Why Samuel Hosea?

When we tell people the names of our children, it’s not uncommon to hear the reply: “They’re interesting/unusual/different names. Do they mean anything?” The eve of Samuel Hosea’s baptism seems a good opportunity to explain what his names mean to us. (Maybe one day I’ll get round to writing about Boaz Alexander and Josiah Wilberforce too!).

Samuel

The books of Samuel in the Old Testament are packed full of amazing and gripping historical story and teaching, but, for me, it’s Chapters 1 & 2 of 1 Samuel which prompted us to choose Samuel as a name. In fact, before we found out at the 20 week scan that we were having a boy, Hannah was the name we had in mind for a girl. Here’s why:

  • Elkanah loved Hannah even though she was not able to have children (1 Samuel 1:5) and, to him, her value was not based on her fertility. Although the books of Samuel don’t elaborate much on Elkanah and Hannah’s relationship, and though they were written long before Paul wrote to the Ephesians, it seems to me that Elkanah was loving Hannah in the way we now know that Christ loves the Church (Ephesians 5:25). By giving her a double portion (1 Sam 1:5)he makes it clear that he loves her and Hannah would hopefully feel secure in this love. He tries to comfort her when she is heartbroken over her infertility, and reminds her that their relationship is valid and worthy even without it resulting in children (1 Sam 1:8). Then finally, he lovingly leads her in 1 Sam 1:23, listening to Hannah’s reason for wanting to wait before going to the tabernacle and allowing her to stay behind, but also gently holding her accountable to what she says. I’m so grateful to have a husband like this, and if God calls our sons into marriage, I pray that they will love their wives like this too.
  • Hannah poured out her hurt and her pain to God (1 Sam 1:10), but then got up and ate something and was no longer sad (1 Sam 1:18). I love that this shows us that it’s ok to be grieved, and it’s right to cry out to God (the Psalms also show us this a lot), and petitioning God for something very specific is not wrong at all. But Hannah also knew that God was sovereign, His will perfect, His ways right. She could ask, she could plead even, but she could also then leave it at the feet of God and trust Him, whatever His answer.
  • Hannah was willing to give Samuel to God. Giving our children to God is a surprisingly easy thing to say we’ll do, but often very difficult in reality. Hannah had to physically hand over her child to Eli and leave him there, and all she was able to do was visit him yearly and give him the little robes she made him (1 Sam 2:19). I can barely imagine how hard that would have been. But one of the reasons we home-educate our boys is so that we can, hopefully, help them discern and prepare for the calling God has on their lives. And maybe God will call them to a nice safe job in a nice safe place, and maybe he won’t. And I pray that God will prepare my heart to be like Hannah’s.
  • Even after God blessed Hannah with Samuel, she still knew that her heart exalts in the Lord and that He is her salvation (1 Sam 2:1). Like Samuel, all children are a gift given to us by God (Psalm 127:3). They are a blessing, a joy. Sometimes it doesn’t necessarily feel that way, but in those instances it is our hearts and our attitudes that are wrong, not the truth of Scripture. Hannah knew that children were a gift from God, but that a gift only points to the giver. Hannah knew that her ultimate joy and exaltation was to be found in God, and though she could delight in her baby, this delight was only pointing her to the greater delight to be found in God.

Hosea

I’ve previously written a post about a great book called ‘Redeeming Love’ by Francine Rivers and why you should absolutely read it! This book has been deeply important in my realising both what the love of God looks like for me, and what Biblical headship means. I can’t recommend it enough. There is one other thing I would add to what I have already written in that post, and it is this: Hosea redeems and welcomes back his wayward wife several times. In the parable of the prodigal son in Luke’s gospel, we see the father welcome back his wayward son with open arms and total delight. But the amazement we feel when the father runs down the road to embrace his son would surely be only the greater if the son continues to repeat this pattern of leaving and returning, and if the father continually rejoiced in his coming home – and the book of Hosea shows us that this is what God does. God’s mercy knows no bounds, and I pray that our children will grow up sure in this truth.

10 Reasons I Love ‘Follow Me: Daily Lent Guide for Families’

51XU0LOxqiL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_I was so excited when I saw that Amy Robinson had brought out a guide for families for Lent ‘Follow Me: Daily Lent Guide for Families’ – and it does not disappoint. We do stuff with our kids for Advent and Holy Week, and had really wanted to do something with them for Lent, but hadn’t really got around to thinking about it much. Does anyone else find that a year seems to take half the time to whizz by once you have kids?! But, thanks to Amy’s awesome book, we are set to go!

With Lent being 40 days, I was going to try to write 40 reasons I think this is a great resource, but that seemed perhaps a little excessive (and I’m writing this with one hand while I nurse my 6 month old!). So, here are 10 reasons I would absolutely recommend using this book if you’re looking for a family resource this Lent.

