Jani Ortlund: Welcome. I'm glad to see all of you (you're here!), because either you have children or grandchildren or you love children. There may be some of you here who don't have your own children yet but work with children, and you want to know, "What does the Bible say about godly mothering?"
Now, I am not here because I'm the expert. I'm here because I've grown through a lot of failure. We hear the phrase often, "There are no guarantees." You know, you can do this and that and that but there are no guarantees, and that scares us. I'm here to tell you, there may not be a guarantee but there are indeed promises. And God is faithful to His promises.
So we want to take some time today . . . This is going to be a topical talk; it's not going to be the exposition of just one passage. We're going to look at several different verses. We want to see some of the promises from God.
My kids are the guinea pigs in this room. [laughter] Eric is thirty-eight; he is a professor of Old Testament in Saskatchewan at Briarcrest Seminary. Do we have any Canadians here? He and Erin have two children.
Christa's thirty-seven. She is in Wheaton with her wonderful, godly husband, John. Wheaton. . .oh, all right! And they have three kids. Dane, our next son, is number three. He'll be thirty-six in a few weeks. He and his wife, Stacey, have four children. And then, our little surprise caboose, Gavin, is thirty-one. He's a pastor in Sierra Madre, California.
Okay, I have three points. I brought an outline, because it keeps me honest and it keeps you hopeful. You know where I am. If you want to talk to me further about any of these things, I welcome you at our website ortlund.net. You can find us there. Ray and I would be happy to talk with you.
I just have three points: 1) Guilt-filled mothering; 2) Grace for us; and 3) Guilt-free, grace-filled guidance in our mothering. As a mother, those of you who are mothers, you realize, everyone wants something from you. [laughter] Your children, your husband, your extended family, your church, your boss, your child's school, your neighbor-everyone wants something!
I remember when we had our first three children, I was a mess! I could hardly find time to get out of my pajamas. Those three kids were so hungry, they were so dirty, they were so noisy, they were so everything. So needy! And then when my husband came home, he needed things. I thought, Wait a minute!
Most likely, as a mother, you give way more than you ever thought you could. But along the way, even as you are giving so much, guilt is nibbling away at your soul, and it's eating away your inner peace, your joy. That guilt tells you that you should be doing more, giving more, accomplishing more. More! Always more!
And sometimes that guilt, I can tell you, lingers through the years, even after your children are grown and gone. And you keep thinking in your head, I should have . . . I could have . . . Why didn't I . . .? And the guilt lingers. Guilt-a mother's habitual shadow-has a nasty way of dampening much of our efforts at nurturing, serving, and loving others.
Am I doing enough for my children? Am I doing enough for others? Am I doing enough for God? What do they think of me? What does God think of me? Ladies, let's not waste our guilt. Wasting our guilt means letting it eat away at us, sapping our spiritual vitality and emotional fortitude. Let's not waste our guilt-let's use it. Let's listen to it. Let's take any guilt that we feel out of the shadows (the back of our mind and heart), and let's examine that guilt in the light of Scripture.
Let's not waste our guilt. When you feel guilty, when I feel guilty, this is what we need to do: We need to ask Jesus Christ, "Is this guilt that I'm feeling, that's niggling at me, that I'm thinking about, that I keep camping on-is this from You? Have I offended You, Lord Jesus Christ? Is this a sin?"
Let's lay out our feelings of guilt before Him. Is this a Spirit-filled conviction? The Spirit convicts in specifics, not generalizations. Satan convicts in generalizations: "You're not good enough!" Can you hear Christ's voice in your guilt? Then, if you can confess it, receive His forgiveness, and ask Him where and how He wants you to change.
But maybe our guilt isn't from Christ. Sometimes mine isn't. Maybe our guilt is just a nagging self-focused unbiblical fear of failure. That kind of guilt whispers to us that if we were just a little bit better or worked just a little bit harder then we might be noticed and admired and successful enough to feel okay about ourselves. That is false guilt; it's rooted in pride. We don't see it in Scripture.
It will hurt our families, and it will hinder our relationship with our grace-giving Father. Let's learn from our guilt; let's not waste it.
Paul speaks of these two kinds of guilt in 2 Corinthians 7:10. He says this: "For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death." Is your guilt (in mothering, particularly, is what we're talking about) a godly grief that that leads to repentance? Or is it a worldly grief that produces death in your life?
You know what I mean by death: grayness, darkness, it is joy-draining, it is life-depleting. Ask yourself, Does this guilt that I'm carrying around and feeling . . . it kind of follows me. Every morning I wake up, I can't get the house in order, I can't feed all the babies the right foods that are organic and homemade. I can't make all their clothes from scratch, and I can't write my mother-in-law. [laughter] All of those guilts that we face. Does this guilt lead to repentance that brings fresh joy and peace to those nearest to you? Or does it add unnecessary stress and strain in our homes?
Is this guilt that you're feeling, is it wasting emotional energy, or is it producing repentance that leads to life? Let's not waste our guilt; let's deal with it! Listen to your guilt; don't stuff it. Is this Christ correcting us? Is He transforming us, leading us into renewal? Can we hear the life-renewing voice of our Savior in this, clearly-defined Scriptural conviction, or is it just a nagging ball and chain that you carry around with you?
