Reflections on Sunday School Songs: Jesus Loves the Little Children

This must be one of the simplest children’s songs we sang in Sunday School when I was growing up. Bonus: it helped us learn our colors! Not that people are actually red or any of the other colors listed, but I’ll get to that in a minute. Let’s start at the beginning.

Jesus loves the little children

SS Songs - Jesus loves children
My first Bible (c) Carole Sparks

When you think of this song, you probably recall Jesus blessing some children. Maybe there was even a picture like this one in your children’s Bible or hanging in your church. That situation happens in Matthew 19:13-15 (also Mark 10:13-16 and Luke 18:15-17). It’s short, so let’s just read it here.

Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them. Jesus said “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there.

Why did the disciples rebuke (that means scold or correct) those parents? I can only think of one possibility: they thought Jesus had more important things to do. Maybe they were in a hurry, since the text says they left as soon as He finished blessing the kids. Or maybe the disciples just thought Jesus should focus on the grown-ups, the important people. Far more so than today, children in that culture had very little value. Luke says they were actually babies (Luke 18:15), who couldn’t even respond to Jesus.

But Jesus valued them. He stopped talking to the grown-ups; he delayed his trip a little. Why? So he could smile into their eyes, put his hand on their heads, and bless them. Would they even remember this moment? Only the older ones, but that didn’t matter to Jesus.

Yes, we must teach our children to respect their elders. Yes, we must teach them not to interrupt us constantly. Let’s be careful, though, not to imply by our actions that they are unimportant. Pay attention to the times you say “wait” and the times you divert your attention toward them. Make a conscious decision to train them in respect and/or patience at times or to reinforce their importance—their priority—in your life. This is the epitome of intentional parenting.

Personally, I hate to lose my train of thought (especially when I’m writing). I also hate to miss part of a good news story on NPR. So I confess that I react far more often that I respond thoughtfully, and I’m convicted by this children’s song. *Insert groan of frustration here.*

All the children of the world

Okay, get ready for more conviction. This one is tough.

“All” really means all: the impoverished kid in Africa with no diaper and no shoes, the refugee kid in Greece who will never return to his home, the child of a Muslim terrorist pressing his forehead to the mat in prayers this evening, the minority kid who needs ESL help in your child’s classroom. All these children matter just as much to God as your child. As parents, we’re hard-wired to protect and promote our own children above all others. But God wants the absolute very best for every child in the world. He wants it fiercely, as fiercely as you would fight for your own child!

I know we can’t personally rescue every child in a difficult situation, and I’m not suggesting we open an orphanage or move to the other side of the world. Really, what I know I need (and maybe you too), is an attitude adjustment. It’s so easy to insulate myself, to tie my understanding of God to what happens under my own roof, to think God’s priorities mirror mine. In that case, my kids would always get the best, even to the detriment of other children. The more we can see children (our own and others) with God’s eyes, the better balance we’ll have in this area.

I’m still working on it. If that was you and me near Jesus back in Matthew 19, you can bet I would have been elbowing you out of the way to get my children first in line for a Jesus moment. Pull out the cellphone cameras—this is way better than Santa! (Please infer the sarcasm I intended here.)

Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight

None of us are really comfortable with these words any more.  I found one alternative online that said, “Ev’ry color, ev’ry race, all are cover’d by His grace.” That’s pretty good.

At our house, we sometimes substitute the THUMB guide used to pray for world religions: Tribal, Hindu, Unreligious, Muslim, and the Buddhist. That also works.

I already covered the meaning here in the section above.

Jesus loves the little children of the world

The Lord…is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. –2 Peter 3:9

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. –John 3:16

The next time you hear or sing this song with your little ones, take time to really listen to the words and let God bring balance to your parenting perspective.

Want to share?

Use Jesus Loves the Little Children to bring balance to your parenting perspective. (click to tweet)

Fresh thoughts (for parents) on an old Sunday School song: Jesus Loves the Little Children (click to tweet)

Attribution: Words by C. Herbert Woolston, lyrics by George F. Root (according to this website)

I’ve written about Jesus and children in the past:

Previously in this series:

This Little Light of Mine

The B-I-B-L-E

Deep and Wide

Zacchaeus

Still to come:

  • I’ve Got the Joy, Joy…
  • Father Abraham
  • The Wise Man and the Foolish Man
  • My God is So Big

 

Encouraging Words for the Anxious Mom (guest post)

I'm so happy to introduce you all to Lisa Brown today. She maintains a blog for
moms, but it often ventures into other related areas (such as writing). I know
you'll appreciate this encouraging story of God's faithfulness in her family life.
Then, read more about Lisa and connect with her at the end of the post.

