Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Second Fruit: Joy (MNM 6)

Welcome to the next installment of our study on parenting and the fruits of the spirit!  I'm so glad you're back, and know that I've prayed God will use these readings to encourage and equip you during this precious "mothering" season.

If you'd like to review anything we've already covered, you'll find links to previous posts at the bottom of this one.

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Thanks again to Suzanne Stelling for the delicious image.  

 
 Every good and perfect gift is from above,
coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights,
who does not change like shifting shadows.
James 1:17 NIV

Soaking in the Scripture (Section 1)

Today, spend some time reflecting on James 1:17.  Read it a few times, perhaps in different translations, or even aloud.  

Is there a word or phrase that strikes you as particularly relevant to your life today, or during this particular season? 

Give yourself some time to think, journal, or talk with a friend about the thoughts that emerge from your time of reflection.

Also, try and find time to share this verse with each of your family members in ways that are appropriate to each of them, and see what kinds of conversations happen.


Digging Deeper (Section 2)

First, spend a few minutes with James 1:17.

Now, think about the different arenas of your life—home, relationships, work, neighbors, and church, for example.  If you like, make a list of those different arenas.

Then, with these different areas in mind, consider what you might identify as the gifts you’ve received in these parts of your life.  Write them down, if you like. 

Do these gifts take on a different significance when you view them as originating directly from God’s hand?  Spend some time reflecting on this idea.

Do you find it surprising that James states that every gift—whether it is “perfect” or merely “good”—originates from our heavenly Father?  When you look at the gifts you’ve listed, do some of them seem perfect, while others seem good?

Consider what you would say if someone asked you to define the word “gift.”  How do you describe a gift?  What makes something in your life—an event, an object, an attitude—qualify as a gift?

Perhaps you feel differently, but I tend to think of gifts as experiences that are pleasant and make my life run more smoothly.  This means there are certain experiences—particularly those that are unpleasant or create inconvenience—which I don’t initially identify as gifts.  Do you feel the same way?  What are some of the experiences you struggle to view as gifts?

When you and your family become aware of God having blessed you with a gift, what kinds of things do you do to commemorate or celebrate that occasion?

Keep these reflections as you continue through this week’s material.


One Family’s Story (Section 3)

If you grew up in the church, as I did, you may recall the melody that goes along with these lyrics, which come straight out of Philippians:

Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice!
Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice!
Rejoice!  Rejoice!  And again I say rejoice!
Rejoice!  Rejoice!  And again I say rejoice!
Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice!

I’m not sure why, but the youth minister at my home church loved that song.  In fact, I’d bet my friends and I sang those words hundreds of times during our Wednesday night gatherings.  And somewhere along the way, it started getting on my very last nerve—not just because of the (very repetitive!) lyrics and melody.  What made the song even more annoying was this: Paul just seemed so very adamant about telling me to rejoice.  And it didn’t seem to matter whether or not I actually felt any joy.  My “don’t-tell-this teenager-what-to-do” self didn’t like that one bit.

Even though I’m certainly well past my teenage years, I still struggle with the notion of rejoicing—especially during seasons when there doesn’t seem like much to celebrate.  For whatever reason, I tend to think of joy as an emotion that sort of “arrives” in my heart, or as a characteristic that certain people (myself not included) are more inclined to possess.   When I think of joy in this way, Paul’s emphasis on rejoicing feels like a command to act happy even when I’m not.  And since I’ve never been good at faking much of anything, this feels like an expectation that’s practically impossible for me to live up to. 

This view of joy also feels contradictory to what I understand about our heavenly Father; why would a loving God want us to pretend?  Doesn’t His unconditional love make room for us to be honest about how we really feel? 

Besides, how are we supposed to address and resolve the bad things in our lives if all we’re doing is pretending like everything is just hunky-dory?  Isn’t part of our job as responsible, truth-telling Christians to take a good, hard look at our problems so that we can understand them fully and work on them?  And if we don’t, aren’t we setting ourselves up for even more trouble down the road—the kind of trouble that comes from ignoring issues that need attention?  This kind of approach has always felt very risky to me.

I’m guessing it will take the rest of my earthly years for me to fully understand and accept that when Paul calls us to rejoice, he isn’t urging me to pretend, to fake-it-till-I-make it, or to ignore the very real struggles in my life. 

