Wifey Wednesday: Are Boundaries Biblical?

Setting Healthy Boundaries is BiblicalSetting healthy boundaries: Is that biblical? Or is it modern psychology given a Christian-sounding twist?

That’s a question that’s been asked a lot on this blog lately when I’ve talked about the importance of setting healthy boundaries in marriage and in our extended families. I’ve had several commenters say that boundaries are not biblical, a position that I find a little bit strange. If boundaries aren’t biblical, what is the alternative?

This is the launch week for my book To Love, Honor and Vacuum (the revised & expanded edition), and in it I talk at length about the importance of maintaining healthy boundaries. And so I thought today it might be worth going over why boundaries are so crucial in our relationships.

Boundaries tell us what is our responsibility and what is someone else’s responsibility

Here’s Galatians 6:2-7, which talks about boundaries:

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load. Nevertheless, the one who receives instruction in the word should share all good things with their instructor. Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.

We’re supposed to carry each other’s burdens, but we’re also supposed to carry our own loads. Think of a load as something which is manageable–your daily to-do list. But when something out of the blue hits someone that they can’t handle themselves, then we’re supposed to help them. We aren’t supposed to carry each other’s loads–only their burdens. And you won’t be able to help someone with their burdens if you’re simultaneously trying to carry your family’s loads.

Here’s something else about boundaries: we’re not supposed to compare ourselves to others, and we’re not supposed to worry about other’s opinions. We need to test our own actions, and only rely on God. And finally, and perhaps most importantly,

A man reaps what he sows.

God set up the world so that our actions have consequences, and we are supposed to bear those consequences. If you take responsibility for things that aren’t yours–by not having boundaries, for instance–you put a roadblock into one of God’s best teaching instruments He has for His children. Let’s say your husband is prone to rages. He’s sowing discord and anger. But if you and the kids walk on tiptoes around him, trying to placate him, and then when he does yell, you apologize and try to repair the relationship, you’re the ones who are reaping that discord, not him.

TLHV New FB AdWe aren’t to carry each other’s loads, and we’re supposed to let people bear the consequences of their actions. We are each responsible for our own stuff.

Boundaries tell us our limits

In Exodus 18:14-23, we read this interaction between Moses and his father-in-law Jethro:

14 When his father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he said, “What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?”

15 Moses answered him, “Because the people come to me to seek God’s will. 16 Whenever they have a dispute, it is brought to me, and I decide between the parties and inform them of God’s decrees and instructions.”

17 Moses’ father-in-law replied, “What you are doing is not good. 18 You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone. 19 Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you. You must be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to him. 20 Teach them his decrees and instructions, and show them the way they are to live and how they are to behave. 21 But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain—and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. 22 Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you. 23 If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied.”

I love what Jethro says: “what you are doing is not good…You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out.” You cannot do everything.

Similarly, Jesus set limits on Himself. He didn’t heal everyone all the time; often He left areas where there were still people who needed His help because it was time to move to the next place. He carved out time to pray, away from His disciples, to spend time with God. He carved out time away from the masses, just with His disciples, to train and minister to them.

If Jesus had let His schedule be determined by what people needed Him to do rather than by what He was called to do and what He was able to do, His ministry would not have been as effective. He needed time alone to rejuvenate and time alone with God, and He took it. He knew that He couldn’t do everything–even if other people needed Him. He had His limits.

Boundaries show us where the moral line is

Boundaries are also necessary to show us where we have transgressed. Indeed, the word “trans-gression” literally means to “cross” a limit.

Moral boundaries allow us to make judgments about what is right and what is wrong. They let us say, “what you are doing is not right and we need to deal with it.”

If we have no moral boundaries–let’s say because we believe in a mistaken idea of submission where we must obey our husbands completely–then we will follow them into sin, or we will end up enabling sin. On the other hand, Matthew 18 clearly tells us that if someone sins against us (and that could be your husband, or your friend, or your mother), you’re supposed to go to them and tell them that they have crossed a boundary. If they refuse to repent, then you’re supposed to go and get one or two others involved. The Bible is clear that we don’t ignore moral transgressions of those close to us. We confront them and we urge them on to more godly behaviour. As James 5:19-20 and says,

19 My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, 20 remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

It is neither emotionally healthy nor moral to live without boundaries.

When we do that, we push ourselves too hard and often exhaust ourselves. We allow wrong behaviour to continue. And we enable people to act selfishly by becoming a cover for their actions.

When people join Al Anon, or the support groups for other family members of those suffering from other addictions, one of the first things they are told is that you can only change yourself, and you must not take responsibility for changing another person. But at the same time, you must also allow that other person to reap the natural consequences of their actions, or they will not have impetus to change. You must stop enabling bad behaviour.

To Love, Honor and VacuumAl Anon gets it–and they aren’t even Christian (though the founder was). Why is it that Christians now think that being a pushover, or letting others get away with wrong behaviour, is Christlike? It isn’t. In Romans 8:29, Paul wrote,

29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.

God’s will is that we look more and more like Christ.

And so I want to challenge you today: In your family, are your actions encouraging others to look more and more like Christ, or are they covering up and enabling others to look more and more unChristlike? If you aren’t setting healthy boundaries of responsibility, then it’s quite likely that others will be looking less and less like Christ, rather than more and more like Him.

That’s the message of To Love, Honor and Vacuum (the book), though it is of this blog, too! And if you’ve really struggled with this, I encourage you to check out the book, where I help you see how we can live out God’s design that all of us look more and more like Christ–not that we serve so much so that we give others cover to act poorly. And remember–the ebook version is just $2.99 until Sunday! So pick it up today.

Christian Marriage Advice

Reader Question: If My Mom has Alzheimer’s, Do I Have to Give Up My Life?

Reader Question of the WeekHere’s the situation: you have young kids. You’re really busy. And now your mom has Alzheimer’s (or someone else in your extended family does), and people need you to drop everything and run. Do you do it? And what if the situation persists–so that you have to give up your life? What do you do?

Every Monday I post a Reader Question and try to take a stab at answering it. Last week I linked to an older post about setting boundaries with parents, and a reader wrote in with this really tricky problem:

My mother-in-law has Alzheimer’s. My husband is one of 3 kids, and one of his siblings moved the mom in to his house. But they said that they’d look after her during the week, but on the weekends they want a break, so the other siblings have to care for her 24 hours every other weekend. I’m a stay at home mom; I could look after her during the week easier, but if I give up every other weekend, my family will hardly ever have any time together. We’ll only go to church together every other week, and the kids are really involved in church. We already have very little time. My husband thinks we should just do it, but I’m so afraid of losing my family. What do I do?

That’s a really tough situation, and there’s so much guilt involved. I’ve had other readers write in with similar problems. One reader had a sister-in-law with schizophrenia who lived in another city. She refused to sign any authorizations for the physicians to talk to her family about her condition or to have power of attorney. Yet every time she got into trouble and ended up in the hospital, my friend would have to drop everything and go to the rescue.

