Something BorrowedI am persuaded that without the knowledge of literature pure theology cannot at all endure, just as heretofore, when letters have declined and lain prostrate, theology, too, has wretchedly fallen and lain prostrate… Certainly it is my desire that there shall be as many poets and rhetoricians as possible, because I see that by these studies as by no other means, people are wonderfully fitted for the grasping of sacred truth and for handling it skillfully and happily.
-Martin Luther, Letter to Eoban Hess
Something to Read
“The Four Loves” C.S. Lewis
“Knowing Scripture” R.C. Sproul
“A Tale of Two Cities” Charles Dickens
“The Christian Imagination” Leland Ryken
“Little guys can do big things too,” sings Jr. Asparagus after plunking the oversized pickle on the head. We listen to our fair share of Silly Songs and Obscure Broadway Showtunes with Larry in this house, but that’s where the genius ends for me. The biblical exegesis is lacking. For one, the story of David and Goliath has nothing to do with little guys. The Bible does call David a youth but also a “man of valor” (1 Sam 16:18). And the only one doing big things was not a guy. David gave the LORD the credit for all of his victories.
Reading David and Goliath to my kids from the actual text recently, I noticed something I hadn’t realized before. When David was convincing Saul that he would kill the giant, he includes in his resume killing lions and bears to protect his father’s sheep. I’ve always read that and thought it a little strange. When your resume is short, you stretch for anything that counts as experience, I suppose? Killing large beasts of prey is impressive, but Saul had the whole war on the line by letting this inexperienced youth fight the Philistine’s champion warrior.
We aren’t told all that went into Saul’s decision, but we know that the king’s heart is a stream in the hand of the Lord, and so David is allowed to take on the responsibility of defending God’s people. And this is where I finally made the connection to the bear killing. Just as David had saved his father Jesse’s lambs, so David would save his Heavenly Father’s people- the sheep of Israel. God was showing his people what His king is like.
In the previous chapters, we see Saul, the king the people demanded, forgetting himself grossly and becoming wise in his own eyes. God took His kingdom from Saul’s line and chose David’s instead. Israel’s king is to act like the delegated king he is. God is the one true King. Anyone who would rule His people well, must understand himself to be a steward. And this goes not only for kings, but for anyone exercising deputized authority, including mothers (the application got personal).
As a mother, I may not just discipline or not discipline according to my own standards or by my own strength. I am a keeper of my Father’s sheep. I am to love them, spend myself for them, and give God all the glory. They are His people, I am His delegate. All my creativity, cooking, and organizational methods will not help them, but for the Lord establishing the work of my hands. This is very good news.
David knew his God was big (actually outside of spatial constraints, but we’ll let that slide for now) and did big things too, and this made him bold. He took his sling and ran to meet the giant, fully confident that the battle belonged to the Lord. This same boldness is ours in our homes on our daily battle fronts. Is sin crouching at the door of your house? Run at it with the Word of the Lord of hosts in your hand remembering the superior promise that in his “presence there is fullness of joy; at [his] right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Ps 16:11). Is anxious busyness threatening your family worship? Sling the stone of “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Mt 6:33) Is the exhaustion of futility chipping away at your family’s joy? Chop off the head of grumbling and despair by “singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Eph 5:19)
Because we have that great Shepherd of the sheep (Heb 13:20), Jesus, who spoke only on his Father’s authority (Jn 12:29) as our very own Shepherd, we not only can, but must run at giants threatening the sheep under our care with boldness and confidence, excited to see what He will do with the faith He’s given us.
I was asked to talk today for a bit about the practice of personal Bible reading. I want to first make clear that this is more like calling in an eyewitness local off the street than calling in an expert. For one, I don’t want to Ananias and Saphira myself by putting on that I am more pious than I am. I’ve thought about this a fair amount because of my weakness, not because I’m really good at it. Two, I’m sure many of you have learned a good deal more than I have and out of your years of faithfulness could testify to even greater benefits than I could.
