Why Disciplining Our Children Means First Disciplining Ourselves (Thoughts on Charlotte Mason).

As we continue to walk slowly into a homeschooling life, I easily see and embrace the beautiful educational philosophies of Charlotte Mason. I wouldn’t say that we will be a strict Charlotte Mason homeschool family, but her ideas about educating children will influence me as I guide the children to a lifelong love of learning within the calm and life-giving atmosphere of home.

Charlotte Mason had a three-pronged view of education. She believes that,

Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.

Two of these I feel I adopt instinctively, like breathing. I love creating a home that induces learning, creativity, and a hunger to know more. And I know the education is more than “school” – it is a wholehearted desire to know God – and His world – and grow towards Christ-like character. If my children are learning math, they’re learning about God because He made math.

But one facet of Charlotte Mason’s approach is a struggle for me: that is, education is a discipline. It is like a wall that I keep running into and struggle to climb over.

Before I look at why it is a struggle for me, first I want to briefly explain what Charlotte Mason understands discipline to be within education.

Education is a Disicpline: All About the Heart & Habits

By Education is a discipline, is meant the discipline of habits formed definitely and thoughtfully, whether habits of mind or body.” Vol. 1, Preface

Charlotte Mason believed that the character of a child was the most important part of their education. It was the parent’s primary responsibility to steadily form in their children habits – both of their hands and of their hearts – that would aid them as they grow into adults.

Some of CM’s formation of habits included:

  • cleanliness
  • courtesy
  • order
  • fortitude
  • generosity
  • gentleness
  • respect
  • obedience
  • imagining
  • observation
  • self-control
  • thanksgiving
  • truthfulness

The ultimate “goal” in the formation of habits in children is the child’s mastery of self: that is, self-control and self-discipline. Sonya Schafer in her e-book, Education Is, says that we (as parents),

…guide them with discipline from without until they can make the transition to discipline themselves from within.” 

Year after year, as we work alongside our children, diligently and with persistence, our children will slowly learn to work within themselves the discipline that leads to a joy of life: freedom. The more a child is in control of their heart and habits, the more freedom in life they will have. It’s one of those divine dichotomies: the more we limit, the more freedom we have.

This seems very straight forward and I believe wholeheartedly in it. But I struggle with this aspect of the Charlotte Mason life among the three-prongs of education. Why?

It All Starts With Me

That’s it, really.

Forming children of character with responsible habits lands primarily at the feet of the mother. It is her burden to carry since the children spend the majority of their time with her. God has given her that task of laying down the rails that will lead to their freedom in later life, and he has equipped the woman with attributes that lend herself to this task.

And this is why it’s so hard: I struggle with self-discipline myself. If I battle to have mastery over my own heart and habits, how can I consistently attend to my own children with joy, persistance, and fortitude?

Because that is what it takes to raise balanced, God-loving, kind, loving, and enjoyable adults – joy of the Lord, in it for the long haul, holding on to truth when it is tough. This is a daunting task and one that I know I ought not to take lightly. Why else did I choose to have children? To make me happy? Or fulfill some selfish desire?

I definitely started motherhood out that way. Not purely in a selfish way, of course. But, as the years begin to go on and the Lord opens the eyes of my heart to the task before me, I see how much deeper motherhood goes.

I see how much more a servant heart is needed.

I see the roots of a submissive heart reach, not just toward my dear husband as his wife, but as a mother coming under the needs of her children.

I see that the discipline of the hearts and habits of my children requires a depth of discipline in myself – who I am and how I behave on a daily basis – and is a level of hard work that I never realised. And I find myself baulking at that, often.

The Hard Work Comes From Conflict

Not only is the responsibility and authenticity of parenting in a transparent and exemplary way hard work, so is the actual forming of my children. The reason why they need help with their hearts and habits is because they are people. And what are people? Sinners.

Mothering is basically a continual battle of the wills. The will of the mother (who knows what is good, what is right, what is God-honouring – however imperfectly and fallen) to the will of the child (who knows only limitedly and spends much energy on feeling and egotistical instinct). And how is that easy?

There is no other way … but a certain strenuousness in the formation of good habits is necessary because every such habit is the result of conflict.” ~ Charlotte Mason, Vol.6, p.102

Strenuousness and conflict. How can I do this???

Labouring and Striving…With Help

This is why my personal verse for motherhood (and which is always at the end of one of my email newsletters) is Colossians 1:29:

We proclaim Him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labour, striving with all His energy working in me.”

And that is the key, isn’t it? This is the only way we can see the responsibility before us as mothers and press on, not running away or giving up that responsibility to someone else. Christ is that key. His power is that key.

Both Christ and I work in tandem as I raise His children: I labour and strive to present these children perfect (or, doing all I can to lead them to Christ where only He saves them and takes over) for Him while He works His life-giving, death-defying, healing and divine power in me.

I cannot do this without Him.

So as I struggle with my own self-discipline in my heart and habits, I can take comfort. He is perfecting the good work He has started in me, and He will finish it. Part of finishing it is the many years He has asked me to mother children, who will battle against me (because I represent the Spirit in their life), and who won’t make it easy.

But nothing on this earth that has any eternal worth or significance will be easy or require little of us. So let us not balk, but press on deeper.

Being Okay With Being Okay (The Freedom That Comes From Self-Forgetfulness).

This post is dedicated to two friends both old and new, Cat and Emmy, who intentionally encouraged me to keep writing when I just want to give up on myself. Thank you for believing in me and reading what I have to say.

I’m slowing climbing out of a period where I made my life all about me. It was the kind of time when things just seemed hard and annoying all the time, but I didn’t realise that the problem was me.

