During my time of seventh-grade bullying, one girl was the primary cause. Supposedly a close friend, she instigated the incidents. Over the years I needed to learn the hard way that I couldn’t trust her. Originally I confided in her, trusting her friendship. Then she betrayed me. Repeatedly. Because she had been my first friend in my new school, it was hard to wrap my mind around the fact that she was acting as my enemy. Finally my mom got me to see, after far too many times of being betrayed, that I couldn’t trust my friend. Then my parents taught me the even harder lesson of loving difficult people by faith.
Loving difficult people by faith.
Loving by faith initially seems to contradict our definition of love. When we think of all the ways we use the word “love,” we usually associate it with pleasure. We love pizza. I love chocolate cheesecake, especially when I make it with Kahlua. Mmmmm. We love great books and great movies. And, of course, we love people. We love all the special people in our lives.
But what about the difficult people in our lives? Don’t we all have difficult people we love? And, if we’re honest, aren’t we difficult to love at times too? My parents taught me the importance of praying for difficult people. But here’s the most challenging part. We’re not allowed to simply pray that they stop being annoying or sinning against us. We need to pray for them in a way that cares about their needs being met. That meant I needed to pray that my frenemy would be happy, that life would go well for her, and that she would feel loved. That meant I could never complain about her to our friends.
God uses prayer to create love.
In his Love is a Feeling to be Learned, Walter Trobischer explains that the feeling of love follows the actions of love. Not the other way around. Infatuation can come first. Or an intense, sudden best friendship. But the feeling of real love follows our learning to love unconditionally, as God loves us. It also comes after we learn to love by faith. My parents gave me a tiny book by Bill Bright that changed my life and relationships: How to Love by Faith. This tiny book taught me how to trust the Holy Spirit to give me his love, as I prayed for the person who bothered me so much. What a revolutionary, biblical concept!
Prayer for others changes us.
To me what was most amazing about this process was that God used it to heal me. He took away my anger, my desire for vengeance, and even much of my pain. As I really prayed for this girl, I began to notice the ways she was suffering and saw that she was lashing out because of her own pain. My changed heart allowed her heart to change–slowly. I didn’t notice the change in her as quickly as I noticed it in myself. But God changed both of us, through my prayers.
Over the years, God has called me back to that lesson many times. Because I forget. When people act nasty toward me, my automatic reaction can be to feel hurt and angry. But each time God brings me back to his lesson of loving difficult people by faith, he brings healing. To me and to the other person.
Seeing this rainbow from my wheelchair the night before my extensive back surgery May 30 2016, I felt God’s love.
I knew God had brought me across the country to this surgeon for a reason. I also knew that God would be with me no matter what. And like Noah centuries before me, I experienced God’s rainbow promise of love that he would never desert me. Unlike Noah, I experienced this rainbow in the middle of my storm.
God’s rainbow promise of love for our daughter.
As a sign of God’s enduring love, we chose the rainbow as the symbol for our third daughter. Following the advice of Trent and Smalley’s The Blessing, we sought to bless her with a positive image. She grew up knowing that after the storm comes the rainbow. And God’s love is with us throughout both.
As a small child, she loved the bright colors of the rainbow and loved the Bible story of the rainbow’s origin. Of course, she also loved the certainty of God’s enduring love.
Instead of a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, she envisioned a heart. God’s heart of love was always the meaning of the rainbow. So we painted her bedroom walls with rainbows and hearts.
God’s rainbow promise of love challenges us to live actively aware of that constant love.
In response to God’s abundant care of me through much physical pain and uncertainty, I needed to share God’s love. I needed to share my experience of his love and my certainty of his love as expressed in the Bible. Romans 8: 38-39 says, ” 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (NIV)
In the same way, our daughter grew up knowing the love of God as a constant in her life. She also knew that God had called her to be a witness to the constancy of his love.
What blesses us as parents now is the ways she has incorporated sharing God’s love for others into her life. As Noah trusted that God was with him through the long, long storm, she has learned to trust. She knows that God that is always with her through the long storms in her life. As he is with all of us through the long storms in our lives.
Unbelievers who enter our daughter’s home have commented to her on the peace they feel there. She knows the reason. And she is able to share it with them. She is a good example of what Rosaria Butterfield calls “radical hospitality.”