Bible reading is a large topic, so I thought I’d sort of reflect out loud on a few questions I’ve asked myself over the years. And fair warning, I firmly agree with one of my favorite teachers that, “the rabbit trail IS the point.” So, this may be a bit wandering and exploratory, but hopefully edifying and freedom giving along the way.
Principles and Methods
As we approach any undertaking we should always pause to consider what the principles or end we’re after verses the methods or means we’re using to get us there. When we get these mixed around we can become slaves to our methods and give ourselves license to stop short of our goal.
Let’s say for example that you want to have a healthy heart. One principle component of a healthy heart is exercise. You could choose from dozens of methods to achieve this principle: jogging, swimming, dancing… Say you chose jogging. It’s cheap and you can do it anywhere and it requires less coordination than dancing. After a while you forgot why you jog, but you just knew you had to check it off for the day. Next you start becoming an evangelist for jogging. It works. But then one day you start getting shin splints and then you have knee problems, pretty soon you find that you have to give up jogging. Now you feel like failure, but you’ve long forgotten about why you started jogging in the first place, so you sit on the couch and mope. You’ve become a slave to a method. Methods change, principles don’t. In reality, you’re free to take up swimming now, or some other method that fits your end goal of having a healthy heart.
When it comes to studying the Bible I think it is important to keep principles and methods straight. We want to know Christ and be saved by the power of his resurrection, we want to be obedient to all his revealed will, we want to know the character of the judge and Creator, and we want to worship Him. Our plan of study will vary with the seasons and days of life. There is great freedom in having mastery over our choice of methods. We can identify problems and solve them when we have the end in mind, but if we latch on to a method, we’ll most likely get stuck at some point and get discouraged.
What are a few principles I keep in mind as I approach personal study?
1.How does the Bible view itself? Often as food: sweet dripping of the honeycomb (Ps 19), we “feed” on Christ whom all the Scriptures bear witness to (John 5:57, Luke 24), we should desire to grow on spiritual milk (1 Peter 2:2) and then onto solid food (Heb 5, 1 Cor 3), so I use that metaphor as well.
Fundamentally, just like we need food we need God’s word. So eat. Every day will not feel like a feast. Some days we eat peanut butter and jelly and some days we eat turkey and stuffing and mashed potatoes. Our Bible reading will probably look more like this pattern of sustenance and feasting. Sometimes we’ll really dig in deep and study something very particular and other days we’ll graze and chew and be fed. And this is all good.
When we eat food, we grow up (or at this age sometimes out). But it doesn’t happen all at once. I think sometimes we are like the little boy who thinks if he eats his peas at one dinner, he’ll be dunking a basketball the next morning. Growing takes time, we can’t expect to eat a huge meal here and there to even keep us alive, let alone help us grow healthy, strong bones and muscles; it’s not the way we were made. In the same way, we must approach our Bible study as daily bread, asking the Creator to feed us, his finite, time limited, tired creatures who can only take in one stomach full at a time.
A word to the perfectionist types like myself, the type that comes up with an elaborate plan that crumbles at the first sign of failure, is to hack resolutely at it; bit by bit, over and over, you’ll start to see the threads weave together, you’ll notice themes, you’ll have more “light-bulb” moments where one text will remind you of another. Just because you skipped breakfast the last three days, doesn’t mean you should keep skipping breakfast.
2. Scripture interprets Scripture. We need to be taking in the full picture as often as we can. We want to read the books as books, the stories as stories, the arguments as arguments. Don’t get hung up squeezing every last drop of meaning out of every text or seizing up on a passage that doesn’t make a ton of sense to you right now. You’ll come back around to it soon enough with more wisdom and knowledge. Kids have to try a food like 17 times before they develop a taste for it. I heard a good analogy once: The Bible will fit together like a puzzle- perfectly, simply, but not all at once.
We can learn from our kids here. Kids learn to talk by listening and copying. They are hearing vocabulary well outside their range and sometimes they even use it, to everyone’s amusement. But that is how God made them to learn. They’re immersed in the language and before long their trying it out and little by little they gain mastery and confidence. Sometimes we need to be humble enough to start where we are to begin the slow process of growth rather than try to “catch up” to a standard we think we should be. I think subtly, we can approach Bible reading with that instant gratification expectation that is so familiar to us modern people. If we are not having a culinary experience every single day, that’s normal. It doesn’t mean we aren’t growing or that it will return void.
