Friday, October 31, 2008

Pilgrim's Progress - the month ahead

To whet your appetite, here's an overview of the journey we'll be taking with Christian through Pilgrim's Progress during the next 4 weeks. ...

... As we read Pilgrim's Progress together, if you're anything like me, you'll sometimes stop and ask, "Huh? What does that mean?" So I'd like to encourage you to use the comments section to ask about anything you didn't understand. I'll do my best to explain, or someone else might respond to your comment, and tell you what they thought. No question is too stupid: if you've thought of it, chances are someone else did too. As you read, why not make a note of the bits you don't understand, and ask about them in the comments.

Reading Pilgrim's Progress together will be much more fun if we all share what we're learning. If anything in the story struck you, or if you found something particularly helpful, why not add your observations to the comments. I'd love to hear - I'm sure we all would! - about the impact Pilgrim's Progress has had on your life, and how God has used it to help you live for him.

I'm looking forward to travelling through Pilgrim's Progress with you.

read the rest at EQUIP book club

Thursday, October 30, 2008

online meanderings and resources: parenting

While we're on the topic of loving our children, here's some useful posts and resources on parenting and motherhood I've come across during the last few months.

In Nicole's discussion of chapter 3 of Feminine Appeal at EQUIP book club, she gives some helpful observations about viewing our children as a joy, not a burden, and about showing love for our children through discipline.

Here's some of Nic's other posts on parenting which I enjoyed: finding joy in the drudgery, praying with children, the benefits of sending kids to a local school, and caring for kids when they are sick.

Prue encourages us to remember the value of motherhood (it's always good to have a reminder!).

Jess, as always, gives us plenty of thoughtful, practical suggestions: see train them until you like them, managing time with 4 young children, and an alternative to parenting psychobabble.

We could all do with help as we teach our children about God. Covenant Fellowship Church give some great suggestions for family worship when you have little children involved. And here's a couple of useful posts on choosing a children's Bible. Those of you who are new to this blog might also enjoy my posts on children's Bibles and teaching theology to your kids.

But sometimes kids don't seem all that responsive to God's truth. Here's an encouragement from GirlTalk on persevering in teaching kids about God. I also liked their post on singing to your kids.

I like what Gordon wrote on teaching kids about the Trinity; Craig on how to bring your kids to faith; and Challies on how he made his children cry.

There have been plenty of great reflections on parenting at the father's business, including thinking of kids as a blessing, caring for other people's kids in our community, teaching kids to persevere in the face of trials, talking with your kids about death, and when kids blame others.

Because we're all sinners as well as parents, I loved this post on dealing with the gap between what you say and what you do.

And here's a little glimpse from Ali into the life of children of the olden days.

As for talks on the subject of parenthood and motherhood, can I suggest you listen to Carolyn Mahaney's A Mother's Responsibility, which I enjoyed more, and found far more comprehensive, than her talk Loving Your Children in her series To Teach what is Good.

If you want to do some reading, here's some parenting books I've been enjoying:
Tedd Tripp Shepherding a Child's Heart
Tedd and Margy Tripp Instructing a Child's Heart
Tedd Tripp Age of Opportunity (on parenting teenagers)
Carolyn Mahaney and Nicole Whitacre Girl Talk (on raising girls, written to be read with teenagers, but good for mothers of daughters of all ages)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Pilgrim's Progress: children's versions

Next Monday, Jean Williams will start to walk us through November's book, Pilgrim's Progress. One thing I'm planning to do this month is to read through a children's version with my kids. Jean has kindly provided us with her preferred versions in this post...

Pilgrim's Progress has always been a great favourite with children. What child wouldn't love an adventure story about a valiant pilgrim-warrior who escapes the City of Destruction and travels to a Golden City, along a treacherous path which runs up stony mountains, into dark flame-filled valleys, and through enchanted lands which lull the unwary traveller to sleep, all the while battling fierce monsters, escaping fearsome giants, and resisting the temptations of a dazzling year-long fair?

Our hope, of course, as we read Pilgrim's Progress with our children, is not just to entertain them, but also to turn them into pilgrims themselves: brave travellers who will cast their burdens of sin and guilt at the foot of the cross, turn their faces away from the world and towards heaven, weather times of difficulty and discouragement with courage, fight their battles valiantly, and travel with perseverance until they receive their own hero's welcome into heaven. ...

... read the rest at EQUIP book club.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

biblical womanhood (3b) loving your children: how to really hate your child

Sometimes, I hate my children.

And no, this is not what you think. This is not a no-holds-barred, bare-my-soul, spill-my-guts post on how my children irritate me, or how I don't always like them very much, or how sometimes I want to run screaming from the house. This is about those times I feel like I'm being, well, loving.

This is about Proverbs, and what it's taught me about hating my children. You see, I'd swear that I don't hate my children. I love them with every fibre of my being. If danger threatened, I would lay my life down for them in an instant. But Proverbs has a different perspective.

He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him. (Prov. 13:24)
"Come here!"
"Come here now!"
"I told you to move away from your brother. Do it now!"
"I'll punish you if you don't move."
Inches away slightly. Silence.

