A Lenten Lesson from a Four-Year-Old


It’s a dark and stormy Friday night.  We’re driving through thunderstorms and heavy traffic to visit The Boston Children’s Museum with our two grandsons, Soren (7) and Nils (4).  It’s taking a lo-o-ong time, and the boys remind us of this regularly.  We make conversation about all manner of things, some of it focusing on the recent Olympics and how amazing some of those athletes are.

Out of the blue (as is the way of children), Nils pipes up: “But when I grow up, I want to be Jesus!”  There is silence in the car as we ponder this stunning statement.  Four adults—two parents and two grandparents—process the theology.  We are at a temporary loss for words.

But not Soren.  Soren, you see, is never at a loss for words.  He feels a sense of responsibility, as the older, very grounded-in-reality big brother, to help Nils stay better connected with reality. Nils has a wonderfully wild imagination, complete with “camo-friends” who attend the University of New Hampshire, live underground, and camouflage themselves when adults approach but reveal themselves only to Nils.   You see the situation.

“But Nils,” Soren corrects emphatically, “ you can’t actually BE Jesus.  You know that, right?  You can’t really BE Jesus!”

I’m still processing the conversation.  (Nana minds are slower than 7-year-old minds.}   An interesting theological dilemma.  Of course we know the uniqueness of Jesus, the One and Only Son of God. But aren’t we supposed to be in the process of becoming more and more like Him?  What is that verse about being more and more “conformed to the likeness of His Son”? (Romans 8:29 NIV) There seems to be an “already in process” and a “not yet” aspect here.  I’m grateful for the future promise: “But we know that.when He appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” (I John 3:2)

In the meantime, we are called, are we not, to become more and more like Him. How does this happen? A question far beyond this humble blog post. But a question I think it’s good to ask during this Lenten season.

As I ponder the challenge, two observations:

  1. We become like the people we hang out with.  Becoming more and more like Jesus is, at least for me, a lifetime challenge.  But odds are that more progress is made as I spend more time with Him.
  2. Becoming more like Jesus seems to have a lot to do with seeing Him—actually seeing Him.  I think of  Mary’s dazzling cry on Easter morning: “I’ve seen the Lord!” (John 20:18)

My prayer for us all as Holy week approaches is that we may we see Him with new eyes, bask in the reality of His presence in our everyday ordinary lives, and live with this future hope:

As for me, I will see Your face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I awake in Your likeness.  (Psalm 17:15 NKJV)


What Do Your Kids Hear Mommy Say This Thanksgiving?

A little girl was helping her mother as she bustled around in a frenzy getting ready to serve dinner to a large group of guests.  When they finally sat down to eat, the mother asked the little girl to say grace. “But I don’t know what to say,” the child protested.

“Oh, honey, just say what you hear Mommy say.”

“OK. Mommy: Dear God, why on earth did I invite all these people to dinner?”

Sounds like me—or you, perhaps?—in that moment of total exhaustion when we drop into our seats after preparing a big meal.  And all the more so if you’ve cooked Thanksgiving dinner!

At this super-busy time of year, it’s all too easy for November to pass us by on the way to December.  Even our kids pick up on the November-December craziness (read my recent guest post at “Pass the Bread, Mom”).  Yet November offers us an opportunity we don’t want to miss: to cultivate gratitude—in ourselves and in our kids.

Thankful hearts do not come naturally in this “all about me” culture.  An “attitude of gratitude” needs to be both taught—and caught.  Of course that’s true all year round,  but making November your “thankful month” is a great way to start.

How often do your kids hear you express thanks throughout the day?  In one of our kids’ homes, they set a timer on their phones several times a day.  When the timer goes off, everyone stops a moment to name one thing they’re thankful for.

Two of our grandkids have a “thankful tree,” (described in my guest post at “Pass the Bread”).   Last weekend when Woody and I were with them, we got to add some of our own leaves.  And I noticed that just walking by the tree throughout the day became a constant reminder to me: Give thanks, Linda!

What am I most thankful for this Thanksgiving?  First: Our Great God, Who in His mercy, love, and grace has given us all the reason in the world to give thanks.  What did G.K. Chesterton say?   “The worst moment for an atheist is when he feels a profound sense of gratitude and has no one to thank.”

And second: The gift of watching parents cultivate in their kids (especially when they’re our grandkids!) a thankful heart.

Happy Giving-of-Thanks to all of you!

Happy New Year—and Take the Light!

It’s happened again. The Light. Just showing up when and where I least expect it. I’ve written before—in past Christmases, I think—about that “certain slant of light” that sneaks across the nativity set on our mantle on certain early mornings when the sun shines here in Wisconsin.

But this happened in the dark. Just the day before yesterday. I got up and stumbled into the kitchen, before coffee, and it was cold. And dark. Very dark.

And there it was. One single candle on the mantle, just to the right of the Bethlehem gathering, with its bulb lit. The candle next to it (both of them battery run) remained dark. They had, after all, been turned off before we went to bed.

