Tag Archives: Parenting

This Mother's Day, Don't Worry

When I was planning the series "Ultimate Questions" for the congregation of The Orchard some time ago, I wondered which of Jesus' questions might be most appropriate for Mother's Day. So I showed a list of Christ's questions to a few mothers in the congregation and asked, "If you could choose one of these questions for Mother's Day which one would it be?"

rocking swingThe response was unanimous. It was just a straw poll, but everybody I asked came up with the same answer: "You should preach on Jesus' question about worry."

After conversing with some mothers about their particular worries, certain reoccurring themes became clear.

A Mother's Top Five Worries

1. Safety. Almost every mother who responded to our question mentioned the safety of their children. Mothers worry about their kids driving carefully and staying safe on the roads. They worry about their kids' health and their physical safety. Raising a child in today's world of violence also causes worry that something or someone will hurt him or her.

2. Health. Mothers mentioned the physical and emotional health of their kids. They expressed worry over unhealthy friendships, being in unhealthy environments, and the prospect of incurable diseases.

3. Marriage. Another common theme was marriage. Mothers worry about their children finding the right spouse---a loving and caring partner. They also worry about failed marriages and whether or not their kids will make good choices.

4. Competence. This is the worry about having done a good job as a mother. Mothers ask, "Have I readied my children to face the outside world---or how to face marriage? Have I passed on our values and spiritual heritage to our children? Have I established a good relationship with our children, one that will be maintained as they grow into adults?"

5. Faith. Not all mothers who answered the question were Christians, but of those who were, this was clearly a major area of worry. Mothers worry that their kids won't embrace their faith and make it the highest priority of their lives.

These are the natural and, therefore, common worries of motherhood. But mothers, here is what you need to hear: Worry is a hidden question that needs an open answer. Worry needs to be exposed. It needs to be brought into the open. The only way to overcome its dark power is to bring it into the light.

So having described our worries, let's look together at the teaching of Jesus, and see if we can bring our worries into the light of his truth.

Jesus' Top Three Answers to a Mother's Worry 

And he said to his disciples, "Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?" (Luke 12:22-25)

Discover your human inability. Jesus asks his disciples in this passage how they can add a single hour to their lives by worrying. He says that, even if they had that ability, it would be such a tiny difference that it would hardly be worth mentioning! Luke 12:26 makes it clear that this is Jesus' point: "Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?"

Jesus is confronting us with our inability. The length of a person's life is determined by God. It isn't something you can control. And no amount of worry will make a scrap of difference to it. But the root of all worry is that part of us feels that maybe we can control these things.

Let's take Jesus' question and apply it to the particular areas of our worries today, as if the risen Lord Jesus Christ were asking it of us directly. Which of you by worrying can ensure that your child will not have an accident? Which of you by worrying can protect your children from the pressures of the world? Which of you by worrying can become an ideal parent? Which you by worrying can bring eternal life to your son or daughter's soul?

Discovering your inability can be the beginning of faith. Have you discovered your inability? That could just be the first step in you coming to an authentic faith.

Examine the direction of your heart. There is clearly a relationship between the things that you set your heart on and the things that worry you. That's the problem with setting your heart on things like health and safety; these factors are obviously not in your control. This is the point of tension for all of us who are Christian parents: We want our children to follow Christ, but we also want them to have pain-free lives.

Here's the truth: There is no pain-free following of Christ. If you want your son or daughter to be a follower of Christ, you cannot set your heart on them never being hurt or never experiencing pain.

The cost to the child is shared by the mother, but so is the blessing. To bear a son or daughter who follows Christ will be difficult. But it will also mean that you are wonderfully blessed.

Trust the Shepherd of your soul. Notice that when Jesus speaks about worry, he directs our attention to the Father who is in heaven: "Do not worry. The pagan world runs after such things and your heavenly Father knows that you need them" (Luke 12:30). You have a heavenly Father who cares for each of his children more than you ever can. This Father is the shepherd of the flock.

It is true that God never promises a pain-free life to us or our children. In fact, he says that he sends you out as sheep among wolves! But he also says that he is your shepherd.

Let's take this promise into our world of worry. We worry about our kids' choices. We worry about their faith. We worry about whether we have done a good enough job to guide them, as if everything depended on us.

If the Lord is their shepherd, is he not able to lead them in right paths? And if they become lost, is he not able to seek them and find them and bring them back? Here you are as a mother trying to point this little fellow in the right direction, and then you let him go. Isn't it good to know that you can trust your heavenly Father?

Your heavenly Father does not promise that the way will be easy, but he does promise that he will be with you all the way. He confronts you with your inability. He warns you about where you set your heart. He invites you to trust your heavenly Father. Are you ready to do that today?

To all mothers reading this article, I hope you will have a wonderful Mother's Day and that you will feel the blessing and honor of the gift and calling that God has given to you in motherhood.

8 Things I Want My Toddler to Thank His Mom For (in 20 Years)

My son has just turned 2---he delegated to me the task of buying a Mother's Day card and writing a message on it. I'm coaching him to say, "Thank you mommy" and "I love you mommy" (though it will come out, at best, as "Thar Thaw Momeeeee" and "I yubba oo Momeeeee").

But what do I hope he will say thank you for, in 20 years, as he looks back on having grown up with a Christian mother? Here's what I'd love him to say as a 22-year-old, as he gives his mom some Mother's Day chocolates (chocolates, not flowers, son---chocolates tend to get shared with fathers, while flowers just get looked at on mantelpieces).