Instead, the call to rejoice is more like a blessed invitation; to rejoice is to give myself permission to give the bulk of my time, energy and attention not to life’s problems, but to the “good and perfect” gifts in my life.  To notice and think about the things that are “true . . . noble . . . right . . . pure . . . lovely . . . admirable . . . excellent or praiseworthy.”  And, more importantly, to celebrate those things.

But what about the times when such gifts seem scarce?

When my children were little, I often scattered Christmas books under the tree during the days leading up to our family celebration.  I loved this tradition because it took the emphasis off gifts and instead reinforced their love for story—something I want to cultivate.  And I’m so grateful for countless memories of sitting on the couch while reading to my two little blonde-headed preschoolers.

One of our favorites was Eugene Peterson’s The Christmas Troll.  In fact, it probably impacted my husband and me more than our children.  Years later, he and I still repeat a line from that story:

“. . . . it is wise to live life expectantly, alert to the surprises of God.” 

This particular idea continues to speak to me for this reason:  so many of my family’s experiences have been—at least on the surface—to be something other than gifts.  Because life, after all, is filled with all kinds of experiences.  Some bring joyful smiles to our faces.  But others range anywhere from slightly inconvenient to excruciatingly painful. 

In light of this reality, I am learning (slowly, and only after multiple repetitions of the same old lesson!) this truth:

Sometimes, the experiences that seem like anything but gifts are actually the most meaningful blessings of all.

The reminder in Peterson’s story could be based on James’ statement that it’s not just the “perfect” gifts that are from our Father’s hand, but also those that qualify as less-than-perfect, but “good.”   Interestingly, the Greek word for “good” is defined as something that could be seen as anything ranging from “pleasant” and “agreeable” to something that is “joyful” or “excellent.  “Good” can also be something that is just plain “useful.”  The word for “perfect” is defined as something that has been “brought to its end” or is “wanting nothing necessary to completeness.”  When we think of gifts according to these definitions, it can broaden our understanding about the many kinds of gifts that God gives us. Some of them cause us to experience deep joy, while others simply meet a practical and perhaps not-so-exciting need.  The fact that some gifts arrive to us as “complete” suggests—at least to me—that other gifts may need the passage of time in order for us to understand their full significance in our lives.

In other words, it’s not just the really shiny, appealing, make-my-life-work-and-look-really-good gifts that are from God; it’s also the more plain-looking, pragmatic, sometimes even-initially-undesirable-gifts.    Those are also from Him, but it can be hard to recognize and value those things unless, as Peterson says, I live “expectantly, alert to the surprises of God.”

The words from Paul, James, and Eugene Peterson remind me about the importance of keeping my eyes wide open in anticipation of God’s gifts, even in the midst of a tough situation:  with a trusting expectancy that God is going to bring along some good surprises.  In choosing this outlook, I am rejoicing.


Your Family’s Story (Section 4)

As you think about where and how these ideas apply to your own family, I encourage you to consider these questions:

·           What kinds of events and experiences does your family celebrate?  What brings you joy?  What are you enthusiastic about? 
·           What are the ways you commemorate those events and experiences?
·           What kinds of unwanted, unpleasant, or even frightening circumstances are part of your family’s life right now—for you, your spouse, your children, your extended family? 
·           How do you talk about more difficult events and experiences with your family members?  How do you think about them yourself?
·           What kinds of expectations do these situations create in your heart and mind?  Do you tend to self-protect by expecting the worst?  Or are you able to open yourself to the possibility of God surprising you with a blessing in the midst of hardship?
·           Do you allow “the surprises of God” to impact you in a meaningful way?  How might you acknowledge and even celebrate such gifts, both privately, and in relationship with your family?
·           What might be keeping you from identifying and/or celebrating these surprises?  Ask God to speak into any hesitation you feel about choosing this kind of perspective.
·           What are some practical ways you can cultivate a sense of joy and wonder in the “surprises of God” in your own spiritual life, and with your family?  What fits for your family?

Wisdom for the Journey (Section 5)

One friendly reminder:  This section is intended to provide a few practical, “hands-on” parenting tips related to this month’s focus.  So as you consider them, please know: the goal isn’t to make your “to-do list” any longer than it already is, which means that some of these ideas may be helpful, but some may not be.