  1. Looking at one passage from different angles for a whole week opens it up in so many ways and gives an opportunity for all styles of learners and thinkers to access the passage.
  2. The activities are short enough that you can easily fit one in each day, but open enough that they can readily be extended and continued if you have more time.
  3. Amy gives historical and cultural context to the different stories, giving them colour and bringing them to life.
  4. Anything you might need for the more crafty activities is probably kicking round your house somewhere already – or is easily available at the local supermarket. You’re certainly not going to need to make regular runs to expensive craft shops.
  5. The activities can be used by children of different ages, making it a great whole family resource.
  6. It can be used year after year – especially the ‘go wondering’ questions. I’m really looking forward to seeing how my children’s answers develop year on year.
  7. The re-telling of each Bible story comes with tips for telling the story which is great for those of us who might not be natural story tellers!
  8. But for those who love to spin a yarn, there’s enough freedom and room to really embrace the re-telling and have a wonderful time telling the story to your children.
  9. Amy has such a gift with words and communicating stories: the re-tellings are beautifully written – you’ll love them.
  10. The ‘Community Day’ happens every Sunday and is an activity to do in a community – it’s a lovely idea and I’m excited to give this a whirl. I was a bit worried they might be quite onerous or require organising groups of people, but Amy’s a vicar’s wife and mum to two young children – and isn’t daft! The community day activities are totally do-able and will easily fit into your day.

Lent is less than two weeks away now, so do order yourself a copy and have a read through. I know Amy would love to hear how you’ve used it and what you thought, and if you manage to write a list of 40 reasons you enjoyed using it, do send me a link 🙂

Can A Stay-At-Home-Mum Sabbath?

This is a question I’ve struggled with since becoming a mum. On the one hand, the Sabbath is Biblically commanded, and there’s no exception made for mums. On the other hand, most of the writing and teaching about Sabbathing seems to come from those who are able to walk away from their normal six day labours and so setting apart the seventh day as holy seems relatively straight forward. As a stay at home mum, my house is my office in a sense, and everywhere I look there’s always something I should have done but haven’t. It’s got to be possible to Sabbath as mums, because it’s commanded of us, but sometimes it seems impossible.

So I set out on a bit of a project to work out what the Sabbath could look like for a stay at home mum. I expected to be able to put together a nice ‘top 10 tips’ or ‘how to’ guide which I could easily follow, but what I ended up with was something quite different. I suspect this is for several reasons. The first is that, in Jesus, we are no longer under the law – and indeed Jewish Sabbath laws by the time of Jesus had spiralled away from being recognisable to the laws laid down in the Old Testament at all. This isn’t to say that there aren’t rules and guidelines for living in the Kingdom of God, but these are not what define us or what justify us. They may be a means for our sanctification, but they are certainly not a means for our salvation in any way at all, and so a ‘rules for Sabbath’ list is probably not what God intended for me to find.

Secondly, there is quite some difference between ‘Biblical principles’ and ‘methods’. The principles we find in Scripture should be unwavering and our constant plumb line – they should be consistent among Christians. The methods that we then build out of these principles can differ depending on our contexts and circumstances – and so whilst two families may have the same Sabbath principles, their methods may look different, and so long as both families have followed the Scriptural Sabbath principles, and sought the wisdom of the Holy Spirit in discerning their methods, neither one should judge the other (Col 2:16).

So here are the things that God has taught me as I’ve been exploring what it means to Sabbath as a stay at home mum.

My Children Are Not a Job

Part of my problem is that I had been working under the premise that, in order to have a day of rest from six days work, I needed to be able to have time away from my children. In essence, I needed to stop being a mum for a day, because, in my mind, being a mum had become synonymous with a job. But that’s not true. Being a mum is a huge blessing and a gift from God – it seems a little counter intuitive to suggest that to have refreshment from God we need time away from the gifts He has given us. Please don’t think that I’m suggesting we never have time away from our children to ‘refuel’ for the simultaneously massive privilege and challenge that parenting is, but I’m not sure that the Sabbath day is that time.

I’ve blogged previously on the ‘Myth of Me Time’, which looked at some of the dangers and misconceptions that come with the notion that we need ‘me time’. As an introvert, I definitely value some time to take a slow breather, but I am a mummy, and this is a part of who I am. We see in Scripture that God created the world in six days and on the seventh He ‘rested from all the work that He had done’ (Gen 2:2). But, though He rested from the work that He had done and this is established as the grounds for our Sabbath in the Ten Commandments, God did not stop sustaining the world. He is Creator and Sustainer of all creation – they are two of the many aspects of what He does as God. So on the seventh day He rested from the work of creating, but He did not stop being God. He did not stop sustaining life. And as mums, we have the awesome privilege of partaking in that sustaining of life in caring for our children – and that doesn’t stop on the Sabbath.

Moreover, Jesus seemingly went out of his way to heal on the Sabbath and considered it an important day to heal, as it showed that the Messianic Age had come, and it was a tangible way to show that mankind was no longer in the bondage of sickness and death and Satan (for example, Luke 13:10-17, though there are many others). In the way we love our children and care for them, we are able to play a part in pointing them to Jesus who inaugurated the Kingdom of God. Because we are secure in the grace and love of Jesus, we can parent them with grace and love. Because we parent in the freedom that comes from Christ’s sacrifice we can parent sacrificially, and hopefully show them some glimpse of what they have in Christ. This kind of ministry and calling is not restricted to ‘six days of labour’. It is a privilege and an honour that we have been blessed with, and which we are called to embark on every hour of the day (and night!) for our children, and perhaps most especially on the holy day of the Sabbath.

