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The Sky Is Falling!

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I don’t mean to make light of a serious thing, but it seems like the world is as locked up as Chicken Little. There’s a lot to be afraid of! This novo coronavirus is no small thing! It’s very nearly everywhere! It’s all over the news. It’s all over Facebook and Instagram and Twitter and every other form of social media.

I’ll be surprised if your kids haven’t asked you about it. Or educated you about it. I’m pretty sure they’re getting lots of information about it. And, really, for good reason. Is there an environment more suited to transmission of any kind of viral bug into the world than a grade school classroom! I think snot. Sorry.

The COVID-19 virus is a serious thing. It’s created a world-wide crisis. The Stock Market has plunged because of it. International travel has come almost to a halt because of it. Toilet paper and sanitizing gels have emptied from the shelves. High profile individuals have quarantined themselves for 14 days because they may have been exposed to it (the virus, not the hand sanitizer…). Concerts and large-crowd events are being cancelled. If the sky’s not falling, it’s starting to shake, rattle and roll.

And here’s one of the things that makes it hard for me to know what to do about all this. There’s so much information out there about it, so that’s not the problem. The problem is that with all the information, I’m finding it hard to parse the real from the not-real. What I see is that there are strong and sane voices calling for calm, rational responses, and there are other equally loud (sometimes louder) voices screaming like this is the end of the world. (By the way, it’s not. The world doesn’t end until Jesus returns. He’ll bring an end to it. A nuclear bomb or a pandemic virus won’t. So.)

It feels like there’s no middle ground. Either just wash your hands and don’t be silly, or dig in for the Apocalypse. Stock up on toilet paper (which is more than a little silly, since COVID-19 is a respiratory virus, not an intestinal one) and bottled water, and make sure you’ve got a garage full of non-perishable food. Or else it’s stay off cruise boats and curtail your international travel, but don’t go nuts.

I don’t have an answer for the real and the not-real. Sorry. What I want us to think about is: What difference does faith in God make in a world-wide crisis like this?

The best answer, and the place to start is that no matter what it looks like to us, God is in control. He’s not panicked about this crisis. He knew it would happen before he spun the worlds into space. He knows everything. He also knows what the actual outcome will be. I would call this the Sovereignty Response. God is sovereign. He’s in control. So start there.

But God configured the world so that His sovereignty permits our choice. This is called Free Will. And connected to Free Will is responsibility. We are free to choose, but there are nearly always consequences for our choices. We are responsible for our choices and for dealing with their consequences, both bad and good.

Right. So what’s all this got to do with COVID-19? Good question. I think it has a lot to do with how we respond to it, and how we lead our families through it.

Your kids need to hear from you that your trust is in God for His provision and protection. They need to hear you thanking Him for this in your prayers. At meals, at bedtime, every time you pray in their hearing. Your prayer is to God, but never forget that your kids are listening. Kids take their emotional cues from their home life, and especially from Mom and Dad. You might not think this is true of your teenagers, but it is. Younger kids depend on you for emotional stability, and what you project to them about your faith in God’s provision, protection and goodness is maybe the most powerful contributor to this. So talk about God’s goodness, His faithfulness, His provision and protection, how strong He is. Do this in terms your kids can understand. I’m not talking about a formal lesson in theology and philosophy. I’m talking about Deuteronomy 6, where you talk about God and His values and nature at natural times. “Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” (Deut. 6:7) In other words, when you’re with them. Leverage the moment.

That’s the Sovereignty side of it.

On the Free Will side, you get to teach your kids by your words and your example how to choose your response to what happens to you. It’s pretty amazing that God trusts us to make these choices. He didn’t program us like robots, and He didn’t make a law for every single response to every single thing. He gave us boundaries within which to make wise choices, and then He trusted us to make our choices.

The choice for us in regard to the novo Coronavirus has to do with what we will do to steer clear of harm’s way, and take reasonable measures to guard our and our family’s health. If you believe the crisis will mount to Apocalyptic in size and scope, then you need to make provisions to responsibly meet the challenges this will involve. If you believe this is a genuine world-wide crisis, but one that can be met with prudent life-style alterations, then you need to make provisions so that you and your family will be prudent.

God is in control. I’m so grateful for this. But we are still responsible for choosing wisely how we live within His sovereignty. There are many more things that can (and probably should) be said about this. These are deep theological and philosophical waters. But doing what we know to do – or feel led to do – about the events that are taking place around us doesn’t need Doctoral level understanding. At the bottom line, it takes faith.

It takes faith that really does believe God is our Provider and Protector. That He loves us beyond our comprehension. That we really are the sheep of His pasture. It takes more than a casual belief to pull this off. It takes actual faith. The Hebrews 11:1 kind. “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”

It also takes wisdom to know how to apply our faith – how to guide our kids and family away from panic and fear, and toward trust and security, how to model it, and how to cling to it for ourselves.

This is where one of the most empowering verses in the entire Bible is my lifeline. James 1:5. “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you”

Nobody’s wise enough to pull this off on their own. You may be very smart, and you may have a pretty good track record for making good decisions. That’s great! But the stakes are way too high to depend only on your own resources of wisdom. Ask God for it, and His promise is that He will give it to you.

So the sky’s not falling. The world is a scary and dangerous place, though. It pretty much always has been. But even in a world where danger and threat are real, and where our access to information is instant, which ratchets up the intensity of all the bad in the world, God is in control and He trusts us to choose wisely how to respond to what happens around us. His plan is to make us wise for this. So ask.

And then take a dozen deep breaths. And wash your hands often.

I Need, I Need!