May we all experience God’s rainbow promise of eternal love. And may we share it confidently with others.
Faces turned toward God.
Watching a field of sunflowers with their faces turned toward the sun reminds me of how we–as children of God–were created to live with our faces turned toward God.
As a small child, our middle daughter made us think of a sunflower. She was so full of sunshine and so eager to express God’s love to others. When her grandma said to me, “There’s no beating her face for sunshine,” I knew I had found her symbol.
Her older sister’s symbol was a young apple tree. Hers was a sunflower. She loved the symbol and lived into it, as I had hoped after learning the idea from Trent and Smalley’s The Blessing.
We told her that we thought of her as a living sunflower. She reflected God’s love to others just as sunflowers reflect the sunshine in their bright color.
As a child, she collected sunflower memorabilia. As a teenager, she painted her bedroom wall with beautiful, very individual sunflowers. As a bride, she carried sunflowers.
When she was a little girl, she did not know much of the Old Testament yet.
She did not know that Isaiah 60:19 says,
“The sun will no more be your light by day,
nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you,
for the Lord will be your everlasting light,
and your God will be your glory. ” NIV
But she knew that God loved her and wanted her to love others. She also knew her shining face made us think of reflecting God’s love to others, like sunflowers reflect the sun. I’m sure that encouraged her bright spirit.
But she had times of difficulty growing up, as all our children did. We thanked God then, as we do now, that she knew God’s love was not just for sunny times.
Yet she knew God loved her even when she felt miserable. She used to ask me why God didn’t just make her feel better when she was sick and prayed to him. Since she knew he could, why didn’t he?
The only thing I could tell her is that I didn’t know. But I also told her that suffering came into the world as a result of sin. I also knew that sickness and pain make us long for heaven and God’s presence in a way unblemished happiness would probably not.
God kept his promise from Numbers 6:25 to make his face shine upon her and be gracious to her. And later he graced her with the ability to share that loving favor from God with others who had struggled as she had.
Living with faces turned toward God.
As a high schooler, she once asked me to write down all the Bible verses I had shared with her over the years. I was surprised and knew I had no way of knowing what they all were. Then she told me she wanted to make little cards of them to encourage a friend as they had encouraged her.
My mother’s heart was full. God’s word had nestled in her heart and found a place from which to go forth in love.
[photo by marco-secchi-585553-unsplash]
“Fartie Artie!” taunted Arthur’s classmates countless times a day after his tragic mistake.
The story was that one day when home alone after school, he had been playing with matches and accidentally caught the curtains on fire. He had burned his home down. And now the bullies taunting him would not stop.
Arthur was two or three years older than I was, so I had been unaware of his existence before this event. But now I continued to notice taunting classmates evacuating whatever table he sat down at for lunch.
My second-grade self felt horrible for Arthur in his shunning. I worried to my mom about it. I was afraid Arthur would never feel he belonged again.
She asked me a question I had never thought about: “What do you think Jesus would do if he were a student at your school?”
I grudgingly said, “He would probably go sit with him.”
But Jesus would have been a boy and would have probably known Arthur.
“But I don’t even know him.”
Mom agreed and was quiet.
Then a bit later, “Do you think it would be okay with Jesus if I took my little sister with me?”
Mom assured me that she thought Jesus would approve. Fortunately, my first-grade sister was good-natured and very willing to accompany me on this mission.
The next day when we sat down across from Arthur and said, “Hi,” he ignored us except to move as far away from us as possible. This was NOT part of our plan.
My mom assured me that it did not mean our joining him was the wrong thing to do. She encouraged us to give him time. So we did.
I’m not actually sure that Arthur ever spoke to us. After all, girls our age definitely had cooties. Everyone knew that.
But after several days of our odd lunches, a couple of my friends joined me and my sister. Later a couple of his friends joined him.
After a few days of our segregated groups eating at the same table, I decided our task was finished. I never noticed bullies taunting or isolating him again.
Maybe that would have happened naturally in the same number of days—just because kids would have gotten sick of teasing him. We will never know.
I certainly never had a chance to tell Arthur or anyone else that the reason we were joining him is that we were trying to be like Jesus. They will never know.