I didn’t realise that the reason why I was –

…so moody,

…so grumpy with the kids,

…and so rebellious in spirit toward my dear husband

 – was because I was so focused on ME.

All I did everyday was grumble – inwardly and outwardly – about lots of different things and how hard everything was.

Mothering. Having a hard-working and busy husband. A house that always needs to be cleaned. A body that just keeps failing. My poor self-discipline. And why didn’t it just get any easier?

Then the Lord started to gently show me the hole I had put myself in.

He used my husband to pull me up in a conversation, pointing out how miserable I was being about things he couldn’t control even though he was doing all he could. (And being so patient with me.)

He showed me in my sense of guilt over how much of a grumpy mother I had become. Not letting the kids jump in puddles because I couldn’t be bothered with the clean-up. My son hiding something he had broken because he didn’t want Mummy to get angry. (Ouch.)

He also showed me in a book I’m reading how the high the standards I set myself cause me to stumble and not rest in the complete, all-sufficient grace of Jesus. And how, when I am not resting in His grace for myself, I’m not letting other people rest in it either. So, more grumps because you know, we’re all sinners and always let each other down.

And so on, and so on.

At one point late last week, with yucky, argumentative thoughts battling it out in my mind and my spirit raging with unpleasantness, I asked God, “What is wrong with me? Please, help me!”

***

And then I remembered how to get out of this mess. I remembered that no-one else had got me into it, and no-one else would get me out of it. This was my responsibility, my problem. Not my husband’s. And certainly not my children who, remember Sarah, are children – and not fully life-trained adults (so they do annoying things, like trudging dog poo into the house without realising).

The were only two ways out of the miserable and self-centred pit of a hole I had got myself into.

First, talk myself out of it.

Talking to yourself isn’t just for crazy people, you know. Or, perhaps I am crazy.

That being said, telling yourself the truth does wonders. And I don’t mean, just any “truth” like the world tells us is true. I’m not saying that I would say glib things to myself like, “You’re worth it!” or “You deserve happiness!”

No. This is the Truth I preach to myself:

I’m being a self-centred sinner and treating my family horribly. But Christ died for me. My sin is nailed to the Cross. I have died to sin and it no longer has a hold on me. I don’t have to follow these woe-is-me feelings. Love my family more than myself through the strength Jesus gives me in His Spirit.

What a beautiful and precious gift we have in the Gospel. And preaching the Gospel to myself – that is, the truth of the Cross and Scripture – breaks the bondage of sin and sets me free.

And friends, it works.

Not always immediately. Sometimes, depending how bad we are in the trenches of our minds, it can take some battling. But light breaks through the dawn, and we get there. We start moving beyond ourselves to truly loving others before ourselves. 

Second, forget about myself.

As I’m walking about like a crazy woman talking to myself, I am also simultaneously practicing what Timothy Keller calls “the freedom of self-forgetfulness”. It seems opposing to be talking to myself whilst trying to forget about myself – but it’s not. Not really.

You see, the more I focus on Jesus and doing what He’s commanded me to do –

loving Him

and loving others

 – the less I will be so wrapped up in myself. And it is so good to forget about myself. Following Jesus is all about forgetting about what I am feeling, what I think I need, what I think are my “rights”, what I believe will make me happier than what I am right now.

The less I entangle myself within myself, and instead concern myself more and more with those God has called me to love, the more joyous and selfless and delighted and peaceful and content I will be.

Even though I stumble in sin everyday – which includes at the top of the list, being obsessed with my own sins and failures – preaching the Gospel of Truth to myself will help me rest in that precious grace of Jesus. As Tullian Tchividjian says in the book God is using to  change me, One Way Love,

The Gospel, in other words, liberates us to be okay with not being okay. We can stop pretending that we are anyone but who we actually are. Which means we can admit our weaknesses to ourselves without feeling as if the flesh is being ripped off our bones. We can take off our masks and explore our self-justifying compulsions from a distance.”

So, if you are a sinner like me and have been so particularly lovely to be around recently, seek forgiveness from the Lord and your loved ones. That’s the next step to find freedom from yourself. Then, start and keep on preaching the truths of the Bible to yourself. Slowly, you’ll find yourself being and feeling more loving, and in doing so, be less entangled with yourself. Finally, rest in the grace offered in the Cross that it’s okay to just be okay.

And keep repeating the cycle.

Because, as you know, we’re not going to get any better than just being okay until the other side of Heaven. And that’s okay. Because we have Jesus and He made us perfect.

The One Job I Did Today That Blessed My Husband

As his wife and comrade, caring for my husband around the house is what I do everyday. And I love it. It is the job I have chosen as my career – aside from partnering with him in raising our children – and I wouldn’t want to be working for/under anyone else. It’s a blessing and a privilege.

I’m not perfect at it. Tim and I both know that housekeeping has never come naturally to me, especially since I was never taught such life basics growing up. At almost ten years of marriage, I’m still a work-in-progress.

There is one job that I have never enjoyed, however. In our early years of marriage, when Tim worked in an office, it felt like the bane of my existence. And I had to do it twice a week. It always took forever and I was terrible at it.

What was that job?

Ironing.

*Shudder*

Thankfully, I am now a better iron-woman…the two times I generally do it every year.

Friends, about six years ago, I took a stand and I stopped ironing. Unless I really, really, really had to. And my version of had to was different to my husband’s version. Thus, on several occasions – including leading church services – my poor, dear, faithful, long-suffering husband would stand up the front of several hundred people in a quite crinkled shirt.

Yes, it may have been checked and therefore, in my defensive mind, you could hardly see that it wasn’t ironed. But facts are the facts, I didn’t iron a shirt for him.

