The Pitfalls of Intentionality – the sequel – falling all over again!

 

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Pitfall 2: The wisdom of being intentional can mask the foolishness of believing that intentionality guarantees ‘success’.

Sadly it is all too short a step from being intentional in our parenting (or indeed in anything) to believing in the power of intentionality.

The good intention of doing what I* can in my parenting in faithful obedience to God becomes part of a very bad equation.

(*a limited creature with much of the old self remaining)

The logic becomes: “BECAUSE I am doing what I can in order for my family to arrive at the intended destination we WILL definitely arrive at that destination.

And, if I am being really honest I should add: “And not only arrive, but arrive via my preferred route and in accordance with my preferred timetable thank you very much.”

In other words: we intentional parents feel that we are owed our dues – don’t we?

It’s horrible to type, but if I am honest I can imagine myself thinking the following in a few years’ time:

Why is that child going strong with the Lord when mine is lukewarm at best? His parents didn’t drive halfway across the country to get him to camp! There were no family devotions in that house – I’m not sure the parents even had quiet times themselves or prayed for their children. They certainly didn’t go to any Christian parenting seminars or read all the books I read. What was the point of all my hard work and heartache? Their son is working for a church and engaged to a lovely Christian girl and I’m not even sure if my daughter goes to church – it is so hard to get any communication from her above the occasional text message.

Or in other words…

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At which point I am sounding dangerously like the workers hired at the start of day in Matthew 20, or the older brother in Luke 15.

Which begs the question: Why am I parenting intentionally and who for?

Well the first answer is for God, for my children and for lots of really godly reasons.

I parent intentionally because God has given us wise ways to follow and it takes intentionality to live that way as aliens – saved, but still sinful – in a foreign, broken world.

I parent intentionally because I love my children and to think of them not enjoying the grace of God and the beauty of his holiness and the blessings of being his beloved children is so painful that it takes my breath away. It is like a punch to my heart, soul and gut that even in its ‘what if’ form threatens to send me reeling and engulf me in crippling pain and fear.

I thank God for the intentional parenting that he has helped me to do over the years and will, I pray, continue to help me to do. It is right to care about these things.

BUT with all the good that is in the ‘whys’ and ‘who fors’ above there is also something that sounds dangerously close to: “I parent intentionally to get what I want.”

But hold on – surely if ‘what I want’ is their salvation then that is a good thing right?

Well, yes and no.

Yes – wanting my children to be saved is a good thing.
Yes – wanting to be faithful to my God-given role as their mother – presenting and displaying the gospel and not hindering its work in their lives – is a good thing.
Yes – being a providential means of grace in their lives as bring them up in the training of the Lord is a good thing.

BUT read the sentence again:

“I parent intentionally to get what I want.”

Pared right down, the sentiment at the heart of it all is looking less and less healthy for me, less and less glorifying to God and is dragging my parenting further and further away from grace.

Following the path of this sentence through the years I will either be:

a) Proud and satisfied and a vocal advocate of intentional parenting and all it promises to deliver, and in danger of idolising / relying on my children’s godly lives for my sense of peace and identity;
AND / OR
b) Resentful, worn out, disappointed, bitter, self-loathing and seeing myself as a failure and / or angry with God for not keeping his part of the bargain, full of regrets, jealous, fearful and unhappy.

And never mind ‘through the years’ – my current struggles reveal that too much of my happiness and stability and peace is wrapped up in how my children react to me.

Because, like the older brother’s years of service on his father’s land and the vineyard workers’ hours of labour in the vineyard through the heat of the day, my intentional parenting is really all rather concentrated on me.   Which is something I both need to repent of and be forgiven for, but also be freed from the burden of.

As with every other aspect of my life – I want to win, to get, to have, to be better, to show off, to feel successful and validated, to be accepted, and ultimately (because that is all very tiring) to feel I’ve done enough so I can stop and rest.

How much better to parent first and foremost for my Father, the one in charge of the vineyard. To trust my Father’s love, acceptance of me, wisdom, and fairness. To long for what delights and pleases his good and will. Instead, like the older brother, I resent the Father’s generosity to and love for others and doubt his love for and generosity to me.

In parenting we’ve been given a trust and we need to trust the one who has given it to us. We are to be faithful as we put one foot in front of the other in his service. Our terms of working and the harvest at the end of the season is all in his hands. We should plant well, even when planting in tears.

And as intentional parents we do a lot of thinking about how to plant well! We aim to have a harvest mentality (as Paul Tripp calls it) running through the days and weeks and years of our parenting. And this is good! Let’s be faithful (which doesn’t mean always getting it right, never forgetting or messing up or just being tired) with the many resources we have been given. But let’s not try to do and be more in our parenting than faithfully fulfill the role we have been given by God. Let’s remember that there is an awful lot more going on in our children’s hearts and lives than our parenting (no matter how intentional) can ever dream of having covered.

Which leads me to my final pitfall…

imagesPitfall 3: Being intentional is easily mistaken for being in control.

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The Pitfalls of Intentionality

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Soaring not Striving

I don’t know about you, but I find it so hard to be gentle and patient with myself (let alone the children!) when it comes to parenting.

I know the verdict is grace, but to live in an atmosphere of grace in parenting is a constant effort. Which of course is a sentence that shouldn’t make sense!

Basically the gravitational pull at work in my heart is towards me and therefore away from grace. The more important something is to me, the stronger the pull. The more I have invested in something, deliberated and planned – the more it is about me. It is the pitfall of intentionality.

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Sorry – couldn’t resist the Atari reference – but I’m sure the guy ran right to left when I played it!

 

I am blessed to have a very great friend – The Doctor – who is not only one of my best friends, but also my mental twin and mother to a very similar (albeit 9 years younger than mine) first child.

As we chatted together about parenting she put it perfectly when she said: ” Sometimes I just wish I didn’t think about it all so much.”

And it can seem that those who just muddle along and fly by the seat of their pants come out of the whole thing less scathed and with much the same results as the likes of the Doctor and myself.

Not that winging it would be our comfort zone at all – we like a plan. ‘If in doubt make a list’ is certainly a motto in my household! No, for better or worse we are intentional people and I wouldn’t really want to change that, but intentionality does bring with it its own peculiar temptations and difficulties to strew across the path of my parenting experience and I feel getting those out in the open may be helpful.

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Pitfall 1: Being intentional and being self-forgetful / humble is a tricky combination.

Well, it is for me anyway.

I am an intentional person by wiring as well as conviction. Put that together with a tendency towards obsessive behaviour, high sensitivity and anxiety and the likelihood of taking yourself too seriously becomes pretty high.

A plan needs maintenance. All my lists and ideas and grand schemes need careful attention and so, while I myself am not necessarily the main subject, I do spend a lot of time looking in the mirror of my parenting. Once there, it isn’t too big a jump for a sinner to shift the focus of their gaze back on themselves: mirror, mirror on the wall who is the best intentional parent of them all?

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Coming soon: 

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Pitfall 2: The wisdom of being intentional can mask the foolishness of believing that intentionality guarantees ‘success’.

 

 

So I know the answer is grace, but…

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Soaring not Striving

The Judge speaks:

Judge: This mother is in Christ. Who accuses her?

The defendant: I accuse myself.

Judge: What do you accuse yourself of?

The defendant: Imperfection my Lord.

Judge: My dear child – I have already heard that case. You have already been declared not guilty in Jesus.

The defendant: But in the matter of my parenting..

Judge: There are no BUTs after grace – only before.

21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.
Romans 3

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved. Ephesians 2

A prayer for rest in humility

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Soaring not Striving

Lord help me to remember that I am:

Very loved, but so very little;

Significant but not central;

Precious but not principal;

Intricately involved but not indispensable;

Destined for designer good works but not depended upon;

Saved and not Saviour.

Continuing from themes raised in recent posts and also prompted by the book I am currently reading: Humble Roots by Hannah Anderson

The Verdict

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Soaring not Striving

So it has been rather a long and meandering thread – but I think we are getting somewhere!

 

I started out by asking if I was doing a good job of parenting the three children I currently have in my care.

Our second child was stillborn and we remember his birthday today – he would have been 12 years old.

Various witnesses were called including:

The State, The Professionals and Middle Class Society were the first three to testify. Their verdict was basically:
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On the one hand – no intervention is  required, but on the other hand not a contender for the gold star.

What I hear: We’ll keep giving advice, and presenting the ideal, and you can keep feeling guilty about it.

The next witnesses were: The people who write books and give talks on Christian parenting.    

Their verdict was: She sets high standards of intentional parenting, and then struggles to meet them. She tries very hard, but rests in God’s loving, wise providence very badly.

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The final witness called was God’s word concerning children and mothers. Please refer to full court transcript for the qualifying comment on this testimony. 

The verdict:

  • What this mother is experiencing is normal. Sinners parenting sinners in a broken sinful world will be hard and imperfect and messy.
  • Despite the broken-ness – families are a God-given entity for the good of individuals and society and are one of the many channels through which he works.
  • Bringing up children is a good deed.
  • God did not make a mistake with any of the four children this mother has given birth to. They were meant for her and she was meant for them.
  • Her job is to do what she can so that her children are not hindered from coming to Jesus.
  • Her job is to celebrate God and his rescue in a question-prompting manner in daily life and in special celebrations.
  • God has not given us the script for celebrating him in conversation with our children – in contrast to some of the festivals in the Old Testament. This mother needs to be careful not to let good ideas and godly aims become “I have to do x or y otherwise I am failing!” or “It will all go wrong if I don’t do this or that” or “She is behaving that way because I didn’t do a or b“.
  • Her godliness and wise choices (or lack thereof) will play a significant role in their lives and the lives of future generations BUT never a role outside of God’s perfect plan.
  • Before she is a mother, this woman is a precious child of God.
  • It is God’s work as their heavenly Father that this woman’s children really need – not her perfect parenting. While she can pray for them she also needs to remember that there is a lot going on that is way above her pay grade!

In Conclusion: The lives of this mother and her children are in God’s hands. The work of mothering these three children is a good work that God has wisely prepared for her under his supervision and sovereignty. He crafted her in just the right way for the job and prepared the job to be just right for her. He knows what he is doing – trust him.

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So, yes, when it comes to being a mother I could do better…

BUT everything is O.K. because God always does the best.

No Expectations

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Soaring Not Striving

 

No expectations – if I could grasp that even slightly it would certainly help me soar and not strive and also live and love with a lot more grace.

We saw last time that God sees us as we are.

Imagine the difference in expectations in these two scenarios:

  1. You are having your first appraisal in a new job. A few months ago you were identified as the best in your field; head hunted and wooed by the company you now work for. No expense was spared – your line manager has put his neck on the line by hiring you and is basically relying on you to sort things out and get results fast.

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  2. You are a six-year-old sitting in your Dad’s office on a chair that is a little big for you, but it spins! You are doing some stapling and folding and soon it will be time for lunch out with Dad.

The difference in the weight of expectations could not be greater!

I live as though I am in the first scenario – I am not!

We need to believe and trust and remember that God has got it covered – and we need to live that way! He simply doesn’t need to have any expectations of us!  Not only is he not surprised or disappointed by our limitations, but he is totally limitless himself. In the language of the above illustration – God doesn’t need to ‘hire in’ any experts ! His enemy is defeated, his kingdom is just how it should be and everything is on schedule and going according to plan.

As Paul writes to the Ephesian church: he [the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ] made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfilment – to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. Ephesians 1:9-10

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I’ve finished cleaning the mirror Mummy. I used lots of soap!

When my children do jobs around the house I do a lot of work!

  1. I identify a suitable task and the time for doing it (and do the ones that are too yucky / tricky myself).
  2. I reach down the cleaning supplies and lay out the right cloth and spray etc.
  3. I brief them and ‘train’ them.
  4. I check what they have done, and either help them where they have ‘missed a bit’ or simply do the high spots they couldn’t reach myself.
  5. I then supervise the tidying up, and sort out the dirty cloths etc.
  6. I then pay them so that they have money to buy birthday and Christmas presents*.

In theory…
This is fine. I am not expecting a perfectly clean mirror – or whatever the job may be. I am not expecting value for money. I’m not even expecting my children to have a brilliant servant attitude and a good work ethic in the way they go about their job. The expectation is on me. I need to be wise in my parenting, I need to use the situation well, and if I want something to actually get clean I need to expect to take responsibility for that myself**.

I say ‘in theory’ because I generally get my expectations muddled. I often do expect those things of them because I am not God. I am just like my children – a small child full of limitations in the care of a perfectly loving Father.

Mums – we are God’s children in Christ Jesus. By his Holy Spirit we call him Abba! Father! God has prepared good works for us Mother’s to do – he has crafted us and prepared the works perfectly – AND not only that but HE has got it all covered.

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What does God expect of us as mothers? Nothing. What does he want and plan for us?  To keep relying on him as we put one foot in front of the other walking in the good works he has prepared for us.

OK so that was a long tangent, but I think an important one. Hopefully my next post will see us back in the court room summarising not God’s expectations of us as Mothers, but looking at the good works he has called us to in that role.

Footnotes:
* Pocket money and money for jobs is an interesting subject – but that is a whole other post!
** I am not advocating encouraging sloppiness, but merely looking at what disappoints / doesn’t meet expectations.

 

 

God gives us more grace

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Soaring not Striving

As I ended my last post I rashly promised you a summary of what God expects of mothers. I fully intend to keep my promise – or at least the spirit of it, but as I travelled home I was troubled by the wording I had used. Does God expect anything of us?

 

A book I read recently claimed that “God has no expectations of us”*.

Seriously? No expectations?

I find that really hard to swallow, and lots of buts bubble up in protest. “But what about… and then there’s…..”  BUT at the same time I can’t deny that it is true.

Firstly: God has no expectations of us in the sense that he knows what weak and fragile beings we are – not only are we mere creatures, but we are broken ones at that. Broken, weak, limited beings in a broken world shot through with evil.

O.K. so that was supposed to be encouraging! Stick with me.

Let me put it this way: It has recently dawned on me that I basically approach my day, my life, my parenting … with the basic assumption that I have all the right ingredients available to me to do a pretty good job. My expectation is of success.

Please don’t get me wrong! This expectation does not spring from thinking that I am special and unique or from any confidence in my particular brilliance. I am thinking more of the expectations that exist simply because in my ‘world’ that is what we are ‘meant to’ be able to do. By ‘world’ I mean the circumstances and environment of my upbringing and the situation and society I now live in. I’ve never really thought about it this way, but each morning I wake up with the subconscious assumption that I should be able to do a good job of my life today, and by extension that those I have to interact with should be able to as well.

And again and again I fail to meet this expectation and so do the people around me.

Not only is there an appalling arrogance in thinking that we can be the gods of our own lives, but there is also an unbearable burden in it.

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HOW I SEE MYSELF

We delude ourselves that we are thoroughbred race horses, bet heavily on our victory and then scratch our heads when time and time again we fall at the first hurdle.

And the encouragement please?

God does not have this expectation of us. God sees us for the donkeys that we are and loves us!

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HOW GOD SEES ME

How I see myself: I am a world renown brain surgeon – I go to work, scrub up and ask for the scalpel ready to save lives…..but more accurately….

 

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WHAT GOD SEES

In my mind I am sitting at a beautiful shiny grand piano in a crowded concert hall, the audience in breathless anticipation as my fingers hover over the keys ready to strike the first chord….. what my Father delights in…

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This is not to belittle human accomplishment and creativity. Of course there are people who really are concert pianists and world renown brain surgeons, as well as super fast athletes and world-class artists. I am not one of them – but they exist all over the world. Of course they do – because there is a God who his creatures fearfully and wonderfully in his image.

It isn’t that we are nothing – not by any means does the bible want us to believe that – it is just that we are what we are. Just think about a toddler for a moment. What an amazing creature – just think of all they learn and how they develop in a matter of months. Astounding! But you don’t expect them to drive a car or cook the tea – let alone perform brain surgery. Compared to God we are small children – and that includes us mothers!

What does God expect of us as mothers? He expects us to be what we are. He expects us to be weak, to get things wrong, to get tired, to get our priorities in a muddle, to lose patience, to feel like giving up, to miss opportunities or to overreact….. and he even expects us to keep forgetting that this is the case!

And secondly God has no expectations of us in the sense that he’s got it all covered. But I think that is for another post.

*Good News for Weary Women by Elyse M. Fitzpatrick