Stories of Remembrance

Throughout the Exodus God maintains a delicate balance as he raises up his chosen people.

First he seeks to be known, punctuating each display of his might and miraculous provision with, “Then you will know that I am the LORD.”

Second, even as the story unfolds in the back-and-forth struggle of God’s faithful love for a stubbornly faithless people (who bear a uncomfortable resemblance to us today), the Lord is intentional about archiving stories of remembrance for the generations to come.

After they cross the Red Sea and escape the Egyptians God tells Moses that when they reach the Promised Land, the Israelites are to consecrate their first-born sons, and the first-born of their flocks to the Lord as an act of remembrance:

In days to come, when your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ say to him, ‘With a mighty hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

Exodus 13:14

When he provides manna in the desert he again preserves a remnant:

Moses said, “This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Take an omer of manna and keep it for the generations to come, so they can see the bread I gave you to eat in the wilderness when I brought you out of Egypt.’”

Exodus 16:32

Reflections on Remembrance

God does not wait until the Israelites’ journey is complete before instructing them to capture and share their stories. Our walks with God are never complete. We always are inadequate in our faith, and continually learning and growing in our walks with him.

Our children — and every child of God with whom we engage — need to hear about our journeys, perhaps even more so than the destination.

I tend to shirk this responsibility by leaning on the fact that I lead a pretty ordinary life. God moves in my life in ways that I find to be spectacular, but there is no parting of the sea or manna showing up on my front lawn. Will others be moved by my mundane stories?

The honest answer is, “Who knows?” Faith is a gift of God; it’s not the result of our works–or our stories themselves. God simply teaches us to be obedient in sharing what he has done and is doing in our lives…as it unfolds.

Finally God makes an interesting point of preserving physical signs. God told the Israelites to save some manna so they could show future generations God’s handiwork. This is a little tricky, but it got me thinking about what physical artifacts I can preserve.

Steps to Remembrance

So let’s get practical. If the faith of our children — and our children’s children — depends on these stories, how do we get about it in earnest? What can we do right now?

Here’s a list I’ve come up with; feel free to add your thoughts in the comments to this post.

  • Share your stories. My in-laws rode a tandem bicycle cross-country when they first retired. They arrived home with two storylines, one about the people and experiences they encountered, the other about God’s protection and presence throughout the journey. One of the stories I remember to this day was that they were almost out of water with miles to go, and my mother-in-law prayed from the backseat for God’s help. A few miles later  a random car rolled up, and a stranger offered them water bottles.

Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.

Exodus17:6

Practice spiritual discipline and talk about why. My sister-in-law used to read her Bible on her phone during her morning quiet time. Then she realized that to her children it looked the same as if she was perusing Facebook or reading email. So she reverted to her physical Bible so her children will see God’s Word in her hands each day.

When our children see us read the Bible daily, come to worship with us on Sundays or serve others as a family, it is good and right to talk with them about why we do these things and for whom.

Share God’s Word. My kids tease me about it, but I am shameless in pointing them back to Scripture on questions of right and wrong, problems they are facing or as an encouragement of their infinite value and worth. I write them letters about who they are in God’s eyes, personalizing the verses with their names. I text them verses weekly.

God speaks to us powerfully through his Word, reminding us of his truths, but the seeds must be planted in order to bear fruit.

These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates.

Deuteronomy 6:4-9

Keep a journal; write in your Bible. When I study the Bible I make notes in my journal. An effective technique I’ve adopted recently is to read and and then answer three questions (Anne Graham-Lotz’s 3-question study): 1) What does it say? 2) What is God saying? 3) What is God saying to me?

This photo is of the Bible owned by one of the most passionate Bible teachers I know. BibleIt is testament to the truth that, “When your Bible is falling apart, you are not.”

Consider creating a priceless treasure for your children in your well-worn Bible, filled with the record of what God is showing you, even if it means leaving a broken down, dog-eared, highlighted and cross-referenced tome.

Make and preserve symbols of your faith. It took me a few minutes to even think of symbols equivalent to manna in my life, but I have them…so do you. One that came to mind is the wedding band I gave my husband for our 21st anniversary. I had it made because I had come to deeply treasure his faith leadership over our family. Since two of our four children are adopted from Korea, I had the band inscribed in Hangul with the citation “Joshua 24:15”:

As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.

The ring serves as an instrument of witness for him on a daily basis, and one that I hope our sons especially will preserve and remember as they enter into their own seasons as heads of their households.

The message God teaches us throughout Exodus is to begin today to be intentional about the legacy of faith we are planting in our children.