I believe the few times I have ironed shirts in the last few years have been because of weddings. And the last wedding Tim went to was to sing at in…2012??

Yeah…

But God has been working on me, people. And, as always, it’s never about the ironing. In many ways,God couldn’t care less that Tim wears an un-ironed shirt to church when he’s leading.

But God cares very, very much about the heart of the un-ironed man’s wife.

You see, I blamed my hating ironing in those early days from lack of experience…or from the frequency of having to iron…and the fact that it’s boring! But, in all honesty, my stand against ironing really was my heart saying this: I don’t want to do this for you. If you aren’t going to iron your shirts when I don’t, then don’t wear any. I’m not your slave!

It fills me with shame when I think of the hidden thoughts of my heart were laid so bare before the Lord. And it fills me with shame when I think of how I have spent so many years with that attitude towards the man that I love.

The world may tell me that I did the right thing. I stood up for myself, I didn’t let myself “come under” my husband, I fought for my rights. But what balloney. All I was doing was being selfish, hard-hearted, and rebellious.

Remember, it’s not about the ironing. This could have been about making his lunches, or folding his socks, or picking up his dirty laundry from the bathroom. It could have been about buying a birthday present for him! What matters is that my heart has not pursued genuine love in this matter. It has tried to love it’s own desires.

So if you have taken a stand too, dear sister, forget about what you have stopped doing or that which you resent. Look at your heart. Why are you rebelling?  What is making you so huffy-puffy? Is what you’re doing true love or is it more about you?

“Love one another deeply, from the heart [always unselfishly seeking the best for one another].” 1 Peter 1:22

The Discipline of Giving Myself Grace.

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I’m not sure about you, but for me, grace is one of the last things I give myself.

Towards other people, I often encourage grace: Don’t kill yourself over this. Remember this is a season. Be kind to yourself, you’re going through a really hard time. 

In some ways, it’s easy. I see the whole picture, the wide lens on their situation and life. I’m not struggling to keep my head above the waves. I’m not in the hole with them, whatever it may be – suffering, doubt, insecurity, difficult circumstances. To my friends in these times, I believe I can see them the way God sees them: totally and absolutely loved, no matter how terrible the day, no matter how mucked things up are – they are resting in His love, His care, and His grace.

But can I see myself in this restful position of God’s grace? Ha, nope.

In me, I imagine how God expects more of me. Not because I’m better. Far from it. Rather, there is a very high standard expected of me – and I’m not making it. Though I can give others grace {most of the time, I’m a sinner]} when they don’t reach the standards they give themselves, I really struggle to allow myself the margin of failure.

I’ve often thought this was perfectionism. You know, that I must have perfection or nothing. But now, I don’t think this is true at all. As Christians, we are called to be holy as God is holy {1 Peter 1:16}. That is, we’re to be perfect.

Now, of course, we can’t be. We need Christ’s perfect holiness as our covering, changing us from the inside out. Yet, we are still called to pursue godliness, holiness, and right living.

Why?

Because of the grace that has been given to us. Because of grace, we are to be holy. Because of grace, we are to live godly lives. Because of grace, we are to be servants of Christ. All because of the unmerited favour lavishly poured out on us in Christ, through the Spirit, because of God’s love. It is something to drink in, fill up our souls with, and be poured out as living sacrifices in thankful worship.

But, most of the time, I can’t accept this grace for myself. I don’t deserve it. I need to work for this grace. I need to be enough to be able to have it.

That doesn’t make sense, does it? I try and earn grace – unmerited favour – by striving for it. That’s ridiculous and goes against the very Gospel that saved me. But it’s the truth about me. And I know it’s the truth for many women.

There is something in most people that causes us to strive. It causes us to believe there is no-one else as bad as me, or as worthless as me, or as

disgusting

perverted

useless

weird.

And we see this grace offered to us and we can’t believe it. We grab at it because our very lives and souls depend on it. We just need this grace.

But even when we have become God’s child, and we’re clean and free and righteous in His sight, all those old doubts come creeping back in. We start to think we need to be on that “good works treadmill” in order to continue to receive the grace that was given to us.

Friends, that grace hasn’t gone away. It is not taken from us because we slept in and didn’t pray – again, or that we gossiped – again, or that we slept with an old boyfriend – again. God doesn’t watch us and our pathetic attempts at rescuing ourselves and says, “Right, she’s mucked up again. I’m going to hang on to that grace again until she gets her act together”.

I know this is how we feel. I know this is the weight you feel – because I feel it too. By golly, I never feel enough. It is almost a constant conversation going on in my mind.

I’m not strong enough.

I can’t do as many things as she does.

I’m not as pretty.

Or as thin.

Or as accomplished.

What it comes down to is that I need to discipline myself to give myself grace, constantly. Not just on the bad days when I think I am no different to that wretched person the moment before she was saved. But I need to discipline myself on the good days when I have it all “together” – whatever that means.

Grace is a gift. It is there once given and is never taken away.

But I need to discipline myself to remember that and actively speak that truth to myself when I’m feeling like the world’s worst person. And you need to as well. Remember that we are under grace, which produces hope and mercy. It is living a life under the law that produces fear and wrath.

When you’re feeling weighted down, ask yourself, “Am I full of hope and mercy? Or am I feeling fear and wrath?” You’ll know which one, and then you need to speak truth to those untrustworthy feelings.

A beautiful book on grace is Transforming Grace: Living Confidently in God’s Unfailing Love by Jerry Bridges.

How To Know If You’re Parenting From Fear

I don’t often catch on straight away. It can take a few weeks for me to realise what’s going on.

What is going on?