It’s Not About Me

The Sabbath day is as much about my rest and refreshment as it is about everyone else’s – being a mum does not make me superwoman (and, in fact, makes me ever more aware of what a selfish sinner I am), and consequently I need the rest and refreshment that comes from the Sabbath as much as everyone else. But it’s not necessarily about rest and refreshment as I might see it. I might believe (and rightly so) that I’ll feel better and rested at the end of the day if I’ve completed a project (being quite a task focused person) and spent a few hours at a spa (being an introvert – oh, and a woman!). But I don’t think this is the refreshment that is being spoken about.

The Sabbath is a day that is Holy: it has been set aside and blessed by God. Anyone can feel boosted by completing a project and going to a spa, but only Christians can receive the rest and restoration that comes from knowing God. The peace of Christ who will carry our burdens is far greater and deeper than the peace of a massage. This isn’t a day about ‘feeling good’, but is a day set aside for us to dedicate to finding that deep refreshment that comes from God. This isn’t at all to say that we cannot rest in Jesus the rest of the week – as mums we know that the chaos of parenting needs the peace of Jesus all the time, and we need to be turning to Him and resting in him constantly. But the Sabbath provides a day for perhaps more sustained and dedicated time with God, being refreshed by Him. What this might look like will differ depending on our family situations, and for those with very young children any long sustained period of ‘quiet time’ may seem like a far off dream, but I suspect that there are things from the other six days that are labours and distractions that we can cut out to allow for more focused time with God.

There Does Need To Be Planning and Rules

I’m not suggesting a list of rules that we have no flexibility about and which bind us to legalism. But, if we are to be able to set aside a day each week to more fully know the peace and restoration found in Christ, we’re going to have to do some planning – because life certainly doesn’t lend itself easily to this. Exodus 16:22-30 talks of how the Israelites are to collect and prepare manna for two days on the sixth day, because they’re not to collect any on the seventh. I think this perhaps at least gives some indication that one of the things we can be doing as homemakers is to prepare as much of the food for the Sabbath day as possible in advance, so that this practical task doesn’t eat into our day (pun intended!). Whether that might mean making a large meal to start the Sabbath so that we can have left-overs on the Sabbath day, or preparing as much of the meal in advance, or planning to have a ‘freezer to oven’ meal, there does seem to be some Biblical mandate for reducing the more practical tasks.

I suspect this could easily apply to making sure there are clean clothes (I nearly said clean and ironed, but who am I kidding!), that bags are packed, that dishes are done and so on before beginning, so that these tasks that can be forsaken for a day without impacting on our families.  I guess in part it’s a case of working out what is ‘sustaining’ and what is ‘creating’ – the creating of meals and clean clothes and dishes need to be put aside for the day, but the sustaining work of nurturing and loving and raising our children need not. But let’s be sensible, nobody is suggesting you don’t change your baby’s nappy, or bath your children who are coated in mud – this is not about rank legalism! Jesus certainly had no time or place for that and was more than happy to heal on the Sabbath and have his disciples pick grain to eat! (Mt 12:1-13:3)

Work For Six Days

So this might seem obvious – if you’re resting on the seventh day then clearly you must be working on the other six. But something that I’ve been convicted about during my time trying to understand the Sabbath, is that I don’t really do this – at least not diligently. There are six days for working and a seventh for rest, and whilst this doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be times of rest within these six days (including sleep), it does mean that getting by doing the bare minimum in these six days is not God honouring either.

Our roles as homemakers are God-given, and we should be striving to execute them the best we can, using the gifts that God gave us; the people he gives us to help us grow; and ultimately relying on His strength which shines through our weaknesses. We have the opportunity to lovingly serve our husbands and children in the way we minister in our homes and complete the tasks necessary, or we can cause stress and chaos through allowing clutter and disorganisation to reign. And I very regularly fall into the latter! Essentially, I am learning that one of the reasons I struggle to rest properly on the Sabbath is because I fail to work diligently through the rest of the week – I slob! I (just about, mostly) get done what absolutely needs to be done, but I don’t honour God through creating a loving sanctuary for my family where they can find peace and rest. Sabbathing is Biblically commanded and deeply important, but it cannot be understood in isolation from the other six days of the week.

It’s a Community Event

This surprised me, though it probably shouldn’t have. We live in a very individualistic society where we often see ourselves in isolation from a wider grouping, and consequently find ourselves often thinking that, so long as we take 24 hours out to rest, then we have Sabbathed. But I think that, perhaps, the Bible seems to suggest something different. Again, I stress that it is important to take time to refuel alone – even Jesus withdrew from the crowds. But, when the Sabbath is outlined in the Ten Commandments it is to include everyone – even the sojourner in the land. I’ve often laboured under the misconception that it’s ok to shop or have takeaway on a Sunday because it’s relaxing for me and if people chose not to have their Sabbath on the same day that’s fine. And if they’re not Christian then there’s no reason they should have to Sabbath anyway. Now, it’s not my place to insist that everyone Sabbath on Sunday and no-one work, but it is my responsibility to ensure that I make it as possible for this to be the case as I can by not using shops and takeaway services on Sunday.

