The kids piled into the minivan, and as we pulled out onto the street, my fourth grade son suddenly remembered his one homework assignment: bring poster board to class. So I did what all good mothers do. After dropping three kids off at school, with a baby on my hip, I put my own plans aside, raced to the store, purchased some poster board, and brought it to his teacher. Feeling like a hero, I was surprised to be greeted with anything less than praise and gratitude for rescuing my son from the serious wound of humiliation directly caused by his not having poster board. Instead, in front of the class, I was greeted with, “Oh, I am sorry Mrs. Phelps. I can’t accept that from you. It was not your homework assignment. It was your son’s.”
You would think after being called out in front of 20 fourth-graders, I would have learned my lesson. But as a young mom who believed that saving my children from all discomfort was a reflection of my love, I continued to jump to the rescue, no matter the cost. Forgot your backpack? I am on my way! Left your lunch on the kitchen table? I’ll bring it right over! Math assignment on the your bedroom floor? Give me ten minutes...I can swing by the school!
It’s what we do. Convinced that without our help something tragic will happen to them, we love out of fear and we help to control; all the while thinking we are just doing our job.
But it is not our job.
It is God’s job.
And last time I checked, he wasn’t looking to retire.
In the secular world, we call this enabling. It is excusing, justifying, ignoring, denying, or smoothing over a behavior. Not because we support or condone it, but because we are so incredibly anxious and affected by it; not because we approve of our loved ones choices, but because we can not bear to see them walk through the consequences. I tell you this, sweet friend, with authority, as I am a recovering professional enabler. I tried so hard to keep my own child from having to deal with that one big crisis that I managed to prolong the problems by keeping him and my family living in a constant state of smaller crises. At best, a distorted attempt to solve problems, I never did succeed at removing his suffering, but sadly, only postponed it.
How many of us are wasting our time and energy trying to prevent our loved ones from suffering? And how many of us, if we are being honest, aren’t stepping in to clean up their mess because of their potential pain, but rather, because of our own? Let’s face it. It hurts to watch a loved one hurt. It is so much easier to just do for them what we know we can do so that unpleasant conflict is avoided, hard consequences are erased, and can we move on with life.
I have sat in enough circles to finally understand that the key to breaking the pattern of enabling is to return responsibility to the person it belongs to. As a firm believer in therapy that is rooted deeply in faith, I’d like to take this a step further and say that the key to breaking the pattern of enabling is to return responsibility to the God it belongs to.
This thought was confirmed yesterday as my Walking With Purpose small group discussed healthy boundaries and relationships in the Keeping In Balance study. Galatians 6:2 teaches that we ought to bear one another’s burdens. But verse 5 commands us to bear our own load. This is some game-changing truth to chew on. Lisa Brenninkmeyer further explains:
Loads are made up of things we’re all expected to do for ourselves. We are to help one another with burdens, but be responsible for our own loads. When do we get into trouble? When we find ourselves carrying others’ loads or refusing to compassionately help others carry their burdens.¹
Raise your hand right now if you are carrying someone else’s load, and ask yourself...why? What am I afraid will happen to my loved one if I hand this load back over to him/her? What am I afraid will happen to me if I do not carry if for him/her?
Handing over a load that we have been trying to carry and control, all in the name of love, is no small matter. It is painfully hard. But you know what’s even harder? Never letting it go. Not because it will exhaust the one who is doing the carrying, but because of the message it sends to the one who was meant to carry it in the first place. The message that, “You aren’t able to carry this. You are not strong enough. God might not show up, so I must step in.”
I shared my exhaustion in confession. I told the priest that I felt like I have been handed a giant clay cistern full of water and holes. Each hole is one of my children, and every time I get one hole covered up, another hole starts spouting. “I feel like it is my responsibility to keep every hole covered...like it is my job to spackle everything...keeping everything smooth...everything at peace.” And the priest, in love, corrected me: “You are not the spackler.”
