This will hurt me more than it will you.

When disciplining me my parents never said, “This will hurt me more than it will hurt you.” I’m glad they didn’t. It would likely have sounded hollow, self-serving, and provoked disdain.

I understand what is meant by this not infrequent claim. We parents are usually sad to see our children unhappy, and especially to be the immediate cause of that unhappiness.

Is this claim truthful? Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of little Donnie, bemoaning the (disciplinary) loss of a favored toy or smarting on his back side. Mom, who inflicted the pain then claims to feel worse than he. Really? Can this be verified? Donnie has reason to consider that Mom might not have accurate judgment.

Is the claim humbly calming? Basically, this saying claims, “My pain is worse than your pain, kid.” Why throw a competition challenge onto an already conflicted relationship?

Who is the focus? “My pain is worse than…” This claim is self-focused. Since when is chastisement of a child about the feelings of the parent? Rather, the driving force must be obedience to God. “Bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4).

A child in need of discipline is in the tight grip of rebellion. His pride and stubbornness naturally lock arms against admitting wrong and against submission. He needs that parent focused on how to best help him see his fault and want to change. This is a critical moment when the parent should be thinking not about her own feelings but about how to help the child with the difficult process of repentance.

Give grace to the child with discipline done kindly.

Repentance is extremely difficult because it overtly opposes our nature. The purpose of discipline is to provide a grace that helps the child to surmount that difficulty, to help the child change. Chastisement is a God-given grace to children to help them repent.

“All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful” (Heb. 12:11). Do loving parents want their children to be unhappy? Of course not. But chastisement is not about the feelings of the parent. Discipline is a welding process that melds a teaching to the heart. Loving parents know that temporal unhappiness in the child can produce eternal good. 

“Reproofs for discipline are the way of life” (Prov. 6:23). It is about loving the child enough to do what it takes to lead the child to eternal life. That means putting off self and doing what is best for the child no matter how uncomfortable it makes a parent. If discipline rescues a child’s soul from the grave, what does it matter how a parent feels (Prov. 23:13-14)?

Instead, express your sadness over the child’s offense against God and the other person. God’s view is infinitely more important than how a parents feels. Express your sadness that your child must suffer consequences for a short time. Affirm your love to him. Tell him that you look forward to his growth in wisdom through the situation.

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In the Shelter of the Most High

He who abides in the shelter of the Most High
Will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say to Yahweh, “My refuge and my fortress,
My God, in whom I trust!” ~ Psalm 91:1-2

Threats or perceived threats come at us every day. If we don’t notice them, the news agencies will make sure to thrust them before our eyes. Covid-19 is a prime example. Cancer is often a dreaded foe. Diseases and accidents of all kind could instill fear in one person or another. Then there are the human enemies. This ranges from terrorists to individuals who reject and hate and basically treat us as if we are enemies.

Threats incite responses. Being basically self-preservationist at heart, it is natural for people to do whatever it takes to preserve reputation, control, true physical safety, whatever is threatened in the moment. To do so, we often resort to whatever works to achieve self-preservation. Some is biblical. Much is worldly coping strategies. Heeding the latter expresses trust in those sources of advice and safety.

God tells us a different source–Himself, including the counsel He gives in His Word. It often runs counter to what we think is wise. For example, He says, “Never pay back evil for evil…leave room for the wrath of God.” Whoa! That doesn’t feel right. He says, “do good to those who hurt you.” That makes no sense!

Now, He also provides other means of self-protection and right responses, such as “speak truth in love” and verses that provide for appeals to authorities and government for safety. I’m just giving examples of some that are counter-intuitive. The counter-intuitive are why following Christ requires a belief that God really is a shelter from harm and a shadow of relief. It requires commitment to make God “My refuge and my fortress, My God, in whom I trust.” Why should I one who lets me suffer threats and pain?

Who is this God who protects?

