Category Archives: Parenting

Emphasising what’s important to our children

At a recent get-together for young mums, I was asked to share some of the ways I try and point our children (currently 4 years, 2 years and 4 months) towards the gospel – the good news about Jesus Christ. That my personality is disorganised, anxious and perfectionistic works against me. Yet Christ makes all things new! What a wonderful gospel to speak to our children.

To emphasise the gospel as of first importance, I need to de-emphasise everything else. So most of my day’s work falls under these two categories: de-emphasise everything else (to make room for the gospel), and emphasise (i.e. find space) for the gospel.

In Ephesians 4:22-24 it says:

“You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”

While it’s not exactly what I’m talking about, the principle off “putting off” and “putting on” is there. De-emphasise and emphasise.

Some ideas for de-emphasising everything else:

  1. I restrict my own hobbies and interests. I have so many of them: knitting, painting, comics, sketching, ink, poetry, sign language, learning languages, making sourdough, making charts, crochet, sewing, reading – these are just a few! But I am reminded that time spent doing these things could be spent on the essentials (you know, making dinner, looking after the girls), or thinking of ways to emphasise the gospel (more on that below).
  2. I lower expectations for essentials. For example, making multiple meals ahead of time. Freezing meals. Instead of cooking from scratch every night, I can serve the same thing with different starch, or season it with a different cuisine’s flavours (e.g. Mexican, Italian). Or add something crunchy. It’s amazing how far chicken and rice can go. When putting the laundry out – just get it done. Accept help from your husband and your toddlers – it’s OK if the pegs aren’t colour-coded perfectly!
  3. I simplify the daily format. I try and plan one main activity each day. There is also an afternoon nap for everyone – myself included. If time is pressing, just let go of the non-essentials. What if you’ve run out of time even to make dinner? That’s OK – what else are takeaways for, right?

 

Ideas for emphasising the gospel:

  1. Make a specific time for it. Right now, breakfast time is when we read a gospel-lit Psalm. William reads it and we talk about what we found interesting and how it might point to the God’s undeserved gift in Jesus. Or you could have a storytime while your kids are having snacks. If your children can sit still, a book like the Big Picture Story Bible is very good.
  2. Peg it onto an existing hook. The last time I made bread, we got to talk about how Jesus is the Bread of life. Just as without food we die. While tidying the house, I can make compare our sin with disorder. Things don’t get tidy on their own! Likewise, our sin needs intervention from a loving authority (God) to bring it back to order. Or when we write cards, we can practise considering the interests of others and loving them, something we don’t naturally do on our own – but Jesus did! (Philippians 2:1-11).
  3. Use unexpected activities to rehearse it. We’re running late for an activity. A dog appears suddenly and scares the children. There’s an argument about who the toy belongs to. We can process all these things intentionally, in light of the gospel. Highlight the law, our sin, and then the mercy/grace/forgiveness found in Jesus.

1 Corinthians 15:3-4 says:

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.”

So to emphasise the gospel as of first importance, I need to de-emphasise everything else. Do you more experienced parents have other ideas on how to do this? I’d like to hear them.

Caterpillars

Beneath a grey, complaining sun,
we wandered, I and you,
disconsolate and dubious,
to where the milkweed grew.

But there were monarch caterpillars
nestled in the ‘weed,
and puffy green ballooning fruit
that scatters swan plant seed.

We glimpsed a tiny second-instar
feasting on a leaf;
The big ones wore their velvet stripes
in black and gold relief.

Behold! He clothes the tree and worm:
are we not God’s delight?
O anxious heart, seek first His realm,
and He will prove His might.

– C. 17 June

Prone to wander: balance, family and priorities

As I look back at our calendar over the past 12 months, it’s easy to be puffed up.

We are the perfect family where I write interesting things, preach, lead worship, study, read, go cycling, play. Cheryl is the perfect housewife who bakes, sews, binds books, cooks, teaches the girls. It’s easy to rattle off what we’ve done and convince ourselves that being busy, doing stuff, going from one thing to another, means we have it all together.

But that’s not true.

That’s not who we are as a family. We struggle with sin. We’re tempted like everyone to make good things ultimate things in our lives. We need to keep bringing ourselves, our idols, to the foot of the cross and find forgiveness and grace in Jesus.

So here is an honest reflection, and an invitation to pray with us and to encourage one another.

One area that’s been a struggle for us in the last few months is in balancing between church and family commitments. And this is an area where I’m the one most at fault. And so earlier this week, after the helter-skelter of organising conferences, planning induction services and all kinds of ministry stuff, it was good for Cheryl and I to sit and think through where we were at.

We got to reflect on many things, including:

  • How easily I’ve said yes to ministry-related requests, even when I knew it was directly at the expense of serving the family.
  • How easy it’s been for date nights and family times to be put aside in exchange for an important ministry task.
  • How my heart is tempted to see up-front ministry as more spiritually formative than reading and praying at the dinner table.
  • Wondering out loud if – Lord forbid – I was willing to sacrifice my children on the altar of ministry “success”.