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One of my all-time favorite movies is What About Bob. Anybody who’s ever done any counseling would probably like it. Bill Murray plays the role of a neurotic client named Bob Wiley. One of the funniest scenes for me in the movie is when Bob follows his therapist to his vacation home to seek more therapy. In a desperate voice, Bob cries out, “I need! I need.” You’re not laughing if you haven’t seen the movie. But if you’ve seen it, you know exactly what I’m talking about, and I’m thinking you’re laughing a little. Here’s a YouTube link in case you didn’t see What About Bob: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IrCEhRNgGHY

Needs. Years ago, my mentor, Willard Black, introduced me to the idea that conflict is the result of unmet needs. As I look back over my life’s experience helping people navigate conflict, Willard’s idea has proved out. Unmet needs, or what we feel are unmet needs, always create conflict of some kind. I try not to use the word “always” very often, because it doesn’t apply that often. But in this case it applies. Always.

The problem in life is that there are two broad kinds of needs. There are Real Needs, and there are Felt Needs. There are needs that, if unmet, will cause a negative outcome. These are Real Needs. And there are needs that we only feel (often strongly) we want them to be met.

Let me muddy the waters a little more by adding that sometimes Felt Needs are Real Needs, but not all Real Needs are Felt Needs. Not quite like all thumbs are fingers, but not all fingers are thumbs, but close. Both kinds of needs are powerful. Sometimes even compelling.

Young kids are almost incapable of parsing out what is a Felt Need and what is a Real Need. Even adults misidentify Real from Felt Needs. Kids (and often adults) need help with this. But them (and us) knowing the difference between the two sometimes has little bearing on how compelling the need is for them (and us).

I think the ability to recognize and identify Real Needs and Felt Needs is one of the primary marks of maturity in people. Immature people can’t, or don’t. Mature people do.

One of the questions I left unanswered last time is “How do I know if it’s a felt need or a real need?” And then there’s its twin, “How do I help my kids know if it’s a felt need or a real need?” Both questions are central to you guiding your kids toward maturity.

The answer to the first question is simple. A Real Need is a need that, if unmet, will bring a negative outcome or cause real harm to the individual or situation. Here’s an example. I need a certain amount of calories per day to be healthy. I’m most healthy when these calories are wisely distributed between a variety of foods and low in carbohydrates. If I don’t get enough calories, things in my body don’t work right. My brain doesn’t get the nutrients it needs to function well, and I’ll make poor decisions and find myself unable to respond to life around me very well. So a certain amount of the right kind of calories are needed for me to function at my best levels.

But I often feel I need a half-dozen Krispy Kream donuts. They really are the closest thing to Manna known to man. Umm. That’s not a need. It’s only a want. A half-dozen glazed Krispy Kreams might fall within the calorie limit, but not having them won’t cause me harm. In fact, having them will probably eventually result in causing me harm. Kind of a stupid illustration, but you get where I’m going with this.

To decipher the difference between Felt and Real Needs, you have to project outcomes into the future. This is very hard for children to do. Children are now-focused. And understandably so. They haven’t been around long enough to contextualize life and events in a broad perception of time. This is why you, as the parent, will need to shepherd them toward having their Real Needs addressed and sometimes away from getting their Felt Needs met. They’re not likely to be able to tell the difference between the two until they develop out of the concrete stages of development.

There are those happy moments when a Felt Need is actually a Real Need. This is when a Real Need is compelling and presents itself as a Felt Need. In some seasons of family life these times are rare, but when they happen, it’s pretty wonderful and you should celebrate.

Before your kids are in the abstract thinking stage of development (which happens in the late childhood/early adolescent years, generally), your job is to identify Real Needs and Felt Needs, and make a judgment call as to whether and to what degree the need should be met. Real Needs should be met. That’s probably obvious. But not all Felt Needs should go unmet. And this is where it gets really tricky.

How can you know which Felt Needs are good for you to do what you can to meet them? There’s no formula for this, unfortunately. My best answer on this is to project the results into the foreseeable future. What do you foresee as the outcome of having this Felt Need met? Of course you can’t know for sure. But you’ll have a pretty good idea. My theory is that if the projected outcome is either potentially good, or at least benign, and if meeting the Felt Need is within your power and means, I’d say it’s fine to meet it. Frankly, a whole lot of this is simply trial-and-error. If you don’t get a positive outcome from meeting a Felt Need, log that in to the memory back and remember it for reference the next time.

Right. “But what do I do about it when my kid is going postal about a felt need that I know they don’t need me to meet? Or one that I know I can’t meet?” This is more difficult. Let me give you something NOT to do when you kids are young. Don’t try to explain to them why you can’t or won’t do for them what they’re all postal about. It won’t do either of you any good. I know this sounds old school, but the best answer when they’re young is, “Because I’m the Mommy (or Daddy),” and leave it at that. They won’t like it one bit, but you trying to give them an explanation for it won’t change things. It’ll probably only frustrate both you and them. At this point it moves away from a reasoned explanation to simply obeying or disobeying. Seems harsh, doesn’t it? Sorry. I don’t know how to fix that.

When they’re older, when they can think in abstract terms, having a discussion of your reasons is, well, reasonable. Help them connect the dots between what they want and the outcome of getting what they want. Talk in terms of Real and Felt Needs. You already know that even when you can have a reasonable discussion with your kid, the bottom line may still be, “Because I said so.” Don’t go there too quickly, but don’t be afraid to go there at all.

Can you see that this is a subject with lots of fuzzy answers and lots of potential frustration? It also happens to be one of the most important things about helping your kids mature and grow to be responsible people. Modeling for them how to draw the line between Real and Felt Needs in your own life is possibly the most important thing in this. Processing through this in their presence, in their hearing, is a very good thing, essential, even. So let them in on your own mental wrestling with identifying whether what you want is in the category of Real or merely Felt Need.