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1. Thank you for putting Christ before me. You taught me from the word go that I'm not the center of your world, because I'm not the center of the world. And you told me who does have that position---the Lord Jesus. I was never allowed to rule our house, and you always made it clear that my opinions and preferences, though important, are not authoritative. Thank you for the times you were not able to spend time with me because you were ministering to someone else. Thank you for the times you were not able to spend money on me because you had given it to someone else. Thank you that in never treating me like the most important person in your life, you pointed me to the most important Person in the cosmos.

2. Thank you for showing me grace, not works. You did so much for me, and you never threw it back at me to make me feel guilty, never suggested that your love depended on me reaching a certain standard, never held a grudge after I'd let you down, never wondered out loud why you bothered. At sports and at school, they taught me that the best win, and that work pays. At home, you taught me that I don't need to be good enough to be accepted, and that love gives. And thank you for disciplining me fairly and firmly, and forgiving me completely and repeatedly. Thank you that the boundaries were clear, and that accounts were kept short.

3. Thank you for showing me repentance, not false perfection. You made mistakes---lots of them. Thank you for not excusing them or belittling them. Thank you that you would stop and say sorry to me, and sorry to God in front of me. Thank you that you knew you were forgiven and lived as though you were. And thank you that you always backed me but never excused my sin or let me think I was good enough for God. Thank you that I learned from you not to wear a mask of self-righteousness, but that you taught me to enjoy wearing Christ's clothes of true righteousness.

4. Thank you for caring more about my character than my abilities. You encouraged me to be kind, thoughtful, and patient more than you urged me to do well at school, learn an instrument, or get good at sport. It's not that you didn't help me with homework, make me practice music, or take me to football; but I always knew that who I was, and who I was becoming, mattered more than what I could do.

5. Thank you for knowing that gospelling me was your and Dad's job. Thank you that you told me Bible stories, sang Bible songs with me, prayed with me, and told me about God as we went about our day-to-day chores and trips. Thank you that you didn't think you could delegate this job to my children's and student ministry leaders. Thank you that you didn't shoehorn Christ into every conversation, as though mentioning him every other sentence would convert me; but thank you that he didn't need shoehorning in, because he was a constant companion in our family. Thank you that I'm one of those kids who can't remember the first time they were told about the Lord Jesus, and can't remember a day since when they didn't hear about him.

6. Thank you for loving Daddy. He makes mistakes, too (more than you, Mom). Thank you that you loved him; that you forgave him when you needed to and asked for forgiveness when you needed to; that you laughed with him; that you were affectionate with him; that you submitted to him; that you cried with him. Thank you that you did all those things in front of me, so that because of the wife you were to him, I know what it means to be a Christian man, husband, and father.

7. Thank you for giving me chances to serve. Often, serving people with you was great fun, Mom, as we baked together, visited together, and made cards together. But sometimes it was boring, tiring, or costly. But thank you that we did it anyway, and we did it together. Thank you that you never shielded me from the reality of the Christian life---I was never allowed to think that church was all about my needs, or that serving should always have me as the recipient. Thank you that you always offered me a cross to carry, as you carried yours. But thank you that you always explained why we were serving others, and that I learned (slowly) to be joyful that I could serve the Christ who has served me.

8. Thank you for showing me what sacrificial love is. Every day of my life since the very first, you've done something for me that was hard or costly for you. In the way you've mothered me, I can see a glimmer of how Christ lived and died for me. You've shown me Christ.

This is an extended version of a blog that first appeared on The Good Book Blog.

How a Dad Loves a Prodigal

My dad and I are really close. In fact, we're so close that I worked for him doing all of his bookkeeping for the year before my twins were born. I loved talking to him nearly every day, especially since he lives so far away from me now. But we weren't always so close.

I was once a prodigal daughter.

For nearly two years I ran from my parents, family, and the Lord. I liked sin and liked living in sin. Talking to my dad (and mom) meant conviction, and I wanted nothing to do with it. If you peered through the window of my past you would have seen that I perfectly fit the profile of the son in Luke 15:11-32. I was wild, impulsive, and opposed to authority on every level.

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A quick survey of the families in your church would probably reveal that many have or had children who in some way have strayed from the faith of their upbringing. Parenting is hard work with no real guarantee of the outcome. While every situation is unique and has its own challenges, one thing is certain—prodigal children need to know they are loved. And my parents made sure of that.

In the years I lived away from them, they never abandoned contact with me. While our interactions looked different, they made sure to take advantage of moments where they felt I needed exhortation, encouragement, or just the acknowledgment that I was loved by them. My mom bought me Christmas and birthday presents every year, even though I never once tried to see them for holidays or family gatherings. The presents waited for an opportune time, revealing to my brothers and ultimately me that I was never once forgotten from their grieving memory. I have a box full of letters from them that serves as a painful yet necessary reminder that while my sin was (and still is) grievous, the grace I have received is extravagant.

Love, No Matter the Cost

We often talk about memories from our childhood. For me, my childhood was pretty good. We made wonderful memories together as a family of six. But the memory that captures the most formative event in my life is the one that I rarely think about anymore.

The entire time I was living in rebellion, my parents prayed for me every day. So when I told them I wanted to move home one cold December morning, and was tired of my life of sin, they were overjoyed. This rock-bottom-moment was exactly what they were praying to see. Immediately they began helping me prepare for the move. They arranged flights for me to come home, paid for a moving truck, and began helping me think through where to finish college.

And then I got mono.

