Friday, April 30, 2010

a boy's dream

My son Thomas (6) has some big ambitions.

I wish I lived in the olden time and could be a Tyrannosaurus Rex.
Then I could crush big metal poles.
I could crush and kill.
I could wrestle and fight and destroy.
I could be stwong!

Ah, the sweet dreams of boyhood.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

busyness, burnout and the grace of God (3b) time and eternity

This post continues from last week's post on busyness and time.

What I'm learning.*
See last week's post for points 1-5.

8. My life is like the grass that the wind blows away (Ps 103:15-16)...
This has been a humbling realisation for me. I'm ashamed to admit that part of me longs to do something of such significance for God that I'll be remembered after I die. What an empty goal, and how unlikely! Most of us won't be remembered beyond a couple of generations - if that! - and this is the way it should be. My life is short and soon over. It's God's name, not mine, that will be remembered, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

9. ... but eternity is forever.
Why try to pack everything into this life when I have eternity in store? Why live for this fragile, fleeting life rather than eternity? I'm finite, I'm human, and I can't have every experience, realise every potential, use every gift, or fulfil every dream during this life, whatever the world tells me! I have eternity ahead of me to enjoy these things (and I'm not going to care if I don't do everything I've ever dreamed of in heaven - I'll have better things to do!). I want to spend this life serving Jesus and living for eternity, rather than running around trying to fit everything in now.*

6. There is grace in waiting ...
I want everything now, but God often calls me to wait. It's not a virtue we're very good in these days of instant everything! But as I wait, refusing to give in to self-pity and impatience, I practise quiet trust in God's wisdom and provision. I want things now: but God teaches me to wait on him and trust him to bring good things in his own time and in his own way. God is good, and his timing is perfect.**

7. ... and now may be a time for waiting.
My life is finite, and I can't do everything I'd like to do - although, like a child in a lolly shop, I'd like to be able to taste everything now! Now may not be the time for many of the opportunities I'm given. Now is often a time for saying "no", and focusing on things of first importance, like caring for the people God has given me to love. There'll be time for other ministries later on - or perhaps not. That's in God's hands! In the meantime, I'm learning to weigh up the choices, to make wise decisions, to pace myself, and to be patient, knowing that during this life, God will give me enough time to do the work he wants me to do.

10. My significance doesn't come from my life's story, but from being part of God's story.
My life on earth is short and my story is quickly over. Only God lasts forever. The story that matters is the story of his Son. If my life has significance, it's not from doing great things, but from being caught up in God's bigger story. I'm a mum, and that means serving Jesus in a small, unseen sphere. For others, serving Jesus means going to work every day, caring for a sick husband, or staying faithful in singleness. As I serve Jesus faithfully, even if no-one ever sees, I'm doing work that will last and playing my part in God's bigger story.*

*These insights come from Tim Chester The Busy Christian's Guide to Busyness chapter 12. So this post is really an extended meditation on Chester's book, which I found profoundly helpful as I reflected on the topic of time.
*Elisabeth Elliot's Passion and Purity has taught me a lot about the blessedness of waiting.

images are by aussiegall, Theorris, m4r00n3d and Carlos Porto at flickr

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

what life is really like for us

When I read women's blogs, I'm often tempted to play the comparison game.

I read about a craft idea, a birthday party or family devotions, and instead of rejoicing with my sister in Christ and getting ideas, I think to myself, "I could never do that! She's so creative! She gives so much time to her children! I wish I'd thought of that!"

So when I post something about a school project, family traditions, or how we learn Bible verses - or even when I make a passing comment about spending time with my kids - I'm always a little nervous, because I know exactly how some of you are feeling. I've been particularly concerned about this with all those recent posts about art projects!

Let me reassure you. Life at our house is not all art projects, family devotions and happy children playing - far from it! I tell you about these things to give you ideas and to share what's happening in our family with those of you who know us and like to hear about us.

The art projects have been a delightful relief for me from over-work and anxiety. One of the most restful things for me is doing art, a joy I haven't had any time for during the last few years and which I'm deliberately making more time for now as I try to be less relentlessly busy.

