Thursday, November 2, 2017

How to Have a Quiet Table with Little Ones



If there was one word I would use to describe raising boys it would be, “Loud.” Boys are loud when they play, when they fight, when they love, when they talk, when they sing, and even when they rest. As a mom of five boys I’ve accepted that the noise comes with the territory.  

But I also want my boys to value peace. When it comes to peace kids don’t know what they’re missing. It might seem like they’re having a blast screaming their heads off from morning ‘till bedtime, but it’s exhausting for them. It’s stressful – not just for us, but for them, too. They need a chance to process the world around them. We are responsible for providing them with a peaceful environment, and that requires training them when and how to be quiet.

A quiet area we have been focusing on is the dinner table. For a long time dinner was such a noisy affair that my husband and I dreaded it. We couldn’t wait for it to be over so we could catch our breath and rest. But then we decided dinnertime is the time to catch our breath and rest. As a family.  We knew it would take some work, but we decided it was worth the investment.

Why?

The main reason we strive for a quiet dinner table is because peace glorifies God. 1 Corinthians 14:33 says, “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.” This is our chance to show our kids what God is like and how we can be like Him.

It also teaches thoughtfulness - not just thoughtfulness from our kids to us, but from us to our kids, too. It shows them we care about what they have to say. We care so much that we won’t talk over them and we won’t let other’s talk over them, either.

A quiet table also teaches self-control. But is it really worth it? It might be easy to think, “Noise is no big deal. I have to choose my battles.” But self-control over the big things starts with self-control over the little things. It’s possible for kids to learn peace and quiet at the table. Sometimes it’s us as parents that need the self-discipline to make it happen.

How?

Our boys are 7, 6, 5, 3, and 1. A quiet table didn’t happen overnight. In fact, it’s still a work in progress – progress being the key word. If you expect to have a quiet table instantly you will get discouraged. This is a process. We started by talking to our kids about all the reasons mentioned above. We also tell them that while they need to respect and obey Mom and Dad, this is for them, too. This is not a parental power trip. We love them and want them to get as much enjoyment out of this family time as possible.

This process takes an extreme amount of grace. Noise is not always disobedience. Quite often it is childishness. Childishness isn’t a sin. In fact, the Bible speaks of children with tenderness and love: “Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.’” (Matthew 19:14)

That’s why we are slow and careful about laying down blanket rules. We rarely say, “No talking,” because then we have to treat every slip-up as disobedience. Instead we say, “Remember what we talked about, boys? Let’s be very quiet so we can hear each other one at a time.” If they insist on talking we say, “You may be excused. Sit in the other room until you are ready to be quiet.” They don’t like being separated from the family. When they come back we say, “We’re so glad you’re back! We missed you.” Our kids learn that participating in family events is a privilege. We try to keep our training clear and consistent without being burdensome to the kids.  

There are some nights when just Mommy and Daddy need a chance to talk. That’s when we say, “Only Mommy and Daddy may talk right now. If you have something to say, save it up and tell us after dinner.” Since we’ve been working on a quiet table for a couple years now, the kids have no problem with this. They don’t feel snubbed or belittled. They silently swing their legs, eat their food, and smile at us. We smile back. We are a team.

We’ve had some precious times around the table. We learn what our sweet introvert is thinking. We hear what the 7yr-old learned from Sunday’s sermon. We teach our kids how to pass food, say please and thank you, and how to make their own knock-knock jokes. But we couldn’t do any of that without a quiet table. A quiet table has led to quiet hearts. And that is something worth pursuing.




"The Gospel-Centered Mom is the single best parenting book I've read since becoming a mom." - Amy T.
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Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Why I Let My Kids Trick-or-Treat





Around this time of year I get the same message from readers: “What does your family do about Halloween?”

Halloween is a hot-button topic with more than one “right” answer. But there is definitely common ground all Christians can agree on.

Halloween Shouldn’t Make Us Fearful

Many people are terrified of Halloween. As Christians we can say this is wrong. Why? Because we are not to fear anything but God. We are not even to fear death, a common focal point of Halloween. Death has been “swallowed up in victory.” (1 Corinthians 15:54) When Jesus died he destroyed “the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil.” (Hebrews 2:14) Before Christ we were slaves to fear, but now we are free.

If Halloween makes us lock our doors against Satan and hide under our blankets from ghosts and demons, we are forgetting that God has “delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.” (Colossians 1:13) Martin Luther got it right when he said,

“The prince of darkness grim,
We tremble not for him!
His rage we can endure
For lo, his doom is sure.
One little word shall fell him.”  (A Mighty Fortress, 1527)

We teach our kids to laugh when they see skeletons and tombstones and mummies. Laughing reminds us of our victory over death. Whatever a Christian’s reasons are for not celebrating Halloween, fear shouldn’t be one of them.