Given that as I’ve talked about above, the Sabbath is about finding peace and rest in God, and having a more dedicated and focused time (as far as is possible) worshipping God, the idea that it is a community event probably also suggests that there is to be some kind of corporate worship. The form this takes can differ massively and we very much need the wisdom of the Holy Spirit in working out what kind of corporate worship we partake in and it should not be assumed that ‘standard church’ is the only way for this to take place, but we probably also ought to be careful that we don’t become too insular and individualistic in this too.

So What About My Methods?

I’m not sure yet. It’s definitely not something that I can work out on my own and is definitely something that my husband and I need to spend time seeking God about. There are still so many practical questions I have – technology or not? Phones or not? Day trips out or not? To insist our children come to church if they don’t want to or not? And my guess is that these will change as our family changes and our circumstances change. But they are just methods – they are ways of helping us honour the Sabbath, they don’t get to define what the Sabbath is or should be. The Sabbath principles we find in Scripture and the discernment of the Holy Spirit have that role, and what my Sabbath ends up looking like will probably be very different to another family’s, even though we may share Sabbath principles – and that is absolutely fine.

What’s the Real Cost of the Manifesto Child Care Promises, and Who’s Really Going to Pay?

I really don’t like conflict and I really don’t know very much about politics – and even less about economics. So when I started blogging I didn’t want to write anything political and certainly not on anything controversial. Even as I write this I’m not sure if I’m going to post it, and I know that the knot in my stomach is not just Baby Lee #3 wriggling round! But I do think that we need to acknowledge that there is a very large and very vulnerable group, for whom the impact of the extended free childcare policies as laid out in the manifestos will be greatest. They have no vote, no campaign opportunity, no voice. And yet these decisions affect them the most.

The childcare manifesto policies see parties promising more and more: the number of free hours for pre-schoolers and wrap-around care for primary children just keep growing. And I have to question why. At the outset it might seem like a nice gesture to mums who want to go back to work – a move towards an equal society where women have as many career opportunities as men and are not hindered by their children. But I can’t help but wonder whether it isn’t a bit naive to believe that the government really actually cares about women and their opportunities. Of course, some MPs do – and it isn’t to tar all MPs with one brush. But, on the whole, and at policy level, isn’t it perhaps more likely that we’re all viewed as economic commodities who could be paying tax, and the most effective way to get the best return on these economic commodities is to remove any restriction on productivity (namely our children) and leave us free to earn a wage and pay tax?

This seems even more obvious when I hear of ideas to outsource these national childcare systems to voluntary bodies: I already voluntarily provide childcare for my children. Why does having another volunteer do it make any sense? Unfortunately, the answer can surely only be because it will reduce the ratio of volunteers (non-earning non-tax paying superfluous commodities) to children. I currently function at a ratio of 1:2 – in voluntary provided state childcare the government can have that function at a ratio of, say, 1:8 – suddenly that’s three more tax-paying commodities.

But what’s the cost? Well, economically, I’ve no idea. And, quite frankly, I’ve no intention of caring – all the debates and discussion around the economics and logistics conveniently manage to divert attention from the real cost of such policies. I don’t claim to be an expert on child psychology and I don’t intend to rehash the arguments from educational and psychological studies – there are those who can do it far better than I can. I’m just a stay-at-home mum. And what I know about is my children and their upbringing, so let me make my point from that angle.

Firstly, if my child, from preschool age, is in childcare for 30 hours a week, that’s 30 hours of somebody else’s morals and philosophy (actually, some-system else’s morals and philosophy) at an age when they’re deeply influenced by everything they experience and lack the ability to discern what they should be absorbing and what they shouldn’t. I have some very clear thoughts on how I want my children to grow up, about the morals they hold, about the world view they adopt, about the way they treat others. And those are things that my children need teaching – both directly and through observing me and my actions. And my children won’t learn only what I teach them, but what they learn in any child care setting – regardless of how it fits with my philosophies.

As a Christian, I believe it is my calling and vocation to ‘train [my children] up in the way [they] should go; even when [they] are old [they] will not depart from it’ (Proverbs 22:6), but this becomes ever harder with each hour my very impressionable pre-schooler is in a system built on philosophies and beliefs which, at their very core, are often at odds to mine. 30 hours a week amounts to 6 hours 5 days a week – that’s a very significant chunk of my 3 year old’s week. Moreover, when I am charged to ‘teach [the words of the Lord] diligently to your children, and…talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down and when you rise’, I struggle to see how I could do this if I bought into the wraparound care from 8am-6pm available to primary school children. When, in that morning rush, or the bedtime routine would I find time to truly fulfill my ministry? God has entrusted me with their care, and has called me to the ministry of motherhood, not the state.

Secondly, when, before 8am and after 6pm, am I to teach my child basic life skills? How to use a washing machine; to boil an egg; to do grocery shopping? When will they have the opportunity to develop essential working skills such as initiative, self-motivation, and hobbies outside of what is available under child care? I know that wrap around care does try and teach some skills such as cooking and washing up, and that I’d have the weekends available, but this still seems very little. I want my children to be able to pursue their own interests and learn things you can’t learn in a classroom (or child care room) and being in a bubble of national state child care from 8am till 6pm would seem to hinder real-life growth and development. You know – the type of growth where you might need to go off site, or do something that’s not been planned as an activity for that day.