But if you want to know what the last school holidays were really like, imagine noise, mess, chaos, plenty of fights, and a tired, harassed mum doing her very best to love and enjoy her children. Add to that the fact that I was headachy and feeling flat, and you'll get a pretty accurate picture of life at our place!

So please don't compare yourself to me and say, for example, "I never do art with my kids". This is a recent fad for us, if an enjoyable one! Just get ideas from what I share if you want to, and ignore it if you don't. And remind yourself, when you see those smiling faces, that I left out the pictures where everyone was fighting over the best place to stand for the photo!

Blogs only ever show you part of the reality. Like every mum, I struggle with tiredness, discouragement, irritability, and disobedient children - every day! But in my weakness and weariness, and in our very human family, I have found, like you, that God is good.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

women of the Bible (1c) Eve and motherhood

It's time for some free association. I'll give you a word. Close your eyes and tell me what springs to mind. Ready?


What did you come up with? Kids? Caring? Apple pie? I'm pretty sure none of you came up with the word ‘salvation’! But in the Bible, motherhood and salvation go hand in hand.

Our women's Bible study group has been reading Genesis 1-3 from a woman's point of view—from Eve's point of view, to be exact. It's a fascinating exercise! You wouldn't usually want to read the Bible through the lens of a particular topic, but when you do, it's a bit like looking through the wrong end of a telescope: you pick up all kinds of details you wouldn't normally notice.

There's not much about motherhood in the first half of the creation account in Genesis 2:1-3:12. But as you read on, suddenly motherhood is everywhere:

  • Who will crush the serpent? The woman's offspring (Gen 3:14-15).
  • What's the woman's curse all about? Marriage (which will now bring conflict for power) and motherhood (which will now bring pain) (Gen 3:16).
  • What's the first sign of hope? Adam's beautiful words, which seem to heal the rift with Eve and express his delight over their promised children: “The man called his wife's name Eve, because she was the mother of all living” (Gen 3:20).
  • What's the first fruit of their union? “Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, ‘I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord’” (Gen 4:1).
  • How does the ‘godly line’ begin? With Seth: “God has appointed for me another offspring instead of Abel” (Gen 4:25b), and then with a line of sons down to Noah: “Out of the ground that the Lord has cursed this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands” (Gen 5:28-29).
  • What's the purpose of the ‘godly line’? It continues all the way down the generations to Jesus, the serpent-crusher (Luke 3:23-38, Heb 2:14, Rom 16:20).
Motherhood goes with salvation like the proverbial apple pie. I'll never have the privilege of being one of the rollcall of women (Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, Mary) in the godly line that led to the birth of Jesus (Matt 1:1-17). But motherhood and salvation are still linked in the mind of God:

  • One of the purposes of faithful marriage is to raise ‘godly offspring’ (Mal 2:15).
  • The Bible praises mothers like Lois and Eunice who passed their faith onto their grandson and son Timothy (2 Tim 1:5, 3:14-15, 1 Tim 5:9-10).
  • Paul speaks of women being “saved through childbearing” (1 Tim 2:11-15). I think he's talking about the opportunity many women have to work out their salvation as they serve Christ in the sphere of marriage and motherhood (Phil 2:12-13). There's no need to hanker after more public teaching ministries! Right now, in this home with this family, as I help my husband and raise our children to be ‘godly offspring’, I am doing God's work and furthering his kingdom.
So I've been praying a new prayer—that, like in the ‘godly line’, my faith will be passed on to our children, to our children's children, and to our children's children's children—down the generations until Christ returns. More importantly, I've been asking God to help me raise children who will share God's gift of salvation so that others can become part of his family.

It's because in God's economy, motherhood and salvation go hand in hand.

This post appeared last Friday at Sola Panel.

first two images are by InspirationDC and naturemandala at flickr; last image is from stock.xchng

Monday, April 26, 2010

what I'm reading: busyness and stress from Tim Chester's The Busy Christian's Guide to Busyness

Last week I wrote about busyness, time and urgency. Much of what I said was based on Tim Chester's wise words in The Busy Christian's Guide to Busyness.

