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And as we receive these from his hand we can rest assured that in the life of the Christian there are not two classes of providence, one good and one bad. No, though some may be easy and some hard, all are good because all in some way flow from his good, Fatherly hand and all in some way can be consecrated to his service. For we are not our own, but belong to him in body and in soul, in life and in death, in joy and in sorrow, in the circumstances we would have chosen anyway and the ones we would have avoided at all costs.
While children deal with their own fears and worries, they’re also watching you, taking cues on how they should respond. As parents, we tend to think it’s best to shield our children from our anxiety, and there are times when that’s appropriate. But shielding them and denying the presence of anxiety teaches them to do the same. That’s unhealthy, and it’s unbiblical. The psalmists didn’t bottle things up; they poured everything out. That doesn’t mean you should pour out your soul before your kids each day. But it does mean they should see it’s okay that you deal with fear and anxiety, too, and you do something about it: you turn to your heavenly Father in prayer. You read his word. You walk by faith. You believe. Showing them what to do with anxiety is much healthier than modeling denial.
One Man’s Walk in the Snow Creates a Giant Masterpiece
How, then, can we reorient ourselves when anxiety threatens to overwhelm us? While life is more complex and nuanced than offering easy steps to get from here to there, asking myself three questions has proven helpful.
And, indeed, as we look back at our own lives, we often see evidence of the ways God has worked in us through our hardest times. We see how it was when a loved one was taken from our side that we truly grew closer to the Lord, how it was when our wealth disappeared that we came to treasure God more fully, how it was when our bodies weakened that our reliance upon God grew. We see that God really does purify us through the fire, that he really does strengthen us in our weaknesses, that he really does sanctify us through our sorrows. Though we do not emerge from our trials unscathed, we still emerge from them better and holier and closer to him. Though we wish we did not experience such sorrows, we are thankful to have learned what we have learned and to have grown in the ways we have grown.
Grieving a Childhood Friend
Here’s another article on the topic of grief, but from a different angle. This author writes about losing a friend from childhood, someone who had moved away but gotten back in touch. This is a lovely bit of writing.
Then there is the grief that comes on like a freight train, approaching from far off with increasing dread to wallop you with unexpected fury: the diagnosis and decline that is met with no familiar scripts or cliches, but uncomprehending emptiness. In three months last year I got to taste each of these types of grief, but the one that most unnerved me – that seemed most unnatural and the hardest to explain – was the death of one of those kids who had sat next to me in the bleachers.
There’s always laundry. And dishes. And crumbs on the floor. I feel the constant pressure to do the next chore to keep the house in order. Then my child asks me to read a book. But, the laundry!
This is when senior parents say, “Enjoy your children while you can! The laundry can wait.”
It’s so well-meant. It usually comes from people who dearly love their own now-grown children and miss the sweetness of soft toddler snuggles, the warm feeling of a child pressed against you asking for one more chapter. They want to free young parents from the tyranny of maintaining Insta-perfect homes to enjoy their children. Read the book; the laundry can wait.
Unfortunately, my laundry has already waited, and so have the dishes. If a young parent has expressed distress about the pressures of housekeeping and childcare, they have already let the dishes go. Eventually you’re out of sippy cups and clean underwear.
Stress and overwhelm aren’t unique to parenthood, and neither is dismissive advice. We tell overworked friends, “Just leave work at work.” We tell lonely teens, “It’s just high school; you won’t care in a few years.” Unfortunately, being told “don’t worry” doesn’t solve our problems.
Do Not Worry about Your Laundry
“Enjoy your children,” spoken to a parent who feels overburdened, or “Just leave it at work,” spoken to someone against a deadline, can feel like an added pressure. Not only must you meet your ordinary responsibilities, but you must also have a sense of peace or appreciation about it all!
And yet, Jesus taught his followers, “Do not worry”:
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” (Matthew 6:25)
Although it’s phrased as a command, the tone of this section of the Sermon on the Mount is not a burden laid on a shoulder already heavy with anxiety. Instead, it’s a gracious release. We don’t need to worry about even our basic needs, because “your heavenly Father knows that you need them all” (Matthew 6:32). We are God’s children, adopted in love, redeemed at the dear cost of his Son’s blood. If God provides for the lilies and the birds, we can be assured that he will also care for us, his beloved children.
God provides for his children in many ways. A primary way is through the church body, the hands and feet of Jesus in the world. When we see another member of the body struggling, it’s a call to action.
When explaining the vital connection between faith and works, James highlights the importance of putting action behind our words. “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?” (James 2:15-16). Jesus Christ is the ultimate display of this: He not only met many physical needs during his earthly ministry, but he also put aside his glory and laid down his life to meet our deepest spiritual need, atoning for our sins on the cross. Following his example and empowered by his Spirit, we are also to meet one another’s needs as we are able.
Telling young parents to enjoy their children, without also offering to help with the dishes, or telling a student to ignore hurtful remarks from classmates, without also helping them find a safe community, places the burden back on the suffering person. Instead, we are called to “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).
Please don’t hear me wrong. Telling people to enjoy their children and suggesting healthy work/life boundaries are not bad things to say. Tone and timing go a long way in making advice land well where it’s needed. All I’m saying is, if you’re about to tell a young parent to let the dishes go, maybe be prepared to pick up a dishrag.