  • God is the Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth. All else shrinks in comparison.
  • God is the Almighty. Nothing can overpower Him. 
  • God is Yahweh, self-existent, personal, and eternally covenant-keeping.
  • God is God, supreme and Creator.

The safe choice

The shelter of He who is sovereign over all things and the shadow of He who is all-powerful is a really safe place. There is no safer place. To trust in the One who never breaks covenant and who is Creator of all is to trust in the only One who will never betray that trust, neither intentionally nor unintentionally. By character God cannot be unfaithful and by power He cannot fail. Nothing can thwart Him.

The logical choice

Trusting God in every situation is, despite the seeming success of alternate coping methods, the most logical choice. Thousands of psychologists, advisors, life coaches, and relatives will recommend any number of strategies for coping with stress and conflicts. You may gain relief or resolution for a time, but turn up the pressure high enough and you would find it to fail. Nothing and no one but God can be purely faithful, either by character or power. All people, governments, nations, and resources will fail, either by betrayal or by insufficiency. Even oneself will fail oneself. For both material and immaterial security and sustenance, the most logical choice for safety is that which both will not and cannot fail–God. 

The loving choice

Trusting God demonstrates love. It believes the best about God, takes Him at His word. So when your life seems out of control and the most tempting way of handling it is to trust your own ideas about what to do and what to resort to for relief, trust God. When the Word of God so directs, trust may require that you go against your idea of what is wisest, in order to obey and trust Him. Not only will it turn out to be the wisest course, your choice to trust Him will show Him that you love Him.

He who abides in the shelter of the Most High
Will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say to Yahweh, “My refuge and my fortress,
My God, in whom I trust!”

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I’ve Prayed About It (Decision-making)

“I’ve prayed about it and I just know God wants me to marry [this woman].” Maybe you’ve heard a similar decision-making statement. Maybe you have said something like it. I have. In the above case, the marriage worked out. In another case in which something similar was told to me, the couple divorced only a couple of years later. One wonders, did God change His mind? Here are a couple more examples I personally have heard.

  • “I’ve prayed about it and I know that God wants me to marry this man.” However, perceiving serious flaws in the man, family, friends, and counselors warned the girl against it. Was prayer really leading her to the will of God?
  • “I’ve prayed about it and I know God wants us to adopt this child. We can save this poor child.” Three or four years later parents find themselves having to repair destroyed property and protect the other children. They now look for a way to move the child out of the home and give guardianship to someone else. They admit that it wasn’t that they heard from God but that their desire to adopt was so strong.

(Before I proceed, notice that we can’t reason God’s will from outcomes. Just because a particular case works doesn’t mean it was God speaking. So, because Israel succeeded in getting the king (Saul) they wanted doesn’t mean that Saul was the king God had in mind. Also, just because a particular case results in catastrophe doesn’t mean that God didn’t will that situation. So, because Abraham never saw the nations that God promised him doesn’t mean he didn’t understand God’s will.)

Even when this claim, “I’ve prayed…and God wants me to…,” is in all sincerity, it has some advantages. It stifles disagreement. Who dare challenge the decision lest they challenge God? Another advantage is moral warrant. If an action is God’s will, then if anything fails it won’t be my responsibility.

Now, certainly, we should pray about decisions. To not pray would be to leave God out altogether. The question is, does someone “know” the will of God from having prayed about it? I am proposing that he does not. Here is why.

Misunderstanding prayer

Making decisions by means of prayer demonstrates a misunderstanding of prayer. Prayer is our communication to God, not His to us. In prayer, we talk to Him; not vice versa. God speaks to us by means of His written Word; we speak to Him by means of prayer.

The proposal that God tells us His will as we pray implies that He speaks, or communicates, what He wants in the subjective activity of prayer, not the objective reading of the Word of God. It is sensed internally. The practice of determining God’s will by means of “hearing” or “sensing” his will in prayer is built on at least two assumptions.

  • It assumes that God speaks outside of Scripture.
  • It assumes that the person making the claim accurately recognizes God’s voice, is able to distinguish God’s voice from the voice of her own personal desires.

