Skip to content

The Thanksgiving Thing

Any blogger (or preacher, or editorialist, or talk show host, or, well you get the picture) who doesn’t write or say something meaningful about Thanksgiving should lose their credentials. Or at least apologize. There’s just too much to say about Thanksgiving to not say anything. So here you go with mine.

In Colossians, 2:6-7, the Apostle Paul wrote, ” So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” (NIV)

The last 3 words of this sentence are the ones I want to unpack a little. “Overflowing with thankfulness.”

A literal translation of this could be, “gushing with thanksgiving.” There’s an important requirement for anything overflowing or gushing. To do this, the vessel has to be more than full. There has to be so much of something it that there’s not room enough for it all. Simply full vessels don’t gush and overflow. They spill, but they don’t overflow.

King David wrote of this in his Psalm 23 masterpiece, “My cup overflows.” This was a picture of a cup being filled and filled, and then still being filled once the wine reached the top and began to flow out on the table. That’s what Paul was writing about in Colossians. Thanksgiving overflowing and getting out onto the table, and all over the place. To be full of thanksgiving is a beautiful thing, but it’s not the same thing as – and in my opinion, not as beautiful as – overflowing with thanksgiving. For thanksgiving to overflow in my life, I’ve got to be more than full of thanksgiving. I need to gush it.

OK. So how do I pull that off? Good question. I can tell you that not many people get to the overflow state in a snap. Nobody I know started there. Normal people start with just being full of thanksgiving. There are lots of ways to eventually get to overflowing with thanksgiving. They all start at the same point, though: learning to observe and reflect. I know, this is rocket science.

OBSERVE. The non-technical term for this is, “Pay attention.”

Most people think they pay attention more than they actually do. On a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 is absolutely attentive at 100%, most people would like to think they’re at about 8. We may say, “Oh, well, I know I miss a lot.” But down deep, we’re thinking, “I’d say 8 is my conservative estimate. On most days, it’s got to be around 8.6, unless I’m sick or over-fatigued. Then it’s gonna go down to 6 or 7.”

A counselor friend gave me this sentence and told me to count the number of F’s in it: FINISHED FILES ARE THE RESULT OF YEARS OF SCIENTIFIC STUDY COMBINED WITH THE EXPERIENCE OF YEARS.

How many F’s do you count in that sentence? Go ahead. Go back up and count them.

Most people get 3. What if I told you there’s actually 6? That’s right, SIX. Most people leave out the three times “OF” occurs in the sentence. The eyes see them, but the brain doesn’t. Still feel like you’re about an 8.6? I didn’t when my friend showed it to me. It took me three re-readings to see what I’d done.

Psychologists tell us that we only see what we’re looking for. Occasionally, we don’t even see what we’re looking for. In that little trick I just pulled on you, you might not have even seen what you had actually seen: 6 F’s. That’s just how our brains are designed by God. Generally, we’ll see what we’re looking for, though.

Many people – maybe even most people – aren’t as observant as they think they are. And one of the things most of us don’t observe are our blessings, because most of us are so busy trying to make ends meet and not disappoint the important people in our lives, we just don’t have time or energy to look for them. Which is why it’s a very good thing to have a day set aside every year to observe our blessings and give thanks for them. We all need an excuse to look for, to observe blessings.

So you start with observing, looking for blessings. Notice them. Identify them.

REFLECT. And then you reflect on them. That doesn’t mean to just nod in their direction and keep racing down the expressway at 75 MPH. Which is what lots of A-Type people are inclined to do. “Yep, that was great. Now keep moving!” It’s really hard to overflow with thanksgiving at 75 MPH. I won’t say impossible. I’ll just say I can’t do it.

I discovered this when I was in my 6-month recovery from my heart attack. For 6 months, I just didn’t go anywhere in a hurry. That wasn’t normal for me. Being a short person, I’d spent nearly my entire life walking faster to keep up with the tall guys. But when you’re not sure you can get through the parking lot from your car to the auditorium at church (about 100 feet) before they sing the last song, it makes you rethink your speed. My body made me take the speed back a few notches.

And during this recovery, the only demands or appointments I had on my formerly jammed calendar were for doctor’s visits. There was nothing to be in a hurry for. I went from working with no margin between appointments, to having nearly nothing but margin in my day. If I needed to be at the doctor’s at 10:00, it was no problem to leave at 9:20 for the 20-minute drive. I had nothing better to do with the time, and I was fine with taking it easy.