3. Hunger is the precursor to a growth spurt. I can’t remember who pointed this out to me, but it was really helpful to notice God’s plan for hunger in Dt 8:3:
And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Dt. 8:3
For a long time I didn’t really think much about the manna God gave as much more than a solution to predicament they just happened to be in. But really, God let them hunger to prepare them for His food, which was of course even to prepare all of us for the Bread of Life. God causes us to hunger for his word in his kindness. I was thinking about how this is applicable even to this group. When we read a hard book, or have discussions that bring up questions we didn’t have before, or we’re wondering if what an author is saying is really true, this is a kind of hunger. Hunger makes a good chef. A study like this is a great place to be a Berean. Take your hunger from here to God’s word.
4. The role of educated clergy provides the check and balance to personal study. Thankfully, due to the reformation, the Bible is not under lock and key from the lay people. We have it in our own language at great cost to many saints before us. This great gift comes with responsibility. It is important that we are reading in conjunction with teachers and pastors, sitting under good expository preaching week after week. It is also helpful to have a good grasp on the systems of the Bible. R.C. Sproul’s explanation is helpful:
Reformed theology is systematic. The science of systematic theology is so called because it attempts to understand doctrine in a coherent and unified manner. It is not the goal of systematic theology to impose on the Bible a system derived from a particular philosophy. Rather its goal is to discern the interrelatedness of the teachings of Scripture itself. Historically the systematic theologian assumed that the Bible is the Word of God, and as such is not filled with internal conflict and confusion. Though many themes are treated by many different human authors over a vast period of time, the message that emerges was thought to be from God and therefore coherent and consistent.
Reformed systematics are a tool for studying the Bible. If reading our Bible like is a meal, then systematics are kind of like a farm. Systematics aren’t the food, but like a farm they are concerned with maximizing quality and quantity, organizing it, preparing for future meals, safeguarding it from outside dangers. The Holy Spirit is the one who illumines the word of God to our hearts, but there is nothing extra spiritual about foraging around in the woods by ourselves, not making use of the means he’s provided.
With these principles in mind, what does the method look like for me?
First of all, I think that thinking of the Bible as food informs how I read. Eating is essential to life, but not every meal is a steak dinner. I listen to the Bible while I do laundry or clean the house. We listen to it in the car. I try to read the Bible to my kids in the morning and my husband reads the Bible at family worship in the evening.
I really had to learn to leave off the quiet time ideal. The idea looms about that there is this idyllic study setting: we have a journal, colored pens, tea, and a sunrise. That really is a good thing, don’t get me wrong. But it’s simply not realistic to my season of life. I looked up where the term quiet time started- it started with college students. And that makes sense. It really is a time of life conducive to intensive study. I tell my teenage girls to take advantage of their time of life; it is a season for deep root growing while other responsibilities are smaller. But without a flexible methodology, I think we as women can feel a looming sense of failure if our quiet time is anything but quiet. I’m going to read a fairly lengthy quote by Doug Wilson. I come back to it so often because it is so freedom and perspective orienting, I think it’s worth it. His example is to moms particularly about children in church, but it applies to anyone who is busy with the work of God. You might have to do a little translating work to your own context:
Whenever God’s people take up the adventure that he sends them, there are always troubles that arise in the midst of the adventure that make you want to second guess your initial decision. In the midst of the turmoil that you’ve gotten yourself into, it is easy to wonder if you read the fine print carefully enough. One example would be the path that many of you have chosen to follow, bringing many children into the world, caring for them, providing them with Christian education, bringing them to worship every week and doing so in a church service where all the littles spend the entire worship service with us, worshiping together with us. This is no fad. Fads are not this much work. But it might be easy to think that this must have been a fad when I chose to do it. I want to speak a particular word of exhortation and encouragement to you moms, for example, who are doing this. It would be easy for