I love what Chester says in this quote, about about what happens when we try to do more (maybe just a little more!) than we can.

God doesn't make mistakes. Twenty-four-hour days were part of the world God declared very good. The problem is not that there isn't enough time ... The problem is we're trying to do too much. We haven't come to terms with the fact that we are finite and limited.

People do not feel stressed simply because they have lot on. Most of us enjoy doing lots of things. We only feel busy when we try to do ... that little bit more than is possible. ... What happens when we find ourselves trying to do more than we can? We not only get stressed about the extra demands that have tipped us over. We feel stressed about everything we have to do.

I remember talking to a young woman who felt her whole life was full of stress. 'I feel like running away,' she told me. Other people looking on might have wondered what the problem was. Her life wasn't crammed with activities. But it only took a few things beyond what she could cope with to make her feel everything was impossible. ...

We need to learn that we have limitations and not to be afraid to admit these to ourselves or others. Some of these limitations are to do with time, others are to do with our physical and emotional capacity. ...

So here's a foundational truth for what follows: God does not expect me to do more than I can. ...

From Tim Chester The Busy Christian's Guide to Busyness pp. 77-79 (I've changed the order of the last two paragraphs).

image is by out_of_rhythm from flickr

Friday, April 23, 2010

kid's art project: crazy faces

Here's another easy, effective art project we did during the school holidays, on a day when my mum was here with her enthusiasm and ingenuity. All you need is a digital camera and a printer!

Mum and Lizzy took 6 photos of each other, printed them out, cut them into rectangles or squares, arranged them with a nod to Picasso, and stuck them onto cardboard or paper with a gluestick.

I love the way the face parts in Lizzy's picture bend and stretch until it's like looking at a face through a fisheye lens.

Mum's version is more crazy and comical!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

busyness, burnout and the grace of God (3a) time and urgency

October 2007. I'm running out of time. When I think of it, I get a panicky feeling in my gut. I'm nearly 40 years old, and what have I got to show for it? Study, marriage, a few short years' ministry, and 4 children, the youngest not at school yet. I know marriage and motherhood are of immense value, but I don't feel it. I feel the years pressing in on me. If I don't get started on ministry outside the home - soon! - I'll run out of time.

I get too busy when I ... forget that God always gives me enough time.

What I was thinking. "I want to make the most of my life. I want to do something significant, something I can be remembered by. I don't have time to rest. I need to use every moment. I'm running out of time."

What I'm learning.*
1. There's always enough time to do the work God gives me to do.
I sometimes think, "If there were 8 days in a week, I'd be able to get everything done!". But God doesn't make mistakes. When I try to do more than I can in the time I have, with the physical and emotional resources I'm given, I'm not trusting God. But when I do what I can then rest, I show I trust God to take care of the things I can't do, and to give me enough time to do the things he wants me to do. These days, when I rest, it's a deliberate act of trust that God will always give me enough time.

2. Using time well isn't about filling every moment, but about serving God faithfully.
God made days: hours, minutes and seconds are human inventions.* I often feel like I have to pack something useful into every moment. It's even better if I can multitask, and do 2 or 3 things at once! A good day is one where I complete my to-do list (I never do). But when God asks me to "make the best use of the time" he's not telling me to maximise my time, pack as much as I can into every moment, or tick everything off my list, but to live appropriately during these last days: to take up the opportunities I'm given to serve Christ and share him with others (Eph 5:15-16, Col 4:5-6).*

3. Serving God means slowing down and making time for relationships.
I'm learning - gradually! - to not always be in a hurry: to give up my anxiety about being stuck in a slow supermarket queue, to walk slowly with my 3 year old and give him time to explore, to keep a free morning for people who need to talk. Relationships take time, and relationships are where I serve and share Jesus. And as I slow down, I remember to enjoy and thank God for the blessings of his world.

4. God has made us to need time for rest.
My need for rest and sleep is one of the things which keeps me humble and reminds me that I'm not God. I'm tempted to ignore my need for weekly rest and save all my rest for holidays: a pattern which I've found results in exhaustion and burnout. For workaholics like me, rest is one of the hardest things, because work feels productive, enjoyable and even "restful". I'm learning that I need to take a day off a week, even from the work I enjoy: writing. It's early days yet, but I'm already feeling more rested, with more energy to love the people around me.

