Wrestling with God for Life

{written for The Morning Center blog: https://www.morningcenter.org/blog/wrestling-god-life}

My five year old son, Jeremiah, has a new hobby: knights and castle play. We’ve been reading “The Story of King Arthur and his Knights.” The first book ends with the motto of the Round Table: “We, the Knights of the Round Table, will be gentle unto the weak, courageous unto the strong, and terrible unto the wicked. We shall defend the helpless, hold all women as sacred, be merciful to all men, and defend and support each other until the end.

I’ll admit, the phrase: “hold all women as sacred” really caught my eye!  That is something I truly want impressed upon Jeremiah’s heart, but even more so, the truth that all of life is sacred.

It almost goes without saying that the Christian community holds to the value of “sanctity of life” and yet, I fear, without much thought. As Jacob wrestled with God, and in the wrestling held on tightly to Him, I believe that in order for our conviction of “sanctity of life” to have real depth, tenacity, and outward effect in our lives, there needs to be a true wrestling in the heart of each follower of Jesus.

When is the last time you came away from prayer limping?

In his book “Adopted for Life”, Russel Moore discusses spiritual warfare and Planned Parenthood. He argues that Satanic powers “rage against the babies and children” who reflect the image of God. He quotes Proverbs 8:36: “All who hate me love death,” and goes on to say, “Satan always uses human passions to bring about his purposes. When new life stands in the way of power [or selfish ambition]… the blood of children often flows. Herod loved his power; so he raged against babies… It’s easy to shake our heads in disgust at Pharoah or Herod or Planned Parenthood. It’s not as easy to see the ways in which we ourselves often have a Pharoah-like view of children rather than a Christlike view. What God calls blessing, we often grumble at as a curse- for the same reason those old kings did, because they disrupt our life plans.”

Let us pray boldly and sincerely:

Search me, O God, and know my heart!

Try me and know my thoughts!

And see if there be any grievous way in me. ~ Psalm 139:23-24a

My suspicion is that the painful, Jacob-style of wrestling with God is absent and a dull sense of complacency has taken root, in part, because we do not speak into each other’s lives with insight and truth. In a social media world where we are all hungry for the affirmation of the “like” we live in a people-pleasing culture.

You may not actually be sacrificing babies to Molech, but your heart has grown hard and cold to life in some arena. Where has your heart turned from desire? From beauty? From delight? Do you waste the glory of your life in numbing-dissociative addictions?  

The famous puritan John Owen wrote, in his book The Mortification of Sin, that a sincere fight against sin must be universal: “We must not be concerned only with that which troubles us, but with all that troubles God… If we will do anything, we must do everything. (2 Cor. 7:1) So then, our need is not only an intense opposition to this or that particular lust, but a universal humble frame and temper of heart that watches over every evil…” (The Mortification of Sin, John Owen and abridged by Richard Rushing).

The Sanctity of Life movement must have this same universal principle behind it. We must seek fullness of life in every corner of our own lives and world which we inhabit and seek to bring down all forces of death.

Dan Allender once said that we would have much more clarity if we take out the false sense of neutrality: If something is not love, then it is hate; if something is not life-giving and affirming, then it is of darkness and a herald of death.

The Serpent wooed Eve into an agreement with Evil as she assented to his lies. All the while she was completely unaware. Let us not think too highly of ourselves for we are not unlike Eve. Without any awareness we too have made agreements with the lies of Evil.

We need a jarring voice to awaken us and invite us into painful reflection.

May this question be a holy disruption in your life:

Have you broken your covenant (or agreement) with death?

Here is the jarring voice of Jesus: “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” ~ Matthew 16:25

We need to renounce the empty ways in which we search for life that are truly Satan’s façade that will destroy.

For my people have committed two evils:

they have forsaken me,

the fountain of living waters,

and hewed out cisterns for themselves,

broken cisterns that can hold no water. ~ Jeremiah 2:13

Only through repentance can we turn to Jesus afresh and let him lead us to life-abundant.

Then you will hear the voice of Jesus inviting you to fight for life and embody His mission in the unique realm he has called you to:

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,

because the LORD has anointed me

to bring good news to the poor;[fn]

he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,

to proclaim liberty to the captives,

and the opening of the prison to those who are bound…” ~ Isaiah 61:1

 

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

~ Mary Oliver, The Summer Day

The Morning Watch

For my first post on prayer, I want to make a simple entreaty: Let us drop the term “Quiet Time.

Doesn’t “quiet time” sound very … soft? A bit too dispensable?