I suddenly found myself uninsured and in the emergency room. At this point I was too sick to do anything besides barely plug along to finish my school semester. There was no way I was going to be able to pack up and get myself to Dallas (three hours away) to the airport. My dad had already intended to come help me move home by picking up my car and driving it to Michigan. At this point, I needed him. I had no energy, no real friends, and no ability to think through a move. I was helpless.

My dad flew to Dallas and picked up a car from a friend to drive down to where I was living. Less than an hour outside of the city, the car he was driving broke down. But nothing was going to stop my dad from getting to me. I will never forget the words he said to me as he sat in the Greyhound station waiting on his bus to drive him to San Marcos.

I will get to you, Court. If I have to walk there, I will get to you.

Rescue Mission

When I picked him up at the Greyhound station he embraced me with tears streaming down his face. It was exactly what I needed. The softening of my heart had begun with the mono and continued with the love and care of a dad who didn't hold my past hatred of him against me. In those moments, he didn't hound me about how I scorned him and my mom all those years. He was on a rescue mission. I needed help physically and spiritually, and he was there to give it.

For more than a week my dad stayed with me in my dorm, packing up all my boxes, getting reacquainted with me, and showing me what it means to live like Christ. His example humbled me on so many levels. For two years I had spurned his and my mom's love, care, and fellowship. And here he was forgiving all of it and welcoming me back in. I was floored and a little self-conscious. In my heart, I was ready to come home, but I couldn't shake this nagging guilt that told me my parents deserved better than how I had treated them. I was unable to help myself in any tangible way, and I was further placing myself in their debt by their selfless care for me.

There are so many more pieces to this story, like the fact that my dad stayed in the dorms with me for a week to make sure I was eating and getting rest. Or the fact that he went to the cafeteria with me every day to watch me fix my plate and send me back for more nutritious fare. Or the fact that my parents paid all of my medical bills despite the fact that I was the one who abandoned them. This is what makes it all memorable. They didn't abandon me. Ever.

You don't always appreciate and understand your parents when you are younger. At 31 now I see my dad (and mom) as instruments used by God to help me understand the gospel. God is relentless in his pursuit of us. So were my parents. They never stopped pursuing me until they had me safely home. Sometimes they pursued through prayer, begging God to open my eyes to my sin. Other times they pursued through letters, e-mails, and occasional phone calls. Even though I didn't always see it as love, every form of contact was laced with love and care for the outcome of my life.

By God's grace, he answered those prayers.

Deep Spiritual Need

Prodigal children do a number on the hearts of their parents. And no one understands that agony more than God does. By understanding my sin against my earthly parents, I grew to understand how my sin against my heavenly Father was far worse and deserved a much stricter punishment. In caring for my physical needs through the love of my parents, God revealed to me my deep spiritual need that could only be remedied by Christ.

This is how a parent loves a prodigal. In the same way that God never abandons his children but lovingly pursues us even to the depths of our sin, so parents model (to a lesser and more imperfect degree) the abundant grace of God poured out through them.

God was kind to restore my relationship with my family ten thousand fold. And while I still mourn the loss of those rebellious years, I praise God that he gave me parents who loved me enough to pursue me to the end of myself and point me to the only one who could save me.

Explaining Hard Things to Our Children

My heart was saddened the day I had to explain to my children that their aunt and uncle were getting a divorce. I struggled as I searched for words that would make sense to them. They were young and not yet acquainted with brokenness in marriage. Since then, I've had to whittle away at my children's naiveté about the world as more and more hard situations require explanation.

difficult-conversations-with-kidsWhen our children are young, they are often isolated from the painful truths of life. Their needs are provided for and their greatest struggles are in sharing their toys. But as they grow, they become more aware of the world around them. They begin to hear about violence, wars, death, disease, and brokenness.

One day, my 7-year-old overheard talk about same-sex marriage on the news. On another occasion, I had to explain abortion and euthanasia. Then there was the time I had to break the news about a dear friend waging a battle against cancer.

For many of these talks, I was unprepared. They came before I thought my children were ready. I wish we lived in a world where I didn't have to explain death, divorce, or abortion. But post fall, this is the reality of life. And I want my children to hear the truth about life, including its heartaches and sorrows, in the context of our biblical world-and-life view.

Explaining the World's Heartache Through God's Story

As we've worked through these issues as a family, there is one story we always come back to: creation, fall, and redemption.

This is the story of the Bible. It is the story that explains what once was at the beginning, how we got to where we are, and how things will one day be. It is the story that brings hope in the darkness of this fallen world. And it is the big story into which all our individual stories fit.

  1. Creation: In a recent talk with our children, we began by returning to the story of creation. We explained God's perfect design for the world, for people, for relationships, for marriages, and for families.
  2. Fall: We then reviewed the facts of the fall, how by the sin of one man, we are all sinful. Each and every person is a sinner; no one does what is right. Sin has also affected the natural world, bringing about disease and death. After Adam's sin, God promised a rescuer in Genesis 3:15. He promised to one day redeem and restore what was broken by the fall.
  3. Redemption: Jesus is the fulfillment of that promise. He came as that Rescuer, living the life we couldn't live and dying the death we deserve. Through faith in his finished work on our behalf, we have been set free from slavery to sin. We are now free to live for him. He is making all things new, beginning with us. As we share the gospel of grace with others, we participate in the mission of his kingdom. One day, Jesus will return for the last time and make all things right. Death and sin will be no more. The redeemed will live forever in his presence.

