Kids Will Be Kids (No Matter What You Do)

Our children’s behavior reflects on us, it’s true. But there are some things we just can’t control. This month on www.pastorswives.com, I share about one time that happened to me.

Finally! Our three-year-old was old enough to sing in the preschool children’s choir. She was so excited; we were so proud. Sure, it was “Jesus Loves Me” (or something similar), and sure, every church kid ever has done the same thing. But this was our child: our cute, sweet, well-behaved little girl. I put her in her best dress and made sure her pigtails were even for her big debut.

You know something embarrassing is about to happen, don’t you? Catch the rest here. Then leave me a comment over there or pop back in here with your thoughts. Pastor’s wife or not, what do you think?

Our kids will act like kids because they ARE kids. (click to tweet)

Things They Are A-Changin’

 

It’s a new year. Time to make some changes, but I want to explain a little.

Parenting with intentionality is one of my biggest passions. I know God called me to be a mother, and I believe He expects the same effort in that calling as in other callings. I search the Scriptures for guidance. I study books about parenting. I read blogs and articles about parenting, education, and other related topics. Because of all that input, and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, I have developed clear ideas about parenting, especially as Christ-followers.

Eighty-five times, I’ve shared those ideas with you (or facilitated others’ sharing). It’s easy for me. I can think of two or three topics right now that I’d like to explore with/for you, my 74 followers.

For over a year now, I’ve faithfully blogged weekly both here at Intentional Parenting and at Not About Me, plus the Instagram memes and social media links (Facebook and Twitter) for each blog post. It’s too much for my life right now. I am still parenting, you know. The commitment to the blogs has taken me away from writing the Bible study series that is the very reason I began the blogs. It feels a bit like the church at Ephesus, to which John wrote, “You have forsaken the love you had at first” (Revelation 2:4). I’m not a blogger. I’m a writer who blogs. That means I must write more than what I publish here each week.

So I’m scaling back on this blog. Perhaps it seems counter-intuitive to you. These posts are easy for me, and I have more ‘hits’ on this blog than on Not About Me (my main blog). It’s not the first time God has led me into something that didn’t make sense on the surface. (I call it uncommon sense.) We all know, however, that it’s easy to spend our lives doing the good things and miss the best thing. God drew me into writing through my passion for His Word. Nothing enlivens me more than when He reveals Himself through Scripture…except sharing His Truth with others! That’s where my writing efforts need to focus.

My new plan is to publish on this blog once each month—either something specifically for here or a link to something I wrote about parenting that I’ve been blessed to share elsewhere. If you need more, go back into the archives or follow me on Not About Me or e-mail me.

Thanks for understanding. It may seem weird since I don’t actually know many of you, but I sincerely appreciate your interest, likes, and comments.

I don’t know that there’s much on which to comment here. If you’d like to let me know what post most influenced you, I would be very encouraged.

 

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Reflections on Sunday School Songs: He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands

It’s about creation. It’s about sovereignty. It’s about protection. It’s about salvation.

He’s got the whole world in His hands.

I left one of my favorite Sunday School songs for last, and in these days after Christmas, when our minds still dwell on the baby in the manger, these simple words seem even more profound. In the tiny hands of a newborn rested all the world…in every sense of the word. He, through whom the world was made (Hebrews 1:2), figuratively held the Planet Earth in His hands.

He’s got the whole wide world in His hands.

Sometimes when we talk about the world, however, we mean all the people on the planet. Like in Joy to the World, there’s the line, “the weary world rejoices.” In that way, too, He holds us all. He knows the number of hairs on our heads (Matt 10:29-30) and the number of days we’ll remain on earth (Psalm 39:4-5). He holds our yesterdays, todays, and tomorrows (Psalm 139, Matthew 6:27, 34). Nothing happens without His knowledge. Truly, He is sovereign.

I’m struck here by the combined intimacy and sovereignty of our Lord. Think about that for a moment.

He’s got the whole world in His hands.

“Hold my hand,” I told my little ones when we went into public places or crossed a street. In the same way, Jesus holds our hands as we walk through life. The Psalmist wrote,

Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life. You stretch out your hand against the anger of my foes; with your right hand you save me. -Psalm 138:7

Those tiny hands that reached for the dust floating in the stable’s light also protect us from everything that is not part of His will for our lives.

He’s got the whole world in His hands.

When someone takes responsibility for something, we say, “It’s in your hands.” Christ Jesus, though no longer a baby, took responsibility for our sinfulness when He died on the cross. The nails that penetrated His hands and sunk into the wood behind them at the same time punctured the consequences of our sin so that we became free through His bondage (Isaiah 53:5, Romans 5:9-11, Hebrews 1:3). He carried the salvation of the whole world in His hands.