Here are just some general principles that I think need to guide us when we’re trying to decide thorny issues like these:

When your mom (or another relative) has Alzheimer's: Sorting our your responsibility to older relatives who need you.

1. Clarify: What Are Your Main Responsibilities?

Just because someone needs you does not mean that you have to meet that need. Lots of people have needs; the real question is:

What needs has God specifically assigned to you?

In most cases, those would include your children’s and your husband’s emotional, spiritual, and physical well-being. We also must honour and care for older parents. Any community that we are a part of, though, also does have the right to expect certain things that come from being part of a community. When friends, extended family, or our church family has a legitimate need, then we are to step in. As it says in Galatians 6:2,

Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.

So likely you have a hierarchy of those whose needs you are wholly or partly responsible for: your immediate family; your extended family; your friends; your church community. As the circle gets wider, then those responsibilities should be shared with more people. So while your own children have a high demand on you, and your parents have a demand on you, someone at church would be the responsibility of a wider number of people.

2. Clarify: Is this a Temporary Blip, or a Permanent Thing?

I once received a phone call from a panicked mom from my church. She had taken her child in to the doctor’s office that morning because he just didn’t seem “right”. The doctor sent the child for tests and within a few hours that little boy was admitted to the ICU with problems stemming from diabetes, which had not been diagnosed. She had to stay at the hospital with him.

But she also had kids arriving home from school, and she had no clothes for tomorrow, and her husband wouldn’t be home for a few hours.

I dropped everything, put some of the dinner I was making in a Tupperware container for the mom, headed over and picked up the kids from school, got them some pizza, left them with a friend, collected some clothes for the mom and the boy, and went to the hospital and delivered dinner and clothes–and a novel and a crossword puzzle book. I spent some time sitting with her and talking with her before coming home.

That was a temporary emergency, and I would hope that most of us would drop everything and run for that. But what my two readers are describing isn’t temporary; it’s something which will be a long-term responsibility. And that requires a different response.

3. Ask Yourself: What Am I Capable and Willing to Do While Still Fulfilling My Main Responsibilities?

The problem with decisions like this is that we have the wrong starting point.

We begin with: “My mother-in-law needs someone to care for her full-time, and there is no one else, so I’ll have to do it.” Or we say, “My sister needs someone to rescue her, and she has no friends or relatives except for me, so I’ll have to do it.”

We’re starting with the need.

If you do that, the need will suck you dry. And I do not believe that God wants you exhausted, and unable to tend to your main responsibilities (your kids). You can only do so much. He only gave you so much time, so much energy, and so much money. You need to be a wise steward of those things.

So instead, ask yourself: what am I capable, willing, and called to do?

BoundariesI believe that there are times where we are definitely called to sacrifice–especially for our parents. However, even this does have its limits. There are times when you just can’t do it all.

The woman with the mother-in-law with Alzheimer’s, for instance, is willing to do some work on the weekdays. She’s willing to give some weekends–just not every other weekend. And it’s okay to take a look at your life and say, “I’m able to do this much, but no more.” It’s called setting a boundary, or setting a limit, and the book Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend is excellent at explaining how to do this and showing how healthy boundaries are actually part of a healthy Christian life.

Sit down with your husband and say, “this is what I can do. I can give one day a week during the week, or one weekend a month. But that is all, because I think any more than that will exhaust me and harm our own family.”

He can choose to spend more of his time; that is his choice. But you are being clear about what you can do and still be emotionally healthy and able to raise your children well.

Here’s why it’s important to do this: Often until we say, “I cannot meet all of these needs,” we don’t find the solution that God actually wants for us. We throw ourselves totally into it and we make ourselves exhausted, but perhaps God had another option. Maybe you could pool your money and pay for a week of relief in a home every month. Maybe you could see if there’s a volunteer agency that could send him help once a week. Maybe there’s a government program she could qualify for. Maybe there are other friends who might be willing to help on a rotating basis if it was manageable, like once every two months. But you don’t start exploring these options until you say, “I can’t do this.”

4. Accept that Others May Not Be Happy

It’s messy to say no. Other family members get mad. Sometimes our spouse gets mad.

In this case, one family member has taken on a HUGE responsibility by having her live there, and it’s easy for that family member to turn around and say, “I’m doing all this, the least you can do is every other weekend.” Put like that, it does seem selfish to refuse.

But here’s the thing:

You never asked her to take the mom in to live full-time.

Part of having boundaries  is also letting other people have their own boundaries. This other family member needs to be told, “What you’re doing is wonderful, and we thank you for it. But we can only help this much. If that just isn’t enough, we would be happy to sit down with you and try to figure out a better solution, since it doesn’t seem as if we can do this.” Just because someone else has decided to give X amount does not mean that you are likewise required to give X amount. We are each solely responsible for our own choices.

Just because someone has a need does not mean you need to be the one to meet it. It means you need to run to God and pray and listen and wrestle and seek His calling for your life. It will be uncomfortable. And sometimes we are asked to sacrifice so that we can care for a relative. But the answer isn’t the same for each family, because each family has different schedules and different demands. So pray about it, and then draw a boundary. Say, “This is what I’m able to do. If that isn’t enough, I’m happy to throw my energy into finding another solution.”

There always is a solution that will not require you to burn yourself totally out, because I don’t think that’s God’s will for you. So seek it. Run after Him. And ask Him to show you and give you wisdom. Don’t let guilt make you do things that aren’t yours to do.

How to Reset a Bad Marriage Day

Today Crystal Brothers tells us how to hit reset on a bad marriage day. Being purposeful in hitting restart and forgiving is necessary some days, isn’t it?

Reset Bad Marriage

Even in the best of marriages, we all have those days. You know the one I’m talking about. You’re in a bad mood. Your hubby is in a bad mood. Everything he does is getting on your nerves, and vice versa. He didn’t do this right. You didn’t do that right.

Because we are imperfect humans, living in a fallen world, we’re going to have bad days.

The good thing is that we don’t have to accept it. With a little work, we can change the tone of a bad day.

1. Pray

And I don’t mean the kind of prayer that says, “Lord, my husband is driving me crazy.” Pray for your heart to change and soften toward him in that moment. Spend time praising God. It’s amazing how much things can change when we choose to focus on Him and not our bad day. Pray for God to bless your husband. It’s very difficult to be angry with someone while you are praying blessings over them.

2. Serve your husband.

I remember once my husband and I were having an argument around lunchtime. We’d raised our voices, and determined to be angry. I was huffing and puffing about it in the kitchen while making myself a sandwich for lunch and the Lord spoke to my heart–make him a sandwich instead.

