The Yes House: Changing from No to Yes

 

In days gone by, theirs had been a No House.

If the children asked for something, the answer was,

‘No’.

If the children reached out to touch something, they were reprimanded with a no!

If they stepped one metre outside of their mother’s reach — in the supermarket, in the shopping mall, in the playground — they were called back …

‘No!’

Even if Mum and Dad wanted something for themselves, they thought the ‘godly’ answer was no.

Where on earth Mum and Dad learnt this, they weren’t sure. They’d heard it on the radio in Southern USA. They’d read it in books about raising ‘godly’ children, and they’d certainly heard it over and over again from several older members of the community who had observed the three-year-old son’s mischief.  Those people loudly disapproved and proclaimed his behaviour was due to a ‘lack of discipline’.

More often than not, that statement sounded something like: ‘What that child needs is a good smack!’

Smacks did not solve the problem.

It’s not entirely surprising that the joy of parenting had gone from the daily lives of this family.

The children each expressed in their own way that life was not as it should be. The four-year-old took control of everything — and everybody. The three-year-old bounced off walls and grabbed attention any way he could. The baby became an expert tantrum-thrower.

Mum appeared calm on the outside — most of the time — but on the inside she was screaming, stressed out and miserable.

Dad, devoted and meticulous, attended to all the needs that Mum did not have the energy or motivation for. His life revolved around working at his place of employment, then coming home to pick up everything that hadn’t been done in the home all day, every day.

If anybody had asked him, he may have answered that he could not remember the last time he had laughed with his family.

Thank God, the family had chosen a local church where they felt they would be cared for. It took a year or two, but the family was nurtured and loved by that congregation. The congregation tolerated the boisterous activities of the three-year-old boy and provided care for the one-year-old baby while Mum sang in the choir. The eldest was placed in a loving Sunday school class. And the whole family attended frequent Sunday school family days.

One day the Sunday school director, Miss Irene, (who also happened to be the three-year-old’s preschool teacher) took the mother aside and asked in her deepest, sweetest Southern USA accent,

‘Mizz Julie, is there a reason you never say yes to your children?’

That question was one of those moments that changed our family’s life path.

That day, when preschool ended, for the first time I squatted down and held my arms out as wide as I could, and my children came running. I’m glad they knew what to do — because it was new to me! But it restored that smile that had gone missing.

From then on, at every possible opportunity, I would watch people like Miss Irene in action — in the preschool, in the playground, in the supermarket, in the classroom. And then I’d go home and practise.

I didn’t make it obvious to anybody else what I was doing. I certainly did not ask questions. But I took everything in, and our house gradually became a Yes House.

Miss Irene and her helpers organised a parenting course — a video with Gary Chapman (author of The Five Love Languages) and Ross Campbell (author of How to Really Love your Children). While we watched a video and had discussion, Miss Irene and her helpers fed pizza to our kids and kept them occupied in the Sunday school classrooms.

So we became part of a group of parents who were also separated from their own parents. We formed our own little community to encourage, laugh and support each other.

If Miss Irene had criticised what I was doing wrong, I would probably have got in a huff and run off in the opposite direction.

Instead, she prayerfully, lovingly and gently came alongside me and trained me to love my children and my husband.

She invited me to pick up the children early from preschool and let me sit in the playground to observe — and to gradually learn how to join the children in their play, allowing them to sort out minor quibbles by themselves but intervening when necessary.

She taught me to sit with children and debrief with them after they’d had a moment or two of ‘thinking time’.

She taught me two very concise but brilliant rules which we were able to adapt to our home rules: ‘Please be gentle with the people here. Please be gentle with the things here.’

But most importantly, she taught me how to love in a very real way — unconditionally, practically, positively and with an element of fun.

Eighteen years later, our kids have grown into beautiful young adults — and our house is definitely a Yes House. Ironically, for a few years I was employed to stand alongside other parents to encourage them — just as I was mentored through that process all those years ago — and to  facilitate parenting courses. And, for years, I wrote a column  about family life called ‘Heart and Home’, in The Lutheran magazine in Australia.