He's one of those children with an ability to wind his parents around his finger. He excels in enthusiastic, loving affection. "I love you, Mummy!" "Cuddle, Mummy!" "Can I stroke your hair, Mummy?" But, like many all-or-nothing children, he also excels in rebellion. He's our sunshiny child, our mugwump, our stubborn-as-a-mule boy.

Only yesterday, he disobeyed me, and I didn't discipline him (and no, I'm not talking rod, I'm talking a far milder punishment). Only yesterday, I gave in, because it was just too hard to enforce what I'd asked him to do. Only yesterday, Proverbs says that I hated my son.

Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it. (Prov. 22:6)
"It's not fair! I'm hungry! Why shouldn't I have lollies? We always have lollies on Monday afternoons! Why didn't you bring something for me to eat? It's not fair! You don't care how I feel! You just don't care!"

She knows how to press every one of my buttons. Like many girls, she excels less in outright disobedience, and more in emotional manipulation. Tears stream down her face. She's my darling, my only daughter, my tender girl. She turns the screws like an expert. With every word, I can feel my chest tightening.

Is it true? Am I being unfair? Is my child starving? She's been sick recently. I should have remembered to bring some biscuits. We have to wait for half an hour. I know a little self-denial is good for her. But I can tell she's actually hungry. I don't have any really good reason not to go to the milk-bar this afternoon. I hold out for 20 of the 30 minutes.

We go to the milk-bar.

The righteous man leads a blameless life; blessed are his children after him. (Prov. 20:7)
Here we are, standing in the toy section of the supermarket aisle, and there's the toy I've been wanting to buy my son for weeks. He's not asking for it, he's not a greedy child, but I know how much he'd enjoy it. I also know that if I get it at all, I should come back and get it tomorrow and put it in his Christmas stocking. I know I shouldn't impulsively buy it today.

But the lure of the bright, shiny toy is too much. "You can choose one toy each, children. You have $5.00 to spend. I wouldn't normally do this, mind! But just for today, you can have one toy each." My words are empty, and I know it.

I give in to my own desire for something new, trivial, and shiny, and train my children in the art of impulsive spending.

Listen, my sons, to a father's instruction; pay attention and gain understanding. I give you sound learning, so do not forsake my teaching. (Prov. 4:1-2)
We're at Sunday School, doing a study on Proverbs, and we're talking about how our parents teach us God's truth. "My parents tell me how to live." "My parents sometimes punish me when I do the wrong thing." "My parents pray for me."

And suddenly, there it is: one of my children says, in a complaining tone of voice, "My parents make me read the Bible 4 times a day! They make me read it 5 times on Sunday!"

This is a complete exaggeration. Five minutes Bible over breakfast, 15 minutes with Daddy some nights after dinner, and Bible notes at bedtime, hardly constitute parental Bible-bashing. We make every effort to keep Bible reading fun and full of interest. There is much more than Bible in our family life: laughter, and chatting, and play, and affection, and books, and wild games, and tickling, and love.

But the questions turn over in my brain: "Am I no fun? Will my children hate me when they grow up? Will they hate the Bible because it's been rammed down their throats? Will they rebel? Is our family all work and no play?"

This time, I don't give in. Because sometimes, I know what's good for my children. Sometimes, I'm courageous enough to stand up to them. Sometimes, I refuse to give in to the fear of losing their approval. Sometimes, I love them more than my pleasure at seeing their pleasure. Sometimes, I'm brave enough to discipline them. Sometimes, I put up with the burden of their whining, or the pressure of their arguing, or the guilt of their tears.

Sometimes, I love my children, even when love takes guts.

This post was inspired by CJ Mahaney's definition of the fear of children: "an excessive sinful concern about what our children think of us, an inordinate desire for our children's approval, or an intense fear of being rejected by our children." (Carolyn Mahaney's Feminine Appeal p.55)

images are from stock.xchng

Monday, October 27, 2008

biblical womanhood (3a) loving your children: the day of the apple

"Mum, can you cut up my apple?"
"Eat it whole, sweetie. With 4 children, I don't have time to cut up apples!"

"Mum, I want an apple. Can you cut it up?"
"No, honey, I'm too busy to cut up apples. I've got 4 children."

"Mu-um, I'm hungry. Can you cut up an apple, please?"
"No! I've got 4 children! I don't have time to cut up apples!!!"

And so it went on. Until one day, my sister-in-law made a very helpful observation: "You say that a lot." "I do? I guess you're right, I do say it quite a lot." "Yes, you say it all the time." "Oh."

That was the day I started cutting up apples.

That was the day I decided, since having 4 children was my (and my husband's) idea, not my children's - and since one of my jobs is to cheerfully serve them, and I don't want them to think they're a burden, not a blessing - and since I want them to eat healthy food like apples, and they're more likely to eat apples if I cut them up - well, for all kinds of reasons, now I come to think about it - I'd better start cutting up apples.

I couldn't count the number of apples I've cut up since then. Red apples. Green apples. Bruised apples. Clean apples. (I'm getting a little Dr. Seuss here.) Apples, apples, apples. Apples with their sides cut off (bit of wastage there). Apples in their 4 neat quarters (perfecting my technique). Apples with their seeds scooped out (and into the compost bin). Tried one of those apple slicers (didn't really work). At least 2 a day, often 4; at least 3, often more. Oranges, bananas, kiwi fruit, whole platters full of fruit, and an awful lot of carrots and capsicums. But mostly apples.