All these ways we rest in Jesus’ hands? It’s not just you who reads this or me. Recall the other verses of our song:

…you and me, brother

…you and me, sister

…little bitty babies

…the mamas and the papas

…everybody

Maybe it’s simplistic, but this song brings me peace. I find rest in these facts:

  • He is the structure upon which our world stands,
  • He is sovereign,
  • He offers safety,
  • He saves.

The same hands that reached for dust in the stable’s light hold “the whole world.” (click to tweet)

Structure, sovereignty, safety, salvation—all because “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.” (click to tweet)

When you sing, “He’s got the whole world in His hands,” what comes to your mind? How does this song make you feel? Please share in the comments below!

Series Conclusion

I’ve known most of these Sunday School songs since before I could speak plainly. Simple or strange, silly or significant (or sometimes both!), they are the foundation of my spiritual worldview. I didn’t realize that fact until now, as I look back on the series. So, for me, returning to them as an adult affirms the fundamentals of my faith. They bring me back to some of the most important truths we possess as believers. Seems like I needed that this year. I pray they’ve done the same for you as we dug into them together.

 

ss-songs-whole-world
(c) Carole Sparks

Attribution: traditional American spiritual (several on-line sources)

 Previously in this series:

This Little Light of Mine

The B-I-B-L-E

Deep and Wide

Zacchaeus

Jesus Loves the Little Children

I’ve Got the Joy

The Wise Man and the Foolish Man

Father Abraham

My God Is So Big

If You’re Happy and You Know It

 

 

The Bedroom Door Prayer (guest post)

Today I’m welcoming a new-found writer friend, Julie Dibble. You can read more 
about Julie at the end, but trust me when I say her heart for the Lord is clear…
and it informs everything she does, especially her parenting. I hope you’re 
blessed by this story of Intentional Parenting like I was.

Have you ever wondered if your children are listening? I mean truly digesting all the half-lectures, devotionals and parental sermons?

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Julie and Jackson

Our youngest son is a pistol. His feet pushed my belly out on all sides.  He danced in the womb instead of sleeping. If you haven’t already guessed, our little Jackson is also a strong-willed child. I find myself often thinking, His determination will serve him well in his adult endeavors.

Our house runs much differently today than it did a short three years ago. I am into my third year of intentionally learning, praising, and following our Lord. Prior to this, the word forgiveness was not in my vocabulary. My focus was to hold all rule-breakers accountable, so you can imagine how many consequences our feisty Jackson received in his young life.

Fast forward to now. Jesus is Lord of our home. He came to save all of us, who are sinners. For Jackson, this news hasn’t settled in quite yet. Sometimes muttering out of his freckled nosed face is the age-old sibling rivalry cry, “But Braedon never gets in trouble.”

Braedon is twelve, academically gifted, and obedient as the day is long. Jackson is ten, athletically gifted and finds it hard to submit to authority.

Slowly, in evening devotions, we have expanded the meaning of sin. Anytime we choose not to follow or trust God, we sin. Therefore, Braedon often has to ask for forgiveness for worrying and not trusting God. My husband and I ask for forgiveness for things like jealousy and judging others. Jackson struggles to say the words, and we help him understand Jesus will forgive as long as we ask.

Honestly, sometimes during devotions, Jackson is goofing off. Patience wears thin, and there we are as a family of four, frustrated and not honoring our time set for the Lord. As the night’s ornery behavior follows into the next day, you might see huffing and protesting and stomping of feet.

Is it sinking in? I wonder.

One day, after resisting his discipline, he took time by himself. After a few minutes, he came directly to me, wrapped his short arm around my growing waist, and said, “Mom, will you forgive me?” Hugging him tightly, my heart leapt.

Preparing this post led me to repent. Who was not trusting our Lord this time?

Sometimes when I arrive home after the boys are already in bed, I stand in the hallway and say a Bedroom Door Prayer:

Dear Jesus,

Thank you for Jackson. Thank you for trusting me with his care. Please help guide him with Your wisdom. Please help Jackson stay on your path, Lord, to grow a desire to follow you out of love instead of avoiding consequence.

In Your Name,

Amen

For if we sinfully think it is our eyes alone watching our children grow and mature, we must repent. God is all powerful in every moment of time, and He knows our children’s entire hearts and souls.

As parents, prayer itself is an invitation to involve God in our children’s lives. When God sees our honest efforts at teaching things like forgiveness and grace, He will bless our families.