Teaching Our Kids to Love Like Jesus Loves

Recently, as we talked through and explained a hard situation with our children, we discussed how the redemption Jesus purchased for us affects how we treat the sin in others' lives and how we respond to the brokenness in this world. We talked about the gospel of grace and how we are to love others in light of the love and grace Jesus gave us. We share the gospel with them and pray for them, that they too would know the grace of God through Jesus Christ.

As believers, the story of creation, fall, and redemption is the lens through which we view all of life. It's also the lens we need to teach our children to use as well. As we help our children process life's experiences through this lens, it models for them how they are to view the many trials they will encounter in life. Ultimately, this lens points them to their hope found in Christ alone.

I know many more situations and hard discussions will come up in my life as a parent. As much as I'd like to avoid it, I can't. And I can't sugar coat the realities of life. But I can give my children hope. By recounting the story of creation, fall, and redemption, I can help them understand what happened to God's perfect world, how Jesus came to save us, and how one day, all the hard and painful stories of life will end. And then we'll begin a new chapter, one that will never end.

All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at least they were beginning Chapter One of the Great story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before. — C. S. Lewis in The Last Battle

Mama's Hands Are Full: Gloria Furman on Treasuring Christ in the Trenches

It was 8:00 a.m., and I already longed for bedtime. I'd refereed two conflicts over toys. I attempted to tackle the mountain of laundry that seemed to quadruple overnight. I repeated instructions multiple times to easily distracted minds. "It's time to brush your teeth." "Keep your finger out of your nose." "Only use kind words." My head and throat hurt, and I could feel a fever brewing.

Motherhood is a life that stretches you both inside and out. It's a daily practice of laying down your will and desires for the care of others. It's an energy-sapping life where you start each day with less energy than you had the day before. Nothing belongs to you anymore—not your space, not your time, not your sleep. Some days feel like a bad version of Groundhog Day, a repeat of the day before.

As a mom, I usually get caught up in the details of my days. I get wrapped up and consumed by the chaos and unexpected situations that come my way. I struggle in my weakness against the current of life's challenges, only to make no headway at all. And most of the time I end up spent, weary, discouraged, and alone.

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On that day, when I felt sick and sapped of all strength, physical and otherwise, Gloria Furman's new book, Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full: Gospel Meditations for Busy Moms (Crossway) [video trailer], arrived in the mail. It was the perfect word of truth and encouragement my weary heart needed. The title alone spoke to me because my hands are always full. But too often I focus on everything I'm carrying in those hands rather than on my treasure, Jesus Christ.

Gloria's book is filled with gospel wisdom from cover to cover. She reminds us that Christ is with us in every situation we encounter as mothers. Not only that, but we can treasure him amid every chaos, every sibling spat, every sickness, and every cup of spilled milk. These meditations cover situations to which every mom can relate. Filled with examples from her own life, Gloria weaves gospel encouragement into every page, bringing hope to the daily challenges of motherhood.

Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full reminded me that the gospel is for all of life—including motherhood. Our theology of the cross and the redemption purchased by Christ's blood intersect with bedtime battles, fatigue, and easily distracted children. What Jesus accomplished can be applied to every moment of our lives. Even when our head throbs from the resounding echoes of little voices calling our name all day, gospel peace is always available through Jesus Christ.

I asked Gloria a few questions about her new book to learn how moms can find quiet times, why she doesn't offer more "how-to" advice, and what passages of Scripture have encouraged her lately.

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What inspired you to write this book, and what do you hope women take away from it?

Busy moms have their hands full, and I want them to revel in the hope that comes from the gospel and see how their hands are full of blessings in Christ.

I appreciated your honesty in sharing the challenges you faced in early motherhood with having regular quiet times with the Lord. I remember this struggle myself. Finding quiet and solitude with God is hard. But, as you point out, the Lord is just as near to us in the chaos of our day as he is in the alone times. Do you think that moms can have a tendency to just give up on communing with God because of their season of life?

Sometimes we think that if only we could have peace and quiet in the house then we will have peace and quiet in our heart. How easy it is for us to relegate Jesus' presence to an easy chair in a picture-perfect living room (with an accompanying cup of hot coffee)! For the mom facing that challenge of finding quiet time, I'd want her to know that, solitude or circus, it makes no difference in the sufficiency of Jesus Christ to give you everything you need for life and godliness.

In a day where mom blogs saturate the internet with "how-to" counsel and "5 steps to getting your kid to _______," it seems we often clamor after quick fixes and step-by-step advice. Do readers ever complain that your writing is "just too much gospel" and not enough practical "how-to" advice? 

There's no shortage of resources and practical tips for helping moms navigate the challenges they face; I surf these websites for tips all the time. I hesitate to share my practical advice because it really only works for my set of unique circumstances a pitifully tiny fraction of the time, and whenever I give other moms "how-to" advice I have to preface it with that disclaimer.

But I can, however, share the gospel confidently without reservation because the cross teaches us what to expect when we're expecting challenging situations in motherhood—"mercy and grace to help in time of need" (Heb. 4:16). Of course, solid practical advice is a mercy and a grace, but the cross addresses our deepest and most urgent need, which is to behold our God. In short, we can gain great benefit from practical how-tos, yet the implications of the help and hope we receive from the gospel are inexhaustible.

Is there one passage of Scripture, or a few passages, that have given you particular hope and peace during the often chaotic and busy season of motherhood?

Yes! In this particular season I have been particularly encouraged by Isaiah 40:11, Zephaniah 3:17, 1 Corinthians 15:58, Matthew 28:18-20, and the book of Ephesians.

