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Is prayer a lifeline, or a waste of time?

I hated prayer as a child. What a useless, boring exercise, I thought. As a Catholic, I was given a beaded rosary, and taught to “say my prayers” every day. That practice consisted of touching the first bead on the rosary, reciting a memorized prayer (either the Hail Mary or Our Father), then touching the next bead and repeating the process. It was a mindless, useless tradition that served no good purpose. Even Jesus in the Bible warned in Matthew 6:7 “”And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words.”

I was speaking with a friend the other day that is battling cancer. Although she would not consider herself a believer, she welcomes anything that might “work”, including prayer. As I reflected on our conversation later, I realized that many people have misconceptions concerning prayer. I thought I’d tackle a few of them today.

One misconception of prayer is that God requires it as a religious exercise, and that the more we pray, the more pleasing to God we are. It is a proof, some would say, of our devotion to our faith. While prayer can and should be an expression of our faith, it’s clear from Matthew 6:7-16 that the Lord isn’t interested in the quantity of our prayers, but rather the attitude of our hearts. God is not impressed with the practice of praying 5 times a day or reciting the Our Father and Hail Mary many times over; what pleases him is humility, mercy, adoration, and faith. Micah 6:8 sums it up nicely: “He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God?”

Sometimes prayer is seen as a way to get what we want. If I want something (healing, a job, a boyfriend, a car, good marks, etc.) and I pray about it, then I should get what I asked for, right? I mean, if I want it, then I deserve it, and if I deserve it, then God should give it to me, right? And if I didn’t get what I asked for, then the conclusion often assumed is that prayer doesn’t work, or that God doesn’t care, or maybe I didn’t have enough faith, or maybe there is no God. These false assumptions and wrong conclusions have led many to abandon their faith or be angry with God.

The truth is that God doesn’t owe us anything. He’s our creator and graciously gives us every breath we breathe, and blesses us abundantly every day, but he does that out of love, and not because we deserve anything from him. He sent his Son to die in our place, to suffer the punishment that we deserve for our sins. He laid down his life for us. How can we have this attitude that he owes us something? We owe *him* something for all he’s done for us! Jesus taught his followers to pray “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”, not “our will be done.” (Matthew 6:10) The purpose of prayer is to see God’s will accomplished on earth, not our own.

Prayer is often defined as asking God for something. While prayer certainly includes making requests of God, if that’s the extent of your prayer life, you are missing out on what the Lord intended for you. Let me use an analogy. You will certainly make requests at times of your spouse or child (eg. “Could you pick up some milk on the way home from work?” Or, “Please take out the garbage.”) But if your entire communication with them consists of telling them what you’d like and then expecting them to do it, you wouldn’t have a very intimate relationship with them. In fact, they would probably resent you after awhile.

Making requests is only one small part of your relationship with them. You will need to spend time together, playing, working, celebrating, making memories, showing affection, discussing things, giving to each other, listening to each other, and so on, in order to have a healthy relationship. It’s like that with the Lord as well. Prayer is the means to a close relationship with God. It’s not about asking for things; it’s about spending time with the Lord, celebrating what he’s done, worshipping him, listening to his counsel, pouring out your heart to him, and ultimately trusting him to do what’s right for you. Prayer is date time with God. The verse 1Thessalonians 5:17 exhorts us to “pray without ceasing”. That means to have an attitude of prayer as you go about your day, inviting the Lord to be part of all you do. Prayer is friendship with God.

The last misconception concerns answers to prayer. If we didn’t get what we asked for, does that mean that God didn’t answer my prayer? No, I believe that he hears all our prayers, and answers according to his perfect will. We may not fully understand what his will is, though. It is not always what we expect or want. Why is that person healed, but this one dies? Why does that family seem to have everything so easy, and this family goes through so many difficulties? I don’t know, but God does. When we don’t understand his ways, we have a choice: trust him that he loves us, he knows what’s best, and he is working everything for our good and his glory, as is stated in Romans 8:28; or be offended by God, blaming him and concluding that he doesn’t love us or doesn’t exist. Jesus said in Luke 7:23, “And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” Oh, how blessed, how happy it makes me, not to take offense on account of the Lord when things don’t turn out the way I expected. Instead, as I choose to trust him, I am blessed indeed.

