Tuesday, September 30, 2008

bloggy holidays

We've finished our posts on enjoying God. I hope you enjoyed them. If you have any feedback or questions, add them to the comments or contact me.

I'm taking a week off intensive blogging. I don't know about you, but I'm exhausted after all those long, involved posts on enjoyment of God, motherhood, deciding how many children to have, and depression (what an easy lot of topics they were!).

It's school holidays here in Melbourne, and I'm spending time playing with my kids, catching up on my reading, and thinking over things, like how disorganised my life has become. ;)

I'll post a couple of quotes, family stories, and links, and I'll share my blogging plans for next term, so keep an eye on things, but don't expect any long posts on topics of great significance.

Feel free to catch up on some of those long, torturous posts from the last few weeks, or even better, take a week off yourself, and read the Bible instead of this blog!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

family traditions

In their wonderful book Disciplines of a Godly Family, Kent and Barbara Hughes talk about the disciplines of promoting family affections through special times and holidays (ch. 2), and creating spiritual and secular family traditions (ch. 3).

I'm not sure I'd go so far as to call special times and family traditions a biblical "discipline". But I do think these are wonderful opportunities to bond a family together, and give children memories of a secure, loving and happy childhood.

So here's us, continuing our own annual family tradition of going to the Royal Melbourne Show, a tradition which goes back a generation to Steve's own family:

What are your family traditions? Tell us about them!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

I sought for joy

It seems to be a week for poems, so since I've just shared my final post in the series enjoying God, here's a little poem about the search for joy.

This is one of the mercifully few (3!) poetic attempts I've made as an adult. I wrote it in my 20's, reflecting on how, as teenagers, my friend and I pursued "experiences" of God, and how I'd come to see things differently, especially after reading John Owen's Communion with God. You might notice a reference to this verse:

The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing. (Zephaniah 3:17)

I think this poem is in iambic pentameter, iambic being the opposite of trochaic, with every 2nd line having a feminine ending (according to wikipedia, which is the full extent of my poetic education). There's something odd going on near the end of the last line, no doubt to "create a more interesting overall rhythm and to highlight important thematic elements" (wikipedia again); this seems unlikely, since I knew nothing about any kind of meter when I wrote this poem. Ali will have to fill me in on the rest, since she knows far more about poetic meter than I'm ever likely to. Pure doggerel, no doubt! Anyhow, here it is, all 2 verses of it:

I sought for joy

I sought for joy, for ecstasy, and found
Swift fire: but it burning swiftly faded,
And, glowing embers falling all around,
Left bitter ash, dull smoke, all darkly shaded.

I sought for God, through lonely night and long,
In darkness dank my flick'ring flame fast dwindled:
But soft I felt his touch, and heard his song,
As, singing with delight, his love flame kindled.

image is from stock.xchng

Friday, September 26, 2008

enjoying God (10) what if I'm depressed?

In the mid 90's, I spent almost 3 years battling ongoing fear, anxiety, confusion, panic and depression, all fueled by this overwhelming and constant sense that life was hopeless. I was tired all the time, but couldn't sleep. Life went from a grey to a dark black. I thought about death for a period of 3 months almost every day, and I had no idea when it would end. Maybe you've never experienced something like what I went through. But all of us have experienced something that can be called depression, or at least feels like depression. We lose our appetite. We can't sleep. We feel tired all the time. We want to sleep all the time. We have constant feelings of guilt. We feel worthless. We think about death. For some, depression is an inconvenience. For others, it is a life-dominating numbness that won't go away.*

Depression is caused by many things: personality, brain chemistry, childhood experiences, Satan's attacks, exhaustion, illness, anxiety. But depression is never just physical or emotional. It impacts us as spiritual beings. It affects our relationship with God, our faith, our ability to seek God. It can destroy our joy.

I've never been severely depressed. I've experienced some periods of despondancy, and post-natal depression, the kind which plunges you into constant drabness and frequent tears, but doesn't require medicine or counselling. I say this so you'll know I'm no expert.

What I say here is from books I've read, talks I've heard, my studies in the Puritans (who excelled in unravelling the physical and spiritual causes of "melancholy"), conversations with friends who suffer from anxiety or depression, or who have supported others who are depressed, and the Bible, especially the Psalms.

We'll talk about three things: strategies for fighting for joy in God when you're depressed; suggestions for supporting others through depression; and resources on depression and the fight for joy. Please add your own suggestions to the comments.

Fighting for joy when you're depressed.
1. Cry out to God, honestly tell him your feelings of abandonment, bewilderment, or anger, and wait patiently for him to restore your joy (Ps. 41:1; 51:12).
2. Remember that God holds onto you even when you can’t hold onto him (Jn. 10:28).
3. Answer Satan’s accusations - for example, that a real Christian wouldn't feel this way - with the gospel.
4. Confess any unrepentant sin, especially unbelieving patterns of thought, like bitterness or despair. These may be present even if the original source of the depression is physical.
5. Talk to yourself, instead of allowing yourself to talk to you. Don't let yourself get away with despairing patterns of thinking. Exhort yourself to hope in God.
6. Replace unhelpful thoughts with helpful ones (Col. 3:2; Phil. 4:8; Heb. 12:3). Memorise the words and promises of God, and speak them to yourself. Think about what God has done, is doing, will do (Psalm 102). Study the Bible or read about God, even when it’s hard work.
7. Praise and thank God verbally even when you don’t feel it.
8. Read, learn and sing psalms and songs which express discouragement (see hymns below, also Psalm 42-3, 88, 102, etc).
9. Grit your teeth and do your tasks, one step at a time: get dressed, wipe the bench, write a paragraph of an essay.
10. Depression can be nature's warning sign of over-work, unhelpful patterns of life, or ungodly thinking patterns. It may be time to stop and prayerfully re-assess these things.
11. Shift your gaze outwards. Pray for others. Share the gospel with others. Serve others at cost to yourself.
12. Try to eat well, and get enough exercise and rest.
13. Get outside into God’s world, breathe some fresh air.
14. Find a Christian friend who will stand by you, and speak the words you can’t speak to yourself. I learnt to call a Christian friend as soon as I was feeling down.
15. If depression is severe, counselling may be helpful to give you practical strategies for dealing with depression, and medication may dull the edges so you can deal with the root issues. See your doctor.