Sunday afternoon I received a phone call from my husband while washing dishes and making meat loaf with my five-year-old daughter. He called to let me know that he was heading home with my son from Boy Scout camp. I was so thankful that everything went well.

Before they left Friday evening for camping, I was worried that something bad was going to happen to them. This was the first time they had gone on a campout without my daughter and me.  Anxiety tried to swallow me up and it took everything in me to stay focused. Anxiety paralyzes me and floods my mind with unwanted thoughts.

I feared they would get in a car crash…or a bear would attack them…or they would get separated.  My imagination got carried away. I had a choice to make, and that was to either spiral down into a pit of darkness or keep my eyes on God.

I gave God my dreadful thoughts and as a result I had a wonderful time with my daughter.  

After I hung up the phone on Sunday, I took a moment to reflect on my weekend. Just thinking about it filled me with an unexplainable joy. We had so many sweet moments, and we connected so well.   Anxiety had no control over me.

Before they left on Friday evening I took Kaylee shopping and we bought red roses for our table, soap that smells wonderful, and a chocolate candy bar. We delighted ourselves in laughter, and the anticipation of an enjoyable weekend without the boys brought us closer together. This warmed my heart and gave me strength to push through the scary thoughts I was struggling with.

On Friday night—our first night alone—we decorated a jewelry box and made jewelry.  Together our hearts danced!

 I allowed myself to enjoy being in the moment. Together we giggled as we chased each other through the house playing tag and hide-and-go seek. We had a sleep over and breakfast in my bed. Life couldn’t get any better than this.

I felt God calm my anxious heart and fill me with His joy: a joy that comes from love and laughter. I’m so glad I didn’t let worry get the best of me. It was so nice not to be weighed down and depressed.

I have accepted that there are things in my life that I cannot control. I have decided to trust God. He knows everything and He is in control.

Lisa-ballerina 2
photo credit: pixabay

The word of God tells us in Philippians 4:6-7 (NIV),

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Dear Mom, give your concerns to God. He wants to give you peace and joy. Ask Him to come into your mind when worrisome thoughts threaten you. Be still and know that He is with you.

CLICK TO TWEET: Moms, ask God to come into your mind when worrisome thoughts threaten you.

Lisa BrownLisa Brown lives in Colorado with her husband and two kids. She writes on both of her blogs about Christian Living, Parenting, and Homeschooling.  Connect with Lisa through Me Too Moments For Moms or Gathering Place For Sisters In Christ.

 

Mom’s Best Gifts for Dad Every Day (not just Father’s Day)

**This post is exclusively for mothers. Sorry, guys.**

This Sunday is our official day to honor the fathers in our lives, including the father(s) of our children. (I’m married to the father of both my children, but I know that’s not always the case. These principles still apply if you’re divorced, never married, or otherwise.) When it comes to fathers, unless you honor him every day, you won’t be able to authentically honor him on this special day. As we approach Father’s Day this year, consider how you might tweak your attitude toward your husband in order to show him more honor.

3 Ways to Honor the Father of Your Children (with lots of sub-points)

I’m going to be very straightforward here. It’s not my intention to be harsh; I just don’t want any padding to distract you from the truth in the details (and my word count gets too high too quickly anyway). I’m not pointing fingers. This is the way I deal with myself.

  1. Show Respect

God calls women to respect their husbands. It’s one of those verses with no qualifications, no conditions. It simply says, “and the wife must respect her husband” (Ephesians 5:33). Not “if he deserves it,” or “if you feel like it,” or “if he loves you like he should.” In context, the previous clause instructs husbands to love their wives and the following clause instructs children to obey their parents. So you can see that I’m not leaving anything out here. It was a woman (Aretha Franklin) who demanded it: R-E-S-P-E-C-T, but it’s also a woman (well, Christ-following women—that’s us) who must show it.