Thank you, Jesus, for loving us, helping us, and reminding us as parents we are not alone.

Carole here. It’s like I said, isn’t it? Julie encourages all of us by example. 
If this story touches you, let her know in the comments below. You can also share
this post on Twitter!

Ever wonder if your words are sinking in? One mom got tangible evidence… (click to tweet)

julie-dibble-headshot
Julie Dibble

Julie Dibble, MA is a Christian speaker and author who has a passion for truth and faith. Julie and her husband, Jason, live in Central PA with their sons, Braedon and Jackson. She writes weekly at her blog: www(dot)juliedibblewrites(dot)wordpress(dot)com. Julie commits to offering any of her blog posts as topics for speaking events.
You may connect with Julie on Twitter, Instagram, and/or Facebook.

Goal-Setting for Children

Even though it’s only mid-December and the biggest event of the year is still ten days away, I find myself already looking toward the new year. I’m not big on making resolutions, but I do like to use the fresh year as a kicking-off-point for new habits or emphases. If you’re the same, you know it takes forethought and prayerful consideration to implement meaningful change—in ourselves and in our children.

In Shepherding a Child’s Heart (which I also mentioned last week), Tedd Tripp offers guidance on how and why we, as parents, should set goals for our children. There’s no need to rehash that. Let’s look instead at what sort of goals we might set for our children.

In my parenting, I often come back to this one verse.

And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man. -Luke 2:52

(I wrote about Luke 2:52 as a guide for prayer in the past.) When we think about the young Jesus, we know he didn’t grow up in a vacuum. Joseph, Mary, and others influenced his maturity. I’m a little jealous; that must have been the easiest parenting job ever! For the rest of us parents—the ones raising non-God-incarnate children—it’s even more important to intentionally influence every facet of our children’s maturation.

This verse provides us with four areas of growth. Applied to goal-setting, the short version looks like this:

1 achievement, 1 skill, 1 spiritual growth, 1 relationship

Let’s brainstorm some ideas.

Wisdom: intellectual development

violin-close-up
music lessons (c) Carole Sparks

Set one goal related to their education, learning, or other thinking/mental skills. This could be a skill or an achievement. Some possibilities:

  • Learn to read chapter books.
  • Improve average grade (overall or in one subject) by one letter grade.
  • Attend a special class or camp that emphasizes an area of personal interest such as environmental sciences, computer coding, painting, soccer, etc.
  • Learn to play an instrument or, if they already play, learn a significantly more difficult piece.
  • Learn another language such as sign language or Spanish. Connect this with their social development by finding someone they would like to talk with.

Stature: physical development

gymnastics-assist
gymnastics assist (c) Carole Sparks

There’s not much we or our children can do about their height or shoe size, but we can help them practice a healthy lifestyle or improve their fitness. Set one goal related to their physical development, also either a skill or an achievement. Something like…

  • Learn to ride a bike.
  • Learn a new sport.
  • Achieve a new level in their existing sport. For example, earn the next belt in karate or make the varsity team in his/her sport.
  • Accomplish a fitness goal such as running a 10-minute mile.
  • Learn to eat three new healthy foods.
  • Learn to cook something specific, learn a certain type of cooking, or learn how to do some household chore. (Don’t just say “learn to cook.” That’s too broad to measure.) Last year, my oldest learned to use the washer and dryer. This year, maybe we’ll focusing on cooking some simple dishes.

Favor with God: spiritual development

11-21 read Bible story (2)
(c) Carole Sparks

How can we help our children grow closer to God through the year? Consider one of these or something else that fits your child’s interests and current maturity level.

  • Become consistent in having a daily quiet time or personal devotion.
  • Memorize a certain number of Bible verses. (Personally, I’m planning to memorize twenty-four passages in 2017!)
  • Work on one aspect of the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) such as kindness or self-control. This one will take some extra effort on your part, parent, to find actions and/or practices specifically targeting this one thing.
  • Begin paying attention and/or taking notes in “big church.” Start with once/month or five minutes/sermon.
  • Learn a certain number of Bible stories (great for younger children). Maybe one per month?
  • Improve upon one spiritual discipline such as meditation or generosity (great for older children).
  • Read a certain numbers of books related to spiritual growth. I’m challenging my teen to read one non-fiction book per month, mostly faith-based. John Piper’s Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ is a great one for thinking teens to start with.