Don't carry a weight as a mom that Christ doesn't want you to carry. He's the burden lifter! I want to give you permission this morning to leave one guilt in mothering behind you, one guilt that you can let go of today. And when you walk out this door, I don't want you to pick it up again, by God's grace.
It's the guilt of feeling guilty about totally giving yourself to your kids when they're in your home. There's a lot pulling at you: work, church, extended family, neighborhood, the garden-a lot pulling at you. But I want you to free yourself from the guilt of making your children your number one priority when they're under your roof.
Paul's words to me, as an older woman, are these, from Titus 2:4-5: "Train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be . . . [workers] at home." Now, why does the apostle have to tell me that? Because it's hard to love our husbands and children! He wouldn't put it in Scripture if it were just easy and natural.
It's hard to make our home our primary mission in life. I found it easier to minister outside the home. The Lord was very kind and gracious and gave me a speaking ministry when our third child was born. Our first three children were quite close in age, so I had three little ones at home. Some of you are there, and you're ministering with little ones.
Why is it more rewarding for me to tell Ray, "Oh, honey, I need to have study time. Would you watch the kids again this Saturday?" And go to the library and study the Bible, get my talk together, and then go off to speak at that retreat. Why is that more rewarding than me staying at home with the children?
Why is it more rewarding for me to organize a themed ladies' retreat for 200 women than to plan an indoor picnic for my preschoolers on a rainy afternoon? Why? Because the rewards are more immediate and the demands are less draining.
But we have received this commission from God. We are to be missional mothers-we are on a mission. Children that you influence-whether they be your own or your Sunday School students, or AWANA. I don't know where you're ministering to kids-hopefully you are somewhere! They are your gift to the future. You're teaching the younger generation to form intimate emotional bonds with others, which will lead them to be able to form an intimate, emotional bond with Jesus Christ.
Your sensitivity, your availability, your devotion, affection, and unhurried attention are irreplaceable in the life of a child. As a mother, your duty is to teach your children how to respect their daddy, how to be kind to their siblings, how to choose good nutrition and wholesome entertainment, why they should value courtesy and integrity and orderliness, and which causes are worthy of their efforts (and for some of them even their very blood). In Titus 2:4, when God calls us to love our children, He calls us to love them from home base. We can't improve upon God's design. This means more than staying at home, ladies. It means fixing our hearts there.
Women can leave their homes through more avenues than work or outside ministry. We can leave our homes through our cell phones, through emails, through chat rooms. Ministry means being "all there," and your chief ministry, if your children are young, is to mother them well.
Ministering to your little ones means rejoicing that you get to show your little boy how to pedal that tricycle and your little girl how to share toys with her baby sister, how to make their bed and brush their teeth, how to be kind with people, how to build happy, wholesome relationships.
You serve your family, and ultimately you serve God, by helping your child to do that puzzle for the seventeenth time, by wiping those sticky fingers-again, by planting a little garden together, by acting out Bible stories and praying together, by preparing for their daddy's return as the highlight of everyone's day.
What is the alternative to missional mothering? Proverbs 29:15: "A child left to himself brings shame to his mother." Being a mother is plain, hard work, and it's not always easy to make it your chief mission when your those kids are little. Sometimes it feels like slave labor! [laughter] It reminds me of that cartoon-that maybe you saw-of the little boy, who must be two or three. He was sitting on his daddy's lap as they were looking at the wedding album together. And the toddler looks at his daddy and says, "Oh, Daddy, so that's the day Mommy came to work for us!" [laughter]
You know, that's what it feels like sometimes, doesn't it? Hmmm. It is demanding, but God has called you to this ministry. Anything worthwhile is demanding! Anything of value is costly. Young moms need to know that.
It is demanding, but God has called us! He knows there are no neutral moments in a young child's life. A child's life is one continuous experience of need and development; no neutral moments. Your children will bear the imprint of your mothering throughout their lives, because most of human behavior springs from imitation.
Now let me speak to moms (some of you are not moms in here, I know), but let me speak to mothers. You are the only mother your child will have, unless the Lord takes you to heaven before they outgrow your home. Your ministry to them is the deepest expression of your love for them. Raising your children has to be done right the first time around. It's one of the few places in life where you cannot say, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again."
Think of the honor of guiding the spiritual and intellectual and social development of young minds and hearts! Think of the thrill of teaching them eternal truths from God's Word! Your ministry as a mother is to answer deep questions in the heart of a child. Every child is wondering, Am I a burden, am I unwanted, am I unappreciated? Do I just bug them, do I just make them mad, or am I loved with a love that can't be broken? Is someone actually committed to me? Do I bring someone joy?
Don't let those home-based efforts make you feel guilty if you have to say "no" to other opportunities outside your primary sphere of influence these days. You will mirror life to your child. What do you believe about life? What is worth your effort, your money, your very energy and life? Your power here is immeasurable. Your influence over your child is intense as he sees the likes, the dislikes you express, the friendships and family relationships you build, the conversations he overhears.