As a result of Joshua’s bold witness, Scripture tells us he created a legacy of faithfulness:

Israel served the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had experienced everything the Lord had done for Israel.

Joshua 24:31

A Graduate’s Guide to the Bible

My second son graduated high school last Sunday. While re-experiencing some degree of the grief I first wrote about when my eldest son graduated (Secrets Mothers Keep: On Roots & Wings), I’m also more focused on the practical this time around, hoping to equip my big-hearted #2 boy to survive and thrive in what can be a heart-breaking world.

I gave him a Bible because it is the ultimate how-to guide for life. In its pages I have found hope and inspiration when things seemed hopeless, wisdom and understanding when I didn’t know what to do; and purpose when I was feeling lost.

As I gift wrapped it for him I wondered if he would ever read it, not because he doesn’t value it, but because he wouldn’t know where to start.

If he began at the beginning–Genesis–he’d likely get derailed by the time he reached Leviticus or Numbers; the complicated rules and details are tough sledding to a generation weaned on Twitter and Youtube.

And so I prepared a brief how-to guide based on my own experience. It’s nothing more official than that, but perhaps it will help you or a graduate you love discover the life-giving joy and truth of God’s Word for the first time, or again…as if for the first time.

 

 

  1. Want to know Jesus? Read John. If you only were going to read one book of the Bible ever, read John. He has such a heart for Jesus and wrote with the goal of convincing you that Jesus is the son of God and that his mission on earth was to ransom us for our sins.

 

  1. Want to understand sin and the reason we need Jesus to save us? Read Genesis and then Romans. The story of the beginning of humanity is the story of all humanity. In the Jesus Bible you’ll see how Jesus himself is present from the very beginning of creation. And why Romans? Paul wrote half the New Testament. He was brilliant and gifted by God for the task. In Romans he walks the reader through the problem of sin, why we can’t save ourselves and why we need Jesus.

 

  1. Facing a dilemma? Need some wisdom? Use Proverbs. Proverbs isn’t a sit-down and read end-to-end book. It is more like life’s little instruction book. It speaks wisdom on just about every topic you can imagine in the human condition.

 

  1. Have a problem, issue or other life decision about which you need insight? I use Google as a starting point and enter: “Bible verses about ________.” Or “What does the Bible say about _______.” Then break out your Bible and read the verses you find.

 

  1. Wondering how to live the life God called you to? Read Acts. Acts details the post-resurrection life of the apostles and the conversion of Paul. Put yourself in the shoes of the disciples and consider how they surrendered their fears, their will and ultimately their lives to follow Jesus and to ensure the good news was spread across the earth. We all share in this mission, and understanding how the first tribe got things done has value and relevance today.

 

  1. Interested in learning leadership? Read about Joseph (Genesis 37), Moses (Exodus), David (1 Samuel) and Daniel (Daniel 1).

 

  1. Pray. Open. Read. Sometimes, when I have nothing else in mind, I just say a prayer, open the Bible and start reading where the pages fall.

 

  1. Memorize God’s word. As you find verses that speak to your heart, underline or highlight them in your Bible and then memorize them. (You can use the app Bible Minded to help). When you do this God is faithful to speak to you in times of need by bringing just the right verses back to mind.

Get more help leaning in to God’s word with Summer Bible Study Tools.


Special Offer for Faith Runner Subscribers

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childhood sexual abuse

 

Spirit-Driven

We recently purchased a 2014 Jeep–loaded with the latest safety technologies–because my 16-year-old daughter just got her license.

giphy-1

As I was driving recently an analogy occurred to me between these advanced safety features and the role of the Holy Spirit (a result of too much blogging I imagine!)

I decided to take the idea for a test drive.

 

Safety Guide

Automobiles are the leading cause of death in adolescents for a reason. There is power and freedom behind the wheel, and many teens, as a result of inexperience and a desire for risk, greatly underestimate the danger.

The same can be said of our journeys through life. Regardless of how long we’ve followed the Lord, it is easy to overlook the pitfalls, potholes and hazards that can cause us to swerve off the path of righteousness and away from what is safe and good and true. (Jesus Take the Wheel)

Fortunately God knew these risks and put some guardrails in place for our protection. The first are our “rules of the road,” the 10 commandments, found in Exodus 20. He also gave us a model to follow in the life of Jesus. But He did one more thing that is very important: He gave us His Spirit as a guide, the Spirit of Truth, to direct us in the way that we should go.

Rules of the Road

As Jesus approached the end of his earthly ministry He wanted to help his apostles stay on the right path. His parting words resemble those of many parents as they hand over the keys to their children:

1. Obey the rules of the road.

If you love me, keep my commands.