Frequently I am asked about smacking, discipline and many other hot topics. But among the most common comments I receive is,

‘It’s a shame that the parents who really need it won’t come to these courses’.

I reply that every family needs community.

Every family needs to know that they are not alone and that there are some tricks that can make parenting easier and even enjoyable.

As far as those parents who don’t come to the courses … there is plenty of evidence that says that for every family that goes to a course or receives parenting help, another 20 families in that community benefit.

Perhaps other families also watch other parents in supermarkets and playgrounds — just like I did!

 

First published in ‘The Lutheran’ , 2011, July edition. The Lutheran

 

Life is like a Patchwork Quilt: Life lessons from quilts

‘You need to learn to quilt!’ a friend of mine suggested.

Our family planned to move to the USA for several years, and I worried about being isolated, at home with my three very young children. So I asked my craft group how I could meet others when we arrived there.

Having no idea what a quilt was, I soon found myself enrolling in a class with other equally silly stitchers—and so began a brand new hobby.

Twenty-four years later, I’m still quilting. I’m reluctant to tell you, though, that I’ve only recently finished some of the projects I began way back then. Now that my children are adults and I am no longer the full-time family taxi-driver, I am getting much more time to quilt. So I finish quilts in weeks rather than decades.

As I quilt, I learn about life.2016-05-11 15.43.47

Patchwork quilts are put together like a sandwich—with a bottom or backing fabric, a filling called wadding or batting, and a quilt top which is made up of lots of patches stitched together to form a whole cloth.

Quilting is the process of stitching through all three layers to keep them together. A ‘quilter’ is a generic term for anyone who does patchwork and/or quilting.

Patchwork-quilt tops are made up of different patches of all sorts of colours, shapes, sizes and textures.

Some pieces are bright and colourful. But the colours would lose their appeal if there were no contrasts. It would be like going to a party where everybody screamed for attention and nobody was happy to take notice. If life were full of only bright colours, we would be exhausted.

So in most quilts, there are neutrals. In a fabric shop they often appear bland and uninteresting; hardly noticeable. But they are the aspects of a quilt that make it work. They are like the quiet, faithful friends who keep up with what’s going on and know exactly when an encouraging or informative phone call is needed. They are the ones who often work in the background, seeing to the important stuff, even though nobody notices that it’s done—until it no longer gets done!

Quilters intentionally add pieces which are dark. Though we might not choose them as our main focus colours, they bring striking contrast to enhance all the other colours. All of us have dark chapters of our lives. We can’t chop them out without leaving gaping holes. Sometimes we can cherish them and stitch them tenderly into the fabric of our lives. Or sometimes we might even need to add a different patch, just like we mend the worn-out knees of a favourite pair of jeans. But every stitch and every patch adds more texture, depth and character.

Once we’ve made our patchwork-quilt top, we select our backing. Our backing supports everything we’ve put together in the patchwork top. It’s not usually particularly glamorous, and we often take it for granted. But without the backing, the seams of the quilt top may fray or be pulled or torn apart. It’s like the support structures we build around our lives. It’s like our friends and family, our community, our church and especially our faith.

In between the patchwork top and the backing, we sandwich the wadding. Usually I use cotton, but I’ve seen wadding made from old blankets, clothes, rags and even newspaper—anything that will add warmth to the quilt. This is like the added extras that give an extra dimension to our lives—the aspects that perhaps nobody else will ever see: the books we read to broaden our experience and understanding of others, the courses we attend, or the advice from our parents, grandparents and elders in our community. The more we put into it, the warmer it can become.

The actual quilting process is the stitching together through the sandwich of the three layers: the top, the wadding and the backing. This can be quick or slow, decorative or plain, stitched, tied or even glued. But it’s the important process that holds the quilt together. I’ve seen some quilts that have been put together poorly: After the first wash the top, wadding and backing separate, and the quilt ends up resembling an old beanbag.

Life requires some effort to keep everything together too. Good communication and some systems of order are necessary for all of the layers of life to work together and to add stability … otherwise chaos rules.

