Wednesday, September 30, 2009

burnout (2) recovery

You'll remember that I found myself on the edge of burnout half way through last term. I stopped the relentless pace, but my discouragement and anxiety persisted for a second endless month.

Here's what I learned: it takes time to recover from burnout.

You don't go suddenly from overwhelmed and exhausted to peaceful and rested. It takes time for your body to heal. It takes time for your emotions to recover. It takes time to (re)learn how to rest.

During this time, depression and exhaustion are common companions - and, according to Arch Hart, healing companions. I've never thought of depression or exhaustion as something to be celebrated! Mostly, they're not. But sometimes (like that dreary 2 days at the beginning of a holiday) they can be the first sign of recovery.

So I accept the persistent despondency (no, I don't, I actually hate every moment of it, furiously navel-gaze about why it's happening, and struggle with self-pity, grumpiness and despair). I pray and wait for God to restore my joy. I welcome the moment, (4 weeks later!) when my mood starts to lift, my muscles begin to untense, and my mind relaxes.

That's where I'm at now. I'm still a little shell-shocked and bewildered. I'm rethinking my priorities. I'm spending precious half hours lying on the couch and watching the wind bend the branches of the gums (my surprised daughter asks, "Why are you lounging on the couch, Mummy?!" "Lounging" - that's what!). I've rediscovered the joy of short, simple quiet times reading the Bible and praying without the burden of a seminar to prepare, and the pleasure of unpressured time with my kids (ah, the blessing of timely school holidays!).

So what have I learned? (Ah, yes, the moment when it's all distilled into a life lesson.) You know, I'm not sure I want to give you 4 points to go away with, as if life is that simple. It's easy to wait until something is over, and then to produce pious platitudes, forgetting how hard and confusing it was at the time. And (as you've noticed!) I didn't feel able to write about it when I was in the middle of it. The fact that I can write about it now shows that my mind is springing back to its normal shape.

Here's some random reflections. God is ever, ever faithful. Depression - however mild and ill-deserving of the name! - is horrible and bewildering and overwhelming, and I can't even begin to imagine how awful severe depression is. It's right for me to fight for joy in God, but it's God who restores joy in his own timing and in his own way.

Rest is God's good gift, and I neglect it, and try to do everything, at my peril (newsflash: I am not God). I'm newly grateful to God for my family and holidays and my couch. I'm not about to stop serving God with all my energy (Col 1:28-29) but my energy levels are less than I would like them to be.

My final conclusion? I've got some hard decisions to make about the many ministries in my life. Please pray for me as I make them.

images are from whatmegsaid and Tomas Rotger at flickr

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Elyse Fitzpatrick on idolatry

Our choices are predicated upon what we think is "good,' what we "delight in," what we find most "desirable." The truth about our choices is that we always choose what we believe to be our best good. We always choose what we believe will bring us the most delight. ...

Idolatry is a sin that has its beginning in the mind, in your thoughts, beliefs, judgements, and imagination. ... Instead of fashioning idols out of wood or stone, we fashion them in our imagination - worshiping that which we believe will bring us happiness. ... These beliefs function as gods just as surely as if we had carved them from wood or overlaid them with silver. ... We must learn to put away the gods of our imagination: gods that promise happiness in exchange for our worship.

Our longings and desires ... are the driving force behind everything we do. ... Why do we profess great love for the Lord on Sunday morning and exaggerate our successes to our boss on Monday morning? Because we have divided desires. ... [T]he desire that is strongest ... is what our will acts on. ...

My sin has its roots in my false worship. Don't be deceived: you are already passionately worshipping something. ... Learning to take great delight and joy in God is the strongest deterrent to idolatry.

Elyse Fitzpatrick Idols of the Heart: Learning to Long for God Alone 81, 110, 114, 116, 124, 144-5, 165, 202, 195

image is by WolfSoul at flickr

Monday, September 28, 2009

questionnaire - identifying the lies and idols underlying your habitual sins

If your heart is an iceberg, sinful behaviours and negative emotions are only the tip. Underneath are the lies and idols of your heart. We've been looking at the iceberg: our characteristic false beliefs and sinful desires. Today, let's start with the tip. How can you work backwards from a particular struggle to the lies and idols underlying it?

Think of a habitual sin you don't seem to be able to overcome. Or think of a situation where you often feel angry, fearful or discouraged. You can use the questions below to help you identify the lies and idols underlying this particular struggle.

I've taken these questions from Elyse Fitzpatrick's Idols of the Heart. I'll begin with her examples of common idols for women, then share a couple of her practical exercises.

Some examples of lies and idols

The lie that happiness can be found in something other than God is the fountainhead from which all our idolatry flows. What might some of these lies look like? Let me give you some examples and see if they resonate with you.

  • In order to be truly happy, I must have a spouse who is godly, romantic, responsible, and a good communicator.
  • In order to be truly happy, I must have obedient children who please me.
  • In order to be truly happy, I must have a good job where I am respected and well paid.
  • In order to be truly happy, I must be loved and appreciated by others.
  • In order to be truly happy, I must feel safe from all calamity.
  • In order to be truly happy, I must have enough money to live in comfort.

