Embracing Your Child’s Differences

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Earlier this year, my older daughter was working on a submission for a PTA Reflections Contest at her school. Each year, the PTA holds a contest for different grade levels and encourages students to submit artwork, photography, and writing. My daughter, a budding artist at age 9, gets excited each year about the new piece she will submit.

This year, she came up with a cat reaching for balloons concept to meet the requirements of the “Aim Upward” theme. And, just as happened last year, we got into a tussle about her submission.

“Oh sweetie,” I said coming up behind her as she sketched out her cat and balloons, “make the cat bigger.”

I watched her face crumple as she erased and changed her picture to incorporate my suggestion. I left and came back to check on her progress. I could see that she wasn’t happy by the frown on her face.

“I just don’t like the cat that big,” she complained, putting her pencil down in frustration.

I could see where this was going. I leaned in and said, “Draw it like you want then. It’s your project.”

She happily got to work on a fresh sheet of paper and began filling her paper with not only a miniscule cat but miniscule balloons. Each night before bed, she colored a few more balloons, and I caught her humming happily in the midst of her work.

Though I had serious doubts about the winnability of her picture because of the too-small (in my estimation) proportions of her cat and balloons, I chose to hold my tongue because it was her project. When she submitted her piece, she waited an agonizing two months to hear back on the winning submissions. Unfortunately, her piece wasn’t selected as a winner, and I watched her face fall during the ceremony when another girl from her class won the art division prize. Would she have won had she changed up her picture? Possibly. But the more important lesson I felt was that she learn to make her own decisions and be allowed to express her vision in her picture.

Allowing Our Children to Be Who God Made Them to Be

The situation was just one of several I’ve struggled with over the years (in varying forms with all of my children): relinquishing my tendency to form them into the people I think they should be and letting them be who they are.

Because though my daughter grew in my womb and has been entrusted to me as a daughter — she belongs to God and needs to flourish into what He always intended her to be. Because that person, frankly, is going to be far better and do far more than what either of us could imagine.

Jeremiah 1:5 tells us: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.” God spoke those words to Jeremiah about the ministry he would have as a prophet, telling him that he had selected him for this task before he even created him. Just as God knew Jeremiah before He made him, God knew our children before they were even on our radar.

David says a similar idea in Psalm 139:13-16:

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

When David speaks of being “woven together,” the words are translated from the Hebrew word “raquam,” which means “weaver” or “embroiderer.” David identifies God as the ultimate Weaver — One who bent lovingly over the work of forming him. In the same way, God knit together our children in the secret places of the womb with careful care as to the length of their days, what they will accomplish on earth, and their temperament and gifts (which, by the way, are the perfect ones needed to carry out His call on their lives).

When I approach parenting with the knowledge that my children were intimately formed and loved by God before I knew and loved them, I realize I am, in the words of Matthew Henry, an “instrument” — an instrument in the hands of God to raise this oh-so-valuable little person to both know God (Psalm 78:4-6; Deuteronomy 4:9) and fulfill the plans of God (Philippians 2:13, Romans 8:28). In response to this knowledge, I have to let go of some of my own plans for my children and my desire for control.

I’m not saying we as parents don’t provide structure for our kids or make choices for them at times that go against what they want. Today, kids’ rebellion against the Word of God is often seen as merely letting them be who they are — when their choices are far from what God desires for them (Proverbs 22:15; Proverbs 29:15). As Christian parents, we must train them to adhere to God’s ways and walk in right paths, as part of knowing Him (Proverbs 13:24; Proverbs 22:6; Psalm 119:1). But what I am saying is that we attempt to consider our children’s preferences and interests along the way, rather than stunt their growth with our own often stifling expectations and demands (Colossians 3:21; Ephesians 6:4).

This may sound like a relatively easy task, but it’s not so easy when our kids express ideas that veer from our own, show interest in activities we have no interest in, or perhaps want to follow a track that is different than we envisioned for them.

A former pastor of mine shared in a service about the time when he had to let go of the baseball dream he had for his son. As an avid baseball fan and high school athlete, the pastor hoped his son would follow suit. But to his dismay, his son told him one day during a baseball game, “I hate this.” Though his grown-up son enjoys watching baseball, he never “took” to playing the game. It was a moment where his pastor-father had to evaluate and asses that as a father he could try and force his son to live out the dream he had for him, or he could instead look for ways to bring out the son’s God-given talents and abilities. As you can guess, he did the latter.