Apples aren't really the issue here. You may or may not cut up apples. Kids don't need their apples cut up: that's just a symbol. Far more importantly, the day I started cutting up apples was the day I tried to stop saying, in answer to all kinds of reasonable requests, "I can't. I'm too busy. I've got 4 children." Not quite, "I'm too busy running around after you lot!" (I'd never say a thing like that, would I. Would I??). But nearly.

Which is a long-winded way of explaining why, when I read chapter 3 of Carolyn Mahaney's Feminine Appeal, on loving your children, I realised that in some ways I don't fit her experience of mothers. I find "tender love", "loving affection", and "enjoying your children", the easy part of bringing up kids. "That's wonderful, sweetie!", "Come and have a cuddle!", "Let's read a story", come easily to me.

Like so many of our most deeply-held attitudes, I learnt this from my parents. When my mother talks about what it was like having young children, she always says, "It was a lot of fun." And that's how I remember it. She really, really enjoyed having children, and she let us see it. She was warm in her affection, tender in her love, and enthusiastic in her play, and my father was, too. I am incredibly grateful about that, because not all my friends learned that attitude from their parents, and they have to battle for it every day.

(Actually, now I come to think of it, I don't think my children would ever have thought of cut-up-apples if it wasn't for the fact that Grandma always cut them up, so I have that to thank her for, too. Thanks, Mum.)

But sacrificial service? I'm not so good at that (and no, that's not my mother's fault, she was good at service, hence the cut-up apples). I've learnt, slowly, the satisfaction that can be found at the end of hours chopping veges and stirring pots. I've learnt, with practice, about the blessings which come through nappy-drudgery, and mopping-drudgery, and taxi-service-drudgery. I've learnt, finally, when my children ask for something, to put down what I'm doing, and to help them cheerfully and patiently (there's often a little *sigh* I'm still working on).

I've learnt that motherhood demands two kinds of love: self-denying, sacrificial service, and joyful, tender affection. Sometimes, you need both salt and sugar in the apple pie to make it taste good.

images are from stock.xchng

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Sunday School - Proverbs (1) wisdom, Solomon and the fear of God

How do you explain the fear of God to a child? Last weekend, I took our Sunday School class back to the start of Proverbs, and there it was: "The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom" (Prov. 1:7).

So far, we've looked at the value and beauty of wisdom (Prov. 3:13-18) and the ruin brought by folly (Prov. 9), but we haven't talked much about Solomon, who he is, why he wrote Proverbs, and the nature of wisdom. In other words, if you're teaching Proverbs to a Sunday School class, this is the place to start!

When I was a child, my Sunday School teacher asked me, "If you could have any one thing, what would it be?" My answer, which I once saw as a sign of piety but now see as the sign of a proud perfectionism, was "To obey God perfectly" (I remember clearly that I felt very superior to a boy who wished for a red toy truck - in these more complicated days, surely it would be a Nintendo DS!).

So last Sunday I asked, "If I could grant you one wish, what would it be?". One boy answered, "A money-making machine" (at which point some smart-alec pointed out that it's illegal to make money); another, predictably enough, asked for "Infinity more wishes"; and a rowdy boy in a particularly pious mood said "To go to heaven". My daughter, rather poignantly, given that she has 3 brothers, asked for "A twin sister, and that she's Emma" (a Christian friend).

Which was the perfect lead-in to the story of Solomon. We all know the story of how God offered to grant Solomon one request, and how he asked for wisdom to govern and judge wisely between his people (1 Kings 3). And so Proverbs was born: the collected wisdom of the wisest man who ever lived.

We opened our Bibles, read Proverbs 1:1-7 together, drew a picture of Solomon, and wrote a list of all the words for wisdom we could find. I asked them where wisdom starts - with the "fear of God" (Proverbs 1:7, this term's memory verse); and we talked about how to get wisdom - by trusting God's understanding rather than our own, and by living the way he wants (Proverbs 3:5-6, last term's memory verse). Here's the page we made:

But what exactly is the fear of God? I'd been thinking about this all week, and it seemed to me that it's just what it says: fear. We tend to try and get around it with words like "reverence" and "awe", which don't explain anything much, but Jesus is pretty clear: "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body ... Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell." (Luke 12:4-5). Of course, for us in Christ this is no longer a slavish fear, for we have found a safe refuge from the storm of God's anger.*

Here's how I explained the fear of God to the children: "Are you scared of your Daddy?" Some children: "Yes." "Does your Daddy love you?" All children: "Yes." "When are you scared of your Daddy?" "When I do the wrong thing." "Why?" "Because he might punish me." "Yes, that's right, and it's the same with God. He can punish us by sending us to hell, but we don't need to be scared if we believe in Jesus and live for him. So what's the fear of God?" One child: "It means being scared of what God can do." Pretty spot on, it seems to me!