To make a long story short, I learned how not to hurry. And I liked it. It was far better for my heart, and far better for my soul. I still occasionally get jammed with too-short margins, but it’s nothing like it was. Not even close.

One of the things I learned from that recovery time is that when you’re in a hurry, it’s nearly impossible to be thankful. You have to slow down to be thankful. If I’m bustin it because I’m 5 minutes late to my next appointment, I guarantee I’m not thinking about my blessings. I’m thinking about the bozo doing 55 in a 65 speed zone, who’s making me late. Milk it or move it! But that’s just me.

To reflect takes time. It takes margin. Don’t try to do it in a hurry. Even if you’re pretty sure you can do it in a hurry. Slow down and see what happens in your less cluttered and hurried mind.

Thursday is a national holiday that was originally designed as a day to give thanks to our Creator for His blessings to us. George Washington set it as a national holiday in 1789, and Lincoln made it a federal holiday in 1863. Both men believed we, as a nation, owed God a debt of thanks for His goodness to us. Originally, American families slowed down from what we, today, would look at and think of as their grindingly slow lives to observe the day. Unfortunately, that sentiment and practice has begun to lose out to football, parades, extravagant feast prep and pre-Black Friday starting blocks. (Can you tell I could easily do a rant on this?… I won’t. Yer welcome.)

My challenge here is simple. Regardless of what the popular culture does with the 4th Thursday of November, why don’t you and your family use it as the entry-point for building a life of overflowing thanksgiving by observing God’s blessings and reflecting on them. Around the Thanksgiving dinner table would be one of the finest places I can think of to get started. Slow it down. Turn off the TV and tune into each other and God. Observe and reflect.

And if you do this, let me know what happens.

It’s Gonna Get Ugly

If you live in Oklahoma, you might think I’m talking about the last few games of the football season. And if that’s what you’re thinking, you’d be right that the saying applies, but wrong about what I have in mind.

I’m thinking of the “election cycle.” We’re a year away from the 2020 elections, and the ads have already begun to clutter the airways. There have been nationally broadcasted debates. Town hall meetings in Iowa, a key caucus state. Press releases and news conferences and personal appearances and fund-raisers. It’s going to get worse in the next 11 months. I’m just saying. And it’s gonna get ugly.

Before we go to the polls in November of 2020, the campaign trail will be thick with mud slung from all sides. There will be, as there always is, lies and half-truths. There will be attempted character assassinations. Endless tweets and retweets. Billions of dollars will be spent. In the end, there will be a winner and a loser. And at least four more years’ worth of ponderings by political pundits as to who the actual winner was. That’s just the way it works.

I’m broaching this in a blog for marriage and family months ahead of time because there’s one group of people who stand to lose a lot more than anybody else. Your kids. I’m not talking about how the outcome of the election might shape their destiny, though, frankly, there are some important ways this election could shape it. I’m talking about the angst they will feel from the acrimony of the process. If your kids are in grade school, I guarantee they will be exposed to the acrimony and divisiveness of the campaign. Probably as an attempt to involve them in the political process every citizen should be involved in, which is a good thing. Possibly (but not necessarily certainly, thank God) by teachers with a personal agenda. This, I feel, is not such a good thing. And possibly by their peers, as well.

Here’s what I advise you to do with this opportunity. Actually, what I advise you NOT to do. DO NOT BE PASSIVE! Don’t just let your young one(s) decide on their own, without your input. Give input! Don’t force them to take your political party and candidate, right or wrong, but give input. I believe it’s entirely right for parents to openly and rationally dialogue with their kids about the political parties and the various planks of their platform.

Bear this in mind as you do this, though. Though your kids are possibly far ahead of where you were, technologically, when you were their age, they’re still kids, immature and easily guided and misguided. They simply haven’t had enough life experience to have a very big and reliable grid to filter campaign promises and peer pressure through. So challenge their thinking without disrespecting them. Give input. Do your research and then give reasoned, logical, philosophically grounded and respectful input. This requires a large measure of maturity. If you’re not careful, you could end up in knock down, drag out fights over who to vote for. If this happens, even if your candidate wins, you lose.

And then this: DON’T PROJECT PANIC. Yes, there are some huge issues at risk in this election. Yes, there are some very frightening implications in whichever candidate is elected. (My personal opinion is that Christians have more to lose in this election they have in any election in the last 50 years.) There’s a lot at stake.

But even with this, there’s a reality that we must embrace so that we can pass it along to our kids. Forgive me for maybe sounding like a Facebook post, but the reality is regardless of who’s the President, Jesus is still King.