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Good Grief

I find myself in a season right now where I am grieving losses. Not so much the big losses, like the death of a loved one, but the little things that will never happen again or perhaps never had the opportunity to happen. My children question me sometime when I use the colloquial expression “good grief!”. Is grief really good? I think it is good; or at least, a normal process.

According to Wikipedia, “grief is a natural response to loss. It is the emotional suffering one feels when something or someone the individual loves is taken away. The grief associated with death is familiar to most people, but individuals grieve in connection with a variety of losses throughout their lives, such as unemployment, ill health or the end of a relationship. Loss can be categorized as either physical or abstract, the physical loss being related to something that the individual can touch or measure, such as losing a spouse through death, while other types of loss are abstract, and relate to aspects of a person’s social interactions.”

I passed by a park some time ago, and I felt this pang of sorrow that I would never be taking my children to play at that park again. With 3 adult children and a teenager, this is not a recent loss. It’s been a number of years since I’ve taken any of my children to that park. But for some reason I’m feeling that loss now. I grew up in an Italian family, surrounded by cousins and aunts and uncles and others in the Italian community. I lived almost at the end of a dead-end street, with the mountains, pond, and meadow being my playground. I am grieving the fact that I couldn’t give my children that same experience, since I moved to the city, married outside of my culture, and cousins are few and far between. I’m not regretting those choices, and much has been outside of my control, but I feel a sadness that my children could not experience what I did. Other losses have been greater. The #MeToo movement has revived painful memories from decades ago that I am finally admitting and grieving over. Sometimes it takes us a long time to be aware of and face what we lost.

Aging also brings with it a gradual loss of abilities, friends, possessions, and experiences. I remember hearing that in a typical 80-year span, the first half of one’s life is generally characterized by gaining (an education, a job, spouse, a house, a car, children) and the second half is typically characterized by losses (you retire, the kids move out, you downsize, your spouse may die, your health deteriorates, etc.) Loss is an inevitable part of life. Sometimes it’s particularly painful, such as when relationships with loved ones take a turn for the worse. I believe that grief is a God-ordained process to face the reality of those losses, release our emotions, and recover from them. How can we heal if we can’t even admit that we lost something?

I’m not a psychologist, but I know two things. One, that all people experience grief and loss in their lives. And two, that there is someone who not only is acquainted with grief, but who has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; and that man is Jesus. He understands what it is to suffer loss better than anyone else can, and He is in the unique position to comfort us when we are grieving. In fact, he invites us to cast all our cares upon him, for he cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). I love the comforting words of John 16:22 (NET) “So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you.” I look forward to that day, when my grief will be replaced with joy in the Lord’s presence!

Faith or fear?

Is your life based on faith or fear? That is the question I’ve been pondering lately. Certainly, there are many legitimate things to fear in today’s world. Terrorism, war, environmental catastrophe, children going astray or becoming addicted, health concerns, sexual assault, and identity theft, to name a few dangers, are a present reality, and fear of any of these things is not irrational.

Despite these very real dangers in our lives, the Bible exhorts us in many verses to not be afraid. The question is: why not? Doesn’t the Lord understand that these are genuine possibilities in our world? Yes, the Lord knows better than anyone what is in the heart of man and what he is capable of, but he encourages us to look beyond what we see or what might happen to who he is.