But there it was. Stubborn, persistent, wonderful light. Penetrating the darkness and the cold with the reminder that the Light of Christmas isn’t extinguished after the holiday. It remains—persists, even—right on into the New Year, into the January of our lives.

Startled as I was by the light, I had a sudden flashback. One dark night long ago, early in our marriage, Woody and I were working as short-term missionaries in a very remote area in Northern Kenya. We had just finished dinner with a missionary couple and were leaving to cross a winding dirt road to the little cottage where we slept. As we started out the door, the missionary ran after us with a flashlight: “You’d better take this,” he said.

We resisted: “Oh no, we won’t need it,” we assured him. “There’s moonlight, it’s a short distance, and we know the way.”

“Oh, if I were you I’d take it,” he insisted. “There’s a leopard that likes to hang out around that road at night. But he’s very afraid of the light.”

We took the flashlight.

The memory came back to me as I contemplated that candle. I reflected on the closing days of 2012 and wondered about 2013. There’s been a lot of darkness lately. And 2013 is looking a bit murky just now. You never know what leopards might be lurking around. What did Peter say? Something about lion-like evil that prowls around, seeking to devour? (I Peter 5:8)

But there’s that Light. It’s persistent. Steady. Stubborn, even. John said even the darkness can’t put it out. (John 1:5) So I feel I can wish you—even despite and amidst any darkness in our world, or in your personal world—a Happy New Year.

And don’t forget—Take the Light!

What about When Kids Make Choices You Don’t Like?

Today it’s time to get back to your great questions.  Here’s a second one a group of moms asked me recently. “How do you respond when kids make choices of which you don’t approve or which you feel are not in their best interests?”   A few examples came with the question: body piercing, smoking, drinking, clothing choices, spiritual choices, dating.

As you can see, there is quite a range of issues (or potential issues) in the examples given.  Which brings me to the first thing I have to say in responding to this question.  It depends a lot on what the specific choice is.  And it depends a lot on the age of the child—pre-adolescent, teen, young adult?   Living at home with you or being supported by you?

It’s also important to say that, as is the case for so many parenting questions, for some of these issues there may not necessarily be one good answer for all parents—and all kids. But there are some very basic questions to ask, I think, before you respond:

  1. Is this choice dangerous?  (e.g., drugs, drunk driving, sex, etc)
  2. Might this choice have life-long consequences?
  3. Is it a moral/ Biblical issue?
  4. Is it a health issue?

If one of the above is true (and assuming this child, if a young adult, still lives with you and is subject to your “house rules”), then it is vitally important to draw boundaries, establish consequences, and practice “tough love” if you need to.

If, however, the choice truly is a matter of taste, personal preference, or a WWPT (“What will people think?”) issue, then I think a parent needs to decide what is worth going to the wall for.   If we think clearly and are honest with ourselves, there may be some issues which may be more a matter of personal preference (ours) than of principle.

Two quick examples: Each of our sons had chapters in their lives when their preference in the area of “hair issues” differed from ours.  At one point Lars, now our Marine C-130 Aircraft Commander, sported a blonde pony tail.  Actually, to my surprise, Woody kind of liked it.  He said he liked seeing it bounce around the soccer field as Lars played with all-out passion for his favorite sport.  I have to admit I didn’t share his enthusiasm—for the pony tail, not the sport.

One Sunday morning during this Lars-chapter, a woman who was in Mom to Mom approached me after church.  “Oh, Linda,” she said.  “I was so glad to see you with your son in church today.  His hair makes my son’s hair look tame!”

I honestly don’t remember how long the “pony tail” chapter lasted.  But I don’t think that we ever said anything about it.  And I have always suspected that a certain young woman in his life (now his wife) had something to do with the disappearance of the pony tail.

When Bjorn came home at Christmas of his freshman year of college, he looked like a homeless person—oversized flannel shirt, scruffy hair, and a scraggly beard.  Since we were paying a sizable college bill, I knew he was not, in fact, homeless.  However, we greeted him with open arms at the airport, made no comment about appearances, and enjoyed his spirited report of college life on the drive home.  Later that night I asked Woody, “What do you think of the facial hair?”  “What I think,” he responded,” is that the less we say about it the shorter it will last.”  It all disappeared by the end of the break.  Woody and I never said a word.

Now I realize in using these examples that they may sound minor—even ridiculous—to some of you with much bigger issues with your kids.  I simply include them because I think sometimes we pick the wrong battles with our children, especially when they are teens.  All too often we may “win” a particular little skirmish but risk losing the bigger “battle” (and sometimes it feels like a battle!)  of relationship. There are no easy answers to this question.  But I encourage you to do three things before just “reacting” to a particular behavior: 1) Ask good questions about the seriousness of the issue; 2) Engage your child in dialogue about issues which may be negotiable; and if non-negotiable, give good reasons about why you feel the way you do 3) Be courageous (“Be the parent!”) in following through with the non-negotiables.

Above all, PRAY.  Pray before you ask any questions.  Pray as you ask the questions.  Pray as you talk with your child.  Pray as you follow through.  And always, always, always let your child know he/she is loved no matter what.  Remember from Mom to Mom?  “I love you too much to let you . . .”