John 14:15

2. Don’t get lost.

You know the way to the place where I am going

John 14:4

3. Come back home…safely.

Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.

John 14:23

Advanced Safety Features

The Holy Spirit operates like our onboard navigation system and safety package, keeping us moving in the right direction and protecting us from hazards along the road…if we let Him. With God everything is optional–He will not override our free will, so we must choose to tune in and turn on His Spirit to experience the full benefits available to us.

  • Lane Departure Warning — Sometimes things of this world draw us into dangerous places; God’s Spirit gives us that helpful nudge back toward safety.
  • Blindspot Notification — The nature of blindspots is that they are only visible from the outside not the inside. The Holy Spirit alerts us when our blindspots may be obscuring the bigger picture; He also offers an optional “expanded view mirror” that can help us see and alleviate those blindspots for good.
  • Navigation — We can ask the Spirit for His help when we are at a crossroads in life and unsure of which way to go. While His route is not always the shortest, it definitely offers the best views and the assurance of reaching our ultimate destination.
  • Park Assist — Sometimes God’s Spirit will simply help us to park it and enjoy some life-giving rest with a gentle reminder to “be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)
  • Automatic Braking — And when we encounter a danger zone God’s Spirit may slam on the brakes to save us.

User’s Manual

Taking advantage of this offer is simple; it even comes with a user’s manual, The Bible, that directs us in the way we should go. As you learn and commit God’s word to your heart and mind, His Spirit will be faithful to remind you of what you need just when you need it; that’s why it is called The Living Word.

Additionally we can follow these steps to ensure safe passage:

  • Share the road. We were not meant to journey alone. God encourages us to share the road–the ups and downs–with our fellow travelers to learn from one another’s experiences and grab ahold of greater joy in the journey.
  • Stay calm. Even through the most treacherous hazards we can remain peaceful and calm, knowing that God has equipped us with everything we need.
  • Enjoy the ride. Life is indeed in the journey. Unlike those hasty daily drives to and from work or school, life is meant to meander a bit along the roads less traveled. God’s Spirit is there to encourage us to enjoy the ride, as well as the magnificent views of His creation at every twist and turn.

The Daily #2

Reprinted from Church on Morgan’s “The Daily,” Dec. 19, 2016

 

Hello Friends,

Three years ago, a close friend’s son went off to college. His father had died when he was 14, and now he was headed alone into the cold, cruel world. Even though he didn’t know me well I wanted to find a way to create a connection that would let him know our family loved and supported him and so did God.

As I considered what I could do, the Lord prompted this question in me: “How might this young man’s life be changed if you were faithful to send him a scripture verse each week for all four years of college?”

I created a weekly reminder in my iPhone and set about to find out.

A year later, my own son graduated and with him a group of boys who had become like sons to me. So, I added them to my weekly texts. I text them individually and sometimes add a personal note, but mostly I let God’s word stand alone.

At the end of last school year I texted, “Okay, last quote ‘til fall.”

My friend’s son responded: “If you don’t mind, I actually love getting them.”

Needless to say, I didn’t take the summer off from texting him.

What do I hope to accomplish through the sustained rhythm of this micro-ministry?

1) I didn’t learn the power of God’s living Word until mid-life but perhaps these boys will discover it sooner via 200-some texts.

2) Maybe they’ll encounter a dilemma or issue, and a verse will come to mind to guide them toward God’s will.

3) Or best of all, perhaps each of these men is sharpening his sword as Paul wrote in Ephesians 6:13-18

13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. 14 Stand therefore, having your waist girded with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 having your feet fitted with the readiness of the gospel of peace, 16 and above all, taking the shield of faith, with which you will be able to extinguish all the fiery arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

How might you create a weekly rhythm around sharing God’s word?

Have a blessed week!
Nanette Kirsch

Each week’s email will be written by someone in our community and provide a few thoughts, insights, or experiences that have come from their own morning, meal time, and evening practices. If you would like to learn more about our “Shared Rhythm” you can read about it online or pick up a set of our “Daily Rhythm Cards” at Church on Morgan.

Secrets Mothers Keep: On Roots & Wings

empty nest

Empty Nest

I originally published this last year as my first child prepared to go off to college. Apparently it struck a chord with many momma’s of the “cap-and-gown set” as it was my most shared and commented post. So I offer it again for the Class of 2016’s mothers:

When I was pregnant I remember being astounded by the secrets the women in my life had kept from me. It’s a wisdom of the ages that lets us sense what a sister doesn’t need to know…until she needs to know.