I love the story of the pastor's wife who invited a large group to her house for dinner after her husband asked her to, and the five-year-old was helping her set the table. As they all gathered to eat, Daddy said, "Oh, do you mind, Johnny? Will you pray for us?" and Johnny replied, "I don't know what to say, Daddy." Daddy said, "Well, just say what you hear us say." And so he bowed his head and said, "Oh, Lord, why did I invite all these people to dinner?" [laughter] We will mirror life to our children.
We read about baby Joash, in the southern kingdom, in 2 Kings 11. His wicked grandmother killed all her family, but God spared this baby boy-Joash. In the midst of the evil culture of Baal worship, God hid this baby away for six years. When, at the of seven, he was crowned king, the Bible records this about him: "And Joash did what was right in the eyes of the LORD all his days, because Jehoida the priest instructed him" (2 Kings 12:2). Seven years old!
That little boy had been instructed by the priest. Someone was influencing him in those early years. Remember this: you have the privilege of passing on to young hearts a sense of God. When our children experience intimacy, nearness, and availability through their moms in those earliest years, then we can point them to find these soul-necessities in Christ as they mature. Then we have the delight to send them out with a light in their souls to bless this darkened world!
Someone's going to be influencing our kids when they're little. Oh, let it be Christian moms. Does this mean you'll never invest in others outside your family? Goodness, no! But when you're a young mother, if you have to choose between important time with your kids and an outside ministry, be very careful.
I'm not saying that you never leave. I went and spoke sometimes when my kids were little. I never just say, "You've got to be home all the time." But on the balance of it, invest in your kids. Don't withdraw from that; don't be looking all the time. Don't feel guilty when you have to tell someone, "No, I'm sorry, I can't do that. All my energy is invested somewhere else right now."
Don't let anything woo you away from your unique role as a wife and a mother. This season in your life-I'm talking particularly to young mothers right now-is just a season. It feels like forever, but it's just a season, and this season is a divine calling from our Creator and King. Organizing a new church event is so important; teaching your little boy to be kind to his sister is also important. But which one can best be done by you?
Very soon your kids will be grown and gone with no opportunity available to recapture teachable moments. Now, I'm a pastor's wife and we're planting a church in Nashville, Tennessee, so I get needing help at church. And if you are an older woman, I encourage you to enter in and help the younger women to be able to invest in their kids.
Don't expect the younger women who have children the age that need nursery care to always be the ones to do it. Let them get into the service sometimes. Older women, we need to help the younger women love their children.
So my first point (and then we'll move on)- don't feel guilty about totally giving yourself to your kids when they're young. You will make mistakes, but our kids don't need a perfect mom. They need a mom who's bathed in God's grace and can give that grace to them when they're little.
That brings me to my second point that's really important in mothering-the grace of God. Understanding grace is vital. There are wonderful books written on this. I'm just going to touch on it, but it's important enough that I don't want to skip over it before I come to "Guiding our kids."
Grace shows us who God is, who we are, and how that relationship works. Who you are as a Christian is more important than who you are as a mother. Your mothering flows out of your inner life, and you won't be able to fake it with your kids. Oh, I couldn't! Proverbs 4:23 says, "From it [your heart] flow the springs of life." Matthew 12:34, "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks."
As you give to your children, fatigue, self-preservation, and survival will wash away your patience and self-control. We need Jesus more than ever when we mother, because true life flows out of us from the internal fullness of the Holy Spirit. John 7:38, "Whoever believes in me . . . 'out of [him] will flow rivers of living water.'"
If you want to know more about how to give your children grace, spend more time with the Grace-giver. Receive His grace so you can pass it on to your children. You sacrifice for your children, not because they are so wonderful; you sacrifice for your children, not because you are so wonderful. You sacrifice for your kids because Jesus is so wonderful. You learn to love and give to them out of something larger than yourself.
We don't have it in us; we need Jesus. Let's not, as moms . . . I touched on this in my earlier breakout session, so if you're getting it double-dosed, just take it from that Lord that He wanted you to hear it twice. [laughter] But let me say this, don't wait for "the next stage" to spend time with the Lord. It's so easy to do.
I found this true in my own life. When we first got married, I started teaching school. I got up early and had a little bit of quiet time each day, but I thought, Oh! When that first baby comes and I'm home-I don't have to go to work at seven every morning-I'll really be able to have a good quiet time! And then reality struck. [laughter]
And then I thought, Oh! Well, when this baby sleeps through the night . . . And then I got pregnant, and they just kept coming [laughter] and I thought, Well, maybe when they go to preschool or kindergarten or elementary school, and maybe when they go to college. You know, you just keep thinking, Out there, out there, then it will be easier!
But the problem with that thinking is, it's always "tomorrow." Today is the day of salvation! Today is the day you want to take in God's Word. You're building a foundation so that tomorrow you can reach back into what you learned yesterday. Proverbs 4 uses these words to describe our relationship to the Bible and the wisdom it offers (listen to these strong verbs): "hold fast to it," "keep it," "get it," "love it, "prize it," "embrace it." Being in the Word will cost you something, but it will cost you so much more if you're not.
Keep going to the Word. Proverbs 2 says, "Call out for insight," "raise your voice for understanding," "seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures. Then you will find understanding for every good path and wisdom will come into your soul." How we need understanding and wisdom when we work with children!