Finally, there is the binding that goes all the way around the edge.This is my favourite part—possibly because I know then that the quilt is nearly finished. I always hem the binding by hand and make every stitch with love.  Sometimes the binding on quilts becomes a little rough around the edges from wear, so we need to make the choice of putting the quilt away for safekeeping, or reinforcing it and using it again.

The third quilt I ever made had a huge mistake in it—huge to me, anyway. So it sat, unfinished, in a cupboard for fifteen years. One day I realised that all quilts, perfect or not, can keep somebody warm. I finished the quilt and gave it to a dear aunt as she was recovering from a stroke. For the next few years, for the rest of her life, she kept it on her bed as her prized possession. And not even I could see the mistake!

I learnt that we can hold on to our mistakes and allow them to clutter our lives. Or we can forgive ourselves, get on with doing what needs to be done and in the process become a blessing to others.

In the words (almost) of Forrest Gump: ‘Life is like a patchwork quilt. You never know what you’re going to get.’ But if it’s stitched together with love, even the rough patches and mistakes can keep you warm.

 

 

Originally published in The Lutheran2013, March edition.

Mother’s Day

On one particularly frightful worst-mother morning, I threw a particularly frightful tantrum because the family had seemingly forgotten my birthday. Though there had been some efforts to help me to celebrate—one out of the four of the kids had made me a home-made card, and my husband had gone shopping at 10-minutes-before-closing time the night before—I remember feeling particularly unimpressed by the lack of thought.

It seemed I was being taken for granted.

I also remember my performance – to my shame.

But on the following Mother’s Day, the family made up for the previous              un-celebration. I was smothered in flowers, gifts, cards and hugs, and the obligatory, celebratory ‘Stacks On!’ where all five of the other members of the family piled on top of me.

I was required to stay in bed where I received a cooked breakfast followed by coffee, the paper and a puzzle book. Bliss! Lunch was served eventually, complete with Oysters Kilpatrick and Prawns. I don’t remember the rest of the menu, but I do remember how I felt…like I was the most important mother in the world.

I wanted to write something wonderful and inspiring about mothers in preparation for Mother’s Day – a definitive article on mothers. But the story of my tantrum reminded me that I am probably the least qualified of all to write such an article.

So I looked for help.

I asked my friends what I should write about mothers, but they raised more questions than answers:

How do we define ‘mother’? Who is a mother? Is ‘mother’ a job description? Are all mothers female? Why are mothers from different generations so tough on each other? Does becoming a mother make one weaker or stronger?

I wanted to make it a light-hearted article so people might want to read it, but realised I needed to be sensitive to the grief that surrounds motherhood.

I wanted to remind people not to take their mothers for granted, but remembered that many who will read this have lost their mother.

I wanted to remember those who have yearned to be a mother but will never hold their child in their arms. And those mothers who have said their final good-bye to their children.

The harder I tried, the more I was reminded that motherhood cannot be restricted to a thousand words.

I looked to the bible for what it said about mothers. Though there are plenty of examples of godly mothers, there are no specific instructions.

Mothers such as Hannah and Moses’s mother are upheld as examples of women who nurtured future leaders in their homes. The bible gives specific instructions to fathers, but talks only of the mother’s role as nurturer and carer, and that she needs to be respected, honoured and protected in that role.

 

Mothers have a tough gig. Always have had, always will have, I suppose. Perhaps that is the pain to which God was referring when Eve sinned – not the pain of child-birth which everyone is terrified of but soon passes from memory. But the pain that Simeon prophesied to Mary: ‘the sword that will pierce your soul’  (Luke 2:35); the solitude of becoming a mother – giving everything she has, to bring her child into life; having to stand up for what she believes is the best thing for her child, despite the pressures of outside observers and her own heart breaking.

 

I read a book in which an author called his mother ‘a quitter’. She was an accomplished pianist, he said, but she had a whole house full of unfinished projects. I wondered how he became ‘successful’. His mother’s work was obviously invisible to him. If he had looked at her through eyes of love instead of criticism, he would have understood that a mother’s life happens in seasons rather than schedules. He would have seen her as ‘the one who dropped whatever she was doing for herself, for the good of those she loved’.