Supporting someone who is depressed
1. Love them. Your love might be the only way they are able to experience God's love right now.
2. Don't give up on them. Persevere even when it's hard, and they don't seem to change.
3. Sit with them. You may not be able to do much, and they may not want to talk, but it is comforting for them to know you are there.
4. Listen. Allow them to express anger, bewilderment, despair, doubt, and sadness, even if it makes you uncomfortable. Don't feel like you have to "fix" everything.
5. Read the Bible to them. Pray with them. Speak God's promises, gospel and words to them, when they can't speak them to themselves.
6. You may need to help them take some of the steps above. For example, don't say "Do you want to go for a walk?", but be gently forceful: "Let's go for a walk together!"
7. Give practical help. As with grief, don't ask "What can I do to help?", just give it: make a meal, clean the house, care for their children.
8. They may not feel able to pick up the phone and call you, even if they need to. Make a regular time to call and visit.
9. Give them structure. A regular weekly visit will help them to keep going until the next one.
10. Set clear boundaries. Don't allow them to become unhelpfully dependent on you. You may need to be available at odd times and in odd places, but you may also need to set limits on times and lengths of conversations.

Hymns to learn and sing:
Give to the winds thy fears
God moves in a mysterous way
'Twixt gleams of joy and clouds of doubt

For further reading:
John Piper When the Darkness Will Not Lift, which is the last chapter in When I Don't Desire God
Edward Welch Depression: A Stubborn Darkness;
and Blame it on the Brain?;
and his booklet Depression: The Way Up When You Are Down.

Talks to listen to:
Bob Kauflin The Depressed (the quote at the top is from this talk)
John Piper Battling the Unbelief of Despondency;
and Spiritual Depression in the Psalms;
and his biographies of people who suffered from severe depression: Charles Spurgeon, William Cowper, David Brainerd

* Quote is from Bob Kauflin The Depressed. My first 15 suggestions owe much to Piper's 15 suggestions in the fight for joy: How Shall We Fight for Joy. Piper explains and expands on these steps in this talk: How to fight for joy, Session 3. Thank you Heather for many of my second 10 suggestions.

images are from stock.xchng

Thursday, September 25, 2008


It's not trochaic like "Tiger, tiger, burning bright", but it is about a Tiger. So in affectionate homage to Nicole's Poetry Mondays, and Ali's poetry experiment, here's an alphabetical poem my 9-year old daughter Elizabeth brought home last week, which shows that she has far more promise as a poet than her mother ever will:

The Tiger
A Tiger watched me through the trees
Butterfles flew away and I froze
Can anyone help me? I shouted shakily
Digging ants crawled around my feet
Everything seemed to fall silent as the Tiger watched me
Fun? This was not fun I thought
Growls echoed through the jungle
Hungrily the Tigers tummy rumbled
I started to run but the tiger just came closer and closer
Jumpily the Tiger got ready to pounce
King Cobra came past me and I screamed
Luckily I woke up and it was only a dream.

image is from stock.xchng

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

psalm 42-43 and the fight for joy

As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?
My tears have been my food day and night,
while men say to me all day long,
"Where is your God?"

You may remember I suggested you read Psalms 42-43 in my post how to fight for joy. If you haven't already, why not read it before you read this, and write your own list of the ways the deeply sorrowing psalmist fights for joy.

Here's the list I came up with:

- he thirsts deeply for God, and doesn't give up seeking him (42:1-2)
- he cries many tears (he doesn't try to deny or escape from his sorrow - 42:3)
- he tells God about his suffering with great honesty (42:1-3, 10)
- he's not afraid to ask God "Why?", without apology (42:9; 43:2)
- he remembers past blessings and God's saving acts (42:4, 6)
- he affirms that the suffering he experiences is from God's hand (42:7)
- he trusts, sings, and prays to God his "Rock" and "Stronghold" (42:8-9; 43:2)
- he asks God for vindication and rescue (43:1-3)
- he looks forward expectantly to God's rescue and the restoration of his joy (43:3-4)
- everything is not all right at the end, but he goes on fighting for joy (43:5)
- he preaches to his soul again and again (Ps. 42:5, 11; 43:5)

The psalmist feels abandoned by God, but he never stops thirsting for God. He tells God exactly how he feels! His anguished question, "Why?", is an expression of faith in God, for he knows that God is sovereign over his suffering, that God has promised and acted to bless his people, and that God can restore his joy. God is still his strength and song.

And even when his prayers remain unanswered, he goes on striving against his despondancy, and pleads with himself to trust in God. Like the psalmist, we will need to do this again and again, as we struggle against anxious, doubting, despairing thoughts, and strive to hope in God, who we can trust to do only good toward us.

Neil Chambers, in his wonderful talk Lamentation: God's Gift, an Expression of Faith, reminds us how much we need Psalms 42-43:

Lament, giving voice to suffering before God, is not popular in contemporary Christian life. Genuine lament is hard. To give voice to suffering, you have to own, as part of yourself, the failure, the loss, the grief. The lament is a prayer of faith from start to finish. I think Christians who cannot, where appropriate, lament, are ill-equipped to live the life of faith in this world.

Can I encourage you to learn this Psalm, for the day of suffering when you need words to cry out to God, and fight for joy. There's a version you can sing here and here.

And here's some excellent sermons on Psalm 42-43. I'd love to encourage you to listen to them all, each one is different, and will give you useful weapons in your fight for joy!

Neil Chambers, on the importance of lament: Lamentation: God's Gift, an Expression of Faith
John Piper, on the psalmist's fight for joy: Spiritual Depression in the Psalms
C.J.Mahaney, on learning to talk to yourself: The Troubled Soul: God's Word and our Feelings
Bob Kauflin, on his experience of depression: The Depressed

images are from stock.xchng

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

how many children should I have?

