One real mark of wisdom is having a sense for what is appropriate given the situation. Perhaps you were present in a moment where someone said something that was totally inappropriate for the occasion. I remember being in a funeral home once and someone began a conversation that really didn’t fit the occasion. I cringed as the person seemed to go on and on with way too much loud chatter.
A few questions I might ask when I am in conversation with another:
Is this a time to listen and say very little?
Is this a time to show empathy?
Is this a time to simply be present?
Is this a time to express words of encouragement?
I don’t always know what to say in any given situation. However, I have learned the value of at least exploring in my mind (and even in prayer) what might be fitting and appropriate.
Doing this may help you really be present with another, fully engaged, regardless of the occasion.
So many dads and moms seem to feel that they are just not handling things as they would like. I’ve heard the following:
1. “I’m just not a very good mother right now. I am tired and on edge! I hate the way I have talked to my husband and children recently.” Sometimes those who are so hard on themselves are also hard on others – even the people they love.
2. “I feel like it is my fault that my girls could not keep up with their online school this past spring. I was trying to work and was just overwhelmed.”
3. “There must be something wrong with me. My friends posted pictures about backyard projects and a stack of books they have read in recent months. I’m doing good to get through the day. What’s wrong with me?”
4. “Why do I feel so down? I seriously wonder if I am not dealing with some depression.”
5. “I’m so discouraged about my work. I am behind and working from home. I’m not sure I am doing anything particularly well right now.”
Maybe, as a friend of mine suggested recently, some of this is rooted in comparison. Social media is fine but it can be a place where we compare ourselves with our friends.
Your friends may seem happy, productive, and doing so well. They go on trips and are full of laughter. Meanwhile, you look in the mirror and wonder, “What’s wrong with me?”
1. Know that you are deeply loved by God just the way you are.
2. Know that you don’t have to be so hard on yourself. Being hard on ourselves often does nothing but leave us feeling defeated.
3. Know that comparison (comparing ourselves with others on Facebook or Instagram) usually isn’t helpful. Quite often such comparisons only leave us feeling “less than.”
The good news: You are deeply loved by God right now. His love is not based on your productivity, your appearance, your ability to stay organized, or your capacity to juggle all of these balls really well.
This is an exhausting, tiring season for so many young families. The air is thick with anxiety!
A health crisis. A financial crisis. A social crisis.
You may be married with kids. You may be a single mom or dad. The truth is that no one is doing a work that is any more important than what YOU are doing at home.
Most mothers and dads, who I know, love and adore their children. They give their children most everything they know to give.
At this point, many families have been through months of trying to work from home, caring for very small children, and on top of this, trying to get their children through school – online.
Now, parents are wondering about school this fall. Many are delighted that kids are going back to the classroom. However, there may be some hesitation in even saying this. At this point, this is the plan. That is about what we know.
No wonder so many young families are feeling tremendous stress and anxiety right now.
1. Monitor the anxiety within you. How does stress/anxiety show up in your body? My shoulders become tight and my head begins to hurt. How does stress show up in you? If you are feeling stressed, think about what you tend to do when you are this stressed. Choose to respond to others in a manner that may be in spite of the way you feel. In other words, choose to be kind and gracious toward that family member instead of letting raw emotion drive the conversation. This often ends up badly.
2. Take care of yourself. I find it very helpful to take a few deep breathes when I am feeling very stressed. Exercise can also be very, very helpful. Think small! Don’t underestimate the power of small actions. You may not have time with small children to read long chapters in your Bible or to read several chapters of a book. However, you could begin the day printing a verse or paragraph and looking at it during the day, even for a few seconds.
3. Look in the mirror and smile, even when you don’t feel like it. When I am stressed, I often frown and look very somber. Of course this may be understandable at times. However, I want to be cautious about accepting this as my demeanor each day. Choosing to smile at your spouse, your children, and your grand-children, can be a significant moment for them (and you) and may even change the atmosphere of your home.
1. Put some energy and intentionality into you marriage. Like your finances, constant withdrawals with few deposits doesn’t end well. Being passive, while sitting in your emotional recliner, will bring a slow death to a marriage that could have been so much more. Think of what you might have missed!