But Seriously, Do Not Worry about Your Laundry
But Jesus really did say, “Do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’” or “When shall we fold socks?” (Matthew 6:31). Okay I added that last one.
So if you’re the parent putting off laundry, or the employee under deadline, or the kid dreading school tomorrow, how do you just … not worry about it?
First, take comfort. Your heavenly father knows your needs, and he cares about you (Matthew 6:32).
Second, check your motives. Jesus tells his followers to, instead of worrying, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). Do you want to keep a clean house because you want to feel good about your own ability to do it all? (That’s my hand raised, it’s me.) Or do you want to keep a clean house because God has placed this home and this family in your care, and you want to serve them well?
When our eyes are set on the kingdom of God, our measure of success changes. The cleanliness of the house takes second place to whether my kids see the gospel in me as I love and serve them—which includes providing a safe and comfortable home. Meeting the deadline takes a backseat to doing your best work, not for man but for God (Colossians 3:23). Getting treated badly at school will always feel awful, but it becomes an opportunity to model grace in a setting where people expect cruelty.
Finally, use your resources. God has promised to provide for you! Now, God doesn’t always play by our rules. He may not provide a maid; or an extension; or a comedic series of harmless accidents that leave your bully hanging from the school flagpole by a wedgie, leading to a heartfelt reckoning where enemies become friends.
God has provided a community in his church. All those people who told you to let the dishes go might just be willing to scrub a pot because they know from experience how precious it is to spend time with your kids! They’re only little for a little while, so I’m told.
Asking for help is hard, both logistically and in principle. We live far apart from one another, often siloed in our single-family homes. Our culture prizes independence and personal responsibility; we don’t dig around in other people’s private lives and problems, and we expect the same from others. That’s not God’s model for his body!
Immediately before he laid down his own life for his bride, Jesus washed his disciples’ dirty feet and instructed them to serve others as he did. Asking for help gives others the opportunity to serve like Jesus.
Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.
Anxiety, Waiting and the Coronavirus
It’s hard to have any conversation these days without talking about the Coronavirus (COVID-19). As with everything in our lives, trusting God should make a visible difference in the way we approach this. This pandemic can stir up a lot of anxiety, so I thought it would be helpful to link to this article from Christian counselor Alasdair Groves.
It’s an easy parallel for us to make today, isn’t it? A virus is seeping across the world and has reached our shores, and we don’t know how treacherous it’s going to be. God is calling us to continue forward in love of neighbor and service to his kingdom, but all we can see are public surfaces potentially covered in germs and neighbors who may be walking vectors of disease.
Where’s Your Treasure? Three Questions to Ask Yourself
The truth is we’re all completely obsessed with treasure. We’re actually wired that way. God designed us to be active worshipers, and treasure is simply shorthand for the object of our worship. Since our hearts are always actively worshiping something, they’re not neutral; nor do they accidentally stumble into worship. They choose it. And, as Captain Jack points out, treasure is far more than just material wealth. For this reason, the Sage of Proverbs warns, “Guard your heart with all diligence, for from it springs the issues of life” (Prov. 4:23) Likewise, Jesus warns that “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:21). The question I want you to think about today is, Where is your treasure? To answer, carefully ponder three questions and invite the Holy Spirit to examine your heart.
As we “put off” sin and “put on” righteousness, the church should be the place where this transformation is encouraged and supported by a community of God’s people. If you’re struggling with slander or lust, you don’t just need to be told not to do those things. You need to be surrounded by a community that helps you reimagine what life will look like if you no longer practice those things.
Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.
10 Best Advent Albums of the 2010s
I suspect I’m not alone in having a strong association of Advent and Christmas with music. Just in time for the season, Brett McCracken shares his favorite Advent albums of the last decade. There are links to stream the albums; you might just find yourself a nice soundtrack for the next three weeks.
I’ve been encouraged, for example, that in the last few decades there has been a renaissance of Advent–focused Christmas music: music that is theologically rich and, while still joyful, somewhat more somber and serious than pop Christmas radio. This music helps listeners enter into the Advent story in a way that focuses on spiritual contemplation more than tinsel-drenched merriment.
You Can Be Anxious About Nothing
The command from Paul in Philippians to be “anxious about nothing”—well, it can’t really mean nothing, can it? It sometimes feels like stress and anxiety are simply a part of the human experience. Kim Cash Tate wrestles with this command in an article over at Desiring God.
Alternatively, we tell ourselves that “do not be anxious about anything” is for the spiritually mature saint, a verse to aspire to. And since we’re not there yet, we can dismiss this direct command for a while. Moreover, we’re careful not to burden others with it. If a fellow believer is battling anxious thoughts, we think it insensitive to bring this verse to bear on the situation. Better to show sympathy than to risk sounding trite.
How Can Jesus Be Our Everlasting Father?
Another article here that is Advent-adjacent. David Sunday helps us think about the title “Everlasting Father” for the Messiah in Isaiah 9.
Of all the names attributed to Jesus in Isaiah 9:6, Everlasting Father intrigues me the most because it’s the one I understand the least. How can Jesus the Messiah, the second person of the Godhead, be called Everlasting Father?