I never imagined the interest and debate my post on less children, more ministry? would raise! It's time to offer some follow-up thoughts, tie up loose ends, clarify what needs clarifying, and share some of the helpful points made by people who commented (thanks to you all!).

So, how many children? Here's what I'd like to say, starting with the big picture God's purposes for marriage and children:

1. God's purpose for marriage
The purpose of marriage is to work together in the task God has given us, to govern and care for his creation; and, after the fall, to help restore God's creation by proclaiming the gospel. The woman was made as a "helper" not as a solution to loneliness, but because the man needed help in his task (Gen. 1-3).*

2. God's purpose for children
We have children for the same reason: not to meet our needs, or because it's expected of us, but to help fulfil God's task for humankind, by "multiplying" those who will govern and care for creation, and share in God's work of redemption. (Louisa rightly calls motherhood "multiplication ministry".) Children are a "blessing" from God, to be received with thanksgiving (Gen. 49:25).* (See welcoming children.)

3. The "calling" of motherhood**
The ministry of motherhood (and fatherhood) has immense significance. Our primary "calling" as wives and mothers is, after loving and helping our husbands, to raise our children - through teaching, example, love, nurture, discipline, and prayer - as fellow-workers in God's kingdom. All other work or ministry should be considered in the light of this question: does it help or hinder my primary responsibilities to husband and children?

4. Marriage and children
That's why children should be an intended part of every marriage (acknowledging that some couples will sadly be unable to have children). Christians rarely admit to having no children for selfish reasons: because it's too much responsibility, or because they are protecting their lifestyle. But they sometimes have no children in order to "serve God". This ignores the fact that one of the primary ways married people serve God is by having and raising godly offspring.*

5. Under- and over-valuing family
It's possible to undervalue the place of family. I recently heard the sad story of a mother so absorbed in ministry outside the home, that she didn't raise her children as Christians. It's also possible to overvalue the place of family. We can idolise our family to such an extent, that we fail to reach out to, and serve, people outside our home, which isn't biblical or a good example to our children (see Nicole's post). Both may have an unhelpful impact on how many children we decide to have.

6. Contraception
Any children God gives us should be welcomed as blessings from him, even the unplanned ones! But this doesn't mean that it's wrong to use contraception (as long as it doesn't potentially cause abortion). We are in the unique and privileged position, historically and geographically, of being able to decide (to some extent) how many children we will have. The decision of "how many?" is a matter of freedom and wisdom.

7. Freedom to choose wisely.
Each couple will make this decision based on many factors: their personalities, context, work, ministry, financial resources ("need not greed" as Simone points out), to name a few. We shouldn't judge others about when they have children, or how many they have: we don't know all the reasons, and this is a decision they make before God in freedom.* (This doesn't mean we shouldn't discuss what godly wisdom looks like in practice, as Nicole points out.)

8. The impact of feminism
We need to be aware of the hidden assumptions influencing our decisions. It's no accident that the birth rate in Western countries falls every year, and the age at which women have their first child increases. Because we often value work, and ministry outside the home, over the ministry of motherhood, we may decide to have less children for the sake of "ministry", forgetting the importance of motherhood as ministry (thanks Cathy for these observations!).

9. Not deciding for all the wrong reasons.
Which was why I wrote my post: to point out that we shouldn't have less kids because we devalue motherhood as ministry. Raising children to serve God is our primary, vital ministry as mothers. This doesn't necessarily mean we'll have more children. But we shouldn't have less children because we see motherhood as a hindrance rather than a privilege.

10. Deciding for the right reasons.
The decision about how many children to have looks different for each of us: but let's make it prayerfully and wisely, in the context of a life of ministry and service. As Louisa says, "Some people for a whole host of reasons will be better suited to having a large family and ministering effectively to said family and their community than others will be."

For a great example of what this decision may look like in practice, see Sharon's story (thanks for sharing it with us!).

And thanks Nicole for reminding us that, this decision having been made, God may surprise us with another blessing!

*These points owe much to Christopher Ash Married for God; the quote is from pp.60-61. By the way, if you're going to read only 1 book on marriage, this should be it!

**I am using the word "calling" in the sense of career not divine impulse. Louisa asked an interesting question: what if we're called to ministry outside the home? I wouldn't use "calling" in this sense: see called to ministry. If we're going to use the language of "calling", remember that the moment you became a wife, and then a mother, you received your primary "calling" from God. Which doesn't mean we won't have other ministries on our heart as well, but they will always be secondary.

Thanks to all those who commented on less children, more ministry?. Sorry if I didn't have space to discuss your comment here.

Monday, September 22, 2008

online meanderings: supporting those who grieve

What age is best for your child to die? It seems an absurd question. The answer could be equally absurd. Perhaps the best time is within the first week of birth, or even during birth: you couldn't possibly have bonded that soon. Maybe it'd be better before two years of age: you could enjoy their laughter for a while and they'd be too young to understand. Maybe 10 years old: your son or daughter would have enjoyed a carefree childhood and not known the pains of adolescence. What about 18? They could have experienced love, maybe sex, part-time work, a bit of uni, but would be spared the burdens of adulthood. Or maybe adulthood would be best. They could have experienced all of life's ups and downs. You'd feel better then, wouldn't you?

We all know there is no 'best' age, and yet if you're unfortunate enough to experience the death of your child, there will always be someone with a cliche to 'comfort' you, or an opinion as to why it's not that bad. ...

We've made such advances in medicine. ... Children aren't supposed to die in this country ... We don't do death well in the West. Eastern cultures are more udnerstanding of the transient nature of our lives. For them it's accepted that you plan a 'good death'. Why is planning for and talking about death so taboo to us?