Not only are we not the spacklers, but in attempting to be so, we add unnecessary stress to our lives. The fact is, no life is without suffering, our pain has purpose, and we gain nothing but an anxious heart when we believe otherwise. The love we have for others is not measured in how much our hands carry, but rather, in how much we place in the hands of God.
Your Sister in Christ,
¹ Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Keeping In Balance (Walking With Purpose, October 2018) p.66
“Why then did you not obey the voice of the Lord?” 1 Samuel 15:19
If we can't wait to tell our girlfriends about our new favorite Netflix series, you can be sure that when we taste the difference that Jesus makes in our lives, we'll want other people to experience the same. Nowhere is that desire more intense than when mothers want to pass their faith to their children. I'm often asked about good resources for this, and what to do about older kids who have stopped coming to us for advice and who probably aren't listening to us much at all. It would be so simple if the solution was found in a book or a program that I could recommend. But that's not what I've seen to be the most effective. Here's what I think is the total game changer: MAMAS WHO ARE RADICALLY OBEDIENT TO GOD.
In 1 Samuel, we find Saul, a man who stood head and shoulders above all the Israelites. God chose him as Israel's first king, but even with all his accolades, good looks, brawn, and leadership opportunities, Saul had self-esteem issues. We know this from the words of the prophet Samuel, Israel's spiritual leader. In I Sam. 15, Samuel was calling Saul out for not obeying the Lord. Saul was supposed to wait for Samuel to come and offer a sacrifice before a battle, but fear crept in, patience wore thin, and Saul took matters into his own hands and did it himself.
The first words out of Samuel's mouth when he saw Saul was this: “Though you are little in your own eyes, are you not the head of the tribes of Israel? The Lord anointed you king over Israel.” (1 Sam. 15:17) He then went on to ask Saul why he didn't obey the voice of the Lord after being given clear instructions.
Samuel was basically saying, “Saul, even though you don't think you are adequate or amount to much, God has chosen you for a really important task. He anointed you to LEAD. He told you to obey. So what were you thinking?!”
Saul responded by saying, “I have obeyed the Lord. I went on the mission he sent me on. These are all the things I did do. Why the obsessive attention to minute details? I obeyed in the big things. Isn't that good enough?”
And Samuel's answer brought down the hammer; “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.” (1 Samuel 15:22) Then the news was delivered that God had rejected Saul as king. Obedience didn't just matter in the big stuff. God was concerned with the details.
So back to our kids and our desire to pass our faith to them. There are great materials and programs out there, and we are wise to expose our kids to them. But there is nothing that will have greater effect on our children than our own radical obedience- not just in the big things, but in the little day-to-day decisions that most people in our lives don't see but our children do.
Romans 12:1 says that we are to “present [our] bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” This is a picture of us offering everything we have on an altar to God. It's a declaration that we are willing to take our hands off our lives and let God be utterly in charge. It's giving Him the right to call the shots on the big things and the little things. It's committing to a life of prayer where we are in touch with God throughout the day so that we recognize the small ways He's asking us to obey, not just the big and obvious ones. It's committing to radical obedience where we do what He has asked ALL THE WAY, RIGHT AWAY. This is what our kids notice. This is what impacts them deeply.
Our kids are asking the question, “Is this faith thing for real? Does Jesus really make that big a difference?” And they look to our lives more than our words for the answer.
We hear that call to offer our lives as living sacrifices-to obey radically-and all too often we say, “God, I'll obey you if….”.
Make no mistake. Whatever is on the other side of that word “if” is what we want and worship most. That is what we are willing to sacrifice for. And our kids know it. They see it. We all worship something. Whether it's comfort, a career, a relationship, status… there is something that we will give anything to have and hold onto. God asks that it be HIM. He asks that our obedience not be tied to conditions.