you to focus on all the “management troubles” in your row, you know: the little ones are squirming or making faces at the visitors behind you, or spilling communion wine into the Psalter, or having to be taken out 3 times in the service and brought back in again. You don’t need to be reminded of the drill. It might be happening right this minute. You might be wishing you could listen to this word of encouragement to moms but you are distracted with other duties. But be encouraged in this one thing, all these things are happening (and they really are happening) but they are happening in the presence of the Lord. He delights in them. He wants you here and he wants you here in this kind of shape. Bringing children to Jesus is something that he welcomes and he welcomes all that is entailed in it. We sometimes think He wants us to be more like the officious disciples, frowning at the squirmers, when he actually wants us to be more like the squirmers ourselves. Unless you become as a little child you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven…
I apply this idea to my bible reading. If I didn’t have all this work to do, all these people to care for, I could sit and read my Bible! He has given you the work to do and he does not look down on you with disappointment because you feed your soul by listening to an audio bible while you cook dinner for your family. All these “inconveniences, noises, and needs” are actually working to kill my checklist mentality, my self-sufficiency. I come to the word heavy laden, weak, and needy. He wants me to come hungry, in this kind of shape because he wants to sustain me with the right kind of food, himself.
I’m not discouraging time alone in Bible study and prayer. I am discouraging giving up on bible study and prayer because quiet time conditions are not your reality. And I am encouraging freedom. I do strive for some quiet time. Mine looks like once in a while driving to get a diet coke in the morning and staying in my driveway with locked doors while I read my Bible and pray. It’s my modern take on Susanna Wesley. It might look like some extended reading a few times a year on a vacation. But more often, I read my Bible while my kids practice violin in my ear. I read a chapter while I’m waiting in line at the grocery store. I read out loud to my kids. And I listen to it more and more. It all COUNTS.
Remember this is a fight of faith and it is hard work. The devil is our continual adversary. J.I. Packer (in his foreword for R.C. Sproul’s book, Knowing Scripture, which I highly recommend) says if he were the devil he would attempt to get people to stop reading their Bibles:
How? [he says] Well, I should try to distract all clergy from preaching and teaching the Bible and spread the feeling that to study this ancient book directly is a burdensome extra that modern Christians can forgo without loss. I should broadcast doubts about the truth and relevance and good sense and straightforwardness of the Bible, and if any still insisted on reading it I should lure them into assuming that the benefit of the practice lies in the noble and tranquil feelings evoked by it rather than in noting what Scripture actually says. At all costs I should want to keep them from using their minds in a disciplined way to get the measure of its message.
It’s no wonder that we should find opposition at this point. I’ll end with Piper:
The goal of Bible reading is not only that we would see God, but that we would also enjoy him. But more than that, we don’t just want to see and savor God’s glory privately within us — we want it to conform us to that glory, so that others can see and experience God’s glory through us. This, then, is the last goal of Bible reading: to be changed from one degree of glory to another, by beholding the glory of the Lord.
I have in mind to share here, now and then, poems and passages of literature which I find particularly beautiful and useful. I came across the following lyrics by Joseph Hart in an anthology of Christian poetry, called The Sacrifice of Praise. I love the way the very structure of the poem echos the internal conflict of a soul fighting to preach rather than listen to itself. The stanzas start off long with more sophisticated argument, but as the soul exhausts its questions and gives way to the believer, the stanzas shorten as one gasping for breath. The soul’s cries become groanings and the believer’s truth most pointed and persevering.
A Dialogue Between A Believer and His Soul
Jospeph Hart (1712-1768)
Come, my soul, and let us try,
For a little season,
Every burden to lay by;
Come, and let us reason.
What is this that casts thee down?
Who are those that grieve thee?
Speak, and let the worst be known;
Speaking may relieve thee.
O, I sink beneath the load
Of my nature’s evil!
Full of enmity to God;
Captived by the devil;
Restless as the troubled seas;
Feeble, faint, and fearful;
Plagued with every sore disease;
How can I be cheerful?
Think on what thy Saviour bore
In the gloomy garden.