Thirdly, what does it teach about consequences and responsibility? Already my children are learning that their actions have consequences and that they have to accept those. But, because I’m a woman, I don’t? I can have sex, have a baby and then reduce the impact of the consequence with ever-expanding free childcare. It would make me a hypocrite every time I tried to have them see that we have to take responsibility for our actions and their consequences, and not expect to be able to walk away from them.

And, finally, what will the long term impact be on my child’s sense of worth and their self-esteem? What would I be telling them about what I value and what my priorities are? The reality is that we do have to make really tough decisions when we have children, and the choices I make do show something of my priorities to those around me, including my children. Even the best of motivations for accepting extended childcare to the extent promised in the manifestos will surely cause my children to question where they fall in the pecking order of my priorities, or what their value is in comparison to other things in my life. And, the thing is, I may have genuine motivations for accepting the child care promised, but I’m really not sure that there is much good in the motivation of the parties in offering it. Unfortunately, I think they value our tax-paying ability far above the wellbeing of our children.

I can’t help but wonder, have we become so desensitised to being treated as commodities that we’ve actually bought into the lie that ever expanding free or subsidised child care is a great step forward for women? Hurrah, we too can now be a productive cog in the tax-paying wheel! Have we become so attuned to that way of thinking that when government policies don’t see our children as blessings, a calling or a ministry, but simply a risk factor to our value as commodities that need to be managed and minimised, we somehow find ourselves going along with it?

What’s the cost of the child care policies? I fear far greater than we might be being led to believe. And who is going to pay? Those with the smallest shoulders and the least voice will be required to bear it all.

Standards of Beauty and My Three-Year-Old

Am I over thinking this? I’d love for someone to tell me ‘yes’ because I’m not ready to be dealing with this already!! My son is only 3 and the other day was looking at pictures of fish in his Bible and telling me which ones were girl fish and which ones were boy fish. When I asked him how he knew, he told me that it was because the girl ones have long eye lashes and the boy ones don’t.  I really don’t know where this came from – and despite my husband’s and my best efforts to show him that boys and girls both have eyelashes he remains convinced that only girls do. Has he started absorbing what society tells him is beautiful already? Has he already started to have (unrealistic) expectations about what he can expect of his future wife? Have I already missed the boat to help him view women as God sees them and not as the media and society objectify them?

The other day he took my pony tail, put it over one shoulder and said ‘Look mummy, now you’ve got Elsa hair’. Which leads me to wonder – how long until he notices that I don’t have an Elsa tummy (and not just because I’m pregnant!) or Elsa eyes, or indeed, Elsa anything else?! And will he expect that, just like he could with my hair, I should somehow be able to create these features for myself? There’s plenty of research and writing out there already about the damaging effects of this socialised notions of beauty on our children growing up. And I’ve read lots about how we can help protect and prepare our girls from young age, and how we can help our boys once they get a bit older – but what can I do now for my three-year old boy?

So, I’ve thought of a few ideas, but please do add to them! Like I said, I certainly wasn’t prepared for having to deal with this insidiousness tainting of my child’s mind already! I thought I had at least 5 more years – apparently not!

Accept a compliment

When my husband compliments me or tells me I’m beautiful I’m pretty good at just shaking it off as irrelevant and untrue. But I need to be accepting these, and thanking him for them in front of my children. I have many flaws, but I’m also normal, and having flaws does not mean that I should not be able to accept compliments given to me. I am not perfect, but beauty does not require perfection (or even a photo-shopped version of it) and I need my boys to know that.

Be open and honest

There are opportunities to discuss what’s ‘normal’ with my children from a young age: we went swimming the other day and Boaz wanted to know what the holes in my legs were. I told him quite openly that they were cellulite and that nearly all women have it. I wasn’t embarrassed about it and I didn’t make excuses for it as though I shouldn’t have it. Hopefully, as these questions come up it will give me the opportunity to combat what society will be telling him.

Avoid talking about diets and weight

We hear about this a lot for girls but perhaps we need to be as conscious about it for our boys, and ask people to support us in it. If our boys grow up expecting that women should always be worrying about their weight or on a diet or not having second helpings, then presumably they’ll also grow up thinking that this is the correct way to think and that, unless they’re a size 0, there’s something not right with a woman. Of course, talk about healthy eating and good habits – but because we want healthy bodies so we can best serve the Lord, not because we feel in some way inferior because of our weight.

Wear make-up IF you want to

I have no problem with wearing make-up and if I have time I like to pop a bit on. But if I don’t then that’s ok too. By all means wear make-up, but only if you want to – not because you feel you ought to, or because you don’t feel confident to go out without it. I don’t want my boys thinking that there’s something wrong with a natural face in public, or that all women (including female fish) have long fluttery eyelashes as per Boaz’s Bible!

