Monday, April 6, 2015

The Ninth Fruit: Self-Control (MNM 14)

Welcome back to the ninth and final post in our study!  You've made it all the way!!!!

I hope you can look back on this year and see specific ways that our loving heavenly Father has guided you, and my confident prayer is that He will continue to protect and provide for you in this sweet season of mothering little ones.  I won't say farewell just yet . . . . first, let's dive in to this week's readings!

Thanks again to my friend and photographer extraordinaire, Suzanne Stelling, for this image.

Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup;
you make my lot secure.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
surely I have a delightful inheritance.
Psalm 16: 5-6 (New International Version)

Soaking in the Scripture (Section One)

Today, spend some time reflecting on this week’s scripture.  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 Two)

In this passage, the Psalm-writer, David, uses two concepts—the idea of a “portion” and the notion of “boundary lines”—to describe his own life circumstances.  

How would you describe your “portion” during this season of your life? What sorts of relationships, activities, and commitments has He put on your plate?  How is your current “portion” different than it was in past years?  Spend some time considering all that is part of your life during this particular season.

As you’ve reflected on your “portion,” and perhaps how it has changed, you may also be able to identify some “boundary lines” that have “fallen” around your life during this season. Are there some things that used to be part of your life’s “portion” which are no longer present?  Has your current “portion”—perhaps marriage, and/or the arrival of children, for example—brought about changes regarding the relationships, activities, and commitments you are involved in?  Where are the current “boundary lines” in your life?  What do they include, and what do they exclude?

Finally, when you consider the fact that God places limits around your life by assigning you “portions” and “boundary lines,” how does that strike you?  Is it something that creates a feeling of security, or do you find yourself frustrated that you aren’t given the opportunity to choose your own “portions” and draw your own “boundary lines”?  How do you view your “portion,” and what feelings do you have about the “boundary lines” that you have identified?  

As you have the opportunity, you might consider talking about these questions with your spouse, your children, or a friend and processing your thoughts and feelings together.  You might also find it beneficial to spend some time praying through your responses.

One Family’s Story (Section Three)

I have a confession to make:  When Rebekah Wilson and I began last summer to discuss the possibility of my preparing this study for Moms n More, I knew—even then—that the section on “self-control” would be the toughest one for me.  All year long, I’ve kept hoping that my prediction would be wrong, and that exploring the spiritual fruit of self-control would come more easily than I’d anticipated. 

Well . . . my initial fears were right on target:  this has, indeed, been the most challenging portion of the study to write.  However, it’s also put me in a place of letting God peel back a few layers in my heart.  It’s been a tiny bit painful, but it’s also helped me understand more about why God’s expectation that I practice “self-control” is such a tough one for me.   I hope, somehow, that you’ll find encouragement as I share some of that process.

For me, Psalm 16’s imagery of portions and boundary lines takes me right back to two key childhood memories.  For portions, I recall sitting at our family dinner table and being served a plate containing carefully measured servings of all the necessary food groups—some of which did not sound particularly appealing to my young self.  I had all sorts of clever strategies for avoiding the healthy foods my parents wanted me to eat, but sometimes, those tactics weren’t as sneaky as they needed to be.  One unhappy occasion involved a suspicious-looking mound of steamed zucchini—my least favorite!  My attempt to deposit it in my water glass did not go undetected . . . or unpunished.  Fortunately, that sort of thing didn’t happen very often, but as I’ll explain, I certainly haven’t forgotten that incident.

Another occasion involved a 4th grade report card on which my teacher indicated that I’d not done a good job of practicing self-control during a six-week grading period.  I don’t remember what I’d done to earn her comment, but I’m sure it had something to do with my not having followed the rules and guidelines (boundaries, right?) she had established for our class.  What made it especially upsetting is that even as an elementary student, I took pride in my track record as a well-behaved student, and it felt like her comment would mar my reputation in a permanent way.  I still remember the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, first when I opened that report card at school and later at home when I had to face my parents’ disappointment. 

Those were two very normal experiences involving a child submitting to an adult’s authority—my parents’ and my teachers’.  For some reason, though, both of these instances seem to have had a powerfully formative impact on my understanding of self-control. 

