Why Pray? It’s a Relationship, not a Transaction

Our Father in heaven,
Reveal who you are.

Matthew 6, The Message

Those are the words Jesus uses to begin what we know as “The Lord’s Prayer.”

Of course, the version you might know sounds more like:

Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. (Matthew 6.8)

“Hallowed” means a few things. In the NLT, it’s translated as “may your name be kept holy.” Basically, it means something that is set apart. If something is hallowed, we acknowledge it as greater than anything else and different from anything else. Saying God’s name is hallowed is saying that we understand nothing compares to the Almighty God. We set God apart as completely other. Yet, in the same teaching in Matthew, Jesus also says we approach him as we would a good dad. It’s an interesting paradox and also a beautiful one.

Sit with Your Father

“Father” in the prayer adds a connotation of authority—a parent who deserves our obedience and trust. It’s more formal than the “abba” Jesus and Paul use elsewhere. In the following chapter, Jesus’ use of the word parent is more intimate. He speaks of an involved dad who wants to hear the words of his children and supply their needs. 

“You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.” (7:9-11).

In neither case does he mean an austere distant capital “F” father who doesn’t have time for his offspring. His words imply that we are to approach God aware of how deeply he loves us and how much he wants us to come to him. 

If we didn’t or don’t have a good earthly father, this may be difficult. We might have to imagine another caring, listening ear.

If a good dad wasn’t your experience, imagine is the ultimate parent who did want to listen to your every question, hear your every thought, and view every picture you ever drew. Imagine what that would have been like, and come near to God knowing that’s what he’s offering.

So one purpose of prayer is to be with our loved one and share our hearts. That’s it. It’s not a big complex thing. It’s something we can do all the time every day on the regular. We share our hearts, our thoughts, our emotions, our hurts, everything. Just as the psalmists did, we let them out to our perfect parent. Some of the prayers in the Psalms are pretty rough! Yet God as parent heard them and recognized the pain they came out of.

Talk Less, Listen More

Of course, children usually also listen to a parent for advice and comfort. We wait to hear, not just speak, because our relationship is a two-way thing. Prayer is not a time for us to do all the talking and God to do all the listening.

In fact, that leads right into the second line from the Message translation. “God, Reveal who you are.” How can God do that if I’m not listening? Prayer is a time for us to come to God and ask that we understand more about our relationship.

Again, it helps me to think about it as I would an earthly relationship with a parent. When we’re children, we really don’t know much about our dads. We might know what they do all day, and we have an idea of their character by how they treat us and others. But we actually know very little about them as people. We are content to think of them only in relationship to us. It’s not until later as we grow up that we realize they are their own separate entity and they have their own complex humanity. The older we get, if we’re fortunate, we know more and more about our dads. We come to know their hearts. We understand what gets them up in the morning and makes them passionate. We learn not just that they love us but why. We see more of how they treat others and more of who they are as a result. 

I never got that chance with my own dad. But when I think about it, I can see the parallels with my heavenly parent and how that relationship should go. As a young Christian, I only knew God in terms of what he’d done for me. I didn’t understand God at all except as it related to me. As I matured, I saw more of who God is. I saw how Jesus behaved and what he said. I saw how he treated other people.

The longer I am in relationship with God, the more I hear his heartbeat and know what he is passionate about. The more I come to him in prayer, the more I understand about who he is and who I am as a result. 

It’s a Reciprocal Relationship

One first purpose of prayer is to create that maturity in my heart so that I come to a full understanding of who God really is and who I really am. 

God, reveal who you are. May your name be kept holy. 

That’s the first and most important reason we pray. We have to establish that relationship before anything else can fall into place. Next time, we’ll talk about the next line.

Trusting the Driver

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Photo by William Bout on Unsplash

I’d just successfully navigated spaghetti junction on I35 through Minneapolis and pointed the minivan north. Heavy snow blew on the roadside, two feet deep. The highway, however, had been plowed well from the previous night’s storm, so I cruised home from church doing 60mph, still slow in the right lane compared to everyone else, with our two little babies in the backseat, one fast asleep.

We cruised until, without warning, the right lane wasn’t plowed. Our Caravan hit the hard snow full speed and began a terrifying, uncontrollable dance. We careened across all five lanes of the road, seesawing back and forth from right to left shoulder a half dozen times. Each time we veered toward the ditch I was certain the van was going to hit it and roll. Then we shot back onto the road, and I had equal certainty we would be hit by three or four other cars. It was I35 in the city, and it was always busy.

I remember hearing myself shriek “Jesus” over and over. It wasn’t a cuss—it was a prayer from that place of panic where you know no one else can help you. It was a plea to save my babies.