Signs You’re Parenting From Fear

  • I start to get overwhelmed.
  • Instead of finding joy in my days, I feel frustrated and a plaguing feeling of lack.
  • I find the children difficult, even if they’re not doing anything abnormal.
  • All I want to do is be alone.
  • I feel totally insecure as a mother and doubt all the choices I’m making.
  • I start worrying about all the details of my children’s lives: how much TV they’re watching or if they have had too much sugar.
  • I start to feel guilty every time I say “No” to them, even if I am busy doing something needful for the entire family.
  • And it just keeps going downhill from there.

Thankfully, every time this happens for me {perhaps, every six months or so}, God mercifully pulls me up and – through His Word, or conversations, or a book I’m reading – He shows me the pit that I have fallen into – again.

The pit I fall into is this: I start to parent from a place of fear and not of peace.

Anyone else like me? 😉

Not From God

I never really know how it begins. Hormones? A hard parenting week? An article that sparks doubt? I’m very rarely sure but this I know is true: parenting from such a place is not from God. He is like a Shepherd with His sheep:

He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.” Isaiah 40:11

Isn’t that so beautiful? Our God is a tender God and if you are worried, fretting, and making decisions from a frightened heart, it is not from Him.

When I am in that place, I don’t believe in myself. All the decisions that my husband and I have made about how to raise our children – our values, how we teach, our plans, how we discipline – it all comes into doubt.

In that pit, as I go about my days with them, almost every single thing I do with them comes with an inward, questioning doubt: Is that really the right thing to do? Did God really say that children need this kind of discipline? What happens if this moment scars your child for life? What if you screw up your kids?

Where Fear Comes From

Do you know who that is? That’s right, the enemy. He always makes those who love the Lord doubt that they are on the right path. And as soon as I listen to him instead of the One who loves and saved me, life at home just starts going downhill…

Bad behaviour.

Broken habits.

Chaotic days.

Lots of tears from us all.

Except my husband, nothing sways his beliefs! God bless him 🙂

And then, a word will come – from the Bible, a friend, a mentor, a book, a sermon – and it’s like the veil has fallen from my eyes: I remember what I actually believe and who I have been listening too. Suddenly, I believe in myself again. I start mothering like I love mothering: intentional, wholehearted, with joy. And you know what? Everything goes back to normal. Kids are happy, mama’s happy, and hubby’s happy – still!

Our days are not as difficult anymore.

So how can we avoid this pitfall in our wholehearted mothering journey?

Parenting From Peace

Stay in the Word. Know what paths God has laid out for parents and how to raise these kids of His {Proverbs is excellent}. Hide that in your heart. Talk with your husband about how you’ve been feeling, attack any lies with truth. Pray together, pray by yourself on your knees. Seek God’s forgiveness – because you have doubted Him. Get back up and get back to being what you are best – an intentional, devoted mother.

Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with every good thing to do His will. And may He accomplish in us what is pleasing in His sight through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” Hebrews 13:20-21

 

Pressing Deeper Into Motherhood {How Having No Internet Revealed Closed Places of My Heart}.

In my eight weeks without the internet, I really did some big changes. I had no idea that our time away from home while it was repaired would cause such a work in my heart. I certainly didn’t go to the temporary house thinking, “Yes! No internet! I’m going to love it!” I went with an itchy feeling, like I was going to miss out on a whole lot of stuff {though what stuff, I don’t know}. But now, on the other side, I am so thankful for the challenge it was.

There are so many things that God showed me as the weeks went on about my relationship with the internet, particularly blogging and Instagram. I’m certainly not a prolific blogger or photo-taker, but that doesn’t mean things were right on the inside of me. The time being internet-free showed me some pride issues and assumptions about my opinions and how the world really needed to hear what I had to say {because I’m, like, so right on everything}. It was – and is – still humbling.

But the biggest change in me through that time was my perception on motherhood and my work ethic around the home. I don’t think that I would be exaggerating when I say that God has made some life-changing surgery on my heart.

As the days and weeks went on with no distraction or pull of the internet, I found myself being fully present in my days. Seemingly little changes – like sitting with the kids at breakfast instead of on the couch checking emails – became big habit changes, and heart changes. With none of our kid-friendly things around the house that they would normally play with on their own, I was forced to do lots of things with the kids.

That sounds rather horrible, doesn’t it? Being forced to play with my children. But that’s the point God was making with me, I think. He showed me how easily it was for me to be pulled into the internet/blogging world and see my children as a distraction. He showed me how hungry my heart got for me and my needs the more I spent doing those things.

By playing loads of puzzles over and over again, and reading lots of books, and painting, and doing big walks together and – quite simply – spending all our time together God showed me how much more I could be pressing into motherhood than I had been.

It’s not that I haven’t been an {imperfect} intentional mother. I am fiercely devoted to motherhood and giving my children the best of me. And I’m not saying that God’s telling me I can’t have down time or creative outlets or anything like that. It’s more like God showed me that there is a deeper level of motherhood that He’s asking me to grow into.

Earlier this year I re-read Sally Clarkson’s The Mission of Motherhood. Reading that again as well as Susan Schaeffer Macauley’s For the Children’s Sake brought me to a place where I had to ask myself, “Am I willing to give even more? Am I able to offer up what God is asking of me?”

Two of my favourite books on motherhood.

In Clarkson’s book, in a section about discipling and teaching our children, she gave the example of Jesus. He is our ultimate example in all things, especially motherhood. And how did He spend His time with His disciples? He was with them all the time. How did they learn from Him? By living and being with Him all the time.

