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.



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