A few things respect might mean:

  • Don’t interrupt him in the middle of a sentence.
  • Support his parenting decisions (even if you don’t 100% agree).
  • Give him space to be himself. So he likes ‘70s disco music? There’s nothing actually wrong with that.
  • Don’t praise another man too much. Short story: I recently met a new doctor that I immediately liked and respected. I knew I’d praised him too much when my husband (of nineteen years) said, “Good thing you didn’t meet him twenty years ago!”
  • Treat him like an adult, not like one of the kids. If he doesn’t usually do the laundry, don’t take the opportunity to correct him because he doesn’t do it “right.”
  1. Show Restraint

Sometimes, as wives and moms, we think we need to “vent” about something our husbands do…or don’t do. Nothing productive comes of venting. If I have a problem with my husband, I talk to him, not to my girlfriends. At most, I might share, “Bestie, I need to have a difficult conversation with husband tonight. Will you please pray for me?” There might come a time (after it’s resolved) to share this story in a God-honoring way, but most of the time, when we “vent” we’re just looking for someone to agree with us that we are completely right and the object of our venting (in this case, the husband) is completely wrong.

I’ve found it helpful to apply Philippians 4:8 here.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—[about my husband] think about such things.

If I take captive every thought (2 Corinthians 10:5) and keep my thoughts on the positive aspects of his character and life, my words will follow.

It goes back to respect. Showing restraint regarding my husband means I don’t tell belittling stories about him—even if they are funny. It means I don’t itemize his faults to others. It means I never talk to our children with phrases like, “If your father hadn’t…” or “Well, your father…”. I honor his reputation among our peers, in front of other women, and with our children.

  1. Show Recognition

In general, men love praise. But here’s something else: Children love for their fathers to be praised. So tell your children about something wonderful their father did in the past (or recently). Tell them what you like about him, what originally attracted you to him. If he catches you doing it, even better!

A few ways to recognize your husband’s character and actions:

  • Make a habit of showing appreciation for something he did and admiring the quality of it: “That is some nicely applied plumbers tape under the sink, honey. It looks like it’ll hold for a long time.” Sounds silly, I know, but try it. You’ll be surprised!
  • Acknowledge an effort to change/improve and comment on his hard work.
  • Praise qualities in your children that they inherited from their father. Things like, “You are so generous, just like Dad.”

As a Christ-following parent, you’ve probably quoted Ephesians 4:29 to your kids, but have you considered it in reference to your husband?

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.

I know I want a strong, confident man. If offering a little extra praise is what it takes, that’s a small sacrifice to make. Maybe your husband doesn’t really need that. Still do it. Why? Because of who’s listening. Your children. When you praise their father, they benefit as well!

By taking time to recognize his contributions to your life and within your children, you’ll find it easier to dwell on the positive aspects of his character (showing restraint—#2) and respect him as a person (#1).

Don’t wait for Father’s Day to honor your children’s father! (click to tweet) These kinds of gifts come from “a wife of noble character” (Proverbs 30:10) and last through decades, not just days.

 

For Further Study: 

 

Parenting Advice from the Other Side (guest post)

I relish the chance to get good parenting advice from someone a little ahead
of me on the parenting road, and these thoughts from my writer-friend, Kim, 
are right-on. If you're entering the teen years, write them down somewhere 
prominent so you can benefit from Kim's wisdom! (More about her at the end.)

“You better enjoy them while you can. They grow up too fast.”

“Yeah, right,” I thought to myself as I balanced my baby girl on my hip while I tried to wrangle my 2-year-old son. I knew the older women at my church meant well, but my sleep-deprived, potty-training, diaper-changing, laundry folding self didn’t get it. But, they were right. Boy, were they right.

Fast forward about 14 years. That is when the mourning began. Not true mourning but the mourning of the swift passing of time, the end of childhood. My son, my firstborn was in his sophomore year of high school. Conversations turned to graduation and colleges and what he really wanted to be when he grew up. I remember walking down the street one evening weeping. “God, where did the time go? How in the world did it go by so fast?” I knew how quickly the previous years had flown and that made me keenly aware that these last three years in high school, at home, would be no different.

So yes, time does fly and those sweet babies do grow up and leave the nest – sometimes before you’re ready.

I am like most of you reading this blog. We do the best we can in raising our kids. I am by no means an expert in parenting. My only credentials are that I, along with my husband, raised two independent, responsible, well-adjusted young adults. They aren’t perfect but then, who is?

I’ll share with you two things that worked for us and two things I wish I could go back and do over.