Awe for Our Kids as God’s Creation Helps Us Be the Parents We Should Be

I don’t believe any of us as Christian parents enter into the parenting journey hoping to be rigid narrow-minded tyrants that get into constant conflict with our children. However, we can’t always foresee how our children will affect us with their distinct personalities and differences, and frankly, we don’t always best know when to assert our authority or when to let our children have their way.

While we won’t always get it right, if we attempt to remember that our children were uniquely made by a creative God, as told of in Jeremiah 1:5 and Psalm 139, we can better evaluate situations and let some minor things go when it comes to our kids’ ideas about how they want to draw a picture for a project — or perhaps spend their free time or style their hair — and we can save our energy for drawing the line on the issues that really matter.

In addition, it’s when we acknowledge that we don’t have all the wisdom and we’re in a position of humility and dependence on God and His Word to best learn how to instruct our children that He can speak to us and help us navigate the issues that arise between us and our children.

Dependence on God and knowledge of the value our kids have will help us approach even our most challenging days as an opportunity to be ever aware of the awesome task we’ve been given as parents: to help raise God’s kids!

Related Resources:

For a more in-depth look at Psalm 139 and the value each of us have in the eyes of God, check out my previous article on being known and loved by God.

Don’t have time to read? Listen to the corresponding podcast episode where I talk with co-host Suzy Lolley and blog member Rachel Howard about the idea of being intimately known by God.

 

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer, and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to love music and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

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How to Better Love Your Spouse

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I hesitate to compare marriage to football, but there are a multitude of meaningful parallels. Many people love the game because of the suspense. No two games are the same. No two marriages look the same either.

My husband and I often talk about how some couples love to attend every event together. Where one goes, you will see the other. That’s not us. He needs social time; I need quiet time. When he is social, I get my quiet time. I don’t resent the time he spends away from me, and he doesn’t resent me for not needing him every moment. However, in the beginning of our marriage, we did try to make our marriage look the way we thought others expected it to look. We were so busy trying not trying to be ourselves that we could not function as a whole. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the quarterback get up when they call the defense in. It isn’t his role. In football, it is called a “team” because each player fills a special role, just like a husband and a wife each fill a special role in their marriage.

One term I know from football (and I don’t know many) is a “turnover.” One team can have the ball in the opposing team’s territory, close to scoring, when the defense intercepts a pass. Or the offense fumbles the ball, and the momentum falters. Sometimes a team has a chance to win a tied game just by kicking the extra point, yet they still miss the field goal. Marriage, like football, can have turnovers.

Preventing Turnovers in Marriage

In my marriage, our first “turnover” happened quickly. We were married in December and had our first child the following October — unplanned. We hardly had time to get used to being married before we also had a baby to love. Then there were all the small things that presented themselves as obstacles, like his mom’s perfect cooking. How could I compete when my specialties were Ramen noodles and frozen pizza? And then there were his buddies — friends from high school, friends from college, softball friends, basketball friends (for the winter months when it was too cold to play softball), deer hunting friends, dove hunting friends, turkey hunting friends. Let me be fair by stating that some of these friends spanned multiple categories.

His multitude of friends meant that we were constantly invited to cookouts, weddings, and birthday parties. As I already mentioned, I like my quiet time. The problem was that I was in a new city and home, newly married, and rapidly gaining a lot of weight, not just from the baby. I felt discouraged and insecure and was overwhelmed by my new role as wife and all of the new demands on me. I wanted to be excited about all these social gatherings, but I wasn’t. I wanted to like deer meat as much as my husband and his friends, but I just couldn’t bring myself to put it in my mouth; I started gagging when I even thought about it.

For my own iniquities, it was probably much worse for my husband in our first year together, though you would have to ask my husband for details. The point is that, as soon as we found common ground on one issue, the more problems we had to work through. These didn’t even include the larger issues that presented themselves like money struggles, family dynamics, sickness, and death of loved ones.

Perhaps for you in your marriage, the threats look different. Turnovers can come at a marriage in many forms. Our phones, tablets, and computers can put a barrier between our connectedness to each other. Other people and obligations can be a barrier. However, the Bible tells us how to protect our unity and avoid “losing the ball” to the opposing team (the enemy). The strategy is simple: We love God first, then others as ourselves.

From Matthew 22:37 we read, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” It’s one of my favorites to meditate on. Follow that one up with Matthew 22:39,Love your neighbor as yourself,” and it gives a clear depiction that life focused on only on myself and my needs is not of the Lord. My ability to love my husband intentionally — who is much more than a neighbor to me — comes first from my love of the Lord. I can’t love him well when it is all about me. Honestly, I don’t even like myself on those days I don’t spend with the Lord, so I certainly can’t expect him to. However, this doesn’t mean that we don’t care for ourselves. As the verse suggests, it just means that we care for others (i.e. him) just as well.

