The Fourth Fruit: Longsuffering (MNM 8)
Welcome back! I’m so glad you are here, and I hope life is going well for you and your family. Thanks for continuing to follow our study on cultivating the fruits of the spirit in our children (and ourselves).
Here is this week’s verse:
No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful.
Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace
for those who have been trained by it.
Hebrews 12:11 (New International Version)
Today, spend some time reflecting on Hebrews 12:11. 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.
Begin by re-reading Hebrews 12:11, and recall the ideas that came to mind when you spent time with it previously.
When you think of the word “discipline,” do you feel any particular emotion, or does a specific experience come to mind? In other words, when you think of discipline, what event(s) or feeling(s) surface? Happiness? Anticipation? Joy? Fear? Anxiety?
Many people I know (myself included) have a negative reaction to the notion of “discipline.” Maybe this is because when we think of an experience that involves discipline, we may associate it with being punished in some way. And for most people, the thought of punishment triggers emotions that aren’t really of the “feel good” variety.
But if we reframe the idea of discipline as training for something desirable, it may impact our emotional response to the idea. The training itself may be hard or involve temporary unpleasantness. But because it’s for the purpose of reaching a good goal, the difficulties experienced during training can be understood as a necessary part of the process. From this vantage point, the unpleasant aspect of discipline isn’t a punishment or consequence resulting from our negative behavior; it’s a series of actions that will produce something positive or desirable. Discipline is simply what a person needs to do in order to become stronger, more capable, or better skilled at a certain task.
A studyof original Greek word translated as “discipline”—which is “paideia”—confirms this more positive notion. This word is defined as “instruction that aims at increasing virtue.” It can involve the whole training and education of children, but also (for grown-ups) any experience that cultivates the soul, especially by correcting mistakes and curbing passions. In other words, the original word for “discipline” isn’t a reference punishment earned for bad behavior; instead, it’s all about pursuing a pleasant, desirable end result.
With that in mind, think about something good in your life that resulted from a time of discipline that was challenging, unpleasant, or perhaps even painful. Maybe you’ve accomplished a goal that was difficult to attain. Perhaps you have completed a project or task that involved one or more difficult experiences. Maybe you gained the ability to demonstrate a particular virtue as the result of struggling through a uncomfortable season.
As you reflect on such an experience, see if you can recall your thoughts during the midst of the more challenging moments. Did your understanding of the end goal influence how you thought about the difficult parts?
Can you think back to life before children? What ideas did you have about what “good” parenting would look like? Were there particular parenting strategies you definitely did not want to practice?
I certainly did. In fact, I began my parenting journey believing my primary task as a mom was to keep my children happy and comfortable as much as possible. This meant that if my children were ever unhappy, it could only be evidence of my own poor parenting.
I’ve never pinpointed the origin of this notion, although I have a few ideas (I might share them another time). But when my husband and I welcomed our first child into the world, the pressure was on. It became my goal to show my friends, husband, my child, myself, God—even the random people I passed in the grocery store—that I could do whatever it takes to keep my child content.
As you can imagine, it didn’t take long for me to recognize the giant gap between my expectations and the reality of parenting. Yet I continued to struggle with the idea that children of really good parents never experience anything remotely unpleasant. And my inability to live up to this standard scared me to the very core.
It also propelled me to learn all I could about good parenting from every book magazine, and website I could get my hands on. Fast forward a few years to the advent of social media, and I found myself smack-dab in the middle of a very dangerous place.
Maybe you’ve been there too. It’s the place plastered with pictures, videos, and tweets of well-decorated and spotless homes; kids’ craft projects that are easy and economical; foolproof tips for making even family Bible study fun. It’s the place chock full of irrefutable evidence that every other mom on the planet is doing this motherhood thing better than you. Her house is cute, her hair is coifed, her husband adores her, and (most importantly) her kids are happy.
It’s a place my husband and I have dubbed the land of “Mama-guilt.” It starts with a few innocent clicks on Pinterest, Facebook, or Instagram, and suddenly, I’m there. And, if you’re like me, it can be very, very difficult to break away from its poisonous influence. As Jen Pinkner so beautifully pointed out in her talk a few weeks ago, spending time wishing for someone else’s script to be our own is one of the quickest ways to squelch joy. And for me, social media is one of the places where this often happens.
I’m continuing to learn that when I spend time in this no-man’s land, I’m often feeding my already-overgrown fears about the difference between my own real life experiences and what I see in all so many of those pictures, posts, and tweets.
And I don’t think I’m the only one: when you’re a mom with little ones, discouragement can sabotage your confidence before you even know what’s hit you. Especially on difficult days. And especially when we begin comparing ourselves with the shiny images so readily available on social media—even though they represent only the tiniest portion of the vast, rocky, emotional terrain we travel while mothering young children.