Things that worked

Be Authentic

This is true for any age child but it becomes crucial for teenagers. What they see is stronger than what you say. If you want your teens to be in church, you go to church. If you don’t want them to drink alcohol, you don’t drink it. If you want them to have integrity, you live with integrity. There is no guarantee that your teen will turn out the way you intended but when you combine a good example with a lot of prayer, it is more likely than not.

Be That House

Welcome your teen’s friends into your home. Be the hangout. It will be messy and loud and your grocery bill may be a little higher, especially if you have boys, but it will be worth it. We opened our home for everything from church youth group events to impromptu sleepovers. My daughter and her friends got ready for homecomings and proms at our house. When you welcome their friends into your home, you learn a lot about your kids. I still look forward to visits from their high school friends when my son and daughter come back home for the holidays.

Parenting advice from the other side: “Be that house, the one where all the kids hang out.”  (click to tweet)

Things I would change

Establish Good Communication

This became more of an issue when my son went away to college. We would talk every week or so but I soon discovered he would have more to say if he initiated the conversation than if we called him. Now that he is out of college and working full time, I find that we don’t talk as much as I would like. I realize it is partially because he is busy with his job but I miss hearing about his day to day life. In retrospect, I would have asked him to call home once a week in the hope that it would help establish the habit of regular communication. I will say, with boys there comes a time when they will have more to talk about with their dads than their moms.

Give Them Some Space

You have to find the right balance of involvement with your teens. My husband and I both volunteered in youth ministry in our church when our kids were in middle school and high school. We enjoyed working with youth and for the most part our kids did not mind us being involved. However, I made the mistake of being my daughter’s Sunday school teacher for too many years. At the time, the youth minister had the leaders move up with their groups from year to year. It was not so bad when she was in middle school but I probably should have stepped down after that. I was sad to learn, years later, that my daughter resented my over involvement. I wish I had had the insight to give her the space she needed.

Parenting advice from the other side: “Give your kids space to be themselves.” (click to tweet)

I hope this encourages you. Enjoy your teen – they really do grow up fast! Many thanks to Carole for inviting me to write this guest blog. If you are getting close to the empty nest, check out my blog: Feathering My Empty Nest.

Kim Wilbanks-headshotKim is a wife and a mother of two adult children who have flown the coop and left her with an almost empty nest. Her “baby” is a comical Welsh Corgi named Sir Higgins. A native Floridian, she enjoys frequent trips to the beach. Kim stays busy as a MOPS mentor mom, in Women’s Bible studies and writing a blog called Feathering My Empty Nest! Reading, traveling and crafting are favorite pastimes. Most importantly, Kim is a follower of Christ and a passionate student of God’s word. Follow Kim on twitter.

 

4 Surprising Things That Do NOT Promote Humility in Your Children (part 2)

When I was in middle school, we went to a lot of the school basketball games. Sometimes we won; sometimes we lost. Invariably, on those sad drives home after a loss, my mother would say, “Losing builds character.” Honestly, it didn’t feel like it in the moment. How, exactly, does losing build character? I never thought to ask Mom, but now I think I know…at least a little. Losing and other failures give us fantastic chances to gently help our children grow in faith and humility.

Pointing our children toward humility begins with an acknowledgement of God and who He is, then of who we are in relation to Him. There are times for that exact conversation, but there are also times to bring our children along the humility path in everyday situations. Last week, we considered two ways NOT to praise our children. This week, let’s look at:

2 Ways NOT to Talk About Failure with Our Children

You might think these attitudes will help balance their self-esteem, but you’ll actually find them detrimental. (I know from experience!) So DON’T…

  1. Remind them of their failures.

This is just belittling. It doesn’t foster humility; it fosters inadequacy and uncertainty. Plus, they most certainly remember that failure even more clearly than you! Just as we’ve been forgiven, just as God separates us from our sin as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12), our children need us to put away last year’s failures…and last week’s.

There may be times when we’re working on consistency in a particular area that we must review previous failures, but these should be done gently and specifically, without adding unrelated issues to it. Look for patterns. One lie last year doesn’t mean your child is a chronic liar. One “epic fail” at a spelling bee doesn’t mean your child should never enter another spelling contest. Even if you feel you must stir up old wounds, focus on growth and improvement, not on chronic faults.

  1. Make excuses for their failures or blame others.

“Owning” one’s mistakes and deficiencies is a difficult lesson—one that many adults struggle to learn. We can’t model shifting blame or making excuses for our children if we want them to have a healthy view of themselves.