From experience, I can tell you that when I do not begin my day with my Bible, my devotional, and my prayer journal, my husband is likely to pay the price. And that is because I begin those days focused on myself. Conversely, when my first moments of each day and my identity are grounded in the Lord, my actions and reactions to my spouse are more likely to come from God’s description of love — patient, kind, selfless, humble, forgiving, persevering (1 Corinthians 13:3-13).

One morning when I was spending time with the Lord, I recognized a yearning for unconditional love. I remember thinking of all the ways I wish I could receive it from my husband. Life would be so easy if this was a state we could actually reach as humans. I would never feel judged. I wouldn’t have to feel that I was under-performing. I get on these (really short-lived) binges where I feel like I am Wife-of-the-Year material at times, but the reality is that I probably wouldn’t even qualify for Wife-of-the-Moment.

God impressed upon me amid this daydream of unconditional love that this is what HE offers us. Of course! How could I have been so apathetic to His love? I can’t expect it from others, but I can expect it from God. In realizing this each day, I don’t need to get down when my husband can’t meet all my needs. Because God does. It’s freedom! Through accepting the love of my Savior, I am freer to love my God and my husband.

Furthermore, this same love given to me by God is offered to my husband and, with it, the same freedom. While I may be a secondary source of love and support for him, I am not personally responsible for meeting his every need. He must have his needs met by God. When we are both receiving God’s unconditional love, our strength and connectedness is much greater, not to mention our ability to defend against turnovers.

Marriage Is About Going Through Life Together

When issues interfere within the marriage, we play opposition. We actively protect and strategize to work out the issues. When outside interference initiates problems, we play defense by drawing our strength each day from God and His Word, protecting one another as naturally as our own instincts to protect ourselves. There’s a plan for dealing with the next turnover. The effort is made — holistically — for a purpose much higher than a single individual. Otherwise, a husband and a wife may grow apart from focusing on individual, selfish goals. Marriage should be played to win, and that means going through life together.

When we take on marriage this way, I can stomach a few more social gatherings than I am comfortable with. My annoying habit of gagging over deer meat won’t matter so much to my husband. I will be able to praise his mother’s cooking with him instead of feeling inadequate when my cooking doesn’t measure up. What do these things matter in a world that is — first and foremost — about God? Loving Him first fuels us with the love inside to persevere in marriage — so that we can in turn love each other. No one likes defeat, but can you imagine a football game where one team goes home at halftime simply because they were losing for moment?

There will be moments when you feel like you are losing, but we must see the game through to the finish. God hasn’t given up on us, so let’s not give up yet on our spouse.

Rebecca Lindsey

Rebecca Lindsey

After “retiring” from teaching in 2013, Rebecca is currently back at it as a high school Teacher on Assignment where she is able to help students identified as at-risk for not graduating on time. The in-between years, she worked as a therapist in private and public practice. Her interests are in helping others, hiking, kayaking, gardening, dancing, and reading. She loves exercise, nutrition, and natural healing. After completing her doctorate in organizational psychology, she plans to lead others to improve leadership, career, and personal life-skills and maybe even author a few works. In every role, she feels there is an opportunity to model the grace and redemption given to us by Jesus. Rebecca lives in Dallas, Georgia, with her husband and three boys (the middle child is a Weimeraner).

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Endurance in the Christian Walk to Finish Your Race

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I had a manager once tell me I was really “good out of the gate,” but my energy lessened as my shift wore on. I have found that to be a true description of how I generally approach many tasks in life: My motivation is generally quite high at the outset but begins to wane as time passes and problems and trials sap my strength.

The Christian walk, I have found, is not a sprint but a marathon. Years ago, I answered God’s call with such enthusiasm. Before he gave me a ministry, I begged him for one. I couldn’t wait to get started, and yet, when He gave me the ministry I so wanted, I begged Him shortly after on numerous occasions to let me quit (or at least walk away for a season). I have discovered over the last few years that I don’t have the endurance to complete the marathon. It is only in God’s power that I have kept on for these past few years and continue to keep on in my current season.

To Endure in Our Calling Requires a Continual Commitment

In John 21:15-23, we see a disciple who also has to be instructed when he is about to bomb out on his calling. After making boasts about what he will do for Jesus (Matthew 26:33), this prideful disciple gets a lesson in humility: He fails Jesus by denying him three times. Rather than cast out this disciple, though, Jesus takes the opportunity to teach Peter what it means to be a minister of the Gospel and run the race with endurance.