As my Ray says in his notes for Proverbs in the Gospel Transformation Bible, "You don't drift into wisdom; you pursue it." As moms, grandmothers, anyone who works with children, let's pursue wisdom through Jesus. Mothering is costly, but anything of worth is costly. Remember you're not alone in it, although you may feel alone when you're the one getting up every night.
I'm going to take time right now and read just a little quote that helped me. It's not in Scripture-actually it was in Good Housekeeping magazine. [laughter] But it really helped me when my kids were young, because the last two out of our four didn't sleep well. I remember when Dane (number three) was about ten months old. He was old enough to sleep through the night, but-I don't know-he just enjoyed a little snorkel of milk about 2:00 every morning and then usually about 4:30 or 5:00 every morning.
I was getting so tired of this, and my dear Ray was working very hard. Somehow he could sleep through it. [laughter] We had a very small house-950 square feet. Dane's older brother and sister were in the same room and they were quite young, and I didn't want Dane to wake them up.
So I kept getting up and reinforcing this wonderful nightly snorkel of milk, and so one night I'd had it! And I started crying with Dane. Dane was in the other room, but I was crying. And you know, Ray didn't wake up, and so I started wailing [laughter] really loud! And then I started pushing him in rhythm to my wails. He woke up and said, "What's the matter? What's the matter?"
I sobbed, "I can't do this anymore!" I was so tired. He very kindly realized I was at the end. He arranged a night away for me. Dane didn't need to see me every night [laughter], and so he arranged a night away for me and things got better, with his help. But other than that . . . sometimes humor helped me.
You now, when you're getting up and you're so exhausted, don't you feel like you're the only mom in the world who does this? You're the only lady who has to take care of other children with no sleep, for months on end! Well, let me read this to you, and then we'll get back and we'll start talking about guiding our kids.
This is a great quote. It was part of a story written by a mom who had ten children. The title is "I Love Babies." It's a good thing-she had so many of them! [laughter] She said, "As a new mom, you may as well forget everything you ever learned about sleep! From the very moment that bundle of joy joins the family, your nights are shot."
You know, if you have not had a baby yet, just close your eyes like this and hum to yourself, "la, la, la, la, la." [laughter] We'll tell you-I'll signal you when you can listen again.
"After falling into bed at midnight, you can expect to be up at 1:30 or 2:00 for feeding, changing, and burping. With any luck at all you can get back to bed by 3:30, only to get up again for the 5:00 feeding-after which, you won't get back to bed at all because by then, of course, it's breakfast time."
"In your innocence and exhaustion, you may tell yourself that things will get back to normal when baby gets a little older, but you're wrong. Things won't get back to normal until baby gets married! [laughter] For, as baby gets older, you merely progress from nighttime feedings to nighttime earaches, kicking off the covers, and 'better check to see if he's breathing!' By the time he is old enough to convince you that he can breathe without supervision, he will be into the 'terrible twos,' which, of course, are accompanied by a terrible thirst."
"For the next year or two you will have to get up several times each night to get him a drink of water. And because he's still a little itty-bitty guy and can't hold all that water, you'll have to get up again to take him to the potty. Now, of course, baby does outgrow this, at about age three, but by that time he will undoubtedly have a little brother or sister requesting the pleasure of your company at 2:00 and at 5:00, and there you go all over again."
"Now, eventually of course, you will stop having babies, and you will think, At last! I can get some sleep! Forget it! Just about the time your youngest baby begins sleeping through the night, your oldest baby begins staying out half the night, and you will be back to walking the floor and wondering if you're ever going to get some sleep! [laughter] I was thirty-nine when my youngest was born, so I figure I'll be sixty before I can count on getting a good night's sleep!"
"I just read an article which said that women over sixty often have difficulty getting to sleep. [laughter] I'm not surprised! By that time they've forgotten how!" [laughter]
All right, you get where I'm headed with this. It is hard! Fatigue breeds depression. If you need help, get it. You might need to ask someone to just come and let you get three hours of sleep in a row. That's okay. But I want to encourage you as moms that the price you pay will be worth it. I can promise you that.
The exhaustion you sometimes feel will fade into insignificance as your child grows and matures into a godly young man or woman. When the prophet Isaiah was searching for a metaphor to illustrate God's constant love and tender mercies for His people, what does He use? A nursing momma with her hungry, fussy baby. Oh, you are imitating God as you serve your baby!
And God will be there with you, encouraging and blessing you in your service. His grace will be sufficient for every need you have. God's grace doesn't mean we never work or strive or discipline ourselves. Second Timothy 2:1 says, "Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus." Grace frees us to serve without compulsion, but rather out of the fullness of what we've experienced and received. First Corinthians 15:10: "But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder."
Mmm-mmm. God's grace. . . it's there for you, mom. Don't lose hope! Keep giving to your kids.
Finally, let me come to our third point: Guilt-free missional mothering, grace-filled guidance-because every child needs guidance. I still ask my mom, ninety-two years old, for help and guidance. My grown children still ask Ray and me for guidance. We help them with their family.