 

A few weeks ago, I was wandering in our local shopping mall and saw a family struggle.

‘What are you looking at?’ the mother snarled at me.  I concentrated on the blank, non-judgmental look on my face.  Two of her three children were screaming: one because she’d been hit by her big brother, the other because his mother had hit him.

One day I’m going to get in big trouble for doing this, I thought as I made the decision to walk toward this screaming family, instead of away from them. She watched me come close to her and we both stared at each other in an uncomfortable space.

God. Words, please? I prayed.

At last, I broke the silence between us.

‘This mother-thing is tricky isn’t it?’

That’s all I said. But a dam full of what she had been holding inside just burst out in a tidal wave of words. She told me about what had been happening in her home: why the kids had been fighting, why they were crying now, how she felt about it, that she didn’t know what she was going to do about it, could I hold something while she picked up the stuff that she’d dropped, how life was so tough at the moment, how she loved her kids but was struggling especially with her son’s behaviour…

While she talked and I listened, she packed up all the bags around her, organised herself, placed the older kids either side of the stroller and began to push. We walked together for 100 metres until she stopped.

She looked at me and she smiled.

‘It’s just a stage. It’ll pass. Thanks.’ she said and we headed off in different directions.

I smiled back, knowing that though I could not walk in her feet, for a few short moments I had walked beside her.

 

 

 

Originally published in The Lutheran magazine, 2014, May edition.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Parent-Coach Approach

As a young mum, I loved to help the kids to explore and make discoveries. Freedom and creativity were abundant in our house. Being the lovely mother that I was, I tended to become child number four and join in making a big mess. We would all have a wonderful time.

The Parenting Place from New Zealand* would classify my natural parenting style as a ‘Jellyfishicus’ parent—somebody who is warm, friendly and loving to their kids, but who, for whatever reason, does not use any form of control, does not set boundaries or make any rules.

But if the kids fought, or the noise got too much, or the mess became hugely overwhelming, my niceness wore off. My attempts to take control relied upon very public, personal explosions.

It sounded very much like: ‘Don’t leave this big mess to me. You made it with me. If you don’t clean up, you’ll have to go without dinner.’

Unfortunately, lovely Jellyfishicus parents tend to become overwhelmed when they have lost all sense of control. Then they turn into a different type of parent—the ‘Sergeant-majorcus’ parent. Sergeant-majorcus parents like to be ‘in control’ all of the time. They like order and yelling out orders. All family duties are carried out in a military style. There’s lots of control—lots of rules, but little, if any, warmth.

What would happen after I’d started shouting was that the kids would end up cowering in the corner—if they hadn’t already been sent to their rooms. Nothing would get done, and inevitably I would wind up with a headache.

There is another style of parent that would emerge after the headache appeared: the ‘Parentus Absentus’ variety. Though I was there, I wasn’t really there. The kids were safe, largely supervised by the big sister, and I was conscious enough to help out in the case of fire or blood. But anything not constituting an emergency was pretty much ignored.

Thank God for older, wiser parents and teachers who showed this mother other ways. They taught me a parenting style that works most of the time and that anybody can learn to apply, no matter what their natural personality might be. It is the ‘Parent-Coach’ style.

Most of us can think of great coaches that we’ve encountered during our lives. They may have been sporting coaches whom we were privileged to train with, or coaches (such as NRL or AFL coaches) whom we admired from the sidelines. They may have been teachers, choir or orchestra conductors. Or they may be mentors who walked alongside us.

Great coaches show respect to their players and in return earn the respect of the players. Great coaches apply a balance of warmth and control, encouragement, discipline and independence. Great coaches know each of their players, with their strengths and weaknesses, and work with them. They work on inbuilt strengths to compensate for weaknesses, and teach skills step by step where natural ability is lacking. Great coaches teach skills in bite-sized chunks, giving opportunity for the players to practise, and gradually incorporate new skills into the game-plan.