He asks Peter three separate times if Peter loves Him and then points him to a directive: feed his sheep. Each time Jesus asks, Peter responds by saying, “Lord, you know that I love you.” The last time Jesus asks, Peter shows a shift, prefacing the words with, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you” (v. 17). As I discussed in my last post, Peter’s response shows he is no longer bragging about his abilities. He simply states that he loves him. And, as the IVP New Testament Commentary observes, his last response shows a position of humility and acknowledgement of God’s sovereignty.

Peter’s new learned dependence on Jesus is that which is necessary for us to model if we are to complete our call (and how we can handle the failures that we are sure to have along the way), but there is another lesson embedded in their conversation. According to the IVP, each time Jesus asks represents those times in our lives that we will have the temptation to go an easier way. Service to God isn’t a call we answer one time in our lives. It is a call we answer over and over again.

As exemplified in the passage, we will have to continually renew our commitment to Jesus as we follow Him (IVP). This means that as we grow in spiritual maturity and Jesus reveals to us at different intervals what our walk is going to entail (letting go of a certain habit, overcoming a fear in an area, etc.), we must be willing to answer, “Yes, Lord, I love you [more than these].” I love you more than my comfort, my security, my desire for wealth, or acceptance. I am willing to give this up or work on this area for you. Again and again, Jesus will test us with the question He raised to Peter, “Do you love me [more than these other things]?” We have to be willing to allow Jesus to “raise the bar” in our lives as He teaches us what it means to be His follower.

To Endure We Must Also Stay Fixed on Jesus

Not only must we must be willing to repeatedly deny ourselves and renew our commitment to Him as we continue in our calling, we must not allow distractions to take our focus away from Jesus. Though Peter is making progress in his spiritual maturity and walk with Christ, he still has a human moment where he turns from his claims of devotion and takes his eyes off Jesus. When he learns that his call will entail going where he does not want to go and even being led to die as Jesus did by crucifixion (vv. 18, 19), he pauses for a moment and asks about the fate of John, who is following close behind.

Jesus tells him, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me” (v. 22). In other words, he tells Peter to only worry about himself. It is all too natural that Peter should be concerned about whether or not others will go through the same difficulties and suffering. But Jesus doesn’t give him the answer he wants, but tells him to stay focused on his own commission.

Too often, we compare our suffering in ministry to that of others. We’re OK with denying ourselves if others walk a similar road, but what if they don’t? What if Jesus has us in a place we don’t want to be, we suffer more than others, or Jesus leads in in a way that seems to be more treacherous than the path of other Christians? We must be willing to follow even if our road looks harder than that of others or is undesirable. As Romans 5:3 and James 1:2-4 tell us, our difficulties don’t have to knock us off the path — but rather, are the very tests that will develop fortitude in us if we let them.

Romans 5:3 (VOICE): “And that’s not all, we also celebrate in seasons of suffering because we know that when we suffer we develop endurance.”

James 1:2-4 (VOICE): “Don’t run from tests and hardships, brothers and sisters. As difficult as they are, you will ultimately [find joy in them]; if you [embrace them], your faith will [blossom under pressure] and [teach you true patience as you endure]. And true patience brought on by endurance will equip you to complete the long journey and cross the finish line — mature, complete and wanting nothing.”

Conclusion:

Jesus’ conversation with Peter offers us some valuable insight into how we can develop and maintain the rigor and endurance it takes to complete the mission God gives us. Like Peter, we have to allow Jesus to turn us from our own desires, love of self, and pride and choose to follow Him again and again even when we’re tired, weary of trials, and disappointed because we don’t have the results or the perks others have. We will have obstacles that threaten to entangle us, but with continued commitment to Christ and a dependence on Him — we will finish the race.

Why must I weep when others sing?

“To test the deeps of suffering.”

Why must I work while others rest?

“To spend my strength at God’s request.”

Why must I lose while others gain?

“To understand defeat’s sharp pain.”

Why must this lot of life be mine

When that which fairer seems is thine?

“Because God knows what plans for me

Shall blossom in eternity.”

– from Streams in the Desert

Related Bible Verses:

Hebrews 12:1: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”

Hebrews 3:14: “For we have become partners with Christ, if in fact we hold our initial confidence firm until the end.”

Podcast Corrections:

Peter denied Jesus the night of Jesus’ arrest, not before.

 

 

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer, and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to love music and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

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