We spent the second 1/2 hour (it was a long class!) getting started on our major craft for the term: wisdom wind-chimes. Liz, my fellow Sunday School teacher, is an art teacher in another life, so she gave us a big lump of clay, some hessian squares to roll and cut it on, and access to a kiln (you could substitute air-dry clay). Here's my diagram of how I hope the wind-chimes will look:

And here's how the children made the shapes:

Exhausting, but fun! Once the shapes are fired, we'll paint them. The children will decorate each shape with a picture representing each lesson they learn from Proverbs, like using words wisely, not being lazy, and choosing friends well. I'll keep you posted!

* If you want to further explore this concept of the fear of God, see John Piper's The Pleasures of God pp.204-6, where he has a wonderful illustration about a cave, a glacier and a storm.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Lars Gren on loving your husband

A wife, if she is very generous, may allow that her husband lives up to perhaps eighty percent of her expectations. There is always the other twenty percent that she would like to change, and she may chip away at it for the whole of their married life without reducing it by very much. She may, on the other hand, simply decide to enjoy the eighty percent, and both of them will be happy.
Some wonderful wisdom from Elisabeth Eliot's husband on marriage, HT GirlTalk.

image is Jan van Eyck's The Marriage of Giovanni Arnolfini

first day of school orientation!

Thomas had his first morning of school orientation on Friday!

We hadn't even reached the school gate when he said "Bye Mum!" and started to run in, so I think he'll be fine. I asked (somewhat pathetically) "Don't you want Mummy to come in?", and he said "Yes". I barely saw him, as he was running around the playground with big brother Ben and his best friend Karan. Here he is, going proudly into school hand-in-hand with his brother:

Friday, October 24, 2008

Bible and breakfast

If you come to our house for breakfast, this is what you'll hear: "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms ...".

A week ago, it occurred to me that breakfast was wasted time in our house. I would sit reading to my 2-year old son Andrew while I tried to get him to eat, feeling resentful every time he threw the book to the floor when I turned a page ("Do it myself!") or had a tantrum when I fed him the wrong mouthful (amazing the power t a food-resistant 2-year old can have over you!) while the older kids read, played on the computer, or watched a DVD, while shovelling food into their mouths.

Since I was chained to a chair already, and didn't want Andrew to learn to control me, why not use the time more fruitfully?

You may remember that I love memorising the Bible. I've shared how I find passages of about 10 verses easier to learn than single verses or whole books.

People keep reminding me that kids are better than adults at learning things off by heart, so I've wanted to teach my children big slabs of the Bible for a long time. The older 2 kids have individual verses printed out on cards, which they (sporadically) revise each week, but they've never learnt long sections. It's a pity to waste the brief years when memorisation is actually easy!

So that's how it started. A week ago the children and I began sitting at the table together for breakfast. Andrew gets put in the cot if he won't eat his porridge, and comes out a few minutes later eager to eat. The kids and I chat a bit about what we dreamt last night (although I'm discovering there's no such thing as a short conversation about a dream) or talk and pray about the day, and then we start reciting: "Praise be to the God and Father ..."

At odd moments during the day, phrases pop out of my 5-year old son's mouth "...holy and blameless...", "'dopted as his sons...", "'destined for 'ternal life". The older children can already say much of Ephesians 1:3-10 by heart. Clearly, it's already sinking in.

I'm enjoying sharing the wonder of storing God's word in your heart.

Have you got any stories about how you encourage your children to memorise the Bible?

image is from stock.xchng

Thursday, October 23, 2008

online meanderings and resources: marriage

While we're on the topic of loving our husbands, here's a few posts, books and talks on marriage I've enjoyed.

If you're reading Feminine Appeal, take a look at Nicole's thoughtful discussion of Chapter 2: Loving your Husband. She usefully balances the importance of intimacy with your husband in The Erec and Enide Phenomenon. You'll also enjoy her Sola Panel post on how to choose a husband.

Carolyn Mahaney and her daughters at GirlTalk are currently writing a series on doing good to your husband: keep an eye on it, it's worth a long, slow read. You might be particularly interested in Carolyn Mahaney's post on loving your husband in a difficult marriage. And to remind us that we should love our husbands in our actions even when we don't feel love, see a woman of action.

I like the highlight Sarz picks out of Feminine Appeal.

Jess, as always, has lots to say about marriage: intentional marriage is an excellent post on maintaining love in marriage, and I loved husband on a wife imposed rice diet.

If it's books on marriage you're looking for? I've dipped into these, rather than read them from cover to cover, but they come highly recommended, and I like what they have to say about the purpose of marriage. They're listed in increasing order of theological complexity, the first being a practical guide to marriage:
Christopher Ash Married for God
Christopher Ash Marriage: Sex in the Service of God
Andreas Kostenberger God, Marriage and Family

If you'd like to hear some talks on marriage, here's some good ones (I've listened to some, not all):
Claire Smith - Different by Design - talks 4 & 5 are on submission within marriage, talk 6 is on Proverbs 31; talk 4 is particularly relevant to those married to non-Christians
Carolyn Mahaney - Loving my Husband, Being Subject to my Husband, Celebrating Marital Love, Watch your Man
John Piper - Marriage: A Matrix of Christian Hedonism (thanks for the recommendation, Dave McKay - is this the one?) and a wonderful looking bunch of sermons on marriage which I must listen to sometime!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Biblical womanhood (2) loving your husband

Marriage so easily becomes a fertile ground for the growth of bitterness and resentment.