Before you speak, consider what is true. Is someone else responsible for this failure such that the child had no opportunity to succeed? Is it appropriate to point that out to the child? Most of the time, the child (and probably the parent—that’s you and me) bears some portion of the responsibility.

Instead of “Well, your teacher didn’t explain it properly,” try “What could you have done on your own when you realized you didn’t understand?”

Instead of “Your sitter shouldn’t have let you watch six hours of TV,” try “How much TV do you typically watch? Did you have the power to turn off the TV?”

Instead of “That referee was biased,” try “Well, the referee is human, too. He sometimes makes mistakes. Can you forgive him and move on?” or “Now that you know how he calls fouls, what will you do next time?”

We can turn failures into learning experiences with a little forward thinking on our parts.

As you talk with your children about success and failure, try sprinkling a couple of these Bible verses into the conversation:

He mocks proud mockers but shows favor to the humble and oppressed. –Proverbs 3:34 (quoted in James 4:6 and 1 Peter 5:5.)

God is the only one who never fails.

Now I am about to go the way of all the earth. You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the Lord your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed. –Joshua 23:14

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. –Lamentations 3:22

For no word from God will ever fail. –Luke 1:36-37

Our earthly failures are not as important as our faith in God.

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. –Psalm 73:26

Sometimes what looks like a failure to us is a success in God’s eyes.

Now we pray to God that you will not do anything wrong—not so that people will see that we have stood the test but so that you will do what is right even though we may seem to have failed. –2 Corinthians 13:7

 

To review, we have 4 Surprising Things That Do NOT Promote Humility in Your Children:

  1. Praise them only when they win.
  2. Praise them for doing what they are supposed to do anyway.
  3. Remind them of their failures.
  4. Make excuses for their failures or blame others.

Each child’s path to humility passes through praise and failure. Tread lightly! (click to tweet)

What about you? When have you talked about success or failure effectively with your children? I’d love to hear some others’ thoughts on this! And for more on helping your kids learn through failure, check out this education blog post.

4 Surprising Things That do NOT Promote Humility in Your Children (part 1)

As parents, we walk this fine line between guarding our child’s self-esteem and his/her humility. In a recent post, I described some tactics for fostering healthy self-esteem. Both self-esteem and humility are skills—perspectives, really—that must be taught. They are two sides of a Christ-centered identity cube. (Is it a cube? Hmm…We’ll have to dig into that later.)

Just to get us started on healthy humility, here are two ways NOT to praise our children. Next week, I’ll add two ways NOT to address failure. (Because this started getting long, I’ve divided it into two parts.) How we talk about success and failure go a long way toward that healthy self-esteem we seek for our children…and ourselves.

2 Ways NOT to Praise Our Children

Sometimes it’s difficult to know what to praise, when to praise, and how to praise our children productively. There’s no exhaustive list of the right and wrong times. The most important thing about praising your children (or anyone) is that it must be authentic. We all know those fake one-liners that fall flat before they even reach our ears. I call that “plastic praise.”

  1. Praise them only when they win.

Of course we want to praise our children when they succeed. We should praise them at those times. But we also need to praise them when they fail well. There’s much to be learned in failure, if we handle it properly. Praise their effort, their graciousness toward their opponent, their self-control. Even in success, focus on these things and on God’s blessings (health, strength, intelligence) that brought about their success.

In success: “Wow, Hope, you did well in karate today! I saw how you remembered so much of what you’ve been taught and put it into practice. You fought hard, and you deserved to win! I also saw how you helped your opponent get up at the end. You showed real sportsmanship there. I thank God for giving you a strong body and a kind spirit.”

In failure: “Hey, Hope. I know you’re disappointed that you didn’t win. You fought hard, though. I could tell that you’ve been paying attention in karate class; you used some pretty advanced moves out there. That was some good sportsmanship at the end, too, when you shook hands with your opponent. I’m thankful for your attitude and that you tried so hard.”

  1. Praise them for doing what they are supposed to do anyway.

This involves keeping the rules, doing chores, and other expectations. Save the big praise for improvements or changes that required effort.

There’s no harm in the occasional comment about their ability to follow rules, but a focus on rule-keeping leads to little Pharisees. It bases their value in behavior rather than character. Focus instead on the choices they make to follow the rules even when it’s difficult. Look for demonstrations of strong character and for times when it was difficult to obey but they chose that more difficult route.

