Sharing at BCCC on Sunday, May 13, 2018
Last month, I received a message on my birthday that both blessed and embarrassed me, which included this sentence: Thank you for modeling unflinching determination and Godly obedience, and the humility required to hold those two in tension. It’s the word “tension” that really caught my eye.
Since the message was written by one of my children, just that word “tension” brought a lot of flashbacks as a mother. While there are memories of good times, there seem to be more of the difficult times of handling newborns with the sleepless nights, and the toddlers, with never-ending cleaning up after them and always yelling to hurry up. Then, the schooling, music training, and sports, always, running around and arranging rides when they turned school age. Now our youngest one, Zachary, just graduated from college. As I reflect back, I have mostly gratitude, but some fear. There is gratefulness, because God has allowed us to hold on to His grace and mercy so we are standing no matter how we have failed as parents; fear, because I know that all the goodness and blessings He has bestowed upon our family is for His good purpose and pleasure. Although my children have all finished college, I want to continue to be a student of Jesus in obedience to whatever He calls me to follow and do.
I think the tension I’d refer to is about the state of being stretched tight and it causes pressure, struggle, and hardship. I wish I had applied James’ teaching in the Bible and treated it like a friend, not a foe, when I was raising children. And as much as my sharing is about a mother’s struggle, I believe it’s applicable to Christian growth in maturity. In James 1:2-4, it says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” With these verses, I’m going to share about how tension has driven me to depend on God and His Word, and how enduring those struggles deepened my faith in God.
1. Tension can drive us to depend on God and His Word.
Like many moms, I desired to protect and love my children more than I possibly could. I wanted to give them the best of everything and ever opportunity. I didn’t want them to fall, literally and figuratively. I tried very hard to prevent them from making mistakes. Then, I failed. My children continued to make the same mistakes and they disobeyed my instructions. I felt like a failure all the time. In my struggles, I turned to God to change me, as a parent, to be more Christ-like. Many a time, I became impatient and easily angered because my children disappointed me. If you are like me, you would give them lectures of how they were not listening and tell them what the Bible says: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord for this is right.” Yet, you often neglect to differentiate deliberate disobedience with a defiant attitude from forgetting or not forming a good habit yet. Did he not hear me or did he choose to ignore me? How about not finishing up homework or practicing piano well? Is she incapable or intentional?
I am sure that, at some point in raising kids, you all face those struggles of not knowing your child’s heart. Did they drive you to the Lord so you learned to depend on God and His Word, to discern and seek the motives not only of your children but also yourself? Or, do you turn to other moms that include those supermoms’ blogs and seek out information on how to help your kid be better and work harder to meet your expectations? Has wanting your kid to be a Christ-follower been the top priority of your prayers?
2. Tension helps us perfect our faith in God.
Every family with small or school-age children all struggle with time and schedule conflicts. There’s tons of work when kids are little. Then, there are school, after-school, and extra-curricular activities when they are older. Even if your kids do well, you are exhausted—but at least you have some sense of achievement in all of that busyness. You become desperate and complain a lot when your kids don’t live up to your expectations. You start thinking how you can cut activities so your family life can be normal. That seems like a good start to hopefully reduce some struggles in the family. Then you go through the daily activities. Of course, you cannot cut school or school-related activities. You don’t want your kids to miss out. Then, they can’t cut music or sports because those things are good for them and college applications. Besides, even if you cut some of those activities, there is no guarantee that the children will apply themselves diligently with the “essentials” like school, music, and sports. What to cut then? After all, we can’t drag the kids to all church activities like we used to because they don’t understand and find most of the meetings boring. So you say to the Lord, “The Bible says, ‘Sons are a heritage from the Lord, children a reward from Him.’ I want to be a good steward, but Lord, we are struggling. We are too busy as a family.” Then you detach yourself and your family from church to reduce some tension at home. As a result, you can’t model how you experience the sacrifice and blessings through those struggles of trying to serve God and raise a family. Your children also miss the opportunity to grow in faith because they do not witness how God delivers you as parents through those struggles.
Please do not take me wrongly that I equate church events to putting God first or advocate for families to drag your children to every meeting. I am merely suggesting that, as parents, we have to examine what is really important to us when we repeatedly tell our children to love the Lord with all our hearts, minds, souls, and strength, and love our neighbors as ourselves. Are we enduring those tensions to allow God to perfect our faith? Do we earnestly seek God through those struggles and not cut down attending and serving at church by default when tension arises?
If I just pointed out a bit of your scenario in raising your family, it’s because those were my struggles. Time and time again I have to examine my heart if I put other people or things before God, or seek help and advice from others rather than God.
As I close, I want to share my mother’s testimony. Mom was the first Christian in my family, and she has always been diligent in reading the Bible and spiritual books and praying. My dad passed away ten years ago. As wise and capable as Mom seems, she is actually not very independent so living alone has been difficult. However, she takes the opportunity to allow God to work in her lessons she knows she has not yet learned well, one of them being handling others’ opinions of her. Recently, there were a couple friends in her community who badmouthed her. She withdrew herself from them initially because she felt she was being judged, yet in her heart, she was upset and bitter to a point that she was a little paranoid when she saw them. Then she earnestly asked God to deliver her from those struggles. She shared with me that as she wrestled with God in tears, suddenly there was joy bubbling up in her heart. She thanked God for the struggles and said, “Thank you, Lord, for loving me so much that you would not let me go without disciplining me and teaching me lessons in my old age.” My mother is turning 80 this October. She is not perfect, but that joy which comes from obedience and faith in knowing God’s love for her has demonstrated to me what it means to be a follower of Christ.
So, allow me to paraphrase James 1:2-4 in this context: Count it all joy, dads, moms, and fellow followers of Christ, when you meet struggles and tensions of various kinds as you raise your families and go through life, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness in modeling for and training up your children. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing to worry for yourself and your children.
May God continue to raise up families among us who are called by His name to commit themselves, as Joshua did: “As for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.”