5. Jesus finished the work God gave him to do, and he didn't do everything.
Jesus was able to say that he finished his work (Jn 17:4), not because he healed or taught every person during his short life, but because he was faithful to the work God gave him to do.* I can't do everything (although I'd like to believe it's possible!). But I can, with God's help, faithfully do his work: the work of serving Jesus and making him known. At the end of today, I won't have ticked everything off my to-do list. At the end of my life, I won't have ticked everything off my want-to-do list! But if I've served Jesus faithfully, I will have done everything that needs to be done, and I can say with Paul, "I have finished the race" (2 Tim 4:7).

This post on busyness and time is already too long, so I'll continue with the last few points next week!

*These insights come from Tim Chester The Busy Christian's Guide to Busyness chapters 4, 5 and 12. So this post is really an extended meditation on Chester's book, which I found profoundly helpful as I reflected on the topic of time.

images are by aussiegall, Rhobbert van der Steeg, visuallegedanke and Range of Light at flickr

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

what I'm reading: the importance of sex from For Women Only

I'm reading a lot of books about sex at the moment! That's because I'm writing an article and seminar on sexual purity.

Last Friday, during my morning off, I read 4 chapters of Shuanti Feldhahn's For Women Only. It's a book which introduces women to the inner lives of men, and is based on hundreds of interviews and surveys, many with Christian men. It's an easy, enjoyable read - although sometimes confronting! - and would be great for a married women's discussion group.

For Women Only gets below the obvious surface differences between men and women to explore what this means in practice: what men wish (and often assume!) their wives understand about them, and how women can better love and care for their husbands. I went away with a renewed appreciation for my husband and the mysterious way his mind works, and with a renewed commitment to loving him in the way he needs.

To whet your appetite (for the book, I mean :) ) and give you some food for thought, here's what Shaunti Feldhahn says about sex.

For your husband, sex is more than just a physical need. Lack of sex is as emotionally serious to him as, say, his sudden silence would be to you, were he simply to stop communicating with you. It is just as wounding to him, just as much a legitimate grievance - and just as dangerous to your marriage ...

Although popular opinion portrays males as one giant sex gland with no emotions attached, that is the furthest thing from the truth. But because men don't tend to describe their sexual needs in emotional terms, we women may not realize that. ...

I believe that most of us aren't manipulatively withholding something we know is critical to our husband's sense of well-being. ... I suspect we simply don't realize the emotional consequences of our response (or lack of one) and view his desire for sex more as a physical desire or even an insensitive demand. ...

Many men - even those with close friendships - seem to live with a deep sense of loneliness that is quite foreign to us ... And making love is the purest salve for that loneliness. ... Your desire is a bedrock form of support that gives him power to face the rest of his daily life with a sense of confidence and well-being. ...

A man can't just turn off the physical and emotional importance of sex, which is why its lack can be compared to the emotional pain you'd feel if your husband simply stopped talking to you.

Friday, April 16, 2010

kid's art projects: Kandinsky circles in squares

For a long time I've looked at the wall above our dining table and dreamed of creating an original artwork to replace the poorly-framed print which was hanging there. So during the school holidays the kids and I created our very own Kandinsky-inspired Squares with Concentric Circles.

The beauty of this art project is that it's super-easy and suitable for any level of artistic skill, so everyone in the family can add a square. Here's the one we made. It makes me happy every time I look at it!

Here's the artwork which inspired it, by Wassily Kandinsky.

The kids really enjoyed making it.

In fact, they enjoyed it so much that Thomas (6) decide to create his own,

and so did Andy (3)!

Here's how we did it.

  • I cut some squares of heavy textured white paper using a craft knife and cutting board. We made ours about 15 cm square to fit our frame, but my friend Jenny filled her frame with a large number of much smaller squares, so take your pick!
  • We used good-quality oil pastels to colour the circles. I like oil pastels for their dense, bright colours, but you could use permanent markers, textas, paints, or anything else that takes your fancy.
  • We started by colouring a small circle somewhere near the middle of the squares and adding thick and thin rings of different colours. They don't need to be perfect: in fact, squarish, crooked and off-centre look better than perfect rings.
  • We arranged the squares and taped them together with masking tape, put them in our frame, and hung the finished product on our wall. Voila!