The “zucchini” incident somehow reinforced the idea that being given a “portion” would, by definition, involve accepting and consuming something unappealing, distasteful, or (to my child’s palate) downright slimy and gross.  Somewhere along the way, I began to think that being given a “portion”—initially at mealtime, but later in other areas of my life—would always and only require me to accept and participate in things that I did not like or prefer.  It also meant I would not have the option of choosing things I naturally enjoyed.   In my child’s mind, accepting my “portion” would always mean telling myself “no” to what I might naturally desire—even the desire might be for something good or healthy.

The “report card” incident was, perhaps, even more significant over the long term.  As an adult, I realize that after all those years of being known as a compliant, cooperative student, I sensed that my teacher’s comment had shone a spotlight on the “real me” . . . the “I’m-gonna-do-what-I-wanna-do-whether-you-like-it-or-not” Anne.   Even as a fourth-grader, I think I feared that I’d been found out.   But because I didn’t like getting in trouble with my parents (or anyone else, for that matter), I decided then and there that I’d never earn that sort of negative feedback again.  I decided I was going to be the good girl, and I would accomplish that by repressing any and every impulse that might get me into trouble.  By golly, I was going to practice self-control.  No matter what.

And for many years, that’s what I tried to do.  Stifling any part of my personality that ran contrary to what was deemed “acceptable” by those around me, I attempted to maintain a sort of mean-spirited, iron-vise-grip on my behavior, regardless of how this impacted my personal well-being.  And when I failed to live up to my own expectations, I pulled in the cords of control even more tightly for punishment. 

As you can imagine, my method wasn’t successful; I failed often and miserably.  But that joyless experience is what I thought the Bible meant when it talked about practicing self-control:  telling myself “no” to anything and everything that might be enjoyable, even if it was good, healthy, or in line with my God-given temperament, personality, and gifts.

It follows, then, that for years, any time I encountered that phrase—“self-control”—in the Bible, I had a powerful urge to turn and run . . . hard.  I was terrified of God’s call to practice self-control partly because my efforts had created such misery in my own life.  More importantly, though, I was painfully aware of the utter inadequacy of my attempts at self-control.  While I might experience some success at treating others with love, kindness, and gentleness—and while I certainly sought (and needed!) peace and hope—I still knew I’d never live up to God’s expectation for being self-controlled.  That knowledge—along with my instinctive but sinful-seeming impulse to move away from the call to be self-controlled—scared me.

I spent many [many!] years trying to work through my questions and fears related to this trait.  The details of that story are, perhaps, for another time and place.  For now, suffice it to say this:  through that season, God graciously showed me another way—hopefully something closer to His way—of understanding just what He means when He invites us to let the Spirit produce the fruit of self-control.


Recently, I ran across Mary Ann Froehlich’s book, Courageous Gentleness:  Following Christ’s Example of Restrained Strength.  In a chapter on how this quality relates to the other fruits of the Spirit, she makes the following statement: 

“Scripture teaches that self-control anchors our fruit in two main ways: 

·      It restrains our behaviors that do not mirror Christ.

·      It prepares us to be ready and eager to do good in following our
Lord . . .” (101).”

When I view my own misguided attempts at self-control through Ms. Froehlich’s explanation, I realize a few things: 

First, my efforts at self-control had everything to do with telling myself “no.”  And they didn’t have anything to do with telling myself “yes.”   For me, self-control was all and only about restricting actions and attitudes rather than adding good actions and attitudes. 

This version of self-control didn’t just stop at discouraging un-Christlike behaviors; it also stifled any attitude or action that might have been seen as inappropriate by the people around me—even if those people’s opinions were dead wrong.  The results—at least for me—were nothing short of destructive.  Practicing this counterfeit version of self-control not only made me miserable; it also compelled me to sacrifice my own God-given identity. 

Ms. Froelich’s second point, though, provides another vital observation:  self-control isn’t merely God’s way of stopping or limiting unacceptable behavior.  It is also His gift to us—to me.  When the Holy Spirit prompts me to practice self-control, He is priming my heart to start moving towards the wonderful experiences God had in mind when He created me in the first place.   Rather than requiring me to restrict my God-given identity, those God-ordained experiences invite me to press into and fully live out my unique gifts, talents, and abilities—to be “ready and eager to do good in following our Lord.” 

I still struggle with the issue of self-control; I still find myself inclined to tell myself “no” rather than asking God to show me what He’d like me to say “yes” to.  But as I continue to learn and grow, I am beginning to recognize a connection between God’s invitation to self-control and David’s imagery in Psalm 16.