Faithful are the wounds of a friend, no less my best friend. It was difficult but good to wrestle with the truth: these are my temptations and struggles, from a heart that should delight in the love of Christ more than the praises of men, but is still “prone to wander”.

And perhaps they’re your struggles too. Whatever your vocation.

Maybe, like me, you’ve hidden behind your computer or phone screen because it’s easier than resolving the argument with your wife or kids.

Maybe, like me, you’d prefer chatting with the someone who showers you with praise on Sunday morning, than chatting with your wife about what chores need to be done. 

 


 

Last Sunday, the elders of Howick Baptist commissioned Richard and Sam Cutforth into full-time service as Senior and Assistant Pastor respectively. During the commissioning, one of the elders read out 1 Timothy 3:1-7 to remind everyone of the characteristics of an overseer. It was verse 4 and 5 that stuck out to both of us.

“He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?)”

This isn’t just for “elders”. This is a mark of a mature Christian. Faithfulness to the family – how I set my priorities in my home life, how I love Cheryl and the girls, how I serve them – all this determines how effective I am in any kind of gospel ministry.

By God’s grace I hope I don’t forget this.

When your yes means no

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Our oldest daughter turned 3 in May. We had a fantastic birthday party with friends and family, involving all kinds of instruments, and it ended with a sing-a-long with E on the ukulele.

About a week later, we got a call from a kindy who had E on their waitlist. “We’ve got two days a week available. Are you interested?”

A week later, lunch made and bag packed, off we were.

The teachers were professional and caring. We were given lots of support. E loved all the activities there (she would cry when I came to pick her up). Everything was run well and we felt it was a safe environment.

But we quickly figured out that the overall philosophy of this kindy was to develop independent, self-directed learning. In contrast, we’re still wanting E to continue developing as a child under her parent’s authority and care.

All in all, kindy wasn’t working. So we apologised, backtracked and took E out two weeks later.

But as we reflect back on the last month, a few more things have come to mind.

One was that our kindy experience revealed that we were controlled by a desire to please others. If we’re honest, looking back, we had a hard time saying no. It was much easier to do something with the approval of our Plunket lady, our friends and our family. After all, they did it, so why not? As kids we went to kindy, so why not? Why wouldn’t you put them there?

Another was that we essentially made the decision by default. It was more a “can you think of any reason not to?” Rather than “are you convinced about the reasons to?” We hadn’t really sat down and thought through how we wanted to teach our children beyond the next year. The total amount of discussion about kindy came to 2-3 brief conversations and a quick visit. In hindsight, we should have been more thoughtful about it. What were our reasons for sending E to kindy? What will be the benefits? What are the costs? In the helter-skelter of life, we failed to devote ourselves to word and prayer about this. It’s a warning against making decisions by default in other areas of our life. Why go to uni? Well, why not? Why take this job? Well, why not? A decision without conviction ends up being detrimental.

Finally, it was a vivid object lesson for us that saying yes to one thing is saying no to another.

Rory Shiner puts it this way:

“Every yes is a no. When you say, ‘Yes I will be at that soup kitchen’ you are also saying ‘No, I won’t be visiting mum in hospital.’ If you say, ‘Yes I will spend every night with church people and in church programmes’ you are saying ‘no’ to bearing witness to Jesus among your work friends and social network. So consider the ‘no’ in your ‘yes’.”

In our case, a yes to more time learning at kindy meant a no to more time learning with mum.

A yes to going to a different stimulating environment was saying no to our home (and the places mum and dad go) as a stimulating environment.

So in our next decision – whether it’s about school, home, ministry, marriage, career, hobbies – we need to remember considering the no in the yes. Rather than ask “What are we saying yes to?” – maybe it’s better for us to also ask: “What are we saying no to?”

After all, Jesus Himself put it in similar terms when making the call for disciples: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” We say no to one thing when we say yes to Another.

————————-

Would we send E to kindy again in future? Perhaps. But it would definitely be after serious thought.

In the meantime, as I write this, I’m sitting around the table while Cheryl is teaching E and H how to write. And as our eldest daughter writes her name out in confident strokes, and hands me a self-made card with her careful, single-stroke observations, I’m reminded again that saying no to something is not always a bad thing.

 

Family devotions: building for the long-term

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Tim Challies gives some good encouragement here regarding family worship:

There is no good way to measure the success of family devotions except by this: Did we do it? The thing is, we are building for the long-term here, not the short-term. A single episode of family devotions can so easily seem like a complete waste. But I am confident that when we measure by the hundreds spread over the 20 years the children are in our care, we will see that God worked powerfully in the hearts of our children and their parents.

Family worship doesn’t save; only Jesus can do that. But over time, God can be gracious enough to use it to awaken the gospel in the next generation.

You can read the whole post here.