Treasuring-Christ

God Meets Busy Moms Right Where They Are

When my first baby was born I sensed that my perspective on the nature of my spiritual life was being rattled and reshaped. In the midst of a venting session with a dear friend I confessed that I felt I'd forgotten the Lord since I became a mother. She shared with me 2 Corinthians 9:8: "God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work." God plans the end from the beginning, and he governs all the time in between, and he is able to give me the grace I need for the times he has planned right when I need it so that I can be about his will. If Jesus has assured me that he is with me to the end of the age (Matt. 28:20), then surely he is with me in all of my baby carrying, house cleaning, car driving, nighttime parenting, and husband helping.

When we feel that our environment must be "just so" in order to have fellowship with God, any wild-card elements inherit the name Interruption. A toddler's plea for help with a game is an interruption. The children's early bedtime is an interruption. The baby who refuses to settle down is an interruption.

What if God wants to fellowship with us right where we are—even in the commotion of ordinary life? Most assuredly, he does. Consider how the triune God is working to ensure that you behold his glory throughout your days and nights.

Your heavenly Father is sovereign over all things. A sparrow drops its feather on the ground, escaping the clutches of a curious little boy. A car battery dies in the parking lot after a play date at the same moment your overtired children reach their limit. A pacifier falls out of a baby's mouth just before the baby nods off to sleep. Nothing—nothing happens without the sovereign Lord's ordaining it. He is trustworthy and praiseworthy in every moment in every circumstance.

The eternal Son of God is Immanuel—God with us. Jesus fulfilled God's holy law, was crucified in our place, rose victorious from the dead, and is reigning at the Father's right hand. Jesus satisfied God's wrath against sin and purchased us from the slavery of sin. By faith we receive Jesus' perfect righteousness, and he creates in us new hearts that are prone to love him. Even when you don't feel this is true about yourself, a daughter of the King, it is. Even when you imagine that your life is hell and you have forgotten that you've been transferred into the kingdom of God's marvelous light, you're still his forever. You can be sure that nothing will separate you from God's love for you in Christ Jesus your Lord—"neither death nor life" (Rom. 8:38).

The Holy Spirit of God indwells the heart of believers and writes God's law on their heart. When we meditate on God's Word, the Spirit delights to confirm in our heart that God is who he says he is. The Spirit graciously awakens us to the affliction of our sin, and he enlivens in us an affec­tion for God's holiness. When we put our hand to the plow (or the scrub brush, bulb sucker, and pureed squash), the Spirit enlivens us to work as unto the Lord. The Spirit helps us in our weakness and ignorance, praying for us as we don't know what to pray for. The Holy Spirit is like the neuron that travels from our taste buds to our brain with the message that dark-chocolate-covered orange slices are exquisite. When we taste things such as providence or our union with Christ, it's the Spirit who tells ours heart that the Lord is good.

In our church's weekly corporate worship gatherings, we have what you call the "Call to Worship." Someone stands up front with the microphone and reads a portion of Scrip­ture, inviting everyone to worship God. In line with the "so-called interruptions" idea, mothers hear "calls to wor­ship" throughout their days and nights. If we have ears to hear these invitations, then we have opportunities to wor­ship the Lord, who is nearer to us than we often realize.

Editors' note: This excerpt is adapted from Gloria Furman's new book Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full: Gospel Meditations for Busy Moms (Crossway, 2014). Download the free study guide here.

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Parenting Fear

My 5-year-old daughter is fine with scary stories until she has to go to bed. The trouble starts when she is lying under the covers in her darkened room, separated from her parents not only by the admittedly small distance of a few yards and one wall but also by the infinitely vaster distance of imagination. And the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. I can still recall my 11-year-old self, hunkered down with a neighborhood playmate, reading ghost stories (against my parents' advice) and being certain, in the full light of day, that such ridiculous stories would never affect me. I didn't sleep for a week.

My daughter, Julienne, is similarly full of confidence during the day and similarly terrified at night. Seemingly innocuous images catalyze this reaction in her 5-year-old mind. Once it was the giant depicted in Mickey and the Beanstalk. We dealt with that one for several nights. Once it was a mildly disturbing character from a children's magazine, even though that character was clearly intended to come across as impish. There was a dragon from one story or another. The odd witch or two. Julienne has yet to experience such classics as Disney's Snow White or Cinderella, not because we have anything against those movies, but because we know she won't be able to handle the villains depicted in them.

child-hiding-scared-hide.jpgWhen I am called into my daughter's room to reassure her in her moments of fear, what strategy should I adopt to alleviate my child's fear in her time of need? When Julienne is afraid of a cartoon giant crushing our house or carrying her away, I can respond by saying something like, "Sweetheart, giants aren't real: they're just characters in stories. You don't need to worry about that. Go back to sleep." Or when she is concerned about the incendiary ramifications of a passing dragon's exhalations, I can counter, "Dragons don't really exist, honey. You don't need to be afraid of dragons." This is what many parents do in similar circumstances, and it may often be the best course of action.

But is it always? Is it possible we're actually doing them a disservice in the long run? Here's what I mean: The "It's not real" argument may certainly work when used in reference to a dragon, an ogre, a giant, or a witch. But it will not work when used to combat the real fears of pain, loss, heartbreak, loneliness, betrayal, and sin. So would it be valuable for parents of young children, like myself, to consider an alternative strategy for dealing with our children's current fears, in the hope that it will translate into habitual practice of handling fear throughout their lives?