Identifying the lies which underlie your habitual sins

Our idolatrous beliefs become evident as we find ourselves habitually sinning in some particular way. If I discover, for instance, that I frequently respond in anger when criticized, then I need to consider what idolatrous thought or imagination is at the root of my anger. To do this, I should ask myself the following questions:

1. What do I believe about the source of true happiness in this circumstance?

2. What do I believe about God in this circumstance?

3. What do I believe about myself - my rights, my goals, my desires?

4. What am I trusting in?

Identifying the idols which underlie your habitual sins

Think back to the last time you know you sinned. ... Choose a sin that you habitually fall into, like anger, self-indulgence, or fear [anxiety], for instance. Write this circumstance down.

With this circumstance in mind, ask God to help you answer the following questions. Try not to give one-word answers that don't plumb the depth of your thoughts, desires, and fears. Each of these questions will help you to understand your idolatry, so don't hurry through your answers. Instead, prayerfully ask God, the Heart Knower, to reveal your "functional gods" to you.

1. What did you want, desire, or wish for?

2. What did you fear? What were you worrying about?

3. What did you think you needed?

4. What were your strategies and intentions designed to accomplish?

5. What or whom were you trusting?

6. Whom were you trying to please? Whose opinion of you counted?

7. What were you loving? Hating?

8. What would have brought you the greatest pleasure, happiness, or delight? What would have brought you the greatest pain and misery?

from Elyse Fitzpatrick's Idols of the Heart pp. 117, 119, 163; I've added headings, and I've added numbers to the second list

image is from stock.xchng

Friday, September 25, 2009

happy 9th birthday Ben!

Last Friday, it was Ben's 9th birthday.

I remember holding Ben for the first time, all tiny and wrinkled and new. I remember the amazement that filled me when I realised that we not only had a little girl to raise now, but a boy.

I remember bringing our new Benny home. I remember standing in the hallway, holding him and staring into his minute face, wondering what he would become. Somehow, it felt different to holding my daughter, with all her familiar sweetness: this little boy was a world of difference, of unknown possibilities.

I remember all the years in between. Ben surprised us by picking up Dr Seuss' Green Eggs and Ham and reading it cover to cover when he was 3 (the only one of our children to do this!). On the other hand, he was slow to crawl and walk, and I spent hours doing special exercises with him. It took a while for him to learn to cope in the rough-and-tumble world of school. He's come a long way: every Friday, he organises a group of other boys in a running competition around the school.

If you meet Ben, you'll soon hear (in great detail!) about what he's currently absorbed in. He's worked his way through nursery rhymes, VeggieTales, Bible stories, atlases, Colin Buchanen lyrics, scientific facts, and for several years now, it's been pokemon. You can count on him to know every tiny facet of his chosen topic. Don't be surprised if - as he did with one of our more patient visitors! - he sits you down and lists the name and characteristics of all 493 pokemon.

He's proud of being our oldest son. He loves going to work with daddy. He collects miscellaneous facts like a dryer collects lint. If I ask him to put the bin out, he does it without grumbling (mostly!). When he grows up, he wants to be a mathematician or a Bible teacher. He adores hanging around with the big boys. He's no pushover, but he's gentle, generous and kind. He makes me laugh. That's our Ben.

Most importantly, he loves Jesus.

Happy 9th birthday, my son!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Mia Freedman on living in the present moment

It's Sunday morning, early, and a heavy roll of greyish paper encased in sticky pink plastic thuds onto our driveway. Removing the plastic wrap takes patience, dexterity, strength, sharp objects, and a willingness to risk deep lacerations to the hands and fingers.

The newspaper emerges, bent into tight curves which make it nearly unreadable. A little unfolding, a little bending back into shape, and there it is: the Sunday edition of The Age.

My husband heads straight for the sports section. I burrow deeper into the pile of papers. "Why do they print so many sections? Who wants to read all this stuff anyway? Where's my magazine? I think they've LEFT OUT MY MAGAZINE! Oh, here it is."

Who needs the news when you've got Sunday Life? Yes, I know I'm impossibly girly, but I turn straight to Mia Freedman's column, with an occasional brief detour to glance at the headlines, and feel myself slipping into sweet Sunday relaxation as I read her first words.

I love Mia. She's witty, smart and vulnerable. Her observations about womanhood are astute and entertaining. She's a real mum, complete with muffin top and mistakes.

Last Sunday, she helped me see something I hadn't seen before: that women find it much harder than men to live in the present. We regard the past with a mixture of guilt and nostalgia (scrapbooking, anyone?). We plan a hundred versions of the future down to every last detail, and worry about every possibility ("What if ..?"). You can read Mia's observations here.

I'm not sure what true assurance you can have about the past or future if you're not a Christian. There's still good common sense in not worrying - Jesus says, "do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself" - but this isn't worth much without his promise that "your heavenly Father knows" what you need (Matt 6:25-34). A vague New Age serenity about the present moment has no solid basis in reality: there really are things to regret and fear.

But we know that Jesus has died for us, and God has forgiven all our past mistakes (1 Jn 1:9f). He lovingly plans our lives, past, present and future (Ps 139:16). He calls us to trust and obey him in the present moment, not in a hundred hypothetical future moments, and gives us exactly as much grace as we need - right now (1 Pet 1:3).

If Mia is right, this is a message that women particularly need to hear.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

burnout (1) descent

I've been feeling discouraged and anxious for about 8 weeks now, ever since the plunge into exhaustion and despondency after my last seminar (remember that?).

My mood is finally lifting, as I remember how to relax and rest again, thanks in part to Arch Hart's Adrenalin and Stress - thanks Carmelina for the recommendation! - but also and completely thanks to God's mercy and perfect timing.