Whether your candidate wins or not, Jesus is still in control. God has made Him the Supreme Authority over everything, including the United States of America. I am fully convinced that nothing happens in this world without either the initiation or the permission of our sovereign God. This includes outcomes of elections. It is impossible to surprise Him, and impossible to thwart His eternal will, even though it has often seemed thwarted throughout history.

If we believe that God is in control and Jesus is still King, our behavior ought to show it. Our talk should show it, too. Our hope is only secondarily in imperfect candidates and an imperfect system (though still, in my opinion, the best on the planet). The foundation of our hope is Jesus Christ and His Lordship. If we lose sight of this, we’re toast. And if we don’t pass this along to our kids, they’ll be toast, too.

So talk with your kids. Listen to them. Ask them what they’re thinking and feeling about the election process when you’re eating supper, or when you’re running errands with them, or whenever you have non-threatening time with them. Seize teachable moments and leverage them for the sake of building into your kids’ developing character. Whichever side of the political isle you stand in, make sure you pass on to your kids that Jesus is still King, not matter who wins this election.

HALT!

I had the privilege of starting and then leading the Celebrate Recovery ministry at Canyon Ridge Christian Church, in Las Vegas, NV, for 7 years. I learned a ton from the amazing people there in Celebrate Recovery. One of the things I learned from them was the HALT principle. It’s one of the essential tools for everybody in recovery, no matter what they’re recovering from. It’s also an essential tool for everybody else, even if they don’t think they’re in recovery. My friend, Kevin Odor, says we’re all in recovery, whether we realize it or not. We’re all in recovery from sin and its effects in our lives. I think Kevin’s right.

If you’ve got kids, especially little kids, you probably feel like you spend half your waking hours saying (or shouting) some from of halt. “Stop pulling your sister’s hair!” “Stop trying to put that fork in the electric socket!” “Stop teasing your brother (or the dog, or the cat, or your dad)!” Yep. Been there; done that. Take heart. There will come a time when you won’t have to be in the constant Stop Mode. It’s probably a ways down the timeline, but it will happen. Keep taking deep breaths.

When you’re about at the end of your rope with kids being kids and life being just way harder than it should be, the HALT principle could be one of your best tools.

HALT is an acronym for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. When you’re hungry, angry, lonely and tired, you’re more vulnerable to making bad choices. Any one of these things getting out of whack will set you up to do and say things you’ll wish you hadn’t. When these four things come into harmonic convergence, they’ll wreck your ship.

Hungry – Not everybody needs the exact same nutrients at the exact same time to be healthy. There is a wide range of metabolism factors that play into it. But no matter how you metabolize, when you’re hungry, you’re not at your best. The Snickers TV commercials used to crack me up. The tag line was, “You’re not you when you’re hungry.” It’s true. You’re really not you when you’re hungry.

There are many physiological reasons for this, and I’m not qualified to talk intelligently about all of them. The one that’s at the top of the list, though, I can talk about. It’s your blood glucose, or blood sugar. It rises and falls with what, how much and when you eat. This amazing substance does so much to help you be you when it’s in balance, but when it’s either too high or too low, it’s an enemy like few others. When you’re hungry, it’s too low, and it will hijack your mental processes, especially your judgment.

I’m not talking hungry, as in, “I’m hungry for something salty and crunchy.” I’m talking about hungry because it’s been 5 or 6 hours since you’ve had any protein. I’m not talking about taste-bud hunger. I’m talking about actual metabolism-hunger.

Sometimes, when you’re edgy and cranky and easily set off, it could be that your blood glucose is low and your body needs appropriate fuel. Like a handful of almonds, or some fruit, or maybe even a meal. When you find yourself set off easily, that could very likely be your body signaling you that you’re hungry.

I’m not a dietitian, but I can tell you that what you need at these times isn’t a candy bar. You don’t need a bag of chips. Or ice cream. What you need is something with lots of protein. Even when your mouth wants something sweet or salty or crunchy, your body is begging for something with good protein. If you want to know more about what kind of snacks will actually promote healthy blood glucose, here’s one of thousands of websites that will give you more than you wanted to know about it: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/healthy-high-protein-snacks

Angry – Everybody gets angry. Even Jesus got angry. But not everybody knows what to do about their anger. I know about this, personally. I often struggle with anger.

I used to ask, “What’s making me angry?” and, “Why am I angry?” These are good questions. They’re worth asking. But I’ve discovered that a more useful question, the best first question is: What is my anger trying to tell me? Most of the time, my anger is telling me that a need (real or only felt) isn’t being met. My task in answering this question is to first establish what that need might be, and second, to discern if it’s a real need or only a felt one. Not all felt needs are evil, but the difference between a real need and a felt need can be huge.