Some days find me operating by my old understanding about self-control—living according to a self-imposed set of “portions” and “boundary lines.”  When I construct those sorts of limits for myself, I am believing the lie that God expects me to muscle up, constantly tell myself “no,” and rigidly control each and every impulse that might be viewed as “inappropriate” by someone else.  That’s a misery-making, joy-less existence, and I am learning that is has nothing to do with following God.

Other days, though, God gives me the ability to stop creating my own limitations and instead notice the “portions” and “boundary lines” that He has ordained for me.  He allows me to find Him in the midst of those limitations—to recognize those limits as His own loving hands as they guide my life “make my lot secure,” and provide me with an inheritance that is “delightful.”  On those days, I am thinking less about controlling or managing my own behaviors, and more about looking for Him, bringing all that I am to Him . . . right in the midst of whatever circumstances He has for me.

Your Family’s Story (Section Four)

Today, spend a few minutes remembering the things you’ve read and thought of so far this week.  Does anything stand out as particularly important or meaningful?  Take time to notice.

As you reflect back on this week’s material, I hope it has somehow conveyed the idea that self-control isn’t about me regulating and managing my every thought and action.  Rather, this trait is really about how I respond to limits and boundaries—most importantly, the limits and boundaries God places around my life.  Self-control is less about controlling me, and more about my response to His control—a response that trusts in His deep, abiding, personal love.

Here, then is the great irony of self-control:  when my response to my Father’s control is one of submission—which is really relinquishing my impulse to control—that is when the spiritual fruit of self-control emerges and blossoms.

What this means is that self-control isn’t self-control at all; it can be more accurately described as Spirit-control, which means that it is only possible as a result of the Holy Spirit’s empowering.  In other words, I can’t manufacture self-control on my own.

With that in mind, I encourage you to spend some time remembering that you are God’s beloved and uniquely created daughter.  Because He is living in and through you, it’s likely that you are already living out the quality of self-control in your life. 

Section Two invited you to identify the “portions” and “boundary lines” that are unique to your life in this season.   I invite you to consider where you have submitted to, or perhaps even celebrated, some of those God-ordained limits, realizing that such a response is an example of Spirit-control blossoming in your life.  Ask God to help you identify places in your life where this is occurring, and celebrate His work.

Also, ask God to help you think of a few ways you might continue to cultivate self-control in your own heart as well as your other family members’.  Where might you adjust your perspective about the limits in your life, perhaps seeing them as God-given blessings instead of frustrating or disappointing restrictions?

How, also, might you encourage this perspective as you move through the day with each of your family members?

As you jot down ideas, pray for the discernment to recognize those that are good fits for your family members’ unique, God-created personalities.  Then, as time allows, talk about your ideas with them, and continue to pray for wisdom.

Wisdom for the Journey (Section Five)

Much of the academic scholarship being done around the non-cognitive traits identifies self-control as one of the most vital traits for a child (and an adult) to possess.  Some researchers would identify it as the foundational trait for most of the other non-cognitive skills.  In other words, a child who can manage his behavior will also be more equipped to treat others kindly or endure difficult circumstances, for example.  And sure enough, a quick internet search yields countless articles on how to cultivate this trait in ourselves as well as our children.

Rather than attempting the impossible task of summarizing everything out there, I’ll close with a few observations that strike me as especially significant or helpful in my own parenting journey.

The first is this:  one of our primary roles as parents is to help our children recognize and accept that boundaries will be a consistent part of their lives.  This means that my willingness to set and maintain reasonable boundaries in a loving manner is extremely important for my children’s development and growth.

Doing so, of course, causes our children (and us!) to experience all sorts of discomfort.  It will require us to answer our children’s requests with “no” at times.  But learning to manage themselves in the face of such discomfort--and allowing plenty of opportunities to strengthen their "self-management muscle"--is at the very crux of self-control.  

Even as our children encounter limits and boundaries, or “no’s,” parents can help them learn ways to navigate those situations by following the “no” with an exploration of what one or more “yes’s” might be.  Modeling this thought process is an important part of parenting.  Psychologist Madeline Levine discusses this in her excellent book, Teach Your Children Well:  “Don’t expect your children to learn without your guidance on how to show self-control.  Children need to be shown how to change focus, how to shift activities, how to divert their attention.  ‘Why don’t we read this story while we wait for the doctor.’ ‘I know it’s been a long ride; let’s see who can spot the first license plate from another state.’. . . A large part of self-control rests on the ability to manage uncomfortable feelings while searching for healthy solutions” (224). 