I had a relatively quiet term 1, but a crazily busy term 2 (which I thoroughly enjoyed, by the way, with nary a moment of anxiety or despondency. An answer to prayer? Yes, but perhaps also the protective high of adrenalin). I could have recovered, but I'd booked the year so thoroughly that there was no time to take a break.

Like a shopaholic in a clothes store (believe me, I know what that feels like!) I find it hard to say "no" when I'm offered a ministry opportunity. It feels exactly the same, with the same internal dialogue. "Yes, I'll have that, please! I know I shouldn't, but I can't resist! This opportunity won't come knocking another time!"

So I was planning to head into yet more writing and teaching during terms 3 and 4, plus some extra caring for people to make up for what I couldn't do during term 2; but my energy and enthusiasm packed up and I could barely care for our family, let alone add extra responsibilities.

Apparently (says Arch Hart) this is the normal result of trying to run on adrenalin for too long. Eventually it runs out, and you can't muster the energy to face anything. It makes sense, but it feels pretty awful.

Half way through term 3, after weeks of feeling like there was a lead weight in my guts and a panicky, jittery band around my middle, I went to a seminar on burnout (I was still racing from engagement to engagement). In God's perfect timing it was just what I needed to hear. Symptoms of burnout? Here they are:

  • a sense of being drained emotionally
  • a reduced sense of personal accomplishment
  • a sense of depersonalisation, of distance and disconnection in relationships
All disquieteningly familiar.

I asked Janet Reeves,* who was leading the seminar, what to do if you've already agreed to too many engagements during the coming months and can't pull out.

Her answer? "Eat humble pie. Tell the organisers you're nearly ill with stress, and ask if you can cancel the engagements."

My (internal) response? "Yeah, right, like I'd ever do that." I meet my responsibilities. I hate disappointing people. I'm the conscientious one. Without that, I'm not sure who I am.

One week later, and I'm shooting off 2 emails to explain the situation and to ask if I can possibly cancel a talk and seminar. Predictably, the organisers kindly and graciously agree to put off the engagements for another time. A weight lifts from my shoulders.

My despondency doesn't lift.

Tune in next week for the next exciting installment in the story of me. ;)

*Janet Reeves lectures in pastoral care at BCV. She drew much of her material on burnout from BCV lecture notes and Peter Brain's Going the Distance.

images are by rachel_titiriga at flickr

Tim Keller on idolatry

Our idols are those things we count on to give our lives meaning. They are the things of which we say, ‘I need this to make me happy’, or ‘If I don’t have this my life is worthless and meaningless.’

Tim Keller quoted in Tim Chester's You Can Change 110

image is by horizonatal.integration at flickr

Monday, September 21, 2009

a questionnaire - identifying your idols

What are your idols? What desires drive you? What do you worship?

We've talked about how change begins when God changes our hearts by his grace in Christ. We've talked about how our part in the process is to turn from the lies of our hearts to trust God (faith), and to turn from the idols of our hearts to serve God (repentance).

A couple of weeks ago, I gave you a
questionnaire to help identify the lies of your heart. Now here's a questionnaire to help you identify the idols you habitually serve.

I want …

When I wake up in the morning, the first thing that comes to mind is …

I’m working towards …

I worry about …

What’s most important to me is …

When things get difficult, I rely on …

Life only has meaning when …

I’d like to be …

I’m preoccupied by …

I can’t cope without …

I only have worth if …

I’m enthusiastic about …

I want the love or liking of …

I expect …

When my thoughts are drifting, I think about …

I make sacrifices for …

I feel like a failure when …

I’m proudest of …

I worry about …

I feel frustrated when …

I’d be happy if …

I spend my money on …

I trust and depend on …

I hate myself when …

I’d like to be accepted by …

I’m afraid of …

I devote my spare time to …

I feel down and discouraged when …

I want the approval and respect of …

I need …

I get angry and resentful when …

I wouldn’t even want to live if I lost …

I’m jealous of …

When I’m sad, worried or lonely, I get comfort from …

I hate …

I’d be happy if …

I don’t know how I’d ever cope if …

I talk a lot about …

I have a right to …

I’m willing to disappoint or hurt others to get …

I feel sorry for myself when …

I feel most at peace when …

If only …

I’d really like my children to …

I feel pressured and tense when …

I daydream about …

I pray for …

My hero or role-model is …

I crave or long for…

When I lie awake at night, I think about …

I’d consider myself successful if …

I feel happiest when …

summing up
What are the common themes? What are your idols?

If your idols are people, places or things, what deeper idols do they represent? (e.g. peace, security, control, happiness)

What are the idols you need to turn from with God's help?

How is God bigger and better than your idols?

I’ve based these questions on Tim Chester's You Can Change 125-6, Timothy Lane and Paul David Tripp’s How People Change 142-5, Mark Driscoll’s Vintage Jesus HT Pastor's Blog, the handout Unlocking Freedom from Redeemer Presbyterian Church which was taken from Tim Keller’s Leaders' Guide to Galatians, and Getting to the Heart of Conflict by Peacemaker Ministries.

Friday, September 18, 2009

school holiday fun - make an oobleck!

With school holidays coming up, here's an idea for a messy, gooey, simple, educational, fun holiday project, which is easy to make and easy to clean up afterwards: make an oobleck!

An oobleck, as we all know, a kind of colloid, in which solid particles are suspended in a liquid. It's a mysterious substance which is sometimes solid and sometimes liquid - and lots of fun to play with!

