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a positive plan for creating more calm, less stress
By KAROL LADD
W Publishing GroupCopyright © 2007 Karol Ladd
All right reserved.
Chapter OneDivine Delights in a Less-Than-Perfect Family
Our home joys are the most delightful earth affords, and the joy of parents in their children is the most holy joy of humanity. It makes their hearts pure and good; it lifts men up to their Father in heaven. Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi
Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart's desires. Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust him, and he will help you. Psalm 37:4-5 NLT
As a former science teacher and a current mom, I've discovered that the laws of family physics are relatively similar to some of the natural laws of physics. For example:
1. An object at rest (such as a teenager or husband or family dog) tends to stay at rest, unless otherwise motivated by a phone call, persistent nagging, or a biscuit. 2. An object in motion (such as a mouth) tends to stay in motion, especially when grumbling, complaining, or eating. 3. For every action (push, shove, or negative comment), there is an equal and opposite reaction, until a parent steps in and breaks it up. 4. Laundry spontaneously tends to flow from being concentrated within one location to becoming diffused or dispersed to various regions of the house. 5. The increase in the amount of activities on the family calendar is equal to the tension and friction added to the system, minus the communication achieved within the system.
Talk about theories of relativity! Family relationships require a great deal of energy, without a doubt. But our goal as mothers is not to create a utopia with seamless interactions and continual bliss in the home. Our goal is to delight in the family God has given us and work through family challenges in positive ways. Then our homes can be havens where family members find encouragement and strength to become all that God has created them to be.
As moms, we are the ones who tend to set the tone for our homes. Now wait a minute, you may be thinking. We're only human! We struggle with feelings, emotions, fatigue, and stress, just like the rest of our family members. That's true. But like it or not, we have a high calling: to influence and maintain the positive atmosphere in our homes. That's part of our role as mothers. I guess you could say we are the "Positive Attitude Coordinators."
Solomon put it this way: "A wise woman strengthens her family, but a foolish woman destroys hers by what she does." The fact is our words, actions, and attitudes permeate our homes and have a profound effect upon our families. We can choose to be refreshing delights, or we can choose to be contentious complainers. I don't know about you, but I would rather build my home with delight than destroy it with discouragement. At least that's my intention. It's not easy! The road to delight takes determination. Won't you join me as we begin to step in the right direction?
Our Unique Road to Delight
Do you ever look at other families and secretly think to yourself, How do they do it? They always love and support one another. Their kids are high achievers and stellar students. They seem to do everything well, and do it with a smile. As you watch them, little feelings of jealousy, envy, or guilt creep in and begin destroying your confidence as a mom. Been there?
Then there are those families that make you shake your head and think to yourself, I can't believe the way they parent their kids. I would never do what they are doing. Tiny tidbits of pride begin to seep in as you secretly thank God that your family is not like them. Been there?
Comparisons and assumptions are common to all of us. It makes sense to try to gauge our success by looking at others and observing how they do things. Businesses do it; athletes do it; even churches do it. We all tend to compare our success (or failure) by the meter and measure of others. But that's not how it should be between families.
Although it goes against our natural grain, we must redirect our thinking away from comparisons with other families. On the road to delight, we need to picture a big sign that says, "Thou shalt not compare." God has given each family a different mix of people and personalities. No two families are exactly the same.
Recently I heard a story about identical twin sisters who married identical twin brothers. (The two sets of twins met at a twins convention, of all places!) At the time of the story, the couples lived next door to each other. With two sets of identical parents, you would think that their families would be, well, identical. They're not. In fact, their families are very different. They have different looks and different personalities, different interests and different talents. They are involved in different activities, and the two sets of parents discipline their children in different ways.
Now if two sets of identical twin parents do not have identical families, then why in the world would we think there is a family out there with whom we can compare ours? Each family (yours, mine, and others) is a unique blend of personalities, abilities, talents, handicaps, and idiosyncrasies. As parents, we bring into our families a variety of backgrounds, work ethics, political persuasions, and religious beliefs.
One of the greatest joys we can experience in motherhood is to delight in our God-given families without comparing them with others. Let's throw away the assumption that other families have it all together (or are a mess, for that matter). We don't know what goes on inside their homes. What we do know is that God has given each of us a unique group of family members. Our delight comes in following God's purpose and plan for our own families, not someone else's.