Levine is stating that even as our children encounter the inevitable “no’s” in life, parents can help them respond by exploring the “yes’s” that still exist.   They don’t have to only tell themselves “no;” they can also find the “yes’s” within the “no’s.”  Teaching our children to respond to “no’s” with this thought process allows them to recognize that they have freedom and autonomy even within boundaries and limits. 

A second thought:  Even as we guide our children, we can also remember how important it is to allow them low-stakes opportunities to practice their own decision-making skills, even when that means that their decisions aren't always what we might choose.  Recently, I was talking with a friend who is also a mom, and we were discussing our middle-school children’s choices about sugary foods before sports events.  Her words stuck with me:  “I tend to let my children make their own decisions about what they eat before a meet, so that they have the opportunity to learn for themselves which choices are better.”  My friend’s wise comment was an important reminder for me.  As long as I’m actively monitoring and managing my children’s choices, I’m keeping them from having the opportunity to make and learn from their own decisions.  They may be compliant (which is convenient for me); but they aren’t self-controlled (which a vital quality for them).  Grit researcher Angela Duckworth and colleagues agree: “Children who willingly comply with directives from adults are certainly easier to manage than those who don’t, but compliance should not to be confused with fully autonomous, self-initiated regulation.”  In other words, because compliance involves merely allowing another person to dictate our actions, compliance is not the same thing as self-control.  Rather, self-control happens when an individual chooses his/her own actions without directives or supervision from an authority figure or peer.   And it’s self-control that, ultimately, I want to be strong in my children.

Third (and last):  As one clinical psychologist and mother notes, “the foundation of self-control is trust.”  And, although there is certainly academic merit to the importance of being trustworthy parents, it is ultimately most important for us to hold unflinchingly to our trust in God, and to model that trust for our children.  With that in mind, I'll finish this week's material right where we started, with Psalm 16, this time in its entirety.  As you read it again, notice how David’s unswerving trust in God’s goodness is at the root of his overall perspective:

Keep me safe, my God, for in you I take refuge.
I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
apart from you I have no good thing.”
I say of the holy people who are in the land,
“They are the noble ones in whom is all my delight.”
Those who run after other gods will suffer more and more.
I will not pour out libations of blood to such gods
or take up their names on my lips.
Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup;
you make my lot secure.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
surely I have a delightful inheritance.
I will praise the Lord, who counsels me;
even at night my heart instructs me.
I keep my eyes always on the Lord.
With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest secure,
because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
nor will you let your faithful one see decay.
You make known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,

with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Seventh Fruit: Trust (MNM 11)

Greetings, friends, and welcome back to our study.  I hope you survived the (many!) snow days, and that you're enjoying the hope of warmer temps and sunshine (yay!!!!).

And if you haven't already realized it, we are coming very close to completing our study on the fruits of the Spirit.  After this week's readings, we have only one fruit left.  Can you believe it?!  You've been so diligent!  And I hope you are ready to dive in to this week's materials.  If so . . . . let's get started.

Thanks again to Suzanne Stelling for this amazing image.

“Your eyes are windows into your body.
If you open your eyes wide in wonder and belief,
your body fills up with light.
If you live squinty-eyed in greed and distrust,
your body is a dank cellar.
If you pull the blinds on your windows,
what a dark life you will have!”

Matthew 6:22-23, The Message

Soaking in the Scripture (Section 1)

Today, spend some time reflecting on Matthew 6:22-23.  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 meaningful to each of them, and see what kinds of conversations happen.

Digging Deeper (Section 2)

Begin by re-reading Matthew 6:22-23, and recall the ideas that came to mind when you spent time with it previously.

You’ve probably heard the saying “the eyes are the window to the soul.”  This, of course, means a friend’s face—often emphasized by the look in her eyes—can be an indication of her well-being.  Just as it’s difficult to disguise a sorrowful heart with a happy-looking face, it’s also hard to hide a joyful spirit, even if our friend isn’t grinning from ear to ear.  Most of the time, it only takes a glance at a loved one’s eyes to get a sense of how she is doing on the inside.  So our internal state can be reflected by something external—in this case, our eyes.

But Christ’s words here say something a little different:  He is saying that our internal state is impacted by how we choose to look at life.  In other words, the way we look at things, both with our eyes and with our heart, can impact the well-being of our very souls.