Psalm 100:5 gives us three reasons to live by faith rather than fear. It says “For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.” Rather than focusing on all the terrible things that are happening or could happen to us, the Lord wants us to turn our eyes to him and his character. He is good; he is always loving; and he is forever faithful. That means that even when tragedy strikes, he will be demonstrating his goodness, love, and faithfulness to us. He will not allow anything to happen to us that will not ultimately be for our good and his glory. He will walk with us through difficulties, strengthening and encouraging us. In Jeremiah 29:11, the Lord says, “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

What are the consequences of living by fear or by faith? Fear leads a person to be overwhelmed, troubled, weak, discouraged, hopeless, and reluctant to do what is right. Yet we are told in scripture that “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but one of power, love, and sound judgement.” (2 Timothy 1:7) We can choose to walk by faith, not sight. Over and over in the Bible we are exhorted to fear the Lord, not man. In other words, trust God in the light of potential or present difficulties. God assures us in Deuteronomy 31:8 “It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” When we choose to live by faith instead of fear, our hearts are filled with gratitude, joy, rest, courage, peace, and hope. I don’t know about you, but that’s how I want to live.

Learning to Let Go

Whether you’re a homeschooling mom or not, if you’re a parent, you will be faced with the difficult task of letting go of your children and allowing them to make their own decisions, whether good or bad. Of course, every parent wants their child to make wise choices that will lead them to healthy relationships and happy, productive lives. But therein lies the challenge. What if your child is choosing something that you feel is not morally right or beneficial? What if they are in an unhealthy relationship? Do you interfere, or let them work things out?

I was speaking with a friend recently who was heartbroken over some of the trials that her adult son was going through. I empathized with her pain and her desire as a mother to fix things. But I also counselled her to let him go. He is an adult now, and is responsible before God for his own choices. The Lord has given us the gift of free will, and we must also extend that to our adult children. Of course, there are consequences to our choices as well as the choices of others, but in trying to protect our sons and daughters from those consequences, we often do them a disservice. We deprive them of the opportunity to learn from their mistakes and grow in maturity. (There are times, however, when someone’s life is in danger; I’m not saying we shouldn’t interfere at those times).

As mothers, when our children are hurting, we are hurting. In addition to the hurt that we feel over their situation, we may be experiencing shame, guilt, anger, anxiety, depression, or even rejection and blame from our children. They are adults, but our hearts are still broken over their brokenness. They might be lashing out at us and blaming us for some of the difficulties they are going through. How are we to respond?

One of the most painful but valuable lessons the Lord has taught me is that as long as I am holding onto my dream and expectations for that child, I will be stuck in a negative emotional cycle and relationship with that son or daughter. If I can’t let go of my desires for that child and the urge to try to control the situation so that my dream comes true, I will be miserable. I will have tied my self-esteem and happiness to that child’s choice to conform to my desires or not. I will be happy when my child…..(fill in the blank). But what if that never happens? Will I live my life in misery? No, there is a way out: and that is to surrender our children to the Lord and trust that he loves them more than we do; that he is working out his perfect plan in their lives; and that they are accountable to God for their choices, not I. We have raised our children, and now they are adults. We can pray for them, love them, and give them counsel when they are open to it, but we must let them make their own choices now.

We also need to stop taking on shame, guilt, anxiety, and rejection. If there are offenses we have committed, an apology is in order. But we shouldn’t take on the shame of our children’s wrong choices, nor continue to receive blame for offenses that we’ve apologized for. Some adult children are masters at blaming parents for all their ills in life and denying their own responsibility in how their life has turned out. As we pray regularly for our children, trusting the Lord to work in their lives, our anxieties will be alleviated. If they are rejecting us, we can turn to the Lord for comfort. He knew what it was like to be falsely accused and rejected by the very ones he loved the most.