Assumption that the person making the claim accurately recognizes God’s voice

Let’s start with the second assumption. Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and desperately sick; who can understand it?” Considering the fact that our hearts lie to us, isn’t it rather a bold, even naive, assumption to imagine that we can distinguish the voice of God “in our hearts”? Even when we’re praying? We are deceivable. We need a far more objective authority than our prayers and our perceptions.

Assumption that God speaks outside of Scripture. 

Nowhere in Scripture has God said that prayer is the means by which to learn the will of God. Rather, Jesus said, “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (John 15:7). Why the requirement of abiding in His Word? Because that is where he speaks. If you want to hear God, read His Word.

A better way to make decisions

How can we use prayer in decision-making? Do tell God all about the situation and your thoughts and desires (prayer). Especially, confess your own intense desires that might tempt you to do what you want no matter what is wise or what is biblically-revealed as God’s will. Then, gather data about factors involved in the decision. Then, praying as you go, study the Word of God to find commands and principles that bear upon the decision before you. For example, Proverbs 20:18 says to “prepare plans by consultation.” The principle is that we are not all-wise; perhaps it would be most wise to consult others wiser than you, even if they advise you against what you really want. Check His commands to ensure you don’t sin. Talk to God some more. Consider what will be for the good of others and for the glory of God. Listen to God (by His Word) some more. Then, when you make your decision, don’t put God’s reputation on the hook by claiming that what you’ve decided is, you “just know” through prayer, God’s will for you. Take responsibility for your decision and trust God to work His will through any outcome.

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Adoptive Moms on Right Thinking About God, Pt. 4

This is the final part in a series on the theme of right thinking about God when parenting adopted children who have not integrated into the family. The series (starting here) is fashioned from a discussion by five experienced adoptive moms who are overcoming the confusion and doubts arising from dealing with very difficult children who deeply grieve their hearts.

For our discussion, we each identified at least two lies about God the difficult parenting situation has tempted us to believe, two attributes of God/truths about God that counter those lies, and identified the Scripture where we find that truth. Knowing and believing these truths produces comfort, compassion, and confidence in parenting.

Following are more thoughts from our discussion. (“I,” “me,” and “my” refer to any mom who voiced the particular point, not necessarily to me, the blog administrator.)

Lie: The Word of God does not have answers for my child’s behavioral disorder.

My child’s emotional/behavioral disorder isn’t in the Bible. Therefore, while the Bible is helpful for spiritual problems, it doesn’t speak to psychological disorders. I need psychology in addition to the Bible.
~~~

It is true that the psychologies observe, collect, and identify behavioral patterns. They even identify emotions that energize or correlate to behavior patterns. But they don’t go deep enough, nor can they provide heart-changing, eternal solutions. For example, common views of the resistant, remorseless adoptive child who seems to have no conscience include

    • mentally ill from trauma in the past, 
    • damaged, 
    • caught in a rage cycle,
    • has low self-esteem,
    • has a disorder.

Looking at the evidence for several years I eventually realized that, however well-intentioned, those analyses did not explain the behavior. 

    • Someone with an illness is sick even when he doesn’t want to be; this kind of child turns demeanor and behavior on and off like a light switch–there is choice.
    • Someone who is damaged needs a doctor; this child’s emotions are actually working just fine, showing the natural response to past maltreatment that we should expect. (Regarding emotions, “damage” is metaphorical.)
    • Someone in rage is angry, not helpless; someone “caught” in an emotional cycle is habituated.
    • Someone who esteems self lowly is humble; someone with high self-esteem esteems himself highly, acts for selfish interests–high self-esteem is pride.
    • Someone with a physical disorder or illness can’t help the symptoms, so is not morally culpable; oppositional behaviors are chosen and morally wrong. 
    • The psychologies assert that the solution is, well, that varies by which of the over 400 psychologies you choose to follow. Who is right? Who speaks effectual wisdom with rightful, trustworthy authority?

For years I did not see the contradiction in my thinking. I said the Bible is sufficient for the Christian life yet I needed this other source of wisdom (psychology) because the Bible does not provide sufficient counsel for this part of living over here (psychological disorders).

How illogical! Since God is Creator wouldn’t He be the expert on what He created? Jesus clearly said that man cannot live without the Word of God (Matt 4:4), so the Word must be essential for wise living on earth. If it is essential, it must have effectual solutions for every problem in living.

The Bible speaks effectually and authoritatively on choice, on maltreatment, on rage and habituation, on out-of-control emotions, on how we view ourselves, on moral behaviors.

 The Word of God is living, active in revealing the heart and convicting the conscience (Heb. 4:12).

The Word of God is given to us by God and “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” That encompasses the whole maturing process. The training is intended to make men “adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). “Every” encompasses every behavior a child could do. God claims His Word can a child dedicated to every selfish work she can contrive and equip her for every good work. That means, it can teach her how to live morally right, loving her neighbor, can tell her how she has gone wrong and how she can correct the problem, and can train her in right living.

How can the psychologies or any other guide book or religion possibly compete?

The Word of God has more than adequate solutions for my child’s
behaviors, emotions, and relationships.