I’ll get honest and tell you that I was not happy about this. My heart attitude did not change. I was slapping down bread, meat and cheese, and throwing around chips and pickles to go with it. I squirted on some mustard and slammed it back in the fridge. I was mad at my husband and mad that God was asking me to serve him in that moment.

But then my husband came into the kitchen. And I presented him with his sandwich. Even though my heart wasn’t where it should have been, the Lord blessed both my husband and myself through my obedience. And that small act of service toward him turned around our whole day. (Of course, I don’t recommend the terrible attitude! lol)

3. Be spontaneous.

Sometimes a change of scenery is all it takes to change the day around. Go for a walk. Go out for an unexpected family dessert date. While you’re at it, laugh a little! When someone’s having a grumpy day in our house, the rest of the family makes funny faces to see who can be the one that makes them laugh. Even something so simple and silly like this can turn around a bad day.

Yes, sometimes it’s hard to snap out of it and cheer up in the midst of a bad day. But the Bible tells us that “A cheerful heart is good medicine.” And sometimes, I think it’s the cure for a bad day as well. Take control of your emotions. For lots of ideas for free/cheap activities, check out my free date night printable. Lots of these can be done with no prior planning.

4. Meditate on scripture.

Find a scripture that speaks to you. One that encourages, inspires, and challenges you. One that reminds you the way you should treat your husband, and reminds you that the Lord is bigger than your problems and bad attitude. Read it, repeat it, memorize it–hide it in your heart! And when you need it on those tough days, the words will come back to you.

5. Make a list of reasons you love your spouse

You may not feel them all at that exact moment. But there are amazing things about your spouse that made you marry him. Don’t let one bad moment rob you of the joy in your marriage. Remember all the reasons you have to love him.

Above all, I think that having a great attitude about our marriage is one of those things we need to practice daily, so that we can fall back on that habit when tough times hit. In my book, Intentional Marriage, I share 31 Devotions and challenge to help you get into the daily habit of investing in your husband and your marriage.

Crystal BrothersCrystal Brothers blogs at Serving Joyfully, and is the author of Intentional Marriage: The Art of Loving Your Husband (A 31 Day Devotional). She and her husband have been married nearly 9 years and she homeschools their two rambunctious boys.

How do you overcome a bad day with your husband?

A Marriage Centered Family

Today guest author Amy Roberts of Raising Arrows shares great advice regarding prioritizing our marriage relationship, as the center of the home. Marriage before kids is the best way!

Marriage Before kids

As soon as I got married, I wanted kids. As soon as I had our first child, a year and a half later, I realized just how hard it was to be a parent. Then I started homeschooling. Then I had 7 more children! Next thing I knew I was neck-deep in obligations that were all 4½ feet and under!

It would have been easy…in fact, natural…to just disappear into motherhood.

Between morning sickness, diapers, schooling, and middle of the night feedings, my life seemed to revolve around these little people. Sure, my husband needed me, but he was an adult and not dependent on me the way they were. He could wait.

Or could he?

Let me ask you a question:

Do you have it in your head that once these intense mothering years are over, THEN you’ll have time for your spouse?

It’s not that you are speaking those word out loud, or even saying them in your head, but if you are always focused on the children and their needs, your actions are saying precisely that.

They are saying I’m too busy being a mom to be a wife. They are saying our marriage can wait. They are saying I don’t care about our relationship right now. They might even be saying, “You got me into this mess.”

We work hard at parenting. We agonize over decisions and behaviors. We research the “right way” to do everything from diapering to dating. But anytime there are issues in our marriage, we are quick to blame and slow to work at restoring our relationship. Our priorities are quite clear.

And quite off.

Our children need to see us working hard at being married.

They need to know what healthy adult relationships look like. They need a united authority and a stable homelife. The only way we can offer all of this is if we work to build a strong marriage where we remember what being a wife is like amongst the daily demands of being a mom.

Sometimes we need to put our husband’s needs above our children’s.

Sometimes we need to tell the children it is Mom and Dad time, and they need to wait.

Sometimes we need to implement schedules and routines that make the day less child-centered. (think bedtime routine here)

Sometimes we just need to take a moment to look into our husband’s eyes and remember how these children got here in the first place.

Don’t just let your marriage quietly crumble behind the scenes. You CAN be a good wife and a good mom. Working to build a strong marriage IS good parenting!

Amy RobertsAmy Roberts of RaisingArrows.net has been married 17 years to her high school sweetheart, Ty, and is blessed to be the homeschooling mother of 7 living children and one precious little girl named Emily being held in the Lord’s arms. As a conference speaker and author of several homeschooling and homemaking ebooks, including her newest release, Large Family Homeschooling, it is her deepest desire to encourage moms in the trenches to stay focused on what truly matters and live a life of abundant blessings in Christ. RaisingArrows.net A gentle voice. A firm resolve. An abundant homeschool life!

 

 

Fatherhood Material

Here’s a reprint from a few years ago that I think fits in really well with this week’s posts on 10 things I wish I knew before I got married and how to prepare for marriage–not just the wedding. Let’s talk today about what makes good fatherhood material.

Fatherhood MaterialIn the recently released movie Knocked Up, professional journalist Alison discovers she is pregnant from a drunken one-night stand with loser Ben. She doesn’t want to raise the child alone, so she chases Ben down and tries to turn him into fatherhood material. I think Alison’s onto something. Single parenthood is a rough road, and Alison knows that her baby will need a dad.

Unfortunately, Alison did everything backwards. She got into a relationship without realizing that this guy may end up being the father of her children. It’s better to make sure a guy will make a good dad before you wind up pregnant. For many young women, though, fatherhood material is the last thing on their minds. They’re looking for cool, popular, even a little dangerous, or simply someone to like them. None of those things ultimately holds up.

So to prepare for Father’s Day, I thought I’d explore what makes a guy a good catch.

My friend Richard, who has four daughters, has imprinted the following qualities into his girls’ heads, and they’re so good I wanted to share them with everybody.

Number one: a guy should be a Provider.

Now I know that sounds sexist and many of you are ready to line your birdcages with this paper right about now. But think about it: if you want to stay home with your kids, at least for a while, you need to be with someone who can pay the bills, not someone who will sponge off of you. That doesn’t mean he has to be rich! It simply means that the guy should have a good work ethic, should be motivated to find a job, and should take this responsibility seriously. It also means that he can’t have any major addictions that are going to keep him from working. Alcoholics, chronic drug users, or gamblers should be disqualified immediately. You’re relying on this man to help keep your family together, so choose well.

Next, he needs to be a Protector.

You’re giving him your heart; how is he going to treat it? Will he be faithful, or will he think only of himself? Will he be kind, or will be constantly berate you? And how does he treat your body? Does he value that, too, or does he pressure you into things you’d rather not do? That’s not real love, and that’s definitely grounds for dumping him before the relationship goes too far.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, he has to be a Pearl.