The only way we will ever be able to obey Him in this way is if we see Him as infinitely wise and infinitely kind. We need to know Him in order to trust Him. This is why we delve into Scripture- so that we can know Him better. So that we can see evidence of His wisdom in order to trust in His plan for our lives. In order to hear of His kindness so that we remember He is utterly FOR US.
Where is God asking you to obey right now? What choice is in front of you? Who will you worship in this moment? What is holding you back?
I pray that we can follow hard after God in the big and in the small, because what our world needs is women whose trust in God translates into brave and radical obedience. Being up to date on our social media feeds, having perfectly organized homes, nailing it with deliverables at work- all of that feels great. But the simple acts of obedience CHANGE THE WORLD.
*This post first appeared on the WWP website in February 2017.
In November, I enjoyed a girls' weekend away with friends from grammar school and high school. Yes, we sat around drinking wine in our PJs, swapping stories about our families. But something else was discussed in far greater detail than whose husband snored the loudest, and it dominated the weekend's chatter, and it was all about getting our kids into college.
My oldest child (Jack) is just 14, but I absorbed every word of this complex subject, fascinated by the lengths to which many parents would go to get their son or daughter into a “good” college.
Honestly? Some of what I learned was just downright crazy, but before I knew it, I had jumped right on that college crazy train.
It became my mission in life to get Jack's grades up, which you should know is about as easy as launching myself into space, since Jack is by no means a scholar and he Just. Doesn't. Care. About. School.
I should qualify that by saying Jack does just fine in the subjects he enjoys (theology and English), but he doesn't give a hoot about his other classes.
And the more I'd push Jack to pay attention in class, and focus on homework, and study for tests, the more frustrated I'd get, because my pushing wasn't paying off (I may have even completed a number of ninth-grade Biology assignments, because we don't need any more homework zeros now, do we?).
In between all the pushing, I allowed myself brief moments of daydreaming about the college sticker on my future car; the sticker from the prestigious university attended by Future Jack. Uppercase block letters in the center of the rear window. That sticker had become my Holy Grail.
My husband was not riding the college crazy train with me. He wasn't having any of the pushing, helping or college-daydreaming. To punish Jack for not trying hard enough in school or to let him fail were the two courses of action my husband would consider.
What, seriously, should a parent do with a kid like Jack? Punish? Accept bad behavior? Pray for divine intervention?
Last Fall I joined an Opening Your Heart Bible study group. Opening Your Heart is the Walking with Purpose foundational Bible study, and often as I progress through the lessons, answers to questions like these emerge from the pages, to my great joy, and relief.
A few weeks ago, my small group was reviewing Opening Your Heart Lesson 8, “What is Grace and What Difference Does it Make?” I'll admit that I was a little fuzzy on this topic going in. How grace worked exactly, and the role it had in our lives was hard for me to grasp as a Catholic newbie. But Lesson 8 taught me two things:
Takeaway #1: I'm pretty sure that me writing Jack's biology labs isn't the “free and undeserved help” we're talking about here.
Takeaway #2: The grace I need to give to others, to my children? I think it is the infinite love, support and forgiveness that I give, even when they don't deserve it.
Something else from this lesson that jumped out at me:
“The charity of Christ is the source in us of all our merits before God.” (3)
Merits - our abilities and achievements - are pure grace. I was really happy to come across that Catechism Clip when I did.
The artistic renderings that Jack sketches on his tablet in lieu of listening to a bio lecture? The piano songs he composes instead of finishing his math homework? Art and music are, for Jack, gifts from God that I was completely overlooking in my quest for a high overall GPA and a college bumper sticker.
Jack's merits don't stop there. Over the years I've watched this son of mine win home-run trophies, sing solos at baseball stadiums and earn cross-country medals as well.
That Opening Your Heart lesson on grace? For me it was a game-changer. It was God saying through the pages, Stop doing ninth-grade biology homework, forgive your son, and watch where his God-given talents take him.