Moms and grandmas, you are a mirror of what life is like to the children in your life. In you they experience what the world can be when it's filled with Christians. They will bear the imprint of your influence upon them throughout their lives, because nearly all human behavior springs from imitation.
Children are sensitive, they're pliable, they're open to the gospel, they're fresh and energetic with years of service to offer to Christ. As mothers we teach our children all the values we believe must be passed on to the next generation: love, faithfulness, trust, sacrifice, respect, honesty, integrity, thrift, generosity, self-control, and most of all that Jesus Christ is worth everything and anything!
We connect them to Jesus through example. God places a very high value on children. He tells us how we are to receive them. I love how He puts it in Mark, chapters 9 and 10. Jesus became very indignant when the disciples didn't value a child's worth in Christ's expanding kingdom.
"No, no! Let them come. This is what the kingdom is made of!" Child-like faith. What do children bring? Only need. Jesus loves that. Jesus teaches us, also in Mark, that to receive a child is to receive Him (Mark 9:37). He says in Mark 9:42 that you are better off dead than to cause a child to stumble. Oh my!
Psalm 127:3: "Behold [we know this], children are a [what? A gift] heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward." That word "behold" means, "wake up, listen, this is important! Hello-o-o-o. . .Are you listening?" Behold! Children are God's blessing to us. He's telling us that He never sees a baby as an afterthought.
One funny story in our family was when child number three was trying to convince child number four that he was just an accident. Then Ray and I happened to let him know that number three was just an accident and number two was just an accident. Really, we didn't know what we were doing. [laughter] My maternal grandmother called me (she was so worried about me, because we'd had three live births in less than three years and I'd had a miscarriage in there), and she said, "Didn't your momma teach you about birth control?
I burst out crying and said, "Yes, but it's not working! What do you suggest?" [laughter] Oh, my goodness! God never sees a baby as an afterthought. There are no accidents! Children come from God and are to be received as a privilege from Him. Our children are our inheritance from God.
Children are His way of passing down His kingdom to the coming generations, of spreading His wealth of love and joy and faith and delight and peace and significance and faithfulness and beauty and the infinite worth of Jesus. These are life's real treasures. Raising children is Kingdom work.
You have the opportunity to pass on to your kids a vibrant sense of God, to protect your children from evil and even from death! Some of our kids are headed toward death. We have the opportunity to give them intimacy and affection in these early years and then point them to find those soul-necessities in God as they mature.
We have the privilege to set really high standards of honor, morality, duty, integrity, and honesty for them to follow, and then to show them how the grace of God is both the motivation and the reward for anything of value we do. This isn't easy, but God's purpose for us as His daughters is not freedom from difficulties in this life. His goal is to make us like Christ!
Oh, my! Let the beauty of Jesus be seen in us as moms. God intends to conform us to the image of His Son, and what is that image? Philippians 2:8: Humbling Himself, Christ considered others all the way to the cross, and Jesus said, "Whoever wants to be great among you should be your servant and whoever wants to be first must be a slave of all; for even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many" (Matt. 20:26-28).
When we're struggling with the demands and responsibilities of motherhood, our deepest problem is not our insensitive husband, who can sleep through crying babies! It's not our cranky kids. It's not the tight budget. It's not that our families live far away, and we don't have anyone to help us. The problem is that the way of the cross is costly.
Grace is best put on display through sacrifice. "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, who though He was rich, He became poor for our sakes" (2 Cor. 8:9). But what it costs a mother is worth every ounce of energy and every penny spent and every second invested, and it will reap benefits both here on earth and in eternity. So guide them by example.
Let me move on to this next point: Guide your kids into trust and intimacy. I believe that the power of a mother's love is what develops the truest and best side of a child's nature. You want to develop an atmosphere of grace in your home; you want to create a climate of trust and intimacy that builds emotional and physical comfort and security. Let them experience the value of commitment and relish the peace of security.
Help them treasure and embrace all the moral obligations that build solid relationships, enduring marriages, and happy homes. Let them taste it. Let them see it. Let them grow up thinking, Oh, that's what life is supposed to be like. This takes time; it takes constant exposure, day after day.
Laugh with your kids, play with them, read with them, nap with them, walk with them, cry with them, explore life together! Lots of eye-to-eye contact. So many of us as mothers (I found myself doing this), we're always busy: I'm cooking, I'm folding laundry, I'm changing the youngest one, I'm talking on the phone. So much of mothering is like this way, with my back to the children. No! Eye-to-eye connection. We want to teach them a strong connection!
Enjoy each child, this wonderful creation who God thought up before the foundation of the world and used you to bring in. Enjoyment is the most convincing form of love. When someone enjoys me, I feel loved. If they tell me they love me, but I sense they don't really enjoy me-they kind of have to put up with me-it doesn't feel like love. Enjoy your kids!
Don't resist your child's intrusions into your schedule. These are requests for connection! That baby, that toddler, that preschooler, that adolescent, they're trying to reach for connection. They are learning how human beings connect. Welcome those intrusions as a gateway to that child's heart.
Engage your child, show interest, offer kindness and sympathy. I, as a mother, often "beat" my kids over the head with Ephesians 4:32: "Be kind to one another." "You guys were so mean to each other! Now, get into your room, write that verse ten times, and every time you're mean you're going to repeat it ten times to me!" That really worked. [Laughter] Just ask Dane and Gavin, they'll tell you!