Don’t marry the grain of sand expecting that one day a pearl will emerge. Find the pearl first. Many of us women marry the sand—the potential that we see inside our guys. But what if that potential stays hidden forever? You can’t change someone, and it could be that your sandy guy actually likes his rough edges. If you want to marry a good guy, then only date good guys.

That may sound like a pretty tall order, but I think too many girls give up, figure such a thing isn’t possible, and date losers instead.

Treat yourself, and your future children, with more respect. Once you’re in a dysfunctional relationship, it’s much harder to get out, and, like Alison, you may find yourself tied to this guy forever. It’s better to be alone than with someone who will end up being bad for your kids. And ironically, the more we treat ourselves with respect, the more likely it is that we will start to attract these Pearls.

If we’re going to wait for the Pearl, though, we also have to make ourselves Pearls, too.

That means building a good life so we have something to contribute, and it means valuing the steady guy more than the dangerous guy who seems so cool. I don’t think such great men are as few and far between as we sometimes believe, and settling for less only hurts your future children. This Father’s Day, I’m teaching my kids to look for the Protector, the Provider, and the Pearl. They have a great example in their dad, so they have a leg up on other young women. But regardless of family background, a girl can ensure the next generation is stable and happy if she saves her heart for someone who truly deserves it. It’s worth the wait.

If you like Sheila’s social commentary, don’t miss Reality Check, the book! It’s chock full of her musings on where society is headed–and what we can do about it!

Christian Legalism Part 2: Good vs. Evil or Wise vs. Unwise?

Christian Legalism Part 2 Good vs. Evil or Wise vs Unwise

Last week I wrote a post against Christian legalism. I said that too often, especially on the internet, we create extra “rules” about what it means to be a Christian.

Lots of great feedback on the post, but in reading some of the comments I realized I need to explain this a little more, because some were missing my main point (perhaps because I could have made it better?). In that post, I was trying to argue that too often we take things that are negotiables, and try to make them sound like they’re non-negotiables. Should Christians wear tattoos, drink a glass of wine, put their kids in daycare, let kids go to public schools, wear bathing suits or listen to secular music? I argued that we really shouldn’t become legalistic about these things.

Some people were saying, though, that as we know Christ, we do become holier, and so saying that these things don’t matter is wrong. I completely agree with the doctrine of sanctification (that the Holy Spirit makes us more Christ-like once we are Christians). I certainly didn’t mean to imply that Christians should be able to do absolutely anything because of grace.

What I wanted to do was to contrast things that are part of our moral code with things that are part of our cultural code. I was talking about cultural things; some people thought that implied that I didn’t think there was a moral code. I absolutely do; I just don’t think it’s the same thing as our cultural code. So let’s look into that a bit more today to get a fuller picture of what kind of legalism we need to steer clear of–and what rules we need to definitely obey. Here are a few key points:

1. Many of the prescriptions in the Bible were based on the culture at the time

Both the Old Testament and New Testament are filled with two basic different kinds of laws: Cultural edicts and Moral edicts (the Old Testament also had civil edicts, like how the temple was to be built and how ceremonies were to be performed, but let’s just stick with these two for a moment). The moral edicts are obvious: The 10 commandments encapsulates them perfectly. When the New Testament talks about “The Law”, it tends to be referring to these moral codes. They’re repeated over and over again in the New Testament; for instance, in Galatians 5:19-21, Paul writes this:

The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

These are moral laws, and they didn’t go extinct when Jesus came to give us a “new covenant”. They define what it is to love God.

However, the Old Testament also has some cultural laws, like Leviticus 19:19:

Keep my decrees. “‘Do not mate different kinds of animals. “‘Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed. “‘Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.”

We don’t need to follow these laws to the letter anymore, but we do need to figure out the reason for them. And the reason was to demonstrate God’s absolute holiness. Most of God’s cultural and civic laws in the Old Testament were visual representations and object lessons about who God was. And God is pure and holy, just as we should aim to be pure and holy. The application of this verse today does not mean you can’t plant basil plants near your tomatoes to ward off bugs, or you can’t wear a cotton/poly blend; it means that there can be no excuse for sin because God is holy.

There are similar edicts in the New Testament. For instance, Paul talks about how slaves should act. That doesn’t mean Paul condoned slavery; it means that in their culture, this is how you should glorify Jesus. Paul said you shouldn’t wear braided hair. That didn’t mean that Paul had something against Laura Ingalls; it meant that at the time, braids equated with temple prostitution, and women should try to not look like street walkers. That’s the REASON behind the edict. The reason is still relevant; the cultural expression of it is not.

2. Not Every Bible Story is an Example We are to Follow

The Bible is the story of how God speaks to and works in very imperfect people. It is not a story of people who have all their stuff together.

With the exception of Ruth and Boaz, I can’t think of a single marriage in the Old Testament that we would want to emulate. And yet I don’t know how many times I have heard people say, “Rebecca and Isaac are a beautiful example of courtship. We should do that, too!”

Rebecca and Isaac had a horrible example of a marriage. The only thing we know about their married life is that they were both far too emotionally invested in one of their sons, and they weren’t a unit. They were each closer to one son than they were to each other. Rebecca encouraged her son to manipulate his father. That’s not an intimate marriage.

David was a polygamist who was a terrible father. He allowed his kids to run rampant and never punished them; and he allowed his daughter to be raped with no consequences.

Esther and the king is not a love story, and Mordechai is not a hero. Mordechai sold his niece to a harem. There’s a word for that, but I won’t print it here.

Esther herself was chosen to be the new queen after spending a night with the king. I don’t think we should whitewash what must have been done during that night.

But here’s the thing: just because these Bible characters were flawed does not mean that our faith is flawed. On the contrary: God worked through these circumstances. Through Esther God saved His people.

There is no need to see these Bible characters as perfect, because how people behave does not reflect on God. God is God. And yet by twisting ourselves into knots trying to make these stories look Disney-worthy, we forget that the interplay between God and culture has always been messy. No culture has ever lived out God’s edicts perfectly, even those cultures from biblical times. And that’s why the point is not to create the perfect culture; the point is to honour God within the culture that we are.

We don’t need to bring back the Old Testament times, or the 1800s, or the 1950s. We don’t need to bring them back in terms of dress, or language, or family style, or anything. We just need to worship God authentically today.

Some religions do treat Scripture as if the prophets of old could not have done anything wrong, and thus we must emulate everything they did. The problem with seeing prophets like this is that you get stuck in the past. If you must emulate what they did, then you must perpetuate the culture. We’re not supposed to perpetuate the culture; we’re supposed to worship God.

3. There is a Difference Between Good vs. Evil and Wise vs. Unwise

All of this leads me to my main point, which is this:

When we’re talking about universal moral laws, we’re talking about good vs. evil. When we’re talking primarily about cultural expressions of Christianity, we’re talking wise vs. unwise.