Turning to the Perfect Parent when you feel like the worst parent

This morning my husband took both our boys to a toddler group specifically for dads and their children, so I took myself and a book to a coffee shop! It was glorious! I was reading a book about homeschooling and it was discussing a theory by Alice Miller (who sounds fascinating – I’d love to read more about her thoughts). My book said this:

“Alice Miller has long been a rare voice in the field of psychology to recognise that deciding what is good for a child and then forcing this so-called good on them by any coercive means possible is highly damaging to personal integrity and rational thought. Miller defines abusive behaviour against children very broadly to include many of the more subtle forms of manipulation which children experience. She posits that since there is a wide conspiracy to redefine this abuse as ‘acceptable parenting’ for the child’s own good, the child, in order to survive, has no choice to repress his or her feelings and idealise what is actually a painful situation.”

This reminded me of a conversation I’d had with Boaz only a few days earlier, and sent me into a total crisis of confidence about the way I’ve been parenting him. The conversation had gone something like this:

Me: Boaz, I think you’re quite tired. Let’s go for a nap.
Boaz: (going as slowly as possible up the stairs) Mummy, I saw a boy today who didn’t trust his mummy.
Me: What makes you think he didn’t trust his mummy?
Boaz: He wasn’t being obedient.

I nearly burst into tears right there in the coffee shop. Had I parented such that Boaz had now reached a point where obedience and trust were one and the same? Have I being coercing and manipulating him into doing what I think is good for him by making him believe he does it out of trust? Do I qualify as an abusive parent? What have I done?!

After a few deep breaths, a slurp of cappuccino and some chocolate brownie I was able to think a bit more rationally and see that my initial reaction was probably wrong. Actually, sometimes I do know what is best for my 3 year old, and sometimes he does need to trust me, even though it might not be what he wants to do. Like the other day when, having decided he wanted eggs for lunch, I asked whether he wanted boiled egg or scrambled eggs. He answered he’d like chocolate egg. Now, I know that that is not a nutritious lunch and is not going to be good for him. And, even though he might disagree and still want chocolate egg for lunch, I need him to trust me that I, at this stage, understand more about nutrition and so he can chose between boiled and scrambled egg only.  I don’t think this was damaging to his personal integrity and rational thought because I explained to him why I need him to trust me on this. I don’t ask him to trust me on everything, and if I do I explain why. And I don’t expect him to trust everybody – I hope that he is able to use his personal integrity and rational thought to determine who he can trust.

But I don’t suppose I’m the only one to feel wholly inadequate as a mum and enter into a total crisis of confidence every time I read a parenting book or article. Nor do I suspect I’m the only one to lie in bed at night listing all the ways I’ve failed and possibly hurt my children that day. There are two solutions to this. The first is we can ignore it and take a ‘meh, actually I’m doing ok’ approach; or we can turn to and trust in God the Perfect Parent.

The first approach is embodied in the phrase ‘you don’t have to be a perfect mum, you just have to be a good enough mum’. My dislike of this phrase is two-fold. Firstly, our mission as mothers is God-given. We should be aiming to continually serve God and fulfill our calling and vocation the best we can. In every other area of life we’re told ‘be the best you can be’, ‘strive for more’, ‘aim high’, but when it comes to motherhood we’re told it’s ok to languish in mediocrity. Secondly, ‘good enough’ isn’t actually mediocrity – being a ‘good enough’ mum means being a ‘perfect mum’, because our children are the children of God entrusted to our care. But we can’t be perfect. Any suggestion that we can is a lie, because we are sinful people and we cannot parent as God the Perfect Parent does. But we can turn to God the Perfect Parent in our failings and shortcomings.

One of our children is called Josiah, and this serves as a constant reminder to me that God’s sovereignty is so much bigger than my failings as a mum. If you recall, Josiah’s father Amon was a wicked and evil king (2 Kings 21:19-22), but of Josiah it is said ‘Before him there was no king like him, who turned to the LORD with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to the Law of Moses, nor did any like him arise after him.’ (2 Kings 23:25) Humanly, Josiah should not have been a great king, but he was, because God’s plans were greater than Amon’s wickedness. And I hold onto this often: God’s plans for my children and His love for them far surpass my weakness and failings.

But in turning to the Perfect Parent, we find more than an assurance that our parenting is not the only defining feature in our children’s lives. Paul says of sin and grace: ‘What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life’. (Romans 6:1-4) Parenting to anything less than the best of our abilities is sin (often manifest in my case as selfishness or idleness) – should we continue to parent like this so that the grace of God and the perfection of his parenting may abound? Paul says not. The sin of mediocre parenting is also to be buried, as we walk in newness of life.

And, as with all other aspects of life, God does not leave us stranded in coming to understand what it means to walk in newness of life as a mum. Those parenting books that leave us feeling useless? We should note those convictions of the Holy Spirit, rebuke the lies of the devil that say we are useless, and seek a way forward. We need to ask the Holy Spirit to highlight those areas of our parenting which we need to make a priority for study, development and prayer. Titus 2:3-5 reads: ‘Older women…They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and their children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.’ We can ask the Holy Spirit to help us discern which of these we most need help with now (I defy anyone to have nailed all, or any, of these!) and seek out Godly women to help us.