If you happened to have studied a different translation of this passage, you may have found the language a little vague.  For instance, the Amplified Bible translates Christ’s words in this way:  “If your eye is sound, your entire body will be full of light.  But if your eye is unsound, your whole body will be full of darkness.”   The NIV’s translation reads like this:  “If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light.  But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness.”

Obviously, Christ isn’t talking about eyes on a literal level—he’s not describing vision that is sound or healthy; otherwise, this passage wouldn’t have much relevance for those with good vision (although each day brings me disturbingly closer to a need for the ever-dreaded reading glasses!  J).    Here, Jesus uses metaphor, comparing a person’s eyes to something else.  And this, of course, raises a question:  to what is He comparing our eyes?

Fortunately, the footnotes in the NIV shed some helpful insight: “The Greek for healthy here implies generous.  The Greek for unhealthy here implies stingy.” 
Thanks, biblegateway!

In other words, Christ is comparing our eyes to something internal—our attitude, or our perspective.  When our attitude is one of generosity, our entire being is filled with light.  But when our perspective errs on the stingy side, it results in a sense of darkness. 

Eugene Peterson’s translation in The Message, which serves as the opening scripture for this week, captures these ideas powerfully. 

As you consider these ideas, see if you can recall a time when you approached a person or situation from the perspective of greed (what can I get?) or mistrust (what bad thing is going to happen?).  Do you think your attitude might have had an impact on the actual experience?   Imagine what might have resulted if you’d been able to cultivate a perspective of generosity (what can I give?) or trust (what good thing is going to happen?).  The person or situation might not have changed; however, might have your experience been different? 

On the other hand, try to remember an example of when you approached a person or situation with a more generous and/or trusting outlook.  How did your attitude impact your soul’s well-being as you interacted with this person or walked through the experience?

Keep in mind these personal examples as you continue through this week’s material.

One Family’s Story (Section 3)

Caleb is a strapping 14-year-old with blonde hair, blue eyes, and an All-American smile.  You may have met him before.  He and his family, the Kuhns, live right here in Knoxville, and he is an 8th grader at Concord Christian Academy.  Caleb hit his growth spurt a little earlier than many of his friends, which has made him quite a leader on his school’s fledgling football team.  So when he broke his foot during gym one January day, it wasn’t great news, but he didn’t let it slow him down.  His doctor put him in a walking cast, which soon became more of a running cast, especially when the neighborhood kids were playing an impromptu game of yard-ball.  One afternoon, though, his doctor—who also happens to be his neighbor—caught sight of Caleb and his buddies running passes back and forth across the street. 

“Caleb,” the doctor said, “if you want to be ready for spring workouts in a few weeks, you’ve got to stay off that foot.  So, how about you don’t let me see you out here again until it’s all healed up, okay?”

“Yes sir,” Caleb replied.  He was embarrassed, but not worried.  His foot wasn’t hurting, and he only had a few days until it was time for the walking cast to come off.  When he went in for his follow-up appointment, though, he received an unpleasant surprise:  because of all that extra activity, Caleb’s foot didn’t heal properly.  Now, he had 6 more weeks, and this time, it would involve crutches and a real cast—the kind on which he couldn’t put any weight.

After Caleb hobbled to the car on his newly acquired crutches, he and his mom, Wendy, made the drive home and talked about the situation. 

He was definitely upset about additional time in a cast, but he was even more unhappy about how this would limit his spring training for football.  In a couple of weeks, his teammates would start practicing, but Caleb realized tearfully that he wouldn’t be able to participate.   The doctor had made that very clear.

“Caleb, I know you’re disappointed about how this has turned out, and I’m sure you aren’t necessarily looking forward to the next six weeks.  But you have a choice about how you think about the situation.”

“You can focus on how uncomfortable those crutches are, on how you can’t run around outside with your friends, and on how much you wish you could start football practice with your teammates.”

“Or you can focus on the good things that come out of this situation.  You can enjoy the unexpected chance to relax a little bit.  You can get stronger on your crutches.  And you can go to your football practices and participate by encouraging them.”

Wendy paused and looked over at Caleb, who was gazing out the window quietly. 

“You definitely have some things to complain about over the next six weeks, Buddy. If you choose to do that, you’re probably going to make yourself, and everyone around you, miserable.  But if you decide to look for the good things, the next six weeks are going to be completely different for you, and for others.  Ultimately, you have a choice about how you look at this situation.”

Before I share the next part of this story, I must say this:  I’d be lying if I led you to believe that good parenting always results in our children’s good choices.  The truth is that even the most wonderful children don’t always heed wise advice. (Click here for reminders about the importance of continuing to do the “good hard” thing.)