So, in my search for how to be a good parent, and in my constant exposure to these families with kids who are always, always happy, my fears continued to eat away at my confidence. Not only was I unable to sustain my children’s contentedness; but I also questioned whether making this my main goal was the right thing to do in the first place.
That’s why this picture posted on Facebook posted by Katie Jessen (mother of 4 preschoolers and wife to Chris Jessen, Pastor of Two Rivers Chattanooga) resonated so powerfully with me:
One glimpse of that image—two boys who are furious with their mom for making them wear their carseats—triggered a storm of emotions for me. I was taken right back to the countless not-so-shiny moments when my kids were anything but happy. Moments when they weren’t just upset. They were tantrum-mad . . . at me. Moments that make me wonder whether my children’s momentary brush with unpleasantness was just another piece of evidence revealing my shabby job of parenting. Moments that take me from peace to fear in a matter of seconds.
But Katie’s picture—and her refreshingly honest caption, “This is real life”—also remind me of what’s true. Real life, real parenting, and real mothering certainly includes plenty of pleasant experiences. It gives me lots of opportunities to keep my children comfortable and content. But it also involves moments when my children are going to be nowhere near happy. (In fact, I’m probably going to be a little unhappy myself!)
As I thought more about Katie’s picture, I began to think more about whether the emphasis on keeping my children always and only happy might even be unfair: unfair to parents because it’s not humanly possible to sustain such an experience; unfair to the children because it gives them a completely false understanding of what the world is really like.
So while the world may want me to believe that my children’s temporary unhappiness shows my incompetence as a parent, my Father wants me to rest in the truth that unpleasantness—and even pain sometimes—is a necessary and even hope-full part of life, and that (strangely enough) it creates an opportunity for my children (and me) to move towards a life characterized by peace and righteousness.
Today, spend a few minutes remembering the things you’ve read and thought of so far this week. Then, consider these questions:
· Can you remember a time when you had to make a parenting decision that caused one or more of your children to be frustrated or angry with you?
· What kinds of things might your children say to you in such an instance? What emotions do they communicate?
· What thoughts come to your mind when you’re in the midst of such an experience? Are you confident in the face of your children’s frustration, even (and especially) when it is directed at you? Or do such experiences cause you to worry that you may be failing in some way?
· How do you reconcile the unavoidable discomfort that is part of living in the real world with your parental role? As parents, how are we called to help our children develop an accurate picture of what the world is like?
· Is there a possibility that you may be shielding your children from pain or discomfort in a way that may be giving them an inaccurate understanding of how life works?
The spiritual fruit of long-suffering is most closely related to the non-cognitive trait of perseverance, which Merriam Webster defines as the quality which allows someone to continue trying to do something even though it is difficult. I’m sure you’ll agree: this is a characteristic that our children will certainly need. But it’s not necessarily one that is pleasant to put into practice, or to cultivate.
Rather than giving specific tips for how to nurture perseverance and longsuffering, I thought I’d add a few closing thoughts.
First: The tendency to want our children’s lives to be pleasant is a normal outgrowth of our God-given maternal instinct. So we don’t need to feel guilty about this desire.
However, this natural instinct—when mixed with affluence (which equips us to obtain items that are comfort-giving but not always necessary), today’s emphasis on “feel good” parenting, and our aversion to all things unpleasant—can lead us to parent in ways that undermine our children’s ability to practice and strengthen the quality of perseverance. It’s likely, then, that my parenting decisions are influenced by these factors more than I may recognize. This is just one more reason prayer is such a vital part of the journey. Honestly, I don’t know when I’ll reach a season during which prayer won’t be of the utmost importance.
Second: I’m also realizing that my own tendency to want my children’s lives to be pleasant can be rooted in my desire for my life to be convenient (or, to use an uglier word—my own selfishness). After all, when life is easy for my family, it’s also easy for me. And I like it when life is easy. I like it very much. So in order to cultivate perseverance in my children’s hearts, I need to possess a degree of perseverance myself. Again, prayer comes to mind, since this isn’t a trait that I’m particularly adept at faking or manufacturing. Each day, I need the help of a loving Father along with his Spirit’s work in my life.
Last: Professor, researcher, and writer Brene Brown describes a wall-hanging she keeps in her home as a reminder of how important it is to cultivate perseverance in her own family. The sign says this:
We Can Do Hard Things
I like the simplicity of this statement. Remembering it helps me recognize moments when I may be tempted to protect my children—and myself—from the necessary unpleasantness that accompanies the completion of difficult tasks. It reminds me of how important it is to encourage my children to lean into such experiences—to allow themselves to be trained by them. At the end of the day, I want my children to possess the God-given confidence and competence that is cultivated when they do even the hard things that life will certainly bring their way.
Click here if you're ready to begin learning about the fifth fruit, kindness.
Click here if you're ready to begin learning about the fifth fruit, kindness.