Favor with Man: social development

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kid spectators (c) Carole Sparks

Without a little encouragement, our children fall into relationship ruts just like we do. Talk with them about how they want to grow this coming year. Some options might be…

  • Intentionally make a new friend at school or church.
  • Reconcile with someone they don’t like or with whom they had a fight. This starts with praying for that person.
  • Learn how to make “small talk” with adults.
  • Compliment/encourage someone every day.
  • Learn another language so they can talk to someone in that person’s “heart language.” (See intellectual development above.)
  • Learn a technique for diffusing conflict—one they can practice with siblings.

 

As you look toward 2017, pray through what sort of goals God is leading you to set regarding your children. Ask Him to reveal areas where they need purposeful intervention, bringing them into the conversation at an appropriate level. For my older children, they fully participate in the process, but younger children may need more guidance from you.

After you’ve set your goals, don’t just leave them at the level of ideas. Goals need action plans or steps toward fulfillment. Sit down with your kids and discuss the small steps that will lead to big growth in 2017. Look at your own life, too. We have to model before we can teach. This is why I’m signing up to learn twenty-four Bible passages this year. I need accountability for my own spiritual growth, and I want to model the importance of Scripture memory to my children.

And finally, follow up! Through the year, revisit the goals. Are you seeing growth? Do you need to adjust something? Are they experiencing the difference? Encourage them to stay faithful to the task…and you stay faithful, too. Jesus grew up at the same rate that our children do. He didn’t achieve wisdom, stature, and favor with God and man in one day or even one year. This is an eighteen-year process, parents!

Then celebrate at the end of 2017! Recognize your children’s achievements. Talk about how they’ve grown and what changes you’ve seen.

As you anticipate Intentional Parenting in 2017, I pray this brainstorming session helps you set significant, achievable goals for and with your children. If you’ve been encouraged, please share this post using the tweet below.

4 #IntentionalParenting goals to help our children grow in #2017.

What goals are you setting in 2017 for your children or for yourself as a parent? Join this brainstorming session (in the comments below), and you’ll be helping us all!

Discipline is Designed to Disciple

When my firstborn was toddling around—less than a year old—she once stuck her finger in an unguarded electrical outlet. (At someone else’s house. Of course, we had covers on our own outlets!) I grabbed her hand immediately. I got down where she could see my face. I looked her in the eye, and while squeezing her little hand just until I could see that it was hurting her, I said “no” in my most serious voice. If I remember correctly, I only had to do this twice before she learned not to put her fingers in electrical outlets. Yes, I hurt her just a little bit, but way less than if she’d been electrocuted. I thought of it like a vaccine: a little pain now to prevent a lot of pain later. I squeezed so tightly for her own good.

Parental discipline is like a vaccine: a little pain now to prevent a lot of pain later. (click to tweet)

I disciplined her in the only way her young mind could understand. It was an action/reaction concept: if I put my fingers here, then I hurt. The discipline was immediate and tangible because her brain wouldn’t have processed anything else. Why did I hurt her when she was so young?

  • I knew she was capable of understanding it. (The form of discipline matched her maturity level.)
  • I wanted to protect her in the future. I might not be watching so closely next time.
  • I loved her (still do) and didn’t want her to be seriously injured.
  • I wanted her to begin practicing self-control.

I did not squeeze her hand…

  • Because I was angry,
  • Because I wanted her to hurt,
  • Because she irritated, interrupted, or embarrassed me.

This is the difference between punishment and discipline.

Parental punishment is about me: my anger, my needs, my embarrassment, my convenience, my sense of entitlement or frustration with the situation.

Parental discipline is about my child’s physical well-being and spiritual growth. That’s all.

Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them. -Proverbs 13:24

In Intentional Parenting, we teach our children in advance, but we also watch for opportunities to correct through discipline. There’s no love in pampering them, in hiding their sins and failures from them, in allowing them reckless “freedom” that ultimately enslaves them to their own desires. Discipline is something we do carefully and purposefully because we love our children.

My children have grown since the electrical outlet incident. They’re both in double-digits now, and squeezing hands isn’t the best option anymore. (Sometimes I wish it was. It was so much easier!) This week, however, I had a chance to practice some fairly serious discipline with one of my children.

At first, I was so angry that I had to just send him to his room. I felt like there was steam coming out of my ears, and I’m sure my face was red! I wanted to punish him. I wanted him to hurt. (Don’t judge. You know you’ve felt the same.) Because I was angry, I was in no state-of-mind to discipline properly. Once I calmed myself down, I went to him and told him I needed to talk with his dad about the discipline. I still didn’t trust myself, honestly. As we talked a little, I made sure he knew I loved him. The next morning, having talked with his dad, we sat down and discussed the situation calmly and arrived at some discipline that fit the situation and aligned with his maturity level. I’m praying it helps him grow in wisdom and in favor with God and man (Luke 2:52).