And do all of this using the tool I list in almost every one of my posts. Call out to God for His wisdom. Lean into James 1:5. God wants to make you wise. When you pray for His wisdom, you’re praying a prayer He wants to answer. So start there, and partner with God to shepherd your kids toward the maturity to know Real Needs from Felt Needs, and knowing what to do about them.

Yer Not the Boss of Me!

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Years ago, I cooked up a Game Night for families at the church I was serving. “Bring your kids! We’ll have a great time!” We had a great turnout and we had lots of fun. But there was this one little 3 yr-old guy who made it hard to have as much fun as I wanted to. He was terrorizing the place as only a 3 yr-old boy can. His mom and dad were friends of mine, and great people. But Little Napoleon was a bit of a spoiled brat.

I stepped in front of him on one of his runs down the hallway and said, “Hey there little man, stop running in the hallway.” He stomped his little foot and said in the tone of a defiant terrorist, “YER NOT THE BOSS OF ME!”

He was right, of course. I wasn’t his boss. His mommy and daddy were the bosses. The problem was they were having tons of fun in another room with a bunch of other mommies and daddies and had no idea what was going on in the hallway.

My first impulse was to squash Little Napoleon like a bug. Fortunately, my more mature self took command of my initial impulse, and instead, I took him by the back of his collar and said, “Let’s go see your boss.” He squirmed and hollered, but I was able to prevail, and we went to see his dad.

I’ve often reflected on this encounter in the hallway of the church building back in the day. That I can’t remember Little Napoleon’s actual name will tell you the impact of the event wasn’t profoundly personal, but since I remember the event 20-some years later that means it landed in my memory banks, in a file drawer that’s easy to open.

I think the reason it still comes to mind is that there’s a whole lot of me in Little Napoleon. Sadly, there are still many times when I figuratively stomp my foot and say, “Yer not the boss of me!” I rarely say it out loud, but if you could hear my inner dialogue, you’d hear it a lot. I don’t like being told what to do or not do. I’ve not completely grown out of this stage. And I’m on Medicare! You’d think by now I’d have figured this thing out.

I can tell you with complete confidence that my residual problems with authority have little to do with my parents parenting style. They weren’t permissive and soft on punishment. They were about as far from that parental profile as you can get. Permissiveness was of the devil and punishment had to hurt. “Spare the rod and spoil the child.” I wasn’t spoiled. Please don’t get the idea that they were mean and abusive. They were not! They were loving parents who sometimes tended toward authoritarian in their style, but were more often authoritative. (Maybe some day I’ll write about styles of parenting and flesh these two styles, and two more, out. Not today.) Bottom line: they did the best they knew to do.

But my siblings and I knew that defiance never ended well. Well, my brothers and I knew it. My sister was pretty much perfect, so she never got the consequences of defiance the way we guys did… This is probably not true, but it seemed true as we grew up. The point I’m making here is that I grew up knowing that defiance was never a good option. The consequences were always painful. So my current tendencies to defy authority don’t come from a permissive upbringing. And thanks for letting me process this.

With apologies to Calvinists, I’m not one, so I’m not on board with total depravity. And I don’t subscribe to Original Sin theology. But I believe that we’re born with a sin-nature that is constantly drawing us toward rebellion. It all started with Adam and Eve, but if they hadn’t done it, it would surely have been someone and Steve. It’s perhaps straining at gnats, but although Adam and Eve committed the original sin, I think what I inherited from them these many generations later was a proclivity to sin, a sin-nature, not an original sin that makes me totally depraved. So that’s your dose of my theological perspective for today. My First Parents aren’t to blame for my rebellion. I am. My rebellion is my responsibility.

Anybody else sometimes struggle with this? The answer to that is yes. Everybody does. There’s a strong chance that if you’re a parent, you struggle to know what to do about a child who pushes your buttons with defiance and rebellion. You’re who I’m writing this for.

Knowing how to discipline a strong-willed, defiant kid is one of the most important skills a parent can learn. Not knowing how to do this is one of the things that will spin chaos and conflict into a family like nothing else can. So it’s got to go to the top of the “things to learn” list.

To quote Barney Fife, “Nip it in the bud! Nip it, nip it, nip it!” In other words, start addressing it early. The longer you wait to do something with it, the harder it will be, and the more damage the defiance and rebellion will do to you and your family. It’s hard, no matter when you do this, but it’s easier to do this with a 2 year old than a 12 year old. So address it early.

But when I say early, I have to account for some developmental dynamics. Children begin to intuitively understand the concept of defiance pretty early on, well before they’re 2. They quickly learn the difference between what they want and what you want. Before they even have language, they learn how to express their displeasure with you and what you want when it’s not what they want. This will usually seem like defiance, but it may actually be part of the child’s learning where boundaries are, where the lines of power are in the relationship, and whose got it.

There are other factors, too, when a child is this young. Things like hunger, fatigue, frustration. When a little one is hungry, tired, frustrated, they will probably be oppositional. So when you find yourself with an oppositional little one, the first thing is to figure out what they need, I wish I could give you a sure-fire way to figure this out, but I don’t have one. Sorry. You have to call on your intuition and experience with them for this. It’s made more difficult because every kid is a little different. If you’ve got more than one kid, you’re likely to have two sets or more of needs to factor in. This is one huge reason you need the guidance of Our Perfect Parent, God, to do this thing well. So ask Him for wisdom and trust the truth of James 1:5. He wants to make you wise.