~~~~~

A final series point:

In our discussions, one theme all the moms observed is that countering the lies we are tempted to believe requires submission, submission to the Word of God. What God says is true, and if God says it there is an implicit obligation on our part to believe it and live by it. Difficult people in our lives (like a persistently obstreperous child) may influence toward false ideas. Our trials may contradict our understanding of God. We naturally perceive circumstances inaccurately (Jer. 17:9). Add to that our innate tendency to decide for ourselves what is right and wrong, to be morally autonomous. These human weaknesses are why belief in the Word of God requires submission to the Word of God.

“He who has my commandments and keeps them, He it is who loves Me” (John 14:21).

Posted in Adoption, Mother of Difficult Child, Mother of Prodigal/Criminal, Parenting, Child-rearing, Reactive Attachment Disorder | Tagged , , | Comments Off on Adoptive Moms on Right Thinking About God, Pt. 4

Adoptive Moms on Right Thinking About God, Pt. 3

This is part three in a series on the theme of right thinking about God when parenting adopted children who have not integrated into the family. The series is fashioned from a discussion by five experienced adoptive moms who are overcoming the confusion and doubts arising from dealing with very difficult children who deeply grieve their hearts. (part one, part two)

For our discussion, we each identified at least two lies about God the difficult parenting situation has tempted us to believe, two attributes of God/truths about God that counter those lies, and identified the Scripture where we find that truth. Knowing and believing these truths produces comfort, compassion, and confidence in parenting.

Following are more thoughts from our discussion. (“I,” “me,” and “my” refer to any mom who voiced the particular point, not necessarily to me, the blog administrator.)

Lie: God can’t really change my child’s heart.

(This is an implication of the lie, God isn’t really powerful.)