Some observations about discipline:

Good discipline comes out of love. We already talked about this one.

Good discipline comes out of humility. I do not present myself as better than my child but as another sinner learning how to please God throughout my life.

Good discipline comes out of obligation. As another Christ-follower, as one called to be his parent, it is my duty to correct my child when he fails. I’m helping him understand how to follow Christ more completely.

Good discipline is a product of peace. I’m talking about Biblical shalom, that confidence in God’s sovereignty over His creation and the security of knowing He loves me. Anger dismisses His sovereignty. It says I deserve something or I have been wronged. With peace, I approach my child in the confidence of God’s economy.

Good discipline aligns with the child’s maturity level and spiritual state. The wise parent desires her child to learn from the error/sin through the discipline. Just like you don’t teach first graders calculus, it takes thoughtfulness (and sometimes wracking your brain) to provide discipline at each age. If the child has accepted Christ as Lord of his life, that significantly influences the way discipline is given.

Good discipline ends. What could be more miserable than to be repeatedly reminded of a failure from your past? Trust the Holy Spirit to work in your child’s heart and lay aside the situation once the discipline is complete.

Good discipline is reserved for disobedience or danger and other clear acts of sin. Children will be foolish and forgetful. They’re ignorant of many things we take for granted as adults. Before enacting discipline, be sure the situation warrants it. Perhaps a good “talking to” (a Southern term) is all they need.

With older children…

There’s a reason discipline and disciple look so much like. Add these to the description of good discipline when your children are past the stage where physical things work best.

Good discipline is mutually-agreed-upon. We discuss ways for him to learn what is necessary. It’s important for him to understand why he must forfeit a privilege or spend time alone or do something extra. He doesn’t like it, but he understands the purpose. If he doesn’t understand why it’s happening, then he will not learn. That’s punishment, not discipline.

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. -Hebrews 12:11

Good discipline involves follow-up. After the discipline phase is completed, we come back to the subject at least once more to test what he’s learned. If it arises around the same time in a sermon, book, or other medium, we’ll mention it again. (See “Good Discipline Ends” above for the balance on this.)

Good discipline incorporates forgiveness. If I’ve personally been wronged, I must intentionally and specifically forgive my child. If my child has wronged someone else, he must clearly request forgiveness—including an explanation of how he now understands his behavior. He must also ask for God’s forgiveness. Never leave your child wondering if everything is “right” between the two of you afterward.

Good discipline renews trust. A follow-up time gives the parent an opportunity to talk about trust. Can you trust your child again? Do you need to see evidence of a changed heart first? Does there need to be a trial period? Make all this clear rather than leaving your child guessing.

The child who is disciplined in a Godly way will see the wisdom of Proverbs 12:1…and probably enjoy that the Bible calls someone “stupid.”

Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but whoever hates correction is stupid. -Proverbs 12:1

11 characteristics of good discipline for #IntentionalParenting. (click to tweet)

prov-12-1-meme

For further reading:

Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp (more for younger kids)

Age of Opportunity by Paul David Tripp (for teenagers)

Yes, they are brothers. Both of these books offer excellent sections on Biblical discipline. If you’re struggling with this issue, I urge you to take a look at the appropriate one.

More Everyday Images for the Christ-Life

On this fifth Tuesday of the month, with Thanksgiving behind us and Christmas ahead of us, I’m returning to the basics of Intentional Parenting: discipling our children. Enjoy these three metaphors for the Christ-life found in God’s creation. Like a potter shaping a vase, God leaves his fingerprints all over His creation. These everyday images are endless! Read through these, then share your own at the end.

Calluses/A Hardened Heart

everyday-image-guitar
guitar calluses (c) Carole Sparks

My son plays guitar. The tips of his fingers on his left hand have calluses from pressing on the strings to make different tones. I don’t play guitar, but I sat down to play around with his one day. Because I was pressing my fingers against the metal strings of his guitar, it only took a few minutes for the skin on the ends of my fingers to turn red and hurt. Why? Because I don’t have calluses.

You can press on a callus with your fingernail, and it doesn’t hurt. Sometimes, another person can touch your callus and you won’t even realize it.