If you want to see some other art projects for kids based on Kandinsky's painting, see Art Projects for Kids and No Time for Flash Cards.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Busy Christian's Guide to Busyness: book review

I've been thinking a lot about busyness (which won't surprise you if you've been reading this blog recently!). The last 2 years have been unusually busy, even for this mother of 4, and I've been feeling stressed and overwhelmed.

As always, I'm convinced that the solution must lie between the pages of a book. So I was excited when I came across The Busy Christian's Guide to Busyness by Tim Chester, one of my favourite authors.

Tim Chester says that both work and leisure are worshipped in our society (take your pick depending on whether you tend towards workaholism or laziness!). We're driven people, because we find meaning through work. But our meaning doesn't come from work or rest. God wants us to work hard, but also to take regular days of rest. Neither work nor rest is an end in itself: both are for God's glory.

What I love best about The Busy Christian's Guide to Busyness is that, like all Tim Chester's books, it gets below surface issues to what's going on in our hearts. Yes, he does talk about time-management (briefly) and about distinguishing the urgent from the important (although he gives this a gospel spin). But his main point is that over-busyness comes from our hearts: from the lies we believe and the idols we serve.

Here are Tim Chester's "four key steps to addressing busyness", from least to most important.

Step One: Use your time efficiently. There's some good time-management principles in chapter 3.

Step Two: Sort out your priorities. I often feel like I'll never get everything done. So I was encouraged by Chester's reminder in chapter 4 that both Jesus and Paul finished their work, not because they healed or taught everyone, but because they were faithful to the work God gave them to do. The work God gives us to do is to make Jesus known. Instead of giving God our leftover time, Chester shows how to structure our lives around this central priority.

Step Three: Glorify God all the time. Life is often a battle between competing responsibilities: family, friends, church, non-Christian neighbours, work, ministry. That's partly because, Chester says, we see ministry as an added extra we need to fit into our lives. But every aspect of life, including work and raising a family, is about glorifying God by making Christ known. Ordinary life is ministry! (There's an excellent theology of work and motherhood in chapter 5.)

Step Four: Identify the desires of your heart that make you try to do more than God expects of you. Busyness isn't the problem: the problem is my heart. God always gives me enough time to do what he wants me to do. I feel stressed because I try to do more (perhaps just a little more!) than I have time for. And why do I try to do more than God wants, more than I can? Maybe because I'm a slave to one of these idols:

  • I'm busy because I need to prove myself. I often find my identity through what I do and achieve. But when Jesus died for me, he freed me from the need to work to justify myself and give my life meaning. I can rest in his grace.
  • I'm busy because of other people's expectations. I'm guilty of this. I don't want to disappoint people, so I say "yes" when I should say "no". The solution, of course, is to fear God more than I fear people: to do everything for an audience of One.
  • I'm busy because otherwise things get out of control. I'm prone to two versions of this. I feel like life might spiral out of control if I don't work constantly; and I'm driven by the idea that people need me. It's God who controls my life and meets people's needs, not me.
  • I'm busy because I prefer being under pressure. This was something I was blissfully unaware of until I read this book: that work can be an escape from the chaos of life and relationships! When I run to work for comfort, I'm forgetting that God is my refuge.
  • I'm busy because I need the money. I don't make any money from my busyness! But I was still challenged by Chester's helpful discussion of consumerism, and his encouragement to "downsize".
  • I'm busy because I want to make the most of life. I'm haunted by the fear that I'll run out of time to do all I want to do. But I don't need to race around doing everything during this short life: I can put my hope in eternity. My significance comes not from my life's achievements, but from being part of God's saving plan.
Life is busy, and no book will change that - nor should it! God wants me to pour myself out, to work hard for him and his kingdom (Phil 2:17, 2 Thess 3:8-9). But when I've done what I can, God wants me to stop and rest in him. I can be free from the frenetic over-busyness that comes from pursuing idols like control and achievement. For in the end it's not about how busy I am, but about my heart:

Neither doing more nor doing less is really the answer. ... If I'm busy because I feel the pressure to prove myself, neither doing more nor doing less will help. ... Only the truth sets us free. ... Christians should be busy people. ... But we can find rest in our busyness and joy in our labour. We are busy, but we can be free from the drivenness that makes busyness a burden.


images are from drinksmachine and Stephen Poff at flickr

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

woman to woman (3) when women's ministry doesn't happen

"I long for an older woman to encourage me, but I can't find anyone!" Have you heard a young woman say these words? Perhaps, like me, you've been that woman!

In this post, I brainstorm with some friends about the reasons older women don't encourage younger women. Which of these have you observed? What would you add?

It's a common story: again and again, I speak to young women who long for an older woman to mentor them, but who have found no-one with the time, energy or inclination to do so. On the rare occasions when older women do mentor young women, biblical womanhood is often missing from the agenda.

Why aren't older women teaching and training young women in godly womanhood? My friends and I brainstormed and came up with some possibilities:

  • Women in western society often live isolated lives because of the breakdown of traditional society, which is unlike many places where women still spend much of the day in each other's homes.
  • Generations are deliberately separated in society and church, in contrast to a time (say 50 years ago) when women of different ages mingled freely.
  • Many churches have age-specific congregations and small groups.
  • Many young women don't respect older women and what they have to offer, while many older women are self-absorbed and lack interest in women outside their family circle.
  • Different generations have different understandings of ministry: young women may expect formal mentoring and teaching, while older women may not feel equipped for this.
  • We have a cultural tendency to resent unsolicited advice and to seek counsel only from experts or close friends.
  • It can be hard to find time and energy for women's ministry after working in a job or caring for your family and home all day.
  • The majority of married women with children return to work soon after their children go to school—sometimes for financial reasons but also often because of the pressure of feminism, careerism or materialism. This leaves little time for ministry to women.
  • Single women now usually have a full-time job, which limits their ability to be involved in women's ministries during the day and limits the time they have to encourage younger women.
  • Women's programs often emphasize events rather than teaching, training and mentoring. Where there is teaching, it is often not purposefully applied to women's lives.
  • Feminism makes us uncomfortable with teaching on biblical womanhood (especially its practical application) and makes us embarrassed to pass on ‘womanly’ skills like household management.
  • Some churches have lost an entire generation of women to Liberalism.
  • There's some opposition in egalitarian circles to women-only ministry. My friend who wanted to train women in mentoring was told that women should be teaching only mixed groups. Furthermore, women often see little value in only teaching women as opposed to having the opportunity to teach everyone.
As we encourage women's ministry to women, these are some of the obstacles we may have to overcome.

you can read the full article here

image is from stock.xchng

Monday, April 12, 2010

what I'm reading: an antidote for self-pity from Amy Carmichael

I came across this while reading Elisabeth Elliot's Passion and Purity, and copied it into my journal as an antidote to self-pity.

If I make much of anything appointed, magnify it secretly to myself or insidiously to others; if I let them think it 'hard', if I look back longingly upon what used to be, and linger among the byways of memory, so that my power to help is weakened, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

from Calvary Love by Amy Carmichael, quoted by Elisabeth Elliot in Passion and Purity

image is from idafrock at flickr

Friday, April 9, 2010

Easter family pictures - and an Easter basket craft!

Here are some photos from our Easter holiday at Grandma's house in the country:

picking Grandma's berries

(and eating them),

building the biggest bonfire ever,

playing with Grandma's toys,

and, of course, celebrating Easter Sunday with an Easter egg hunt!

Don't you love our Easter baskets?
If you look closely, you'll see that Lizzy's basket is decorated with an Easter egg hunt (the fuzzy spots are the eggs!). They were made by cutting shoeboxes in half, taping down the lids, sticking paper on the sides, decorating them, and adding a cardboard handle.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Shopping for Time: book review

Written last Wednesday, during the first week of our school holidays.