Perhaps it's the small things: the socks left in the middle of the floor, the unwiped bench, the restless night. Perhaps it's slightly bigger things: a forgotten birthday, a week marred by grumpiness, a month with too many commitments. Or perhaps it's big things: a move to another state for work, failure to meet primary responsibilities, or different preferences about family, housing, or ministry.

These things can especially affect us early in our marriage, when we're not used to each other's idiosyncrasies, and we're learning how to please each other. We may ask ourselves some hard questions - "What am I doing in this relationship? Who is this person I've married? Did I make a terrible mistake?". If we heard our mother complaining about what "all men" are like, or if our father continually pointed out our mother's faults, we may learn habits of discontentment and criticism which are hard to shake.

Three years into my marriage, I had an immense amount to learn about loving my husband. I was so keen for advice that I read a book about marriage, wrote its suggesions on 3x5" index cards, and kept them in my prayer journal. Interestingly, these suggestions were almost identical to Carolyn Mahaney's in chapter 2 of Feminine Appeal Feminine Appeal, where she talks about how to develop loving feelings for our husbands, so I know how effective her advice is.*

  • Remember God is sovereign over your marriage. In difficult times and difficult relationships, remember that God is loving and sovereign, and that he brought you and your husband together for his glory, the good of you and your husband, and the sake of the gospel.**
  • Keep your heart. Realise that emotions like bitterness or fear are a good early warning sign of unhelpful thinking and wrong beliefs. Examine your heart, repent of any wrong thinking, and receive God's forgiveness.
  • Reflect on your own sinfulness. We married sinners, and our husbands married sinners too. How can we not forgive our husbands, when they have forgiven and borne with us, and, more importantly, when God has forgiven us for so many more sins against him?
  • Learn to think tender thoughts about your husband. Instead of focusing on your husband's faults, think about his good qualities. Take a moment to look at him, and dwell on the things you love and appreciate about him. To retrain my mind, I actually wrote a list of my husband's many wonderful qualities, and thanked God for them daily, until it became natural to think this way.
  • Cherish your husband in your actions. Make sure your husband comes before children, home and ministry in the way you use your time and energy. Learn to enjoy the things he enjoys. You can do it: I was a sport-hating woman who actually learned to love watching football with my husband! I think I've lost some of this focus after having 4 children: I'd like to make more of an effort to organise date nights, give Steve my full attention, and make sure I put him first in my decisions.
  • Find friends who support your marriage. (I'm adding this to Carolyn's list.) When I was newly married, I had one friend I could always talk to openly and honestly about my marriage, because I knew she would always, without fail, draw my attention to my husband's many wonderful qualities, and encourage me to have tender thoughts for him. Be a friend like this to your married friends!
Believe me, you can practise and learn to love your husband with a tender love. I know, because I wasn't naturally good at this, but I practised and learnt how. And the result? God willing, a happy, loving, supportive marriage, where two people cherish each other above all others, bear cheerfully with one another's faults, thank God for each other's strengths, and give their children the security and example of a loving relationship.

* I agree with Nicole that the Greek word for "love" in Titus 2:4 doesn't necessarily mean "tender love" as Mahaney suggests, having asked my husband the same question; I'd go instead to Song of Songs or Proverbs 5:19.

** There are appropriate circumstances for divorce, such as adultery (Matt. 19:9); and women shouldn't remain in a physically abusive relationship.

And yes, the pictures (from John Bull magazine, 1950's) are tongue-in-cheek.

Monday, October 20, 2008

biblical womanhood (1c) in praise of older women

I'm been doing some soul-searching about a post I wrote a week ago on the thirst of younger women for a mentor.

What I wrote was heart-felt and true. There is a thirst in the hearts of young women for an older woman to mentor them. And it's an appropriate thirst, for in Titus 2:3-5, it is older women who are to teach and train younger women in the Christian life. We do need to call older women to mentor younger ones.

But I don't think we can blame older women, as if they're solely at fault for not mentoring young women. Sometimes, it's younger women who fail to see what's right before their eyes. I can think of 2 reasons for this:

1. A narrow view of teaching and training
When I was young, I had a very narrow view of how older women should teach younger women, no doubt because I was trained in a certain style of ministry. We may fail to recognise the mentoring we receive because it doesn't take the form of regular one-on-one meetings, or a Bible study led by an older woman. Older women may not feel capable of, and often aren't trained in, this kind of formal teaching.

I doubt Paul had in mind seminars, Bible study groups, or weekly one-on-one meetings, when he encouraged older women to teach younger women. The word he uses in Titus 2:3-5 for "teach what is good" is a composite word, "kalodidaskalous", not found anywhere else in Greek literature. It probably doesn't mean formal instruction, but informal instruction by word and example. The word he uses for "train" - "sophronas" - is also highly unusual, literally meaning "bring to their senses", or perhaps "advise" or "urge".*

So the teaching and training of younger by older women includes verbal instruction, but also practical advice and example, generally in an informal, day-to-day setting.

2. The gulf between generations
In our society, young people tend to see older people as irrelevant, inconvenient, and a little embarrassing. Older people, unsurprisingly, don't expect younger people to respect or listen to them, so are reluctant to offer advice or even support. To make matters worse, we frequently divide our churches into age-specific services, which may make ministry and evangelism easier, but which doesn't encourage relationships between generations.