Then after I figure out what the need is, and whether it’s real or not, I get to decide what I’m going to do about it. There are many options for this that work, but one that never works is stuffing it. Another one that never works is excusing yourself because that’s just how you are.

Long and complex books have been written about how to deal with anger. Some of them are even good. A couple that I’ve found helpful are The Anger Workbook, by Les Carter, and Anger, handling a powerful emotion in a healthy way, by Gary Chapman. You’ll find some very useful and biblical strategies for dealing with your anger (and other people’s anger) in these books.

Lonely – Being alone isn’t the same thing as being lonely. Alone-time is a precious commodity if you’re an introvert. But even if you’re an extrovert or an ambivert, having time to be alone is important and necessary,

If you’re the mom of preschoolers, you’re rolling your eyes and thinking, “Right. What’s your phone number? I’ll give you a call so you can come take care of these kids while I have some of this ‘alone-time’ you talk about. I can’t even be alone in the bathroom.”

You’re right. Sorry for bringing it up.

Finding ways to NOT be alone is important, too. And difficult for moms of preschoolers for many of the same reasons finding time to be alone is hard.

When you’re lonely you’re vulnerable. Isolation can be a killer. So you have to take deliberate steps to insure you have a reasonable path for connections. Phone calls, text messages, emails, FaceTime or Skype calls aren’t as good as face-to-face, fully present encounters, but they’re sure better than nothing! Connecting with people other than your little kids is (or is supposed to be) life-giving.

If you find yourself lonely, be thoughtful and careful. Don’t wait for somebody to just materialize and make your loneliness go away. Usually those people are almost the opposite of the people you need in that moment. When you’re lonely, you’re vulnerable.

Tired – You don’t need an advanced degree to know that when you’re tired you’re not at your best. When you’re tired, your body and your mind are working off of too-shallow reserves.

There are things to do when you’re tired. Not all of them work for everybody. For instance, napping is a great tool for lots of people. Not me. If I ever do fall asleep in a nap, I’ll be useless for about 4 hours after I wake up. I’m groggy and foggy and good-for-nothing. Right up until I get in bed for the night. Then I’ll roll around for another 2 or 3 hours, with my brain and body conspiring against sleep. My wife, Debbie, can do the power nap thing. Boy do I wish I could.

They say Winston Churchill took a nap in the middle of the day, every day. Of course, he’d also work until 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning. Most people can’t afford to take a nap every day, and then there are those, like me, who might be able to occasionally take a nap, but napping doesn’t work for them. So it’s not viable for everybody.

I read not long ago that we’re the most sleep-deprived generation ever. I don’t have any problem believing this. I have friends who tell me they only need 4 or 5 hours of sleep a night. May their tribe increase. I’m not in that tribe. I need 8 hours. I can manage on 7, but not for more than a night or two. I used to think this was because I was lazy, but I don’t think that any more. Reliable research says that our bodies and minds need 8 hours of restful sleep to be at our best.

I know what you’re thinking. I don’t know your life. There’s no way you can get 7 or 8 hours of sleep a night. There are seasons of life when the idea of that much sleep is pure fantasy. I get that. But for lots of people (maybe most people), there are ways to get more sleep than they’re getting right now. At the top of the list for this is going to bed earlier. Turn the TV off. Shut your computer down. Put your smart phone and your tablet in time out earlier. Go to bed. Don’t go read in bed. Don’t go watch more TV in bed. Go to bed. When your kids are young, they should be going to bed early. Why don’t you try going to bed when they do? DVR your must-see TV and watch it on the weekend. The point is, figure out how to go to bed earlier, and see what might happen with more sleep.

I didn’t plan on solving all your problems with Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired in a blog. That’s not possible. But if you start tugging at the edges of it, you’ll find that God has already joined you as you address these four things that can make life go sideways. Partner with Him and see what might happen.

Mayhem

I don’t have too many favorite TV commercials. Mostly, they’re an unwelcome interruption. But occasionally one comes along and gets my attention. That’s what Allstate’s Mayhem commercials did. You know the ones I’m talking about, right? Since 2010, actor Dean Winters has been making me laugh with scenarios from trees falling on cars, to cats turning on water in the upstairs bathroom, to the discount game parking guy. The writers of these commercials should get some kind of award. I have a feeling Allstate isn’t getting these things on a pro bono basis, though, so…

If you get a chuckle out of these, I’m pretty sure it’s because you’ve either had something similar to the scenarios happen to you, or you can imagine them happening. And when you get to personify the mayhem, it’s even better.