Here are two biblical ways we can address our children's current fears and teach them how to handle the other fears that will inevitably emerge from the shadows later on.

Teach them that God is more fearful than our fears.

One of the most awe-inspiring ways God shows himself in Scripture is in what theologians call storm theophanies (for example, Ex. 13:21; 14:19-21; 19:16-19, 1 Sam. 7:10; 1 Kg. 8:10-11; 18:38, 19:11-12, Job 36:24-38:1; Ps. 18:7-15). Perceiving God in the midst of the storm helps us grasp his power and his majesty. But it also helps us remember the only one who ought to cause us to fear: God himself. As Jesus teaches:

I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! (Luke 12:4-5)

How does teaching our children to fear God help them handle their other fears? If we prayerfully employ the Scriptures in our efforts, two responses will follow. First, the fear of God will vastly outweigh other, lesser concerns. And second, the fear of God will give birth to confidence in God. This is what we see happening in the life of David in Psalm 18. After reflecting on the terrifying magnificence of God in verses 7-15, he is led to announce his own salvation by God in verses 16-19.

Teaching our children to tremble before the Lord is a task we must embrace all the time, not just in moments of darkness-inspired fear.

Teach them that God will protect us from what is most fearful.

The second lesson we must instill in our children is the liberating truth that God will protect us from what is most fearful. The challenge here is to find the balance in emphasis between the reassurance that God will protect us and the clarification that God's protection might include real pain and suffering. Another way of expressing this idea is to say that while God has never promised us that we won't be cast into the furnace, he has shown us that we won't go through it alone (see Isa. 43:1-2).

When Julienne calls me into her room out of fear of dragons or giants, I try to remind her of these things. I tell her that God loves her and is more to be feared than any monster. I tell her that Jesus died for her and that even if something bad were to happen, it would only mean that she would be with him that much sooner. I tell her that, while I'm pretty sure all the giants died off a long time ago and that I've never seen a dragon in these parts, if one or the other does show up, she can trust me to fight it off for her.

I tell her these things because I know the dragons and giants will morph into their real-life counterparts: the all-consuming destruction of self-love and the brutal ugliness of sin. And when the day of that battle arrives, she needs a sharper sword in her hand than my whispered delusion, "They're not real." Such a dull blade will never penetrate dragon scales or giant's hide. But the monster has yet to be spawned that can withstand the fury of the protective love of the heavenly Father.

These are the truths that calm the night terrors of 5-year-olds in my house. Indeed, these are the truths that calm my own.

Your Options in Infertility

If you're a pastor who's never been diagnosed with infertility, you'd do well to consider the problem before the time arrives to counsel a struggling couple. It's difficult for those on the outside to understand an infertile couple's level of suffering. But some sense of the desperation can be gauged from the efforts many make to overcome their problem: the time and money spent, and the stress and pain of fertility treatment. The Bible itself validates this emotional pain when picturing certain insatiable natural realities:

Three things are never satisfied;
four never say, "Enough":

Sheol, the barren womb,
the land never satisfied with water,
and the fire that never says, "Enough." (Prov. 30:15b-16)

"Infertility" is a medical diagnosis that can be made when a couple's been having normal unprotected intercourse for a year or more without conceiving a child. It affects around one in six couples of reproductive age. And in a church full of families it can be particularly hard to bear. Of course, it isn't wrong to hope for children—they are a blessing from God (Ps. 127:3-5a). Yet at Christian weddings, for instance, we tend to pray for children but not the ability to be content if they aren't forthcoming.

not-pregnant

There may be several thoughts going through the minds of an infertile couple. Fertility is described in the Bible as a blessing for the obedient (Deut. 28:4-11) and infertility as a curse from God (Deut. 28, Num. 5:11-28; Lev. 20:20-21). Some couples, then, may need reassurance that while all the sickness, suffering, and trouble of our world results from the fall, problems like infertility aren't necessarily connected with our personal sins in a neat one-to-one correspondence. The examples of Job and the man born blind in John 9 make this point clear.

However, just as we shouldn't conclude infertility is a particular punishment from God, nor should we conclude God is bound to bless us with fertility if we are obedient, godly Christians. Yes, the wombs of Sarah, Rebekah, Leah, Rachel, Hannah, and Elizabeth were opened, but God was accomplishing special purposes that apply to them alone. We can't claim promises made to others in specific contexts we don't share.

Nowhere in the Bible does God promise we'll all have children.

Couples coming to terms with the idea they may be infertile are incredibly vulnerable. They can easily access child-promising treatment without stopping to consider what it involves. It's vital, then, for any couple in this situation to seek careful counseling in the early stages of their discussions before deciding anything. Though it's ethically acceptable for Christians to seek medical help to restore the natural function of childbearing, not all "standard" medical therapy will be morally acceptable to those who wish to protect life from the time of fertilization.

Permissible Options

Nonetheless, there are several morally permissible options for Christian couples facing infertility. Here are five.

1. It's okay to pursue no further treatment. Some couples happily accept that childbearing isn't God's current plan for them and look to his guidance for the future. I've found some couples hear this word with great relief, especially given the stresses involved with fertility treatment.

2. It's possible to wait. Even though infertility is diagnosed after a year of trying to get pregnant, only 85 percent of couples are expected to conceive in the first year. Sometimes "infertility" is really just impatience. For those considering taking things further, however, some doctors would advise they not wait longer than six months if any of the following apply: the woman is older than 35 years old; there's a history of absent or irregular monthly periods or pelvic inflammatory disease; either partner has been treated for cancer or a serious illness such as diabetes or hypertension.