There is no doubt that sex outside of marriage is wrong. There is no doubt that lying is wrong. There is no doubt that greed is wrong. But drinking a glass of wine (not drunkenness; just having a glass of wine)? That one is a cultural choice. And that falls under the category of wise vs. unwise.

It is fine for people to have disagreements about what is wise vs. what is unwise. As Christians, we are to wrestle with the cultural expression of our own salvation, and that means that we will have to make choices about what we will or won’t do.

But let’s not elevate cultural expressions to moral laws. It would have been culturally wrong to wear a modern bathing suit in 1890; in most places in North America today it would not be. The culture has changed. So the question is: how do we honour God in the culture we are in, not how do we bring our culture back to some previous ideal (which was likely never that ideal in the first place).

4. If You Can’t Name the Reason, You’re Likely Being Legalistic

A final point: God didn’t just say “Thou shalt not do X” for His own pleasure, to see us squirm. He made His laws to be intrinsically consistent and to fit with Truth–because He is Truth. This, by the way, is something that distinguishes Christianity from Islam or other religions. In Christianity, God limits Himself. He cannot lie, and He cannot change. What He says, then, must be consistent. In Islam, God can do whatever he wants and he isn’t limited. That means that God is ultimately not as knowable–and the world isn’t as knowable either, because his creation doesn’t need to be as consistent and doesn’t need to make sense. But that’s the subject of another post.

Therefore, if God orders something, there is a reason behind it. And we do far better if we articulate that reason than if we just say, “Because God said so.” For instance, when I argue why we should wait for marriage for sex, my primary argument is not “because the Bible says so”. I explain why this edict makes sense–because all of God’s edicts do.

If you cannot name the reason behind something, but are simply pulling out Bible verses, then it could be that you are relying on a cultural interpretation rather than the Spirit behind it. And so that’s the litmus test that I use: if my main reason for saying something is a rule is “because God says so”, I likely haven’t studied Scripture or prayed enough about it. If it is important, God will also reveal the reason.

So that’s a wrap up to what I said last week. I know many will disagree, but I worry about the tendency I see in online communities to try to recreate the 1880s, down to how women dress, how we court, what we eat, or what we listen to. This is not the 1880s; this is the 2010s. And people today desperately need to know Jesus. They need to know The Truth, which is timeless, not the cultural expressions, which are not. Are we prepared to give up our cherished culture, or would we rather stay where it’s safe, where there are rules that show us that we’re “in”, and where we can feel secure?

10 Ways to Make Your Birthday Meaningful

Top Ten“It’s my birthday! Now what?”

Ever felt like that? You want your birthday to be special and meaningful, but sometimes it can be a bit of a letdown. You had expectations of what other people would do for you, and those expectations didn’t always come to pass.

My birthday was on Sunday, and I had a great day! Perhaps more importantly, though, I have other things that I’m putting into place to make sure that the year ahead of me starts out on solid footing. So I’d like to share with you today, on Top 10 Tuesday, 10 things you can do to make your own birthday special and meaningful.

These include a few ways to make sure you enjoy your actual birthday, but also several ideas about how to use your birthday as a springboard for taking stock of your life and making sure that you’re on the right path.

Remember our Top 10 Tuesday philosophy: you don’t have to do all 10 things! Find 1-3 ideas that really speak to you, and put them into practice! That’s the way to make your life better: read a bunch of things, but then actually DO the few that you know would make the most difference in your life.

So here we go: 10 Ways to avoid the “It’s my Birthday!” disappointment, and start your new year right instead:

It's My Birthday! 10 Ways to Make Your Birthday Meaningful

Make the Day Fun for You

1. Plan Your Own Day

If you have certain things you want to do, or certain presents that you want, tell your family. If it’s vitally important to you, then don’t take the risk that it won’t come to pass. My husband is relieved when I tell him exactly what I want for my birthday or exactly what I’d like him to do, because then he doesn’t have to plan it or risk choosing the wrong thing.

Doesn’t that make it less romantic or less special?

Perhaps. But I’d rather have the guarantee that we’ll do what I actually want to do! If you don’t have a clue what you want to do, or if you have a family member who is really good at thinking up the most fun surprises, then by all means just go with it. But if you have something specific you’d like, let them know. Don’t expect them to mind read.

2. Get Outside

Think back to your most meaningful memories over your life. How many of them are spent inside, in front of a screen? Likely few. How many of them are spent outside in nature, or in a car heading somewhere special, or browsing through new shops? Probably many more. We remember things that are special.

So try to get out of the house on your birthday and do something special! Explore a quaint little town near where you live with some friends. Take your children to a special park and giggle with them. Visit a zoo.

3. Let Yourself Splurge on One Thing

Have you been depriving yourself of something? Maybe you’ve cut out all chocolate, or you’ve cut out coffee, or you’ve cut out pop. Maybe you haven’t let yourself read a novel for a while because you have too much to do.

Let your birthday be the one day a year when you’re allowed to partake in ONE thing that you’ve been saying no to. Obviously this won’t work if it’s a major addiction to something bad, like alcohol or smoking, but sometimes this can work wonders! I told myself when I quit Diet Pepsi in December that I could have as many as I wanted once a year–on my birthday. So at 6:30 a.m. on my birthday I cracked open a Diet Pepsi for the first time in 6 months–and found out I hated it. I’ve been craving it for months, and now I think that craving is over because my tastes have changed. So I’m glad I tried.

But knowing that I could have some once a year made it easier to give it up. I wasn’t saying “never again”, after all!

Take Stock of Your Health

Every year, on your birthday, you’re supposed to change the batteries in your smoke detector. In my neck of the woods they’ve been trying to push this as a new habit for years, and it does make sense. We never forget our birthdays; if we think of birthdays as a time to change those batteries, they’re more likely to get changed.

So why not think of birthdays as a time to take stock of your health, too?

4. Make Sure You’re Healthy–or Do what the Doctor Says

This time last year I had a blood test requisition hanging on my fridge door. I had been to the doctor in April, and she had said I should probably get some blood work done. But I had two issues with that: I figured I was perfectly healthy, and besides that, who likes needles?

That requisition sat there, until finally, last November, after almost collapsing from exhaustion after a speaking engagement, it occurred to me that there might actually be something wrong. I went, and discovered I was severely anaemic. And now I think I’m on the road back to health.

If I had just gone and had that test this time last year, my blood levels would probably only have been slightly low, and I could have avoided a lot of misery this year.

My mother had breast cancer at 43. I’ve been going for yearly mammograms for over a decade now.

I’d like to be here for my grandkids, and I’d like to grow old with my husband, but that means taking care of my body now. Let each birthday be a reminder to you to check in with the doctor, and make sure everything is okay.