Everybody has to deal with mayhem. It’s just a part of life. I blame Adam and Eve. Ever since the Fall and the Curse, no matter who you are, mayhem’s been in the script for us.

Marriages and families are way not exempt from mayhem. In fact, some of the most frustrating, even devastating mayhem happens there.

As in the rest of life, some of (maybe most of) the mayhem in marriage and family life is the result of choices we make. Not all, but most. There are things that happen – mayhem we have to manage to get through – that comes to us because of decisions other people make and things beyond our control. We really are innocent victims of mayhem sometimes. A car pulls out in front of you. You get to your destination just fine, but your luggage doesn’t. The dog eats your homework.

But most mayhem comes our way because of something we did or said, or didn’t do or didn’t say. I don’t know how you could ever reliably establish a percentage for it, but I’d have to guess it’s way north of 50%. Maybe even in the 80% neighborhood.

I don’t think it’s possible to make mayhem never happen. There are too many other mitigating factors. But it’s got to be possible to minimize it, doesn’t it? There’s got to be a way to set ourselves up for less mayhem, or at least get hurt less by it when it happens.

Here’s the simple answer: Don’t make dumb choices. That’s pretty indelicate, but it’s the best way to minimize mayhem and its effects in our marriages and families.

OK, so how do you do that?

Start here: learn how to respond instead of reacting. This is a lot harder to do than to say. Most of us have lived a good bit of our lives in the reaction mode, and turning the dial to responding instead is a difficult task.

Reactions come from what neuroscientists call the “primitive brain.” This is the part of the brain where instinct and emotions (among other things) reside. It’s a very powerful part of your brain. There are pathways connecting this part of your brain with the executive centers of your brain, in the prefrontal cortex, where reason resides, but they’re often underutilized and weak. Lots of people use the pathways between their primitive brain and the executive center so seldom it’s almost like the pathways don’t exist. These people are usually slaves to their emotions. They usually react to stimuli instantly, and then, on reflection, wish they’d done something different. Except by then it’s too late.

Now, reactions aren’t all bad. God gave us this capability to react as a gift. It’s part of the marvelous survival system He put in us by design. If you can’t react quickly to a threat, you just might get taken out by it. So reactions aren’t all bad. But not all reactions are good.

What separates reactions from responses? Just one thing, really. Thought. Conscious thought. Reactions require no thought at all. In fact, thinking just gets in the way of reacting. If you’re a cornerback in the NFL, you need to have grooved your reactions in so well that you don’t have to consciously think through what your best counter move to a wide receiver’s juke is. You just react to it. That’s what 10,000 hours of productive practice does. It’s the same with virtuoso musicians. They don’t consciously process through where to put their finger next. They’ve practiced putting the finger where it goes so often and so well that it’s now in the category of reaction, not response.

But none of them started there. These well-trained, grooved-in reactions are the product of training their brain to respond, over and over again until the time between stimulus and response is so short, it’s really equal to a reaction.

That’s the challenge with mayhem. When it happens, your first instinct, your reaction, may not be the best response. In fact, it may only compound the problem. Learning how to widen the gap between stimulus and response is the key. Training yourself to give yourself a second or two instead of a millisecond or two between what happens and what you do about it is a process you get better at over time. That’s the nature of training. It’s not an event, it’s a process.

Did your mom or grandma ever tell you to count to 10 before you got angry? If she did, and if you tried it, you probably discovered that giving yourself that 10 second gap kept you out of a lot of trouble.

In marriages and families, to move from reaction to response when mayhem strikes, there needs to be a lot of counting to 10. Shoot, I’d be happy if I could pull off counting to 3 sometimes! The point is, when you give your prefrontal cortex time to catch up to your primitive brain so it can filter your response through a grid of thinking, you move from simple reaction to more productive response.

You can’t make mayhem go away. There’s no witness protection program to keep it from finding you. But you can learn how to widen the gap and give yourself a chance to respond. Do it experimentally. Give yourself grace. And partner with God on this. He wants you to learn how to respond more than you want to learn it. Call out to Him and count on Him for His help. It’s the best way to protect yourself against Mayhem.

The One Thing That Will Make Your Marriage Sizzle

With a title like that, I’d better come across with something hot. Right?

So am I going to talk about sex?

Better than sex, actually.

Better than sex? Nuts, I forgot you’re an old guy. That’s the kind of thing an old guy would say. Or a preacher. Or an old guy preacher.