I’m not the worst mum in the world. But neither am I a perfect mum, or even a ‘good enough’ one. That place is reserved for God, and that liberates me from the fear that otherwise comes hand in hand with my failures. But I am also called to mother three of God’s children – it is a great privilege and a great mission. We cannot simply settle for mediocrity. With the convictions and guidance of the Holy Spirit we can identify the areas of our parenting that need to most immediately be a priority and seek the provision that the Perfect Parent has made for us.

Keeping Holy Week Holy For Your Pre-Schoolers

holy week

It can be really difficult to keep our children focused on the meaning of Christian festivals, like Christmas or Easter. But as Christian parents we have a duty to keep these festivals holy for our children, and ideally without making them feel like they’re missing out on what their non-Christian friends get to have (usually lots of presents or chocolate!). Somehow it seems a bit easier at Christmas – churches and organisations work hard to provide a whole host of child friendly events to help children remember that Christmas is about the birth of Christ.

Holy Week on the other hand is quite a different story. To start with, you’re trying to walk your child through a mingle of sorrow and hope – emotions that they’re not always ready to deal with. Secondly, there are plenty of quiet, reflective Holy Week services – but my 4 year old 2 year old and 7 month old are certainly not suited to quiet, reflective communion services! This means that, if our children go to church on Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday, they miss out the critical bit about the Cross of Christ – unless my husband and I are intentional about ensuring that they don’t. I wholly believe that responsibility for my child’s spiritual well-being falls with us and not the church, but at Holy Week, more than ever, it is absolutely critical that we remember this! These ideas are ones I’m hoping to use with my boys. They’re still really young, so my aim is primarily to walk them through the story in ways that they can understand. I get that the Passion narratives are steeped in symbolism, but at 4 and 2 I think it’s probably wisest to stick to teaching the story in ways that help it come alive and answering any questions they might have.

Eggs and Bunnies

easter eggsLet’s deal with this at the outset. They can’t be avoided at Easter, and I don’t think that keeping Holy Week holy means my boys (or, indeed, me!) can’t indulge in a few chocolate eggs. There’s some symbolism to be drawn out about new life, but I just don’t think my boys will get it yet. So, for this year, I’m going to *try* and turn a blind eye to the bunnies, but use plastic eggs to store little bits of the story in (kind of like resurrection eggs) so that hopefully when they see Easter eggs they draw an association with the Easter story…it might work!

Throughout Holy Week

As far as is possible we’re going to have a candle lit throughout Holy Week (I’ve managed to find some LED ones in Poundland which makes it easier). The idea is that, come Good Friday, we’ll turn it out when Jesus dies and not relight one until Resurrection Sunday. I know I said we weren’t going for symbolism, but I think this might provoke some interesting questions and discussions, and it will help in explaining the emotions we might be feeling this week.

easter buntingWe have Easter story bunting up throughout Holy Week – partly decorative, partly a great opportunity to tell the Easter story often. To make ours I bought two copies of The Very First Easter (you’ll need two because there’s writing on both sides of a page), cut the pages out (much to my husband’s dismay!) stuck them on some card and used them to make bunting.

Holy Week Activities

So, for each of the days I’m going to put a little hint as to the part of the story we’re on in a plastic egg (I picked up a pack of 8 in Poundland) – a bit like an advent calendar. Then there’ll be some kind of activity to help the story feel more real for them. For each day you could either read the story out of their Bible for them, or read it from your Bible, or just tell it in your own words – it really doesn’t matter.

Day 1 – Palm Sunday

egg 1In the egg : a paper leaf  If you’re particularly creative go for a miniature palm leaf, but if you’re like me something green and vaguely leaf shaped will do.

We’ll be off to church for our Palm Sunday service, so hopefully the boys will get to experience the story in a different way there.

Then in the afternoon we’ll try out making own palm leaves (again, vaguely leaf shaped paper cut outs, but a bit bigger). If the boys feel like it we might get the glue and glitter out and decorate them, but the main part of the activity will be playing ‘Jesus riding on a donkey’. Now, we do have a pretend donkey, but I suspect daddy will probably end up giving donkey rides to both boys while I somehow play the entire crowd! But you could always ‘make’ some kind of donkey using a picture of a donkey’s face stuck to a broom or something – children have a fantastic capacity for imagination, so no need to panic if you don’t have access to an actual donkey (and far less cleaning up!)

Monday – Cleansing of the Temple

egg 2In the egg: play money  If you can get hold of pretend notes rather than coins, that might help distinguish it from Wednesday’s egg which has coins for Judas’ plan to betray Jesus. I managed to pick up a selection of play coins and play notes in Poundland.

This story is about Jesus overturning the tables in the Temple in anger at the traders there and whilst I’m sure my boys would delight in an excuse to overturn our actual tables, I’m less keen. So I think we’ll try building tables out of Duplo (though anything that you can build out of would work fine) and discuss the story while we build them. Then enjoy a good destruction session imagining we’re Jesus and really angry.

Tuesday – Jesus’ teachings

egg 3In the egg: a verse from Jesus’ teachings We’ve gone for Matthew 22:37-40, but pick whichever verse or passage you like from Jesus’ teachings between the Triumphal Entry and the Passover Meal.

There’s not really an activity today, but just being intentional about trying to talk about Jesus’ teachings and especially the verse or passage you’ve picked. I’m really excited to see what Boaz draws out and the questions he asks.