3. The couple can seek a diagnosis to determine the cause of infertility. This diagnosis can be helpful even if no further treatment is pursued—simply to know what's going on. A cause for the infertility can be found in 80 percent of cases. Male factors account for about a third, female factors about the same number, and about 40 percent of cases are due to multiple factors. Sometimes the underlying problem can be corrected easily. It may have nothing to do with the reproductive system. Regardless, couples should continue to regard infertility as a joint problem within their marriage—rather than one partner's problem—so that blame isn't focused on one person. This approach helps marital unity.

4. Subsequent to diagnosis it's increasingly common for the couple to receive a recommendation to go straight to Assisted Reproductive Therapy (ART) treatment rather than to try treating the underlying problem. At this point I'd particularly urge Christian couples to stop, pray, collect information, think carefully, and not just agree to anything that will help them achieve their desire for a baby. Ethical problems are avoided by looking ahead. In some ways, the advent of assisted reproductive therapies—in vitro fertilization (IVF), for example—has increased the anguish of infertility since these treatments can prolong the struggle for years. Moreover, pressure from other family members, such as potential grandparents, can make it even harder to choose. Someone familiar with the process needs to be involved in order to make sure decisions are based on facts. Costs are not just medical but also emotional, relational, and spiritual.

5. Couples may consider adoption at any point of their journey. It helps if they've come to terms with the loss of the potential for biological offspring before exploring this option. It is entirely possible to have a healthy, loving family without any genetic link. Embryo adoption is a new option to consider in this vein. And spiritual adoption—being the Christian parents someone doesn't have—will always be available in the church.

Whichever option is taken—even with the choice to do nothing—most couples will still be "trying" in their own way. They may still wonder month to month whether this time will be the one. Help may be needed to work out how to be good stewards with regard not only to money but also to the time and energy required in the battle against infertility.

To stop trying for a baby is tough, a topic beyond the scope of this article. In many ways it's easier if the couple can make this decision before starting treatment. How far are you prepared to go to get a baby? What are your limits? How long should life be on hold regarding certain opportunities for kingdom work? Moving on without looking back is hard, and it is sad. But when asking those who've been down this road before what their advice would be for others, the most common response I hear is this: "It's okay to stop trying." It helps to see this decision as a positive choice to get on with life rather than an issue of failed parenting, and it allows the couple to grieve the loss of their dreams. God does not minimize this loss, and neither should we.

Editor's note: Register to hear Megan Best discuss "Sex Without Children?" and "The Quest for the Perfect Child" at The Gospel Coalition 2014 National Women's Conference, June 27 to 29, in Orlando. The stresses of infertility are further discussed in chapter 10 (and ART and embryo adoption in chapters 12 and 14) of her book Fearfully and Wonderfully Made: Ethics and the Beginning of Human Life (Matthias Media, 2012). 

church-sleepy-kids-szd

How Churches Can Care for Their Pastor's Children

A young pastor recently asked for my advice over lunch. His church plant was maturing, and he was looking down the road. His own children are ages 6, 4, and 1. Knowing the problems that pastors' kids can have, he wisely desired to cast a vision of care for his children.

church-sleepy-kids-szdToo many children of pastors are casualties in the spiritual battle. After seeing the inner workings of the church, many do not want anything to do with the Lord or his people. As a teenager, I almost walked away from my faith because of the hypocrisy and disunity I saw in my church.

But in my conversation with this pastor, I was momentarily speechless as I realized how little I had thought about this important question. Why? Because the church that I had shepherded for 25 years had done an excellent job caring for my own children. Today they are 22, 20, 18, and 16, and have fond memories of our relationships there.

What had my own church done that so few churches do well? What can churches learn?

Word to the Congregation

These children running around among us are precious to God. One day they will not be 6, 4, and 1. They will be 26, 24, and 21. In the meantime, they are watching you and listening to you. And by that observation, they are deciding if the gospel is real. Jesus said, "By this all people (including these children) will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35). What will they say about your church when they are adults? How did you help or hurt their walk with Christ?

1. Give grace to the pastor's children on Sunday. Sunday is a workday for his family unlike any other person's workday. While her husband is ministering, a wife is parenting alone. The pastor's kids are often the first ones to arrive at the church building and the last ones to leave. You can minister to his family by giving his children grace, talking with them, and enjoying them. When his children are young, you can also offer to help his wife.

2. If you have a concern, talk to your pastor about behavior that characterizes the children. But do so with an attitude of loving acceptance. As a shepherd of my family, I wanted to know when my children acted up. But I also knew any report I received was from an adult who cared about me, who knew that children will be, well, sinful children. They did not look at my children as PKs (pastor's kids), but only as kids.

The issues that should concern us are not individual actions but behaviors that characterize a child. The phrase "managing his household well" (1 Tim. 3:4) refers to the father, not the children. It doesn't mean a pastor and his children are perfect. It does mean he handles true problems well.

3. Be generous in your praise. Respect is especially important as the children grow older. A pastor's children will soon figure out that their family doesn't drive the newest car or take the fanciest vacation. But if others verbally express respect for the pastors, the children's view of their parents will rise. Men especially who express respect to a pastor's son can make a substantial difference.

4. Limit church criticism and complaint to private conversations among adults. Every group of people will have problems. Issues will need to be aired (see Acts 6). But know that young people are watching how the adults are handling problems. As a teenager, I was keenly aware of the conflicts and hypocrisy in my church. Make sure you keep those comments among adults. Take any issues privately to the leadership. Don't make sniping complaints to young people or in the hearing of young people.