Jesus did not allow any distraction to take Him away from all that God had asked Him to do. Despite the temptation, Jesus actively chose whole-hearted life of ministry with His disciples so they might serve the people He had come to save. Is this not the same for me and the little people God has asked me to raise up in the way they should go? I can see how, since becoming a mother, little by little, the Lord has slowly being prying open my closed fists and bringing down the walls of my heart that I’ve used to prevent myself from giving up all of me.

God also showed me how much more capable I am of caring for our home than I have allowed myself to be before. Not only am I capable but, in a study of Proverbs 31, I saw how in the original language God has called wives to be strong and warrior-like in their task of managing their homes.

Not only did I not have the internet but I didn’t have a dishwasher. I was reminded again of how simply we have been called to live. All the gadgets that are supposed to free our time up have actually made our lives more complicated {by raising the standard of cleanliness and by allowing that time to be always filled up with activities and stuff}. I was amazed at how much more efficient I was without those two “hindrances” in my life. I set up better routines and found that I gained so much satisfaction at the end of the day when I had worked hard with a full and honest heart. I didn’t have the guilt pressing down on me about how I had spent my time that day.

These challenges may not be challenges to you. You may already be fully pressed in towards your children and working hard around the home. But if you aren’t, I want to come alongside you and encourage you – as God has so gently and firmly encouraged me – to evaluate how you are spending your days as a wife, mother, and homemaker.

  • Is the internet {or, something else, fill in the gap} causing you to see your family as a distraction?
  • Are you easily annoyed or resentful when your children require a hug, or a correction, or a time of play when you’re involved in that particular activity?
  • Is there a place in your heart that you have closed off to the Lord? Are you, in keeping it closed, saying to the Lord, “Yes, Lord, I give you my life – but please let me keep this part all to myself?” Oh yes, I have.

If you are then, just like me, go to your Father in Heaven. Seek His wisdom and His care. Repent if need be and start working on pruning those things out of your life.

As you can see, I have the internet now {and a dishwasher again!}, so they are still part of my life now that we are back in our own home. I have been weak and allowed myself to get sucked back in. But, oh, I so want something different for my life – and God has knocked on that closed door so strongly that I cannot shut myself to Him. So I pick myself up when I’ve failed, cry out to the Lord for strength, and keep going.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us throw off every encumbrance, and sin which so easily entangles, and let us run with endurance the race set before us.” Hebrews 12:1

Can you see that? It is not just sin that weighs us down and prevents us from living this life for Christ – there are also encumbrances. If you love the Lord deeply, you will look at your own heart and life and know what sins and encumbrances are weighing you down from loving your God and your family well.

As George MacDonald said in his novel A Quiet Neighbourhood,

“I was planning to preach about the cloud of witnesses and explain this did not mean persons looking at our behaviour – as if any addition could be made to the awfulness of the fact that they eye of God was upon us – but witnesses to the truth, people who did what God wanted them to do, come of it what might, whether a crown or a rack, scoffs or applause.”

What truth is God calling you to press in deeper to? What does it require of you? And are you willing to obey, no matter the cost or “come of it what might”? Seek Him and He will show you the way. Not only that, I can guarantee from my own life, He will go with you and give you His strength.

For the Overwhelmed, Exhausted Wife & Mother

I wrote this on Instagram the other day:

I am so tired. This full-time motherhood, investing in future generations, character building, loving, feeding, nurturing thing is just exhausting. I never knew my dream job would take so much of me. It is relentless. I desperately need encouragement every single day.”

It’s not just that I’m physically tired – and I am that, definitely. There’s the lack of sleep, post-Christmas deflation, a week single-parenting while my husband was away, the cares and sorrows of others on my heart… All on top of the endless, relentless job that is full-time, intentional motherhood.

It is shattering in every sense of the word.

When I first became a mother and was absolutely dumbstruck by the responsibility and work it required of me, my beautiful mother-in-law told me, “I remember – after my second child sixteen-months after the first, my husband away in the navy, hanging out another line of clean nappies –  thinking that I would likely have another twenty years of this – and I wept.”

When I tentatively lift my eyes to the unseen future, exhausted to the bone, and know there are many years to come of what has already taken place – broken sleep, sickness, tantrums, endless character training, no time to breathe, a house to be tidied and cleaned continuously, loudness, messes, broken furniture and toys, scrapes, arguing back, impatience rising, inadequacy – it is enough to make a grown woman weep. And many women have.

This motherhood thing is not for the faint-hearted.

And, actually, it isn’t just motherhood.

It’s cultivating a loving and devoted marriage, making sure my husband gets my firsts {under God}.

It’s maintaining a house, accepting that it’ll never be perfect, and making it a home.

It’s making sure I have adequate rest, disciplining myself to have time in the Word and with the Lord, getting out to exercise, nurturing what makes me me {that is, hobbies}.

It’s being a present and supportive friend. It’s remembering I have parents and a brother to pray for and be there for. It’s being an active, serving, participating member of the local Body.

So let me re-phrase the one-liner from above:

This Christian life thing is not for the faint-hearted.

And to cure the pressure, burdens, and exhaustion that comes from throwing everything into the genuine things that the Lord gives us {because, let’s be honest, not everything we commit ourselves to is from God but, rather, us over-doing ourselves}, we tend to come up with band-aid-type solutions.

Simplifying our lives {ie. minimilism}.

Planning each day to a minute {ie. planner perfectionism}.

Creating more breathing space {ie. putting kids in preschool}.

Seeking balance {ie. saying ‘no’ to more things}.

Cutting back the noise {ie. coming off Facebook}.

None of these things are wrong. I have done them all {and retracted on some}. Each and every one of them has a certain appeal and value and usefulness. Simplifying our homes does make life easier. Having kids in preschool does give you more time to relax. Coming off Facebook certainly cuts out a lot of rubbish and noise that wastes time.