This is from Gail Andrew's article "Expressions of Grief" in this month's Melbourne's Child (and Sydney's Child, Perth's Child, etc.). It's by a woman whose severely disabled son died in her arms when he was 7 years old. Here's some of her observations:

  • Don't deny the loss, saying things like "There are plenty of others worse off than you", "At least you have two healthy children", "She's much better off.", "It must be a relief to you. You can get on with your life now."

  • Realise that anger may be part of grief: don't be offended if an angry outburst seems misdirected. Don't treat the grieving person as if they were inconsiderate or socially unacceptable if they cry or express anger.

  • "It" will not be over the day or the week after the funeral. In fact, "it" will never be over. Don't expect stoic endurance, or that those grieving should get on with their lives as if nothing had happened.

  • Don't ask "Do you need help?", for in the months after a death, those grieving may be numb and shocked, unable to think rationally about what they need. Just give company and practical help, like taking them fishing, or cooking them a meal.

  • When a couple is grieving, it may put intense strain on their relationship, and they may not be able to comfort each other. They will need others to support them, and walk with them through their grief.

  • Knowing that others feel uncomfortable with grief, will burden the grieving person with having to keep silent about their grief in order to maintain friendship. She says, "People become very distant when they are at a loss for words."

  • The best thing you can do? "Many people gathered around to comfort us and carry us through the intense waves of pain ... nothing was too much trouble. A special few were able to cry with us, be angry with us, walk beside us and share our grief."

  • And from another article in the same magazine: it's important to acknowledge grief. Elizabeth Quinn speaks of how she helped her friend celebrate the life of her stillborn son, who was lost and never mentioned again.

How are things different for Christians? In some ways, not at all: in the wonderful post Psalm 6: Walking with friends through grief Cathy observes that grief is a drawn-out, exhausting process, and that we shouldn't attempt to "tidy up" our grieving friends' feelings. But she also reminds us that Christians have the comfort of God's loving and sovereign care.

Cathy's friends have just lost their baby boy, and she is walking with them through grief, and looking forward to the day when every tear will be wiped from our eyes. She says of her sad, strange week, "This week isn't surprising and it doesn't have the last word. Thankyou risen King Jesus." Amen.

Abraham and Molly Piper lost baby Felicity 6 months ago. Molly has written a lot about her grief, and about how to support those who are grieving. There's a list of links to the posts she's written in how to help your grieving friend.

John Piper teaches us how to "weep with those who weep" in How can I comfort my brother whose daughter has cancer.

And there's some wonderful, practical advice in What I'd like you to know: The Mom of a child with cancer. I'd love to list all the advice she gives, but why not read it for yourself? I've made lots of the mistakes she mentions, so I found this perhaps the most useful post of all.

images are from stock.xchng

Sunday, September 21, 2008

the making of a jungle cake

Our oldest son just turned 8! On the night of his birthday, we happened to read Genesis 35, the story of how Jacob's youngest son Benjamin got his name, which means "son of my right hand": a tale of grief turned to joy.

Here's our very own Benjamin with his jungle cake:

And here's how we made it. Lizzy is kneading green food colouring into some ready-made icing (500 g light green, 500 g mid green):

We rolled out the icing, and used a paper pattern to cut out the leaves:

We dried the leaves overnight, draped over some wooden spoon handles (I should have allowed a few days, like the recipe said - some of ours fell apart!):

Three cakes, made from packet mix, were layered with some green butter cream icing:

We iced the cake, and put 8 Flakes around the sides for tree trunks:

We arranged the leaves on top:

We put some plastic animals and lolly fruit in our jungle, and voila! One jungle cake:

Happy birthday Ben!

The design for this cake was from Women's Weekly's Kids' Birthday Cakes.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Martyn Lloyd-Jones on where to find joy

The child of the light is sometimes found walking in darkness but he goes on walking. He does not sit down and commiserate with himself … He does not see the face of the Lord at this point, but he knows that He is there; so he goes on.

If you want to be truly happy and blessed, if you would like to know true joy as a Christian, here is the prescription – ‘Blessed (truly happy) are they who do hunger and thirst after righteousness’ – not after happiness. Do not go on seeking thrills; seek righteousness. Turn to yourself, turn to your feelings and say: 'I have no time to worry about feelings, I am interested in something else. I want to be happy but still more I want to be righteous, I want to be holy. ... ' ... Seek for happiness and you will never find it, seek righteousness and you will discover you are happy – it will be there without your knowing it, without your seeking it.

Finally … Do you want to know supreme joy, do you want to experience a happiness that eludes description? There is only one thing to do, really seek Him ... If you find that your feelings are depressed do not sit down and commiserate with yourself. Do not try to work something up but ... go directly to Him and seek His face, as the little child who is miserable and unhappy because someone has taken or broken his toy, runs to its father or its mother. So if you and I find ourselves afflicted by this condition, there is only one thing to do, it is to go to Him. If you seek the Lord Jesus Christ and find Him there is no need to worry about your happiness and your joy. He is our joy and our happiness, even as He is our peace. He is life, He is everything.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones Spiritual Depression pp.117-8
image is from stock.xchng

Friday, September 19, 2008

enjoying God (9) how can I fight for joy?

Have you ever thought of joy as a battle?

Joy is not something which slips easily into the heart. In this fallen world, with all its shame, sorrow and suffering, joy is something we must fight for with all our strength.

Many things attack our joy. We can't change these things, but we can change how we respond to them. Here's a list I gathered from Martyn Lloyd-Jones' Spiritual Depression:

- we can't change our personality,
but we must guard against our weaknesses;
- we may wake in a bad mood,
but we don't have to let it dominate us;
- we can't change a tendency to depression,
but we can choose not to give in to despair;
- we should grieve for those who die,
but we shouldn't let grief permanently overwhelm us;
- we may feel the heavy weight of guilt,
but we can remind ourselves of Jesus' death;
- we can't always change our circumstances,
but we can choose how to respond to them;
- we may feel like God is absent,
but we can remember that he is always with us in Christ;
- we can't avoid Satan's whispered temptations,
but we can decide to listen to God instead;
- we can't make ourselves happy,
but we can choose to rejoice in God.