If you put pressure on it, it becomes a solid, and you can roll it into a ball between your hands:

If you take the pressure off, it becomes more liquid:

until it flows through your fingers:

So how do you make it? Simple! Put 2 cups of cornflour into a bowl and add a few drops of food colouring. Add 1 cup of water - SLOWLY! - while someone else mushes the mixture in the bowl by hand. Then have fun!

While you're at it, why not read Dr Seuss' Bartholomew and the Oobleck? Science, story-reading, and slimy fun, all in one!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

update on Andy's eating

Long-term readers of in all honesty will remember my despairing post last December about Andrew's almost complete reluctance to eat anything healthy. I have to admit I find it hard to re-read now - I'd forgotten how tough things were for a while!

Soon afterwards, if you read the comments, you'll see that we started getting a handle on Andy's tantrums, and I stopped (mostly!) giving in to Andy's demands about food presentation, but the food refusal remained a major issue for a long time. Observant readers will have noticed that Andy at least learned to eat salmon patties during the intervening months.

So how is it going now? Much better, praise God! Here's my response to Meredith's question about how Andy's eating has been going recently.

Dear Meredith,

It's funny you should ask about this now. A month or 2 ago, Andrew started eating again - just like that! One day he was eating spag bog (spaghetti bolognaise), the next day he wasn't (8 months ago, when he was 2); one day he wasn't eating spag bog, the next day he was (a couple of months ago, soon after turning 3). Which I guess just goes to show it's good not to make too big an issue out of these things!

What did we do in the meantime? We muddled through, like most parents! We fought the battles worth fighting ("No, you can't have a lollipop!") but didn't sweat the small stuff ("Crusts off? Okay, darling."). If Andy's food refusal seemed a case of stubbornness rather than dislike of a certain food, or if he had a tantrum over food being presented the wrong way (frequently!), we put him in his cot for time-out until he was ready to settle down and eat, which was very effective. If it seemed a case of simple dislike, we allowed him not to eat. We didn't insist or fight him over food - we sat pretty easy to it most of the time, as we didn't want to increase our strong-willed child's resistance to eating. Of course, this all sounds far more calm and well thought-out than it felt at the time!

Now that he's eating and old enough to understand, we're getting a bit tougher on food choices: for example, "Eat 3 mouthfuls and a carrot stick and you can have icecream" (yes, I know the parenting books frown on that one!) or "Yes, you can have a snack, but only apple or milk". He's still not very adventurous, but he's gradually increasing the foods he'll eat. I still give him vitamins to fill in the gaps.

I hope your son starts eating well soon. I'll be honest with you, I've known children who are fussy far into their primary years! My nephew ate nothing but sausages and potatoes until he was in late primary, then suddenly started eating curries! His mum regretted forcing the issue when he was young (although I also know other mums who discipline their children for not eating with good results).

Sometimes it's a matter of not pushing it too hard, combined with some firm boundaries, and waiting patiently for the day when your child starts eating again. Not much comfort right now, I know! But kids do grow, and they do eat, and they do survive, and even thrive, on the oddest diets - or lack of them. If only we could remember this when it feels like our children are starving themselves!

Love Jean.

P.S. Of course, you could always follow James Dobson's recommendation. He says you can't force a child to eat. If they don't eat a meal, cover it with cling wrap and stick it in the fridge. Present it at the next meal. Do this until they eat it. I've never dared to try this! :)

Thanks again for your wise and thoughtful responses to Meredith's and my questions about encouraging reluctant children to eat. It's wonderful to be part of a bloggy community of women who encourage one another!

my ongoing reflections on childcare

I'm putting my childcare posts on hold for a bit - maybe until next week, maybe until after the next 2 weeks of school holidays. I've been working my way through Steve Biddulph's chapter on childcare in More Secrets of Happy Children (which is truly excellent!) and Peter Cook's free online book Mothering Denied (which is thought-provoking and challenging), but it's taking a while! So you'll have to wait until I have time and energy to pull my thoughts together and write something further on the practicalities of childcare.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

teaching the Psalms to our children

Picture my husband and I sitting side-by-side on the couch in the semi-darkness, watching a DVD. There's the patter of little feet on the floorboards. A plaintive voice says, “Mummy, I'm scared, I can't sleep!” And as always, there's the same response: “Do you want me to pray with you?”


“Okay, snuggle up and we'll pray.”

It's at these moments that I'm grateful that I've taught our children some Psalms. For as I send them back to bed, I encourage them to say Psalm 23 or 121 out loud to themselves, or, in the case of my six-year-old son, to sing one of the hymns I sing every night by his bedside. I'm passing on my own weapon against fear: as a young adult, I used to lie awake, still fearful about things that go bump in the night, but with no comforting parents watching TV in the next room, and I would repeat Psalm 23 into the darknesss.

I hadn't considered that my children are part of a tradition that stretches much further back than one generation until I heard David Walter's talk on Jonah 2 at the recent MTS Challenge Victoria conference. You won't find this part of Jonah's story in a children's Bible; it's the long prayer that Jonah says while he's inside the fish. But it's probably the most relevant part of the story for children.

Jonah cries out to God for help at his very darkest moment, while inside the smelly cave of a fish's innards. But he doesn't use his own words; he prays a series of scattered lines from the Psalms—smatterings of remembered knowledge. He prays the great prayers of God he learned as a child.

When children in Israel were taught to pray, they were taught the prayers of Israel—the Psalms of the Bible. They committed the Psalms to memory. They learned the great prayers of God, and were given words to speak their own prayers.