However, in this instance, Caleb took his mom’s words to heart.

A few weeks later, Caleb was asked to speak at his school’s chapel.  Unbeknownst to his mom, he based his presentation on Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always.  Again I will say, rejoice.”  This seventh grade young man challenged his classmates with these words:  “Before I broke my foot, I took walking and running for granted but this verse showed me that I should be thankful for everything. . . . What are you thankful for?  Don’t take this lightly.  Actually think and consider it . . . Make sure to thank God for everything in your life.”

One reason Caleb can be thankful even during difficult experiences is because Wendy has coached him to be expectant, and to watch for the blessings in the midst of unpleasantness.  He can do this because she is helping him learn and practice trusting in God’s provision on a day-to-day basis.  He is learning to open his eyes wide in wonder and belief.


One of the things I admire and appreciate about my friend Wendy is her ability to remain positive in just about any difficulty.  Part of that comes from her temperament, but part of it is a matter of choice.  Remember our study of James 1:17during the readings on joy? Despite what comes into my friend’s life, she is committed to keeping an eye out for the good and perfect gifts.  And my instinct is that her ability to keep this perspective has to do with two things:  her generosity towards others—wanting to be sure that her words and actions give good things to those around her; and her tenacious trust in God’s goodness both right now and in the future—regardless of whether circumstances seem desirable.

But—true confessions here—although I have tremendous admiration (and maybe even a little envy!  J) for the strengths that my friend and her son possess, their natural bent towards being positive takes more effort on my part.  Here’s what I mean.

If I were Caleb in this story, I’m pretty sure I would’ve had a hard time feeling anything other than upset—mad at myself for playing on an injured foot; angry at having to continue time in a cast; sad and worried about whether my standing on the team would change as a result of my decisions.

And if I’d been Wendy in this story?  Well, I probably would’ve been in serious “blame” mode: mad at myself for letting my son play so hard on a broken foot; mad at Caleb for doing it in the first place. 

Perhaps most importantly:  Regardless of whether I’d been in Caleb’s or Wendy’s shoes, I also would have been inclined stay “stuck” in the current experience.   My strongest instinct would be to focus all my energy on pointing out the frustration and negative consequences this situation was creating.  This means I would not have been inclined to look towards the future and the good things that could come as a part of this unwanted (and completely avoidable) situation.

What about you?  If you’d been Caleb in this story, how might you have responded to the doctor’s news of more time in a cast?   To the decision you made to play on an injured foot?  What might have been your thoughts and feelings in this kind of circumstance?  

If you’d been in Wendy’s shoes, how do you think you would have responded?  What thoughts and feelings would have been part of your experience?

Maybe you are facing a hardship in your own life.  If you’re a mama with even one child at home, I’m guessing each day brings its own less-than-desirable moments.   That was certainly true for me!  Close your time today by honestly and prayerfully examining your perspective.  Invite God to help you as you consider these questions.

·      * Are there places where you tend towards mistrust or (I know it’s an ugly word) greed? 

·      * Do you tend to give your energy and attention to staying focused on frustrating circumstances in the here-and-now, rather than looking ahead?

·      * In what ways are you approaching unwanted or difficult circumstances with trust and generosity? 

·      * Where are you able to find wonder in your circumstances?  In what areas are you trusting God?

Your Family’s Story (Section 4)

Today, spend a few minutes remembering the things you’ve read and thought of so far this week. 

As God’s beloved and uniquely created daughter, and because He is living in and through you, it’s likely that you are already living out a perspective of trust in your life.  Ask God to help you identify places in your life where this is occurring, and celebrate His work in your life.  Here are some questions that might help:

*     What are some simple ways you’re finding to cultivate wonder and trust in your own heart, especially during your season of mothering young children?

*     What are some everyday ways you’ve encouraged your children’s wonder about and trust in God’s provision during all circumstances?

Also, ask God to help you think of a few ways you might continue to cultivate this trait in your own heart as well as your other family members’.  As you jot down ideas, pray for the discernment to recognize those that are good fits for your family members’ unique, God-created personalities.  Then, as time allows, talk about your ideas with them, and continue to pray for wisdom.

