Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Third Fruit: Peace (MNM 7)

Thanks to Sheppard Tucker for sharing this amazing picture with me. 

. . . I have learned to be satisfied
with the things I have
and with everything that happens.
I know how to live when I am poor,
and I know how to live when I have plenty.
I have learned the secret of being happy at any time
in everything that happens,
when I have enough to eat, and when I go hungry,
when I have more than I need and when I do not have enough.
I can do all things through Christ, because He gives me strength.
Philippians 4:10b-13
(New Century Version)

. . . I have learned to be content, whatever the circumstances may be.
I know now how to live when things are difficult
and I know how to live when things are prosperous.
In general and particular I have learned the secret
of facing either poverty or plenty.
I am ready for anything through the strength of the one who lives in me.
Philippians 4:10b-13
(J.B. Phillips New Testament)

Soaking in the Scripture (Section 1)

Today, spend some time reflecting on Philippians 4:11b-13.  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 during this 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)

Begin by re-reading Philippians 4:11b-13, and recall the ideas that came to mind when you spent time with it previously.

Remember a few times recently when you’ve felt contented or peaceful.   What brought on this experience?  Were there particular circumstances, events, or thoughts that contributed to your feeling this way?

You may remember my mentioning in our last devotional how I tend to envision joy as an emotion that kind of “arrives” in my heart.  I often feel the same way about peace: I want to experience peace as often as possible, but I tend to believe I can’t until it decides to “show up.”  [And as much as I hate to admit it, I’ve noticed that there’s a direct correlation between my ability to experience peace and my circumstances.  When my circumstances are desirable and pleasant, I’m much more inclined to “feel” peace.  But when things aren’t going so well, peace is much more elusive, which can be extremely frustrating—especially when, as a Christian, I am “supposed” to experience peace on a more-than-regular basis.]

What I’m learning, though—and what our reading from Philippians suggests—is that we actually play a part in whether we’re inclined to experience peace.

As you know, “peace” is the third spirit-fruit listed in Galatians 5:22-23.  The original Greek word for this quality is eirēnē. which is defined this way:  The tranquil state of a soul so assured of its salvation that it fears nothing from God and is content with its earthly lot, whatever that might be” (thanks, as always, to blueletterbible.org for this information!).

This definition impacts my understanding of peace in a few significant ways:

First:  it shows that peace is rooted not in my circumstances (my “earthly lot”), but in my salvation.  So, although I may be inclined to manipulate my circumstances so that they feel more peace-giving, it’s important for me to remember that the real source of peace is much more stable than the ever-changing events in my life: the origin for true peace is rooted in the unchangeable truth of God’s deep and abiding love for me—the fact that no matter what happens in my earthly existence, I’ve been given the gift of salvation because I've chosen to accept it.  I am His child, and nothing can alter that.  

Second:  the definition for eirēnē mentions another emotion—fear, which is something I’m really, really good at.  Especially when things in my life are going less-than-swimmingly, my tendency is to let worry dominate my thoughts.   Many times, it comes in the form of anxiety-producing questions:

   * Why can’t I find God in all this?
   * What if this unwanted circumstance means God has abandoned me? 
   * What if I’ve done something to make God unhappy with me? 
   * What if I’m not able to make it through this circumstance? 

Oddly enough, choosing to dwell on these kinds of worries feels safe somehow:  maybe I can’t answer my questions, but at least I’m considering the worst possible scenario.  At least I won’t be caught off guard by more bad things.  Talk about feeding fear with more fear . . . .

The definition for eirēnē, though, is a wonderful reminder that I need fear nothing from God—including the confusing, unexplainable circumstances He allows into my “earthly lot.”  Instead, because of God’s deep, abiding love for me, I can choose something other than fear.  Like Paul describes in this week’s passage from Philippians 4, I can be content—not because my circumstances are pleasant, but because I’m rooted deeply in His unwavering presence—even when I might not be able to recognize it.

And—as Paul also suggests, this kind of contentment is something that can be learned and practiced.  Instead of waiting for peace to “come over” me, I can “learn to be content, whatever the circumstances may be.”  I can “know how to live when things are difficult and . . . when things are prosperous.”  I can be “ready for anything through the strength of the one who lives in me.”