Learning to Delight
As we journey down different paths, we must learn to embrace the portions that God has given us. I say "learn" because it's not an easy task. Ours may not be the perfect, loving families we always pictured. Our circumstances may not correspond with those best-laid plans we plotted in our minds as young women. So how do we delight in both the good and the bad of our lives?
The Apostle Paul put it this way: "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 [or content] at any time in everything that happens ... I can do all things through Christ, because he gives me strength."
Perhaps you've heard that last sentence put another way: "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." It's a well-loved, oft-used Bible quote. But did you realize the words are referring to the power God gives us to be content in our circumstances? Paul is saying that he has learned (there's that word learn) the secret to being happy, and it doesn't rest in having all the best that life has to offer. It doesn't rest in circumstances. The secret is found in Christ-Christ, who gives us strength for the journey.
We can learn to be content in our personal lives as moms by recognizing that we don't have all of the strength, wisdom, and ability we need to handle motherhood on our own. We need help from above. Turning to God, we can say, "Lord, help me to have patience, because I don't have it within myself to be patient right now." Or, "Father, please give me strength for today. I'm so tired, and yet I have so much to do."
Although we may be weak, our loving Heavenly Father is strong. He is able to give us wisdom when we discipline our kids, grace when we deal with our family members, and kindness when we speak to others. Learning to be content in our circumstances and with the people around us doesn't mean being complacent. It doesn't mean ignoring problems or pretending that everything's all right when it's not. It means learning to rely day by day on the true source of our strength: Christ Himself.
We can learn to keep our eyes on Christ and look to Him for help-or we can choose to focus on our circumstances and become overwhelmed. It's a day-by-day, moment-by-moment choice. I love the way my friend Rachel finds humor in the ups and downs of motherhood. The following is an excerpt from her book, Wake Up Laughing. She gives us a perspective of hope and delight in the midst of disillusionment and despair:
Before my first child was born, I remember older, wiser women saying things like, "Enjoy the time you have to yourself before the baby comes!"
At the time, I wasn't thrilled with the time on my hands due to the weight on my bod and the anticipations of seeing the baby in person. I couldn't wait to play dress-up with my real live baby doll. Diaper and formula commercials sent me into La La Land, daydreaming about holding my bundle of joy. I especially liked the ones in which a buff-bodied daddy peeks into Junior's crib in the middle of the night, picks up a porcelain-skinned baby, and nuzzles him. (Notice how the babies are either sleeping or smiling in these propaganda pieces.) I know that's what I had in mind-a studly husband and a picture-perfect baby bonding at 2:00 a.m. in the Ralph Lauren designer nursery while I'm sawing logs in the next room. But my daydream images became fuzzy with the arrival of baby and the relentless longing for a few hours of uninterrupted shut-eye. My cowardly friends who went before me to baby boot camp didn't clue me in to reality, and I wanted to wring their necks ... And what of hubby-turned-new-dad? Well, he discovered talents he never knew he had. He had the uncanny ability to sleep through our baby's cries. So while he sawed the logs I could only dream about, I cradled my gargantuan mammary glands in my arms and waddled down the hall to the Wal-Mart decorated nursery, bonding with Junior at 2:00 a.m. ... and 3:00 a.m. ... and 4:00 a.m. I did enough bonding that first year to be the prototype for human superglue. And I would love to know where the television producers found that porcelain-skinned infant. I quickly became acquainted with the oxymoron "baby acne." My newborn would have been a shoo-in for a Clearasil commercial ... If you're a mom, I'm preaching to the parental choir. First comes love, then comes marriage, and on the heels of the baby carriage comes disillusionment. Of course, we do experience precious moments with our babies that we will forever hold dear. But on the whole, children are needy and can wreak havoc on your housekeeping, sleep quota, and love life. When we're knee-deep in diapers, it's important to put things into perspective by reviewing two facts. Fact #1: This is an intense time of life. Fact #2: Babies grow up quickly, and as they do, things get easier ... If you're a relatively new mom or know someone who is and have had a particularly exhausting day (or week or month!), ask God to help you put things in perspective. He may just help you see that beneath your exhaustion is still a heart brimming with gratitude for the priceless, albeit tiring, gift of children.