Eventually, the car stopped on the right shoulder, pointing a 180 degree turn from the direction I had been driving. I looked up, and a wall of cars drove toward me—cars that had not been there when we’d been sashaying across the lanes. I sat, shaking, muttering “Thank you, Jesus,” unable to move.

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Photo by Filip Bunkens on Unsplash

Then I heard a call from the back seat. “Mommy?”

“Yes, sweetheart?”

“Can we do that again?”

I looked back. The baby still slept, oblivious to her near miss with disaster. Becca, two, looked at me from her car seat with her crooked grin. “That was fun! Can we do it again?”

It Means No Worries

I’ve pondered her reaction so many times since, when the road I’ve been on seemed slippery or dangerous, if not physically, at least emotionally.

Not for one moment did Becca feel frightened or even concerned. She went along for the ride, letting it take her wherever it would. She never thought her mama wouldn’t do what her mama had always done—get her home safely. The roller coaster ride was just a perq.

She didn’t worry because she trusted the driver completely.

I wish I had the faith in my Father that my child had in her mama.

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Photo by David Charles Schuett on Unsplash

“This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike ‘What’s next, Papa?’” (Romans 8:15, The Message)

Resurrection Life

Or perhaps it greets God with a childlike, “Can we do that again?” This resurrection life recognizes that the forecast for our days can dump serious snow and ice. Yet our resurrection response remains expectant—“What do you have for me next? Where are we going from here?” We do this even on the days when we fear what might, in fact, be next.

“Fear not” is the most common command in the Bible, but fear is also perhaps the most common human emotion. It began in the Garden when we ran from our Maker. It wraps us in its unyielding cords when we dare to hope for change. It drives much of our individual relationships and our national conversation, too.

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I don’t know why it feels sometimes like my life hits hard-packed snow, or hydroplanes out of control, or (yes) rolls over a skunk that makes everything stink all the way home. I do know that when those things terrify me, it means I’ve grabbed the wheel and accepted the illusion that I’m driving the car, I’m in control, and it all depends on me.

The strange thing is, while control makes us feel like we should be less afraid, it really makes us more so. We know that if we’re in control, the only option is to grip the wheel harder and power through. We naturally grasps for more control when it starts to slip and fear begins to whisper in our ear.

Yet we’re more afraid when we think we’re in control because we know—if it all depends on us, we’re sunk! Grabbing for more isn’t the answer. Giving over control is the only way we can embrace the peace that it is not all up to us. In a paradox only Jesus could initiate, giving over control gives us peace while grabbing the wheel offers nothing but more fear.

What if I chose the expectation that God knew what he was doing and I could, if not enjoy the ride, at least buckle up in trust that he would bring it to a stop at the right place and the right time?

  • When anxiety hits over hurtful relatives: “I can’t control a thing they say or do. God, please control the things I say and do as a result. I expect you will guard  my heart from any darts aimed at it.”
  • When a child leaves home, for an evening, a week, or a lifetime: “God, I can’t control what happens to her today. Please control my imagination over it. I expect your love that is greater than mine to cover her.”
  • When money doesn’t look like it will last until the next paycheck: “God, I can’t control taxes or wages. Please control my dissatisfaction. I expect you will carry me through as you always have.”

A lot has happened in my life that I know I will never ask God, “Can we do it again?” about. Yet the good he has created out of those circumstances also compels me to say—“What’s next, Papa? I’m buckled in.”

This post originally appeared at The Glorious Table.

Growing With–a Book You Must Know About

Growing With parenting_ A mutual journey of intentional growth for both ourselves and our children that trusts God to transform us all.

As a pastor, I am “in a relationship” with the Fuller Youth Institute. I’m not even shy about it. In a culture that makes it challenging for our kids’ faith to thrive, I have found abundant resources for both parents and church leaders in their publications. I’m even using a number of them for my thesis project.

That’s why, when my email magically notified me they were looking for a book launch team for their next resource–– Growing With––that was one of the few emails I didn’t scroll past or trash with abandon. I applied immediately.

I mean, my tagline you can read above is” Reframed: Picturing faith with the next generation.” It’s kind of important to me.

Growing With’s subtitle– –Every Parent’s Guide To Helping Teenagers and Young Adults Thrive in Their Faith, Family, and Future––captures the thing well. The authors, Kara Powell and Steven Argue,  use three verbs to help parents during the three stages of their children’s growth.

Growing alongside our kids requires holding our future snapshots loosely, because our dreams may not end up being theirs

Withing

  • Withing––how do we relearn to actually be with our children, not simply around them?