Sweating blood at every pore,
To procure thy pardon!
See him stretched upon the wood,
Bleeding, grieving, crying,
Suffering all the wrath of God,
Groaning, gasping, dying!
This by faith I sometimes view,
And those views relieve me;
But my sins return anew;
These are they that grieve me.
O, I’m leprous, stinking, foul,
Quite throughout infected;
Have not I, if any soul,
Cause to be dejected?
Think how loud thy dying Lord
Cried out, ‘It is finished!’
Treasure up that sacred word,
Whole and undiminished;
Doubt not he will carry on,
To its full perfection,
That good work he has begun;
Why, then, this dejection?
Faith when void of works is dead;
This the Scriptures witness;
And what works have I to plead,
Who am all unfitness?
All my powers are depraved,
Blind, perverse, and filthy;
If from death I’m fully saved,
Why am I not healthy?
Pore not on thyself too long,
Lest it sink thee lower;
Look to Jesus, kind as strong
Mercy joined with power;
Every work that thou must do,
Will thy gracious Saviour
For thee work, and in thee too,
Of his special favour.
Jesus’ precious blood, once spilt,
I depend on solely,
To release and clear my guilt;
But I would be holy.
He that bought thee on the cross
Can control thy nature,
Fully purge away thy dross;
Make thee a new creature.
That he can I nothing doubt,
Be it but his pleasure.
Though it be not done throughout,
May it not in measure?
When that measure, far from great,
Still shall seem decreasing?
Faint not then, but pray and wait,
Never, never ceasing.
What when prayer meets no regard?
Still repeat it often.
But I feel myself so hard.
Jesus will thee soften.
But my enemies make head.
Let them closer drive thee.
But I’m cold, I’m dark, I’m dead.
Jesus will revive thee.
We sort of crash into Wednesday afternoons. Today it’s raining and everyone is tired. Naps didn’t quite seem the right kind of rest, so we went the laugh hysterically at ourselves by matching personalities to movie characters route. I highly recommend it.
Baby bumps, “the glow,” a new wardrobe, showers of gifts, bundles of joy– pregnancy can really sound appealing. War sounds appealing to young boys too. But veterans will tell you, after all the strategy is drawn and the military precision practiced, when the battle starts to rage it is bloody, chaotic, and terrifying. I think pregnancy is a little like that. (Actually, without the blessing of modern medicine, it is a lot like that.)
Sometimes people like to wax poetic about the miracle growing inside you. But I usually get a strange creeping sensation up the back of my legs. Remember Edgar from Men in Black? That’s the image that comes to my mind. I’ve been body snatched. I can’t walk straight, my face swells up, and foreign body parts, not controlled by my brain stem, start sticking out at random intervals. Hormones dip and sway, and so does my equilibrium and my mood. I can’t think of words. I feel more like my body has been invaded by aliens than like a bearer of miracles, and I’d just rather not talk about my insides.
I feel undignified, clumsy, stupid, and worst of all, I feel ashamed that I would have any negative feelings about a blessing as grand as bearing children, especially when it is not afforded to everyone. So I count my blessings and cry out gratitude to God. And it is good. But then I still have the feeling that each flight of stairs takes a year off my life, and my blood pressure drops so that I have to lay on the kitchen floor, hoping my 3-year-old is in the mood to obey and put the shredded cheese back in the fridge.
While I’m lying there on the floor, my prayer goes something like, “I know I should be thankful right now. I don’t want to complain. I know my body is not my own. I know this is a privilege. I want to raise Godly offspring. I want to do this right. I know you are in control of vasodilatation and spinal nerves. Why are you preventing me from doing this well?!”
And there it is –the source of the stench. Once, we had a dead mouse that was behind the oven. Cleaning the rugs helped a little and so did bleaching the trash cans, but we had to get to the source to get rid of the smell. I can count my blessings, try not to complain, and that is right and good. But at the root, I am believing wrong things about myself and about God. I would not “do this well” if only God would let me. God is doing for me all things well, including training me by trials of various kinds that lead me to repentance and to eternal life.