Great coaches teach the rules of the game, showing where the boundaries are—and what the goals are. They inspire by getting a team to have a common goal, to recognise what needs to happen for the team to get there, and then walking alongside each member of the team, so that each individual recognises their own important role in achieving success for the team.

When my children grew, I was able to share the Parent-Coach principle with other parents.  Parents can usually identify to which of the parenting styles they are naturally inclined. Some also recognise that different circumstances, and even different children, can bring out differing styles within each parent. When parents discover the Parent-Coach principle, they soon recognise that this is an achievable goal for them, regardless of their natural style.

In The Parenting Place’s ‘Toolbox’ course, parents are given practical and positive ways to implement Parent-Coach ‘tools’. Usually just ‘tweaking’ some of the things they do already makes a big difference, but sometimes, trying a completely new concept is beneficial to their family.

For example, many parents use timers in their homes for particular roles, such as cooking. I used to use it for ‘Time-Out’ for the children’s bad behaviour. These days I recommend using a timer for more positive things.

I recommend a timer for children who don’t have a sense of urgency in such things as getting ready for school. It helps for parents to first observe what is taking so long and break it down into do-able chunks for the child. Then use the timer for the chunk that seems to take longest for no particular reason.

Or use it when a child asks for your undivided attention, but you have ten minutes of work to finish before you can take a break. ‘Here. When this timer rings, I will be finished doing this work. Then we can play together. Okay?’

One family’s dawdling child made the family late for school every morning. When applying the Parent-Coach principle, the parents recognised that this child loved Mum to stay at school to help with reading each morning. So Mum and Dad began to set the timer for the amount of time their daughter needed to get dressed. If their daughter was dressed before the timer went off, Mum had time to stay for reading. If dressing took too long, Mum would have to use the ‘Kiss-and-drop’ lane at the school instead. The child was in control of her own destiny. Within a week, the family was no longer late for school, and Mum was able to stay for reading every day.

The greatest coaches love their players! That’s the element where we as parents have an advantage over most coaches.

As parents we have more reason to love our children—a lifetime investment. Being a Parent-Coach style of parent is do-able and makes the journey much, much more enjoyable.

*For great parenting advice, and to find a Toolbox parenting group in your area, see www.theparentingplace.com

 

Why I Love Easter (and Les Mis)

‘I love Easter.’
‘Why’s that?’
‘Chocolate!’ he replied as he rubbed his hands together with glee.
‘Is that all?’
Then came the reply I guess I was seeking — though I would have preferred it to come without prompting.

‘It’s about Jesus coming back to life on Easter Sunday.’

‘Ah, yes! That’s the answer I wanted’, I thought to myself, patting myself on the back for having achieved such a good result.
Then I stopped to think about the memories of Easter we had in our home.

One of our sons was baptised on Easter Sunday. That was an exciting weekend, with friends staying overnight and a chocolate-egg hunt for seven children all over the house and garden. We were still finding chocolate eggs in concealed places up to 18 months later.

I remembered our family staying on a farm with my godmother and her husband for Easter when I was little. Their home still had a pump for water in the kitchen, and a pit-toilet, real pigs in a real pigsty — and a blackout while Mum was in the bath! You don’t forget an Easter like that in a hurry.

But I stopped to think about it a bit longer.

I thought about how Lent this year has almost become a non-event for our family. We frequently miss Ash Wednesday because of sporting-team commitments. And we haven’t been to many of the studies in the church on Wednesday evenings.

Yet years ago we were the ones throwing stones at other families when we had little ones and were always there — looking upon the failings of others with a sense of self-righteousness.
This week, I watched my two favourite Easter movies. Chocolat and  Les Misérables – the non-musical movie, starring Liam Neeson.

The movie is slow. It is long. But it’s compelling — so compelling that the first time I watched it, it got me out of bed at 4:30 in the morning to see the ending.

To tell a long story in a few words, and hopefully with no spoilers, the story is about a convict who makes good.

