Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Least of These

And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’  -Matthew 25:40 (NKJV)
This is the time of year most people are more aware of the plight of the poor and needy and more willing to offer financial or physical relief.    The Salvation Army bell can be heard ringing from the moment you open your car door at many stores.  Gift receptacles are arranged near store exits to collect toys or food to be distributed to struggling families near Christmas.  We are reminded that Christ is the center of this holiday, or if not Christ then at least "the spirit of giving". I've read the above verse many times and it is easy to look out at a homeless or struggling man, woman or family and feel compassion.  It is easy to pray for them or offer a small token of hope.  It is even easy to keep from passing judgment on them for how they ended up in their current situation.  Where I struggle is having this same way of thinking toward my own family.  I know their history.  I am aware of their struggles.  I see the face behind the social mask they hold up when they're with friends.  I am supposed to love, train, discipline.  But isn't the Lord instructing us to be a servant to all mankind for His sake?  And doesn't "all mankind" include our children?

How do we train and discipline our children while treating them as the "least of these"?  My first challenge is to apply this verse to my life, James 1:19  "So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath;  for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God."

It's so hard as a mama to be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger.  Often we are trying to "put out fires", behavioral and emotional "fires", in our homes.  What I'm finding is sometimes we must respond quickly but most of the time we can step back and take some time to determine the best course of action.  Sometimes it requires days of prayer and contemplation, the counsel of a trusted mentor or spiritual father or mother.  It is true that sometimes our actions must be swift.  If my children are in a physical fight I would not take the time to ponder the best way to address the situation just like I would not watch my young child walk into the path of an oncoming car.  I would snatch them out of the way and address the danger once they were no longer in harms way. I'm talking about all the other times when contemplation and prayer would allow me the time necessary to really speak to the heart need.

Last night was an example of when I DIDN'T step back or seek the Lord.  We had watched a new Christian comedy video and the boys got to stay up an hour past bedtime.  It was a time of bonding as months of stress melted away into laughter.  When the video was over I instructed my boys to head off to bed.  They didn't comply.  FIVE TIMES I told them to go to bed and they ignored me as they relived and laughed over moments from the comedy show.  They finally went down and I thought the "episode" was over, but a moment later two of my boys come running up the stairs, waking up the baby, because the younger decided to throw a pen at the face of the older.  You know that "DONE" moment?  The moment when you decide the "calm mama" thing just isn't working and you unleash the angry mama.  Well you may not do that, but I do...and did.  You see, I expected them to be thankful for the extra hour on a school night.  I wanted them to rise up and call me blessed for letting them have hot chocolate with a candy cane stir stick.  Essentially, I wanted to be recognized for my goodness (with humility of course...).  I knocked them down, verbally, as I laid the guilt on as thickly as I could.  Were they repentant?  No.  You can't force repentance, but that's exactly what I wanted.

What I SHOULD have done is wait until morning to discuss the situation with them and sought the Lord for His wisdom in the meantime.  You see, our #1 goal is to help our children seek the Lord for their lives.  They don't get there by us "guilting" them into submission.  So does this mean we don't teach and train our children?  And if we're supposed to train and discipline, how do we treat them as "one of the least of these"?

1. Change your point of view - When we have children we tend to see the only the charge to train our children in the training and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4).  Our starting point needs to go back a little ways.  We need to see the fact that they are fearfully and wonderfully made.  We need to embrace the fact that they are made in the image and likeness of God.  They are icons. 

2. Remember the purpose of "training and admonition" - Discipline means, "To instruct or educate; to inform the mind; to prepare by instructing in correct principles and habits; as, to discipline youth for a profession, or for future usefulness." Websters 1828 edition.  Our goal as parents is to teach our children, to inform them, to prepare them not only for a profession and future usefulness but as active, useful participants in the body of Christ and the life of the Church.  "For the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God." If we can keep this idea at the forefront of our training regime, we can "be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath".

3. Have compassion for where they are in the working out of their salvation - I have children in my home who are adopted and are experiencing great struggles because of the lives they had before they came to us.  But my biological children have gone through very challenging times as well.  They are experiencing life for the first time.  They don't have years of life experience to help them understand what is going on.  They are washed over with hormones that can feel SO overwhelming.  They are just beginning to learn what it means to bring their passions into the submission of Christ. 

4.  Embrace the job you've been given - If you are a mother then you have been called to pour yourself into the lives of your children.  You have been called to be Christ to them and to serve the Christ IN them.

5. Be gentle with yourself - It is hard to live a life of humility and repentance WHILE being an authority in the lives of our children.  When we "fail"...and we will...we need to acknowledge our weakness, repent (before the Lord and our children if necessary) and take the hand Christ offers as He picks us up and sets us back on the path.  He doesn't want us to become depressed or discouraged with our failures but to turn our eyes from ourselves back to Him.  Oh and He has such compassion for us mamas!
Understand two thoughts, and fear them. One says, "You are a saint," the other, "You won't be saved." Both of these thoughts are from the enemy, and there is no truth in them. But think this way: I am a great sinner, but the Lord is merciful. He loves people very much, and He will forgive my sins. –St. Silouan the Athonite
Let us be the hands of Christ to those in need, whether we are related to them or not.  Let us give them drink and food in His name and let us give them the training and correction they require in His name as well.  He will give us the strength and love we need to accomplish that which He has called us to!

Dearest Lord Jesus, show me how to be a loving mother to my children. You know the desire of my heart is to mother my children in a way that will draw them to You. Forgive my shortcomings and help me not to sink into despair, but to rise up in faith with the knowledge that Your holy power is strong enough to sustain me and guide me to be the mother my children need. Help me to be slow to speak, quick to listen, and quick to forgive my children of their faults. Grant me Your vision for my children that I may know how to train, encourage, and pray for them. For You are holy, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

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