Roots and Wings

This week, I experienced this phenomenon again. As I prepared to take my first child to college, I grasped with new clarity why the “one word” God gave me for the year was brokenhearted. I texted my mom about the mix of emotions forming on my horizon. My mother replied,

“Had the same feelings about all of you. But this is life’s plan, not an easy one. Not something you want to tell your children. You learn as you experience. Pray every day for strength. Wonder why I go to church? If I can do it you can.”

She knew about this and didn’t warn me? Another holdout! Then I began to look around; after all, I had watched plenty of my friends release their children from the nest. I imagined that it was hard, but I had no idea how hard. And in that moment I realized that the women who knew, who could have warned me, weren’t talking. (I say this with a smile.)

As the days dwindled into hours more and more girlfriends came out of the closet, sharing their experiences. Several really strong women I know admitted they had taken to bed for the first few days and grieved it out. Others talked about sitting in their children’s bedrooms mourning the emptiness.

But then, the old cleanup lady Time shows up. She’s slow and not very efficient; she always leaves something behind. But, she works her way through that mess of Grief one sweep of the hand at a time. I look at those same girlfriends and see that they have accepted new normals in which their children will never all live under the same roof again and where when “Mom” is yelled in public it’s less likely it is for them. 

Another unique theme for this life milestone is the shared heartbeat between children and their mothers. My mom characterized it this way in her text: “When u hurt, I hurt.” My girlfriend says of her freshman, “When I know she is happy I will be.”

And therein lies the divine mystery of motherhood; it is the good Lord offering us the tiniest of glimpses into what it is like to live and love with complete “other-centeredness.” Just as He is for us in all things we are for our children…always. Their joy multiplies our joy; their pain breaks our hearts because we would gladly spare them, substitute ourselves for them. While we almost never can, He did.

For the love of our children, as my mother so wisely said, we pray for strength that we may not burden them with our pain, but instead lift their joy on the wings of ours so they can fly higher, freely and often farther, than they otherwise could (or we wish they would). 

Mother and sonThis transition to college is an unusual one because it is such a mixed bag of emotions that usually are not experienced together:

  • Joy for my child’s accomplishment and the good things in store as he embraces this new adventure
  • Grief because the family we have spent 20 years building is now dis-integrating, albeit in the healthiest of ways
  • Regret because I really do wish I would have played dinosaurs longer instead of doing those dishes; I wish I could have responded with grace instead of fatigue and anger so many times when he was young; and I wish I would have lived every moment like these recent ones, hanging on each as precious and fleeting.
  • Fear for my child so far from home, and fear for myself about what I will become when “Mom” isn’t my first calling any longer
  • Anxiety about my child in the big bad world, about him being lonely or stressed or sick without my being able to comfort him
  • Anticipation of pouring everything I have into my three other kids’ needs; anticipation for my son and the amazing things I see blossoming in him at this very moment

Today we’re stand on this edge of this new reality — at the boarding gate literally and figuratively. On Tuesday I leave him…and life will never be the same. Even if my sisters didn’t warn me, I draw strength from their examples. My mother-in-law, who treasured motherhood in the same way I do, told me once, “There is life after children and it is good.”

I’m counting on it.

What God Has to Say:

  • I have loved you with an everlasting love. Jeremiah 31:3
  • It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Galatians 5:1
  • Everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. John 15:15-17
  • Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. Matthew 28:16-20
  • I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. John 16:12

And finally, as Jesus prayed for his disciples and for us now in John 17: 6-11, may we as mothers be able to offer this same prayer as we release our children:

I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them….Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. 

Please feel free to share your experiences, wisdom or learnings about your children leaving the nest. 

Read more: Jane Brock offers a corollary post on this topic called “The Velveteen Rabbit.” I encourage you to check it out.

Am I [_____]Enough?

 

In the eighth-grade spelling bee I nervously spelled learner with an extra “er” even though I am a good speller. I got second place in science fair after I dropped the index cards with my presentation notes (and didn’t have them numbered). I was the runner-up to my classmate in a statewide reading contest, so I traveled to Pittsburgh and watched her compete from my seat in the audience. And despite my passion for writing I failed in my initial bid to become editor of my high school newspaper.

There is perhaps no worse feeling than realizing that your best is not good enough.

 

The Lie: “You are not ____ enough.”

 

However your mind fills in the blank most of us have heard those words echo in our minds at different times in our lives. As I shepherd my second child through high school I’m now watching my children confront the same thing. These are the years in which they are compared to their peers in just about everything: GPA, standardized test scores, athletic prowess, physical appearance, friend groups, to name just a few.

As they move toward college the differences become defining, determining who gets scholarships and who does not; who gains admittance to the schools of their dreams and who does not; ultimately, who is superlative and who is not. Yet by these worldly standards half of us are necessarily average, and even the exceptional are average at some things. 