Halloween Shouldn’t Make Us Judgmental

If God allows for different opinions in the church, we should, too. “As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables.  Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him.” (Romans 14:1-3)

God gives different convictions to different people. We don’t know what God is doing in another person’s heart, what they’ve been through, or what associations they have with Halloween. Rather than judging people with different opinions we should welcome them like God does.

Be Purposeful

Whatever you decide to do about Halloween should be a conscious decision. Why? Because your kids will ask you about it. You need to be ready with answers. Recently my son asked, “What is Halloween all about?” We tell our kids it’s a fun day to enjoy fall and get to know our neighbors. It’s about whimsy and imagination. It’s an excuse to revel in the beauty and joy of God’s goodness. We don’t get into the controversial origins and pagan traditions. The world can have that part. We’ll take the candy and costumes.

Be Confident

Once you’ve decided how to handle Halloween, you don’t have to prove anything to anyone. Romans 14:22 says, “The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves.” If people disagree with you, who cares? Don’t let that be a reason to constantly second-guess yourself.  

Be Loving

There is no intrinsic sin in a Halloween costume. The sin is in flaunting it in the face of someone who is uncomfortable with Halloween. There is also nothing sinful about skipping Halloween, but it is wrong to make others feel guilty for participating in it. Romans 14:13 calls these, “stumbling blocks.” Why trip each other up? Love covers differences with respect and kindness.   

Where to Draw the Line

Our kids dress up, trick-or-treat, and eat a ton of candy. We carve silly pumpkins and build relationships with our neighbors. We don’t string up gory decorations or dress up as witches and demons. We focus on light-hearted fun. When our kids see scary things in our neighborhood we laugh and move on. If they ask us questions we answer them.

In this world our kids will have to figure out how to take the good and leave the bad. Whether it’s Halloween, a new Netflix series, or the latest health food fad, they need discernment. We can’t make every issue black and white for them, but we can give them a map and teach them how to navigate. Halloween is a great place to start. 




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Friday, October 6, 2017

Decoding Marriage


Some of the most profound words of our 12-year marriage were spoken last Sunday night.

My husband and I were at an impasse on a minor household issue. We were spinning our wheels with lots of words, but making no progress. A simple solution was within reach, but we couldn’t see it. All I could see was my perspective and all he could see was his. And we didn’t know what we couldn’t see because…we couldn’t see it.

That’s when my husband threw some light on the situation – and our whole marriage.

“My brain is a giant spreadsheet and yours is an art easel.”

It’s true. We’ve enjoyed and wrestled through these differences through our whole marriage, but had never pin-pointed it quite so succinctly. We process the same information with two completely different operating systems. His brain takes in information and spits out an equation with a neat, tidy answer. I take in the same information and out pops a rainbow.

This was not a frustrating insight. It was a relief. It gave us the tools we needed to see the situation from each others’ perspectives. I had to think like a calculator and he had to think like a paintbrush. Simple. Suddenly the other perspective made a lot of sense. That’s because we were saying, “Your perspective doesn’t have to make sense to me. I want to understand why it makes sense to you.”

It takes a lot of work to understand how someone else thinks. It’s even harder to actually think like someone else. But that’s what marriage requires. Marriage requires occasionally trading brains.

When I was little I remember playing with red decoder paper at Vacation Bible School. It was the see-through red plastic that you could lay on top of a crazy pattern and reveal a secret message. In marriage each spouse has their own decoder paper. You both approach the same patterned page, lay your decoder paper on top, and come up with two completely different revealed messages. Our default is to try to convince each other why our message is the right one. But rather than trying to out-argue one another, we simply need to trade decoder papers. The point isn’t to agree, but to understand and appreciate how the other person thinks.

In a debate with atheist Anthony Kronman, pastor Tim Keller said the best way to work through a disagreement is to take turns interpreting each others' sentences. “What I heard you say was, _______.” The other person then has the opportunity to confirm it or to say, “No, that’s not what I meant,” and rephrase it until it is repeated back the way it was intended. This is trading brains. This is trading decoder papers. Keller acknowledged that it takes a long time to have a discussion that way, but in the end it is much more profitable.

When we invest this time in our discussions we can look at our spouse and say, “I guess if that’s the way my brain worked, I’d be thinking exactly the same thing.” And often a compromise will be reached that hadn’t even been on the table moments before.

So which one are you? Are you the calculator or the art easel? Or something different altogether?


"The Gospel-Centered Mom is the single best parenting book I've read since becoming a mom." - Amy T.
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