One of the most important things about dealing with an oppositional child (When I use the term “oppositional,” I’m not talking about a clinical condition called “oppositional disorder.” I’m just talking about a child’s resistance and opposition to your directives.), or even just a normal kid who’s having a bad moment, is generally this: YOUR CHILD’S BEHAVIOR WHEN THEY’RE OPPOSITIONAL AND DEFIANT IS THEIR DEFAULT LANGUAGE FOR TELLING YOU THEY HAVE A NEED THEY FEEL IS UNMET.

Unmet needs are the source of nearly all conflict. Or more accurately, feeling that needs are not being met is the source of it. You can probably see that this sets you up with a pretty big challenge. What do you do about a need that your child strongly feels, but which you know is only felt, not real? I don’t want to treat this lightly, but this is a big part of your job as a parent: you have to make the call on whether or not to meet a felt need. Meeting real needs is essential and required, but usually less difficult than figuring out if you should meet a merely felt one.

If you meet every felt need your child has, you get a spoiled brat. But if you meet only what you judge as real needs and never what your child feels is a need, you likely will wind up with a child who believes their job is to get what they want, and you to not get what you want. So you have to do the delicate work of making sure their real needs are met and that appropriate felt needs are also met, so they will feel loved by you and secure as a little person.

That’s way easy for me to type, but WAY hard to actually do. And, again, it’s why you need to be in solid partnership with God on this.

All this raises so many questions. How do I know if it’s a felt need or a real need? And what do I do about it when my kid is going postal about a felt need that I know they don’t need me to meet? And how do I draw the line on what felt needs are right and appropriate for me to meet? And what ones aren’t right? And then what about needs I can’t actually meet?

All good questions. And fodder for further contemplation in future blog posts.

What In The World Am I Here For?

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I’m told the four most profound philosophical questions are: 1) Who am I? 2) Where did I come from? 3) Where am I going? 4) Why am I here?

If you have an answer to these four questions, you can navigate life successfully. The four things I’ve been writing about lately fit loosely into these four philosophical questions. Here’s what I’ve been writing about:

Identity – who am I?
Belonging – who wants me?
Security – who can I trust?
Competence – what do I do well?
Purpose – why am I alive?

I’ve left the “why am I alive?” question until last. I put it after “what do I do well?” because a person’s competence is often a primary hint to the answer to this purpose question. “Hint” is the operative word there. A good bit of intuition is required for discovering why you’re alive.

In one sense, our purpose has already been established. The Westminster Shorter Catechism says the chief end of man is “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” I love this phrase. It’s the finest explanation of the biggest objective for every Christian’s life I’ve ever seen or heard.

There’s another level, another sense, though, in which our purpose is more specific. What does it look like for me to glorify God? Me, specifically. Accounting for my gifts, my talents, my background, my wiring, who I am, individually. How do I, specifically me, glorify God?

My general purpose is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Discovering my specific purpose calls for, well, discovery. Usually, one big part of discovery is experimentation. I believe the quest to discover my specific purpose in life takes intuitive experimentation.

For me, personally, this meant trial and error. At one point I thought I was going to be a high school vocal music teacher. I went to Oklahoma State University my freshman year with that intention. It was far from a wasted year, but during that time, I realized teaching music in a high school wasn’t what I wanted to do with my life. It was a noble objective, but it wasn’t for me.

I went to Bible College as a Sophomore believing I didn’t want to be a minister. I was just going to get a degree of some sort and not get all tied down to being a minister. I’d grown up as a preacher’s kid, and frankly, I had seen too much of the underbelly of ministry to want it for myself. There was no money in it. I knew because I’d seen my dad working 2 or 3 jobs to make ends meet all my life up to that point. And I knew from watching my dad that there’s no pleasing church people.

It didn’t work out that way, though. I did a summer youth ministry out in a tiny town in the Oklahoma panhandle that straddles the Texas-Oklahoma borders, because I needed a summer job, and since one of my good friends at college basically got me the job, I went to Texhoma. It was the most exciting and formative summer of my life. Long story short, my life’s trajectory was re-directed to ministry. For the next 46 years. In spite of the things I already knew (and thought I knew) about ministry life, I worked in full-time, located ministry.

I intentionally use the word “discover” for finding your purpose. It’s not about inventing a purpose, or inheriting a purpose. An invented purpose has a very short half-life. Adversity has a way of pushing an invented purpose off the road and into the ditch. Purpose in the specific sense can’t be inherited. It’s not like the color of your eyes. And it’s not like your grandfather’s gold watch. As much as you would like to pass your purpose on to your child, it’s not inheritable. Each of us must discover it for ourselves.

If you haven’t identified your life-purpose, now’s the time to begin the journey. It’s an especially good time to start your journey if you have kids at home. You can share your journey with them and be an encouragement as they travel their own journey.

The good news is that although discovering your purpose in life is a challenging process, it’s not rocket science. You don’t need an advanced degree or even a ton of background to figure it out.

Here’s where I recommend you start: P R A Y. Ask God to give you a clear sense of how He wants you to spend your one and only life to glorify and enjoy Him forever. Ask Him to educate your intuition. And then keep praying this until you have clarity.

I have friends who tell me that they’ve heard from God in answer to this prayer, directly. Some have heard an audible voice and others an unmistakable inaudible voice that they knew was God. I believe them. Although I’ve never had this experience, I don’t disbelieve my friends.

For me, it was more of a dawning awareness than a voice in a moment. You may find this to be true, too. Whether you have a growing sense of your purpose or have a moment of illumination, I can say with assurance that God wants to clarify your purpose and empower you toward it. This is the message of Ephesians 2:10. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Ephesians 2:8-10 are my favorite verses in the Bible. I love the concept that God redeemed and saved me because of His goodness, not mine. And I love that He not only saved me from my sin and the futility of life on my own, but he save me to do good works that He prepared in advance for me to do.