For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes.  -Matthew 13:15a

Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts…  -Hebrews 3:7b-8a

When you love Jesus and you want to make him happy, we say your heart is tender. Any small sin will press up against your heart, and you’ll feel the pain of that sin until you confess. But if you choose to ignore the pain instead of addressing it, you will probably sin again in the same way. But the second time, it won’t hurt as much because the area is already inflamed (like a blister). Over and over you press on the same spot, and that’s what creates a callus. While calluses are good on a guitar player’s fingers or on the middle finger of your writing hand, they aren’t good on your heart. They make it harder to know what Jesus wants and to respond to his gentle direction. Confessing your sin and pushing it away means it can’t press against your heart anymore.

Salt/The Kingdom of Heaven

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.  -Matthew 5:13

This one’s straight from Scripture, but here’s a good tactile method of explaining it.

everyday-image-popcorn
popcorn (c) Carole Sparks

Make some popcorn (in a pot, not microwave). Separate it into two bowls. Salt one bowl but not the other, then ask your children to taste each. The one with salt tastes so much better! This is what we’re called to be in the world: unobtrusive difference-makers. You can’t really tell which popcorn has salt until you taste it, but it makes all the difference. (Salt has preservative properties and other uses, but let’s keep this simple.) If the salt wasn’t salty—if it didn’t make a difference in the popcorn—it wouldn’t have any use. As Christ-followers, if we don’t bless the world with Christ, we don’t have any use either.

Ask your children how believers can make a difference in the world. Answers may range from smiling at a sad person or picking up litter to starting a charity or sharing Christ with a friend. Remind your children of one way they made a difference in the past week, emphasizing their unique personalities. Challenge everyone in the family (including parents) to share one way they plan to intentionally “be salt” in the coming week. Write SALT on a big piece of paper, on a white-board, or on the bathroom mirrors (with dry erase markers) to remind everyone of the challenge.

For more on popcorn, check out one of my previous analogies.

Pebbles in a Stream/Unconfessed Sin

This one’s not original with me, but it’s so good that I thought you should hear it.

everyday-image-pebbles
rocks in a stream (c) Carole Sparks

Every time you sin, it’s like throwing a pebble into a river. One doesn’t really make a difference, but over time, the river will become dammed by the accumulation of pebbles.

Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”  -John 7:38

The Living Water cannot flow from you if it’s blocked by unconfessed sin. Even though we try not to sin, we all do it. When we ask God to forgive us, however, He removes that pebble from our “river of life” so the water keeps flowing.

Parents, you could make this very tangible while playing outside in the rain. Just find a flow of water and start dropping small rocks into it at a certain spot.

 

So I pray these are helpful to you in Intentional Parenting. Remember, just look for opportunities and experiences to bring up spiritual things as a natural part of your day. Like Deuteronomy counsels, Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up (Deuteronomy 6:7).

Be equipped to talk with kids about spiritual things at any time (Deut 6:7) with these analogies. (click to tweet)

I’d love to hear some of the creative ways God has shown you to understand theology. (That’s what this is, you know.) Please share in the comments. Maybe I’ll post a collection of other parents’ images at a later date.

Reflections on Sunday School Songs: If You’re Happy and You Know It

This is not technically a Biblical or theological song, but we used to sing it in Sunday School when I was a child, so I’ve included it here. The principles embodied within it are certainly Biblical, so let’s take a look.

If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.

When God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God.  -Ecclesiastes 5:19

Four things God gives, which I’ve turned into questions:

  • Do you have what you need to survive? Do you actually live in abundance? Most of us do (though it may not always feel like it). God gave that.
  • Are you able to enjoy your material possessions? Such pleasure is good and right. God supplies not only our “daily bread” (Matthew 6:11) but the mental capacity and the presence of mind to appreciate it. If you’re distracted by the demands of life, feeling like you always need to do or get more, then your attitude doesn’t honor God (just telling it like it is here, like I tell myself way too often!). Trust and faith are so intertwined. Our faith creates the capacity for trust so we can let go of our stress and enjoy His faithful provision.
  • Are you satisfied with your work, home, and life-in-general? Contentment is such a treasure! Not that we should be complacent, but those who “accept their lot” in life find it much easier to be satisfied.
  • Does your work make you feel good? Mine does. When I write, my mood lightens. I am happy, and it overflows into the rest of my life. If you’re living out what you were created to do, your work will satisfy.

Confession #1: I sat down to write this post out of obligation, but already—with this first verse—God has shown me how blessed I am! Pausing now to clap my hands, as the song instructs. … Really; I did it.

If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.

Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy.  -Psalm 47:1

We sat mid-way back in an elementary school awards ceremony. You know the type. Many names, and each walks onto the stage whether their accomplishment is major or minor. The obligatory applause begins with enthusiasm but quickly dissipates. By the tenth kid, you can pick out his parents because they’re the only ones clapping in earnest. I tried—I really tried—to celebrate all the kids, but my hands started burning from slapping them together so much, and honestly, my heart just wasn’t in it.