When I got baptized, one of the choruses that we sang contained the words “I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back. Though none go with me, still I will follow. No turning back, no turning back.” The Lord has brought that song to my mind many times in difficult trials. He has asked me, “Even if no one goes with you (children, husband, friends, whomever), will you still choose to follow me? Will you let go of what you want to see happen in other people’s lives, and follow me even if your desires don’t get realized?” When I said yes, I had so much more peace in my heart! I believe that the Lord takes us all through a similar process, where we are learning to let go of the things that we hope will give us happiness, peace, security, and fulfillment, and instead are finding ourselves in a position of rest in God’s unfailing love and purpose for us. It can be a rough ride to get there, but it’s a sweet spot to be in!

[Mar 10:28-30 NIV] 28 Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!” 29 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields–along with persecutions–and in the age to come eternal life.

Wrapping up the Homeschool Year and Thoughts on Tutoring

Every year when we finish our homeschooling session, I archive my children’s work, write out a transcript if they are in high school, and take off my teacher’s hat for a couple of months. Normally my scope and sequence chart for the following school year is planned and the curriculum and resources needed are ordered by mid-May. Then I can just enjoy the summer and not have to think about school.

I guess this year is going to be different. Due to various circumstances, I still have some planning and purchasing to do before we are ready for the next school year (which starts the 3rd week of August for us). In addition to that, I took on a tutoring job for part of the summer. I wasn’t really keen on it, but the Lord opened the door and I kind of got pushed into it! But I see that the Lord has a plan in it all…

Anyway, I wanted to share a couple of thoughts on homeschooling. One thing I did differently this year was to ask my child to evaluate all the courses/activities we were involved with this year. What did she enjoy the most/least and why? It was a profitable exercise, and I received some insights, surprising at times, that will help me in planning future educational endeavours. I think it would be a worthwhile exercise for any homeschooling mother to do with their children.

My tutoring experience has been an eye-opener so far. Let me tell you, tutoring is *much* more challenging than homeschooling your own child! When you homeschool, you choose the curriculum; you set the objectives; you know your child; and any learning difficulties can be corrected on the spot. Tutoring is a whole different ball of wax! You are given a child to tutor that is not your own, has followed a different curriculum, has been taught by a different teacher, and probably has numerous gaps in his learning that you must somehow discover and fill. In addition, the preparation time for tutoring has been much more extensive in my experience than what I take to prepare for homeschooling my child.

I must say that it has given me a new appreciation for the methodical, thorough way my children have been educated compared to the seemingly piecemeal approach used in our public schools. If I may use an analogy, homeschooling has been like building a house a little at a time on a solid foundation; whereas tutoring has been like trying to repair a house that has been built on a shaky foundation, with crooked walls that could contain mold or other unseen defects in them. It’s so much easier to plan and build a house from the ground up vs. repairing someone else’s poorly-built house!

Take heart, homeschool mothers. Your one-on-one investment in your children in those early years, teaching them to master those foundational math and language skills, will pay off in the long run. They will have a firm foundation on which to build more advanced knowledge and skills. Your diligence when your children are young will make an enormous difference in their future.

1 Corinthians 3:10 “By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care.”

In memory of my father

This is a portion of the eulogy I gave at my father’s funeral in January, 1999.

My father was a good provider for his family and a diligent worker. After working long hours at INCO, he would often busy himself with work around the house or in the garden. He was not afraid to work with his hands and was quite resourceful, preferring to reupholster a chair or build his own end table rather than buy a new one. He was faithful to his wife and protective of his children. Although he was not great at expressing it verbally, his concern was always for his family. He encouraged us to be thorough and strive for excellence in what we did, and he set the example by being meticulous in everything he did, from watering tomato plants to writing letters.

My father learned responsibility as a young boy of 12, having to take care of his mother and sisters when his father went to fight in WW2. He taught us by his example to be faithful to our God-given responsibilities regardless of the cost.

I thank the Lord for giving me just the right father that I needed to mature in character and I thank God also for his mercy in allowing my father to die without pain or suffering. And most of all, I’m thankful that I have a perfect, loving Heavenly Father that promises in Psalm 68:5 to be “a father to the fatherless and a defender of widows”. Earthly fathers are human, and they will fail us at times. But there is a heavenly Father, God himself, who is always loving, always good, always humble, always gentle, always understanding, and always trustworthy. He is the only one who can truly meet all our needs and satisfy our innermost longings for love, security and happiness.