2. This is a very anxious time in our culture (to say the least). We are dealing with a health crisis, a financial crisis, and a social crisis. All of these are intense. If we are not careful, we can allow our own anxiety to infect the very relationships that are so important to us. What if you and I were committed to building homes with less anxiety and more calmness. What if you and I were committed to creating an environment at home that is a respite from this very anxious world. I can certainly begin this by looking at my own behavior and tone at home. What a great investment this can be!
3. I invest in my marriage when I speak to my spouse in a way that communicates that I value him/her. I remember once speaking sharply to Charlotte (allowing my anxiety over another situation to spill over). I remember thinking afterward, “Do you really think this brings God pleasure when he hears you talk to your wife this way? After all, she is God’s daughter.” It was important to apologize and not just move on.
4. Pray that you will cherish her/him. Do something that in some way communicates that you cherish your spouse. God certainly cherishes the one you married. At the end of the day, I know that God wants me to treat Charlotte right.
5. Focus on managing yourself, not her or him. You can only manage yourself. You can only manage your behavior, your attitude and your functioning. Far too many married people are waiting on their spouse to get it together. Meanwhile, Christ-followers make the first move. I need to first focus on being the kind of person that you would like to be married to. You can not fix him or her. You can’t make this person better. However, you can become the husband or wife you need to be. The bottom line in marriage is this, “Am I bringing God pleasure in the way I am behaving as a married person?”
Being a parent can be wonderful. Being a parent can also be challenging! What to do?
1. Practice “good enough.” Stop insisting that everything you do in your home must measure up to a certain standard. So if you spent the afternoon with the kids, your evening meal may just be getting by. Maybe you eat a frozen pizza. That is ok. You can’t do it all. Yet, you can ratchet up the tension quickly by insisting that everything must be done a certain way.
2. Lower the volume and think about how you sound. Sometimes when things get challenging, we start yelling. Then we speak sharply to a child or to our spouse. When I am upset, it can be very helpful to deliberately lower my voice.
3. Some of us need to say “no” more often. When I am already stressed, why am I complicating our lives by saying “yes” to another challenge or obligation? This is a season of life that is already very challenging. Why complicate it even more?
4. Be a team player. If you are married, don’t be a difficult person to live with. Think about what it might be like to be married to you. We make withdrawals in our relationships when we roll our eyes, criticize, or attack.
5. Look for ways to take care of yourself. Yes, this can be very challenging. You may need to be very creative about how you and your spouse will each practice good self-care. Spouses could be very helpful by providing opportunities for the other to do something that will fill them up emotionally or physically.
Does this describe your life today? If it does, let me encourage you to hang on. You are not alone.
1. Maybe you don’t know what to do with that child (doesn’t really matter how old that child is). You love your child. Of course you do. However, sometimes you feel like you are losing your mind. You may feel so discouraged. Some days you may feel like a complete failure as a parent.
2. Maybe you don’t know what to do with your marriage. You love your husband/wife. Yet, sometimes life together is very hard. Then you look at Facebook and it feels like everyone is having a great life with their family but you.
3. Maybe you don’t know what to do with your life as an individual. You want to live right. You love the Lord and attempt to make choices that please him. However, in this season of life, you really struggle at times.
Do you identify with any of the above three situations? All of these feelings simply mean that you are human. Even as a Christian, you are still human. To struggle does not mean that you are a bad person, a Christian who is lacking, or a person who is failing. You are human.
So as a fellow human, let me encourage you.
1. You are not alone. All of those smiling pictures on Facebook were take at one point in time. Just one point in time. The pictures do not show you what the rest of their lives are like. Many of these people (not all of course) will tell you that they struggle at times just like you.
2. God is with you. He will never leave you or forsake you (Heb. 13:5-6). He will stand by your side and give you strength (2 Tim. 4:17).
3. Know that what you just read is not an attempt to give you an easy answer.
Sometimes life is hard.
Yet, you and I are not alone. God is faithful and will be with you and me — through it all.
Sometimes, a congregation can become a minister’s project. “The congregation is rough around the edges now but they promised that if we (this minister and family) will move there to be their minister, everything will work out.”
Sometimes, a man can be a woman’s project. “Sure he is rough around the edges now, but he is going to make some changes.”