Great sex will make your marriage sizzle. I’ve got to be honest. But for sex to be great, and for your marriage to sizzle for the long haul (which is what you want), there’s got to be One Thing that’s working in your relationship, beyond great sex. It’s counter-intuitive, but it’s the most powerful dynamic in marriages that actually sizzle.

It’s F O R G I V E N E S S.

Yer welcome.

Nothing derails any relationship more quickly and more dramatically than unforgiveness (which isn’t a word, but should be). Without forgiveness, here’s what the process looks like in human relationships:

It’s a steep and slippery slope from being hurt to hurting someone else because they hurt you. And for lots of people, it takes no time at all to get from Offense/Injury all the way down to Aggression.

There’s only one thing that will interrupt this negative and destructive cycle: forgiveness.

Here’s maybe the two most important things I can tell you about forgiveness. First of all, it’s not an event, it’s a process. The process begins when you choose to forgive. It’s a simple process, but it’s not easy: you choose to forgive the person who hurt you every time the injury comes to mind.

If it’s a shallow wound, it won’t take too many laps in this process to have forgiven the person. But the deeper the wound, though, the longer the process of forgiving usually is. My experience is that when people seem to have sloughed off a deep wound from a very intense emotional injury, they probably haven’t done as much forgiving as they think they have. They’ve probably only stuffed the offense and their feelings about it down in their emotional gunny sack where it won’t get in the way, but they’ve probably not done the business of forgiving. At some point, the gunny sack’s going to give way, and these stuffed feelings are going to come out. It’s never pretty when it happens. It’s never convenient, either.

So that’s the first thing. It’s a process. Choose to forgive, and choose it again over and over. Sometimes for a very long time.

The second thing is that forgiving someone doesn’t equal fully trusting the person you’ve forgiven. I can’t remember where I first heard it, but the saying is true: forgiveness is free, but trust is earned. God said through the Apostle Paul, Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (Colossians 3:13 NIV) But he didn’t say, “And fully trust them, because if you don’t trust them, you haven’t forgiven them.” When you forgive a person who has injured you, you aren’t compelled to trust them until they have proven that they can be trusted.

A couple of seconds thought should connect this forgiveness thing with a marriage that sizzles. You can have a sexual encounter with someone you haven’t forgiven. It might even provide you with momentary exhilaration. And that momentary exhilaration might feel like sizzle. But until you choose to forgive your spouse (because sex with your spouse is the exclusive and only context for sex), all you’ll have is momentary exhilaration that will wear off more quickly than you’d like, not the deep connection and almost irresistible sense of attraction that forgiveness can give you. And that’s what you’re after if you want a sustainable, long-term, life-long sizzle. Right?

What Your Kid Needs Most

The question is: What does your kid need most? There are a ton of answers to this. Especially in a culture where there are no standards, where there are no absolutes. And in a world of instant electronic accessibility, there are a ton of experts who voice their opinion on this question.

I’m as into leveraging tech as much as my brain allows (which, I admit, isn’t too deep a dive) for voicing my opinions. I do Facebook like a Jr. Hi kid. I send and receive more email than surface mail. Snail mail, for those of us who are techno-hip. Shoot, I’m typing this directly into my blogging software, with no word processor help. So I’m way not against the many cyber-options we have for expressing our opinions and learning about other opinions.

I have concerns, though, over the fact that it seems that so little common sense is in operation with so many of the opinions I read. It’s always been this way, I guess, but it seems more so now than ever in my memory – common sense isn’t so common.

What I want to propose as the answer to my question comes from a place of common sense, along with some substantial behavioral science. What kids need most is (a drum roll, please) SECURITY.

Don’t mistake security for protection. Yes, our kids need protection. Some kids need more of it than others. But protection – removing risk – isn’t what I’m talking about when I site security as their greatest need. The kind of security I’m talking about permits kids to take appropriate risks to become who God intends them to be.

I’m not a fan of helicopter parents who hover over their kids to make sure everything in their world is suitable. Generally, these parents favor giving participation trophies and not keeping score, ever, for fear of damaging the fragile psyches of their dear children. They raise snowflakes. Sorry. I calls ’em like I sees ’em.

When their helicopter parents are no longer there to cushion every fall and turn down their bed every night (the bed the helicopter parent made that morning), these kids struggle to figure out how to make life work. Which is often no biggie, because major college administrations are making all sorts of rules and policies that will continue the protective and sheltering philosophy these kids were raised under.