The main character Jean Valjean is a convict who, having been paroled after years of hard labour, turns up at a priest’s home. Valjean is fed and given a place to sleep. But in the middle of the night he steals some silver candlesticks from the priest’s home. Valjean flees but is soon caught by gendarmes who bring him back to the priest, expecting to have the priest charge Valjean with theft.

But instead, the priest demonstrates mercy and grace by telling the gendarmes that the candlesticks were a gift. The priest then admonishes Valjean that he had forgotten the rest of it, and gives him even more silver.

The story continues years later in a different town, where Valjean is living with a different identity. He has changed his life so much that the people of the town, not knowing about his past, elect him to be their mayor.

He is recognised by a gendarme (played by Geoffrey Rush) who had been a guard where Valjean was imprisoned. This gendarme makes it his life’s mission and obsession to destroy Valjean.

But Valjean responds in the same way that the priest responded to him — with love displayed through grace and mercy.

This movie wins five stars from me. Wow!

And why do I rate it so highly? It was breath-taking. Neeson and Rush are superb.

But, more significantly, it gives me the sense that I am observing the story of Easter, and it draws me into observing Lent.

I want so much to identify with the grace and mercy of Valjean and the priest. But more often than not, I find that I am probably more like the self-righteous gendarme — judging others by laws and expectations, by their past actions or by dumb things they still choose to do, instead of looking at them through eyes of love and forgiveness.

I find myself hating the gendarme; but I also recognise myself in him.

Like the movie Chocolat, Les Misérables is full of contrast: good versus evil, light versus darkness, love versus hate.

Both have vigilant law-abiding citizens using the law to clean up their societies. Both demonstrate that love is much more powerful than the law.

In both movies love triumphs — like at Easter.
Yet what do we read in our papers? Why do we lose our hope? What was the last ‘good news’ headline we read in the paper or watched on the television?

Apparently blood sells. So does evil. So does fear. And it sells only because we buy it. Funny that.

Why do we buy papers that tell us about terrible things? Is it because of our compassion, or our safety concerns? Or is it that we, too, become the self-righteous gendarmes and measure our own righteousness against the failures of others? Perhaps, having other people’s fallen lives and misdemeanours in print gives us an opportunity to forget about the logs in our own eyes.

I remember one particular Easter. I’d just had an altercation with a friend. I could not understand where she was coming from — until it hit me that she had never realised that Easter was for her. She reacted violently against Jesus’ words, ‘Don’t weep for me; weep for yourselves!’

Then the realisation hit me. My friend could not understand Easter because she’d never recognised her need for forgiveness: Surely nothing she’d ever done warranted anybody dying for her. She possibly remains convinced of that.

In contrast, I remember being with another friend who came to the realisation that it didn’t matter what she’d ever done, Christ’s death on the cross covered it all. Her response was pure joy — an absolute life-changing experience for her. (And for me, too, having only recently learnt a quick ‘formula’ for sharing the gospel, which was the instrument God used in that particular circumstance to bring a life to its fullest.)

Every Easter I come to a new realisation, a new reality. This year it is that the log in my eye is pretty darn big!

Thank God, though, that he uses the logs in our eyes, and our misdemeanours, to help us to realise that Easter is for us. For me! Jesus died for me! His love overcame the death prescribed for me. His love was, and is, triumphant over death.
And that is why I love Easter.

 

Originally published as ‘I love Easter (and Les Mis)’ in The Lutheran, 2009, April edition.

 

God don’t do math

Some of us love numbers!
More than one of us in our home love to play with numbers, whether it be in a Sudoku or more recently, working out equations about the force of water. Unfortunately, in our house, none love to balance the books or pay the bills, reconcile accounts or collect info for the tax man.

But, in more than 20 years of paying bills, feeding a growing family and surviving on grant funding (and very generous family) there has only been one time when we almost went hungry – at the same time that we didn’t trust God enough to give Him a tenth of what we had.

This was only one instance that has helped me come to the conclusion that

“God don’t do maths”.

Please pardon the grammar – but I can hear my African-American friends singing this in chorus! Certainly, God’s method of mathematics is not taught in any conventional business or accounting course.
Let’s look at some examples:

Many parents expecting their second child have told me of their fear of not being able to love their next child as much as they’ve loved their first. Every time, God has shown them that He is the God of multiplication – not division.