Think this through with me: what images and connotations does “quiet time” conjure up in your mind? Slippers? Coffee? A plush cushy chair?

No wonder we drop it when other things feel more pressing. Morning “quiet time” sounds and feels like a luxury… when we have time. The language we use matters; our choice of words informs our attitudes and actions.

Can you imagine Jesus or the Apostle Paul having “quiet time”? It’s a bit ludicrous, right? Really to the point of being offensive.

My suggestion is that we replace “quiet time” with “The Morning Watch.”

The Morning Watch” brings in the idea of spiritual warfare. This is TRUE prayer. And this is a necessity. We DO have an Enemy. And he is prowling, watching and looking for whom he can devour. We ARE in a war… or we’ve been taken captive.

Are you living in defeat? Anxiety? Addiction? Escaping and numbing? How is your marriage? Are you experiencing “abundant life” and “freedom” that Jesus came to bring?

Perhaps you’ve gone AWOL.

“Prayer is a wartime walkie – talkie for spiritual and missional warfare; Not a domestic intercom to increase the comfort of the saints. And one of the reasons prayer malfunctions in the hands of so many Christian soldiers, is that they have gone AWOL.” ~ John Piper

Are you dressed for war?

Do you have a sword? How sharp? How skilled?

“If you can’t run with horsemen, how can you run with horses?” ( paraphrase Jeremiah 12:5)

“You CAN get better.” ~ Dan Allender

Let’s do it together. As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. ~ Proverbs 27:17

 

Do you love me? : Every child’s question

Almost a year ago, our family was in a state of desperation. The arrival of our sweetest little bundle of joy, Judah, had apparently upset the balance of our happy home. Four months later, Ryan and I were sleep deprived and Jeremiah was having daily temper tantrums. (I started writing this when Jeremiah was still 4; He is now 5)

I knew something HAD to change after Jeremiah punched Ryan in the face and stomped on my IPad.

After I recovered from my initial shock and disbelief, I geared myself up and flew into action. I spoke with trusted people and asked others for prayer.

Eventually, I remembered a book that a few CHA moms had been raving about… “How to Really Love your Child” by Dr. Ross Campbell. When I looked it up on Amazon, I realized THIS was the book that Park Community Church had gifted to us at Jeremiah’s baby dedication!!

And then sheepishly I also remembered I actually had tossed the book aside and thinking, “Why would I ever need this?? I know how to love my child!”

Oh the pride of a new parent!

Parenting has a way of humbling the most stubborn pride.

The truth is: I need this book (probably to re-read it often!); we all need this book.

While I strongly encourage you to read this book (whether or not you have children), I will share the journey God lead me on through this book. And I do believe this book was an answer to prayer and a God-send. It is true that within a week of reading this book, Jeremiah’s temper tantrums not only stopped, but he was answering us, “Yes, Mom”, and “Yes, Dad”, all on his own! It felt like a miracle! I can’t even describe the relief it brought my heart to have peace and joy return to our home!

  1. The Wrong Question

First, I realized I had been asking the wrong question: “How can I correct Jeremiah’s behavior?”

I’ll admit I was sick and tired of the tantrums. I simply wanted them to stop. And I was angry. I was fed up and ticked off about the disruption in our home. I felt like I was being robbed of peaceful mornings and enjoyable dinners.

Dr. Campbell writes (p. 104): “The tendency is for parents to ask, “What can I do to correct this child’s behavior? Unfortunately, all too often this question leads initially to punishment. It is then difficult to consider the real needs of children, and we may end up spanking or sending children off to their rooms. Children will not feel loved if we approach handling misbehavior this way.

“We should always begin by asking ourselves, “What does this child need?” 

In other words, where is there a breakdown in the experience of love? Has the child been receiving loving eye contact, loving touch, focused attention and loving instruction?

The basic tenant of Dr. Campbell’s book is that children are constantly asking, “Do you love me?”

They don’t ask directly with words, but instead with their behavior. The more rebellious and disruptive their behavior is, the more desperate the question: “Do You Love Me?”

  1. The Essential Needs of a Child

Dr. Campbell opens the book with the story of “Tommy”, a 14 year old who had been a “good kid” and whose parents are now bewildered by the troubled road he’s traveling. Tommy’s parents feel like they’ve loved him and given their best into raising him the right way. However, when Dr. Campbell talks to the boy one –on-one, he finds that Tommy’s experience is quite different. He does not experience the love of his parents, and doesn’t feel like they’re concerned about him either.