If this feels like a rant, well, I guess it was. Sorry. Not sorry.

What I mean by security often looks very far from protectiveness. It is, in fact, often NOT protective.

There are certainly things children should be protected from. There are plenty of unsafe environments kids need to be protected from and removed from. Violence in their home isn’t acceptable. Physical deprivation is never acceptable. Kids should be protected from this. You can make your own catalog of these sorts of things. It’s irresponsible to expose kids to unnecessary and harmful risks. That’s not what I’m talking about, though. I’m talking about the normal difficulties of life. The normal difficulties of life don’t fit in the bucket of things from which children should be protected.

It astounds me that there are parents who don’t give a thought to the fact that their young kids are watching R rated movies on the cable on-demand channel, and laugh when their kids quote lines from them, but who bristle to outburst when those same kids have to deal with a kid in their class calling them a name, or a teacher who doesn’t give them credit for work they didn’t turn in. You get the point.

I believe there are two primary things that give kids security. First of all, there’s consistency. I’ve written about the need to make the rules clear, and then for them to be enforced and observed consistently. (If you want to read it, click on this link: https://homeworkwithst.com/2019/10/04/making-rules-that-work/)

When the rules are enforced inconsistently – when one day a behavior is winked at or laughed off, but on another day, the hammer comes down hard for that same behavior – kids will be insecure. When the boundaries are unclear, there will be insecurity. And that’s not all. When the rules clearly don’t consistently apply to everybody, insecurity will often become resentment, which will eventually become bitterness and rebellion.

When there are rules that apply only to them, you, as the parent, are tasked with the job of explaining as best you can that there are rules that don’t apply to everybody. Some rules that are right for 3 year olds will probably not be right for a 6th grader. There really are some rules that apply to kids, but not to parents. If you want to give yourself the best chance of success in this rule thing, you want as few of those kind of rules as you can.

Rules and rule keeping aren’t the only place consistency is essential. You showing up emotionally and consistently being present with your kids and the rest of your family is perhaps equally as important.

You consistently showing appropriate physical affection for spouse, if married, is essential. If you’re divorced, you consistently NOT disrespecting your ex is essential.

Consistency is huge. Lots of bad stuff grows out of inconsistency from parents.

The second thing that gives kids security is knowing they’re safe if they fail. One of the biggest reasons kids feel unsafe to fail is that they believe they won’t be loved and accepted if they don’t succeed. Or that they’ll be more loved and more accepted if they succeed, which isn’t really any more positive. Kids who sense this will run on a performance treadmill. They’ll put in the effort, but never feel that they’re making any progress. Many of them will be on that treadmill for their entire life, not just the few years of their childhood.

Notice I wrote, “Kids who sense this…” You don’t have to tell kids they’re less loved and accepted when they fail. They figure this out on their own, even if it’s not the truth. If you don’t go out of your way to make it clear that they’re loved and accepted even when they fail, they’ll sense that they’re less loved and accepted when they fail. Even if what your kid feels isn’t the truth, they will go with it as fact. It will have the power of truth in their lives. It’s part of our human brokenness. So you have to help them get the truth into both their hearts and minds.

Your words are important in this. Choose them carefully. And your actions are powerful, too. So choose them wisely. Be intentional about what you do and what you say when your kids fail. Go out of your way to affirm how much you love and treasure them. You don’t have to pretend they didn’t fail. That models dishonesty, and you don’t want to do that. Be kind, but be gentle. This isn’t being soft. It’s being loving. Tenderness as a response to failure goes a long way.

Maybe thinking of it this way will be helpful. If a colleague in your profession whom you admire and respect failed, how would you talk to them about it? That’s probably going to be useful for talking to your kid about failure, because, although you may have to use a less professional and adult vocabulary, that’s how you want to talk to your kid about their failure.

The Apostle Paul advised, “…speak(ing) the truth in love…” (Ephesians 4:15) That’s what I’m talking about here. Speaking the truth in love requires maturity, though. Sometimes a LOT of maturity. Well, you’re supposed to be the mature one in the relationship. So muster your maturity and apply truth with love when you talk to your kids about failure.

If you’re a parent, you already know that your kids have their best moments when they know they’re secure. They do their best when you’re consistent in your response to their obedience and disobedience, and consistently show up in their lives. They do their best work on every level when they believe they’ll never risk your love and appreciation if they fail. This kind of emotional security frees your kid(s) up to be the best version of themselves.