I am ashamed when I look back at the subtle, unspoken attitudes I harboured (and sometimes still harbour) towards older women. I wasn't really aware of them, but they went something like this: "I'm a young, modern, educated, theologically trained, ministry-minded woman. I love the older women in my church - they're friendly, and loving, and kind - but what do they have to teach me? They just don't see things the way I do!" Hmmm ... sounds rather arrogant, when you say it out loud.

It's easy to complain about what we don't have, without stopping to reflect on what we do have.

Take a moment to reflect on all the times you've admired an older women for her kindness and grace, or received a meal or cookies from her, or watched her discipline her children, or asked her how she persevered in reading the Bible when she had babies, or been encouraged by her to take a weekend off with your husband. At that moment, she was mentoring you.

Don't get me wrong, I think we need to be more intentional about older women formally teaching and training younger women. But let's not forget the natural flow of love, support, encouragement, advice, prayer, and example, which takes place when members of different generations share their lives, if only we are brave enough to offer these things to younger women, and humble enough to receive them from older women.

I'd love you to share your thoughts with me. What are some ways, formal or informal, that you have either received teaching and training from older women, or given teaching and training to younger women? Who are the older women you admire, and why do you admire them? How have they encouraged you in Biblical womanhood? Who are the younger women in your life? How do you seek to encourage them in Biblical womanhood?

Your answers will form part of the basis for the series I'm planning for next year, when we take up the topic of older women teaching and training younger women again.

* Gordon Fee NIBC commentary on 1&2 Timothy and Titus pp.186-7

Sunday, October 19, 2008

rainbow cake and treasure hunt: Elizabeth turns 10

It was Elizabeth's 10th birthday a week ago. On her birthday, we had a little family party, complete with a gluten-free lemon and polenta dessert cake (it slumped to one side, but the candles were very funky!):
On Saturday, Lizzy went to the movies and out for gluten-free pizza with friends (moral of the story: never take 6 over-excited girls to a pizza restaurant unless you never feel embarrassment), then back to our house for the cake. We made Lizzy's rainbow cake from two gluten-free square cakes:
We cut the cakes into the shape of a rainbow:
We coloured sugar with food colouring (the better quality ones work best) and put the colours in freezer bags:
We cut the corners off the bags and sprinkled sugar in stripes along the cake (easier said than done, but we got there!):
A board covered with blue tissue paper, and some sugar clouds, and here it is:

Andy's holding his hands behind his back to resist the temptation to stick his finger in the sugar clouds, which takes a lot of self-control for a 2-year old!

We found some candles with different coloured flames. Here's Lizzy, all ready to blow out her candles:

And here's the treasure hunt we had on Lizzy's real birthday. It started with a piece of string stuck to the envelope of Lizzy's birthday card:The children followed the string into all kinds of places, inside drawers and cupboards:

and to the top of Ben's loft bed:
At each stop along the way, was a small present from mum or dad, or a brother:
And the grand finale? Lizzy had outgrown her old bike, and generous friends gave us their daughter's old bike, a much nicer bike than we could afford, in perfect condition. Here's Lizzy, the proud owner of a beautiful purple bike:

The last bit of the string was tied to a beautiful bed I found in an op shop the day before Lizzy's birthday, and put up secretly while she was at school, a little more suited to Lizzy's princess canopy than her old tubular steel one:
Lots of surprises, and lots of fun! And we are now the proud parents of a child with two digits in their age. How quickly the years go past.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Pilgrim's Progress

It's not long until I start my Equip Books series on Pilgrim's Progress! Can I encourage you to start reading it yourself, or with your children?

There are three children's editions I'd recommend, if you want to read one with your children:

For pre-schoolers - Dangerous Journey
My 5-year old adored this. It draws on the original language, very much shortened and simplified, and the illustrations are of exceptional quality.

For school aged children - Helen Taylor's Little Pilgrim's Progress
Highly readable, well told, faithful to the original, and includes both the story of Christian and Christiana.

For older children - Pilgrim's Progress (part I) and Christiana's Story (part II)
My 7-year old loved hearing his father read him the first of these. These are original language versions, so beautifully produced that they make reading a pleasure.

I think Pilgrim's Progress is a wonderful read, both for adults and children, and we have so much to learn from it about the Christian life. Here's what I've written so far at Equip Books, with information about some adult's editions you might like to get hold of:

As I walked through the wilderness of this world, I lighted on a certain place, where was a den; and I laid me down in that place to sleep: and as I slept I dreamed a dream. I dreamed, and behold I saw a man clothed with rags, standing in a certain place, with his face from his own house, a book in his hand, and a great burden upon his back. I looked, and saw him open the book, and read therein; and as he read, he wept and trembled: and not being able longer to contain, he brake out with a lamentable cry; saying, “What shall I do?”

Every time I read this opening paragraph, it sends shivers down my spine! And I'm not alone in loving Pilgrim's Progress: it has long been the world's best-selling book after the Bible, translated into over 200 languages. Missionaries carried it all over Africa and Asia, and it's especially popular in the third world.