Feelings aren't under our direct control. We can't change how we feel, but we can change what we believe, how we think, and how we act and speak, and these things will shape our emotions. Here's some practical suggestions:

1. Beliefs.
Next time you're angry, jealous, or discouraged, think about the beliefs shaping how you feel. Emotions are often a good guide to our hearts. Perhaps we're doubting God's love, or failing to trust in his goodness. Repent, pray for help, read the Bible, hold to God's promises: these change our beliefs, and shape our feelings.

2. Thoughts.
There's not much point in pushing a thought away, unless we replace it with something better. We're told to "set our minds on things above" (Col. 3:2). I memorise Bible passages, and repeat them when unhelpful thoughts pop into my head: very effective in battling impure, anxious and despairing thoughts.

3. Words and actions.
We may feel angry, but we can speak and act with kindness. We may feel miserable, but we can thank God. We may feel depressed, but we can do the next small task in front of us. It's surprising the effect this can have on our emotions.

4. Body.
We're embodied creatures, and our bodies have a huge impact on how we feel. If we're irritable, miserable, or discouraged, a look at our eating, exercise and sleeping habits during the last few hours or days may tell us why. We may need to make some changes for the sake of our godliness and joy.

I haven't even mentioned one of the most vital and neglected weapon in our battle for joy: preaching to ourselves. We mustn't let ourselves get away with untrue, discouraged thinking. We must learn to speak to ourselves of God's promises, words and salvation, and exhort ourselves to believe and rejoice.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones says this is the key to battling discouragement: "We must talk to ourselves instead of allowing ‘ourselves’ to talk to us!"* Read the Psalms, and echo their words: "Praise the LORD, O my soul!" "Why are your downcast, O my soul? Put your hope in God!" "Be at rest, O my soul!" (Ps. 113:1; 42:5; 116:7)

Why don't you pick up your Bible, and read Psalm 42-43? Perhaps you could choose this for your Bible reading tomorrow. Write a list of the ways the Psalmist fights for joy (don't all women love lists?). You'll discover many wonderful ways to fight for joy.

* You'll find the rest of the quote here: Christian self-talk.

images are from stock.xchng

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

a 2-year old talks about Mum

After all that talk about motherhood, ministry, and that dreaded question "Do you work?", I though I'd share this recent conversation I had with my 2-year old son, Andrew:

Andrew - What Lizzy doing?

Mum - Lizzy's at school.

Andrew - What Benny doing?

Mum - Benny's at school.

Andrew - What Tommy doing?

Mum - Tommy's at kinder.

Andrew - What Daddy doing?

Mum - Daddy's working.

Andrew- What Mummy doing?

Mum - Mummy's at home.

Andrew - Mummy's not working.


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

motherhood Q&A: less children, more ministry?

One of the best things about leading a seminar on motherhood was the fantastic questions people asked. I thought I'd take one question at a time, and have a go at answering them. I'm no expert, so please add your thoughts to the comments!

Q1. Should I have less kids so I can do more ministry?

What a great question! And it's not just theoretical: I have met godly parents, whom I respect greatly, who stopped at 2 children partly so the mother could have more time for ministry.

It sounds godly, doesn't it? Far better than the usual reasons for having less children: because it's too much trouble, or too expensive, or will stop me achieving my goals, or because (my personal favourite) we'd have to buy one of those daggy Taragos (guilty as charged!). One woman told me she said to her husband she would only have more children if he bought her a Hummer.

But my initial (and very tentative) response to the question is "no" (tentative, because I know some godly couples may make this decision). There are many good reasons to have less children, some involving ministry. But if someone told me they were having less kids so they could do more ministry, I would gently probe to see if there were any unhelpful assumptions underlying this decision. Here's why:

  • The purpose of marriage includes children.
    We wouldn't (or we shouldn't) have no children for the sake of ministry, for children are one of the purposes of a godly marriage (Gen. 1:26-28, Mal. 2:15). So why would we have less children for this reason alone?

  • Motherhood is ministry of great significance.
    To have less children for the sake of ministry, may reveal that we think motherhood isn't ministry, or that it's a lesser ministry than the ministry we do outside the home. I'd give someone who thought like this Susan Maushart's The Mask of Motherhood to read, a secular book which shows why we think this way; or a Christian book like Carolyn Mahaney's Feminine Appeal, to inspire her to think about motherhood as ministry.

  • The early years of motherhood are only for a season.
    The day will come - sooner than you think! - when you will have time for ministry outside the home. It might feel like that day will never come. But this intense season is only for a short time: ask anyone with grown children! I know women often feel like their life is fast disappearing. But you have many more years of ministry ahead, God willing. And you will have so much more wisdom to offer people as you grow older.
  • Motherhood enriches your ministry to others.
    Motherhood opens up many opportunitities for ministry and mission - hospitality, ministry to school mums, mother's groups, etc. (see missional motherhood). There are also mums who value my advice because they know that I understand life with 4 children. And what about the growth in character and godliness which comes with the stresses and strains of raising a family? You can't put a price on that, or the depth it brings to your ministry long-term. And what about the ministry your children will one day do themselves?
Of course, having less children for the sake of ministry may be one factor among others. Having more children doesn't make you more godly, as if the ideal Christian family is a big one. There can be ungodly reasons for having more kids, such as the idolatry of family.

Here are some good reasons I've heard for having less kids:

  • The personality of the parents makes less children more suitable. Because the number of kids we have is a freedom issue, it's ok for personal preference, situation, past experience, age, financial resources, etc. to have a bearing on how many children we decide to have (of course, God may give us his own little surprises!).

  • Health or psychological issues are involved: there's a high likelihood of kidney failure or pre-eclampsia during pregnancy, the mother suffers from high anxiety levels or severe post-natal depression, or there's a high risk of genetic abnormalities.

  • A severely disabled or autistic child is already demanding a high level of care.

  • Staying on the mission field may not be possible with more children, due to schooling and/or financial support issues.

