Category Archives: parenting

God helps us be decent persons

What do you think of these tips found on the internet?

View a picky person as one who “loves quality.”

See one who is boring as “consistent and stable.”

Instead of calling a person gullible, call them “trusting.”

Not weird but “unique.”

See a setback or failure as a “learning experience.”

It’s not a crisis but a “challenge.”

Not criticism but back-handed “advice or guidance.”

You’re not overwhelmed but “in demand”!

As you settle back in your favorite chair after a busy day, don’t see yourself as exhausted but as “recharging.”

We can find many suggestions for how to make our lives a bit better. I’m glad there are articles like “9 Easy Steps to Becoming a Decent Human Being.” a decent person(Step #1 – Realize when you’re being a jerk to someone and stop being a jerk. Maybe someone offers an idea in a meeting that you disagree with and you immediately, without intending to, shut them down. Maybe it really was a terrible idea, but a bit of common courtesy is required in everyday life.) And glad for “10 Tips For Raising Decent Human Beings” (Tip #1 – I do not sugarcoat my words if my child loses. Of course, I try to be as kind as possible but the hard truth is, most times, there is a winner and loser in almost all sports/competitions, and my kid needs to accept that.) We welcome any wisdom that helps improve our lives.

I believe, however, that we need the resources of our Christian faith in any project seeking to form persons who are decent and good. We humans have difficulty being good without God. Here are a few of the reasons:

  • We need someone smarter than us to determine which behaviors lead to human flourishing. For example, Jesus was the first to call us to love our enemies and forgive those who wrong us, a call that yields such marvelous fruit in human relations. Yet that stance seems foolish—surely we should instead treat people according to what they deserve! We would never come up with wisdom like that on our own.
  • The secular world believes in a sense of mutual human dignity. This is a very good thing and has fueled humanitarian efforts like hospitals, disaster relief, initiatives against racism, etc. However, how much does that sense of shared human dignity build on (and borrow from) Christian teachings? Followers of Jesus helped supply the critical mass for beginning all those benevolent efforts.
  • If self is our ultimate concern, we end up selfish. If our family’s good is our highest concern, we will care less for other families. If our ultimate goal is the good of our nation, we will end up with nationalism. If we focus on the good of our race, we end up racists. Only Christianity gives an ultimate concern that encompasses the whole world in selfless love: a God who looks like Jesus, willing to love even those acting in rebellion.
  • Awareness of being loved by God energizes us. The love we discover from God fills us with love that then spills over to others (1 John 4:19).

We should learn from those in our culture who have wisdom to share. But let’s never stop drinking deeply from our faith!

Impact of everyday thankfulness to God

“Give thanks in all circumstances.” (1 Thes. 5:18)

Ellen Vaughn recounts a story that shows what obeying this verse can look like, along with its astonishing impact. She calls it “the meditative habit of constantly whispering thanks to [God]—no matter the situation” in her book Radical Gratitude: Discovering Joy through Everyday Thankfulness.

Vaughn had a friend who

was going through the wringer with her teenage daughter. Their once-close relationship had devolved into a briar patch of prickly feelings, stinging barbs, and angry outbursts. My friend felt she could not utter a sentence without stepping into a minefield. Her patience was waning, her frustration growing. The conflicts with her daughter were affecting other relationships, like with her husband.

The friend wanted to hold onto God’s presence in these challenges. mother-daughter communication She wanted her mind and soul to not just be filled with what her daughter was doing but also to be aware of what God was doing in the situation. She knew that God is sovereign and good, that she can trust God. So every time she saw or thought of her daughter or got into a difficult conversation, she chose to express the truth that she can trust God to work for good “in all circumstances” by speaking words of thankfulness to this God (even though she didn’t feel thankful):

Thank you that you are with me! Thank you for giving me this girl! Thank you that she is even able to speak! Thank you that her mind works so quickly! Thank you that the story is not yet over! Thank you for your patience with me!

Several things happened within the friend.

