Returning to a Family Sabbath

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“Most of the things we need to be most fully alive never come in busyness.
They grow in rest.” — Mark Buchanan

We lit a tiny, very average looking candle at the start of Sabbath last Friday afternoon. Staring into the amber light, I was flooded with memories of our Sabbath practices from years before. When Glenn and I first started learning about the spiritual practice of a weekly Sabbath about eight years ago, we became quite zealous and intentional about it. You know the feeling that comes with any new habit that you are determined to make a part of your life… In that season, we lit a ‘special’ candle each week, dropped all our screen devices in a basket, and said a special prayer to guide us into the next 24 hours.

Sabbath was a special time we purposely set aside each week to stop and rest from regular work activity and to delight in the Lord and His people. 

Over the years, we’ve struggled to be consistent in practicing a Sabbath rhythm. Just as we thought we were getting into a regular, healthy routine something like an extended sickness or a new soccer season…or, you know, the birth of another child…would derail our rhythm. So, we’re starting again by going back to a symbolic act at the start of our weekly sabbath, lighting a candle.

For me, as a mom, in order to be able to truly rest —as much as possible with young kids— this means preparing well. Preparing well actually means doing quite a bit of difficult work. At times it seems counter-intuitive to work, work, work — sometimes in a frenzy — to finally be able to rest and delight.

Our preparation for Sabbath looks like scurrying around an extremely cluttered house, picking up books, clothes, papers, random food bits that should have been dropped only in the kitchen area…since we have a rule of only eating in the kitchen and dining area…except that I have children who don’t always listen and walk around the house humming while eating crackers and dropping crumbs along their path. Do you ever feel as though there are certain statements you say to your kids that you think you’ll be saying forever? I guess training requires repeating the same admonitions over and over and over. Maybe when they’re adults we’ll look back and see some of the fruit of our labors when we see civilized adults making rules of their own…

Anyway…our oldest girls, who are now 11 and 10, are extremely helpful in the process of getting our home organized. One daughter in particular thrives in an orderly environment so she is just as much an advocate of keepings things neat and tidy as we are. (I have to admit here, I’m more inclined to stress tidiness prior to Sabbath than on most other days. I will normally let the house go in favor of doing just about anything else. Otherwise, I feel like I will only have time to do dishes, cook meals, and pick up. This doesn’t feel like a beautiful life to me even if it might appear to others that I have it together if my house is put perfectly in order. Relationship rules the roost for us and that usually means an untidy house!)

But, for us, getting ready for the Sabbath means putting the house back to order and preparing food. Unfortunately, as my husband can attest, it’s a struggle for me to think about planning meals. If I could only point my wand and have a healthy meal appear. But alas, the magic of food appearing hasn’t happened yet. I have a strong desire to eat healthy, but eating healthy seems to mean spending endless hours making your own dressings and condiments, chopping vegetables until your hand hurts, and well, not eating any sugar. We continue to navigate some allergies in our home so this only adds to a bit of struggle when it comes to food.

So, it isn’t restful or Sabbath-esque for me to think about food! But, thankfully, Glenn enjoys cooking! His creativity comes out in the kitchen. He throws a little of this and a little of that into a bubbling pot on the stove and usually comes up with some kind of culinary masterpiece. And for this, I’m grateful. So our Sabbath meals are typically quite nice as Glenn finds it restful to experiment in the kitchen.

Maybe you’re in a phase where you wonder if taking a Sabbath could actually feel restful. I remember the days of having three kids, five and under and feeling as thought the weight of sabbath preparation was entirely on my shoulders. I recently talked to a friend who is a new mom of a young baby. She mentioned feeling like taking a 24 hour Sabbath, as the Bible suggests, was almost impossible considering all the factors and stresses of life in their current situation. But, she said she could take two hours on a weekend day, if her baby napped to find some silence, rest, and reflection. “Can you start small?” Of course, and you don’t have to do it perfectly from the beginning.

I believe the Lord will honor the time we set aside to rest and delight in him even if it’s not an entire day. He asks us to take a Sabbath not only to attend to our relationship with Him, but also to give our whole being– body, mind, and spirit– time to rest. We will have nothing to pour out to others if we aren’t first giving ourselves the gift of Sabbath rest. 