But even doing all these things, are we less exhausted? As each day of our life for Christ begins, is doing any of these things creating the peace within we so desperately need?

I desperately need peace. I need an anchored joy tethering me in the midst of noise, errands, squabbles, endless dust and lawns to be mowed. But I seek solutions and I don’t find peace. Only self-guilt. Or regret. Or a sense that, no matter how hard I try, I’m never going to do enough to be at peace with all the chaos.

As I was processing this post in the midst of processing my worn-out feelings {“I just want five minutes to myself, please, with no whining, thank you!”}, a thought entered my mind that brought genuine relief to my weary soul.

Rest.

It was like His Spirit whispering, “You’re not resting in Me.” 

And it’s true. I’m a complete Martha. I’m doing all the doings and not resting, where Mary is, at Jesus’ feet. Do you remember what Jesus said about Mary to her sister?

“Few things are needed — or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:42

Jesus wasn’t rebuking Martha for working hard at her responsibilities. And when I say that we need to be resting in the midst of motherhood or marriage or homemaking orhomeschooling etc. I’m not advocating taking up being lazy. Jesus wasn’t asking Martha to give up her work to be lazy. He was asking her to rest in Him in the midst of it all. Jesus was asking Martha to let Him be her anchor. He was asking her to give up her soul-striving so that she might find soul-rest in Him. 

It is possible to be a crazy busy wife and mother and be peaceful.

I can have emotional kids at my feet, dishes undone, a husband shattered, a dog needing walking, weeds to be pulled, walls to be wiped – and be at rest. These things don’t need to stress me out. My kids don’t need to emotionally drain me if I’m resting at Christ’s feet. But if I’m striving to be perfect and complete it all like a champion, every single thing is going to overwhelm me and I will be a miserable woman.

And I have been, really.

I’m needing to learn a big lesson. And it’s a lesson I’m always learning: grace. I am completely awash with grace through the Cross, but I need to accept it. I need to see that embracing that grace upon grace is not a weakness, but a glory. 

I know that I’m going to start striving again. It’s a compulsion. Most of the time I don’t even know that I’m doing it. But, when I feel the pressure rising and I am finding motherhood a drag, it’s a clear indicator that I have let go of free grace again and taken up trying to earn it.

But Jesus has said that our striving is not needed. Only one thing is needed: resting at His feet.

Have you been at rest in the midst of it all? Or have you been striving, pushing away grace like it’s a sign of weakness?

How I Broke My Brain.

Yes, you read right, I broke my brain.

I had a pretty wonderful and settled childhood. We moved to the country, lived by the sea, played in the hills all day. I remember thinking as a young teen how lucky I was, and I couldn’t imagine a future where our family wasn’t together.

And then, at fifteen, my parents broke up in pretty unusual, and very painful, circumstances. My life took a dramatic turn, and I had to learn how to cope with all that had happened, all that was going on inside me, trying to sort out my emotionally dysfunctional family, and dealing with being a teenager.

I didn’t know it at the time but, in doing all of the above {that is, coping with what life had thrown me}, I broke my brain.

How I Broke My Brain.

Yeah, apparently you can do that. Break your own brain. Who knew?

I only found out yesterday, actually. Remember how I wrote how I had gone off my anti-depressants? Well, I’m back on them again. As much as I want to feel like a failure about that, I’m not going to. Because, actually, this anxiety disorder isn’t something I can “fix”. My brain is a bit broken and, no matter how much I try my best and work hard to be my best, at the end of the day, I’m a bit sick and need medicine.

Anyway, how did I break my brain?

In part, it’s genetics. And that is something you definitely can’t do much about. The other bits are personality and family. {It’s the whole born vs. raised thing, which really, isn’t either, it’s both.}

When my family world fell a part, I had to deal with a lot of revelations, burdens of other people’s hurt and sin. I had to cope with living in different places, I always had a suitcase. I had to cope with my own trauma and emotional pain. I made bad choices as a young woman – as a way of taking control of my own life – but it made it all so much worse.

I kept everything inside. Some things I pushed down, deep down – and kept doing that even when those thoughts/feelings/memories kept rising up. I was faced with repulsion and a side of human nature I had not known before. I tried to think about it and process it all.

Somewhere, in those few years, something happened. All the pressure, all the pain, all the intensity of emotion must have broken some neurons or brain “switches”, because the chemical make-up of my brain changed. I did not know it at the time but, instead of talking to a counselor or someone I could trust, all that internalising damaged me.

I was very unstable. There was not a rational thought in my mind. If there was one amongst the crowd of thoughts that were constantly going through my mind like factory-line, it was drowned out by the louder voices of fear, condemnation, lies, pain.

I was emotional all the time. I would cry or feel like something terrible was going to happen even if nothing indicated that it was. I expected bad things to happen to me, like it was my due. And despite being saved at nineteen and God helping me get my life on track, I was a mess.

By God’s grace, He sent me my husband who came from a family with strong, solid theological roots. For the first time, the Bible made sense to me. Truth started pouring into my broken self and God started freeing me from certain ways of thinking and feeling. In the almost nine years we have been married, I am a far cry from what I used to be. Having a loving husband has healed me. Growing in my faith and knowledge of the Bible has healed me. In many ways, becoming a mother has been the making of me.

But my brain is still broken. And, in all likelihood, will always be.

I am not depressed. Anxiety gets lumped into depression, but can be quite different from it. As my doctor told me yesterday,

“Some people get depressed so bad they get into this hole that is hard to get out of. You, on the other hand, are a little bit bad all the time. And you need help.”