When solutions to my personal problems reveal themselves from the pages of a book, it's a beautiful thing. But this Bible study offers so much more than practical parenting lessons. Opening Your Heart is an incredibly effective guide to lasting transformation of the heart, and to a deeper relationship with Christ. I look forward to meeting Future Jen when she has completed this 22-lesson study 🙂
1 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1996
2 Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Opening Your Heart (2010-2018), p. 95
3 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2011
Today is the second day of school. We crushed day one. Knocked it out of the ball park.
I only forgot to make one lunch.
Only one kid forgot her water bottle.
I only had to make one school run to drop off a lunch.
I took absolutely no pictures of any of my children.
We did not get any new haircuts or backpacks or first day of school outfits.
Only one bus got lost.
Only one kid lost his lunch box. (thankfully not the child who insisted on the Vera Bradley lunch box, that has obviously been designed and hand crafted for the child who doesn't eat. It has room for about four grapes and two crackers. Maybe three..if you crush them.)
Only one teacher is highly questionable.
Only one kid said, "I don't like school," before heading off to bed.
Only three children brought 6,000 papers in giant envelopes home for me to sign, as opposed to the 8,000 forms I got last year, when I had four kids in grade school.
And only one kid might have already annoyed his teacher.
Oh, back to school. I really am not a fan.
The day before the first day of school, I sat on my front porch in prayer. You might have heard me shouting, "Saint Monica!!!?? Are you there??!!" Because kids, school, and all the worry that comes with it, like a stupid package deal...all of it...it is just a lot. And I figured Saint Monica, our Patron Saint of Mothers, would understand. I figured Saint Monica, who knows about kids and about worry, could help.
It can not just be me, right?
School? It is a lot.
But we make it a lot, don't we?
I mean, we start preparing our kids for college when they are still wearing pull-ups.
We start touring colleges when they barely know their way around the high school.
They practice sports 56 times a week because clearly, they are all professional athletes just waiting to happen.
We ask 17-year-olds, who barely know how to hold a conversation that isn't in texting format, "What do you want to do with your life?"
Third grade teachers look at their students on the first day of school, and say, "If you want to make it in the fourth grade...."
We ask 18-year-olds to declare majors, otherwise they will be labeled undecided. Undeclared. Might as well call them unworthy. Unimportant. Unsuccessful.
You know what it is like? It's like telling a four-year-old to get ready because Christmas is almost here, and that Santa is coming with all of their presents....in July. Then we expect them to not cry or complain when they realize how long they have to wait.
We whip them up into butter, get them thinking about everything yet to come and all of the things they will need to do, and then we sit back, pour our fourth glass of wine, and shake our heads wondering why kids today have so much anxiety.
Can I just say, I have spent nearly my entire life undecided. I basically majored in "Undeclared," with a minor in "I know absolutely nothing." Amazing that I even graduated, really.
And dare I say, as I write, I am still undecided on so many things. Especially what to make for dinner.
But there is ONE THING I am decided on.
And on this, I do not waver.
I am decided on the one thing that actually matters.
That one decision, that one declaration, that makes everything else...all those indecisions...just a little bit easier, a little more clear.
I decided long ago never to walk in anyone's shadow. If I fail, if I succeed, at least I know that I believed. No matter what they take from me, they can't take away my dignity. Because the greatest love of all, is happening to me. I found the greatest love of all inside of me....
Just kidding. Sorry. I couldn't resist singing that.
So, for real.
That one decision?
Life changed for me the day that I decided that my identity was not in my talents, in my job, in my children's success, in my mothering, in my finances, in my home, in my body, in my baking, or in how good of a wife I am (and thank God for that).
My identity is in CHRIST and Christ alone.
No one else.