Wisdom for the Journey (Section 5)

The spiritual fruit we’re focusing on this week is faithfulness.  The original Greek for this word is pistis (πίστις), and this word is often translated as “trust.”  Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words provides a lengthy definition of this word, which I’d summarize in this way:  A strong and welcome trust in Christ as the source for our eternal salvation and the conviction that God exists and is the creator and ruler over all things—including every circumstance which occurs in our lives.

In other words, pistis has to do with a ruthless, tenacious trust in God’s ever-abiding presence in our lives, regardless of what our days look like.  To me, trust pistis looks a little bit like surrender—accepting the circumstances in our lives as God-given, trusting Him to provide all that we need to navigate those circumstances, and looking with hope for how He will do that.

Perhaps my understanding of pistis/trust is why I see this spiritual fruit as an integral part of non-cognitive traits like spirituality, humility, gratitude, hope, and optimism.

*     When we are encouraging our children to trust in God’s provision (and practicing that discipline ourselves), that looks like spirituality (the Christian variation).

*     When that pistis/trust allows us to accept our God-given circumstances rather than struggle against them, that might look like humility.

*     When our pistis/trust prompts us to find the things for which we can give thanks, that looks like gratitude.

*     When our pistis/trust equips us to look expectantly to the future (rather than staying “stuck” in the present), this looks like hope and optimism.

In our family—especially when things get tough—we tend to focus on the present moment, talking about who or what might be to “blame” for the circumstances, and how we can “solve” the unpleasantness we’re experiencing.  Early on in my parenting, I began referring to this kind of thought process as “stinkin’ thinkin’”—focusing only on the negative, rather than anticipating the good things God might bring.  I can’t even begin to tell you the number of conversations I’ve had with my children about the importance of avoiding “stinkin’ thinkin.’”  (In fact, we’ve had so many talks about it that I’ve developed some “stinkin’ thinkin’” about whether or not we’d every remedy this habit of mind. J)  Recently, though, one of my children acknowledged that he was engaging in “stinkin’ thinkin’” about an issue we were processing.  Even though it was a decade in coming, my son’s realization was powerful for him . . . and for me.  {Here's a quirky little song that picks up on these ideas, recorded by none other than Willie Nelson.}

Researcher Carol Dweck, an educational researcher, uses a different term for “stinkin’ thinkin’” when she describes a “fixed mindset,” which occurs when an individual believes s/he is not capable of improving his/her intellectual ability.  A “growth mindset,” on the other hand, occurs when an individual begins to believe s/he can improve his/her academic capacity.  In her book, Mindset as well as this TEDTalk, Dweck shows how vital it is for teachers to cultivate this “growth mindset” in their students.  My sense is that this is an important emphasis for parents too.  If you’re interested in learning more, here are links to an article about Dweck’s work: 

You may also be interested in One Thousand Gifts, in which Ann Voskamp graciously and honestly invites readers into a daily practice of living expectantly and gratefully.

One other thought:  In recent weeks, Jeremiah 17:5-8 (see below) has been a meaningful reminder to me about the importance of continuing to cultivate a tenacious trust in God.  I’ll close with a prayer I’ve written that’s built on the truths of that passage. 

Lord, your word reminds me that when my heart gets its strength from the things of this world, I become like a bush struggling to stay alive in a land with nothing to offer. 
I don’t want to dwell in the desert. 
It’s a lonely place, a hopeless place. 
Oh how I long for eyes that are able to see prosperity when it comes.
I need this.  My family needs this.

So, Lord, I will put my confidence in You, 
and I will encourage my loved ones to do the same. 
Together, we will trust in Your provision—
what You choose to give,
and when You choose to give it. 
Help us to sink the roots of our hearts into the nourishing, well-watered soil of Your waters, so that when the dry, hot seasons come (and I know they will), we won’t be inclined to fear . . .
. . . but instead will be able to look ahead with hope,
knowing You will sustain us,
trusting that You'll allow us to blossom at the right time.

Maybe you (and possibly your family) would like to end this week’s readings by reflecting on that scripture (or Matthew 6:22-23) and writing a prayer of your own.

 This is what the Lord says:
“Cursed is the one who trusts in man,
who draws strength from mere flesh
and whose heart turns away from the Lord.
That person will be like a bush in the wastelands;
they will not see prosperity when it comes.
They will dwell in the parched places of the desert,
in a salt land where no one lives.

“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.

It does not fear when heat comes."
Jeremiah 17:5-8
New International Version


We have come so far together in this study!  I'm so glad you are continuing along.  If you are ready for the post about gentleness (the eighth fruit), click here.