5. Check Your Weight–and Your Measurements

I know this doesn’t sound like fun, but making a birthday meaningful isn’t just about having a pile of fun. It’s also a reminder that life is fleeting, and we want to be able to enjoy it and serve with purpose for as long as we can. I make it a point to check my weight and my measurements (waistline, hip measurement, etc) every birthday, just so I get a sense of where things are going. I’m perfectly at peace with getting a little bit bigger. That’s part of aging. But I’m not at peace with growing by 10 pounds a year, because if we do that every year, suddenly we’re up 100 pounds in a decade.

Making sure I have something to measure against every year is helpful. I have a special notebook for that, and I just pull it out every year to look at the direction I’m going. That way I know if a course correction is urgent, or if I’m doing well.

Take Stock of Your Purpose

Birthdays are great times to reflect on the year that has past and get inspiration for the year ahead. Here are some of the things I’m thinking about:

6. What’s Your “One Word” for the Year Ahead?

Have you heard of the “one word” challenge? People pray for one word that encapsulates what they want to work on this year.

I definitely know my one word for the next year. It’s PASSION. I’ve felt lately that I need more passion in my life: passion for God, passion for nature, passion for my husband, passion for my family. I’ve been living my life lately too much by rote, pushing myself to do what needs to get done, and I’ve forgotten how to be passionate about it.

Now that my health is getting better, I want to find that passion again in all areas of my life.

When you think of what God is trying to teach you, what word comes to mind? Pray that God will give you a new word.

7. What’s Your “One Song” for the Year Ahead?

I also ask God to give me a song. I don’t want to share all the details here, but God so often confirms things to me through certain songs being sung at key times. And so I often ask Him–what’s the song that you’ll speak to me with this year?

Last’s year’s song for me was “Enough”, originally written by Chris Tomlin. Here are the Barlow Girls singing it:

And guess what song was sung at church on my birthday? That was a cool God moment.

So I’m asking God for a new song this year, one that I will listen to everyday, and sing in the shower, and meditate on. I don’t know what it is yet, but I’m asking!

8. What’s Your Verse for the Year Ahead?

Last year the verse that kept coming back to me, over and over again, was Philippians 4:13:

I can do everything through Christ who strengthens me.

Perhaps it was because I was so tired, but I needed that verse.

This year I’m asking God for a different one, one that will help me orient and keep my eyes focused on His purposes for me this year. And when will I get that verse?

9. Plan a Yearly Retreat

I know my “one word”, but I don’t know my verse and I don’t know my song. How am I going to figure them out? I’m planning on taking a weekend by myself to pray through decisions I need to make, relationships, and work. I’m bringing some heavy duty planners so I can look at all my responsibilities and ask, “do I want to keep doing this particular thing?” I’m going to figure out where I’m too busy, what I need to cut, and what I need to add (I haven’t been knitting enough lately. For my own mental health, I need to knit more!).

I have the luxury of being able to go away for a weekend because my children are older now. If you still have little ones at home, maybe this sounds like a fun activity for your birthday? Gather all your planners and go to Starbucks, or better still, pick up some snacks and head somewhere outside. Get some extended peace and quiet by yourself so that you can plan, focus, and clarify.

I can’t do my retreat on my birthday. My book 9 Thoughts That Will Change Your Marriage is due at the publisher June 20, so I’m frantically editing until then. But I’ve already set the date and put it in my calendar.

Take Stock of Your Relationships

10. Thank Your Family, or Make Amends

You’re getting older. And over this last year you’ve either grown closer to your family members or grown further apart–or perhaps a combination.

It’s a good time to think about the key relationship changes you’ve had this year. Have you had a particularly difficult year with a sister? Have you reconciled with a mother? Have you been sharp and critical with your husband?

Pray about it, and if God brings someone to mind, write a letter or arrange a special date to either make amends or say thank you. Personally, when I need to say thank you, I like doing it in a letter so people can have it as a keepsake. When I need to apologize, I like doing it in person, face to face. Don’t start a new year without making your relationships right.

I know we don’t tend to think about these things as “birthday” issues, but then, changing the batteries in  your fire alarm aren’t birthday issues, either. Yet it needs to be done, and I believe all of these things need to be done, too. If we can start seeing birthdays as a time to take stock and make sure that we’re heading in the right direction, then I think birthdays can be a source of inspiration, energy, and peace for us, rather than a day of expectations that everyone else has to do everything right.

I’m planning my Retreat right now. I hope that you all can take advantage of your birthday, too, so the passing of another year can actually be something meaningful!

4 Ways to Boost Your Health–and Your Marriage!

Today’s guest post is from Gaye at Calm. Healthy. Sexy–who wants to share with us how healthy can be sexy! I know usually on Tuesdays I do top 10 posts, but I thought we could handle just four points for today, since they’re all great! So here are 4 ways to boost your health–and your marriage!

Boost your health & marriageYou possess an amazing power.  Did you know that?  All women possess this power, although many aren’t aware of it.  Don’t worry – it’s not a weird “magic” sort of power.  It’s simply this – the power to improve your health, and at the same time to strengthen your marriage.  Many of the health problems we experience are tied to our habits – the choices we make in our lives, day in and day out.  Fatigue, irritability, and low energy, as well as serious condition like diabetes, high blood pressure and cancer, are closely linked to those daily habits and choices.  Our “power,” though, is that we can improve things like our energy and vitality and reduce our risk of getting sick, simply by making different choices and establishing new ways of doing things.  Here are 4 habits that can unleash your power to improve your health, while creating additional benefits for your marriage.

 4 Ways to Boost Your Health–and Your Marriage!

 1. Move your body every day.  My #1 health tip for women is to get up and move your body every day.  Some of that movement (4 or 5 times a week) should be exercise – 30 minutes or so of planned activity that raises your heart rate and breaks a bit of a sweat.  And some of it should simply be moving your body throughout the day – getting up from your desk, off the couch and out of the car and just moving.  That combination – planned exercise plus regular movement – provides tremendous benefits, including increased energy, reduced stress, better sleep, and decreased risk of diabetes, heart disease and cancer.  You don’t have to go to a gym – instead, find ways to incorporate exercise and movement into your day.  Walk at lunch, walk while the kids practice soccer, dance with your husband, exercise with a DVD, or ride bikes as a family – anything that gets you up and moving.

Marriage Benefit – Regular exercise helps you look and feel better.  It helps you take charge of your body, rather than feeling like pregnancy, breastfeeding, childrearing and aging have taken charge and are ruining it!  All of these things build confidence, which can benefit all areas of your marriage, especially sex and intimacy.  Plus, exercising with your husband creates a bond and a shared interest.  My husband and I have walked and talked while our boys rode bikes, while they played at the playground, and before, during and after their soccer games.  (Now if I could just get him to try dancing!)