“Tom Smith’s parents do love him deeply. They have done their best in rearing him, but something is missing. Did you notice what it was? No, not love; his parents do love him. The basic problem is that Tom does not feel loved… Like most parents they believed they were meeting Tom’s needs: food, shelter, clothes, education, guidance, etc. In the process of meeting all those needs, they overlooked his need for love- unconditional love. Although love is within the heart of almost all parents, the challenge is to convey this love.”

The thought shattered my anger and broke my heart: When Jeremiah was having a temper tantrum he was actually pleading with me, “Do you love me??”

The hard truth is that we often unwittingly answer with a “no” through OUR behavior…. And consequently our children feel unloved.

In his book, Dr. Campbell has a chapter on each of 4 essentials children need from their parents in order to experience love: 1) Eye contact; 2) Physical Touch; 3) Focused Attention, and 4) Loving Discipline or guidance.

Once I had the insight that Jeremiah’s outbursts were an understandable reaction of anger to his experience of feeling unloved, I had to determine where the gaps were. How had I changed since Judah was born?

I realized that eye contact had taken a sharp decline and so had focused attention. I was letting him watch quite a bit of TV or movies while I was caring for Judah.

Dr. Campbell defines focused attention as “giving a child full, undivided attention in such a way that the child feels without doubt completely loved; that the child is valuable enough in his or her own right to warrant the parent’s undistracted watchfulness, appreciation, and uncompromising regard. In short, focused attention makes a child feel like the most important person in the world in his or her parents’ eyes.” (pg 57)

He goes on to give the example of the priority that Jesus gave to children: “And they were bringing children to Him so that He might touch them; and [He] said to them, “Permit the children to come to Me; … for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.’… And He took them in his arms and began to bless them, laying His hands upon them,” (Mark 10:13-16, NASB)

  1. Hollow Substitutes for Real Love

Dr. Campbell says that in his experience, “focused attention is the most demanding need a child has, because we parents have extreme difficulty in recognizing it, much less fulfilling it. We do not recognize this particular need for many reasons. One of the main reasons is that other things we do for a child seem to suffice. For example, special favors (ice cream or candy), gifts and granting unusual requests seem to substitute for focused attention at the time. These kindnesses are good, but it is a serious mistake to use them as a stand-in for genuine focused attention… Focused attention is not something that is nice to give children only if time permits; it is a critical need each child has. How children view themselves and how they are accepted by their world is determined by the way in which this need is met. Without focused attention, a child experiences increased anxiety… He or she is consequently less secure and is impaired in emotional and psychological growth. Such a child can be identified in the nursery or classroom.”

  1. We must answer with our Presence

Dr. Campbell asks hard questions of parents in his book:

“What are the priorities in your life? Where does your child fit in? Does your child take first priority? Second? Third? Fourth? You must determine this! … No one else can do this for you. A spouse cannot determine your child’s priority in your life… Only you can do this. So what is it fellow parent? What and who gets priority in your life? Job? Church? Spouse? House? Hobby? Children? Television? Social life? Career?”

As I read these words, I recalled that after Judah was born I had bought Jeremiah new toys and a batman shirt… I would let him watch batman shows on TV… or how I had continually pass Jeremiah off to Ryan while I cared for Judah. I was dismayed as I evaluated the sum picture.

Even though I am a stay at home mom, I realized that with the little time I had when I wasn’t caring for a newborn baby, I was not actually making Jeremiah a priority. I was exercising to lose weight. I was cooking healthy meals. I was organizing our home. All good things. But I wasn’t face to face with Jeremiah, simply enjoying his presence with me.

I decided to make changes… immediately. In the chapter on focused attention, Dr. Campbell instructs that “Careful Planning Pays Off.” I considered and planned how I could rework my days and weeks to have one-on-one time with Jeremiah. I know that Jeremiah loves to bake or work with food, loves his Boys Life and Ranger Rick magazines, and doing our Bible devotional book. So I made sure they were available and ready for when Judah was napping or content with tummy time. Instead of seizing this time to exercise or clean, I would seize these moments for Jeremiah.

  1. God is the ONLY Perfect Parent

The idea that your child might not feel and actually experience your love may cause an initial guttural reaction of defensiveness… “Of course my child knows that I love him (or her)! I tell him that I love him every day!”

We must realize that our *unspoken* language actually speaks louder than our words. Words are meaningless if we do not show love FIRST by our presence.