I’ll spare you a complete download of my love for this passage, and just say you and your kids have a purpose that God prepared for you to do. My belief is that this purpose – the good works in verse 10 – is tailored to our unique gifts, wiring, experience, talents and background.

Your passion, the things that actually drive you, the things that burden you, in preacher-talk, the things that break your heart give you hints at your purpose, too. I don’t think passion equals purpose, though. The danger in making them equal is that when your passion wanes (and it will), you’ll feel your purpose going away, too. Sometimes you’ll have to pursue your purpose purely from your will. In my life, these are some of the most important moments of living on purpose. You’re not likely to discover purpose without finding passion connected to it, but they’re not the sane thing.

Once you seriously seek God for His direction and clarity in prayer for yourself, ask Him to also bring a clear sense of what His purpose is for your kid(s).

When you kids are young – grade school and younger – their main purpose is just to learn how to be a human being. They’re learning how to engage with God, life and other people. This is what developmental psychologists call “individuation,” or becoming an individual. I strongly believe that this is plenty of purpose for a child.

But by the time a kid’s in middle school, they’re usually ready to being exploring personal purpose. This is when your encouragement is very powerful. So is your permission.

One of the big pieces of this is, “Do I have permission to fail and not be punished for it?” Permission, in its best form, is a function of security. (Its worst form is a function of selfishness and apathy.) In its best form, you have to be secure enough as the parent to permit your child to fail, and they have to be secure enough to believe that when they fail, they won’t be punished by you for failing. Obviously, when failure on their part comes from direct disobedience to you, there are consequences that will probably involve punishment, or should involve it. I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about kids feeling safe to try and fail as part of a process of discovery. This connects with a piece of what I wrote about last time, competence. (https://homeworkwithst.com/2020/02/22/youre-really-good-at-that/) Nobody gets really good at things without failure.

Be observant. Look for things that hint at purpose. What do they seem to be wired for? What brings them satisfaction. Not just happiness, but satisfaction. What does their interest keep coming back to? Do they have a sweet spot yet? If they do, what is it.

I love it when I can live out of my sweet spot. I bet you do, too. The sweet spot is where you get the biggest bang for your buck. The term comes from golf, God’s favorite sport. There’s a spot on the face of every golf club about the size of a dime (or on some clubs, the size of a nickle) where contact with the ball is optimal. When you hit the ball in the sweet spot, you can tell immediately. You feel it before you see the result.

The odds are very strong that your purpose is connected to your sweet spot. When you can live in your sweet spot, you thrive. Unfortunately, you can’t live all your life in your sweet spot. There are too many moving parts in life that conspire against it. The most realistic thing is to do as much as you can within your sweet spot and give your best to the rest.

Like I said, you won’t do everything in your sweet spot, but much of your life purpose work will be done there. So discover your sweet spot and look for it in your kids. You’re looking for a convergence of gifts, wiring, experience, talents and background. Did I mention that this is a strongly intuitive process? Ask God to direct your intuition.

Then (for yourself and for your kids) start experimenting with what you think your purpose might be. Don’t take on Mt. Everest before you climb some less challenging hills, but don’t stay in the flatland.

If your heart’s drawn to the homeless, don’t start with building a housing development for homeless people. Unless you hear God’s voice (and you know it’s Him). If that happens, build! But otherwise, maybe start with lunch bags and survival kits for the folks on the corner with their cardboard signs. Or with working for a shelter as a volunteer. But start somewhere and see where God leads you.

It’s probably obvious that the subject of life purpose is very deep. Like most of what I write about, it’s far deeper than I can cover in a blog post. This one is already too long. But maybe it’ll get you started. Trust God to move you closer all the time to His broad purpose for you, and then to your sweet spot. For you and for your kids. And then experience the real joy of living life on purpose.

You’re Really Good At That!

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Can you remember the first time somebody told you “You’re good at that!”? How’d it make you feel? Good, right? When was the last time you heard it? Still feels good, doesn’t it? It’s one of the most powerful things anybody hears, and I don’t think we ever grow out of wanting to hear it. The power gets drained off of it when everybody gets a medal or a trophy for participating, but hearing and knowing that somebody thinks you did well means a ton, even to grown-ups. (Don’t worry. This isn’t an old guy rant about participation trophies. I could go off on it, but I won’t…)

So how did you get good at what you’re good at? An interesting book, Talent Is Overrated, offers that the top performers in any field are as good as they are because they have put in 10,000 hours of practice at their particular thing. But not just any old 10,000 hours. Ten thousand hours of specific and excellent practice. It’s not plunking around or just piddling. This is 10,000 hours of intentional and directed practice. Which partially explains why not every professional, even professionals who are quite good at what they do, are at the top of their field.

I’m not sure I’ve ever put in 10,000 hours of practice for anything. No offense, but I’m pretty sure you never put in that many hours, either. That’s 1250 8-hour days. Which is about 3 1/2 years. That’s a ton of practice!

Thankfully, not all of us need to be at the top of our field. But, still, being recognized for your accomplishments, even if you’re not taking home the $1,00,000+ income from it feels good. It motivates you to keep pressing on with your best effort. On the other hand, not being recognized does the opposite. It almost always demotivates.

Right. Back to the question, how did you get good at what you’re good at?

Raise your hand if you were just excellent at whatever you’re good at the very first time you attempted it. There are savants in the world of whom this is true. But they’re in such short supply that the percentage they comprise of the general population is nearly zero. Most of the rest of us had to work through a process of failure, correction, failure, more correction, forward progress. Rinse, repeat.

For some of us, there are things that took fewer rinses and repeating than other things. But for virtually all of us, this process was what we went through to discover and then build a level of skill and competency.