There’s also nothing wrong with mentioning their completed chores or other tasks, but emphasize consistency or exceptional attention to the work. Use comments like, “I’ve noticed that you made up your bed every day this week without being reminded.” or “Your bed-making skills have really improved over the last few months.” This type of praise emphasizes improvement and character rather than reducing the praise to a checklist.

In our home, I have to remind the kids to practice their instruments every day, so I don’t praise them for doing it. I will praise one when I tell him to go practice and he does it immediately. I will praise another for improvements in skill level. I’m looking forward to the day when they practice without prompting!

Obedience must be the expectation not the exception.

Let me repeat the exception to this praise policy: When the child has struggled to keep a certain rule or meet a certain expectation or when he/she is learning a new task. In those cases, be quick to praise and recognize even the smallest success!

A person is praised according to their prudence… -Proverbs 12:8a

2 Ways to use praise for maximum impact in #IntentionalParenting. (click to share on twitter)

Come back next week for some thoughts on talking with our kids about their failures. In the mean time, how have you used praise effectively in parenting?

Update 5.11.16: I just read this great, science-backed article on how we phrase praise! Perfect timing.

Update 7.20.16: This discussion/excerpt of The Examined Life by  Stephen Grosz contributes a wealth of observation to our discussion. Think I’m going to read the whole book…

 

Reflections on Sunday School Songs: Deep and Wide

I base this series on the principle that God still has something to teach us in everything we encounter, even the simple Sunday morning songs of our childhood. I must confess, however, that this particular song is difficult for me.

You see, when I was a child, we sang subsequent verses in which we substituted “mmm” for “deep” (verse 2), then for “deep” and “wide” (verse 3). Anyway, “mmm and mmm” quickly became “m&ms” so that our imaginary fountains flowed with m&m candies! With so little context in the song, we had nothing to bring us back to reality. So just try not to think about that as we reflect on the deeper…or maybe the wider (sorry—couldn’t help it)…meaning of this song.

Deep and wide,
Deep and wide,
There’s a fountain flowing deep and wide.

A fountain of what? A fountain of God’s love.

I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ. – Ephesians 3:17b-18

Deep and Wide
Indian Ocean sunrise  (c) Carole Sparks

Try praying this very specifically for each of your children. Substitute that child’s name for “you” and substitute “our family” for “the Lord’s holy people.” Then pause with each adjective to reflect on the extent of it. If you’re with your child, ask him or her, otherwise think about the width of an ocean, the length of train tracks across the country, the height of the redwoods in California, the depth of the Mariana Trench…and we haven’t even escaped the atmosphere!

Remember that sweet, simple children’s book, Guess How Much I Love You? In the end, the parent and young child “discover that love is not an easy thing to measure.” That’s why Paul couldn’t really quantify Jesus’ love for us.

Paul wasn’t alone.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him. – Psalm 103:11 (emphasis added)

Can you fathom the mysteries of God? Can you probe the limits of the Almighty? They are higher than the heavens above—what can you do? They are deeper than the depths below—what can you know? Their measure is longer than the earth and wider than the sea. –Job 11:7-9 (emphasis added)

Deep and wide,
Deep and wide,
There’s a fountain flowing deep and wide.

And it’s a fountain! Just after the Psalmist says, “Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens” (Psalm 36:5) and “How priceless is your unfailing love, O God!” (Psalm 36:7), he continues, “For with you is the fountain of life” (36:9). This fountain of love gives us life!

Deep and Wide: This fountain of love gives us life! (click to tweet)

When I imagine a fountain, its source is hidden but never-failing. I don’t know where the water comes from or where it goes. And although my logical mind knows you can turn off a fountain, they somehow feel eternal. It’s more like a geyser, really…like Old Faithful: reliable yet mysterious, abundant yet veiled, drenching us in blessings.

The New Testament image of a spring fits our song’s “fountain.” In fact, different versions of the Bible interchange these words.

Jesus said, “Whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” –John 4:14

He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.” –Revelation 21:6

So if or when you sing this song with your kids, think about the enormity and constancy of God’s love for each of us, and try not to start craving m&ms.

 

Attribution: According to about fifteen minutes of internet research in which I found *this* and *this*, Deep and Wide was written by Sydney Cox in the first half of the 1900s. I found no copyright claims/issues.