The problem comes when we respond to this realization by deciding to dream smaller; little dreams risk less and hurt less when they don’t come true. The temptation is to resign ourselves to living a small, safe life. Yet that’s not what Jesus did, nor what He calls us to do.

3 Truths that “You are Enough.”

Here are some powerful truths from the apostle Paul that will equip you to combat the lie and relentlessly pursue the big dreams and big life that God had in mind for you from the very beginning (Jeremiah 29:11):

Your life is an essential part of God’s salvation plan. 

Saving is all his idea and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing. (Ephesians 2: 7-10, The Message)

In God’s economy weak is strong.

Paul explains it like this: So I wouldn’t get a big head I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me:

My grace is enough; it’s all you need.
My strength comes into its own in your weakness.

Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size — abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become. (2 Corinthians 12: 7-10, The Message)

We were not saved to be safe.

Jesus did not come to ensure that life is safe and comfortable. He came to save us, as many as possible, and He enlists those of us already saved in His epic, world-changing work. How? First by recognizing and using the gifts we have been given with this end game in mind:

I want you to think about how all this makes you more significant, not less. A body isn’t just a single part blown up into something huge. It’s all the different-but-similar parts arranged and functioning together. If Foot said, “I’m not elegant like Hand, embellished with rings; I guess I don’t belong to this body,” would that make it so? If Ear said, “I’m not beautiful like Eye, limpid and expressive; I don’t deserve a place on the head,” would you want to remove it from the body? If the body was all eye, how could it hear? If all ear, how could it smell? As it is, we see that God has carefully placed each part of the body right where he wanted it.

But I also want you to think about how this keeps your significance from getting blown up into self-importance. For no matter how significant you are, it is only because of what you are a part of. An enormous eye or a gigantic hand wouldn’t be a body, but a monster. What we have is one body with many parts, each its proper size and in its proper place. No part is important on its own. (1 Corinthians 12: 14-24, The Message)

Jesus warns us that, “The thief comes to steal, kill and destroy.” He knows what the thief is after: your life, if not in whole then in pieces. The whisper that “You are not ____ enough” is designed to rob you of abundance and leave scarcity; to kill your grandest dreams of what your life can be and point you toward something smaller and safer; and to destroy your confidence in your significance to your Maker by redirecting your focus to the world’s fickle standards.

I came that you may have life and have it abundantly.”

John 10:10

  • Are you pointing your children faithfully toward God’s economy and their infinite value to Him, or do you allow them (and yourself) to get caught up in worldly comparisons?
  • Where in your life are you living too small and too safe?
  • What big dream have you been too afraid to pursue?
  • How are you filling the blank: You are not [______] enough? Try filling in this blank instead:

…but the Lamb will defeat [my _______], proof that he is Lord over all lords, King over all kings, and those [of us] with him will be the called, chosen and faithful.” Revelation 17:14

The Great Weaver: A Story with a Punchline

 

To bestow on them

a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called

oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.

Isaiah 61:3

Last week I shared this verse as one of several to which God had pointed me recently. He has not stopped leading me back this powerful verse. I share my journey as an example of how God uses His Word to weave our lives together, one to another. My hope is that this story will resonate with others striving to hear God more clearly in their own lives.

Strong Roots

My sons and a couple of their friends have unified in prayer recently, and I shared the passage above with them as a daily verse. I was unfamiliar with it before attending She Speaks last summer. There I met a woman who was so strongly rooted in faith you could feel God’s Spirit on her. In our speakers’ small group she spoke of how God had used this verse to restore her “oil of joy” following the death of her son.

She shared in a recent phone conversation that she had not planned to speak on that verse. She had prepared another message and was frustrated that the Spirit was pushing her so strongly in this direction. She found it encouraging to learn that her message had become a source of comfort and inspiration to others.

While I was still on the phone with her I received a text from another She
SIsaiah 61:3peaks friend who had just purchased a ring a few days prior inscribed with, you got it, Isaiah 61:3. When she saw last week’s post referencing this verse she knew it was more than coincidence.

Tiny Acorns

Following She Speaks I published a post called, “May I Have a Word Please?” about how God had given me a word at the conference to focus my ministry for the coming year; it was brokenhearted. It’s a word that appears only twice in the Bible: In Isaiah 61:1 and in Luke 4:18 when Jesus proclaims an “Amen” over it, claiming Isaiah’s prophesy for himself:

He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted

I have remained open to the relevance of this word in my life, and realized that brokenhearted connects me with parents whose children are hurting. The pain over a child’s suffering is far deeper than anything we as parents experience directly.