Charles Spurgeon, who read Pilgrim's Progress more than 100 times, said, "Next to the Bible, the book that I value most is John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress ... it is ... the Bible in another shape." Samuel Taylor Coleridge said, "This wonderful work is one of the very few books which may be read over repeatedly at different times, and each time with a new and a different pleasure." ...

... read the rest here

Carolyn Mahaney's call to older women

If you qualify for the older woman, may I impress upon you the significance of your responsibility. Young women are in dire need of your training and instruction. Now, to function in this role doesn’t mean you need the gift of teaching, or to be a theological expert, it simply requires your availability. It primarily means being accessible to young women.

See, the years have brought you much knowledge and insight. You’ve discovered secrets of godly wisdom in relation to husbands, children and home that could save younger women a whole lot of trouble. And what is so helpful to these younger women is simply to have an older woman on hand to answer the questions and to help them through the challenges they face. …

Older women, may I encourage you, to mentor young women often simply means being available, providing a listening ear, offering wise counsel, praying for her, providing practical help, be it through babysitting, or making a meal for her, or helping her clean. Most importantly, it’s pointing her to the cross. But it’s in these simple, ordinary acts that most often provide the most significant help.

So please do not underestimate their impact, and do not downplay the significant role you have in the lives of young women.

from Carolyn Mahaney's talk Mentoring: Passing on the Language of Biblical Womanhood

image is Consuelo Gamboa's Old Friendships

Friday, October 17, 2008

Sunday School - Proverbs (3) wisdom and folly

Our little Sunday School class is mostly made up of boys.

I didn't think that primary school aged boys would be particularly attracted by the picture of Wisdom as a strong and beautiful woman pointing the way to the path of peace (Prov. 3:13-18). More motivating, I suspected, would be the image of Folly as the grisly guardian of death, whose guests descend to the depths of the grave.So I dressed one child in skeleton pyjamas and one in a white dress for a mini-drama, and they read the parts of Wisdom and Folly in Proverbs 9.

Our craft was simple but fun: a black A4 sheet with a picture of a skeleton and a princess (don't you love those free online colouring pages?) inviting guests to feast on the food they'd provided. The children drew their favourite foods in the wisdom box, and revolting foods in the skeleton box.

My daughter Lizzy's favourite foods included chocolate and icecream (she's got a sweet tooth) and her disgusting foods included witchety grub muffins and a bowl of eyeballs:
The children painted the skeleton, and highlighted the princess, with glow-in-the-dark fabric paint:
So now they can scare themselves silly every night, and be reminded of the doom awaiting those who live foolishly, and the long life rewarding those who walk in the ways of wisdom.

I'm finding this very motivating myself!

And we're learning a new memory verse together: "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline" (Proverbs 1:7). Sums it up pretty well, I think.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

happy blog-day!

Happy blog-day!

Twelve months ago I entered the mysterious world of blogging, and published my first post.

I'd never read a blog, and had little idea what they were, but I knew I wanted to do more writing, and encourage women in their Christian walk, and voila! one morning I woke up and the thought was there in my head: I'll start a blog.

One year and 390 posts later, I've discovered that blogging is completely absorbing (ask my friends and family), great practice for writing, a wonderful opportunity to reflect on life, a constant motivation to read good books and listen to talks, and a fantastic way for you and me to encourage each other in our Christian lives. Thanks to all who read or comment: I feel like I know you, and I hope you're getting to know me!

I'd like to follow Nicole's example, and invite all of you, especially those of you who read regularly, but who may not have commented yet, to add a comment to this post and say "hi"! It's absolutely fine if you want to keep reading anonymously. But if you'd like to leave a comment, just click on the "... comments" at the end of this post.

I'd love to hear from you on my bloggy birthday! :-)

image is from stock.xchng

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

online meanderings: training younger women

If you're reading Carolyn Mahaney's Feminine Appeal along with me, or listening to To Teach What is Good, have a look at Nicole's Equip books post. I found her comments on chapter 1 of Feminine Appeal insightful and helpful.

If you're a younger woman who'd like to be mentored by a godly older woman (and you don't need to be very young to want this!) take a look at How do I do this Mom thing?, which gives plenty of practical advice about how to choose a mentor, and establish a mentoring relationship.

Carolyn Mahaney has given 3 downloadable talks on teaching and training younger women:
- A Fresh Look at Titus 2 is the first in the To Teach What is Good series, covering the who, why, and how of older women mentoring younger women;
- Mentoring: Passing on the Language of Biblical Womanhood is a more recent talk which covers the same ground from a slightly different perspective;
- Implementing the Titus 2 Mandate is an extremely practical talk for pastor's wives (and others) outlining the steps a church might take to implement a Titus 2 ministry.

There are some excellent books on Titus 2:3-5, and how to teach the qualities of Biblical womanhood to younger women. Here's 3 which have impressed me:
- Martha Peace Becoming a Titus 2 Woman gives lots of thoughtful, detailed advice about how to express and teach the Titus 2:3-5 qualities as an older and younger women;
- Susan Hunt Spiritual Mothering is a warm and glowing book which explains how spiritual mothering is born in the character of God, and which gives many real-life stories and practical examples of how to encourage and train younger women;
- Carolyn Mahaney's Feminine Appeal, which I hope you've already read, or are reading with me!