  • Staying in a significant ministry may not be possible with more children, because of the unique demands it places on a family e.g. long absences for the father, a need for the mother to help provide income.
You'll notice that ministry is a factor in some of these decisions. But let's not undervalue the ministry of motherhood, or the richness motherhood can bring to our ministry outside the home, or the ministry our children will do as they grow.

One more comment: many women with babies, in the fog of sleep-deprivation and continual crying, say "never again". Wait. This isn't the time to decide how many children you'll have. When your child is older, and you're feeling human again, your husband and you will be able to make a considered decision.

What do you think? You'll no doubt have perspectives on this issue I haven't thought of!

images are from stock.xchng

Monday, September 15, 2008

online meanderings: self-control and shopping

The topic of the moment seems to be self-control.

Not necessarily a popular topic! And what exactly does it mean? The Greek word sophron, often translated "self-control" in Titus 2:3-5, means level-headed, discrete, prudent, sober, sensible, sound minded, and thoughtful.*

Jerry Bridges puts it well:
Self-control is the exercise of inner strength, under the direction of sound judgement, that enables us to do, think, and say the things that are pleasing to God.
Last Thursday, I read Nicole's Equip Books post about the chapter on self-control in Carolyn Mahaney's Feminine Appeal. And last weekend, as I continue working my way through Mahaney's talk series on Titus 2:3-5, I listened to her talk on self-control.

It gave me a timely kick in the pants. I think we sometimes fail to call sin "sin". It becomes so very familiar to us, and the effort to fight it just seems too hard. I think I've given up a bit on the battle with gluttony; my decision to rise early to pray has only just resurfaced after a run of winter illnesses; and the struggle for self-control in my blogging and computer use is a continual battle.

But you'll notice, in Nicole's post and the comments, that there was some concern that Carolyn Mahaney didn't address self-control and shopping in her book, although she does touch on it in her talk. (Of course, there are many other areas demanding self-control - gossip, bossiness, spiritual disciplines, etc. - and she couldn't cover them all.)

Long-term readers of this blog may recall my early posts on shopping. One of my very first posts was the attack of the killer credit card, followed by the attack of the killer credit card continues, and concluded with the joy of Christmas (shopping). In June this year, reflecting on the battle, I shared 15 lessons I've learnt about self-control.

Well, I went shopping the other day. And I found that instead of filling me with temptation, the glut of products displayed on hundreds of shelves, enticingly arranged to attract wealthy first-worlders and their over-indulged children, filled me with repulsion. Which goes to show, in negative as well as positive ways, how the practice of self-control transforms our way of seeing.

Of course, now I have to struggle with the opposite temptation: to put off trips to the shops indefinitely, way past the point where my children need new socks and school pants. But I've learnt to take a detailed list on my bi-annual trips to the shops for children's clothes, and I'm even learning to stick to it.

Let's not overstate things. I still lose many a struggle with my conscience when I'm facing yet another stand of "cheap" stocking fillers at the supermarket (can't avoid supermarket shopping, can you?!). And buying books on the internet has led to a few major downfalls.

I'm still a work in progress: but there's hope, because God is the one working in me. I hold on to his promise, that "he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus" (Phil. 1:6).

* In the small print in this post on self-control, you'll find my explanation of the various words translated "self-control" in the New Testament.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

back-seat echoes

Ever noticed how the things you say to your children come back to haunt you?

A few weeks ago, I was driving the kids home from school. We were trying to turn right across an impossible intersection (I really must write to the local council about that), across 2 lanes of traffic into a busy road. We were stuck behind 8 cars containing impatient mothers and their squabbling children, stuck behind 2 cars driven by tentative learner drivers.

We watched as the L-plated car at the head of the queue sat - and sat - and inched forward - and sat - as no cars went across its path - as one light change released its long line of traffic in front of us - as no cars went across its path for another long minute or two - and as a glacier-slow yellow pavement tester (whatever that is) inched its way magisterially across the road.

You can imagine the tension building inside the car.

Until my darling daughter said, "Mum, I think God is trying to teach you patience!"

How many times I have said that to myself when we were stuck in traffic, loudly enough for the children to hear, hoping to pass on a message about how to respond to frustration, how to deal with our sinful tendences, and how to take thoughts, feelings, words and actions captive to God's truth.

It seems they were listening.

image is from stock.xchng

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Susan Maushart on motherhood

Why is it that we're tempted to undervalue motherhood? During her seminar on motherhood, Heather shared this wonderful quote from The Mask of Motherhood, where Susan Maushart discusses feminism, work, marriage and motherhood:

The current generation of mothers feels not only constrained, torn and frustrated: they feel cheated, as if an important secret of adult life has been withheld from them. (It has been, of course.) All things were meant to be possible. The discovery that only a few of them are achievable, and some of those are mutually exclusive anyway, comes as a nasty shock.

That we could have ever believed otherwise is the legacy of 1970s feminist fantasies, according to Mary Ann Glendon, Learned Hand Professor of Law at Harvard University. ‘By treating marriage and motherhood as obstacles to women’s progress,’ Glendon argues, ‘first wave feminist thought actually helped reinforce the idea that the only work that counts is work for pay outside the home.’ As for the rest of life – the ‘motherhood thing’ most emphatically included – well, we were implicitly assured, that would all fall into place somehow. We swallowed this, Gendon suggests, not because it made any sense (it didn’t), but because we so badly wanted it to. The fantasy of ‘having it all’ has been so alluring, we have been willing to give up almost everything – even our common sense - in the quest.

Isn’t it time we grew up? Glendon suggests sternly. ‘The grown up question is not can all our dreams come true,’ she writes, ‘The real question is whether we can do better than we’re doing now.’ … There is no such thing as Supermom. Lots of women may appear to have their cake (as mothers) and be eating it too (as paid workers), yet the net result feels suspiciously like emotional bulimia…’ (pp.178-179)

Artwork is La Noche de Los Pobres by Diego Rivera; emphasis mine.

Friday, September 12, 2008

enjoying God (8) why don't I feel joy in God?

