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!

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.

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.

When You’re Hurting on Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day is a wonderful opportunity to reflect on the blessing of having or being a mother. It is a time to express and receive gratitude for the sacrificial love that mothers give to their children every day. This can bring much joy, but sometimes Mother’s Day brings out more negative emotions.

Grief: When your own mother is no longer alive, Mother’s Day can be a painful reminder that she is no longer with you, and that you will never have another opportunity to spend that day with her. You will never again be able to hug her or tell her that you love her. You miss her. Who can replace a mother’s love?

Perhaps you’re grieving over infertility, or a child that died too young. One that you miscarried, aborted, or that you gave birth to, but then eventually had to bury.  You grieve over lost experiences; memories that you could have had but didn’t; the future that your child could have had. This type of grief is sometimes more painful than grieving a parent, who lived a full life, and with whom you shared many memories.

Rejection: A strained relationship with one or more of your children can make Mother’s Day an unwanted occasion. It’s tempting to look at other families who “have it all together” and wonder why your relationship with that child is so painful. Perhaps that child that you loved now sees you as the enemy, and harbors bitterness towards you. Rejection is never fun, and on Mother’s Day is particularly hard to deal with.

Resentment: Perhaps your mother hurt you deeply. You resent how she treated you, and cannot seem to bring yourself to forgive her. You keep her at a distance and put walls around yourself, because you don’t want to be hurt again. Or perhaps you resent your child, who has rebelled against you and brought shame to the family, or who shows no appreciation for the sacrifices you’ve made for them.

Regret: Perhaps you’ve made some wrong choices along the way, and now you are living with regret and guilt over them. You’d like to go back in time and redo some things, but that is impossible. You may be living with heartbreaking consequences as a result of your choices. Perhaps you find it very difficult to forgive yourself.

Anxiety:  You see your loved one on a path to self-destruction. This makes you feel anxious. You want to protect them and see them turn from their lifestyle to one of wholeness and healing. Mother’s Day can be an unpleasant reminder that your child is broken. You want them to be whole but they are not. And their brokenness, in turn, breaks your heart and makes you feel anxious.

What words can I write to assuage your feelings? If you are feeling any of these negative emotions, you have the right to feel that way. I’m not going to try to talk you out of them. You have legitimate reasons for feeling that way. I wish I could wave my magic wand and make everything better, but I can’t. What I can do, however, is reassure you that there is comfort for your grief; unconditional love in place of rejection; healing in place of resentment; forgiveness for the things you regret; and peace to replace your anxiety. The Lord Jesus Christ loves you dearly, and knows what you are going through. He has promised never to leave you or forsake you. He can comfort you in a way that even a mother can’t, because he knows what it is to grieve and suffer. He offers you forgiveness for any wrongs that you have committed, and promises rest and peace to those who bring their burdens to him in prayer and trust him in their situation. He will even give you the grace to forgive those who have hurt you, so you can move on in your life and walk in healing and freedom.

Mother’s Day has a way of bringing out both the good and the bad in your relationships. I hope it is a good day for you, but if it isn’t, the Lord is there for you; he understands what you’re going through; and there is always hope in him. Just turn to him and ask for his help, and he will help you. You are his beloved!

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28

On the Value of Questions

I was raised in an era where questioning things was not actively encouraged. In fact, it was sometimes perceived as being outright rebellious. Authority figures were to be obeyed; experts were to be trusted; scientific theories were to be believed; facts were to be learned. Yet as I get older, I realize how vitally important questions are to progressing in various spheres of life.

In education: Traditional learning methods have emphasized the memorization of facts and formulas. While this approach is certainly valuable in gaining a foundational understanding of some subject, it falls short in many ways. Sometimes the facts to learn seem irrelevant to the student, other than to solicit a good mark on the test. Yet when a child has a question, an inquiry, a real-life problem to solve, he is motivated to research, learn, and find the answer to his question. In the process, he gains independence and a feeling of accomplishment. This is far superior to simply memorizing some tidbit of knowledge that the teacher gave him.

In faith: It is through the preaching of the gospel that a hearer can understand that Jesus is the Savior and can then place their faith in Christ. It is through the teaching of biblical doctrine that a new believer can come to understand who God is, what he has done for them, and how to grow in their relationship with God. Both of these are essential to passing on the Christian faith to others. However, it is a healthy process to question what is being taught. If everything taught is blindly believed, how can one safeguard against false doctrine? Even if the teaching is biblically correct, there is great value in asking questions to discover what people have understood from the teaching, what they believe, and how to apply God’s word in their lives. It is often in discussion that beliefs are solidified, hearts are encouraged, misunderstandings corrected, and inspiration given. Preaching and teaching are wonderful gifts, but discussion enables people with different gifts to have a positive impact on one another as well.