I'm inspired by Jonah's example to continue the task I began many months ago—to teach my kids passages from the Bible while their memories are still fresh and receptive. We do it in the easiest possible way: on the mornings we get around to it (!), we read a passage out loud together. After a month or so, we all know it, from five to 40-year-old—with no testing, no pressure, no tears.

I want to soak my children's hearts and minds in the Bible. I want the word of Christ to dwell in them richly (Col 3:16). I want God's word to spring to mind when they're tempted to follow their friends into sin, when they're feeling sad and alone, and when they're anxious and afraid. I want to give them words for their prayers so that they pray prayers after God's own heart. I want God's great prayers to fill my children's minds when things go bump in the night.

reprinted from my post "Teaching the psalms to your children" published on Sola Panel last week

image is by Amydeanne from flickr

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

John Piper on idolatry, the essence of evil

"My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water" (Jer 2:13).

God pictures himself as a mountain spring of clean, cool, life-giving water. The way to glorify a fountain like this is the enjoy the water, and praise the water, and keep coming back to the water, and point other people to the water, and get strength for love from the water, and never, never, never prefer any drink in the world over this water. ... That is how we glorify God, the fountain of living water.

But in Jeremiah's day people tasted the fountain of God's grace and did not like it. So they gave their energies to finding better water, more satisfying water. Not only did God call this effort futile ("broken cisterns that can hold no water"), but he called it evil: "My people have committed two evils." They put God's perfections to the tongue of their souls and disliked what they tasted; then they turned and craved the suicidal cisterns of the world. That double insult to God is the essence of what evil is.

So preferring the pleasures of money or power or fame or sex over the "pleasures ... at [God's] right hand" (Ps 16:11) is not like preferring caramel to hot fudge. It is a great evil. Indeed it is the ultimate meaning of evil. Esteeming God less than anything is the essence of evil.

from John Piper When I Don't Desire God 33-34 my emphasis

images are by @4. and Paul Ponraj at

Monday, September 14, 2009

how we change (8) what desires do you need to turn from?

"It's just a little sin." "It's really no big deal." "There are far worse things I could be doing." "I know it's not ideal, but I've got it under control." "It helps me cope with life."

Ever said things like that to yourself? I know I have! I know I do - every day.

What I don't see is the ugliness underlying the "little things". What I don't see are the idols at the heart of me. What I don't see is me bowing down to whatever it is that has captured my desires.

Have you been to a temple with an idol in it? I have. It was a long time ago, but I remember the sense of darkness and gloom in that place. Have you been to a restaurant with a little shrine hanging on the wall? Perhaps, like me, you paused between mouthfuls to reflect on the futility of making offerings to a golden statuette.

But we are no different. In our hearts, we're bowing down to idols in a dusty temple. We're making offerings in a shrunken shrine (Ezek 14:3). I set my desires on other things besides God: success, relationships, peace, happiness. I serve these idols with my thoughts, choices, time, energy, and money.

Trace a sin back to its root, and you not only find a lie, you find an idol (Rom 1:25). That's why Chester says that the key to change is to trust God instead of believing lies (faith) and to worship God instead of worshipping idols (repentance).*

Repentance is not an add-on to faith: it's the flip-side of faith. I love Chester's reminder that it's impossible to turn towards something without turning away from something else.* But this is what we try to do with God. We want Jesus, but we don't want to give up our idols.

"We always do what we want to do."* It doesn't always feel that way: I often feel like I do what I don't want to do. That's because there are competing desires in my heart (Gal 5:17). But I always follow my strongest desire. Whenever I sin, my desire for something is bigger than my desire for God. I forget that to serve anything else is to hate and despise God (Matt 6:19-24).

Take something as little as arguing. It's no big deal, is it? We all bicker and complain sometimes! It's just a way of letting of steam. It's just a little thing. But God says that arguments come from the "desires that battle within" us. We get angry when we don't get what we want, when we set our hearts on something besides God.

"You adulterous people"! That's how God responds to "little sins" like quarreling: he "envies intensely". Like a wife discovered in bed with another lover, a flippant "sorry" isn't enough. God calls us to "grieve, mourn and wail" over our divided hearts, to purify our double-mindedness, to "put to death" our idols (see James 4:1-10 cf Col 3:5)

So what do I do when I see sin in my life? When I garden (rarely!) I teach my kids to dig weeds out by the roots. I need to uproot the little beginnings of sin: the lustful look, the self-pitying thought, the complaining word. I need to plant seeds and grow habits of love, trust and thanksgiving. I might also need to dig deeper to discover and uproot the idols that underlie my sin.

If I spend too much money on possessions, what's motivating me? Maybe it's vanity, people-pleasing, or control. If I'm angry when my kids disturb my quiet evening, what's my idol? Maybe it's rest, pleasure, or peace. If I'm obsessed by our house renovations, what desires am I setting my heart on? Maybe it's security, success, or prosperity.

Identifying my idols will help me deal with the real issues underlying my sin. But there's a danger in examining our hearts: we may become introspective and self-obsessed. Chester warns against going on an "idol hunt": "A good guide is to explore your sinful desires [idols] only when you see the bad fruit of sinful behaviour and negative emotions in your life."*

It's better to spend an hour reflecting on a Bible passage about Jesus than an hour squirrelling into our inner workings. M'Cheyne gets the balance right: "For one look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ." When we realise how wonderful Jesus is, how meaningless and stupid our idols will appear!