But that word, "Be kind to one another," Ray tells me it's the same word used in Matthew 11:30, where Jesus says, "My yoke is easy." Being kind to one another means going easy on one another. Go easy on your kid. I'm going to talk about discipline in a minute, but I want to preface it with going easy on your kids. It's meant as much for mothers-to-children as it is siblings-to-siblings.
There's a wonderful story-and I love it because I'm married to a preacher who loves to study-of a preacher who was getting ready for his Sunday sermon, and he was late, and they had a five-year-old daughter who loved to be with Daddy in his study. This day he was behind in his study and he really, really needed to get work done.
She was playing around and he was shushing her, and he didn't want to get mad at her. He opened his drawer to pull out a file and as he was shutting it, she accidently got her finger stuck in it, and she started yelling. He tried to comfort her, but she just wouldn't be pacified, and he was hurried and impatient and sent her out to the kitchen to mom.
Well, mom comforted this little girl, but the little girl kept crying-way beyond the time that the finger was hurting. Mom said to her, "Honey, what's the matter? Your finger doesn't still hurt, does it?" She said, "No, it's just that Daddy never said, 'Oooh!'" [laughter] Don't you love it when someone says to you, "Oh! I'm sorry. That must hurt."
Our kids need that sometimes. They need an "Oh!" from us. Remain available and approachable. Be as gracious and as merciful to your kids as you would want your husband and your friends to be with you. This will help your child grow up feeling validated and understood.
Ask God to help you enjoy them more, to engage in their world. Grace builds bridges. Grace entices; it enters in. This will take time, effort, hard work, oh! But it will build a relationship of intimacy, of trust. "And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up" (Gal. 6:9).
Now, let me go to my final point: Guide them through discipline. I hope you've heard all that I've said before, about guilt and grace and how we work all of that in, intimacy-oh my goodness. But I do want to talk a little bit about discipline.
We've been talking about how to help our kids connect with Christ. We've been talking about being freed from worldly guilt and showing our kids who Christ is and modeling what it means to follow Him and live under His grace. But there's one more very important way to help your child connect with Christ, and that is through biblical discipline. Our role as a mother-or a Sunday school teacher or an aunt or a grandmother-is to train up the children in our sphere of influence.
The Bible says that careful parental discipline is truly loving our children. (I'm just talking to parents right now.) Proverbs 13:24: "Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him." What is the alternative? Proverbs 29:15: "A child left to himself disgraces his mother."
As a mom, you will give your child resources for success as his responsibilities expand-from cleaning his room to taking care of his house; from being kind to his sibling to knowing how to relate to his wife; from obeying you to obeying his teachers and the civil authorities, his commanding officer if he goes into the service.
There is also so much to counter as you build in your child a sense of who he is before God. Children are naturally rude and crude. Have you been around one lately? [laughter] My dear friend, who's here with me this weekend, Annie Lee Edwards (wave your hand, Annie), she came with me and has been supporting me so beautifully. She has three little kids, ages three, five, and six.
She told me last night that her mom was with them recently and had found a game with dice with pictures on them, and you roll the dice and then you tell a story with the pictures. Grandmother had to make a rule, believe it or not, that these stories could no longer contain any potty words. [laughter] Why do four-year-old boys think that potty language is the most hilarious of all languages? I think it's because of the reaction we give.
One of our three-year-old grandsons, who will remain anonymous (he knows who he is), when we were out eating one night, he had no control at all and he just had us all in stitches. We could not keep him quiet with the potty language that was coming out of his mouth. Why? Because children are naturally rude and crude. They're born that way! We don't have to teach them!
Children have natural contempt about material things. They possess much, and they care about little, really. They're self-indulgent; they're hungry for immediate gratification. They're naturally impatient; they lack the stamina to see things through, which, if left unchecked, can develop into a pattern of incompleteness, making it easier to give up when they encounter a challenge as a teen or an adult.
Child training will not change a child's heart-only God can do that (my final point today will be about praying for your kids). But child discipline will change how that child expresses what's in his heart. You cannot change his heart, but you can help with his expression of what's in there.
If a child learns how to accept a strong "no" early on in life, he will be better able to cope with disappointments later on in life. He won't panic when things don't go his way. When your child hears a firm "no" from you and survives the natural frustration that inevitably follows (because we're all self-centered), he is strengthened! That's a good thing! He's learned self-control and endurance, and he'll be better able to tell himself "no" later on in life. Don't be afraid to tell your child "no."
So how do we do this? How do we discipline our children? We discipline them because to discipline means to create a disciple, and we are building disciples for Jesus Christ and discipline is part of that. I'm going to offer you (very quickly, don't despair) seven ways that we disciplined our children.
The first one, and I believe this is most important, is to love their daddy. If you are a single mom, I'm sorry. I can't imagine how hard that is. If you're married, love their daddy. If you're a single mom and the dad is in their life, do not disparage that father in front of the children. Be careful how you speak-please-I know it's hard! Oh!