Perspective is everything! It's also a choice. Will we choose to see the humor, delight, and joy in life, or will we only look at the difficulties, frustrations, and failures? Teresa of Avila, a devout woman of God who lived in the sixteenth century, reminds us of the secret to divine delight each day:
Let nothing disturb thee, Let nothing affright thee, All things are passing, God changeth never.
We can choose to delight in the ups and downs of each stage of motherhood, recognizing that each stage lasts only a short period of time-but God never changes. If you feel overwhelmed right now, take heart. Things will get better. God has not left you.
A Psalm for the Slightly Unconventional Family
When I think about families portrayed in the Bible, I can't help but notice that every one of them qualified as less than perfect. One family in particular sticks out in my mind as a far-from-stellar example of family values and bonding. Oddly, the dad in this family is referred to in Scripture as "a man after God's own heart." We know him as King David. Jesus Himself was part of his lineage. A brief glance through the Old Testament reminds us that David's family life included incest, adultery, murder, scandal, rejection, disloyalty, and heartache (among other things). Yet God in His abundant grace and eternal providence still used David's family in a mighty way, eventually bringing forth the Messiah through his descendants. His entries in the Book of Psalms speak powerfully to our hearts, especially as we see him looking to the Lord in the midst of his difficulties.
I want us to look in particular at Psalm 37. Although this psalm was not written specifically about families, I think it applies in many ways to our journey as mothers and our role as Positive Attitude Coordinator in our homes.
David begins the psalm in the first verse by saying, "Don't worry about the wicked. Don't envy those who do wrong." In other words, we should keep our eyes on our own lives and families and not look at others with envy, comparison, or jealousy. Sound familiar? He goes on to say:
Trust in the Lord and do good. Then you will live safely in the land and prosper. Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart's desires. Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust him, and he will help you ... Be still in the presence of the Lord, and wait patiently for him to act.
In these verses, David encourages us to keep our eyes on God, not on people. We are to delight in the Lord. What does it mean to delight in someone? It means to find great joy or pleasure in who the person is, in being with him or her. Most of us delight (most of the time, anyway) in our kids and spouses, but what about the Lord? Do we find our joy in Him? If not, then we need to draw closer to Him. As we get to know Him through His Word, we can't help but take delight in such an awesome God.
Let's be clear, though. Receiving our "heart's desires" does not mean getting everything we want when we want it. It does mean that as we delight in the Lord, the number one desire of our hearts will become a desire to know Him better and to find our soul's pleasure in Him. That's a desire He will surely bring to pass. When it comes to knowing Him, God will not leave us wanting!
David also tells us, "Commit everything you do to the LORD." That means committing our families to Him. It means committing our attitudes to Him. It means entrusting and submitting everything in our lives to His control. Easy to do? Not at all. But it's easier when we're submitting to a God in whom we delight! And as we commit ourselves to Him, David says, He will help us.
We must be patient. In our fast-paced world, we want everything now. But God's work is not necessarily one of speed. In His time, in His way, and in His sovereign wisdom, He will act on our behalf. He will do what He intends to do in our lives-not on our timetable, but on His.
We're an impatient bunch, aren't we? Sometimes it's easy for me to become discouraged when I must discipline my daughters and teach them something I feel they should have already learned. I must be patient as God works in their lives through time and training-trusting that, slowly but surely, He is developing His character in them. He is doing the same in you and me.
I encourage you to read Psalm 37 in its entirety. But for our purposes right now, let's move ahead to verse 23: "The steps of the godly are directed by the Lord. He delights in every detail of their lives."
Stop and think about that for a moment. God delights in every detail of our lives! What are the details of your life? Do they include your relationships with family members? Yes. What about laundry, work, friendships, errands, homework, paying bills? Yes! It's amazing to think that the God of the universe delights in even the smallest details of our daily existence. Nothing is too small for Him!
Which leads us to verse 24: "Though they [His people] stumble, they will not fall, for the Lord holds them by the hand." As God's children, we stumble. We make mistakes, and we don't handle every situation the way we should. But that's no reason for despair. Why? Because God holds us by the hand! Get a visual picture of that in your mind. Just as we reach down and hold our precious children by the hand, helping them take their tiny, often stumbling steps, so God holds us. We are not alone in our role as mothers. God is with us, holding our hands as we hold our children's. We may stumble, but His grip is strong and sure. He will help us.
Excerpted from a positive plan for creating more calm, less stress by KAROL LADD Copyright © 2007 by Karol Ladd. Excerpted by permission.
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