Wednesday – Judas plans to betray Jesus

egg 4In the egg: silver coins I confess, the ones I have aren’t silver – but I don’t think Boaz will mind!

This is a tricky one – trying to explain trading a person’s life for money with a 4 year old! We’ll have a go at playing ‘shops’ or go to the shops and pay in cash for things, and talk about how we can buy and sell things for money. Try and draw out whether they think it was a good thing for Judas to ‘sell’ Jesus to the people who wanted to hurt him. If your child asks ‘why’ Judas did it – feel free in joining me in feeling totally at a loss as to how to answer! I suspect they won’t be asking for a full theological summary of all the interpretations – I’m hoping to be able to go with the explanation that it was part of God’s plan and see where we go from there.

Thursday – Last Supper, Gethsemane, Jesus arrested

egg 5In the egg: a piece of cracker or bread

There’s quite a lot of story to tell today and so quite a few activities that you could do. The primary activity today is the Passover supper. We don’t do this properly – we just have some unleavened bread and grape juice (it’s our personal decision that our children at too young for wine) and tell the story of the last supper. We begin with foot washing. We also have a sandpit so might try and persuade the boys to stop around in that for a bit, so they get an idea of just how dirty the disciples feet might have been. After the enactment of the last supper we’ll go out into the garden to read the rest of the Gethsemane story (hopefully – this is England and weather permitting etc – but if you can’t, perhaps just turn down the lighting to create a bit of an atmosphere).

Interestingly, we did just the last supper with Boaz when he was 2 and nearly a year later we moved the table to the middle of the room for something else and he said ‘Oh, that’s where we have the bread and the grape juice’ – so I think more sinks in that I may realise!

Friday – Crucifixion

egg 6In the egg: nails

This is a really emotionally complex day, and we need to tread carefully, taking care to be sensitive to how emotionally mature our children are and what they can understand and process.

In the morning try making an Easter play set. This’ll help you to tell the story, but also help you be able to see what your child has understood by how they play. Consider including the angels and empty tomb now because, although not technically till Sunday, we do know the end of the story and I think that can help get us through Good Friday. Our children, especially if they’re particularly sensitive, may need the rest of the story explaining today, so that they too can experience the sorrow mingled with hope.

Then build a cross using Duplo (or something similar). If your child can understand the concept, write or draw things we want to seek forgiveness for on small pieces of paper. At noon, put a picture of Jesus on your cross, followed by the pieces of paper, explaining that forgiveness is only possible because of the Jesus taking our sins upon the cross. At 3 o’clock blow your candle out, take Jesus and the pieces of paper off and put in them all in a tomb (this can be your play tomb or one you’ve built from Duplo too). Hang some black material or paper over the cross and explain that, even though we know the end of the story is good, we’re still all really sad because Jesus died and was separated from God for all the sins we’ve committed and will commit, so that we don’t have to be.

Saturday – Waiting

egg 7In the egg: nothing This was a day of mourning that first Easter, because they didn’t know what was happening. As far as they thought the story had ended: there was nothing more. But we do know that there is much more to come, so though we do still mourn today, we are also waiting, and preparing to celebrate. Don’t light your candle today.

Today would be a good day to recap on the whole story in some way. Perhaps watch a film like Miracle Maker or the Gospels volume of What’s In The Bible as a family, or there are plenty of other possible options out there.

Get ready for Easter Sunday. Bake some hot cross buns together (or go and buy some) and talk about the cross on them, and how they’re round like the stone of the tomb. You could make some resurrection napkin holders to help you retell the story the next day. Just before bed, perhaps make some Easter cookies to help reinforce the sorrow of the story with the anticipation we have for the next day.

Sunday – Resurrection

egg 8In the egg: cloths Any bit of white fabric (or even a bit of toilet roll) will do to show that Jesus has left the tomb and all that’s left are the cloths!

Today is a day to CELEBRATE!!!! I’m talking hot cross buns, chocolate and champagne (maybe!) for breakfast, music, party clothes (especially if you have little girls who love party dresses). Take down the black material, put up some white and yellow or gold material if you have it. Get a MASSIVE candle and light that because Jesus is ALIVE. Just sweep your kids up into the excitement with whatever you might use to celebrate.

Churches up and down the country will be putting on their best celebration this morning – go and join in one! Later in the day you could do an Easter egg hunt by refilling your eggs from the week, plus perhaps some chocolate. Then send your children on a hunt to find them in order. Open each egg and see if they can remember the story. You could have your Easter gifts at the end too.

None of this is prescriptive in any way – just some suggestions of ways we’ll be trying to keep Holy Week holy for our boys this year. But they’re not a list of ‘must do’s’ – the point of Easter is that Jesus has saved us and set us free. We are no longer at the mercy of the wrath of God, because Jesus bore that wrath and annihilated death. The war against sin and death which had held us captive has been won.  So don’t tie yourself down to set activities and schedules, but ask the Holy Spirit to speak to you and your children this week, to show you afresh they joy of Easter. Sometimes the unexpected teachable moments that come our way are far more formative than any planned teaching or activities we have. So have a holy Holy week and praise God that, because of His great love, He sent His only Son, so that all who believe will not perish but have eternal life.