Faithing

  • Faithing—how do we help our kids navigate the changes in their faith with patience and optimism, realizing that our faith, too, is or should be ever-changing?

Adulting

  • Adulting– –what tools do our kids in need to thrive in their own new life, and what is our role in supplying and them?

As parents, we remember the lyrics to our kids' past dreams and sing them back to them when the timing is right.

I won’t lie ––Growing With can be a tough read if your kids are already in their 20s, as mine are. You can’t help but notice the many things you could have done better. Yet Powell and Argue lace Growing With with grace. They are parents, too. They have made their own mistakes and are not afraid to let the readers know it. The message comes through––

We’re all imperfect humans raising imperfect humans.

We all need some help. Both generations need grace to understand that the other is still growing, learning, and making mistakes. That understanding alone it is worth the price of admission for this book.

The authors talk about the cultural changes that have made growing up in this generation far different than the world their parents knew at their age. They lay down some of the stark facts that might depress us about our children’s faith, but they also debunk some of the myths about the Millennial generation and iGen that keep parents awake at night in fear.

The clear, well-informed, and fact checked understanding of the next generations’ hopes, worries, and beliefs is invaluable to parents, grandparents, and church leaders who wants to understand what is going on in the heads and hearts of these generations.

Teachers, Guides, Resourcers

I love how the authors explain the different roles parents need to take on as their children change. Parents need to evolve from teachers to guides to resources. We can’t hope to parent a 25 -year-old the same way we did a 14-year-old. At least, we can’t hope to do it and retain a good relationship. And genuine relationships are what it’s all about for the next generation.

A guide doesn't carry your pack or do the exploring for you. They walk with you, attending to the novice travelers untested instincts, wrong turns, missed opportunities, and awe-inspiring moments. Thus the parent of

We need to be, as one story puts it, ”A wall they can swim back to”—a firm and sturdy place that will always support them after their forays toward and into adulthood. The writers don’t just leave us with that pithy picture, however. They give readers wonderful ways to be that wall. 

The important words are verbs

I love that the writers, like our scripture writers, know that the important words are verbs. Parents don’t simply ”be with” their kids. They are withing, together. It’s a verb because it is active. We need to intentionally practice withing.

Likewise, faith isn’t a static thing we can hand off to our kids when we think they’re ready. It’s a verb we practice more than we preach. It can’t be given––it can only be lived together. This flows perfectly with the biblical view of faith. Faith is never a thing in scripture––it is always an active, living way of life.

If you’re intrigued, or if you know someone who could benefit from “every parent’s guide to helping teenagers and young adults thrive,” check out Growing With––and preorder yours now (before March 5th) to receive some very special extras as well. I know I’m going to.

How to Help Your Kids Overcome Jealousy and Insecurity

P1050504(Sibling rivalry does not have to come to this.)

“Mommy, is she going to be better at everything than me?”

I hugged my dripping wet tiny seven-year-old. At the end of our girls’ first swimming lessons, what I had dreaded the whole six week session happened.

The younger got promoted to the next level and her big sister didn’t.

Bigger and more athletic than her older sister, she simply had better motor skills, a higher attention span, and more courage at that young age. Big Sister struggled with a mix of hurt and jealousy.

“Am I always going to be not as good?”

I struggled, too.

I mean, given their genetics, none of our children were ever going to be athletically coordinated, let alone gifted. As the larger and stronger child, though, her little sister did have an edge. What to say to this little wet waif, certain that she would always be at the end of every performance test?

I’m checking in at A Fine Parent today with this article on children, jealousy, and how to find abundant praise for everyone, no child left behind!

Read the whole post here.

5 Ways to Nail Motherhood. Kinda Sorta. As If.

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This is sometimes what motherhood feels like.

It seems kind of like cheating to write a blog about “Five Ways I’m Nailing Motherhood” (the prompt over at Mrs. Disciple today) when my kids are grown. Hindsight can make all kinds of things look better.

Also, though, hindsight can give insight into the ways I changed as a mom, and maybe, it can help those who are in the trenches daily. So, rather than five ways I completely nailed being a parent (as if), here are five things I learned and grew into as a parent. By kid three, hey, I had it down. Sort of. (Yeah, right.)

And by the way, I’m going to save the best one for last. Just in case you want to stop reading. Call it just one more thing I learned as a mom. (And as a high school teacher.)

1. I moved from thinking I had to police my children’s outsides to knowing I had to guide their insides.

My Personal Warning Label: Recovering Perfectionist. Handle with Care. Liable to attempt to fix your life or rearrange you dishwasher unless restrained.