When I came off my medication, I was great. I had felt normal for three years, and felt it was time. But I’d forgotten that this broken brain of mine is not something I can make better by shear force of will. I would love to make myself better. The perfectionist side of me feels like a failure for not being able to “pull my socks up”, as my mother-in-law would say.

But the truth is, this anxiety is part of me. One day, when life is less hectic and busy and sleepless {yep, we still have those times}, I may be able to do it through cognitive therapy. But right now, that is so much effort. And just another thing I have to work on in my list of all the things to do. So I’m back on my pills, and I am accepting that in God’s grace.

And to my readers who have broken brains, too: We’re okay. We’re not nutters, even if there are periods of time when it feels like a crazy person is living in our brains. That’s just wiring gone a bit haywire. It feels real, the fear is overwhelming – but it is not Truth. The Truth is you are loved, cared for, held in the hands of an Almighty Father who, in His wisdom and mercy, enabled medicines to be made that can help us. So don’t be afraid to seek that help. You’re not a failure. It is wisdom. It’s wisdom to get help so that you can wake up one morning and think, “Oh yeah. This is what it feels like to be me. Life is good.”

For more on my journey with mental illness, read this series.

 

If the Husband is the Head, What is the Wife?

Headship. Submission. That’s what I’m wanting to talk about today. But not to you, to me.

Huh?

What I mean is that, if I were talking to myself, I would know that I have read, understood, accepted, and am trying to live out the Biblical design for men and women in marriage: of the husband being the leader of the family, and of the wife being his helper and submitting to his leadership. This way I can get straight into what has been on my heart and mind, and I don’t have to do all the preamble of theology etc.

So, you’re me, got it? 🙂

Right. Let’s do this!

Headship and Submission

If I’m being honest, in this year of 2016 I have found it really hard to submit to my dear husband. There is so much behind that struggle which I won’t go into, and it’s been a long time coming, but I really feel like this year God has been asking me this question:

“You tell me that you agree in My design for marriage, but do you really believe it is good and My best for you?” 

Over and over this year, as I have been faced with opportunities to submit and come under my husband’s leadership and have struggled – sometimes with an ugly, selfish fierceness – God has been gently, but persistently, knocking on the door of my heart. I feel like He’s been asking me again and again,

Where is your joy?

Don’t you trust Me?

Don’t you know, from my Word and your history, that I am trustworthy and I always do what is best and good?”

When I see it put that way, my heart cries, “Yes! I know You are good! I know that all Your ways are THE BEST. I don’t doubt it! I want and need Your Truth in my life!” So I look at myself and I know that it isn’t God’s Word and His laws that are doing me harm or making submission hard —

It’s me.

I am the problem. Always. As Dave Harvey says in When Sinners Say I Do {best marriage book ever, by the way},

There are no marriage issues. There are only sin issues.

Sin. The obvious, but always elusive, culprit. We are apparently good friends. Especially when it comes to me trying to truly love God, and truly love my husband, a friend who gets this spirit-and-flesh-battle we’re always in.

A big thing my flesh and spirit have been fighting over this year is the feeling of What About Me? {I know, it’s always about me.} If it’s true – which it really is, Sarah, so deal with it – that God lovingly crafted men to be the leaders of their family units, what position did He lovingly craft women to have?

We are helpers. We accept and respect our husband’s leadership {ie. submit}. Yes, Truth.

But what does that all really mean?

As the head of the family, all responsibility is laid on the shoulders of our husbands. On Judgement Day, the state of our family will be laid at his feet before the Lord in all His glory {Ephesians 5:25-27}. Will he have led well? Imperfectly, yes, but still, will he have led well?

And when I face the Lord, thankfully, that weighty responsibility will not be at my feet. But my responses will be. How joyful was I as his helper? How caring was I in showing my respect of him? How honouring was I in sharing my opinions and, subsequently, how gracious was I in submission when our opinions differed?

This is big stuff that I have been grappling with. And, as I have mulled over it more and more, and faced with it practically again and again, I realise it all comes down to this:

How is my heart?… Because I am the heart.

If my husband is the head of our family, then I am the heart. We all come under his care, we are all cared for by me.

This is what Sally Clarkson says in The Mission of Motherhood:

I realized again that the ultimate key to providing a nurturing environment in my home is me…In the end, though, what my children and husband need most from me is not a perfect home or perfect training or a perfectly spiritual role model or a wife without faults – but a mother and wife who is committed to doing what it takes to love them and make a home for them.

They need to know that they are cherished by someone who is a champion for their cause, a cheerleader for their lives – someone they can always count on in the light and dark times of life.

Accepting the responsibility of being the overseer of my domain with all of the heart and energy and faith I can muster is what nurtures my family best and provides my children with the sense of security and stability they need. My attitude is ultimately what makes our house a peaceful haven.

What Sally is saying is that if mama ain’t happy, then no-one is happy in the family. We are the emotional thermometer of our homes. Our attitude sets the tone. That’s a big responsibility. It may not be the burden our husbands bear, but it is a hard one. Basically it means that we have to work hard to keep our joy, keep our peace, keep our hearts aright before the Lord all the time.

This doesn’t mean we can’t have bad days. Of course we can! But, for the most part, if we want our family to be happy, healthy, joyful, and content then it is our work in our own hearts that matters, and we need to be disciplined and persistent in cultivating a relationship with the Lord. We can only be the heart of our homes by the grace of God.

I don’t know about you, but I would rather have this job than my husband’s. That doesn’t mean I don’t struggle with wanting to be in control and having things my own way. I’m a daughter of Eve, after all. But, when I consider it, I would rather be the beating heart of our lives than the working head. This suits me perfectly because I am a woman. I am a nurturer.