When you do this stuff, you’ll be modeling the only Perfect Parent there has ever been or will ever be, your Father In Heaven. This is how He works with His kids. And guess Who wants you to pull this off more than anyone else. Yep. Him. So partner with Him and give it your best. Because with Him, you’re secure.

The Key To Your Child’s Heart

The Key To Your Child’s Heart

Gary Smalley was one of my favorite teachers and writers. Actually, just one of my favorite people. I got to be around him and interact with him a few times and always felt he believed in me more than I believed in myself. I think he was this way with most people he connected with. I was sad when I learned that he had gone home to be with Christ, but thankful that he was finally released from the many physical things that had been holding him back and making his life very difficult for several years. His gain was heaven. How could I be sad for that? But His gain was our loss.

He wrote a book many years ago entitled The Key to Your Child’s Heart. It was a short book, but it carried a very powerful message. On a thumbnail, his message was that the key to your child’s heart is them hearing that you love them in language they understand. Simple, right? Simple, but not easy. If you’ve been trying to tell your kid that you love them, but not connecting, the simple-but-not-easy advice I’ll offer here (by the way, none of this is original with me) could breathe new life into your relationship with them, and give them the one thing they most need. I’ll tell you the one thing they most need later.

Here’s what usually happens: a parent tells their kid(s) that they love them in terms that they (the parent) understand.  and then when the kid doesn’t respond, the parent gest frustrated because they’re not responding. 

You see the problem with this immediately.  It doesn’t work!  Your kid isn’t you.  You get what you’re saying.  Completely and instantaneously.  You’re speaking your language.  So you expect your kid to get it.  But what if your kid doesn’t speak your language?  You get your meaning effortlessly, but what if your kid just doesn’t connect with it, even if they try to (which they probably won’t do)?

When this happens, most people eventually react out of their frustration.  They’ll say it again, usually just like they said it the first time.  Maybe the kid was distracted and just didn’t hear you.  So you give it another shot.  When the kid still doesn’t get it, you repeat it again, this time with a little more intensity.  Still no connection.  So you move into full “you’ll hear me and you’ll understand” mode.  What started out as an attempt to say “I love you,” can become a really ugly memory for both you and your kid(s) of you saying, “I love you, you idiot!  Why aren’t you getting this?!”

I don’t have any pixie dust to toss on this, so I can’t just make the problem go away.  But I have a suggestion that has helped millions of parents begin getting this life-changing message of love across to their kids.  It’s a message that gives a kid the one thing he or she most needs.

A very wise man named Dr. Gary Chapman wrote a book called The Five Love Languages, back in 1992. Our three daughters were all in high school and college by the time I came across it. My wife, Debbie, and I both wish we had known what Dr. Chapman wrote in his book when our girls were little. It would have made us way more effective parents, and it would have been so much better for the girls. I’m so thankful that by God’s grace they all three got that we loved them, but not without struggles.

Dr. Chapman’s thesis is that there are five ways people give and receive love. These are called Five Love Languages. It’s hard to imagine, but these five languages really do cover the subject. They cover it for you, your spouse, your kids. Even your boss.

All of us have a primary love language. Most of us have a secondary one, too. In fact, most of us have a little bit of each one of the five, but they’re not all equally strong for and in us.

So here are the five:
Quality Time,
Giving & Receiving Gifts,
Words of Affirmation,
Physical Touch,
Acts of Service.

The question to ask yourself is, “How do I most often show love to my wife, my kids, etc.? Of these five things, which one am I most likely to do when I want to show love?” Here’s another question: “Which of these captures what I most appreciate when someone does something from one of these categories for me?”

Usually you’ll get a pretty good idea of which your primary love language is by answering these questions about yourself. It’s a little harder to answer them for your spouse and kids. Do the best you can by thinking about them as you answer these same questions.

Then after you’ve spent some time thinking about this, get on the Internet and go to this website: https://www.5lovelanguages.com/. You can fill out an inventory for yourself, each of your kids and for your spouse. The results I’ve gotten every time I’ve done it are accurate. So go ahead. Click it up. I’ll wait.

After you do the online inventories, I have a feeling you’ll want to read the book. Actually, Dr. Chapman has written a variety of Love Language books. You saw them when you clicked up the website I gave you. You can buy these in audio format, too. I highly recommend that if you have any kind of commute to and from your work, you buy the audio book and listen to it back and forth.

I’ll come back to the Five Love Languages in my next post with some practical ways to utilize what I think you’ll learn about yourself and your kids. When you leverage your understanding of your kids’s, your spouse’s, and your own love language, you can address the single greatest need your kids have. What they most need is…

I’ll tell you next time.