I carried that label without the caveat of “recovering” for a long time. As a young mom, I valued what other people thought. A lot. Waaaay too much. (My kids took total advantage of this. Kids can manipulate better than Donald Trump when they see an opening.)

Because I cared so much, I wanted perfect little girls who could recite Bible verses on cue (more than your kid could), got stellar grades, and never even considered pitching a fit when they could not have Choco Tacos at the grocery store. Never.

God did not give me those children.

It came as quite a shocker when I made the discovery that I could not, in fact, control my children into perfection. I could not control them into anything. God didn’t give me controllable kids; he gave me the same kind of kids he chose to have—ones with free wills and individual hearts that could be shaped and molded by love but not by coercion.

I had to make it my job to teach them to love Jesus more than to obey rules.

I had to let go of caring what others thought. You can’t care about what others think and still prioritize guiding their hearts. It’s crazy- making. Guiding hearts is messy, slow work, while creating perfect behavior for others is fairly easy. Also very dangerous. It is much messier down the road. Trust me on this.

I would rather have kids that love Jesus and people than kids who look good in the Christian comparison parade.

I had to learn that. I hope you embrace it now.

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This is sometimes what motherhood feel like.

2. I moved from talking to them about being good Christians to living like Christ.

I am a preacher. I preach a lot. I like it. I can, if I’m not careful, give my kids plenty of sermons.

My kids do not need sermons. They need a living object lesson. Me.

I talked plenty about obeying God and being kind and loving you neighbor. (Unless he was weird and scary.) It wasn’t until they saw me have to decide if I meant those things that it stuck. (Fyi, not loving weird and scary people is definitely a sign of NOT meaning it.) I got caught up in teaching the truth more than living it.

Living it was hard with three little kids. Where was the time to volunteer to help someone? Where was the assurance that we would not have to sacrifice if we really DID some of those things? There wasn’t any. That was the point. All the talk in the world didn’t amount to much. Small areas of sacrifice, kindness, and moving out regardless of fear amount to a mountain of truth without words being necessary.

3. I moved from giving my children things to giving them life experiences.

We never had a ton of money, but I loved showering our kids with Christmas presents. Giving means a lot to me, and being able to give felt good. What didn’t feel good was the frenzied need we developed to go from one thing to another, from toy to game to craft kit, just doing and not caring. It didn’t feel good to be inundated with more stuff than one play room could comfortably handle, despite the giant toy box my husband made himself. Our house is not big. Our ability to handle overstimulation is even smaller.

Then we went on a mission trip. And another one. We started toning down on the things. Taking classes together. Going on expeditions and volunteering together. Also,the travel bug bit us all. Hard. Every one of our kid would prefer to travel somewhere they’ve never been over almost any “thing” they could get. (Although I suspect they would take new cars. And computers. They are now old enough to know things do come in handy when you have to pay for them yourself.)

593ba-july24th2010mom012It doesn’t get any better than raising kids who want to be with you when they are grown up.

Do life together—don’t do things side by side.

4. I moved from being a perfect mom to being a normal human.

I did not have to keep up a front for my kids. I did not have to pretend I always had it together. I did not have to prove I was always right. To this day, I struggle to apologize and admit I’m wrong. Why? Kids know. They are pretty smart little creatures. They know when we’re not being straight. But when mom puts up a fake image like that? It makes kids believe that negative feelings are bad and not to be discussed. I was raised like that. I never intended to repeat it. But I did.

It’s OK to let them see that I don’t know the answer. I make mistakes. I (gasp) sin! I didn’t realize that I was putting my girls in a prison of perfection just as surely as I had been put into one by refusing to admit that hurt, anger, and forgiveness were holy subjects to talk about and respect. We’re a work in progress on this one.

Hurt, anger, and forgiveness are holy subjects to talk about and respect.

5. I moved from thinking my job was to protect my children to believing it is my job to release them.

This is so hard. From the moment that little slimy kiddo lands on your chest, you would die for your child. You would almost certainly kill for her, too. God gave us momma love for a reason. But it gets a little out of hand, right?

I kept my kids from everything I could think of that might harm them. Bad language? Check. Violence? Check. Bullies and school shootings and too much high fructose corn syrup? Triple check. There is family lore that I would not allow them to watch Arthur because the siblings in it fought too much. (Our girls grew up rarely fighting so, hey, who are they to say my highly arbitrary gatekeeping wasn’t responsible? But seriously, Arthur?)

Overprotecting kid teaches them a few things. Things like: You are not strong enough to handle this yourself. The world is scary and the best you can do is wall it off. You don’t have the judgment to choose between what is good and what is bad when things try to enter your heart and mind. You see where this is going, right?