Rather than waiting for peace to “arrive” in our hearts, we can learn to cultivate it.

One Family’s Story (Section 3)

During the years when my children were little, I found myself hungry for time with mothers whose parenting I admired.   Maybe it was because I felt so very ill-equipped for the task, or because the days I spent with my young ones felt sometimes painfully lonely.

Whatever the reasons, I actively sought out friendships with other moms, partly to treat myself to a little bit of grown-up conversation, and partly to glean a little bit of wisdom—especially from moms with children who were a few years ahead of my own. 

Many sweet friendships grew out of this season in my life, including one that continues to bless me today.

Heather and I met nearly 15 years ago when were both part of a community group at Fellowship Church in Knoxville.  At the time, she and her husband, Robert, had two young sons, and I’ll never forget the amazing chocolate chip pound cake she brought when one of our children was born.  Heather was gracious enough to share the recipe, and it’s still my family’s most-requested treat (maybe—just maybe!—I’ll share it sometime).

In addition to being a great cook, a literature-lover (like me), and a genuinely authentic person, Heather was and still is an amazing mother.  I was especially encouraged by her admission that she wasn’t comfortable trying to be “the fun mom” (a feeling I also have).  And although she assures me that she struggles impatience at times, the quiet, matter-of-fact interaction she had with her boys set a memorable example for me. Once, Heather referred to the task of parenting preschoolers as “shepherding,” and I found this image to be a fitting description of Heather herself:  thought she didn’t shy away from clearly expressing her expectations, Heather’s guidance was firm, but gentle and warm.

In one of our many conversations about raising children, Heather mentioned an idea she’d run across in an article—something she referred to as “creative deprivation.”  We spent some time talking about it that afternoon, and it’s a conversation that continues to impact my parenting today.

If you’re thinking “creative deprivation” sounds like a contradiction in terms, you’re absolutely right.  The idea of “creativity” has plenty of appeal, bringing to mind things like freedom, imagination, and self-expression.  “Deprivation,” though, conjures everything from the temporary pang a person feels when skipping dessert to the agony a person experiences when basic nutritional needs are withheld.  Creativity involves experiences people tend to welcome.  But deprivation?  Not so much. 

Why, then, would anyone in her right mind be interested in something called “creative deprivation?”  After all, no one likes being denied the things we want, right?  The experience of "doing without" can bring on a host of feelings that are anything but" pleasant.  When we don’t get what we want—whether we’re a child or a grownup—it can trigger all kinds of unpleasantness, from mild disappointment, to anxiety, to all-out tantrums.

Which is precisely the reason this concept is is worth further consideration—especially when it comes to parenting, but really, for all of us.

Creative deprivation isn’t about withholding what our children need.

It’s being intentional about our children not getting everything they want.

Here are a couple of ways parents might practice a little bit of creative deprivation with their children:

The first has to do with toys.  Rather than keeping out every single one of a toddler’s toys for playtime, pack some away and rotate them every few months. Is he being “deprived” of the toys that are boxed up?  Perhaps.  But limiting the array of toys creates an opportunity for him to more fully enjoy what is available.  It also reinforces the habit of not needing a tremendous number of options in order to be content.  Perhaps most importantly, this practice can cultivate gratitude for even the most simple blessings.  What was “just another toy” sitting unused in his toy-box becomes a “treasure” he’s delighted to play with because it’s only available some of the time.  

The second involves your day-to-day schedule:  Filling your time with fun activities may feel like a good way to help your child develop a wide range of interests.  But you might consider cutting back.  By simplifying your schedule, you are giving your child the opportunity to learn how to occupy and entertain herself without needing to have a schedule that is jam-packed with activities.  And when you do get to enjoy a fun activity, it will be truly a treat, rather than just another outing on the schedule.

There are plenty of ways to add this approach to your parenting toolbox.  The bottom line, though, is creating opportunities for our children to truly enjoy the blessings they already have, rather than constantly feeding their need for more.

It may be counter-intuitive (because what mother doesn’t want her child to be happy?).  And it can definitely be inconvenient (because sometimes it’s just plain easier to give in to your toddler’s request than to help her work through the frustration of hearing your “no”).

But does it make a difference?   