If you are married, display for them what a Christian marriage can be. I remember when our kids were young and Ray came home from work. I had been with them all day and kind of understood what was going on, and Ray would enter in to discipline and sometimes I'd interfere. Ray finally said to me, "Honey, sometimes I feel like you're trying to run pass interference between me and the kids-like you're trying to protect them from me."
And you know what? I was. "Oh, well Eric didn't have a nap and that's why he's cranky," you know, or whatever. Trust that God chose this man to be your child's father. Help them respect biblical manhood because you do. What does your marriage display to your kids? Grace-filled mothering begins with a grace-filled marriage.
Number two, after loving their daddy, define your priorities in your head. What are you going to "go to the mat" for? What's most important in your home, as you're raising your children or giving yourself to your grandchildren? What's most important? Make your life an example, not just, "Do what I say," but "Become what I am." Discipline is for parents first, because disciplined women raise disciplined children.
My first priority, and I hope that it's yours, is to help them develop a living and vibrant delight in Jesus Christ. Who's your chief delight? Do your kids have to go outside your family circle to find a Christianity that they can admire? Model it! In Philippians 3:17, Paul says, "Join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us." First priority, love Jesus!
Second priority: Help them believe that the Bible is absolutely true and help them to love the church wholeheartedly. How? Teach the Bible to them as if it is true and as if you believe it's true, because you do and it is! Love your church; love your Bible; go to your Bible for help. Let your kids see you reading it. Talk to them about it.
You know Deuteronomy 6. Do your children see you reading the Bible, do they see you praying, do you speak it to them? Then help them develop a deep personal respect and attachment to the church. Oh, your kids need people in the local church to speak into their lives.
They need to know there's someone else besides mom or dad-or mom and dad-who love Jesus. "Oh, they're telling me the same thing!" Make Sunday fun-day. Why is it so hard on Sunday mornings? We get our kids ready Monday through Friday. Sunday comes, and sometimes church starts a little later than our workday or school day, and we cannot get there without major catastrophe and fighting! [laughter]
Moms, I believe it's up to us. Give thought to it Saturday night; help your children think of Sunday as fun-day. I have time for this quick story. My husband earned his PhD in Scotland; we were there for four years. And part of the story is that we lost all our investment, so we were really poor. We had to sell our car and walk everywhere.
And Ray was a student-he couldn't work because he was on a student visa, so we were just struggling for the last two years we were there. And he was also helping at the church there, so he had to leave early and I had to get the four little ones (who at that time were six, five, four, and a baby in a buggy) the mile to church-sometimes in the snow.
I had to figure out how to make Sunday fun-day. It was up to me. Ray was already gone. So we did different things; you know what your kids like. My kids, their stomach is important to them. [laughter] So we made sweet rolls-yeast rolls-the night before. There were no Dunkin' Donuts in Banchory, Scotland where we lived. So we made yeast rolls and put them in to bake.
We did what we could. I had Smarties (like Skittles) in my pocket as we walked, and everyone that "could get to that street without fighting" got one. And everyone who could get to that "next red mailbox without hitting" got another! [laughter] And if they sat through that sermon (we didn't have a nursery), who knew when Mom might slip them a little sweetie when they were sitting quietly?
And then on the way home . . . anyhow, you get the picture. You can think of ways that can bring a smile to your child's heart about church. Oh, take that on!
Okay, number three. Be careful not to crush your child through physical or verbal intimidation, while still embracing the wisdom of Scripture. Don't make it an either/or. You cannot train a child by brute force alone. The Bible teaches that. So try to distinguish what he won't be doing when he's sixteen.
You know, if your kid is a thumb-sucker, as one of mine was (it was really embarrassing when he was six and still sucking his thumb) . . . I complained to an older friend. She said, "Oh, Jani, don't worry about it. He's not going to do it when he's in high school!"
Worry about what he is going to be doing when he's in high school. So distinguish between childishness and character traits. What will he leave behind? Grace absorbs a lot as a mother. Feed his soul so that he's ready to choose in favor of the right even when mom isn't around. We used good books in our family for that. Feed his soul.
Now, let me say this very carefully. Spanking, I believe, is not physical abuse if administered biblically. Would the God who values children so much let us abuse them? Proverbs 13:24 says, "Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him." That means that discipline should be administered promptly and early, before patterns are set.
The Bible teaches to avoid unnecessary severity, but it does teach that proper discipline will deliver his soul from eternal punishment (Prov. 23:13-14). So be careful not to crush your child through either physical or verbal intimidation. Some of you know what that's like because you suffered through that as a child yourself. We don't want that.
But don't throw out all biblical guidance. You'll miss out on a good tool.
Four, teach your child respect for other people and property, which means self-control. Honor begins in our home. "Honor" comes from a Hebrew word meaning "heavy." To honor someone is to give weight to them. It means taking someone seriously. You're the key to this. Respect starts in the home.
If a mom cannot help her child respect others, that child is going to be a menace to society. If your child can respect you, he will know to respect his teacher, he will know to respect the officer who's stopping him when he's speeding. All of society benefits.
Things . . . possessions . . . little ones . . . if your four-year-old son is bent on destruction, he destroys a toy, some moms or grandmoms will think, Well, that's enough. He just won't be able to have that toy. I'm not going to buy him another one! Listen, kids are pretty smart. They don't destroy toys they love. They're just taking out their anger and aggression on a thing.