Think this through with me: how does a child learn the meaning of language? Of a word? It is by an embodied experience of the word… such as “hot” or “cold. They must feel it with their bodies to know the meaning of the word. Similarly, how does a child even come to understand the meaning of the word “love”? It is not through hearing the words “I love you” only… but through delighted eye contact, gentle touches and holding, and it is through the time spent enjoying each other.

This is the model given to us by God- the Father of His people. God shows love for his children time and time again *through his Presence*.  His very purpose in the creation of mankind was for intimate fellowship with them. Before the entrance of Evil, God walked with Adam and Eve in the cool of the day… enjoying each other’s presence. And now God is working all of history toward the supreme goal of restoring His intimate presence with us… The highest desire of God’s heart is to be *with us*.

It was this desire that lead him to come to earth as a Man (equally God and equally man) to reconcile mankind to Himself. As the God-man he became “Emmanuel” meaning “God with us.”  And as Emmanuel, He could fully empathize with us (Hebrews 5:2). To empathize is to “rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” (Romans 12:15)  This is empathy: what you see and hear and feel in your body reverberates in mine. It is to see another fully; to see with body, emotions and mind.

How can this happen between two people without undistracted, face-to-face, eye-to-eye presence? This is essential to love. Sadly, I fear that many people have never experienced this… instead only a hollow, empty shell of what we call “love.”  Because we can never give away what we haven’t received.

The good news is that regardless of the failings of our earthly father and mother, God always stands with his arms open for the prodigal child, wanting to be our Perfect Parent. We can receive His perfect love, and His Presence.

God receives his first personal name in the Bible by a woman who has been abused and traumatized… she runs away, isolated… only to find she is not alone. God meets her and says: “I see you.” … Therefore, the woman names Him: “The God who sees”; which is “El Roi.”  (Genesis 16:13)

Through receiving the perfect love of “El Roi” in more fullness day by day, we can in turn continually grow in loving others including our children.

We must meet our children with our full presence and see them with the eyes of our heart and soul.  Yet, you cannot give away what you have not received. Therefore, go to God… continually. Each day we must make the journey from being “elder brother” to become the “prodigal son”… Is it ONLY the prodigal child that can *receive* the Father’s unconditional love (the only TRUE unconditional love in the world).

(for more on the Prodigal Son: https://delightofmylife.wordpress.com/2015/02/20/dangerous-waters/ )

(for more on Face to Face with God: https://delightofmylife.wordpress.com/2017/02/02/a-slap-in-the-face/ )

6. Know Your Own Story: Personal road blocks to Love

Have you ever seen the “self-awareness” grid? It’s called the Johari Window. (click below)

johariwindowmodeldiagram

I still remember my bewildered feeling when my first counselor, Cyndi Mesmer, showed me this diagram. It was frightening to realize there were things about me that others could see that I couldn’t see. The point is we need to be open to others in order to grow. Without their feedback we will never enlarge the “open and free” window.

Part of this willingness to receive feedback is the humility to admit that we don’t love our children perfectly. There is room to grow.

The journey goes like this:

  1. We realize that we don’t love our children perfectly. We have road blocks.
  2. We consider our particular road blocks- do you struggle with focused attention? With eye contact? With physical touch? or with loving discipline? (discussed more in the book than in this blog post)
  3. Consider how these roadblocks fit into your childhood story? How did your parents give (or not give) these essential love ingredients?
  4. Seek healing and growth by bringing these struggles into relationship- with a counselor, your spouse, and even your children. Most importantly, bring your struggles to Jesus- ask Him for insight, healing, and growth.

For Mother’s Day this year I asked Jeremiah for feedback. I asked, “What makes Mommy a good mommy?” Jeremiah said, “You give hugs and kisses.” I asked further, “Do I give enough hugs, or do I need to do it more?”  He replied, “You need to do it more.”

I was glad I asked! I never would have considered myself to be a parent that struggled with physical contact… never in a million years!! But in Jeremiah’s experience he needed more.

A wonderful resource for this journey is the “How We Love” book series by Milan and Kay Yerkovich. As professional counselors, they look attachment styles that they call “love imprints.” We all have “love wounds” from our primary relationships that cause us to give and receive love out of insecurity. The five types they look at are “Avoiders”; “Pleasers”; “Vascilators”; “Controllers” and “Victims.”

In their book “How we Love Our Kids” they look at how a parent’s love style impacts their children. For example, how does a child experience a parent who is a “Pleaser” or an “Avoider”?  They also look at children: How does a child become a “Vascilator” or a “Controller?

Perhaps this will be my next book review!