You may recall in my September talk that the spiritual fruit of joy manifests itself in these qualities:  creativity, curiosity and love for learning, enthusiasm/zest, appreciation of beauty, and humor.

When you look at that list, do you feel a spark of interest about how to cultivate one or two of them?  (That very spark, by the way, is actually curiosity!)  If so, the information below is for you.

*     When my children were home, I found that their creativity occurred more naturally during blocks of time that were unrushed and unplanned.  This means that it’s just fine to have days when your children are home with no structured activities.  Try turning off the tv, and instead, scatter some kid-friendly items around the room (blocks, balls, random toys they haven’t seen in awhile).  Or open your drawer of (unbreakable) pots and pans, and see what happens.  This kind of play is where a child’s creative juices can flow, and it is where a great deal of learning takes place.  For a fascinating interview on what happens when children play, click here.

   Although it can be tiring to field the 500-dozen “why” questions that a young child can generate (and it certainly fine to let your child know that mama’s brain needs a “time out” from answering questions), remember that expressing curiosity about things is evidence that your child is engaged with the world around him/her and wants to know more.  Noticing, affirming, and sometimes participating when your child shows curiosity is a valuable parenting strategy.

   Children are natural “celebrators” of life’s small blessings, so don’t be afraid to be enthusiastic with them.  Jump up and down when someone is happy about something.  Sing a song together, clap your hands, or do the happy dance.  

*     Sometimes our family has used the month of November to acknowledge the blessings in our lives.  I purchase paper leaf cutouts from a craft store (sorry all you do-it-your-self-ers, I don't cut out my own) and keep them at the dinner table with markers or crayons.  Then each family member gets to write or draw a picture of one blessing from that day.  Sometimes I hang them on the windows around my table, sometimes I make a wreath and attach the leaves to it, and one year I even made a tree trunk from construction paper and put it on the wall of our living room, so that we could cover it with our "thankful" leaves.  By the end of the month, we've lost count of the leaves we have, which is a great visual picture of how many blessings we receive.

   Be intentional about watching for and celebrating the beauty around you—whether it's the fall leaves, the scattering of freckles across your preschooler’s nose, a lovely bowl of soup, amazing architecture, or a catchy song on the radio.  I'm more of a worker-bee personality, so this one is hard for me. But I'm learning (slowly) the tremendous value in pausing and noticing--letting the weight of beauty really sink in.  Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts:  A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are has been helpful for me.  There is a daily devotional version as well.

   Someone once said that laughter is the shortest distance between two hearts.  With that in mind, see what causes your child (and you) to giggle, and look for opportunities to laugh together.  Try and remember amusing things that happen throughout the day, and share those stories with your family when you're sharing a meal or a car-ride.  Speaking of driving together, playing music in the car (which, by the way, is *hands-down* a better choice than having your little ones watch videos while you drive) can make car-time not only enjoyable but maybe even a relationship-building experience.  We love Justin Roberts, Elizabeth Mitchell, and (get ready for a massive throw-back) Raffi.  Curious?  Grab your little one, snuggle up, click here, and see if you don't do a little giggling together while you watch this silly video.
*     Meal-time is also a great opportunity to celebrate the joy-giving occurrences of the day.  Here are a few great questions to ask while you're sitting around the table:  Who is someone in your life that you appreciate?  Why?  What went well for you today, and why?  For a more thorough explanation about the psychological benefits of these practices, click here.

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If you'd like to review the introduction to this parenting study, click here, and follow the links at the end of each post.

Click here for the readings on the first fruit--love.

Ready to move on to the next part of the study on peace?  Click here.

Monday, September 8, 2014

The First Fruit: Love (MNM 5)


Welcome to the first series of readings in the “Roots and Fruit” study!  I am so very excited that you're here, and for the blessed opportunity to grow together as moms.

As I mentioned Tuesday, we’ll begin by reflecting on the first fruit of the spirit mentioned in Galatians 5, which is love.

Before we start, though, here are few suggestions about how you may want to approach these materials.
1).  If you haven't seen the introductory posts to our study, I hope you will take some time to read them.  Click here, and follow the links as you read.   