I read - actually, I re-read - a superb little book today. In fact, I gobbled it up in a single sitting (or two, or three) as I lay on the couch while the kids were playing, during the times I wasn't spending time with them. It's wonderful what you can do during school holidays!

The book is called Shopping for Time, and it's by Carolyn Mahaney and her daughters from girltalk. It's written for women "who may be overwhelmed, miserable, and exhausted" (13). You're speaking to me, sisters!

My priorities are in much better order this year, but I still feel like I'm drowning under life's demands: mountains of laundry, people who need encouragement, urgent needs like finding a high school for my daughter, and ministries like Sunday School and Bible Study. I've attempted and failed to keep so many plans for organisation that I've abandoned them and slipped into disorganisation.

Into this familiar womanly scenario steps Carolyn Mahaney and her daughters with their chatty, homespun wisdom. Shopping for Time is a short and easy read (I wouldn't be reading any other kind of time management book right now!) and it's thoroughly gospel-centred. Here are their five tips:

Rise early. I won't be joining the 5 AM club anytime soon (last time I attempted something like that it ended in exhaustion!) but I've been a happy member of the 6:00-6:30 AM club for years (although the kids are starting to beat me to it, so I think I'll have to shut the door while my husband arranges another quiet time for me ... ).

Sit still. "Choosing not to sit at Jesus' feet makes a statement. It says to the Lord, 'I can do it without you.' (43). Guilty as charged! I'm far too quick to replace personal Bible reading and prayer with busyness and Bible Study preparation. This chapter includes some excellent suggestions for mums of babies.

Sit and plan. It's reassuring to know that Carolyn Mahaney, like me, has felt "weary and burdened by the demands of motherhood" so she "lacked perspective and joy" (52). The solution? Her husband gives her bi-annual retreats to read the Bible, pray and reflect on her priorities. My hubbie and I are going to follow their example - tomorrow! I'll work my way through her list (godliness, family, church, fellowship, evangelism, work, health) and prayerfully examine my priorities.

Consider people. An excellent guide to evaluating relationships which I'll use to evaluate mine. I haven't been caring for some people as well as I should, and I often let relationships happen rather than being thoughtful about them.

Plan to depend. Lots of practical advice about daily planners, overcoming procrastination (by doing the things you least want to do first), and tackling big projects (a bit at a time). I need some help in this area. I've just created out some simple weekly and daily planning sheets (which I took from Peter Brain's Going the Distance 181): let's see how they go!

This book has its flaws: I think that God's call to "make the best use of the time" isn't about time-management but about making the most of every gospel opportunity during these last days (Eph 5:15-16 cf Col 4:5-6 ESV).* And while I agree that rising early may be wise, I think Christians easily turn this into legalism and undervalue God's gift of sleep (something I learnt, ironically, from Carolyn's husband CJ Mahaney's talk on sleep).

But this is a wonderfully grace-filled and gospel-centred book. It's interesting to see how much of the book is about sitting rather than doing. That's because Carolyn and her daughters want to encourage us to take time from our busyness to read God's word and pray, drawing our strength from him rather than ourselves; and to plan our lives carefully and prayerfully, with God's priorities in mind.

So if you're feeling "overwhelmed, miserable, and exhausted", or simply like your life could do with a bit more organisation, I commend this little book to you!

And yes, I had a great day praying, reading the Bible and reflecting on my priorities! I've only just started to process all the conclusions I came to. I'll be in touch ...

* See Tim Chester The Busy Christian's Guide to Busyness 49-51.

images are from JonathonCohen and pritam at flickr

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

what I'm reading: are holidays Christian? from Tim Chester's The Busy Christian's Guide to Busyness

Tim Chester once received a brochure in a Christian magazine. Inside were photos of exhausted family members struggling with homemaking, work and filling the church roster(!). The answer to busyness? An expensive Christian holiday in France! As Chester says, "This was clearly only an answer for wealthy people."

Like my friend Gordo, Chester's not keen on the idea of holidays. He says we've replaced God's pattern of weekly rest with an unhealthy pattern of "binge resting" and retirement.