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

It’s been many years since my conversations with Heather about parenting our then-young children.  Since that time, her boys have become teenagers, as have my daughter and son.  Plus, Heather and her husband went on to have more children—two more boys!—who are preschoolers.  She and her husband affectionately refer to them as “the littles,” and Heather will admit that her second season of mothering young children has caused her to revisit some of her previously-held ideas about parenting.  She says she’s more relaxed about some things than she had been with her first two boys.  But when I asked her about whether she still practices creative deprivation, she shared this story.

“Our oldest son, Owen, had to wait until he was well into his teenage years before getting his first cell phone.  Even though he was obviously excited about having one, he knew he’d be receiving a hand-me-down from either my husband or me.  Owen was fine with that, and he eagerly anticipated the arrival of his birthday.

“When that day arrived, we surprised him with a brand new phone, and he was absolutely thrilled.  His delight was so much greater because he’d waited so long to actually have his own phone, and also because his expectations were for something less than what he actually received.”

Is Owen the perfect kid, and are his mom and dad the perfect parents?  I think we all know that’s not the case.   But one thing is true:  Because his parents have done the hard work of refusing to over-indulge their children, Owen has learned the valuable skill of being content with what he has.

Some may see this kind of parenting as unnecessarily harsh or even unkind.  But consider this: constantly making sure our children have the latest and greatest thing can breed discontent, ungratefulness, and an attitude of entitlement.  Giving children most everything they want may seem generous on the surface, but it deprives them of the opportunity to learn how to cope when things don’t go their way.  It also deprives parents of our God-given opportunity to come alongside their children, to support them as they learn how to navigate a sometimes-disappointing world, to help them cultivate their own sense of peace by learning to “be content whatever the circumstances may be.”

Your Family’s Story (Section 4)

Today, spend a few minutes remembering the things you’ve read and thought of so far this week.  Then, consider these observations Heather made during my most recent conversation with her:

·      God’s plan looks different for every family, so there is nothing more important than asking Him for discernment about the parenting practices He has for you.  It can be tempting to latch on to the latest parenting trend, or to try out a new method that seems like it might “remedy” a current struggle.  The most important thing any parent can do, though, is pray regularly for guidance and wisdom.

·      Motherhood has a way of compelling us towards comparison: measuring our “effectiveness” against what another mom may be doing; evaluating our child’s behavior or aptitude against that of another child.  But true contentment starts with being content in your own circumstances and identity.  We don’t need to fear or wish away our current circumstances; instead, we can ask God to help us grow in our ability to be satisfied with where He has us right now.

·      Though it sounds obvious, it’s important to remember that God created the person your husband is, including the way he is inclined to parent.  The invitation to peace includes being content with your husband as he is.  Agreeing on how to raise children can create conflict sometimes.  While it’s important to be honest about your convictions and ideas, you also want to let your husband be who God made him to be, and trust God’s ability to direct and guide him in the same way that you want God to guide you.

You've probably already realized that the concept of "creative deprivation" isn't just for children:  it's an important principal for all of us.  Truthfully, this is an area where I continue to need growth, and my hope is to eventually write a companion post encouraging grown-ups to consider applying these concepts in our own lives.  If that thought has crossed your mind, you may enjoy this post from two years ago, in which I describe some of my own struggles around simplicity and intentionality.

Wisdom for the Journey (Section 5)

As you consider whether or not to make any adjustments in your parenting, here are a few things to consider:

*    The chapter on simplicity in Richard Foster’s classic, Celebration of Discipline provides a deeper discussion of the concepts presented here.

*    Richard Swenson’s Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives is another great book on the topic.

*    One area worth considering involves the impact of our children’s (and our own) heavy reliance on digital media (any kind of screen).  Heather mentioned Sharon Healy’s Endangered Minds: Why Children  Don’t Think and What We Can Do About It as a helpful resource. 

*    Though his writing has more of an academic feel, I found Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows:  What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains informative.  You can look at a review here, and read another of his articles here. 

*    If anxiety tends to get the best of you sometimes (as it does with me), you may enjoy this post from a few years back.

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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.

Click here for the readings on the second fruit--joy.

Click here for the next post on the fourth fruit--longsuffering.


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