2).  Galatians mentions nine fruits of the spirit, and we’ll spend the entire school year (from now until April) examining each one.  Needless to say, this won’t be a fast-paced study.

3).  This slower rhythm is on purpose.   After all, the point isn’t to provide some kind of foolproof, step-by-step program for making sure your children possess each and every fruit.   Nor is there any kind of timetable against which you need to measure your family’s progress.

4). Instead, this study is designed to allow all of us to reflect on biblical truths about who we are and who God is.  My prayer is that by allowing a stretch of months for this kind of reflection, each one of us will nurture and deepen the roots of our trust in His loving provision for our life, and for each of our family members.  The fruit that emerges from these well-cultivated roots will come when it’s ready.  In the meantime, you and your family can watch for the fruit to blossom . . . and celebrate when it does.  [For more discussion about this aspect of the study, click here.]

5).  So, every few weeks, youll receive the link to a blog post containing a set of 5 short readings, all of which center around one fruit of the spirit.  You can then choose how you’d prefer to work your way through the material.  Maybe you’ll want to read the entire post at once.  Or perhaps you’d like to read it one section at a time.  You can even begin with the last section and work your way backwards or jump around in any way that makes sense for you . . . . it doesn’t really matter.  The goal is simply to provide you with food for thought, and to let God do His unique work in each of your lives as He sees fit.  (This may sound a bit like my discussion of lectio divinadescribed here.  Thats by design.)

Are you ready?  I am!  If you are too, let's get started. . . . 


Soaking in the Scripture [Section 1]

You have searched me, Lord, and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
  
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
  
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
 you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.
Where can I go from your Spirit?
  
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
 
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
 if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
 your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
 
and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
 
the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.
For you created my inmost being;
 
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
 
your works are wonderful,
 I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
 
when I was made in the secret place,
 
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
 
all the days ordained for me
were written in your book
 before one of them came to be.
How precious about me are your thoughts, God!
  
How vast is the sum of them!
Were I to count them,
 they would outnumber the grains of sand . . . .
Psalm 139: 1-18a (The New International Version)

As you can see, this week’s main passage comes from the Psalms.  Let’s spend some time reflecting on these verses.  Read them a few times, perhaps in different translations, or even aloud.  

Is there a word or phrase that strikes you as particularly relevant to your life today, or during this particular season? 

Give yourself some time to think, journal, or talk with a friend about the thoughts that emerge from your time of reflection.

Also, try and share this verse with each of your family members in ways that are appropriate to each of them, and see what kinds of conversations happen.

Digging Deeper [Section 2]

First, spend a few minutes with our main scripture passage, and reflect on any words, phrases, or ideas that are lingering in your mind today.

1.  Before we go any further, let’s consider this question:  When people study or discuss God, we often give attention to His identity.  We use words like “father,” “creator,” “omniscient,” or “all-powerful” to understand who He is in our world and in our lives.  I wonder, though, how often we take time to think about what He does.  With that in mind, see if you can make a list of verbs (action words) that you associate with God.

2.  When I read this week’s scripture passage, one thing that catches my attention is the Psalmist uses a variety of verbs to describe God’s actions.  See if you can make a list of (or circle) each of the action words in these verses.

I see words like this:  search (v. 1), know (1, 2, 4); perceive (2); discern (3); hem (5); lay (5); guide (10); hold (10); created (13); knit (13); saw (16). 

3.  What words did you find?

4.  Who is on the receiving end of these actions?

5.  Now, compare the list you made for question #1 with what you wrote in response to question #3.  How do they compare?  How does this knowledge of God’s actions and His eyes affect your understanding of His feelings for you?

Here’s what I realize when I examine Psalm 139 from this perspective. 

·      First:  Every single human in existence has God’s fingerprints all over him or her.  Each and every one of us was imagined, designed, and lovingly hand-crafted by our heavenly Father.
·      Second:  He didn’t just create us.  He continues to take interest in every part and each day of our lives.  As this amazing passage shows, our Gods eyes follow us every where, and He thinks about us constantly and with affection.

When you take time to ponder these truths, what thoughts and emotions are stirred in your heart and mind?  Keep reflecting on these ideas as you continue through the remaining material.