Ask any parent of multiple children and you discover an incredible capacity to love more – not less, with each child.

Love grows the more you give it away!

It’s a bit like Elijah and the widow who was about to make the last meal for her son and herself, from the tiny bit of flour and oil that she had. She gave to Elijah, and her flour and oil never ran out. It’s like Jesus feeding the 5000 (plus women and children) from 5 loaves and 2 fish – and collecting 12 baskets of left-overs. God don’t do maths!

What about time? Yesterday was one of those days when I had more things to do than minutes in the day. I had no choice but to stop and take a breath prayer.
I breathed, and God-incidentally, I remembered Elisabeth Elliot’s words,
“I have only one thing to do today. That is God’s will, and He will enable me to do it.”
“OK God!” I breathed and my heart remembered,
“Be still and know that I am God!”
“What’s going to happen about the catering tonight? I’m handing that one over to You, Lord.”
I settled into what I was doing, taking a quick break for lunch when a couple of youth leaders arrived to do some pre-event planning.
“We’re going shopping for supplies for tonight. Would you like us to pick up something?”

The next morning, Jan from my favourite coffee shop, where I’ve been going for four years, offered her un-sold muffins for our youth group on Friday nights. I’d not asked – and she’d never offered before. It wasn’t until then that I realised that God had answered my prayer – twice – without me even acknowledging Him. I’d been so caught up with how much time I didn’t have, that I forgot to notice that God had taken over what I’d asked Him to.

We get so caught up following two little sticks chasing each other around a dial we carry on our wrists that we forget that our best friend is the creator of the universe. God is not bound by the rules of our human-measured concept of time. If our universe was limited to our meagre understanding of how it works, what a small universe we would inhabit.

We live in a very weird period of time in that “If we don’t understand it – we can’t believe it!” There goes the theory of relativity, space, gravity, healing, my lap-top computer, the egg I just ate for breakfast…the children I bore.

We argue about periods of time, about budgets, about our capacity to do things. In our determination to work things out mathematically- logically, we diminish the world’s capacity to see God because we diminish Him.

We limit God’s work to our own imagination.

As Elisabeth Elliot once said, “The God who is small enough to be understood is too small to be worshiped”.

Whether or not it fits into a mathematical equation or our understanding, God’s will, will be done. Our capacity to love Him and achieve great things in His name can only grow as we take the opportunities He gives us to learn to rely on Him, rather than on our budgets and imagination.

I guess it works in reverse too. Look at the lives of the rich and famous who hoard up stuff for themselves and end up having to cocoon themselves away for peace and quiet. Those who gather everything for themselves tend to diminish in what they really have. Life seemingly implodes.

Look at a church that limits itself to the same budget it’s had for years. It makes as much sense as a flower keeping its petals in its bud to conserve energy, or a chrysalis deciding to stay where it is safe and dark, rather that breaking out to become a butterfly.

Mathematically, a butterfly cannot fit into a chrysalis.

Mathematically, a flower cannot fit into a flower-bud.

Mathematically, faith as big as a mustard seed cannot move a mountain.

Mathematically, forgiveness doesn’t add up.

Mathematically, we cannot love and keep giving it away.

What would happen in our homes, in our congregations, in our communities if before we set out to do something, we stopped to take notice of God’s economy?

As I heard in a sermon a couple of weeks ago, “God’s economy is different. It’s upside-down.”

Love grows the more you give it away.

God gives.

God gives everything.

God is glorified in His generosity.

God loves everybody – and His love of everybody enables Him to be generous with His love.

What would happen if we stopped counting the wrongs anybody had done against us, and loved and forgave them anyway? What would happen if we chose to love because God first loved us?

This week, this month, this year, let us together consider the lilies of the field and the birds of the air, and trust God – Rely on Him – and not on our own mathematical equations.

 

Originally published as:

“God don’t do maths” in The Lutheran, May 2010 Vol44 No4 P154-155