Wherever we find suffering, be it on a large scale, or in this case, of the most ordinary, mundane variety we should draw the line back to sin. I don’t mean a one-to-one kind of correlation necessarily, but we need in recognize that we are a cursed race from the time of Adam. We won’t apply the right remedy until we understand the cause. We are a cursed people. And for women, all things childbearing is at the center, “To the woman he said, ‘I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children.” (Gen 3:16)
Already, I’m encouraged, but only because I know where this story ends. The curse is not the last word. 1 Timothy 2:15, “Yet she will be saved through childbearing-if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.” John Piper suggests an understanding of this verse by Henry Alford:
The curse on the woman for her [“transgression”] was, “in pains you will bear children”. Her [“childbearing”] is that in which the curse finds its operation. What then is here promised her? Not only exemption from that curse in its worst and heaviest effects: not merely that she shall safely bear children: but the Apostle uses the word [“will be saved”] purposely for its higher meaning [eternal salvation], and the construction of the sentence is precisely as [in] 1 Cor 3:15 — [“he will be saved so as through fire”]. Just as that man should be saved through, as passing through, fire which is his trial, his hindrance in his way, in spite of which he escapes — so she shall be saved, through, as passing through, her child-bearing, which is her trial, her curse, her (not means of salvation, but) hindrance in the way of it. (Alford, H. .Alford’s Greek Testament: an exegetical and critical commentary [Vol. 3, 320]. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.)
The message to the cursed woman is the same message for all weary sinners- wounded, sick, sore, pregnant, anxious, or toiling. Piper ends with this encouragement: .
God’s word to all those burdens and frustrations and miseries is No! This is not my last word to you! My word is salvation! My word, in and through every fiery trial, is to save you, rescue you, preserve you, and give you a future and a hope. All of that through faith in Jesus Christ.
Guest Blogger: Stefan Hull is wife to Josh and mother of 5. She is a deep lover of God and neighbor and a fierce hater of her sin.
For a good portion of my life, I have experienced that particular woe of carrying extra weight. Having just delivered my fifth baby, I’m feeling the “extra” even more poignantly, along with a host of other maladies that post-partum seems to magnify exponentially.
I am stressed, tired, overwhelmed, feeling insufficient, bored with the mundane and quite often full of shame at how I look. My knee-jerk reaction is to hastily replace those feelings with literally anything else. It could be Facebook, a mindless game or an untimely nap, but I run to nothing as frequently as I run to food. Turns out I can’t rid the house of food, though I’ve considered. It will always be close at hand. The struggle often feels hopeless.
“Try harder,” I tell myself. “Be disciplined. Be better.” But I never can, I never do and I never will. Even the times I think I have overcome, I am simply replacing one master for another. I quickly, though not for any length of time, become the slave of fitness, self-love or vanity.
I used to think I had an eating problem, solved by eating better foods in better quantities in better ways. It has become obvious that the battle to “eat right” is just a distraction from the real war waging in my heart.
Jesus was clear when He said “come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest”. Notice He didn’t mention anything about a quick detour to the cupboard to grab a few Oreos first. Eating has a remarkable ability to numb unpleasant feelings for a time, becoming a type of counterfeit savior, an idol. Jesus is asking for my affections, all of my affections, and particularly the broken ones so common to tired moms. I am instead offering my heart to mere morsels.
So there it is, the real battle. I am an idolater searching for rest in measly idols. Though it’s very bad, this is very good news. There is hope for idolaters. To the idolater, Jesus says “come.”
Rather than mindlessly raising my hand to my mouth, looking to rich foods and lonely feasts to save my soul from all the bad feels, I want to lift up my heart to Christ and do what He is so kindly commanding; come to Him. Come with the tired emotions, the overwhelming moments, the little disappointments, the big failures. Come, taste and see if He would give me what I truly seek.
Come to Him with those hard feelings, and stop trying to eat them. Lord, I feel overwhelmed with the constant chaos. I need you, though my body and mind want to be numbed with food, I know it promises what only you can give. Please help.