Have you been to a Middle School band concert lately? Unless it was hosted by the Savant School of Music, it was probably a bit of a gut-wrencher. Especially if you’re a musician. That’s the nature of getting good at things. You start out and go for a good while not being good at it. There’s a huge and wonderful difference between a Middle School band concert and a University band concert.

Competence isn’t THE holy grail of the good life. There are other things that are more important. But having competence and being recognized for it is a need none of us outgrow. Even in our mature adult years, we still want to (I’d even say we feel we need to) be recognized for what we contribute. I suppose the more mature a person gets, the less driven by this they are, but I still say we never outgrow the need to be good at something and to be noticed for it.

When children are young, They feel this need strongly. They want to be good at something, and they want to be recognized for it. There’s no rigid standard for how and when this happens, but you can be sure that at some point in their development, your kid(s) will stretch toward achievement. This sets you in a sometimes awkward position of having to help shepherd them toward attempting things that they might be good at, and away from things they’re not so good at. There are a couple things that make this awkward. First of all, you’re not likely to instantly know what they would be good at. You might, but the odds favor you having to try more than one thing.

The other thing that makes it awkward is that you may have to break the news to them that they’re not really cut out for the thing they’re trying to do. This is a delicate thing. If you tell them in a harsh way, you can crush them and they will carry the wounds of this through their adult life. But if you’re too soft, they may not get it. It takes grace and wisdom to do this, and lots of both.

We’re working against some cultural trends on this. One is the idea that “You can be anything you want to be.” I get that the point is to shoot for the stars, because even if you never reach a star, you’ll go farther than if you hadn’t tried. The problem, though, is that there are things a person actually can’t do or be. For instance, a short white boy (me) with a 2.5 inch vertical leap, who doesn’t have a 3-point shot is never going to play in the NBA. For talent to be developed, there’s got to be talent. So there are things a person isn’t going to be able to be or do, skills that aren’t within reach. If you’re tone deaf, you’re probably not going to be the 1st violinist in the Philharmonic. (Although, Beethoven composed his 9th Symphony while being totally deaf, so there’s a chance that even with real handicaps of various kinds one can still do amazing things.)

My point here is that there’s got to be a careful balance of idealism and realism. Idealism promotes the positive and powerful idea that you can do something great. Realism promotes the sometimes not-so-positive idea that you can’t do every great thing, just because you want to. And in a family, guess who gets to help the kid(s) figure this balance out? Yep. You.

Where do you start with this? Great question. There’s more to a really good answer than I can write here, but let’s start tugging at it.

There’s some low-hanging fruit to start with. Sports is one. There are lots of sports to choose from. You may have to fight the desire to get your kid into the sport you did, or one you wish you had done. But you’ve got to start with your child, their interests, their general make-up. If you child is an extrovert, a team sport might be a better fit than an individual sport. If they’re an introvert, an individual sport might fit them better. And then there’s the possibility that they have neither the interest nor the latent tools to make a good run at sports.

Music is another low-hanging fruit. There are so many approaches to music. Dozens of instruments, dozens of styles of music, hundreds of contexts for it. If you’ve got a trumpet in the basement or attic, that doesn’t necessarily mean that this should automatically be your child’s instrument. The same principle applies here as in sports. Start with your kid and their interests and general make-up. And then there’s the financial aspect. Good musical instruments are not cheap! This is where idealism and realism sometimes collide. The financial piece has to be factored in. My advice is that you don’t start your child off with an expensive, professional grade instrument. Start with a reasonably reliable and low priced one, and if they excel with that, move up toward a better one.

There is a form of music that has almost zero cost. Singing. Almost everybody can sing. Obviously some people are better at it than others. And if your child shows interest and aptitude for it, you will eventually be spending money on it in the form of formal training. But the joy of musical expression through singing doesn’t have to be expensive.

Art is another low-hanging fruit. Painting, drawing, even doodling can be a wonderful and expressive outlet. I was never good at this, though I wanted to be and tried. Today, when I draw something to illustrate a principle in my counseling, there are times that even I can’t tell what it is.

Art goes beyond painting and drawing, though, when you think of it as “the arts.” Dance, for instance. Drama, too. Artistic endeavors of many kinds fit here.

There are so many other things that your kid(s) might be good at. Math, Science, English.

My youngest daughter had a rare talent from the time she was in preschool. It was so natural to her that I don’t think she thought of it at a talent. And at one point, she so wanted to have other outstanding talents, but had them only marginally, which was very sad and discouraging for her. The talent? Making and nurturing friendships.

Today, edging toward her late 30’s, she’s had a 15 year career as a children’s pastor to more than 500 elementary school kids, which means she had more than a hundred volunteers to recruit, equip and nurture, not to mention a paid staff to manage. In my 45 years of ministry in churches, I have never known or seen anyone who could do this better than Jenny did. She’s a relationship genius. For the last couple of years, she’s been the City Director for the Cupcake Girls in Las Vegas. It’s incredibly hard work for many reasons, but the biggest challenge is that she has to do her work through volunteers. She’s great at it. I would say this even if she wasn’t my daughter. She knows how to lead and nurture people without manipulating them. She’s one of my heroes. (If you’re curious about the Cupcake Girls, check them out at https://thecupcakegirls.org/)

Your kids’ talent may be rare and outside the normal box, like my Jenny’s. So try to keep from letting the box box you and them in.

The thing is they need to discover their talents and gifts and derive satisfaction and fulfillment from them, and you get to help them in the journey of discovery and development.

HERE’S WHAT YOU DO NOT WANT TO DO: Don’t ever define you kid by what they’re good at. What they do is NOT who they are. It’s only an expression of who they are. Don’t fall for the temptation to value them for how good they can do what they’re good at. If you do, you’re setting them up for a potential lifetime of disappointment and endless effort. And you’ll be cheating yourself out of the love and affection you can give to and receive from them.

