses- we build connection.  

With humility, let’s be mindful to engage our kids in meaningful conversation.  Whether about school, world events, their interests, or friends, we can ask questions without assuming we already know their answers.  One last encouragement: if you haven’t already, please consider making topics related to faith and the Bible a regular part of your conversations.  This is a fantastic way for both you and your child(ren) to grow in your walk with God and in your relationship with one another.

Within the Veil

I wish I had known sooner.  For so many years, I failed to grasp the significance of the Old Testament tabernacle and sacrificial system.  Of course, I knew the tabernacle was beautiful and precisely created, just as God had instructed.  It was meant to reflect His glory and to be the place where His people met with Him.  As for the goats, lambs, and bulls, I knew they were sacrificed on behalf of the Israelites’ sin.  Yet, I didn’t see the fullness of this beautiful picture; they were but mere shadows of what was to come. 

Within the innermost part of the tabernacle was the Holy of Holies. This was the very dwelling place of God which was set apart from the rest of the tabernacle by a thick veil.  This veil was a visual representation of the sin that separates man from God’s presence; a signifier of the divide between a holy God and a sinful people.  It was clear: the two could not mix.  No man except for the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies- and then but once per year on the Day of Atonement.  

On the Day of Atonement, the high priest would sacrifice an animal for his own sins and for the sins of Israel.  He would then enter the Holy of Holies to spread the blood from this sacrifice (known as the sin offering) on the mercy seat.  The mercy seat was the lid of the Ark of the Covenant and the place where God was seated among His people. It was here, in this place of meeting, that mercy flowed abundantly from the sacrificial blood.  

As I write these words it all seems so strange- so foreign.  We have not known this world of blood and sacrifice, of priests making offerings on our behalf.  We have not been like the worshipers of the Old Testament who could only approach God in the temple through sacrifice and prayer.  No, we have only known the benefit of the New Covenant by which we can boldly approach the throne of God. This is the Covenant ushered in through the sacrificial death of Christ.   

As his suffering came to an end, Jesus cried aloud and gave up his spirit.  What happened next was unimaginable: “And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth shook and the rocks were split” (Matthew 27:51).  The temple veil, that curtain which was at least 30 feet tall and approximately 4 inches thick, was torn.  That which had represented the barrier between man and God was now open.  The new message was clear: there was now a way to have direct access to the presence of God.  That way was- and is- through the veil, that is, the broken body of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 10:20).  

Amazingly, the earthly tabernacle had been but a copy of the heavenly one (Hebrews 8:5).  As our great high priest, Jesus entered into the heavenly tabernacle not with the blood of goats, rams, or bulls, but with his own blood- the blood he had spilled on our behalf as our substitute (Hebrews 9:24). Until that time, all the blood of the sacrificed animals had been but a shadow of the blood that can actually cleanse the conscience of a sinner.  His sacrifice was better: a completely sufficient once for all offering that secured our eternal redemption, making us holy forever (Hebrews 7:27; 9:11-12; 10:14).  The blood of animals could never accomplish this.  Only by the perfect blood of the Lamb did this become a reality.

And so we rejoice that the earthly tabernacle and mercy seat are now obsolete- for our hope is now secured in the heavenly places.  As Hebrews 6:19-20 says: “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.”  

Because Jesus is our superior high priest, we can draw near to the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16).  And because he holds his priesthood permanently, we can draw near whenever we have need, with a true heart in full assurance of faith (Hebrews 7:24; 10:22).  As our high priest, he has anchored himself in heaven’s holiest place- and because we are joined with him, we are anchored there as well (https://www.1517.org/articles/whats-an-anchor-doing-in-the-holy-of-holies).

As I reflect on all that I have written here, I can’t help but feel overwhelmed by the riches of God’s grace.  And yet, I cannot fathom a life otherwise.  I can only offer sacrifices of praise for the sure and steadfast anchor of our souls- Jesus Christ.  He alone bore our sins and redeemed us from the pit of hell.  And he alone is our high priest in the heavenly places.  Because of his sacrifice, we are no longer objects of wrath, but a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9).  Once separated from God’s presence, our lives are now hidden with Him in God (Colossians 3:3).  To the glory of God, our anchor holds forever within the veil.  

*For more on the blood sacrifices, see my blogs: Nothing but the Blood (Part I and II)

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