No one wants to believe that children can be willfully cruel and then refuse to feel remorseful, but with these kids it is obvious. I love my child, but I can’t ignore the evidence that his heart is hardened. He is cruel and treats it like making someone else suffer is his right. He won’t stop it. He has shown that he will endure any penalty for as long as it takes until he gets his way. He will outlast any adult, any authority, even police and social service authorities. The strength of a child’s will is amazing! It seems nothing can change his will, nothing can persuade him to do what is right. This has true for years.

~~~

First, just because God doesn’t change a person’s heart doesn’t mean He can’t.

Second, Proverbs 21:1 says, 

“The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord;
He turns it wherever He wishes.”

A despotic king at the time of this writing was autonomous, accountable to no person or governing body on earth. He could do whatever he wanted in remorseless domination. Only if another king conquered him could he be subdued or displaced. Think of the pharaohs, Artaxerxes, Alexander the Great, Constantine, Stalin and Hitler. This is the kind of king of whom the proverb speaks.

What the Proverb is saying is that God is more powerful; He can bend and break the will of a despot without violating the king’s will. It’s like Pharaoh of the Exodus. He declared that he would never let the Hebrews go. God said that Pharaoh would not only let them go but would drive them out, and that is what happened (Ex 5:2; 6:1; 12:31). Centuries later, Sennacherib was conquering left and right. He laid siege to Jerusalem. Then God arranged to change his mind so that Sennacherib voluntarily returned home without conquering Jerusalem (1 Ki 18-19). Nebuchadnezzar exulted so much in his power and autonomy that he established himself as a god. Right at the height of his power the true God humbled him until Nebuchadnezzar acknowledged that God, not himself, ruled supremely (Dan. 4). If God can change the heart of a proud, stubborn, ruthless, despotic king at the height of his power, then He can change the heart of the most hardened person, including a remorseless child.

Third, every person is born dead in sin (Eph. 2:1-3). Something dead is unresponsive to all things. The spiritually dead are completely unresponsive to God; they are not able to respond rightly. So it should be no surprise that a child could be cruel and remorseless.

Fourth, only a regenerated heart can repent of remorselessness because only a regenerated heart is alive to God.

Fifth, only God can regenerate a heart. The dead cannot raise themselves. This is true for the parent and the compliant (“good”) child as well as the rebellious child. Dead is dead. The heart of the rebellious child is not more dead than the heart of the compliant child.

Sixth, God regenerates hearts. What a powerful miracle! “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)” (Eph. 2:5). God gives life to a dead heart! Regeneration turns a heart from stone to flesh, from self-seeking to God-seeking. Only God can do it, but He can do it (Ezek. 36; Tit. 3:5). And if God chooses the person, none can resist, but the person will want to turn to God (Eph. 1:4).

My child is certainly not more powerful than God.

God has all the power necessary to change my child’s heart.

Lie: God doesn’t see or understand how bad my situation is. Therefore, He doesn’t know best.

I know God is good but it just seems like my situation is so hard and every day is no better. In fact, the older the child gets the stronger and more defiant and dangerous he gets. It seems like God doesn’t understand and I don’t see how this could be what is best for our family.
~~~

Proverbs 15:3 says, “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, watching the evil and the good,” so God sees all. Not only that, God looks “to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His” (2 Chr. 16:9). That means He sees the hearts, not just a person’s actions. Jesus “had to be made like His brethren in all things…” and “since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted” (Heb. 2:17-18).

  • Knowing all, God has all the data needed for ruling His world wisely.
  • Jesus, having experienced the worst, understands the worst of situations.
  • God’s intent toward those who love Him is to “strongly support” them.

Therefore…

God does understand and know best and carries it out with compassion for His own.

Lie: God isn’t really wise. 

If God were wise He would never have planned for this situation. It is too messy and senseless.
~~~

“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledges of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!” (Rom. 11:33).

The truth is, the problem is not God’s wisdom but my lack thereof. I am literally unable to comprehend every reason God has for doing what He is doing. I truly cannot fathom all that God is doing in my situation and with my heart and the hearts and lives of each person in my life. But I know from this verse that God is wise with infinite wisdom. So what may not make sense to me is not outside of God’s wisdom. To demand that my problems have to make sense to me is to designate for myself authority to which I have neither the right nor the capacity.

Posted in Adoption, Mother of Difficult Child, Mother of Prodigal/Criminal, Parenting, Child-rearing, Reactive Attachment Disorder | Tagged , , | Comments Off on Adoptive Moms on Right Thinking About God, Pt. 3

Adoptive Moms on Right Thinking About God, Pt. 2

The last post began a series on the theme of right thinking about God when parenting adopted children who have not integrated into the family. The series is fashioned from a discussion by five experienced adoptive moms who are overcoming the confusion and doubts arising from dealing with very difficult children who deeply grieve their hearts.

For our discussion, we each identified at least two lies about God the difficult parenting situation has tempted us to believe and identified the Scripture where we find the truth that counters the lie. Knowing and believing these truths produces comfort, compassion, and confidence in parenting.

Following are more thoughts from our discussion. (“I,” “me,” and “my” refer to any mom who voiced the particular point, not necessarily to me, the blog administrator.)

Lie: God doesn’t really care. 

The unceasing, very personal manipulative attacks from my child break my heart. I hurt so much every day all day long from the betrayals and rejection and resistance to every effort I make to love and teach my child. The hatred of her glares is so hurtful! I can’t describe the anguish. I just want the pain to end. How can God put this situation in my life and simultaneously tell me He cares about my pain? If God cared He would make the suffering end.
~~~