One Family’s Story [Section 3]

 A friend once told me that she found adjusting to two children far more challenging than bringing home her first little one.  While this principle may not apply to all parents, my guess is that it is true for firstborns when their worlds get turned upside-down by a new sibling’s arrival.  And who can blame them, really?  After all, being the center of your parents’ lives must be pretty sweet, right?  So when Mama’s and Daddy’s attention now must be shared with a new brother or sister, it has to feel pretty uncomfortable—especially to a young child.

Two-and-a-half-year-old Eleanor, who belongs to my niece Christine and her husband Geoff, is currently making that very adjustment.  Why?  Because in May, the three of them welcomed new baby sister Cora Lynne into the family. 

Not long after Cora Lynne’s birth, Christine took her daughters for special lunch at the restaurant where her sister, Rachel, works.  Because Rachel had told her friends about her new niece, many of them stopped by Christine’s table to ooh and ahh over tiny Cora Lynne, who was snuggled in her carrier.   After a few minutes, another server came to admire the baby, and without any warning, Eleanor stood up on her chair, leaned over in front of her baby sister (blocking the server’s view of Cora Lynne), and said smiling, “I’m here too.” 

Sweet Eleanor’s actions were those of a child, but they illustrate an impulse that’s fundamental to human nature:  each one of us needs to be noticed, to be seen, to be valued.   And even as a preschooler, Eleanor was insightful enough to communicate a desire that will continue to be deeply important to her, not just as a child, but throughout her lifetime—the God-given need to be loved.

Scripture often acknowledges this foundational human need:  Jesus commands His followers not only to love God, but their neighbors as they love themselves.  And (as has been observed often), the way Christ articulates this command suggests that we’re only able to love others to the degree that we love ourselves and know that we are loved. 

Perhaps this is why John points out that our love—for God and for others—is predicated directly upon God’s love for us [I John 4:19].  Just as Eleanor would struggle to love others if she werent confident that shes deeply loved, so will we find it impossible to really love the people in our lives if we arent first rooted in our heavenly Fathers abiding and affectionate love for us.

Yet many struggle to truly allow God’s love to penetrate to the deepest parts of our soul.  After all, we can’t perceive God in the same manner that we see family members and friends (which, of course, makes their love for us bear all the more weight in our lives).

Psalm 139, though, powerfully illustrates God’s love for each life He created--not merely with declarations of that love, but with a vivid description of how He knows each one of us through and though—our physical frame (v. 15), our movements (2, 3, 7-10), our thoughts (2), our mannerisms (3), our words (4) . . . . He even knows the uniquely complex emotional, intellectual, and spiritual make-up each one of us possesses (13).  And this knowledge isn’t just because God made us; it’s because His eyes follow each one of our lives from our very beginning to our final day (13, 16)—not to “check up on us,” but because we are constantly on His mind.  Indeed, some translations use the word “precious” to describe the thoughts He has regarding us (17)—so many that we cannot even count them.

God notices us.  He sees us.  And He values us.

Its our knowledge of this deep, abiding, divine love—the love that sees our strengths and our flaws, our wise decisions and our foolish errors, our moments of obedience and our times of rebellion—which creates our ability to reciprocate by loving God and loving the people in our lives.

In other words, our capacity to love God and others (the fruit) grows out of our knowledge of Gods deep, abiding, affectionate love for us (the root).

Your Family’s Story [Section 4]

As you think about where and how these ideas apply to your own family, I encourage you to consider these thoughts:

FirstBegin a list of the many (many!) ways you express love to your little one(s) every day.  Which of your actions convey love?  What special words do you use?  What songs do you sing?  What books do you read?   What special rituals do you have with your child(ren) that say I Love You! every time you enjoy them together?  This would be a wonderful topic to discuss with your spouse, and with your children as well.  Take time to celebrate the many ways that youre rooting your childrens souls in your loveand by extension, in Gods love.

SecondConsider this question:  What about you?  Are you rooted in Gods love for you?

In Captivating, author Stasi Eldredge writes about how difficult it is for many peopleespecially womento allow this vital truth to penetrate their hearts core:

“I know I’m not alone in the nagging sense of failing to measure up, a feeling of not being good enough as a woman. Every woman I’ve ever met feels it . . . . I am not enough, and, I am too much at the same time. Not pretty enough, not thin enough, not kind enough, not gracious enough, not disciplined enough. But too emotional, too need, too sensitive, too strong, too opinionated, too messy.” [emphasis added]

If you recognize yourself in these words, youll want to give time and energy to the questions that keep you from resting in this truth.  Remind yourself often of His affection for you.  Encourage your loved ones to do the same.  Allow your hearts roots to stretch more deeply into the truth of His deep and abiding love for you.  Rest in it, so that you can invite your little ones to rest with you.