 

Previously in this series:

This Little Light of Mine

The B-I-B-L-E

Still to come:

Zacchaeus

Jesus Loves the Little Children

I’ve Got the Joy, Joy…

Father Abraham

The Wise Man and the Foolish Man

 

Getting Beyond “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep”

We all crowded onto the bed and bowed our heads. Some of us didn’t close our eyes. (Okay, that was me. I rarely close my eyes to pray. There are reasons, but I won’t get into them here.) Starting with the youngest, we began our bedtime prayers. The words were exactly the same as the night before, and the night before that, and the night before that. And it wasn’t only the youngest. Even I, so very aware of how rote this time had become, found myself praying essentially the same thing as every other night.

Maybe you’ve been there, too. By the time they were three years old, we had moved beyond the memorized prayers such as, “God is great, God is good…”. Or we thought we had. In reality, we simply made our own recitations. At the table, it’s “Thank you, God, for food, friends, and family. Amen.” While I appreciate the brevity of such a blessing (because I don’t like my dinner to get cold), I reject the flippancy of it…the way we hardly get our eyes closed before we pick up our forks. At bedtime, I’ve actually heard the children pray each other’s prayers or repeat their Dad’s habitual words.

What I’m looking for is sincerity, a sense that they (and I) experience authentic gratitude for the blessings of this particular day and confidence in God’s sovereignty over tomorrow. With sincerity in mind, I’m going to try these four questions before we crowd onto the bed tonight. (For my English grammar friends, please forgive the dangling prepositions. I was trying to write like people talk.)

What did you do/think/say today that you know God is proud of?

We often (rightly) focus on confession in prayer, but our kids can encourage themselves by recounting spiritual successes from the day. It’s easy to overlook God’s support in the small things, and remembering a few will help our children see that God is not only interested but intimately involved in their lives. It might be not saying something ugly to a classmate. It might be remembering a Bible verse on the bus. It might be choosing obedience rather than complaining.

What are you proud of?

There is absolutely nothing wrong with our children acknowledging their skills. If it’s beating a classmate in a foot race or making 100 on a spelling test, these small celebrations deserve our attention. By framing them in the context of prayer, we correctly attribute these seemingly “worldly” successes to God, who gave us the abilities/talents/skills to do these things.

What do you need to ask forgiveness for?

When we take a minute to reflect on the times when we disappointed God or hurt another person, we learn from those situations. We can acknowledge them, assure forgiveness, and move on in right relationship with God and our family members. The mere act of confession prompts spiritual growth.

What do you need help/guidance/strength to do tomorrow?

Not “Help me be a better Christian,” but real situations that need God’s clear hand. Push your kids to be specific here. By recognizing their need for God’s help, our children will quickly grow to depend on Him. Plus, they are planting the seeds for tomorrow’s prayer of gratitude. PARENTING BONUS: we hear where they need support through the day tomorrow, and we can bless them by following through in prayer and gentle accountability.

By taking a few minutes to reflect on our days before we bow our heads, we can convert our memorized prayers into authentic conversations that bless the Giver of All Good Things and bring us more fully into His presence.

Authentic conversations with God will replace rote prayers by reflecting on your day first. (click to tweet)

Have you found yourself in a similar situation? How did you move out of habitual prayers with your children? I’d love to hear your comments below.

 

For Valentine’s Day: 5 Best Marriage Books

Perhaps I’m just not romantic. I don’t really like little chocolate bites packaged in heart-shaped boxes, and cut flowers often make me sneeze. Also, to wax philosophical for a moment, romantic infatuation is like both these gifts: pleasant for a short while, but then withering or becoming a burden (as chocolate does on my thighs!). Okay, that last sentence confirms it; I am not a romantic person. So when I say that I would be thrilled to receive a book for Valentine’s Day, you understand part of the reason why.

This is a parenting blog, not a love and marriage blog, so why, you ask, am I talking about Valentine’s Day? As we’ve heard so many times, the best thing you can do for your children is to love your spouse. So in recognition of Valentine’s Day, I offer the five best books that I’ve read on marriage. There may be better books out there, but I haven’t read them…yet. This year, why not invest in the long-term health of your marriage in addition to (or rather than) spending your money and attention on things that last only a few days? No matter how good your marriage is now, bless your spouse with your desire to strengthen it; what could be more romantic than that? Read one of these books together, prayerfully heed its advice, and watch your marriage blossom like no cut flower ever will!