My focus this term will be on the practicalities, not the theology, of male-female relationships. If you're uncomfortable with the idea of submission, or would like a refresher course in the theology of Biblical womanhood, why not listen to Claire Smith's excellent 6-part talk series, Different by Design. Her talks are clear, carefully thought-out, and well argued.

If you'd like to go deeper into the theology of Biblical womanhood, the classic is still Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. A shorter, easier-to-read book which covers much of the same ground, and which talks about many of the practicalities of living as a Christian woman, is Sharon James' God's Design for Women.

Happy reading and listening!

image is Knitting Girl by William Adelphe Bougeureau

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Biblical womanhood (1b) teaching younger women - the call

This post is reprinted from an article I wrote for Sola Panel.

Older women are to be reverent in behaviour, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. (Titus 2:3-5)
This is a well-known passage, isn't it? But maybe it's one that we prefer to ignore, rather than dwell on, with its old-fashioned, apparently chauvinistic emphasis on feminine virtues and the importance of loving and submitting to one's husband, caring for one's children, and working at home.

I think it's time we stopped and took a closer look because this passage tells us a lot about the responsibilities of pastors, older women and younger women. In Titus 2, Paul tells Titus what to teach various groups in the churches of Crete—the older men, the older women, the young men and slaves. But when it comes to young women, his instruction is one step removed: it is older women, not Titus, who are to teach younger women about the qualities of biblical womanhood. Older women are to train young women in loving and submitting to their husbands, loving their children, managing their homes, and being self-controlled, pure and kind.

This is not an exhaustive list of topics. If we looked elsewhere in the Bible, we could add other qualities to the teaching curriculum for women: being faithful, loving, holy and fearing God (Prov 31:30, 1 Tim 2:15); being rich in good deeds, like hospitality, service and helping the poor (Acts 9:36, 39, 1 Tim 2:10, 5:10, Titus 3:5); using words for faithful instruction, rather than gossiping and quarrelling (Prov 21:9, 19, 31:26, 1 Tim 5:13, Titus 2:3); being hardworking rather than idle (1 Tim 5:13, Prov 31:27); and possessing the beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit (1 Tim 2:11, 1 Pet 3:4-6). (I'd like to write a follow-up post on this, so tell me if you think of any others.)

Young women are crying out for this kind of teaching. A man in university ministry told me recently that, of all the training offered to female students, the most eagerly attended were the sessions his godly, faithful wife led on marriage, motherhood and managing a home. This doesn't surprise me; I remember my own unsatisfied longing, as a young women, for a godly older woman to mentor me in Christian womanhood. To my shame, when I was a young woman mentoring younger women at university, it didn't occur to me to talk much about qualities like inner beauty, purity, and a quiet and gentle spirit, let alone marriage, motherhood and homemaking, or godly singleness.

I don't think the situation is better in many churches. One woman I know who wanted to start a training day for women was told that women should be teaching mixed groups, not women-only groups. There's often little mentoring of younger women by older women, perhaps because of the gulf between generations, cultural embarrassment about giving advice, and lack of training in one-to-one ministry. Where churches have a strong and vital ministry of women to women, the influence of feminism often prevents this ministry from focusing on the practice of submission or the care of a home.1

Yes, I know that women are Christians before they are women. I know that, like men, women need to be pointed to Christ alone for salvation, encouraged to walk the way of the cross, and exhorted to God-glorifying obedience. Women, like men, are called to pray, to love others, to share their faith, to be patient and to give thanks—all the common responsibilities of a common faith. But God has made men and women different, with different primary spheres and different responsibilities, and the teaching and training of women should look different from that given to men.

If you're a pastor or leader of a Christian group, why not think about how you can enable older women to teach and train younger women in the qualities of biblical womanhood? This may happen through books, training days, mentoring, study groups, seminars and personal encouragement, but it probably won't happen without your leadership, oversight and courageous teaching on biblical manhood and womanhood. Paul doesn't give pastors direct responsibility for training young women in the qualities of biblical womanhood, but he does seem to give them responsibility for making sure the older women in their churches are equipped, enabled and encouraged to teach younger women.

And if you're an ‘older woman’, experienced in the Christian life, let me encourage you to think about how you can mentor younger women in the practice of godly womanhood. Young women are thirsty for your help, encouragement and advice. If you're too busy, you may need to restructure your priorities to give yourself time to spend with younger women. You don't need to be able to teach; it's enough to offer practical help to the struggling single mother, the single woman and the newly married wife. It's enough to be there to answer their questions, share with them what God has taught you and give them an example of the beauty of Christian womanhood.

Perhaps you're a young woman at the start of the journey of learning how to care for your husband, children and home, or learning how to live a godly single life. You don't have to do it alone! Look around. Who are the godly older women in your church who can help and guide you in biblical womanhood? Remember, they may not want to push themselves forward, so you may need to take the initiative. Perhaps you could write a list of questions. Ask them how they love their husbands, raise their children and manage their homes, or how they express the qualities of biblical womanhood as single women.2 You will find that most will be delighted to be asked for help, advice and counsel.

images are from rachel titriga and jhall987 at flickr, and from stock.xchng