O Israel, stay away from idols! I am the one who answers your prayers and cares for you. I am like a tree that is always green; all your fruit comes from me.* (Hos 14:8 NLT cf Ps 16:11, Isa 55:1-2, Jer 2:13, 10:5)

By all means, take a good hard look at yourself. Work out what idols underlie your anxiety, anger or discouragement. Figure out what idols are driving your greed, gossiping or quarreling. Grieve. Repent. Flee. But when you've done that, turn to Jesus, and take an even harder look at the gospel. In Jesus we will find riches so great that our idols will be shown to be the empty things they really are.

For reflection: What are the idols of your heart? When you’re angry, what aren’t you getting? When you’re anxious, what is threatened? When you’re despondent, what have you lost or failed at? When you obsess about something, what are you worshipping? When you give into sin, what are you setting your heart on? In what ways is God bigger and better than your idols?

Those who are reading Tim Chester's You Can Change along with me will have noticed that today's post is really just a summary of chapter 6. Coming up are a questionnaire to help you uncover your idols, and a more personal take on how chapters 5 & 6 of You Can Change affected me.

*these ideas and quotes are from Tim Chester's You Can Change p.77 & ch.6

Friday, September 11, 2009

a gift for father's day

You've got to love it.

Our garden, which, while barely resembling a garden, has never sported those bright little statues people put around their gardens, will soon be home not only to the (mended) gnome Thomas gave me for mother's day this year, but also to a rather large plaster frog.

Here's the gift Thomas carefully and lovingly chose for his dad from the father's day stall last week:

The moral of the story is: never judge a parent's taste by what you see around their house and garden. It was probably given to them by their children. This is especially true of, but not limited to, any mugs, key-rings and frames which proudly proclaim "I Love Mum", "World's Best Dad", or "Key To My Heart". Gifts to a parent instantly become sacred: they're an expression of a child's unique personality, and a lasting symbol of love and affection.

So if you drive down our street, you'll know our house. It's the one with the growing tribe of plaster creatures out the front.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

a question for you about fussy eaters

Here's a question my lovely bloggy friend Meredith sent me about her son's eating - or lack of it! She asked me to post this letter so that you can give her any suggestions you have for encouraging reluctant eaters. Please add your ideas to the comments.

Dear Jean,

Six months ago you wrote a post about your precious Andrew’s lack of enjoyment of fruit and vegetables. At the time my then 3 ½ year old was exhibiting similar characteristics at the dinner table. I took great comfort from your post (ah, the solidarity of realising that you are not the only one in the universe who has a son who won’t eat his vegies!) and also from the very helpful comments that followed. I was particularly encouraged by the suggestion of waiting until said children were a bit older (ie. 4) when reasoning with them might be a possible strategy.

Well, my 3 ½ year old will 4 in a week’s time. I had secretly hoped that merely having his 4th birthday would do the trick! Alas, he is showing no signs of being any further down the track than he was 6 months ago with respect to fruit and veg, despite the imminence of his birthday.

So I was wondering, how is Andrew going? I hope you have made some progress. And I was also wondering if you might ask if any of your readers have any ideas or suggestions about how to encourage a reluctant 4-year old child to eat? I feel like I have tried most things…but there may just be something I have missed.

Love Meredith.
Now it's over to you. I'll update you on Andy's eating next week. But in the meantime, have you got any advice or suggestions for Meredith? I know she would dearly love to hear from you!

image is from Savannah Grandfather at flickr

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Charles Taylor on 10 irrational beliefs that influence our behaviour

On Monday I invited you to do a questionnaire about the wrong beliefs about God and the world which often control our thoughts, emotions and behaviour. Here's some of the possible answers to these wrong beliefs.

I'd like to write my own version of this material some time, but for today, I've taken this from Janet Reeve's adaptation of material from Charles Taylor's The Skilled Pastor.* It's a good place to start as you begin to replace the lies which underlie your sins and negative emotions with God's truth.

1. Demand for approval - “You must like me! You must approve of me!”

I believe I must have the love and approval of significant people – a need! In fact although I desire people’s love and approval I don’t need it.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Rom 5:6-8

2. High self-expectation - “I should; I must; I ought to……..!” “I can do it!”

Striving for competence becomes ultimate. Hence failure and low self esteem are inevitable.

But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Rom 3:21-24)

3. Condemning the offender – “It’s all my fault! It’s all your fault!”

Holding myself, and others, accountable for our actions is important. Blaming elevates my opinion and destroys the God given worth of people. Releasing myself, and others from burdensome standards is freeing. [I would say: learn to forgive, as God has forgiven you.]

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom 5:8)

Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. (Lk 6:37 cf Matt 6:12)

But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. (1 Pet 4:5)

4. Low frustration tolerance – “Life was meant to be easy! I don’t deserve this kind of trouble!”

When we make a catastrophe of events, and see them as intolerable, our own plans and self-care become central values. Choose to see frustrations and unfairness as paths to the Kingdom [and paths to growth - Rom 5:3-4].

But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. (2 Cor 12:9)

Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them saying: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. ..." (Matt 5:1-12)

5. Emotional irresponsibility - “I’m not responsible! It wasn’t my fault! Someone else can handle that.”

The LORD sent Nathan to David. ... Nathan said to David, "You are the man!" ... Then David said to Nathan, "I have sinned against the LORD." (2 Sam 12:1-13)

6. Anxious over-concern - “What if! What if!”

Over-focussing on a threat exaggerates its danger and reduces evaluation, acceptance and action.

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life ... But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matt 6:25-33)

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (Phil 4:6)

7. Problem avoidance - “Let’s have fun! Self- discipline is too hard and not cool! No worries!”

Not worrying becomes so central that responsible action and self-discipline are avoided.