Come to Him in His word, not in the snack drawer. “I lift my eyes up, up to the Heavens. Where does my help come from?’ My help does not come from the maker of peanut butter cups.
Embrace God as my portion, not the cookie dough. “’The Lord is my portion’, says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in Him.’”
Repent. Lord, I’m an idolater, foolishly seeking what cannot give me satisfaction. You alone can satisfy, help my unbelief.
When I wage war here in my heart, fighting to keep Christ central, two wonderful things happen. The first, a byproduct and a happy consequence of not being a slave to food is I actually slim down. But absent are all the worried strivings and intense anger when it doesn’t come off fast enough.
The more important result; my soul is at ease. And isn’t this exactly what I have been pursuing, albeit in all the wrong places? A rested soul. Yes, I’m still fighting, but I’m fighting for the one thing that can actually give me peace.
“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
I have no scientific studies to cite, but I assure you by the authority of a mom, spring fever is real. My kids all go a little nuts each May. There is just more life in their little bodies than they know what to do with. While I do love for all of us to come out of our winter hibernation, it can feel like I’m dancing with hungry bears. Sure, it’s thrilling fun, but they could actually eat me alive, so here are a few of my successful strategies to keep the children from turning feral. I’d love to hear a few of yours!
- Spring cleaning. With all the extra energy, we take time off school for good physical labor. There are tons of jobs even little kids can do. Weed gardens, pick up sticks in the yard, wash their own toys, anything to covert some of that energy into productivity.
- Remain predictable. With all that extra energy buzzing through their limbs, the last thing kids need is to feel out of control, like they never know what will happen next. I’m not a strict routine person by any stretch of the imagination, but I do try to keep the order of the day fairly predictable. We have morning meeting every day after breakfast where we have a short Bible reading and prayer time, then we discuss the day ahead and what to expect.
- Change it up! I just said to be predictable, but change is in keeping with the spirit of the season. We rotate chores, change up our morning Bible story book, rearrange furniture, go on field trips, paint a room. Just like the Lord brings new leaves to old trees in the spring, it’s a great time to bring new life to old routines.
- Practice sitting still for a few minute intervals throughout the day. Before we have any instruction time, we try to first sit still and quiet to get under control, usually for 1-2 minutes. I think the din can become so familiar, that we all forget the peace that comes from quiet. They need to taste it again and again. We try to focus on one sound all together, like the birds outside or the humming of the fan, sometimes Chris gives them a scene to imagine. Have them close their eyes if it helps. Just one minute seems to remind all of us what a blessing quiet can be, and it becomes something they want more of.
- Rest time. Very similar to the reasons for short intervals of mandated quiet, each day we spend at least 30 minutes alone either reading or playing with a quiet toy for non-readers. A little absence from each other does make the heart grow fonder.
- Give them plenty of opportunities to live like children. Don’t despise the way the God has made them. Let them run, laugh, yell, wiggle, get dirty and wet, build, jump, roll, and hang upside down. You don’t have to have a lot or make it as orderly as you think. If you don’t believe me, E. Nesbit might convince you (which reminds me, read good books out loud!):
But the children were wiser, for once. It was not really a pretty house at all; it was quite ordinary, and mother thought it was rather inconvenient, and was quite annoyed at there being no shelves, to speak of, and hardly a cupboard in the place. Father used to say that the ironwork on the roof and coping was like an architect’s nightmare. But the house was deep in the country, with no other house in sight, and the children had been in London for two years, without so much as once going to the seaside even for a day by an excursion train, and so the White House seemed to them a sort of Fairy Palace set down in an Earthly Paradise. For London is like prison for children, especially if their relations are not rich.
Of course there are the shops and the theatres, and Maskelyne and Cook’s, and things, but if your people are rather poor you don’t get taken to the theatres, and you can’t buy things out of the shops; and London has none of those nice things that children may play with without hurting the things or themselves – such as trees and sand and woods and waters. And nearly everything in London is the wrong sort of shape – all straight lines and flat streets, instead of being all sorts of odd shapes, like things are in the country. Trees are all different, as you know, and I am sure some tiresome person must have told you that there are no two blades of grass exactly alike. But in streets, where the blades of grass don’t grow, everything is like everything else. This is why so many children who live in towns are so extremely naughty. They do not know what is the matter with them, and no more do their fathers and mothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, tutors, governesses, and nurses; but I know. And so do you now. Children in the country are naughty sometimes, too, but that is for quite different reasons.