The fact is, it’s God’s job to protect our kids. It’s my job to make them disciples that will batter the gates of hell in this world. This is not safe. It is not for the faint of heart. It is scary as hell itself. But it is my job.

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They have their own journeys to make.

That’s the most important thing I’ve learned about nailing parenting. I have to leave it to the Ultimate Parent who knows the plans he has for my kids and can be trusted to accomplish them. Accomplishing them will almost always mean risk. For them or for me. I have to be OK with that.

Nailing motherhood? It’s a moving target. It’s a good thing we have years to hone our skills.

Tech-free Christmas? (Slowing Down Electronically for the Holidays)

 
 

In a terrifying fascinating study recently, researchers asked people aged 18-77 to spend fifteen minutes alone. Completely alone. No cell phones, trivia crack, media, or sensory input of any kind. Over half the participants chose to give themselves electric shocks as a distraction, shocks they had previously said they would pay to avoid, rather than spend this period of time completely without outside input. 

 
Fifteen minutes. I wish I had read this in the Onion, but I did not.
This is incomprehensible to an introvert like me.
 
The average teen spends as much time in front of a screen as he would at a full time job.
 
So by now perhaps you’re thinking what I’m about to say–December is an ideal time to release your family from this technological tyranny. This Christmas, how about a technology black out? Or at least, a grey out. Close enough.
 
Something so wrong but so right about this.


Don’t worry–no way I am going to tell you not to shop online. That’s just crazy talk. I could not survive Christmas without shopping online. It is the best invention ever in the history of history. This is a sanity-saver, so go ahead and take it. In moderation.

 
But maybe December is a month for taking an electronic break, if not a fast. During our 7 experiment this summer, we were supposed to eliminate seven forms of media from our lives for a month. I chose facebook, online puzzles and trivia games, non-work-related articles, pinterest, snapchat, and movies. While I missed those things, I found it restful. I found it peaceful. I found I got a lot more work done. And, I have carried some of those habits into the following months.
 
Christmastime is the ideal time to revisit slowing down electronically. Tweeting, buzzing, and whirring are not sounds you want to hear while roasting chestnuts by the open fire, anyway. It’s a time we want to talk about peace on earth, so why not talk about peace inside our own heads, peace from the incessant feeling that we need to be available, accessible, responding at all times to every input? 
 

It’s a time we want to talk about peace on earth, so why not talk about peace inside our own heads? 

 
Peace that we could use to connect more closely with our people and our God. That’s a peace on earth we all could use.
 
So what can we do to take back our digital lives during December? And, can these habits carry through? Here are some options if you, too, think this sounds appealing.

Create Some Limits

Did you know most Silicon Valley parents strictly limit their kids’ time on technology? That Steve Jobs was a low tech parent? They know better than anyone the talent tech has for sucking us in and draining us dry. They use safeguards. Why shouldn’t we? 
 
Create some zones that are going to be tech free for the month of December. Mealtimes. An hour before bedtime. Homework time. An hour after school. The car. (Hey, we’ve had our best discussion in the car. This does not happen when Angry Birds and videos are playing in the backseat.) Whatever works for your family. Agree that the phones, tablets, etc go down for that time. On penalty of death by battery drain. Parents—this applies to you. Tech addiction is not confined to the young.

Declare a Fast

Determine some media that is going to be put down for the entire month. Trust me—you will feel freer. You will find time where you didn’t know it existed. Choose some of the ones I mentioned above or choose something that works better for yourself. Choose something that’s going to be felt. (Ex: I don’t watch TV, so giving that up would not have been a challenge.) Let family members choose what will make them the most free. 
 
Make a competition out of it, if that’s the way you roll. Anyone caught cheating has to put a dollar in the jar. At the end of the month, donate the money or let the “winner” for the month choose a fun thing to spend it on.
 
Just don’t choose to eliminate Christmas movies. Because Charlie Brown Christmas.

Plan Alternatives

 

Keep a list of things you can do instead of going on Facebook or Youtube. Snowball fight. Library trip. Reading. Volunteering. Have a real discussion, bake Christmas cookies, address cards. Have board games, puzzles, or art supplies set up in a central location. If there are choices that are ready to go, the mindless electronic siren call won’t be as alluring.

Make a New Habit

Create a go-to choice for those times you feel yourself moving toward that Facebook tab. Pray for the person you wanted to check on instead. Think of a kind act to do for someone. Text someone something encouraging. Do something to be the hands and feet of Jesus during his holiday season. (Don’t go eat a Christmas cookie. Bad new habit. Trust me on this one.)
 

And have a wonderfully quiet December.