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“The meaning of the word “sabbath” is “stop, cease, desist, pause, rest.” The first question we need to address when beginning a sabbath pattern is, “What will I cease from?” Only after we have clarified that question can we move on to the second question, “What will I do on the sabbath to nurture my ability to rest in God?” — Lynne Baab

Sabbath rest can look quite different for all of us. For me, a perfect Sabbath would include elements of solitude, reading and reflection, nature, and play with our family. It would mean me ceasing from my regular work during the week such as housework, most cooking, and teaching the kids. Since we live in a fallen world and various life events can interrupt a perfect Sabbath day, I’ll take what I can get.

It’s easy to hear messages from our culture that say we need to focus on getting more, and doing more. I’m consistently asking the Lord to remind me of His words to be grateful in plenty and in little. My temptation is to look for how I can work more to gain more material things. The irony is we can even try to get ‘more’ — rest and reading and renewal— out of a Sabbath, and undermine the spirit of the Sabbath in doing so!

On the Sabbath, I remind myself of who I am as God’s beloved child and of who He is.

There’s nothing I can do to make Him love me more.

Sabbath is a chance to stop and hear the wind blowing through the trees, and to and listen to my sweet child narrating a story. Last Friday, Jane and I spent quite some time playing various card games like Memory and Old Maid. It was a delight to hear her giggle in her efforts to find a way for me to repeatedly get stuck with the Old Maid. It’s possible there are some holy moments waiting for us if we take the time to pay attention. 

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How Nurture Shapes Your Child’s Future

IMG_2257Of course you love your children. Isn’t that why you take them to fun places, let them choose activities or sports, give them the best education you know of and buy them lovely clothes? All of us love our kids but sometime our best intentions fail to translate to our children’s’ minds and hearts. I’m continually asking myself as a mom, Do my kids perceive the love I am trying to communicate?

Recently— in the late hours of the night— I have been reading over some research by Dr Stella Chess & Dr Alexander Thomas on the effects of nurture in the life of the child. In this study, they conclude that a child’s choices and adult outcome is largely determined by a combination of the home environment and personal traits of that specific child. It’s true: some children are more difficult to parent than others. Chess and Thomas describe nine temperaments observable in a newborn nursery that tend to stay with them as they grow, though these characteristics can change in the home environment. But the best news from the study is that the atmosphere a nurturing mother provides often contributes to a well-adapted child. Even in situations where mothers had difficult babies or toddlers, nurture was a huge factor in determining how the child ultimately adapted in society.

I’ll be honest: our children have been easier to nurture in some seasons, and more difficult in others. A couple of our kids were very difficult babies and it took digging into the depths of my heart and lots of prayer to give them all the nurturing they needed. And one of my more difficult babies is now a toddler. Her long bouts of crying as a baby have turned into lots of wonderful verbal and physical energy. (I would add that she also barely sleeps these days which equals one tired mama. I thought these days were over, but I guess I was wrong!) One of our children was an easy babies but now her quietness is challenging to interpret. I’m now asking the Lord for daily patience as I ask question after question to my sweet, quiet daughter who I long to know deeply.

If we hope to maintain continual relationship with our kids throughout their life, a bond of true unconditional love must be present.  Without it, whatever activities, programs, discipline, ideas, relationships we present will likely not be received with openness.

Every child is different so finding a way to the heart of each child is a non-formulaic unique process. My oldest craves quality time. She cannot wait for the next opportunity to sit alone with me and just talk about all that is going on in her heart or to read a book together and discuss it. A listening ear and an empathetic spirit are what she needs most from me. And my five year old son will share his heart over activities he loves, like building legos, or during a pre-bedtime back scratching routine. Even if there is little conversation between us, connecting with him through the things he loves fills up his little heart. Discipline seems less necessary when I give him the individual time he needs. All of our kids crave individual time and as you might imagine can be challenging to achieve with four.