Sometimes, a company can become a man or woman’s project. “Yes, they fired the last three people in this role but this time it is going to be different.”
Can you really fix a person, a congregation, or a company?
Yes, it could be that the congregation is making a few changes. But in time, people may become weary and even resentful of changes in the congregation that were made just so the new minister would agree to come work with them. (“None of us really wanted to do this but the new minister insisted.”)
Similarly, a young woman may become very weary and resentful of the changes she made to appease the one who is now her husband.
Of course, anyone can change. The gospel is so powerful! However, change needs to come from within. We can get into trouble when others feel as if it was imposed upon them.
We are not in the business of fixing people. Nor are people or congregations our “projects” that we will clean up.
Many years ago, I was being interviewed by a congregation that had experienced severe trouble and conflict. At the time, I was very discouraged with another congregation, the one in which I was serving. During the interview, I heard things that made me very uneasy. There were several red flags. Yet, I minimized these and dismissed several instead of looking at reality squarely in the eye and naming this situation for what it was.
Fortunately, it is not our job to fix an individual or a congregation full of people. Instead, we look at the reality of a situation for what it really is. We trust in God. We pray for wisdom.
Fixing another person is not our task. Rather, we are called to bear witness to the power, love, and grace of God.
The window is getting smaller. I thought about this as I watched our grandson, Brody, play basketball on Saturday. He will be in the fourth grade this calendar year. That is only nine years away from high school graduation.
Nine years before he finishes high school. That is really not much — at all. If it sounds like a lot of time, you might ask the parents of this year’s high school graduating class (2020). Many of them will tell you, “I just don’t know where the time went.”
This week I was reading journal entries that I wrote to our daughters the first few years of their lives. Charlotte and I deeply loved these two little girls. We wanted, more than anything, for them to love the Lord, for them to surrender their lives to him, and for them to be deeply connected to the church. Yet, rearing children in the Lord may be the hardest work that I have ever done.
Now we have grandchildren. Sully (4), Lincoln (5), and Brody (9). Sully has a brother or sister who is due in a matter of weeks. Charlotte and I pray for these little boys regularly. We pray much the same as we did for our own children. We pray that they will love the Lord, that they will surrender their lives to him, and that they will be deeply connected to the church.
In many ways, this is an ongoing spiritual battle as it was with our own children. After all, the evil one would like to influence them to disregard the Father and his desires. The evil one is in a battle for their souls and desires to have them as his own.
In the meantime, we pray for them and for their parents. We pray for those who teach them. We pray for their friends and the friends of their parents. We pray.
As I read these journal entries, I remember that we were young parents and certainly didn’t know what to do much of the time. I am so thankful for every single person who was a godly influence in the lives of our girls. We are so indebted to so many, many people.
One one occasion, I went to a couple in our church. Charlotte and I needed help with our teenage children. I remember sitting at their kitchen table asking questions and listening. I will always be grateful to Bob and Laura.
Being a parent has taught me so much about humility and my own need for God. More than anything, I have learned to pray on more than one occasion, “God, I don’t know what to do.”
It was in the middle of the night, about this time of the year. I was a very young guy, not yet married. I was wrestling with what to do next – with my life. I did not know. Inside, I was wrestling with anxiety, worry, and fear about the future. “What am I going to do” was the question that I kept asking. Then one day I heard someone ask this question:
Where will you be when you get where you are going?
In other words, if I keep making the same kind of decisions that I normally do (often with little thought), if I keep the same habits, if I keep the same attitude, where will my life ultimately be?
I knew I had a lot of changes to make. All of these changes would take place slowly (with many false starts and moments of failure). However, my life began to move in a different direction because, by the grace of God, the seemingly small decisions and habits that I made daily began to change.
Where will you be when you get where you you are going?
Where will your life be, if you continue to have the same attitude?
Where will your life be, if you continue to spend money the way you are now?
Where will your life be, if you continue to have the same old habits?
Where will your life be, if you continue that particular friendship?
Where will your life be, if you stay just the way you are while focusing on others and how they need to change?
I find this useful. Perhaps you will as well. This is what I have been thinking about the last few weeks. You might find that this is worth thinking about. Because of this, I am making some adjustments — some much needed adjustments.