First, this exercise stimulated a creative challenge within her as she sought to discern all the things she could thank God for. Second, it distanced her from the emotion of the moment, so she didn’t respond to her daughter out of frustration or anger. She found she was thinking more about God than her daughter. Third, that distance allowed her to actually see humor in various situations. Humor is good. And fourth, the more she thanked God for her daughter, the more she was able to perceive her as his daughter. She found that developing the habit of giving thanks gave her more resilience and elasticity, rather than always being ready to snap. And oddly enough, she couldn’t wait for her daughter to get home from school every day, so she could lavish love on her.

A sense of gratitude to God will always begin to birth within us a generosity of spirit. My prayer is that a theme of Gratitude and Generosity will pervade all our days!

The fun of four kids who are close!

The presence or absence of family tends to mark this time of year with the holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas. So I’ll take this time to express joy and gratefulness for four close children.

When Karen & I moved here after 30 years in Corning, NY, we were following unusually clear guidance from God. And following our four children! Two had recently graduated from EMU and were still in the area, and two were still students at EMU. It’s always risky for parents to relocate near young adult children—because the kids might move! However, last week marked our fifth anniversary of being here at Trissels, and, amazingly, all four children are still in the area (three are even in the Trissels directory), and three new in-laws each have roots here.

Our kids being “close” is more than a matter of geography. They are also close in the sense of enjoying each other. And close in age. When our sons were born (seven minutes apart, as identical twins), their sisters were one and three. From December to April that year, we had four children and the oldest was only three years old! The next few years were demanding, especially on Karen—that time is sort of a hazy blur for her! But as the kids grew older, the fact of closeness in age made parenting easier because finding shared activities they could all enjoy was easier.

Their enjoyment of each other was boosted by Karen’s idea of a Family Night each week. Every Thursday night the church knew that its pastor was unavailable for meetings and non-emergency calls, and was instead preoccupied with family fun at a local playground, a hike to a picnic in a treehouse in a nearby 250 acre Nature Center, a meal in the living room while watching a movie, or decorating Christmas cookies, or playing games together.

Our children continued the tradition during the three years all four were in Harrisonburg before Karen & I moved here: they got together most Sunday evenings for Sibling Sundays.

Thanksgiving evening all nine of us enjoyed Wits & Wagers, perhaps the best game ever for families and friends who enjoy numerical trivia and guesstimating odds. Countless moments each year, Karen & I give thanks to God for the joy of four kids who are close.

Parents and the church dedicating themselves

On Sunday we as a congregation had the joy of joining with two sets of young parents in dedicating their children to God’s care and to God’s purposes.

We call it a Child Dedication ceremony, but perhaps the most important element is the parental dedication. My parents saw their three sons grow up fully devoted to the Lord—all of us pastors, even. But without their commitment to train their children in God’s ways and to model those ways themselves that wouldn’t have happened. My parents were not perfect; my mother could be too fearful and my father insensitive. But they never (to my knowledge!) chose to ignore a command of Scripture. What they said on Sunday and did on Monday were in complete alignment.

How parents live is so important because values and behaviors are “caught” more than taught. When Karen and I brought our children home for the first time, the hospital sent all kinds of literature. One was entitled “Children Learn What They Live.” Among its lines were these:

If a child lives with criticism, that child learns to condemn.
If a child lives with hostility, that child learns to fight.
If a child lives with tolerance, that child learns to be patient.
If a child lives with praise, that child learns to appreciate.
If a child lives with fairness, that child learns justice.
If a child lives with acceptance and friendship, that child learns to find love in the world.

The ceremony on Sunday included not just prayers for the children and commitments by the parents, but also a time when we as a congregation pledged to support the parents as they bring their children up to love and serve God. Perhaps we as a church could add these lines to the above piece:

If our church accepts and welcomes all people, our children learn God’s love which has no boundaries.
If our church celebrates God and his goodness regularly, our children learn to be worshippers.
If our church reads and memorizes Scripture, our children learn to value the Bible.
If our church knows God as One who nudges and guides us by the Spirit in daily life, our children grow up open and responsive to God.