Then he said, '... You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.' But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?' (Lk 12:18-20)

All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty. (Prov 14:23)

Rather he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. (Tit 1:8)

8. Historical determinism - “It’s not my fault. ‘So and so’ or ‘such and such’ are to blame!”

A belief that emotional misery comes from external events means you have little ability to control or change your feelings. A false value may become central so that past influences on your life continue to dominate you. Challenge irrational beliefs and ‘should’, ‘ought’ and ‘must’ in your thoughts and words.

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" "Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life." (Jn 9:1-3)

9. Need for perfection - “Everything needs to work out how I imagine it or I can’t cope.”

The demand for perfection dooms us to frustration or failure and alienates us from reality in an imperfect world. (Eph 5:20, Phil :6)

... give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thess 5:18)

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives. (1 Jn 1:8-10)

10. Passive happiness - “I can’t be bothered! Why doesn’t life work out for me?”

Rest and enjoyment, inertia and inaction are central values. Vibrant happiness comes with deep involvement and not giving in to fear or laziness.

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it." (Mk 8:34-35)

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men. (Col 3:23)

*I've taken this from the seminar on burnout at MTS Challenge Conference Victoria which was led by Janet Reeve who teaches pastoral care at BCV. She adapted this from Charles Taylor's The Skilled Pastor: Counselling as the Practice of Theology.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

a bad case of mother guilt

Let's take a break from thinking about childcare (and by the way, keep those questions coming) to think about guilt. :) This is a reprint of my last week's post from Sola Panel for those who missed it! I thought it might be timely given all those childcare posts, which have forced me - and I guess, some of you! - to rethink our priorities in mothering. I've made a few changes in my life, which I'll share with you sometime; but in the meantime, here's how I've been dealing with my guilt.

I've been feeling pretty guilty recently. What have I been feeling guilty about? I'm a mum, so you shouldn't have to ask!

Like so many mothers, I feel guilty because I'm not doing enough for my family. I've been trying to juggle too many things, and I'm worried I'm neglecting my children. (Actually, I don't think I am when I'm thinking logically; if anything's neglected, it's only the dust balls. But guilt doesn't think logically.)

The other morning I poured out my load of mother guilt to God, and found him doing what he does so well—gently, powerfully, wonderfully lifting the burden of guilt from my shoulders and replacing it with the assurance that he loves me and has forgiven me because his own Son died for me.

Guilt carries a weighty load. It brings a leaden heaviness to each of my tasks. It brings desperation as I consider all the things I haven't done. It saps me of joy, so that I trudge cheerlessly through my days. It brings a hidden, unspoken fear that God is going to ‘get’ me (surely some kind of punishment—some kind of payback lies—in store for me!).

I could accept God's grace for three months of imperfect, messy, distracted motherhood. But surely six months of imperfect motherhood is stretching his grace a little too far? Surely he's run out of patience by now? Surely he's no longer interested in giving me energy and grace? Perhaps if I punish myself a little—wallow in guilt feelings, drearily drag myself through my tasks—I'll somehow make up for it.

When I write it down, the logic is so clearly ridiculous, I'd laugh—laugh if I wasn't living as if Jesus' death isn't enough without me adding something to it: my guilt, my repentance, my emotional penance, my perfect motherhood.

The truth is that God never punishes me, for Jesus took my punishment (Rom 3:21-25, 8:1). He may discipline me, but I rejoice in that as a sign of his fatherly love for me (Heb 12:5-7). He hasn't stopped loving me. He hasn't stopped forgiving me. He hasn't even stopped rejoicing over me (Zeph 3:17). There are no obstacles between us; Jesus' death took every one away.

So what do us mothers do with our guilt?

  • We repent of any true, known sin. (If you're a wallower or if you're over-confident, it could help to ask an impartial observer!)
  • We rethink our priorities and make any changes that need to be made (acknowledging that there are no perfect plans [we're not going to somehow ‘get it right’ next time], but making decisions in prayerful wisdom).
  • We accept that there are some consequences of our choices that can't be changed (while changing what we can!). Then we fulfil our responsibilities with joy, not with a heavy burden of guilt, and trust God's sovereignty and grace.
  • Above all, we bring our burden of guilt to the cross, accept God's forgiveness, and rejoice in his love.
Here I am, at the foot of the cross again. Here I am, laying down my heavy burden. Here I am, receiving God's free gift of forgiveness. Here I am, enjoying the sun of God's love and joy on my face. Come and enjoy God's grace with me, my fellow mums.

God is not looking for perfect mothers to raise perfect children. He's looking for imperfect mothers who are raising imperfect children in an imperfect world, and desperately dependent on a perfect God for the results.

* From Vicki Courtney's excellent book Five Conversations You Must Have With Your Daughter, B&H, Nashville, p. 257 - which I'm planning to review sometime, but in the meantime, I suggest you buy if you have a daughter old enough to talk! I've changed ‘daughters’ to ‘children’.

image is by Evil Erin at flickr

Monday, September 7, 2009

a questionnaire - identifying your false beliefs

I don't know about the guys, but every woman loves a questionnaire!

Last week we talked about how wrong beliefs are the root cause of all our sins and most of our negative emotions. But how do you identify your wrong beliefs?

Here's a helpful questionnaire from a seminar on burnout I went to recently.* You might like to print it out and fill it in. In a day or so, I'll share some of God's great answers to these wrong beliefs.