START HERE. With a prayer that might go something like this:

“Lord, you know (your kid’s name) perfectly. You know how they’re wired because You wired them. Give me wisdom and grace to help them discover their gifts and talents.”

It’s not a big theological treatise. It’s not a poetic psalm. It’s just a cry for help from the only One Who can actually help, and the One Who most wants to help. Lean into the promise He made in James 1:5. You might want to print that verse out and put it where you can see it often. And then pray a simple prayer every time it comes to mind. Trust that God wants to answer that prayer, and pay attention for it when He does.

Who Can I Trust?

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A few decades ago corporate trainers did an exercise called the Trust Fall. If you got any kind of corporate training, I’ll bet you’ve done one. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s simple. One member of the group stands on a chair facing away from the rest of the team and closes their eyes. Then they fall backward into the waiting arms of the rest of the team.

The objective of the exercise was to dramatically illustrate the value of trust. Do you trust your team enough to do an eyes-closed backward free-fall into their arms? The risk-takers on your team will have little trouble with this. They like the thrill of a blind backward fall.

The risk averse, though, have a very different experience. Some will start to fall backward, and then catch themselves several times before they finally accomplish the fall. All the risk-takers just laugh and laugh.

If you had a good facilitator, they would walk you through a discussion to debrief and harvest the lessons from falling and catching. And there were lots of lessons in it for both the fallers and the catchers.

Back in the day, my cohorts in Youth Ministry and I “harvested” the idea and applied it to church camp team-building activities. You don’t have to have a Doctorate in Theology to figure out how to relate the thoughts and feelings of the Trust Fall to faith issues and trusting God.

The big question in the Trust Fall is, “Can I trust the people behind me to catch me?” Your level of anxiety or security over the fall depends on how you answer that question. High trust equals high security; low trust or uncertainty equals anxiety and insecurity.

How much and why you trust the people in your life is one of the Five Most Important Things in your life. I’ve written about two of them: Identity and Belonging. Who am I? Who wants me? (https://homeworkwithst.com/2020/02/11/when-your-needs-dont-get-met-and-when-youre-not-meeting-your-kids-needs/ and https://homeworkwithst.com/2020/02/12/who-wants-me/) And now a third question: WHO CAN I TRUST?

Virtually all the dynamics of your marriage and family stand on the answer to that question. Your kids are constantly asking it, although they may not ask it with words. Your spouse is, too. So are you. Nothing shapes your choices, your behavior, your emotions quite like the answer to the question, “Who can I trust?”

Your kids come into the world having to trust you. They’re helpless. They don’t know any better than to trust you. They have no filter to help them determine who they should and should not trust. But they gather data to construct this filter quickly. Not long after they recover from the birthing experience, they begin asking the crucial question, long before they even have spoken language, “Who can I trust?”

That question quickly becomes, “Can I trust you?” I think it’s one of the most important questions in a kid’s life, because how they answer it will shape their relationship with you more profoundly than any other question. Perhaps nothing is more profound than how safe your kid feels with you.

SECURITY is one of the biggest needs your kids feel, if not the biggest need. The more secure they feel, the healthier their choices and behaviors will be. And, of course, the less secure they feel, the more unhealthy their choices and behaviors will be.

One thing security influences is how a kid interprets failure and risk. This is huge. When a kid feels there’s no margin for failure, they won’t take risks – or not many, anyway. Or else eventually they’ll take maximum risks, which is a form of rebellion against the limits they feel have been put on them.

Here’s why this is so important: nobody develops skills and competency without risk. It’s virtually impossible to learn anything that matters without at least occasional failure. For lots of complex skills, it takes hundreds of failures and corrections. If a kid doesn’t feel permitted to fail, guess what they won’t do? Exactly. They won’t risk it to learn or develop skills and competencies. And if they don’t develop skills and competencies, they’ll never be ready to leave the nest and have a life of their own.

So the thing a parent has to figure out is how to structure the culture, norms and expectations of their family life to have appropriate boundaries AND to provide security enough to permit failure so that learning can take place. This is really difficult. If you ever come across advice that offers “3 Simple Ways” to do this, don’t bother with it. There are no 3 Simple Ways. It’s way too complex for 3 Simple Ways. Like nuclear energy is way too complex for 3 Simple Ways to make it safe and cheap.

I’m putting this in all caps, underlined and boldface because it’s the most important thing I’m offering on this: HOW WELL YOU ARE ABLE TO WORK WITHIN THE DYNAMICS OF THIS COMPLEX THING OF PROVIDING SECURITY FOR YOUR KIDS DEPENDS ON HOW SECURE YOU FEEL YOU ARE. If you feel secure, you’re in a much better place to offer security to your kids. And the opposite is also true. If you feel insecure, your kids will pick this up from you like the flu in a kindergarten classroom.

The balance required for this is very delicate and tricky. Do you feel safe enough to fail? If you don’t, they won’t. And do you have boundaries in place to keep you from failing in terminal fashion? There are certain physical risk-boundaries that are essential. Don’t jump out of planes without a parachute. Don’t try to take Dead Man’s Curve at 90 MPH. Don’t gargle with Draino. But my experience is that the vast majority of these terminal failures are moral in nature. There’s no wiggle room with God’s revealed moral will. It provides fixed points. They’re permanent boundaries.

But there’s so much room within these boundaries! Within them, we’re free to choose to take risks and grow. We’re free to take chances. Knowing this, and living within these boundaries is where our security comes from.