-from Five Children and It by E. Nesbit
I have a nasty habit, from time to time, of practicing a little routine laziness. It’s not really a conscious plan, but it is a purposeful one. I reserve a little effort, so that when I look around at all the unfinished business of our life and home, I can say to myself, “Well, if you would just work harder, all this would be taken care of.” It’s a cheap attempt to manufacture hope. It doesn’t work.
Eventually, the guilt bubble swells to bursting and for many days I work with frenetic energy trying to get it all done. But invariably, even after a stretch of “doing my best,” laundry piles decorate my bedroom, a room needs painted, a friend is waiting for a return text, a kid is behind in math, a Bible study chapter remains unread, at least one child’s fingernails are disgusting, and someone is always wrong on the internet.
As you can guess, the result of this wild seesaw ride is not a serene heart with a finished to do list. It is either a mom turned drill-sergeant or a wife in a puddle of tears. On one puddle occasion, I spilled over onto Chris, “I am really trying- hard! It’s just not enough!” I think I even added something like, “I’m running up a sand slide over a pit of hungry alligators. And it doesn’t matter how bad I want to live, I’m losing ground!”
His reply that night was a paradigm shifter (he ignored the alligators),”Do you think the widow’s last coin was really going to buy anything? God doesn’t ask you to fill every need, he asks you to give all you have.”
Of course! The widow didn’t give all she had left because she thought it was going to relieve the synagogue of all its financial burdens, she gave because of who she valued and trusted. She valued the Lord over her own life, and she trusted that however he would use her last coin was better than buying her last meal.
Now, I have never literally had to give all I had. But I can still learn from someone who has. In those moments, when it feels like I’ve given everything I had to live on, then I have one last choice to make. Either, I can despair and die in the knowledge that everything I have and am is just a drop in the bucket, or, by faith, I can hold still while the Holy Spirit kills my self-sufficiency and reminds me that I already have Christ.
In his hand, our last coin is beyond comparing to the wealth of Solomon. In asking it of us, he is making room in our hearts to understand what it means to have Him. He has no need of our money or our great efforts, but is graciously pleased to use them, and what’s more, show us that he is all that we need.
As any stranger on the street can attest, my hands are pretty full these days juggling OB appointments with Jr. High soccer and teaching kids to read. I love writing this blog, but being busy at home and in my church, I find it falling farther down the list (as it should). It dawned on me recently, that since this blog reflects bits of what I’m learning along the way, it could reflect that I am never learning these things alone. I am surrounded in Godly counsel and wise friends. I’ve cajoled a few into letting me share them with you. They feel inadequate and vulnerable, but their love for testifying about our great God has overcome. I hope you’ll enjoy my new category, “And Friends” from time to time.
Guest Blogger: Jenny Vanderwey. She is wife to Evan and mother of 10, and one who loves her God and her people with tenacity and courage.
Peace, Be Still
When Jesus was on the boat with his men, a storm came that terrified the disciples. When he finally woke up from his nap, the Lord calmed the storm with his mouth, “Peace, be still!” The men marveled, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:35-41)
These past two or three years have been a doozy of a storm – in the Friendship Department. Lately the Lord has seen fit to inflict a few friends of mine with very hard providences. And while weighty trials are obviously very difficult and overwhelming for the ones doing the intense suffering, they can also be a heavy burden for those who love them. I’m not sure what I thought it would be like when I set out to be a loyal, gospel friend. I thought: you stick with someone, you love her like David loved Jonathan, you encourage when the person is faint, you show up when you think she needs you. You laugh, you pray, you love her kids, you give stuff, you speak scripture. You sometimes rebuke a little, you work to ask for forgiveness. I know one thing I thought for sure, going in, I thought, “I can do it.” Continue reading