I am so grateful the Lord has worked this all out in His original design, and I am grateful for all the struggles I have had this year to help grow me and make me more into the woman – and the wife and mother – the Lord would have me be.

What do you think about being the heart of your home? How do you keep your heart joyful, at peace, and content so that your family thrives? What evidences of God’s grace can you see in your struggles and will to follow Him?

Why We Still Want to Be Wives And Mothers {And Keep House}

Each week when I link my posts up around the web, the majority of writing authored by Christian women is about three things:

  • marriage and being wives
  • motherhood
  • home

Within these three popular topics, women are writing about:

  • the purpose of marriage,
  • how to get through struggles in marriage,
  • how to love our husbands well,
  • how to love our children well,
  • how to raise them up in a godly way,
  • how to educate them,
  • how to make our homes beautiful for our families,
  • how to keep them organised,
  • how to make yummy meals.

As a Christian, I find this both heartening and astonishing. For a society drenched in post third-wave feminism {see description here}, who knew that women still want to be home, raising littles, cooking delicious meals from scratch, and greeting their husband at the door every night? It almost feels a little scandalous writing such a sentence {since, from childhood, I have been encouraged to see the image of a wife above as a derision to the empowered, free modern woman}.

Why We Still Want to Be Wives & Mothers {and Keep House}

The Changing Landscape

With everything that has happened to the traditional role of womanhood in the last sixty/seventy years and all the “glass ceilings” that have been smashed for women in the workforce, it truly is amazing that so many women are still choosing that which is “less”. It seems to me {and I am not saying this with research up my sleeve, just observation} that more and more women are marrying younger, having children younger {and more of them}, and are staying home longer to raise them.

Many of the daughters of feminist mothers are turning their backs on the teaching they have received. See articles here, here, and here.

It seems that the desire and yearning to love, to be loved, and to pour ourselves out for our family is still within us as women. It seems it cannot be stamped out of us.

Germaine Greer, the “head” of the feminism movement {yes, the irony is not lost on me there}, wrote in her 1970’s book The Female Eunuch, that women should see family life and anything to do with childbearing as a handicap and an illness. For someone who completely abhorred her natural feminine nature, and who spent her entire life degrading marriage and housewives and raising children, in the end, she realised her mistake. She wrote,

Ruby lit up my life in a way that nobody, no lover, has ever done. I was not prepared for the incandescent sensuousness of this small child, the generosity of her innocent love. {source}

From the little I know of Germaine Greer, the overwhelming sense I get from her life is one of sadness and a great life’s effort to deny what makes her a woman. We can have as many lovers as Greer thinks is good for us, we can be a president of a corporation, we have the social mobility, and the time to spend as we like – but if we are not nurturing in some form or another, we are lacking as women. Ms.Greer discovered {or admitted} that the only thing that can meet the internal drive for love and intimacy and joy is in the pouring out of self in the nurturing of another.

What They Don’t Get

And for those who truly seek a life of loving God and His ways, we get this. Living a selfless life doesn’t come naturally because of our sinful selves, but when we’re given new lives in Christ, we begin to see that true fulfillment in life comes not from taking and taking, but from giving and giving. We find, by losing; we live, by dying.

We understand this because our Saviour demonstrated it so fully for us. Jesus, who deserves every single heart’s full devotion and obedience, came “not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” {Matt. 20:28}. The man who poured out everything of Himself commands that you and I “deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” {16:24}.

Why We Still Want to Be Wives & Mothers {and Keep House}

This is where people lose their way. This is where the Ms.Greer’s of this world and movements like feminism break down and fail to deliver what they promise. A life of me, me, me, me will give you nothing but regret. It is actually the denial of our lives and living for others – for Christ – that true life – abundant, fulfilling, freeing – can be had.

Women like Germaine Greer are frightened of limitations. They preach freedom of choice … yet, they don’t seem to realise {until it’s too late} that their choices of freedom come with limitations. If you want a childless life, you will get one. If you want many lovers, you won’t get that one, true, committed companion. It’s simple mathematics, really.

Elisabeth Elliot once said,

The special gift and ability of each creature defines it’s special limitations. And as the bird easily comes to terms with the necessity of bearing wings when it finds that it is, in fact, the wings that bear the bird – up, away from the world, into the sky, into freedom – so the woman who accepts her gifts, her special calling – wings, in fact, which bear her up into perfect freedom, into the will of God. {p.31-32, Let Me Be a Woman}

As a woman, I am limited. I must accept this. {And really, the world over accepts this – why the separate races for men and women in the Olympics?} Men and women are made differently for different blessings, different challenges, different limitations, different freedoms.

If I try and run away from this biological fact and attempt to manipulate my biology into something it isn’t {and can never have}, then I am condemning myself, not to so-called freedom, but imprisonment. I would be stuck in a body I hated,  with functions I believed redundant {yet still working as if they were not}, always trying to be what I am not. Exhausting.

But, if instead, I accept the fact that I am a woman, and favour the natural limitations of my sex, then I am freeing myself to live the way I was designed to be. I will find joy in my marriage. I will find peace in childrearing. I will find contentment in the work I do at home {and there is plenty of it!}.

I may have wanted to be a Spice Girl when I was little with as much “girl power” as I could muster, but I feel completely empowered as a wife and mother. There are limitations on my life, but I am free – so free – to move around within them. I am my own boss. I run our days the way I want. I have a man I love and who loves me so well. We’re committed to doing life together, and the law constrains us and limits us to make us keep our promises. And our love is great and true and enduring. And I am rocking my cradle here at home because I know, down the track, that my children will be ruling the world. Even Abraham Lincoln got all this, the man who enabled freedom for so many.

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If you have any thoughts, please share.