Since I became his child 35 years ago by asking Him to come into my life, my heavenly Father has proven to be the most wonderful, faithful Father I could have hoped for. And he will be that to you, too, if you will only invite him into your life and ask Him to make you His child. He longs for his children to come to him and trust him as a baby trusts his parents. My prayer for you is that “the Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.” Amen.

Great Review of my Book Stress-free Homeschooling by The Old Schoolhouse Magazine!

I received this very positive review of my devotional book Stress-Free Homeschooling: 31 Days to a Healthier Way of Thinking by Kelly Burgess of The Old Schoolhouse Magazine!! Thank you so much, Kelly and TOS Magazine! I wrote this devotional book specifically for homeschooling mothers, but any parent who struggles with negative thinking or discouragement could benefit. I pray that it will be a blessing to you! Stress-free Homeschooling: 31 Days to a Healthier Way of Thinking by Laura Hum is available in print at The Learning House, and as an e-book at Barnes and Noble Nook, Lulu, and the iTunes store.
Update: ebook now available at Amazon and kobo as well.

Stress-Free Homeschooling: 31 Days to a Healthier Way of Thinking Review by Kelly Burgess

This product is essentially a thirty-one-day devotional journal that helps the homeschooling mom regain positive thinking and thereby reboot what may otherwise be a stressful homeschooling environment. It’s printed in a compact, easy-to-carry, spiral-bound booklet that is easy to keep at hand for daily encouragement.

I’ve been homeschooling my children for fourteen years now, and I can honestly say that I’m feeling a bit weary and battle-scarred in this home stretch with five more years to go until the youngest child goes to public high school. Each of my three children are so different, and each one has presented their own set of challenges, both in their education and in their behavior. at home. Homeschooling is a full-time job, and full-time in this case means around the clock. It’s a lifestyle that requires an ongoing commitment that involves continuous self-sacrifice. There’s no escaping the fact that it can drain your reserves on the best of days.

Because of that, I’ve really been longing to find something that would recharge my batteries and help me have a more positive outlook on this monumental task of homeschooling. I don’t want to feel like giving up on this important commitment, and I can honestly say that this book has given me lots of positive messages to ponder and internalize. It has helped me see things in a new light.

Each day’s message begins with a concern or feeling of discouragement about which you might find yourself praying to the Lord. Then the author shares how that same negative thought has plagued her in her homeschooling journey, but she goes on to use scripture to explain how the Lord wants us to view the situation. She helps guide the reader into a more positive approach and helps you find ways to see the issue with fresh eyes and a biblical perspective. Then at the end of the explanation, she leaves the reader with a scripture reference for further study and blank lines to record your thoughts and reflections on the topic.

As I read through the book, I felt encouraged that the author has experienced the same frustrations and worries that I have experienced in my homeschool, which let me know that these negative thoughts and feelings of discouragement are not unique to me only. I’m not having them simply because I’m a bad mother or a poor instructor. Instead, she reminds me that Satan is always ready to use these down-times to bring about self-doubt and to try to lead me away from leaning on God for his mercy and direction. As I read each day’s message, I felt a sense of calm and was reminded that God has called me to this task and will see me through it. I learned how to take a negative situation and view it as a building block that can result in a positive learning and growing experience in both my life and the lives of my children.

I highly recommend this book to every mom who has let doubts, fears, and frustrations creep into her homeschool. The positive perspective and scripture references brought me to a place of peace for the first time in a long time. I can do this! In Him, all things are possible.

 

-Product review by Kelly Burgess, The Old Schoolhouse Magazine®, LLC, May, 2017

http://www.theoldschoolhouse.com/product-reviews/?rid=6233