Respect means we set boundaries for expressions of anger and frustration. Children must see that people and things should not be targets for their wrath. Teach them respect and self-control. Respect means obedience.
Say "yes" whenever you possibly can. Would it really hurt that much if the child had a cookie before dinner and he didn't eat all of his peas and carrots at dinner? I don't think so. Say "yes" whenever you can. But when you say "no," mean it and follow through.
John Rosemond, in his wonderful book Parenting by The Book, says, "The core of all misbehavior is a child's self-authority." Your instructions to your child are not the first bid in a negotiation progress. Obedience is true obedience when you obey no matter how you feel about it. Obeying only when you feel like it is just coincidence.
But home is not a democracy. You have God-given authority to lead your kids. Proverbs 19:18: "Discipline your son, for there is hope; do not set your heart on putting him to death." Discipline him! Children must learn that respect and obedience are not a matter of preference; they're a mandate from their eternal Father.
Honoring your parents in the early years is largely manifested through obedience. As a parent (let me impress this upon you), you stand in the place of God over your children, performing God-like functions until they can look to Him. You love them, you provide for them, you care for them, you protect them, you're God's special agents. That's why they're to obey you.
Disobedience to parents indicates a corrupt, out-of-control anti-God spirit (2 Tim. 3:1-5). Require obedience. Children disobey for one of two reasons; either, we just let them (we're too tired, we're too weak) or the pain they have experienced from disobedience is not enough of a detriment to keep them from disobeying again.
When you discipline, make sure it hurts enough that they don't want to do it again or else your discipline isn't worthwhile.
Number five, give many rewards. I'll move on quickly here. Children should learn that good and pleasure go surely together, as much as sin and pain. Reward cheerful obedience. Reward good manners. Reward kindness, respect, hard work-all those qualities you long to see developed in your child. Sin and pain go together; so do good behavior and rewards.
Make lots of rewards in your child's love-bank, whatever it is. Then when you need to make a "withdrawal" through discipline, your relationship won't go bankrupt. Lots of good rewards!
Number six (I have two more): Teach hard work. Learn the work ethic at home. Children must! They most probably will learn it from you. Let me just tell you this: The Bible says that "whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men (Col. 3:23). Your kids need to see you do that as well.
I like to think of it in three steps. The first step is, you do it for your child. You're cleaning his room, whatever-all the things that a kid has to do, that needs done. The second is, you help him do it-you show him how to clean his room. Then, the third is, he does it on his own.
Now, most of us jump from one to three. We do it for them, then we think that somehow they've got how to do it and we tell them, "Now you go do it." Spend most of the time (at least as much of the time that you've spent doing it for them) on doing it with them. And then, even after you've given them instruction on how to do it, go back and help them sometimes.
My kids used to love it when it was their night to do the dishes and I would say, "Oh, come on, let me help you." We had the best talks then! It's not like they couldn't do it; it wasn't like I didn't have other things to do. But, oh, it was wonderful. Don't forget step two, and go back to it a lot. Teach hard work.
And my very last point, and we'll close: Pray. Pray. Pray. Pray. Pray when you wake up, pray before meals, pray when your child goes to school, pray when he comes home, pray in the evening, pray when you go to bed, pray when you wake up at night. Pray, pray, pray.
I have a page in my prayer notebook for each of our children, and I put Scripture in there. Pray Scripture over your kids. Oh! If you find a passage that talks about your kids-you want your kids to be like that-make a note of it. Oh, my goodness!
I'll close by reading a couple of them. Here's one about David. He was musical, he was valiant, he was willing to fight the Lord's battles, he was wise in speech. He presented himself well and God was with him: 1 Samuel 16:18. I've written that on each page of my grandchildren's prayer notebook. "Oh, Lord, give them a talent-a skill-make them strong and valiant, willing to fight Your battles. Give them wisdom in speech and help them to present themselves well (you know, the haircuts, the shirts tucked in-whatever). And oh, Lord, be with them."
Any verse you find in here that you love, and you want it to be for your kids, take it! Claim it! Use it as a promise to pray over your kid. Let's do that right now, and then I'll let you go.
Oh, Lord, hear us! There's so much to mothering. We feel the weight of it, Lord. We feel the guilt of it. Oh, Father, help us. Lift the wrong guilt. Help us to deal with our guilt; bring it out into the light. Lord, help us to see Your grace and embrace it and use it in our own relationship with You and in our relationship with our kids.
And then, Lord, help us guide them to You. We want more than anything that every child and grandchild represented in this room would be a mighty servant of Jesus Christ. Oh, Lord, raise up a generation! How we need that in this crazy world that we find ourselves in.
Lord, raise up a mighty army of young men and women who will do anything for the glory of Your Name. Make them mighty for Your service, give them wisdom in Your ways. Give them marriages that are strong, put down sexual misconceptions and temptations. Give them strong, romantic, fun marriages, and many children.
Lord, for our part in that, we beg for Your help. How we need it! But You love the needy, and so we come and say, "Help." In Jesus' name, amen.