 

2. Feed your body well.  Our bodies operate best when we feed them real, whole foods.  They need fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes, and protein (dairy, fish, meat, or eggs).  They don’t need much added sugar or added chemicals, or any artificial fats. Processed foods, which contain many of those ingredients, contribute to obesity, diabetes and heart disease, and they don’t provide the kind of energy most women need to get through their busy days.  In fact, they can make you feel “weighed down,” rather than energized and ready to go.  So begin adding more real foods to your family’s diet, and gradually begin cutting down on processed foods.  Serve fruits as snacks, add an additional vegetable to each meal, make some of your own sweets and treats, add fruits and vegetables to smoothies, and use your Crockpot to make “fast food.”

Marriage Benefit – Eating well helps you and your husband look and feel your best.  It can help both of you lose weight.  Perhaps most important, a healthful diet plays a key role in preventing “lifestyle diseases,” like diabetes and high blood pressure, both of which create worry and stress and can impair sexual performance.  You want to grow old together, and the best way to enjoy your life now and in your later years is to do everything you can to stay healthy.

 

3. Control your family’s schedule.  “Wait a minute,” you may be thinking, “that’s not a health habit.”  Maybe not directly, but your family’s schedule plays a major role in your health, peace of mind and marriage.  Many families are on the go all day, every day.  They’re running from one activity to another – only to collapse into bed at the end of the day and do it all over the next day.  When that happens, there’s little or no time for relaxing, exercising, cooking real food, enjoying family meals, managing stress or simply enjoying life.  Controlling your family’s schedule can help you change that.  The basic idea is simple in concept but difficult in practice – you and your husband control your family’s activities, rather than letting them control you.  Doing so may mean making some tough decisions.  One of the toughest may be that you decide to cut, cancel or streamline some of your children’s activities.  Or maybe you have difficulty saying “no,” and need to unload some of your own commitments.  Either way, bringing your schedule under control will free up time for taking care of your health and mental health and simply enjoying your life as a family.

Marriage Benefit – Controlling your family’s schedule can free up time for you and your husband to focus on each other and your marriage, which is good.  It also allows you to establish your marriage (not your children’s activities) as the focal point of your family, which is great for the two of you and for your children.

 

4. Make love frequently.  Want to feel less stressed and sleep more soundly?  How about reduce pain and boost your immune system?  If so, add more lovemaking to your life.  Regular sex does all of those things and more.  It can also promote bladder control (by strengthening your pelvic floor muscles), increase libido, and reduce high blood pressure.  For husbands, regular sex can improve prostate health and may reduce heart attack risk.  It’s like taking a powerful medication, but cheaper and a lot more fun!

Marriage Benefit – We often think of sex as something that just benefits our husbands, but that isn’t true!  Making love regularly is great for wives, great for husbands and great for the two of you as a couple.  Regular sex brings you closer together.  It “smooths out” some of the rough spots in your marriage, and helps you focus on the things that matter and let go of the things that don’t.  It’s (probably) the primary way your husband builds an emotional connection with you.  And it’s fun – when the daily grind feels a bit too tedious or stressful, sex adds some fun and relaxation to your life.

What are your best tips for boosting your health and strengthening your marriage?  Please share them in the comments – I would love to hear from you.

Head shot finalGaye Groover Christmus is a wife and mom to two almost-grown sons. She has a master’s degree in public health and works as a technical writer and editor in a health field. Her passion, though, is sharing information with married women about ways to slow down, live more calmly, enjoy better health and greater energy, and develop fun and intimacy in their marriages. She believes that knowledge is power, that small steps can lead to big changes, and that women armed with knowledge and a plan can transform their hurried, hectic lives. Gaye blogs at Calm.Healthy.Sexy.

Rhinestone Jesus: Are We Ready for a Messy Faith?

Rhinestone_JesusPrintables3Do you struggle with figuring out God’s calling on your life? Do you go through your day and wonder, is this really what I’m supposed to be doing? Because it doesn’t feel right. You’re tired. You lose your temper. Life is simply hard.

And if we’re in the middle of God’s will, we’ll feel peace. We’ll have His strength, so we won’t have to battle as hard. It’ll be like we’re in the peaceful part in the middle of the tornado, and the winds and the rain won’t bother us. We know that we’re safe.

Right?

What if I were to say that I don’t believe a word of that, and I don’t think that’s Scriptural at all.

I see no evidence in Scripture that says that once we’re in the middle of God’s will life somehow becomes easy, and we don’t struggle. In fact, I see the opposite. I was speaking at a retreat last weekend and told the story of Elijah, who was completely in the middle of God’s will. He had a big show-down with the priests of Baal, during which God actually rained down fire from heaven (how COOL is that?). And Elijah was vindicated. And what’s the very next thing that happens? The queen decides to have Elijah killed, and he has to flee from his life, in total depression.

Sometimes being in the middle of God’s will is not easy at all.

I think we have misunderstood the nature of the Christian life. We think when we’re Christians life should be beautiful and easy.  And we want people to come to know God, and so we’re told that we’re supposed to show them how attractive our lives are, with great kids, good marriages, good finances, a picture perfect life.

Personally, I think people will be far more attracted to something that is authentic and real and has purpose than something that simply looks good on the outside. That’s safe. That’s predictable. That’s even–shall I say it?–boring.

Jesus did not die so that we could live boring lives.

Jesus died so that we could live BIG lives–lives where we are sold out completely for Him. And personally I worry that I was far more sold out when I was younger and had less to lose than I do know. I think I need a messier faith.

And that’s what Kristen Welch realized. Her new book Rhinestone Jesus releases this week, and she has something very important to say, that we here in North America really need to listen to.

Rhinestone Jesus

Kristen was a stay-at-home mom, wife to a pastor. She’s the blogger at We Are THAT Family. And she had her “Rhinestone Jesus”, where He was all sparkly and faith was lovely and perfect and never messy. And then God took her to Kenya. And her heart was broken. And even though she had a messy life, and she didn’t have a lot of money, and she didn’t know what she could do, she decided to do something. Just something small.

And today the family has a second home in Kenya, paid for by generous readers of her blogs, where she runs a home for pregnant unwed moms (many of whom are victims themselves) and helps them raise their babies. It truly is a beautiful story. And as one who has done the same work as Kristen, albeit in a smaller form and at a different home, I have such a heart for what she’s doing. My own mom is going back to Kenya (for the sixth time!) next year to help young women in similar situations become self-supporting.

But you don’t have to go to Africa. You don’t have to do something “big”. You just have to do SOMETHING. Because when we do something in our mess, it’s amazing how God can work with that mess.

Rhinestone_JesusPrintables_5

What if the Rhinestone Jesus was no longer enough for us? What if we stopped trying to live sparkly lives and started trying to live REAL lives–listening to God, doing something small, one step at a time, and giving Him our yes? Even in our mess?