I'm not completely convinced: what about the Old Testament festivals? God's people were commanded to rest not only on the weekly Sabbath, but also at regular times throughout the year, and even every seventh year (long-service leave?! See my post on special days). But I do agree that many of us (including me!) need to re-learn how to take weekly days of rest.

What do you think? Are holidays Christian?

Holidays are a recent thing. ... It's only in the past hundred years that most people have received paid leave. Legislation enforcing one week's paid annual holiday was introduced in 1936. When people say they need a holiday they should remember the generations who never had a holiday - at least, not in the sense of a week away.

Our society has adopted a pattern of 48 weeks of work and four weeks of rest. We overwork for most of the year and then 'binge rest' for four weeks. But this was not the pattern for which we were made. We 'need' our holidays because our normal lives are so out of balance. The sustainable answer is not an annual holiday, but to get back to a biblical pattern of work and rest structured around a week.

It's doubtful if holidays are good for us. ... Most say they feel as stressed as ever by the end of their first week back. When you pattern is 48 weeks work and four weeks rest then your holiday is everything. ... Life has become week after week of toil for two weeks in the sun.

We not only spread the work-rest pattern over a year instead of a week. We spread it over a lifetime. We overwork for maybe 40 years to set up a retirement of leisure. Neither the overwork nor the retirement is healthy or godly. The Bible doesn't recognize the category of retirement. Work is to be part of life throughout life. ... People may retire from employment, but still have years of active service left to give to the church or community.

from Tim Chester's The Busy Christian's Guide to Busyness pp. 29-30

images are from alainkun and HRC at flickr

Friday, April 2, 2010

It is not death to die

Just in time for Easter, a post about death and resurrection, and more encouragement from the CD Come Weary Saints.

I was driving the kids home from school when I saw something you don't expect on an arterial road in a major city. It was a horse-drawn carriage, taking up the left-hand lane, slowing the traffic to a crawl.

As we stopped at the traffic lights, I looked more closely, and realized it was a hearse pulled by two grey horses with black plumes nodding on their heads, incongruous against the bare concrete wall of our local shopping centre. On the seat behind the horses perched two cheerfully chatting black-suited men—one bare-headed and balding, the other in a top hat. The hearse was topped with a plain wooden cross worthy of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and its glass sides displayed a glossy mahogany coffin, boasting a huge floral arrangement and brass fittings.

Behind the hearse drove three cars in tasteful green. The first car was packed with flowers. The second and third cars—stretch limousines with darkened windows—were, no doubt, packed with well-dressed mourners.

It all seemed a little excessive, this ostentatious panoply of death. But perhaps that's what is left when you die without Jesus. Like a glamorous wedding, a funeral becomes an opportunity for extravagant theatre, for it's the closing scene in the all-important story of ‘me’. Such a funeral displays the forlorn hope that death, in all its horror and finality, can be placated with pomp and held off with ceremony.

For Christians, death still brings sorrow. But we don't grieve “as others do who have no hope” (1 Thess 4:13). We weep, but we also rejoice. When Jesus died and rose again, he defeated death and overcame its power (Acts 2:24; 1 Cor 15:54-57; Heb 2:14). In a Christian funeral, instead of despairing ceremony and exaggerated eulogy, there is comforting simplicity and praise for the one who has freed us from the fear of death.

As the lights changed and we drove past the hearse, I flicked over to the song ‘It is not death to die’* on Come Weary Saints, the CD that was playing on my car stereo. It's a song that sums up the Christian attitude to death: there is no despair in leaving this weary life and exchanging it for heaven, for Jesus has conquered the grave.

I've always sworn that I'll never say, “I want such-and-such at my funeral”. But I've broken my promise to myself. When I got home, I told my husband (and now you!) that while I certainly don't want an elaborate funeral cortege, I do want this song sung at my funeral. I want people to remember that it is not death to die.

* From a 1832 hymn written by Henri Malan and translated by George Bethune, adapted and arranged by Bob Kauflin for the Sovereign Grace album Come Weary Saints.

This post first appeared on Sola Panel yesterday.

images are from wolfmanmoike at flickr and stock.xchng