But my mom’s question for me and her quiet encouragement of me and my sister in our mission taught us a lot about the character of Jesus.
She taught us that Jesus does not shun people who feel like losers. Jesus does not taunt people who really mess up. He loves us all and wants us to show his love to those around us—especially when they mess up.
One day my dad used a silly conversation to teach me about God’s love for me. I had often wondered to my dad how much sense it made to pray to God about everything. What if God didn’t want to do what I asked? If my prayer wasn’t something he thought was a good idea, he wouldn’t do it, right? Would I make him mad by asking?
As an example, Dad asked me what I thought he would say if I begged him for pet chickens. I thought that was silly and told him so.
He suggested that I think of myself as a small child living in a big-city apartment building with my family. Suppose I desperately wanted pet chickens and begged for that. Would he get mad at me for asking him for them?
“No,” said my dad. “I might laugh at the idea, but I wouldn’t get angry. I would explain to you all the reasons it’s an impossible idea. I might have to tell you no many times, but it wouldn’t make me mad.
“He doesn’t want you to be disappointed. He doesn’t want to have to tell you no. But he also knows that some ideas just don’t make sense. Other things you want and pray for could be bad for you if you got them.
“God’s love means he will always answer your prayers in the best way for you—even though it won’t always feel like it. But he always, always, always wants you to come to him with your prayers of whatever you are longing for.
“Just like I love having you come talk to me in my study when you get home from school, God loves having us talk to him about whatever we are thinking.”
As a child, my prayer requests were fairly simple. As I got older, of course, that changed. Then my dad helped me to understand that God also wanted me to come to him and vent when I was angry. Even when God was the person I was mad at.
When I felt abandoned by God because he let me go through traumatic events he could have spared me, God wanted me to vent at him about it. He wanted me to beat my fists onto his chest and ask him why he had let me or those I loved suffer in ways he could have prevented.
My dad didn’t have answers for me when my fiancé left me on my wedding day. But he had taught me clearly that God loved me and wanted to hear from me in my pain.
I didn’t learn the answers as to why God let me experience that traumatic period until years later, but I had learned the most important lesson about it from my dad years before.
Is there hope for our children if we do not delight in reading the Bible?
Will our children never learn to love the Bible? Worse, will they never trust Christ as their Savior? How do we find hope for our children?
Thank God that our children’s faith and spiritual growth is in HIS hands rather than in ours! We can be grateful that our God is sovereign and can work in our child’s heart and life even if we do nothing to further the process. Nevertheless, most of us want to be part of the process of our child’s discovery of who Jesus Christ is. We desire the joy of seeing our child turn to Christ and then learn to love the Bible and prayer.
But too often the tasks that need to be done now subject us to the tyranny of the urgent.
It can be impossible to spend time developing our faith when life is this busy. We push that off until some vague time in the future.
One difficulty is that infants demand so much time that young parents don’t feel energy for anything not urgent. If that is your situation, try listening to the Bible on your phone while you are feeding your baby. Then pray out loud. It’s one way we can listen and talk to God while actively parenting.
Another difficulty is that babies often have siblings. What if you have older children around while you are feeding your baby? Is it possible in your family to have the children sit with you and listen to a story while you feed your baby?
My older children grew to love that time because they knew that when their sister was being fed, they would be read to. They rushed to get me a book when they saw I was starting to feed the baby.
Are you in a period where it is impossible to find quiet time to read your Bible and pray? Think about reading a Bible story to your children while the baby feeds. Simple prayer time can follow. God will bless you as he blesses your children.
Most importantly, remember that each phase of parenting is a season.
In some seasons it is easier to find time for spiritual routines than in others. And God loves us through them all. He loves us and he longs for us to seek him, so that he can allow us to feel his love more powerfully.
As Proverbs 2:4-6 and Psalm 21:6 tell us, when we seek the wisdom of the Lord, we experience eternal blessings and the joy of God’s constant presence with us. We find the “hidden treasure” put there for us. Finding that treasure ourselves gives us even more hope for our children.
What are little ways you have seen God bless you with signs of his presence with you? What are ways you have found to make way for the Bible in your busy life with children? I would love to hear your stories.