Sometimes Christians give the impression that to be a Christian, you have to be happy. If you're miserable, maybe there's something lacking in your faith, or you're not really a Christian.

It won't be long before experience of suffering, sorrow, or discouragement, brings that kind of faith crashing down.

There will be times in every Christian's life when we wonder if we will ever feel joy again. But what should we make of these times? Aren't we supposed to have joy in God? Can you be a Christian without joy?

There are a few things to remember here. First, desire and delight are two sides of the same coin. Sometimes we feel delight, a positive experience of joy. Sometimes all we feel is desire, longing for God. But both show how highly we value God, how we believe he alone can satisfy the desires of our soul.

Second, joy may seem to be absent, even when its seed remains in our hearts. We know the seed is there, because we're unhappy about our lack of joy. We're uncomfortable. We feel something is missing. If we didn't care about God, our lack of joy in God wouldn't bother us. In the depths of that sorrow is the seed of joy.

And most importantly: whatever our feelings of God's absence, the fact is that he is always with us, if we trust in Jesus. We're righteous in God's sight, united with Christ, and his Spirit lives in us (Rom. 3:22; 6:5; 8:9-11). We don't move into, or out of, God's presence depending on our feelings. The foundation for joy is always there, even when feelings of joy are absent.

But is it appropriate for Christians to be unhappy? Doesn't Paul say "rejoice in the Lord always", and "be joyful always" (Phil. 4:4, 1 Thess. 5:16)? Are unhappy Christians worse Christians, or disobedient Christians?

Christians should be unhappy, at times, in this fallen world. It's appropriate for Christians to grieve. It's appropriate for Christians to feel sorrow. A Christian who doesn't feel grief and sorrow in the face of death and suffering lacks something. Christians shouldn't be immune to what is happening around them.

But we can be unhappy and joyful at the same time. Paul describes himself as "sorrowful, yet always rejoicing" (2 Cor. 6:10). Peter says the people he is writing to "greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials" (1 Pet. 1:6). They don't just suffer, they "sorrow" and "grieve" - yet they also rejoice.

For joy and happiness aren't the same thing. It's possible to feel a deep sense of joy in God, even when we grieve or suffer terribly. Sometimes our joy in God is more intense when the things of this world are stripped away. Perhaps you have known this: the determination to trust and praise God in the face of loss, the sweet joy of suffering with Christ in the cause of the gospel.

Yet there will be times when joy seems a million miles away. In the first moments, days, or weeks, of devastating loss, it may be anguish, bewilderment, and even anger, which we express with honesty to God. And many great saints - Spurgeon, Cowper, Brainerd - suffered from severe depression.

In the day of sorrow, sometimes all we can do is cry out to God, hold on to his promises, plead with our souls, pray, and wait.

Futher reading: many of these ideas are taken from John Piper's When I Don't Desire God, and from chapter 16, on trials, in Martyn Lloyd-Jones' Spiritual Depression.

images are from stock.xchng

Caution: Parenting Book. Read with Care. (Part 2)

My last post on Sola Panel may have left you thinking that I hate parenting books. Let me assure you that there are some excellent parenting books which apply the Bible's teaching with care and wisdom.

We need Christians to write parenting books which are truly biblical, for we're surrounded by popular parenting models based on a secular world view. But even the best parenting book can leave us feeling proudly judgemental or unnecessarily guilt-ridden.

So how should we read parenting books? How can we learn from them without turning their advice into rules and their principles into legalism?

Here are three questions I have learned to ask of the suggestions in parenting books:

  1. Is this a biblical principle I must follow?

  2. Is this an application of the Bible which may be wise, but isn't binding?

  3. Is this human advice which may or may not be useful?

The first I must prayerfully obey, the second I may choose to practise, and the third is a matter of preference.

And here are three questions I have learned to ask of myself and others: (My sensible husband asks me these whenever I'm overcome by parenting book-induced guilt.)

  1. Are we teaching our children about God?

  2. Are we disciplining our children?

  3. Are we loving our children?

If the answer is ‘yes’, then we are fulfilling God's basic demands for parents.

Here's a list of God's parenting non-negotiables from the Bible ...

To read the rest, head over to Sola Panel.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Jean Williams on motherhood

During our seminar on motherhood on Saturday, I gave my testimony about being a mum. Here's a potted version. Readers of this blog will be familiar with some of the themes. You see, I've been thinking about this for a while!

Motherhood came relatively easily to me. I prayed and longed for a baby. I've never forgotten discovering I was pregnant, or seeing our babies for the first time.

But motherhood challenged all my expectations: there’s nothing like 8 months of sleepless nights to make you wonder just how wonderful this thing called “motherhood” is! And I came to motherhood so untrained: 6 weeks into caring for my first baby, I felt utterly bewildered about how to settle her. Mums also get little encouragement: my least favourite question, "Do you work?", always makes me feel like I'm achieving nothing.

We come to motherhood with high expectations, little training, and little encouragement.

My girl's school taught me that women should be doctors or lawyers, if they got the marks, and never once mentioned motherhood. Society tells me every day that children are a burden, an obstacle to my status, my ambitions, my fulfilment. The church tells me that ministry is something you do for people outside the home, leading Bible studies, mentoring people, or filling the church roster.

Sometimes I start to listen to those voices. This year was one of those times. I became so immersed in ministry outside the home - writing, teaching, leading seminars - that I think my mothering suffered.

Until I realised a startling fact: motherhood is one of the most important ministries you will ever have. We’re not marking time, waiting for real life, real work, real ministry, to start. We’re doing that important ministry today.

Just think how many opportunities we have, every day, to talk with our children about God! Not only when we read the Bible with them at night. But also while we cook, chat with them about school, or take a casserole to a family in need; or as we walk with them through anxiety, sickness or grief.

It's our incredible privilege to raise children, God willing, to be happy, healthy adults, who love God with their whole heart, who love and serve others, and who will help to take the gospel to the world. For one day you and I will let our children go, perhaps to marriage, work, or ministry, perhaps even to ministry overseas.