How like God it is to introduce me to this notion through a woman who survived the ultimate heart break of losing her child. God’s promise in verse 3 is rooted in His desire to heal the brokenhearted.

Mighty Oaks on the Rise

When my sons and their friends embarked on this recent prayer journey I encouraged them with James 5:16:

The prayers of a righteous man are powerful and effective.

I challenged them to consider how powerful and effective their prayers could be together since they are all righteous men. As I looked more closely at Isaiah I realized that they, and the friend for whom they are praying, are being grafted together through this experience:

They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.

And Now for the Punchline

So from the mighty oak of a woman of faith to me, an acorn by comparison; and from me, like all parents, called to be an oak of faith to my children and their friends, rising oaks in the faith.

God’s word is alive and active in those who believe in him. As we share His word and pray together, God works beneath the surface to bless and refine us all, individually, and relationally with others and Himself. You can feel all the layers of stories happening in this one verse, can’t you?

The end for now is to remind us that we are part of God’s grand design. We see only our small piece at the moment, but God is a grand weaver, crafting a divinely intricate tapestry through our lives and the lives of others. We are threads held together by His Word.

In contemplating this metaphor I researched weaving terminology, wanting to know the word that refers to the starting point of the tapestry, metaphorically, the origin of God’s grand design. And it is this:

Cross

The figure eight made at one end of the group of warp threads used to keep those threads in order during the threading and sleying process of dressing the loom.

God’s grand design stretches to infinity (represented by the figure eight), and it always begins at the cross.

tapestry of the cross

Part 3: The Prodigal Returns

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him.

Luke 15: 20

Faithful Expectation

The father of the prodigal son has just spotted his boy. Can’t you just see the silhouette on the horizon, indistinguishable to any but the one who gave him life? It’s not dumb luck that he happened to look out at just the right moment. You know this man had gazed at that horizon longingly, and without reward, for days on-end.

When your child is distant from you — physically, emotionally, mentally or all three — the pain of the separation is palpable. This is true under the best of circumstances (See On Roots and Wings), and even more true in the worst of times. As you abide the stranger in your midst, you seek any sign of the babe you once held in your arms, the toddler who clung to your legs, the child who leaned on you — and struggle to remain faithful that he will resurface eventually.

Joy of Redemption

Imagine if, as the boy looked toward home, the shadow he saw in the distance was of his father standing with arms crossed and foot tapping? Would he have persevered?

Fortunately his father didn’t need a close-up look to know his son had been through the ringer. Jesus tells us the sight of the boy filled his father with compassion. In Greek the word is splagchnizomai; it literally means “to be moved as to one’s bowels, hence to be moved with compassion, have compassion (for the bowels were thought to be the seat of love and pity).” I think of it as shaken to his core.

This father recognizes what a journey his son has endured to reach home. Without needing  to know the sordid details he instinctively knows that his son is hurting. There will be time later for wisdom, lessons learned and even for consequences. In this moment this Daddy didn’t need to think about the right thing to do; his heart led the charge with complete abandon! He threw off his shoes, hiked his robes and:

prodigal son
credit: rationalfaiths.com

…ran, and fell on his neck,

and kissed him.

What a beautiful image. This is “throw-yourself-in-front-of-a-bus” love. Don’t you know that father knocked his son to the ground and smothered him with kisses? Wouldn’t you?!

Now imagine the son’s reaction. He had dragged his feet for miles, remembering the things his father had taught him, lessons he had cast aside with the same reckless abandon that he was now being loved.

Betrayed and wounded so many times since rejecting this man, he must have been afraid to trust the resplendent, lavish love pouring over him in this moment, for he stuck to his script, acknowledging his wrongdoing and asking only for the bare minimum needed to sustain himself.

Redemptive Restoration

But his father’s love is so much more than sustaining; it’s abundant. He can’t wait to fulfill the dream he has held close since the moment he lost his son. “Quickly” he instructs his servants, and requests a robe, ring and shoes for his son. The robe in which he cloaks his son denotes primacy; the father immediately restores his place as first son. He adorns his hand, the source of authority, with a ring, and binds his feet, the same feet that took him so far from home, in shoes to protect him from harm.

When challenged about his response by his other son the father is unequivocal about both his emotion and the wisdom of his decision:

We had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours

was dead and is alive again;

he was lost and is found.

Luke 15:32

Living with the End in Mind

Jesus’s parable has a quick and happy ending; he conveys the entire story in just 21 sentences and leaves us to fill in the gaps.