Wisdom for the Journey [Section 5]

This final section is intended to provide a few practical, hands-on parenting tips related to this months focus.  Andjust keeping it realthese are tips Im still working on implementing in my own journey as a mother.  Remember, I'm nothing more than a work-in-progress.  


So as you consider them, please know: the goal isnt to make your to-do list any longer than it already is, which means that some of these ideas may be helpful, but some may not.  And that, my friend, is just fine.   If this section creates even the smallest twinge of mama-guilt, I encourage you to push the pause button and think on what that feeling might be about.  Is it a sense of not measuring up, or not being enough (which, to me, doesn't sound much like our heavenly Father's voice)?  Or is it His loving invitation to adjust something in your mothering journey?  Rather than reacting quickly to that feeling of "mama-guilt," think of it as a signal to stop and ask for discernment. 

1.  While there may be a time and place for requiring your children to act in lovingly, another approach involves catching them in the act of behaving with love.  And even the youngest child demonstrates love in his behaviors and expressions.  So, when you notice your little one demonstrating loveperhaps with a smile or affectionate touchtake a moment to acknowledge and identify those behaviors as loving.  This doesnt mean throwing a party every time your child is kind or unselfish.  It simply involves helping your child recognize and understand the loving behaviors s/he is already putting into practice.  Jonathan, I like that loving grin on your face, or  Jamie, your pat lets me know you love me.  Thank you!  Once you start watching, Im guessing youll be happily surprised at how often your little one is already communicating his or her love.

2.  One of my favorite parenting statements comes from author Toni Morrison, who says that the most important thing parents can do is allow our faces to light up when one of our children enters the room.  Morrisons words make me think of how the Psalmist describes Gods eyes watching us, and about His precious thoughts about us.  Isnt it wonderful to imagine His face lighting up just at the sight of us?  What a powerful way for us to convey love and delight in our children.

With that in mind, consider making a habit of offering a warm greetingincluding a smile, eye contact, and affectionate touchevery time someone enters the room.  Being willing to take a break from whatever youre doing to offer someone a genuine welcome conveys a huge message about his or her importance to you. 

3.  If I had my childrens preschool years to do again, there are many things Id approach differently.  One habit Id continue, though, is reading to them.  There are lots of practical (okay, selfish) reasons I enjoyed this ritualfor example, by keeping them still and quiet for a few minutes, I could catch my breath and relax along with them.  Plus, theres plenty of snuggling involved, which is good for everyone. And of course, there are countless wonderful books for you to enjoy together.  Perhaps, though, you can make a trip to library and find some of these textseach of which mirrors the concepts in Psalm 139.

*       Margaret Wise Browns Runaway Bunny
*       Barbara Joosses Mama, Do You Love Me?
*       Virginia Millers I Love You Just the Way You Are
*       Miriam Schleins The Way Mothers Are
*       Nancy Tafuris I Love You, Little One

As you read, you can talk together about the similarities between parents unconditional, abiding love for their children, and Gods unconditional, abiding love for His every humanincluding each one of your family members.
[Thanks to the Calvin Institute of ChristianWorship for these book suggestions.]  
4.  In his amazing book, Shame and Grace, Lewis Smedes describes healthy parental love this way:

* Taking responsibility:  I respond to my childs deep need to be [loved] with a commitment that we will always belong to each other.
*  Feeling pride:  I am eager to let the world know that this child and I belong to each other.
*  Finding joy: I am grateful and elated that this wondrous human being is here with me and I am here with her.

Smedes words provide language I can use with my own children:  We belong to one another, I want everyone to know youre my son/daughter, and I am so glad you are in my life and I am in yours!  When I communicate these thoughts to my children, I am reminding them that I love them.

5.  Ill bet you have some wonderful ideas of your own.  Feel free to share them in the comments below.

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Ready to move on to the next fruit of the spirit?  Click here for the readings on joy.