Catching your false beliefs

Here are some common beliefs that people live by. How would you challenge them? Choose two or three that influence you a lot, and make a commonsense and a biblical challenge for each.

1.Demand for approval (Everyone must like me.)
2. High expectations (I must be thoroughly competent and achieving, and always get it right.)
3. Condemning the offender (If I, or others, make mistakes or do wrong, we are bad and worthless.)
4. Low frustration tolerance (I cannot stand frustration, unfair treatment or rejection.)
5. Emotional irresponsibility (I’m not responsible! Someone else can handle that.)
6. Anxious over-concern (I must worry about things that have potential for problems. What if…?)
7. Problem avoidance (Avoid difficulties and responsibilities in life. Let’s have fun! Self-discipline is a struggle.)
8. Historic determinism (It’s not my fault. It’s just how I am! It’s so and so / such and such which is at fault.)
9. Need for perfection (Situations and people should be good and it’s awful and horrible when they are not! Everything needs to work out how I imagine it, or I can’t cope!)
10. Passive happiness (Happiness should just come to me. I can’t be bothered! Why doesn’t life work out for me?)

*The seminar on burnout was at MTS Challenge Conference Victoria, and was led by Janet Reeve who teaches pastoral care at BCV. She adapted these questions from Charles Taylor's The Skilled Pastor: Counselling as the Practice of Theology.

image is from artnoose at flickr

Friday, September 4, 2009

a 6 year old summarises the gospel

I love God.

I do bad things every day.

I say sorry to God every day.

Well, not every day, but I started today.

I’m going to love God my whole life!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

song for my boys

During the last couple of weeks I've been living to the soundtrack of Jars of Clay's latest album, The Long Fall Back to Earth.

It's a magnificant album which is only getting better around the 20th or 30th listening, but I won't attempt a review. Instead, I'll share with you the lyrics to one of the songs which (as usual!) made me cry the first time I heard it.

Boys (Lesson One) is a song from father to son about love, hope, home and the future in the life of a boy. I've been singing it to my boys. Thomas, of course, wants to know all 100 reasons why I love him, and whether there are really a google or infinity reasons - which indeed there are, for each and every one of my children. And yes, however far they run, this will always be their home.

Boys (Lesson One)

Lesson one - do not hide
Lesson two - there are right ways to fight
And if you have questions
We can talk through the night

So you know who you are
And you know what you want
I've been where you're going
And it's not that far
it's too far to walk
But you don't have to run
you'll get there in time

Lesson three - you're not alone
Not since I saw you start breathing on your own
You can leave, you can run, this
will still be your home

So you know who you are
And you know what you want
I've been where you're going
And it's not that far
it's too far to walk
But you don't have to run
you'll get there in time
Get there in time

In time, to wonder where the days have gone
In time, to be old enough to
wish that you were young
When good things are unraveling,
bad things come undone
You weather love and lose your innocence

There will be liars and
thieves who take from you
Not to undermine the consequence
But you are not what you do
And when you need it most
I have a hundred reasons why I love you

If you weather love and lose your innocence
Just remember - lesson one

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

a question of childcare (3a) practicalities - contributions, please!

I'm taking a week or so off my childcare posts to read and reflect before I write the next one. It's supposed to be about "practicalities" - an impossibly huge task, now I come to think about it!

What I'd like to address is some of the practical issues which were raised by my previous posts on childcare. Obviously I won't be able to address every issue and every situation, and I'm no expert anyway, just a woman like you, muddling through how to apply the Bible to our lives!

I thought I'd give you a chance this week to ask any practical questions which were raised for you by my previous posts. I don't promise to answer them - but maybe other readers will have a go! Here's some I've thought of, just to get you started. Please add your own questions (or answers!) to the comments.

  • You say that burnout or depression may be good reasons for considering childcare. How do I tell if I'm approaching burnout or depression? What are some helpful steps to take before I consider childcare?
  • My child is very active and social and thrives around other kids, but is hard to entertain at home. Is childcare a good option for kids like mine?
  • What if childcare makes me a better mother?
  • We've decided our family needs childcare to survive. How should we choose between different kinds of childcare?
  • I agree that childcare isn't the best option, but my kids are in childcare and it would be disruptive to pull them out now. What should I do?

Feel free to have a go at answering these questions (especially the last couple - I'm a bit stuck on those two!! - in fact, now I think about it, I'm stuck on the second one too) or add your own questions to the comments.

image is by tantek at flickr

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Tim Chester on sin and unbelief

On Sunday morning I sing of my belief in justification by faith (confessional faith), but on Monday morning I still feel the need to prove myself (functional disbelief). … I may affirm that God is sovereign (confessional faith), but still get anxious when I can’t control my life (functional disbelief). Sanctification is the progressive narrowing of the gap between confessional faith and functional faith. ...

Not many people think of themselves as someone who believes lies! But every time we don’t trust God’s word we’re believing something else, and that something is always a lie. If I get angry when I’m stuck in traffic it’s because I don’t trust God. I believe the lie that God isn’t in control or that his purposes for me are not good. …

This is a radical view of sin. It means many of our negative emotions are sinful because they’re symptoms of unbelief – the greatest sin and the root sin. Whenever we’re depressed or bitter, it’s because we believe God isn’t being good to us or that he’s not in control. …

We can sin only if we suffer from a radical loss of perspective. Only if we forget that God is great and good can we sin.
Tim Chester You Can Change 82, 87, 92, 103

image is from stock.xchng