If you have walked — or are walking — the path with a prodigal child it’s the gaps that get you:

  • The nights of not knowing where she is or if she is safe
  • The days spent in hostile silence with the stranger in your home
  • The months spent allowing the consequences to roll in even as your child takes his first, tentative steps in the right direction, and the fear that too many may knock him back down
  • The frustration of continued stumbles, just as you thought she was moving in the right direction
  • The grief in your heart for your lost child, grappling against the hope that he’ll re-emerge

Perhaps you are standing staring at the horizon, waiting on your child’s return. What can you do in the meantime? I think there are three roles as a parent that are meaningful and valuable in such a season:

Pray

First and most importantly, intercede for your child in prayer. There are two instances in the New Testament where parents implore Jesus on their children’s behalf. In both cases their children are possessed (and if you’re parenting a prodigal this thought has probably crossed your mind, more than once if you’re honest!) In Matthew 15:22 a mother comes to Jesus about her daughter. “Then Jesus said to her:

Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.

In Mark 9 a father says to Jesus of his son, “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” ‘If you can’?” Jesus replies. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”

Immediately the boy’s father exclaims, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” Jesus said to his apostles of this possession:

This kind can come out only by prayer.

I firmly believe God uses such times as these to refine our faith. Cry out to God in the same honest, plaintive voice as this parent, ““I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”  Let God use your faithfulness on your child’s behalf to enrich your own walk with the Lord.

Remind Your Child How God Sees Her

Even as they grow up children care deeply about how they look in their parents’ eyes. Shame over their mistakes and fear of being labeled a “problem child” deceive many a prodigal to not look toward home.  Remind your child who she is in God’s eyes and your own. One practical way to do this is to give your child scripture passages that speak of God’s love for his children, personalized with your child’s name:

For God so loved [name] that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
John 3:16

Love Unconditionally

And finally love unconditionally. The most important gift you can give your child is the unconditional love that you have been given first by God. Knock him over with your love and kiss him all over. Make sure he knows that nothing he has done or ever will do could change how much you love him.

There will be time for truth and most of it will arrive on its own accord. Your role now is to make sure it is covered in grace, the same grace you received:

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 5:8

Hope

Sadly not every prodigal returns home. Not every parent is blessed to be able to lavish his child in hugs and kisses again. As you walk in faith, hope and love and wait on a child that remains far from home, hold this promise close to your heart:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called

according to his purpose.

Romans 8:28

Read this series from the beginning.

Part 2: The Prodigal Departs (Here come the consequences.)

rock bottom

After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. Luke 15:14-16

We all are rebels at heart. No doubt you can recall, probably with a rush of adrenalin, the night you snuck out of your parents’ house and sped down the highway in the family car, stars blazing in the clear night sky, and the cool wind invigorating the ride. Or, the time you kissed  that boy your mother forbade you to see, only to discover the unexpected sweetness of forbidden fruit. Maybe it was the intoxication of drinking or smoking for the first time, the heady, out-of-body sensations carrying you and your friends to a temporarily altered reality.

Such moments — and the fact that we outgrew them — blur the boundary between when our children are acting out in typical teenage rebellion, and when they have crossed over into more ominous territory that threatens to delay, disrupt or derail their development into functioning young adults.

While the prodigal son believes he is ready for his freedom and independence, his choices indicate otherwise. It is not long before he squanders everything and begins to experience need. He is slowly awakening to his deeper-seeded poverty. He begins to look backward and forward for sources of support.

He knows that talk of his recent stunts has reached his family’s neighbors by now; even without hearing the whisper campaign he knows what’s being said, and he resents being labeled a problem child.

He considers his friends back home, but realizes he has fallen behind his former peers. Maybe it’s because his grades dropped as a result of his distraction, or because his friends understandably closed ranks after being repeatedly let down. Defying the rejection he turns elsewhere to try to close the gap.

What he finds is someone identified only as “a citizen.” Jesus tells us that he “joins himself to” this individual. The Greek word for this, kollaō,  means to cleave to, to glue together. But this is a citizen of a depraved land; the son soon learns the difficult lesson that people cannot give what they have not received. When he leans on this friend for support, he is thrown to the pigs. To make matters worse it appears that no one notices or cares to come to his rescue.

and no one gave him anything.

This is rock bottom; the pig pen providing a blunt metaphor for the Jewish audience to whom Jesus is telling this story. Having rejected his family, abandoned the friends of his youth and squandered his resources, the son is betrayed by someone he thought was his friend. He has no where to turn and no one to turn to. Jesus doesn’t specify how much time has passed, probably because the journey to the bottom is not a temporal one.