Through the Psalmist, God commands us to celebrate Him. We’re not celebrating a minor accomplishment or a middle-grades promotion. We’re recognizing the God of the Universe! We’re called to clap. All of us.

Even when you’re not feeling happy, when your circumstances have stripped the smile not just off your face but out of your heart, you know you have reason to celebrate because, well, He’s God: Sovereign, Creator, Redeemer, Omnipotent…you get the picture. And sometimes the exact thing we need in order to realign our focus and redeem our happiness is a simple song and a bit of hand-clapping. My brain has to tell my heart, “Yes, you are happy. You just forgot.”

Psalm 47 goes on praising God (Read all nine verses right now if you have time!), then it says,

Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises. For God is the King of all the earth; sing to him a psalm of praise.  -Psalm 47:6-7

 If you’re happy and you know it, then your face will surely show it.

But may the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; may they be happy and joyful.  -Psalm 68:3

Our satisfaction with God will inevitably show up on our faces. I’ve heard people say things like, “That Steven, he always has a smile.” I happen to know Steven, and I know why he smiles. It’s because He constantly walks beside His Savior.

Wearing a constant smile is not the same as a mask. People can recognize masks. It’s an authentic pleasantness that comes from a contented heart. This line in the song challenges those of us who carry so many burdens (read: responsibilities, worries, concerns, etc.) on our shoulders. Our internal attitude will show on our faces. If you can stay conscious of God’s faithfulness and content in His provision, your face will inevitably smile, with no effort on your part.

Confession #2: Sometimes my smile is faked. I’m still working on it.

 If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.

Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise.  -James 5:13

It’s not entirely clear, but the context in James 5 seems to be a group meeting. If so, James calls believers to share both their troubles and their happiness. We’re pretty good at sharing our troubles, at least the not-too-personal ones, but we often hesitate to share our successes or happiness. We’re afraid it may come off as bragging, or it may make someone without the same success feel bad or jealous. James calls us to share it anyway; of course, there’s a God-honoring way to share that takes out any personal pride.

If you’re happy about something, and you know you’re happy about it, honor God by demonstrating your happiness in a physical way! It may be spoken, sung, or clapped. In fact, remember all the other verses to this song? They tell us to stomp our feet, say “amen,” turn around, etc. In the right situation, it might even be appropriate to leap into the air.

Confession #3: I embarrassed my teenager the other day when I leapt into the air just outside her school after she shared some fresh good news. (Okay, that’s not really the same kind of confession, I realize.)

The point is, acknowledge God’s provision and blessing. Don’t miss any chance you have to glorify Him!

So! I’m in a much better mood now. Not only did I get to write, which always satisfies me, but also, I got to dwell on God’s goodness, sufficiency, and blessing. I can’t clap and type at the same time, but there’s an authentic smile on my face. **insert happy-face emoji here**

Do you have any special childhood memories about this song? Has it ever convicted you, either as a child or an adult? What do you think about how/when we should demonstrate our happiness? I’d love to interact with you in the comments below! You can also share using one of the ready-made tweets below.

If you’re happy about something, and you know you’re happy, honor God by demonstrating your happiness in a physical way! (click to tweet)

If You’re Happy: more than a silly children’s song. Mine the Biblical truths with me. (click to tweet)

 ss-songs-happy

Note: For my “take” on joy v/s happiness, read On Joy. Not everyone agrees with me, and that’s okay.

Attribution: original lyrics unknown but refined by Alfred B. Smith, music by Isaak Dunayevsky (source)

Previously in this series:

This Little Light of Mine

The B-I-B-L-E

Deep and Wide

Zacchaeus

Jesus Loves the Little Children

I’ve Got the Joy

The Wise Man and the Foolish Man

Father Abraham

My God Is So Big

 

Still to come:

  • He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands

 

Thankful, because I don’t have all the answers.

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(c) Carole Sparks

In this month of giving thanks, I’m so grateful to those who have graced my space here with their humble, penetrating words. So today, let’s remember the guest posts we’ve enjoyed over the past year.

Almost exactly a year ago, with violence and school shootings in the news, I republished a parenting post from my friend, Chester Goad. In Talking About Tragic Events with Kids, he offers some advice and resources on helping our children walk through such difficult times.

Another wise friend of mine, Hannah Vanderpool, wrote When Not to Worry for her own blog. It touched me so much that I asked permission to share it with my readers as well. My favorite line: “Refuse to give in to the temptation to fret.”