The stage-of-life recommendations are just for fun, or if you don’t know where to start. Don’t take them too seriously.

Newlyweds: For Women Only and For Men Only by Shaunti Feldhahn and Jeff Feldhahn

“What You Need to Know About the Inner Lives of Men” and “A Straightforward Guide to the Inner Lives of Women”

These short books make great engagement or wedding gifts. They are easy to read, down-to-earth, and packed with truth. Based on the premise that there are many things we don’t know about the opposite gender, the Feldhahns straightforwardly shed light on all those dark areas. Sit beside your spouse as you both read silently. You will interrupt each other frequently with questions that start, “Do you really…?”

Near your first anniversary: The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman

“The Secret to Love that Lasts”

You’ve probably heard of this. Don’t let its popularity turn you off (as I tend to do with books). This book helps you remember love is not about what you get but about what you give. Sometimes, the actions your heart translates as love don’t mean the same to your spouse. Chapman helps you know how to show love to your spouse in the way that he or she best receives it. **Bonus: Love languages don’t just apply to spouses. This book helped me understand how to love and receive love involving other family members (particularly in-laws) as well! The 5 Love Languages for Children is also excellent.

After five years: Love & Respect by Emerson Eggerichs

“The Love She Most Desires; the Respect He Desperately Needs”

I suggest this later in marriage mostly because it’s a longer book, but also, it digs more deeply into our heart needs as men and women. This book will mean more to you after you’ve been to that point when you just don’t know what’s missing , when you’re trying hard to honor God but feeling frustrated in your marriage. It helps to read Eggerichs’ book alongside Bible passages about marriage and let the Lord convict you where you need it, based on your own positive and negative experiences in your marriage. I recommend it because, like with 5 Love Languages, we often assume that our spouses’ needs are similar to ours when, in actuality, they are very different.

Ten years and beyond: The Meaning of Marriage – Timothy & Kathy Keller

“Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God”

We picked up this book because of our respect for Tim Keller. I should have known his wife would be equally delightful…and deep. Through personal stories and extensive Biblical application, the Kellers boldly declare that, in order to have a fulfilling marriage, you have to take self out of the equation. At its best moments, this book feels like a long conversation with an older, more experienced couple. You’ll benefit from this one the most when you’ve been married long enough to have some stories of your own to lay beside the Kellers’ stories. If you’re in professional ministry (pastor, etc.), this one should be at the top of your list!

Ten years and beyond: Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas

“What If God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More Than to Make Us Happy?”

This and The Meaning of Marriage approach the same summit from different routes: that God’s plan for marriage was never about personal satisfaction or happiness. Besides serving as a vehicle for His glory, life with a spouse refines you unlike any other relationship. This book is profound. If you’re willing to internalize Thomas’ wisdom, you’ll find every aspect of your life changed—even the ones you didn’t think were related to marriage.

If you can’t scratch out the time to read a whole book, try one of these excellent blog posts to strengthen your marriage:

What book or blog post would you add to the list? I have You and Me Forever by Francis and Lisa Chan on my TBR. Let everyone know in the comments below.

 

How Are You Smart?

My friend, Dr. Chester Goad, writes and speaks on “leadership, learning, and life.” A couple of months ago, I reposted an article of his, which you can see *here*. Then last week, he gave me the privilege of writing a guest piece for his website.

In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul wrote about the different gifts in the church, emphasizing the fact that all are not just necessary, but equal in some ways. The same concept applies to classrooms, boardrooms, and living rooms. When we recognize different natural talents or “kinds of smart,” it helps us value individuals who are different from ourselves so that we can move toward working together.

Anyway, it starts like this…

Before my children knew the real “s-word”, we had another s-word at our house: stupid. We simply didn’t use it. One may be ignorant about a certain subject—nothing wrong with that. One may do foolish things when one isn’t thinking, but stupid? There is no redemptive reason to use that word. Instead, we focused on the different kinds of smart. Although there are more specific words, smart fit my children’s level of understanding at the time…and it stuck.

Every human being has natural talents that, with training, become high-functioning skill sets. When you base your view of humanity on this assumption, you no longer have smart people and dumb people, bright people and dull people. You simply have people—lots of different people…

Head over to Chester’s website to see the rest!