One of my husband’s mantras to our children is, “When you find yourself in a hole the first thing to do is stop digging.”

rock bottom

Yet it seems that when our kids find themselves in a bad situation they inevitably do the opposite: they dig faster and faster until they are too exhausted to dig anymore.

And that is a good thing. Exhaustion often is the catalyst to revival. Rebellion is exhausting. Rejection is exhausting. Being in need is exhausting. Can’t you just picture this boy, the perfect symbol for every one of us in a state of sin, sitting in his own squalor: dirty with shame and guilt, starving for nourishment of his body and soul, isolated from everyone and everything that he once valued?

No parent wants to see his child in that situation. But the wise father knows that to rescue his son prematurely, to grab that shovel and yank the boy out of that hole, will only result in him digging a new and deeper one. Regardless of how tempting it may be, this child needs to experience the full burden and consequences of his choices before he will turn around for good.

I believe the Lord makes us parents so we can get a glimpse of His relationship with us as our eternal Father. How many times have we refused to stop digging until the consequences, the pain and the separation from our Father compound beyond what we can bear? It’s only then that we come back to our senses and begin to yearn for home.

Start at the beginning: Part 1: The Prodigal Arrives

Read the final part of the series: Part 3: The Prodigal Returns

Part 1: The Prodigal Arrives

parenting the prodigal

There was a man who had two sons.The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. Luke 15:11-12

Jesus begins the legendary story of the prodigal son abruptly. Without context or foreshadowing we are dropped into the middle of a family in crisis. A family that once was functioning suddenly is not: The younger son has rejected his father’s authority and requested his inheritance, in essence declaring his father dead to him.

First Appearances

Let’s pause briefly. If you have been called to parent a prodigal you can relate to what just happened here. It is that moment, the one where you are confronted with information about your child that challenges everything you thought you knew. Perhaps it is:

  • the website you accidentally found on the computer
  • the cut that can’t be accidental
  • the unexpected conversation with a friend’s parent
  • the call from the principal or the police

Only in retrospect do you see it coming. Until that moment trust and unconditional love obscure the darkness you later realize had been creeping in along the edges for some time.

First Response

It appears that the father divides his property between his sons without protest, handing over half of his estate to his rebellious child.

If you’re like me at this point you’re thinking, “Well no wonder he’s rebelling if you’ve indulged him like that all these years?”

But this is Jesus telling the story; certainly there is more going on. In verse 12 the son requests ousia, the Greek word for property, possessions and estate. “The part that falls to him” comes from two words: meros which means destiny and epiballō which means what belongs to me, my share. So it roughly reads like:

The son asked for what was coming to him.

So does the father gives him what he asks for? Not quite. His father gives him the Greek word bios, translated life or that by which life is sustained. And herein lies the paradox of parenting: Little paradigms of the Fall our children rebel against our authority, demanding gifts they haven’t earned, oblivious to their selfishness or its cost. This tension is depicted beautifully in Shel Silverstein’s classic, The Giving Tree.

parenting a prodigal

 

 

 

 

 

The Consequences

The father could have said, “No, go to your room.” After all it is clear the boy is not in his right mind. But the father appears to value his son’s freedom to love – or not – more than he values his desire to experience that love. Or stated another way if the father holds his son captive to his will he risks losing his heart.

Alternatively, he could have kicked him out and disowned him. But that seems premature as there is no indication this was a pattern — quite the contrary — it appears to come out of no where. Perhaps the father recognized this as a temporary, if necessary, season of refinement.

His response is the only one truly available: He grants his son’s request. He gives him his life, his freedom and the accountability for the consequences that go with them. Shortly thereafter we learn:

…the younger son packed up everything he owned and left for a foreign country, where he wasted all his money in wild living. Luke 15:13

You have to believe the father saw this coming.

Yet here is where the power of the father’s true inheritance  — his bios — is made manifest. While his son quickly squandered his ousia, his worldly wealth, he could not touch the eternal wealth reserved in escrow for him: the faith, hope and love deposited in his son’s heart from the day he was born. The wise father knew these were the resources that would sustain his son and ultimately draw him home again.

The Application

  • Are you intentional about investing for your children’s futures not with worldly wealth, but with the enduring riches of faith, hope and love?
  • Do you allow your children to experience the rightful consequences of their actions and choices, appropriate to their ages and maturity?
  • Do you assure them, especially in times of need, of your unwavering, unconditional love ?

If you answer yes to these questions, then when your children enter seasons of rebellion, be they short or long, you can wait, like the wise father, with hope and confidence that the seeds you sowed will draw your child back home.

Please feel free to share your experiences of parenting your child through a prodigal season.

Read Part 2: The Prodigal Departs: Here Come the Consequences