As Kristen says,

God isn’t waiting for you to clean up your mess. He’s just waiting on you to yes in your mess. (click to tweet)

“World changers don’t set out to change the world. They see one need and do what they can to meet it.” And then it multiplies, and you find yourself with a whole new take on life, because the mess doesn’t matter. It’s not about having things perfect. It’s about loving God and loving others.

And that is not easy. When we start saying yes, the mess doesn’t disappear. It just changes. You face opposition. Kristen did–from family, from friends, even from herself. Her kids didn’t always react the way she wanted them to. Her body didn’t like traveling. It wasn’t easy. But you get perspective, you get excitement, you get purpose. You get meaning. And that’s important.

I don’t want to live a Rhinestone Faith, trying to look sparkly. I’m okay with my mess, and as I shared yesterday, I’ve had a lot of mess this year. But if God can use me, even in my mess–if I can find a way to say yes to the small things, rather than trying to be all sparkly, I think that’s how God wants to change the world.

Will you say yes with me?


Cover-copy-smRhinestone Jesus is the spiritual adventure story of one woman who went from living a safe, “good-girl” faith that didn’t cost much, to realizing that God was daring her to say yes to a deeper, more authentic way. This book throws the doors wide open for any woman who has ever thought of herself as “just a mom”.

 

 

Blessing Your Children: How to Spiritually Bless Those You Love

Blessing your Children: How to pray a spiritual blessing over them

Today’s guest post is a wonderful one by Pat Fenner about the Judeo-Christian concept of blessing your children. I love this, because when both of my girls turned 13 I held “blessing” parties for them, where I asked 13 adult women who were important in their lives to come and say a blessing over them–name gifts they saw in the girls, or give them a word of wisdom. Their friends were invited, too, and we turned it into such a fun spa night! It was lovely. And so I’d like to spread the word about this wonderful tradition of blessing our kids–and what a difference it can make in their lives.

Many years ago, our oldest son turned 13.  It was an inspiring time for us as parents, and a significant moment in our family’s history.

About a year prior, when my husband Paul and I were still coming to grips with having our first son enter the teenage years, we began thinking and talking and praying about what we could do to make that transition year memorable and important.  We headed to Scripture, and searched it to see what ceremonies or activities we could possibly adapt from the Hebrew tradition and the early church.  For years we had already been celebrating a Christian Passover as a family, so that wasn’t really a far stretch for us.  We also sought current or popular materials on the blessing, but were somewhat dismayed at what was available at the time.  The few books we could find were dull and dry; not really engaging and a bit too, um, conceptual.  Of course, God uses all things for good (Rom 8:28), so despite the dearth of information, the net result was something that not only truly reflected our family’s beliefs, but the vision and prayers we had for our son, and subsequent children.  How it has evolved and been used over the years is something totally beyond what we could ever have imagined.

Modern Milestones vs Spiritual Steppingstones

What events can you think of that signify a child growing up?

Let’s see, first boyfriend/girlfriend (although these days I hear parents talking that way about their pre-schoolers!  Ugh!), maybe first date, getting a driver’s license, first drink, ears pierced (I guess this one could be for boys, too, these days), sweet-16 birthday, registering to vote or enter the Armed Forces…

These have become what I call modern milestones.  And while they may indeed have some significance, at best they are events on a timeline.  In and of themselves, they add no character to our children’s lives, provide no preparation for their future, and neither strengthen nor build their faith or journey with the Lord.  They are both temporal and temporary.

These modern milestones quite often occur during what we call “adolescence”, roughly between the ages of 13 and 20, when children undergo physiological changes and begin to transition their roles in the family.  (Interestingly enough, this period in life did not even exist as a concept prior to the late 19th century, was not given serious study until the early 20th century, and is generally considered to be an American “discovery”.  But that’s a whole ‘nother post…)

Spiritual steppingstones, however, are more eternal in nature.  They are more a matter of building on and building up than simply marking time.  Daily blessings or an even-bigger and more-celebrated occasion, can become a part of the fabric of your family’s life, establishing routines or customs that can help create a unique family history and identity, among other things.

Why Is It important to Bless our Children?

What are the specific benefits for them?  I believe there are 5 significant ones:

1) Blessing them builds their character and enlarges their life vision

2) Blessing your children encourages them to know you’re giving their future your intentional attention

3) Blessing your kids conveys your dreams and hopes and belief in their future

4) Blessing them daily encourages them to seek and find daily blessings in their own lives

5) Giving a blessing is a tool to grow a deeper and more “real” relationship with them

Responding to The Call

Praying for your Children

As parents, we have not only the right but the privilege to pray for and bless our kiddos, and we can find many ways to speak blessings over them frequently and informally.

1) On a daily basis, we can pray for our children by name during our quiet time.  If there are particular issues that you are working through with them, find a concordance, or use the online one here, and locate Scripture passages that speak to that struggle.  Lift them up to the Father by name.  He already knows, of course, but it’s good for us to ask on their behalf.

2) You can then share that info with your kids, and let them know what you’ve done/are doing!  Tell them how and what you’ve prayed for them (see #1) over a meal, or while you’re sitting together in the family room at the end of the day.  Follow-through by asking them about those situations and how you can further pray for them.  Reassuring them in this way that their issues/problems/requests are important enough for YOU to pray about most definitely blesses them…

3) Decide for yourself the daily events that you’ll choose to use as a blessing opportunity.  For example, when they leave for school in the morning, before practice or rehearsal in the afternoon, at supper, before bedtime.  Locate a Scripture that reflects your dreams and desires for them, or one that is relevant (see #1), replace their name in the appropriate sections and speak it aloud over them!  The first few times may be a little uncomfortable, but I promise that if you persevere, not only will these times become precious to you both, but they will start to remind you if you forget.

A Notable Spiritual Steppingstone

To get back to my opening story, all those years ago, Paul and I did fashion a beautiful ceremony that we have subsequently replicated with unique touches for each of our other children.  It has become a family tradition to celebrate their 13th birthday in this manner.   Referred to in our family simply as “the Blessing Service”, each child has spoken of it (and 1 still anticipates it!) as a memorable and pivotal time in their young lives.

Too much to describe here, I’ve included the information on that celebration in a special booklet I have available on our website, Mom’s Morning Coffee.   Just shoot us an email and we’ll be glad to send you out the free, downloadable document in PDF form, filled with resources and references, the format we use for our family’s service, and sample prayers of blessing.

Blessing your children is a wonderful way to encourage and build them up, and a great tool for releasing God’s best in their lives!

Pat FennerPat Fenner is a Yankee city-girl who has been adopted by the sleepy, sunny south. Married for 28 years and the mother of 5, she woke up one day to discover she reached the stage of life where she is the “older woman” described in Titus 2:3-5. She owns Mom’s Morning Coffee.com with her good friend Candy, and enjoys writing, homeschooling and doing whatever the Lord puts on her plate each day! You can reach her via email and look for her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest!