Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Giving God our Leftovers, Part 2

What, you say? You didn't know the last post was part 1? Well, honestly, neither did I until yesterday afternoon, after I posted it, and more thoughts that tied in with that post wouldn't let me alone.  You will need to reread the last post if you don't know what I'm talking about, because, hey, I admit, sometimes I can be lazy, I have an audience of like 4 people, lol, and why would I rehash it when you can just click on it and reread it yourself? lol So do that, and come back here, if you need to.

Anyway, this blog is about my journey with God, and what God is teaching me and doing in me.  And I am most definitely a work in progress.  And part of what God is teaching me lately is about self-control.  And yesterday's post, whether you realize it or not, ties into that. Esau was a guy who definitely LACKED self-control, so much so that at one point he agreed to sell his whole birthright over a bowl of porridge.  Later, he accuses Jacob of stealing it from him, but honestly, that was not how it sounded to me. It sounded to me like Esau's flesh was so weak that he honestly thought selling the birthright for a bowl of porridge was worth it, at the moment.  But lack of self control is like that.  When we lack it, we can justify behaviors we would never justify, if we were thinking clearly.  Esau is a character in the Bible who never seems to make decisions based on what is truly best, but just on what feels good to him at the time.

Self-control is mentioned in Galatians 5:22-23 as one of the desirable fruits of the Spirit that we can note as the mark of a mature Christian.  It is evidence, just like love, joy, peace, kindness, etc., of the Holy Spirit working in our lives.  And it's one of the fruits of the Spirit I have struggled to attain.  I've always longed for it, but never really understood how to have it.  I would read verses like the ones in Galatians, or the verse in 2 Timothy 1:7, that says in the ESV,

 "For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control."

and this verse, let me say, just annoyed me.  Because as much as I prayed about it, as much as I longed to be a disciplined person, I could never seem to BE that person.

Okay, I guess I should amend that. I am disciplined in some things.  I always did pretty well in my classes at college and high school.  I was near the top of my graduating class, and had tons of scholarship money to go to school.  So, in that regard I suppose I was not totally undisciplined.  But in other ways, I am sorely lacking.  For example, I chose which foreign language to take in college based on which one I could sleep in the latest.  For as much as I could in college, I had a "rule" that I didn't sign up for the courses that met before 10 am.  And exercise?  Yuck.  While my middle sister was one who even in middle school was one who did stomach crunches for FUN (really.  It used to annoy the snot out of me), I am the one who always has gotten paired with ninety year old women when I HAVE made the effort, however short lived, to join a gym and do an aerobics class.  I can laugh about it, only because my pride is pretty low in this area of my life.  It really is almost comical, how the instuctors always ask me about 20 times a class if I am okay.

And then there is the way my lack of self-control manifests in the area of maintaining a schedule.  As a homeschool mom, I have a lot of freedom.  And I do take the education of my children very seriously.  Every year, I make this beautiful schedule for us to follow.  And about every year, we don't follow it.  It's depressing, really.  That does NOT mean my children are uneducated.  Because God's grace is great, and he still works in me and through me, and we manage to get things done.  It's just alot more stress sometimes than it would be if I would just be an early riser, and also have the fruit of the spirit of self-control in my life.   Oh, dear heart, but there is more.

This lack of self control has manifested in other ways, perhaps more common to other people.  At least I think it may be more common, because I sometimes see it.  I am sharing here my experience as a homeschool mom, but I don't think homeschool moms are the only ones guilty of this.  I have seen lack of self-control manifesting in my life, as a manifestation of my covetousness or fear.  And here is what I mean:  in the past, I would be sailing along, homeschooling my kids, and I meet another homeschool mom; let's call her Mom A.  Mom A would mention what COOL activity her kids engage in, for example an engineering club.  So I would find out about the engineering club, and sign my kids up for it, because I am AFRAID if my kids aren't in the engineering club, then they are going to be idiots who can't become engineers, and it will be ALL MY FAULT. lol  Then I meet Mom B.  Her kids are all a part of their own family band, who play stringed instruments from a Suzuki teacher, they do drama with a drama coach, and they are in a classically educating co op.   So what do I want to do?  I want to find a strings teacher for all my kids, and put them in drama, and get information on the co op, because all these BRILLIANT children are doing this stuff, and if we don't, well, I am afraid to ponder the opportunities my kids will miss.  Then I have well meaning relatives, who don't homeschool, who love us, but would make passing statements like how my kids really NEEDED to do a sport.  And, self-control lacking, people pleasing person that I am, I would find my kids a sport to do. Because kids NEED exercise, right?  What kind of mom has kids who don't play sports?

But wait.  Then there is church.  And if you are really going to love God, it means being BUSY, right?  All the important people at church are the ones in charge, or so I thought.  So even though I totally feared any position that meant I was really in charge, I still felt that I should DO something.  So I would help with the middle school girls, or work the nursery, or go to ladies prayer.  Now, sometimes, some of my motives were good.  But there has also always been this dynamic in the past of feeling like I had to prove myself to all these people that I was a GOOD mom and wife, and that I was really HOLY.  Yeah, it's horrible to admit.

Then I meet Mom C.  She bakes ALL of her own bread, she exercises religiously, and all of her children are fluent in latin.  And let me tell you about Mom C.  Unlike Mom A and B, who just mentioned what they were doing and had no care in the world WHAT I did with my own kids, and weren't judging me, Mom C is different.  She never said it directly, but she is constantly implying it.  Her way is the best way, and the enlightened way, and if you don't do EVERYTHING how she does it, then you are a deficient mother.  I get Mom C.  I think some of it is honestly that God has shown her what works for her family, and she is actually well meaning.  She is confused.  She thinks that what God has shown HER for HER FAMILY is from God, so IT MUST BE FOR EVERYONE.  I admit, there was a time in my life, and probably still is, in areas of my life, where I fall victim to this myself.  So if you think I am hating on Mom C, you are wrong.  I don't; I love her.  I think most of us, when we are like that, don't recognize it, or we would change.  And I believe in absolute truth, so maybe sometimes the moms I see that way are actually RIGHT.  Maybe I WOULD be better off if I was naturally motivated to do things the way she is doing them.  But I also think that attitude is dangerous, because it comes from a place of pride, sometimes.  And it makes it really hard for us as moms to build relationships with each other, if we are constantly judging each other, partially because of our own insecurities, or because of pride.

You see where this is going, don't you?  It never ends.  Most of the time, the other mom wasn't judging me at all, but I was still feeling the pressure and being led by my desire to be a PERFECT mom, and to do what is best for my kids. And when time or lack of monetary resources meant we couldn't do the thing someone else was doing, then all this condemnation was heaped on me, because I couldn't provide to my own kids what ESSENTIAL thing someone else was providing to theirs.  But the truly essential thing  I lacked  was self-control; in fact, I was controlled and dominated by ANYTHING but myself, and assuredly, not motivated by joy.   All of this reached a boiling point when my son was diagnosed with Crohn's disease, because all the running became extremely painful.  We were a family with six kids doing co op two days a week, and I babysat in the nursery at that co op, so it's not like I was getting time off ( I had to watch other mom's kids to afford it), with music lessons, a full day of dance lessons, church, doctors appointments, and a new baby number 6 to chase down.  And I was MISERABLE, I was run down, and enjoying VERY little of it.  I realized this was not how I wanted to live my life.

So this year, I did something I had never considered doing before: I really PRAYED about EVERY activity we planned to do this school year.  And then I felt the Lord saying to not do a co op.  You heard me:   I didn't do a CO OP at all.  My palms were sweaty, and fear welled up in me.  All the "best", "brightest" kids were doing one.  It's not like my behavior change started a movement, either.  The world moved on without me.  And then I felt nauseous when our dance studio closed.  We prayed, and the Lord said to hold off on signing up for that as well.  I obeyed, but I trembled.  What would happen to my kids?  Would they be antisocial morons?  Would we never see the outside of our home?  My kids still did music lessons, and we hosted a small group for our church.  We still attended church, and I did sign my middle daughter in a Heritage Girl's group.  And I hosted a monthly geography club for the my elementary school crowd, so they still get to hang out with their friends and it's a fun time for them and for me.   So, truly, it is not as if we are hermits.

But something amazing has happened this year.  I am smiling again.  I am not so stressed.  And as I have been more consistent in reading my Bible, in prayer, I am finding I have had energy for things I have never had time for in the past, like writing and painting.  And even blogging.  I am finding that saying NO is not an END to my life, but really I am saying YES to more important things.  I am saying YES to more time with my kids reading from great books, and YES to family worship time.  And definitely YES to being available to my Savior to divine appointments, because before I had NO TIME LEFT for them.  If a friend needed prayer, it was a sacrifice.  I would do it, but the whole time I might be worried about what I SHOULD be doing instead.

I am learning that "Discipline without direction is drudgery", but "discipline WITH direction is a delight." (from a book I am currently reading,  Spiritual Disciplines For the Christian Life, by Donald S Whitney).  I am no longer doing things because someone else is doing them.  I choose to do them or not because I have thought through my goals and the direction God has given me, and the thing fits with that plan.  And so the things I do delight me, because I see them as helping me to meet my goals, and the vision I have for the future.  Now, I am not perfect.  I am a work in progress.  And when someone mentions what their kids are doing, or even what their family does together, my palms still sweat.  I feel anxious.  I question if we should be doing that thing too.  But I am doing my best to not make knee jerk decisions.  "No" is no longer a bad word in my vocabulary.  And because I am thinking through what my goals are in life, I feel empowered when I say yes to something, instead of enslaved.

So, is the point of this post that co ops are evil, and women who bake bread are evil, and all of us moms should now be hermits?  By no means!  I have been known to bake bread on occasion, and I may well do a co op again in the future.  The point is that, I think, maybe, I am not the only one out there who has been guilty of doing things, even good things, for the wrong reasons.  And when I did these things, it was definitely not out of self-control. Maybe I am wrong, but  I think alot of homeschool moms do this.  And maybe not only homeschool moms, but other moms as well.  We moms are such an insecure lot, and we think we have something to prove with each other.  And it's really all nonsense.  Our children all have different gifts and callings, and God is not interested in cookie-cutter families.  He is in the business of relationship, and relationships are individual things.  Also, relationships take TIME.  So when we do a hundred activities, we really are sacrificing the BEST thing, our ability to have relationship with God, with our own husband and kids, in order to prove something we never have to prove with the one who counts most: Our worth to Him.  And if he values us and loves us, then it becomes less relevant what the world says about us.

So all this to say, self-control is still not the main fruit one would see in my life.  I am still, by nature a night owl.  I still struggle to follow the schedule I set for myself.  I still am trying to figure out how exercise fits into my life; I did not wake up yesterday and think about having a "fun" afternoon of ab crunches.  But I am learning.  And now, the process is no longer drudgery to me.  I love the example the book I am reading gives, about a student practicing a music instrument.  As long as there is no vision of the future, that practicing is drudgery.  But if that person has been given by God a vision of playing someday as a master at Carnegie Hall, then practicing would become a delight, because they see a reason to practice.  Something they are striving toward.  So it is with me, and you, reader.  When we have sat in the presence of God, and waited for Him to speak into our lives, and show us what He desires for us, and what the true longings of our heart are, and maybe a part of how he intends to meet them, then working toward those dreams becomes a delight.  All of life becomes a joy to us, even the hard parts, because we can see a purpose to even the pain.  And it becomes easier to not become distracted with things that hold no purpose for us, personally.  At least, that is how it seems to me now. 

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