5. Be brave and rebuke the critics. Unfortunately, not everyone in the congregation will follow this suggestion. When grumbling and faultfinding spill over in front of you, speak up. Tell "Nitpicking Nora" not to talk in front of the children but speak directly with those in charge. Remind her that these are just children. The souls of these little ones are precious and need to be guarded. A united elder team can be especially helpful in speaking to any who engages in unwarranted faultfinding.

6. Give your pastors room to deal with their children's hearts. Older children will go through some spiritual ups and downs. How will you think about those bumps? With care and affection? Or self-righteous judgment? Your pastor's children are like all of us. They are in a process of becoming like Jesus. You can embitter them with sharp comments. Or you can love and accept them even as they grow into adulthood. Pray for them regularly by name as they make this transition.

7. Give your pastors margin to minister to their families. Children need their father. But many leaders will be tempted to neglect their families to meet the unending needs of the church. Carping and demanding church members will make that temptation even greater. Even as a church member, you can encourage your pastors to care for their families. Are they taking their days off? Are their vacations uninterrupted? Don't demand that they minister to your crisis at the expense of their own family.

Influence Well

By God's grace, my children have no bitterness from my 25 years of pastoring. They know their church wasn't perfect, but they look with admiration and affection on these aunts and uncles in the faith.

Church member, some day the young children in your church will be adults. They will be spiritual soldiers or spiritual casualties. And yes, you will have an influence on that outcome. They are watching you and listening to you. Use that influence well.

tired-mom

God Gives Me More Than I Can Handle

Many years ago I made a bold claim: "I can never marry a man who has to travel all of the time." I had seen couples navigate the difficult waters of business travel, and I didn't want any part of it. More than anything, I hated (still do) being alone. I'm the oldest of four children. I have always lived with roommates. And more often than not, spending too many evenings by myself makes my vivid imagination run wild. I just didn't want to deal with that stress.

tired-momAt the time my demand for marriage seemed reasonable. When I met my husband I thought I was in the clear. As a seminary student, he intended to enter full-time vocational ministry and did not aspire to become a traveling preacher. We got married in 2009, and while I knew we would occasionally be apart, I was resting in the fact that I probably wouldn't have to ever endure long stretches of time away from him.

And then we moved to Little Rock, Arkansas.

In 2011, my husband graduated from seminary, and we packed up and headed south to plant a church. Because we were part of a new church, he had to work another job to make ends meet. God provided a job for him that perfectly suited his skill set and met our needs. But he had to travel—a lot. Now we are nearly three years in, and it looks like God is changing our life path. The travel isn't going anywhere. Never say never, right?

Nothing More Than We Can Handle?

I've heard it said that God gives us trying circumstances because he knows we can handle it. I have even heard traveling spouses say that God made their husband or wife an independent person who could handle all of the time away. I understand how someone could think that way. When we see a man or woman handling seemingly impossible circumstances, it's easy to conclude that God must have made him or her competent to bear such difficulty. In some ways, that is true. God does equip people for the journeys ahead of them.

But what about me? I am not independent, and I know I can't "handle" multiple days of caring for twin boys by myself.

I think God has promised us another, more helpful way to think through difficulty. But first we have to make an honest confession.

God often gives us more than we can handle.

Have you ever woken up one morning to the overwhelming reality that you don't have what it takes to make it through the day? Maybe you have a major project due at work, you are already behind, and now your boss has given you another project to start. Maybe you have a task list that keeps growing, and there aren't enough hours in the day to complete it. Maybe you have a house full of little ones, another on the way, and you just don't know how you will have the energy to care for all of the needs in your family. Or maybe you are like me, and nearly every week you are confronted with the fact that your husband will have to leave for another business trip.

The apostle Paul knew what it meant to be overwhelmed. In 2 Corinthians 12, we glimpse Paul's persistent suffering—his thorn in the flesh. Every day he felt the sting of weakness. Every day he worried he could not endure his calling. In desperation he cried out to God and received this response: "'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me" (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Paul knew that God had given him more than he could handle. And so did God. Yet through Paul's weakness God was glorified. Through his difficulty Paul was actually made strong.

God the Burden Bearer

We were never meant to walk through this life alone. In fact, God delights in bearing our burdens for us. David knew this peace amid struggle. Throughout his life, he was faced with overwhelming circumstance after overwhelming circumstance. Yet he learned where to go with his burden—to the LORD (Ps. 55:22). In the Psalms, God promises that he not only delights in carrying our burdens, but he also sustains us along whatever path he has called us to walk.

But with this burden bearing comes a burden lifting. As we daily depend on the God who is strong enough to carry even the heaviest load we bear, we receive the strength of Another, who promises that his burden is light (Matt. 11:30). When we cry out to him in faith we know that no burden is to great for him to carry for us. I think this is what Paul meant when he said that the "power of Christ" rests on him. Christ carries our burdens for us and gives us his peace.

God's Abundant Grace

But what happens when your burden doesn't feel lifted? What happens when you cry out to God (like Paul), and he doesn't give you the relief we want? God does not just bear our burdens; he also gives us grace. Sovereign over all things we face, he is the only one capable of providing the grace we need to endure.

It's not that he gives us what we can handle. It's that he gives us what we can't handle so we lean on him, not on ourselves. In the weak moments I cry out to him with the most fervor. Unfortunately, I tend to look to myself when life is easy. But in the moments where I feel like I can't go on, I look away from myself and to him alone.