And when we either wander outside or crash our way through His moral boundaries, He promises we can experience forgiveness when we confess our sin (1 John 1:9). This isn’t a Get Out Of Jail Free card. There are still consequences for our sin. But not being forgiven isn’t one of them. And there’s security in this. The theology of security is deep and wide. Too deep and too wide to treat in a blog post. If you haven’t pondered it, now would be a good time to dive in and study it for yourself.

I’ll land the plane here: coming from your own security, building security into your kids, is one of the most difficult challenges of parenting. It’s also the most rewarding when you see it coming together.

It’s a process, a journey, not an event, though. Start the journey with a prayer. I don’t like it when people put words in my mouth, so I don’t want to do that to you, but if you’re struggling to know how to pray this, here’s one way.

“Lord Jesus, thank you for the high honor of being trusted by You with these (this) kid (kids). Please grow my security in You and Your love for me so that I can draw from it to nurture security in my kids. I want to model for my kids the security I want them to have. Make me wise to know what boundaries nurture security and trust. Give me all I need to walk this walk because it’s often so difficult and confusing. Thank You for wanting to answer this prayer. I put my trust in You for this.”

Public Service Announcement for GUYS

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Gentlemen, be alerted to the fact that TOMORROW IS VALENTINE’S DAY! Now is the time to get out on your lunch break and purchase something nice for your wife or sweetie. If you’re married, they’d better be the same person.

Lowes or Home Depot are NOT stores to shop for this. As hard as it is to explain, a nice power tool doesn’t trip most women’s trigger. If your wife/sweetie doesn’t fit this stereotype, more power to you (and her), but the vast majority of women are not excited about cordless power tools. Take it from an old guy with experience.

And do yourself a favor and buy your Valentine’s Day card at an actual store, not a gas station or the 711. It’s inexplicable, but women can tell the difference between cards purchased at these places.

I’m just trying to keep your bacon out of the fire.

An effort – even a lame one – at a Valentine’s Day gift is better than no effort at all. Take it from me. I know. The worst Valentine’s Day I’ve ever experienced was my first as a married man. When the Day slipped up on me.

I’ve been madly in love with my wife from the start. I still am. I was disgustingly romantic through our courtship and engagement. I wrote poems and long, sloppy letters to her. I gave her cheesy little (cheap) gifts. Our friends all rolled their eyes at me.

But when we got married, or more accurately, a couple of months after the wedding, it was like someone flipped the romance switch in my brain off. I have no explanation for this, let alone an excuse. Only regret for it.

In our first year of marriage, we were finishing our Sr. year of Bible College, living a 30 minute drive (when the traffic cooperated) from campus, with 7:30 a.m. classes Tuesday through Friday. I have never been a morning person. Getting up in time to be dressed and in my right mind for the drive to school was always a challenge. Often I did this somnambulitorily. My first 30 minutes, I was totally fuzzy-headed and completely on autopilot.

Debbie, my wonderful wife, did not have the same difficulty with mornings as I did. This is important to the story.

On that fateful first St. Valentine’s Day of our married life, she got up early, made a lovely breakfast, set the table lovingly, with a card at my place, and our little cassette player (remember those?) loaded and ready to play the recording of our wedding ceremony.

I stumbled in on my usual schedule, a couple of minutes before we needed to be out the door for school, grunted and said, “What’s this for?”

This was not my finest hour.

Debbie had to tell me that it was Valentine’s Day. She wasn’t ugly about it, but she was hurt. Well, duah.

The drive to school was silent, except for the roar of our little car’s engine.

Since I’d forgotten it was Valentine’s Day, I hadn’t bought a Valentine’s Day card. I’d bought no gift (we barely had cash enough to put gas in the car and food in the fridge). And by the time we got to school for our 7:30 classes, it was way too late to get either. It would have only made things worse. At least that’s what I told myself.

Now, 45 years later, I look back on that sad day and wonder what kind of brain injury I must have sustained to have forgotten the second most important day in the first year of marriage. I have no excuse and no alibi.

(If you’re wondering what the first most important day in the first year of marriage is, ask your wife. She’ll tell you it’s your first anniversary.)

I’ve successfully remembered Valentine’s Day every year since. But that was the last time Debbie made Valentine’s Day breakfast. After all these years, I have no idea what landfill the cassette tape of our wedding ceremony is in. Even if it turned up, I don’t have a cassette player to play it on, anyway.

Brothers, I tell you this cautionary tale for two reasons. First of all, for its cathartic function. Confession is good for my soul. And second, to remind you of a fact that is easy for guys to forget: your wife needs to know that she’s your Valentine. Seems easy, right? It’s not. There are thousands of other pressing issues crowding this important fact out of your conscious thoughts. This is a need, not just a want. So don’t blow past it on your way to whatever important thing is next on your to-do list.

It’s not just about you trying to be a little more romantic. And it’s not about the variety of romance that most guys attempt: foreplay. I could say a lot about this, but I won’t. If you don’t get it, it will take more words than I’ve got left for this blog. Look it up on Google or something.

You wife/sweetie needs to know that she’s not an afterthought. One of her biggest needs is to be reminded often that she’s the second highest priority in your life. Higher than your job or your hobbies. Higher than your buddies. Higher, even, than your kids. The only One who registers higher on the priority scale is God. It goes Father, Son, Holy Spirit, your wife.

You may not understand the impact of this. And it may not make sense to you. Well, get over it. So much of her security is in this.

Actually, you don’t need to fully understand this. You just need to act according to it’s value.

I know it’s late in the day that you’re reading this. You may not see this before your lunch break. It could be way late in the day. You may need to get in your car and drive a while to find a store, other than a convenience store, that’s open 24 hours. But do yourself a favor and get in the car and find the store and a nice card. Make it the front porch for telling your girl that she’s the love of your life. And then figure out a way to follow it up with loving words and actions that will say it loud and clear.