Some parents are unwilling to let their children leave the nest. We see this all the time in our university ministry. Parents are unwilling to see their educated children choose a low-status job in Christian ministry. They are certainly unwilling to let their children take their grandchildren overseas, to bring the gospel to those who have never heard.

I hope that I can let my children go with joy, knowing that I have taught and trained them to become the people God wants them to be.

If you'd like to see the full version, please contact me using the box to the right.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Heather Reid on motherhood

Last Saturday, Heather Reid and I had the privilege to lead a seminar on motherhood for 2 groups of 70 women. We sat outside, under the gum trees, and there was lots of sympathetic laughter - nothing like getting a group of mothers together, with all those shared experiences of nappies and sleepless nights!

I'd never thought about how motherhood is modelled on the character of God. So it was good to hear Heather, mother of 2 boys, both recently married, speak on motherhood:

1. God is the giver and source of life. Like God, mothers are life-givers (Gen. 3:20). Not just when we give birth (not all mothers give birth) but as we preserve, protect, and lay down our lives for our children.

2. God is compassionate. "Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!" (Is. 49:15). Like God, our love should be spontaneous, tender, and compassionate.

3. God is a God of discipline and comfort. "As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you; and you will be comforted over Jerusalem" (Is. 66:13). Like God, we should discipline our children justly, but also be ready to comfort them with warmth, and accept them with grace.

4. Our role as a mother is tied up with training (Deut. 6:5-9, Tit. 2:3-5). God calls us to be like Lois and Eunice, Timothy's grandmother and mother, who "from infancy" sowed the seeds of Timothy's faith and character (2 Tim. 1:5; 3:15).

Heather also gave a short testimony about her experience as a mother of 2 boys.

When Heather's sons were 18, Andrew and Heather asked them what they did right and wrong in their parenting (a terrifying question!). The boys said, "Well, sometimes mum nagged, and dad was cranky, but it didn't matter, because you loved us."

She says she wasn't a natural mother: no home-baked cookies or hospital corners. But no child, when they're 18, says to their mum, "I wish you baked cookies", or "I wish you put hospital corners on my bed". Very reassuring!

Heather's 2 sons were chalk and cheese: she loved the "terrible twos", watching their different personalities emerge. She encouraged us to allow our children to be who they are, and to let them grow into independence.

Every child needs different parenting. When Heather's 2 boys were young, she looked after them and 2 other boys for 3 days a week: 4 boys, 4 disciplinary methods! A great reminder to be careful of claims that spanking, time-out, boundaries, or ignoring, are the "secret" to discipline, or the only appropriate discipline (hey, I read a blog post on that recently!).

Motherhood is about relationship, not rules; about love, not law; about mercy that triumphs over judgement.

Tomorrow I'd like to tell you what I said about motherhood during our seminar. During the next few weeks, I'll discuss some of the fascinating questions women asked.

image is from stock.xchng

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Ainsley Poulos on Colossians

"Hi" to those of you who came up and said "hi" at the Belgrave Heights Women's Convention. It was lovely to see some of you in the flesh!

It was a great day. I've been asked to share what we heard with you. I thought I'd start with Ainsley Poulos' talks on Colossians.

Ainsley reminded us that we live simultaneously in two ages: this age, and the age to come. When Jesus rose from the dead, he ushered in the new age. We've been raised with Christ, united to him, made complete in him. Yet we wait for his return, when the age to come will be all that there is (C0l. 3:1-4).

So we don't feel at home here, or experience heaven yet: we live in the now and the not yet.

We are united to Christ, in whom is all the fullness of God, and all wisdom and knowledge. Who is supreme over creation, and who holds it all together. Who has triumphed over every power, visible and invisible. Who has reconciled us to God through his death on the cross (Col. 1:13-20; 2:1-12).

We live in an age besotted with the spirit-world. Jesus is head over the spirit-world. To go to a clairvoyant, or read our horoscope, or boast of spiritual experiences, is to exchange priceless jewels for junk (Col. 2:18-19).

We are already united to Christ. Nothing can get us closer to Christ than we are now: no spiritual disciplines, no fasting, no worship. We don't need to call God down: he is here with us.

If it matters who you're united to in marriage, how much more does it matter who we're united to spiritually! Like Princess Mary of Denmark, whose marriage changed everything about her - her speech, her walk, her life - so union with Christ changes everything.

But we don't often feel like this. Why is it so hard? Why is life such a struggle? If I'm united to Christ, why don't I act like it? Why don't I look like a woman of the resurrection?

Because we live in the "now and the not yet". Because there's a difference between fact and feeling. Because "even a dead dog can swim with the current" - but we swim against it. Because the heavy hand of God rests on this world. Because God never promises a smooth journey: but he does promise a safe landing.

Don't believe the lie, "It's not the destination, but the journey." It's the destination which gives the journey meaning.

In the meantime, we "labour, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works" in us (1 Cor. 1:28-2:1). We refuse to be deceived by "fine-sounding arguments" (Col. 2:3, 8) which tell us complete victory over sin is available now. We put sin to death, clothe ourselves with love, live in peace with another, and set our hearts and minds on things above (Col. 3:1-17).

We think of sins like lust as male failings, but what about women (Col. 3:5)? Many women read books, go to movies, or watch TV shows, and move into fantasy land, dreaming about a man who would love, hold and protect us, but who is not our husband. We are to put this kind of thinking to death.

Who is in your grandstand? Whose cheers and boos do you listen to? There should be only one person in your grandstand - only one person whose opinion matters to you - and that is God.

Christ is at work with all his power to safely take us home, and no power, human or supernatural, can stop him. We have been raised with Christ. We can't be closer to him than we are right now. Now is the time to become who we are.

If you'd like to hear Ainsley's talks on Colossians, contact Belgrave Heights Convention.

Tomorrow, I'd like to share with you what Heather Reid taught about motherhood in the seminar we led together; the next day, I'll share what I said about motherhood.