 

a child shall lead them

this morning as I was getting ready for the day, Jeremiah thoughtfully said, “Jesus took away our sins… and sins are disobeying… How does that make God feel when we disobey?”  I replied, “It makes God feel sad, but He forgives us.”   To which Jeremiah’s face brightened and exclaimed, “AND He loves us!”

Yes. “Spirituality” is that simple:  1) We are sinners; 2) Jesus took away our sins (when He died on the cross, He took our sins upon Himself, stood in our place and bore the full penalty FOR us, *instead* of us; 3) Now God forgives us AND loves us.

The Bible says to not err from the simplicity of Christ.

This is why it says that to receive the Kingdom of God, we must receive it like a child.

Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it. ~ Mark 10:15

Children are naturally needy, and they happily accept help and provision. They accept the care of their earthly father, (and mother), and simply enjoy being taken care of.  *We* must allow ourselves to be needy before God- as sinners who *cannot save ourselves*, and simply, happily except the help He offers in Jesus… who offers to stand in our place and take the penalty of death.

If salvation and going to Heaven is that simple, that easy, that FREE (We’re sinners, and God did ALL the work Himself to free us), then why does the Bible say that “few” find the way, and that “in that day there will be *many* who say to me, Lord, Lord” and I will say I never knew you”? (Matthew 7)

It’s because people err at the first point. The Gift of God is free. But people don’t think they need the gift. So, in their pride they turn their backs on God’s free gift of grace. People don’t accept the truth that they are sinners, deserving hell, and needing a Savior.

Instead, people believe they can save themselves. People believe that they are “good” enough for God to accept… and as for their faults, they think that God is loving and forgiving and so He will overlook their minor flaws in light of how *good* they truly are.

That’s simply an evil lie. God IS loving and forgiving, but He is also equally *Just* and *Holy*. God will not overlook sin, because He is a *just and perfect Judge*. In God’s court of law, a guilty verdict must have it’s due penalty.  It is *through* Jesus that God is loving and forgiving. Our sin was so evil in His Holy sight that He put to death His very Son in our place.

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. ~ John 3:36

Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. ~ 1 John 5:12

Your sin *will* be paid for: either by *you* in eternal death in hell, or by Jesus on the cross, if you accept His free gift.

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God… ~ Romans 3:23

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.~ Romans 6:23

The Gift is given to the one *who does not work* to earn God’s favor… If you approach God based on *your own perceived goodness* He will give you your due. That is a fearful thought.

For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” ~ Romans 4:2-8


Birthday Video

There’s still time to donate to Tirzah’s legacy of life at through the Morning Center. Click below for her memorial page and fundraising in her honor.

https://secure.morningcenter.org/np/clients/morningcenter/campaign.jsp?campaign=21&fundraiser=12286&team=21#.VcyXcDVkpl0.facebook

Tirzah’s life message: Resurrection and LIFE:

“Resurrection is real. Life is more powerful than death. Light CAN pierce darkness. (1 Corinthians 15:54).

Lord, we know You will come. We know You are here. Let us bring all our wounds and brokenness to You expectantly, without a doubt. Remind us that all the children we hold, and all the children we don’t, are yours. Yours in this broken life and Yours in Eternity. Come, Lord Jesus. We wait in **Hope**. ”

(Katie Davis, Kisses from Katie)

The Valley of Vision:

“Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly, Thou hast brought me to the Valley of Vision, where I live in the depths, but see Thee in the heights… there I behold Thy glory.

Let me learn by paradox,

that the way down is the way up,

that to be low is to be high,

that the broken heart is the healed heart,

that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,

that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,

that to have nothing is to possess all,

that to bear the cross is to wear the crown,

that to give is to receive, that **the valley is the place of vision.**

Lord, let me find thy light in my darkness, thy life in my sorrow, thy grace in my sin, they riches in my poverty, Thy glory in my valley.”

~The Valley of Vision, A Collection of Puritian Prayers

Dear Tirzah:

My sweet Tirzah, Jesus just couldn’t wait for you because you are so beautiful. And if I had a garden, wouldn’t I give my Lord the most beautiful Rose of the garden? How could I give Him any less than you?

~ Dear Tirzah, October 3, 2014

Soli Deo Gloria:

Tirzah’s life is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he life, and everyone who believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this? ”   ~ John 11

Do *not* be deceived: wake up from your drunken stupor, and do not go on sinning… Return to the Lord, for He is merciful and will abundantly pardon.”  ~ Jeremiah