In science: The very basis of scientific investigation is testing a hypothesis, or question. Scientific theories attempt to explain observable data, but a theory is not an irrefutable fact. Further questioning and research will bring us more reliable explanations of why things happen. We live in an era when honest questioning and independent research is sometimes suppressed and even punished by governmental agencies or large companies that don’t want some scientific studies to be made known. They prefer that people believe in their propaganda and policies instead. It appears that honest questioning of the safety of vaccines or the efficacy of traditional approaches to cancer, for example, are too much of a threat to allow. Much progress could be made in these fields if questioning and research were not ridiculed and opposed.

In relationships: Questions are of great benefit in relationships, as well. It is in asking questions of a person that we get to discover what they really think; how they feel; what their goals, joys, and sorrows are. It is in getting to know a person that we can develop a more loving, satisfying relationship with them. Here are some questions that can be asked with the goal of getting to know them better. Communication is a two-way street, and some people are more reluctant to express what is going on in their hearts. But an appropriate question could possibly open new avenues of understanding and intimacy.

So, don’t be afraid of questions. They are invaluable!  “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” Matthew 7:7

5 Things I Wish I Had Understood When I Started Homeschooling

  1. I’m not the real teacher here.

I thought that I would be the teacher, my children would be the students, and my job would be to teach them using the curriculum that I had chosen. Sound reasonable, right? Little did I know that although that was my plan and expectation, I soon discovered that the Holy Spirit was the real teacher here, I was the primary student in the class, and the curriculum was much more encompassing than Math and Language studies; it was comprised of the trials of life! Passing tests did not involve memorizing facts; rather, it involved hanging on desperately to the Lord’s hand and his promises. Homeschooling is so much more than an information dump from mother to child; it is a character-building exercise for all involved! And yes, the children do learn some academics along the way 🙂

 

  1. I can’t control my children.

When they are little, we can live under the illusion that everything is under our control. We set the rules, and the children obey them (for the most part). We choose what they will learn, where they will go, who they will socialize with, etc. But as they get older, the heretofore neglected reality that our children are not simply extensions of ourselves starts to become apparent. Their personalities, desires, interests, and values may be quite different from ours. This can be quite threatening to a parent who thought that by homeschooling her child, she would be able to influence that child to become, believe, or behave according to some ideal that the parent had in mind. Certainly, we have a major influence on our children’s lives, but if we are homeschooling to produce a certain outcome, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment.

 

  1. My children are not limited by my lack of knowledge in any subject.

Some mothers disqualify themselves from homeschooling because they could never see themselves teaching math, or biology, or art. They are weak in these areas, and view that as a limitation for their children. I’ve discovered, though, that if you provide your children with some basic resources for learning, they will probably exceed your knowledge in that area of weakness. Perhaps they will end up teaching you! That was true 20 years ago, before we had the internet and all the limitless resources associated with it. How much more true is that today! There is no lack of ways to learn something that you don’t feel adequate teaching.

 

  1. It’s all about relationship.

Homeschooling is a wonderful opportunity to spend quality time with your children that you would not have if they were being educated outside of the home. It’s an opportunity to discover what the Lord put in their hearts and to draw that out. It’s an opportunity to make memories together; learn together; play together; pray together. Homeschooling provides an environment in which to grow in loving God and others. When we began homeschooling in the 1990s, however, the prevailing mindset put too much emphasis on rules, discipline, standards, academics, etc. It was more about protecting our children from harmful influences, enforcing a moral code, and striving for academic excellence than having a fun, relaxing time learning together. Fortunately, that’s not the case today in many homeschool circles. There’s more of an emphasis on building a loving relationship with your children that supports their unique God-given passions.

 

  1. Neither my identity nor my self-worth is based on being a homeschool mom.

This one’s a biggie. As humans, we often equate our vocation with who we are. Then we measure our self-worth according to how successful we feel we have been in that vocation. I’m currently still homeschooling, but that’s not who I am. It is only what the Lord has called me to do for a season (albeit a long one!). I am the Lord’s beloved, a child of God, forgiven, restored, reconciled to Him. That’s my identity; not “homeschooling mom”. Furthermore, my self-worth does not depend on how “successful” I am in my present vocation, however you define that. Am I worth more if my children get straight A’s? If they love the Lord? If they have good social skills? No, I am precious to the Lord independent of my children’s choices or abilities. I am worthy because he loves me enough to lay down his life for me. If I peg my self-esteem on what my children do, I’m in for one emotional rollercoaster ride!!

 

What do you think? Can you relate to any of these?