Because here is the thing. If you do not know that you belong to Christ, that you are a beloved child of God, that your worth is not in what you do, but in whose you are, then being undecided about things like school, and marriage, and career and where to sit in the cafeteria, can feel really, really, REALLY horrible. And our children?? What about them? In a time when God is unpopular and removed from everything and they are told to do whatever they want so long as they are happy, where do they stand? In a time where we spend so much of our energy making sure that they play the right sports, and get those good grades, and apply to the best schools, and get those scholarships, what about them? Have we told them why they matter? Or have we been too busy telling them what they must achieve? Have we reminded them that their worth has nothing to do with how many followers they have on social media? Do they know there is something, someONE, so much greater than what many have settled for? Do they know their true identity? Do they know whose they are?
Because I don't think that they do.
I think that they think that they belong to the world.
And friends, this breaks my heart; when I picture how hard life will be for our children, should they never come to know their true worth, and how frightening it must be for them to wake up not having any idea as to who they are. And when my mind goes there, well, that's when you'll hear me screaming for Saint Monica, to come quickly, to intercede, to put my tears to good use. Our children deserve so much better than to be defined by anything other than their names etched in the palms of God's hands.
You know, I am not the kind of parent who really cares that much about grades. I am the parent that cares more about their hearts. Maybe because my own grades were not that good, but I think more so, because I have lived much of my life with a misdirected heart. And I just see too much worry in our children's faces today; too much pain, too much comparison, too much obsession and worshiping of all the wrong things. And as I prepare to send my first born off to college this weekend, all I can pray and hope for is that the foundation I have laid down for him is solid. The seed has been planted. My whisper in his conscience will one day be louder than the screams of this world. The sports, the grades, the college years...sure, of course, they matter. But it is what has been learned under our roof that matters the most. The domestic church. This is where it all begins. And you pray that just a little bit of what you have done...not said or preached, but actually lived out strong...you pray to God that just a bit of it sticks when they are gone.
Funny. Yesterday morning I asked my 6th grader what sort of things he wanted me to pack in his school lunches, and in confidence he said, "We'll figure it out." I was hoping for something a little bit more clear...like, I don't know, a sandwich, or apples. "We'll figure it out" was not sounding like much help at all. But an hour later, kneeled before the altar, with three kids at school and one still in my basement, I stared at the crucifix, thinking that maybe, if I stare hard enough, I will hear some answers. And so I prayed...keep them all safe, Lord...they will be safe, right??....and guide them to good people, healthy relationships...please, Lord, lead them to You, You can do that right?....teach them that their identity has nothing to do with anything but You, ok?? Will you promise me, that Lord??...and I stared and stared until finally...I heard.
"We'll figure it out." He said.
But not so much a "you and me, Laura...we got this" more of a "I have got this...and when it is all revealed, you will see...it will all be figured out."
I am happy to report that everyone left this morning with a lunch, no water bottles were left behind, and we are hoping for smoother bus rides that arrive on time and that maybe that one teacher was just having a rough day. The young man in the basement, who packs up and goes on Sunday, just surfaced to say that he is bored, which only means he is ready to move on. And yes, in case you are wondering, he is undecided. And that is not a bad thing. It gives God much to work with, actually. And He is already working. And I believe that if my son were able to sit still for just long enough, without comparison to his peers, he too would hear Him say, "We'll figure it out." And as I call on Saint Monica I can't help but smile, because I am reminded that it is ok to have a child who is undeclared, so long as he has a mother who declares; who declares day and night, truth and love, over her children, who will never let go of hope, whose tears matter, who does not need to figure it all out, because He already has.
My children? I declare that they are not their grades, they are not their schools, they are not their sports, their looks, their talents or successes. I declare that they are the worthy and beautiful and good children of an Almighty God, a faithful God, a gracious God, a God that has good plans for them, a God that has it all figured out. This, I have decided, and this I declare, so in case they ever forget their identity, they will always have a mother around to remind them, to declare truth over them, when the world tries to decide truth for them.
And if they ever forget their lunches, well, I will take care of that as well.
Regional Area Coordinator
Walking with Purpose
Read Laura's blog here: http://www.lauramaryphelps.com/
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