And with those two posts, I started hosting guests monthly here at Intentional Parenting. Some of them have been tangible friends, some virtual friends, and some simply parenting authors I respect. Check out any of these you missed.

In The Highest Calling of a Parent is the Shaping of Hearts, Kelly Smith uses the story of Pharaoh to remind us that our task as parents is not behavior modification but heart shaping.

Mary Felkins stopped by in March to take us back to the basics in What is Intentional Parenting? She included a reminder not to take our intentionality too far.

There’s a sweet Mother-Child story in Forget Where You Live? by Cherrilynn Bisbano. She enjoyed the fruits of Intentional Parenting when she heard her son encourage her with truth about Heaven.

It’s so important to glean advice from those who’ve already experienced the phase of parenting where you and I are now. I asked Kim Wilbanks to look back on her years ofparenting teens and share some insights in Parenting Advice from the Other Side.

Lisa Brown used a personal story to encourage every mom who ever feels anxious (and that would be all of us!) in Encouraging Words for the Anxious Mom. I think you’ll be blessed by reading her post.

When I became more active on social media, I discovered I wasn’t the only one writing about Intentional Parenting. Phil Conrad hosts a podcast and writes on the same topic, so I invited him to join us here. Read his fantastic perspective on everyday decisions in Four Intentional Decisions in Parenting.

How do you explain intentional destruction, mass murder, and other such evils to your children? Author Leigh Powers faced this dilemma when she visited a museum with her children. Practicing her Intentional Parenting, she used the situation to point her children toward Jesus. Thankfully, she shared all this with us in Raising Whole Kids in a Broken World.

Emily Wickham often writes about moms as mentors for their daughters, so she was a natural fit for a guest blog in September. Read her reflections on Jochebed as a mother in Mistakes Made & Lessons Learned.

Finally, just last month, Jessica Michaels shared her heart regarding foster care and its impact on her biological children in Loving and Letting Go. Jessica is a personal friend from my church, not a writer, so I truly appreciated her willingness to lay it all out here.

In the past year, I hope you found something here at Intentional Parenting to spur you toward more Christ-like parenting, either from my writings or from my guests. None of us have all the answers, and I am supremely blessed to have learned from all these wonderful parents this year! If you feel the same way, drop one of them a message or leave a comment below, and I’ll make sure they get it.

I’m #thankful for a whole year of guest posts about #IntentionalParenting. Find the summaries here. (click to tweet)

Parents, Embrace the Now

One of my children often asks me, “Mom, what was your favorite age for us?” And I always say the same thing: “I’ve loved every age you’ve ever been, and right now is the best!” In truth, the age of nine wasn’t my favorite with either one, but there were enjoyable elements even then.

It’s easy, especially when your kids are in the “terrible twos” or that smart-aleck almost-tween age, to wish that “phase” completed. We set our sights longingly on some future day when “things will be better.” But the truth is more balanced and more practical. Every age of every child has good and bad elements.

If we’re going to do the Intentional Parenting thing and be obedient to verses like these below, we need some kind of game plan.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.  -Ephesians 4:29

But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today.”  -Hebrews 3:13a

Turns out, it’s relatively simple: embrace what’s happening right now.

So don’t get caught up waiting for the kids to be potty-trained or start Kindergarten or have a driver’s license so you can stop chauffeuring them everywhere. Instead, embrace the now: Actively search for things to enjoy at the age your children are right now. Focus on that. Focus on making memories and laughing and affirming your love for them. This kind of focus will carry both you and your children through the…lets call them “rough patches” (like 9-years-old was for me).

While you’re enjoying what you have right now, watch for how God is working in and through your children—working for their spiritual growth and for yours!

Interactive idea: Look through some old pictures with your children. Tell them a funny story about themselves or just talk about what you loved about them when they were that age…and that age…and that age. If your children are grown (or close to it), consider making a scrapbook—manually or digitally—with a picture of them from each year. Use candid photos you took rather than staged school or portrait studio photos. Include a hand-written note with a special memory from that time—the kind of memories that can’t be caught in a photo. It doesn’t need to be something important, just something treasured.

That’s all I have to say today. Not because I don’t have time to write more but because you’ll need to supply your own examples here. Take the extra minutes you would have spent reading this post (because it’s usually longer!) and recall something you loved about your child when they were two or three years old.

Parents, stop wishing for the end of this “phase” and Embrace the Now! (click to tweet)

Have something you really loved about your child at a certain age? Please share it in the comments below. Your words could encourage another parent who’s facing that time right now!