The truth is, God cares so much that He sent His own son to suffer and die for my salvation. When all I want is relief, I am seeking my interests instead of God’s, and that in spite of His great love for me. Instead, I must do what Peter dared to write to suffering Christians: “humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you” (1 Pet. 5:7).

God intends every trial for my welfare (Jas. 1:2-3; Heb. 12:4-5). He will end every trial in His time, not mine (“that He may exalt you at the proper time”). While I wait, God wants me to trustfully roll my anxiety onto Him. And I can do that because I know He cares.

God cares. God cares like no one else can.

Lie: God isn’t really good. 

No matter how loving I try to be, my child adamantly resists a reciprocal, loving relationship. Grief over the loss of this relationship devolved into despair and then depression. I thought, “If God is good then this wouldn’t be happening.” (This lie is much like the lie, “God doesn’t care.”)
~~~

Actually, appropriate grief can be right and godly, but domination by it demonstrated unwillingness to accept a loss God had ordained for me. Here was a contradiction. I thought I totally believed God is good. Simultaneously, by discontent and depression, I functioned as though God is not good.

Joseph had such a more godly view than mine. Having suffered for years because his brothers sold him into slavery (which must have been so much worse than what I have endured), he assessed their betrayal, “you meant it for evil but God meant it for good (Gen. 50:20). Isn’t that what God does throughout redemptive history? He constantly employs evil to achieve His good will.

Romans 8:28-29 says the same thing.

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren.

God is orchestrating every situation in our lives, working it all together for the good of those who love God. What is that good? It is conformation into the image of the Father’s greatest treasure, His Son. What greater privilege could there be? How could I think the opposite!? Therefore, by granting to me this trial to endure God is doing good.

My suffering does not signify that God is not good. Just because I don’t see what the particular purposes are for my own trial doesn’t mean God does not have good purposes. That is why faith is essential. Rather than grieve myself into depression, I need to keep carrying out my responsibilities in an attitude of diligent trust that…

God is good–greatly, abundantly, and extensively good.

Lie: This broken relationship can’t be the will of God.

God wants peace among people, yet no matter how much I love and what I try, my adopted child endlessly provokes conflicts with everyone in the family. This situation just can’t be the will of God for us.
~~~

This view challenges the sovereignty of God. Regarding all the tragedy in Job’s life that seemed to contradict the truth that God is both sovereign and good Job concluded,

“I know that You can do all things,
And that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2).

Nothing this child does can thwart the will of God. Just because my child remains hostile no matter my efforts to love does not mean that somehow the will of God is not being fulfilled. What is, is the will of God for me at this moment. So, I don’t know about tomorrow, but this broken relationship is the will of God for me today. It is a will intended to result in good.

Nothing that thwarts my will is able to thwart the will of God. I have a responsibility to submit to His sovereignty and respond rightly. To practice contentment and joy I must view sin and suffering biblically.

God is sovereign, even over trials and evil.

Posted in Adoption, Mother of Difficult Child, Mother of Prodigal/Criminal, Parenting, Child-rearing, Reactive Attachment Disorder | Comments Off on Adoptive Moms on Right Thinking About God, Pt. 2