Each family has their own unique puzzle with unique personalities. Ask the Lord to show you how to connect with each of your children. I believe He will be faithful to meet you in your struggle, in your questions, and in the ever-changing seasons of a child’s heart. Ask Him to help you sense how to love your children well as you continue to build the relational foundation that will last your entire life.

After all, we will never stop being parents. Love well.

My Two-Year Old, My Mentor, and the Gift of Motherhood

image1Through batting eyelashes, my two year old daughter looked up at me.  Struggling to get the final things together to leave for the weekend, her words seemed a distraction. “Mommy, tell me a story about when you were little.” What mother’s heart wouldn’t melt at the sound of these delightful words? But in the moment, I was distracted with tasks that seemed non-negotiable. I settled down for a minute and looked into her deep, blue eyes. It did not last much longer than a second as I quickly shifted to the next task. I was off to gather my notes, my luggage, my coat. I wish I could say I responded in the moment and took the time to tell her a story from my childhood, about some magical day lived on my family’s Iowa farm. But I didn’t. I was overwhelmed, frazzled, just trying to get out of the house in one piece, semi-put together.

I needed some space, to step away, to be surrounded by other women who are walking along a parallel path. I was looking forward to thoughtful conversation and a night’s sleep with no children in my bed. Yes, this would nourish my soul.

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My mentor and friend, Sally Clarkson was leading a conference, ‘Own Your Own Life’. I was grateful to participate as a speaker on a panel, and to attend with friends and fellow moms from our church. Sally truly lives what she teaches. I know this because she has invited me into her home, her groups and her family for almost the past decade. Gently encouraging me to seek a vision for my family, for motherhood, for my life since the day we first met, Sally is a gift and her message is a rarity.

Here are a few themes that resonated with me at her conference:

Your home is a place to live, but is it a place of life? Life looks like taking the time to cuddle, pray and read with our kids each night.  Life looks like taking a fifteen minute nap with my two year old at 8:30PM. After all, in this stage, a late-night cat nap with my sweet daughter will only last for a short season, and these precious moments of lying down with her will be gone before I know. Plus, this little nap gives me just the amount of energy I need to stay up a few more hours!

If you are faithful in the hidden places, these places will become the foundation of your story The very place you are is where God is building character. I hope and pray my character has been and is continuing to be shaped as I have been quietly and freely giving my life to my children. I pray that my persistence, my patience, my diligence in motherhood for years is part of the foundation from which I can now give from and lead from.

We can all lead someone. We’re always ahead of someone and have our life to share, despite that we don’t do do it all perfectly.  We can choose to see our story as a a God-given gift spent for the life of others.

Your baby who was created to be dependent on you will not always need you like she does now or your toddler who gets our of bed 15 times in a evening will eventually stay in his bed. Or the utter exhaustion you feel from not sleeping will not always be. The postpartum hormonal imbalance will get better. You will make it. You will get through. There is light at the end of the tunnel.

I wonder if it’s not so much that ‘God doesn’t give us more than we can handle’, as much as it is that he enlarges our capacity as we step out in faith to do the hard thing.

What are you not doing because you’re afraid? What are you not saying no to because you’re afraid?  I’m currently at a worship symposium at Calvin College listening to my brilliant theologian husband teach a few seminars, while entrusting my precious children with my incredible in-laws. Being away from my children hasn’t always been an easy for me; in fact, it has been a source of great anxiety. And yet I know I have a God whom I can trust.  So I’m choosing to step out and trust Him today and believe that He has my family and me in His hands.

Is there something that is keeping you from stepping out into what God has called you to for this season? Maybe it’s a call to shape your home with truth and beauty. Maybe it’s a call to truly see the Maker of the stars as you lay aside the daily and take a walk in His creation. Maybe it’s a call to gather a group around your table for a meal. Maybe it’s a call to be present to the husband and children your Father has given you.

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When I returned from my weekend away, I swept my two year old Jane into my arms and whispered, “Let mommy tell you a story about when I was little.”  Of course she said, “Yes!”

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Find Sally’s latest book, “Own Your Life”, HERE.
Find out more about Sally Clarkson’s ‘MomHeart’ conferences HERE.