Being the mother at home to four little toddlers (well, three toddlers and one baby) is hard work. I certainly won't pretend otherwise. But it is good work, and I am thankful for it. As my oldest daughter nears her fourth birthday, I have been watching the many ways she is seeming older to me – much more like a “child” than a toddler. Most pronouncedly I've been letting her skip a nap about half of the week (she's not needing it as much as she used to) so I have a lot more one on one time with her. I enjoy her little personality, and her budding independence. She loves to play “mistress of the kitchen” and unload the dishes by herself. She's been “writing” her own letters to grandmas lately, including sealing them in an envelope, writing an “address”, and putting a sticker “stamp” in just the right spot (so grandmas, I have no idea what these letters consist of, as she usually brings them to me sealed!) She has her quiet reading time while I have some, too, or while I'm getting some other projects done. She bustles about doing so many important little things, and I know she enjoys being more “grown up”. But I've realized there are new challenges that come with her growing older also. Toddlers may be more “work” in the sense that they can't dress themselves, etc. But training and discipline is pretty straightforward with these small munchkins, fairly black and white in most cases: obey mommy and daddy quickly, no temper fits/complaining, etc . . . I'm noticing more and more situations with my eldest that are just a bit more complex and challenging. I'm starting to see character qualities emerge more clearly – both good and not so good. I see more situations that aren't quite so clear to me – they're not defiance, but just don't seem to come from a kind heart, if that makes sense. This week I've felt a bit at a loss, wanting to correct improper heart attitudes, yet finding it not so simple to address as clear disobedience. I've been perusing over my favorite child training books again, and have relearned much. But really I've just come to be quite humbled, realizing that motherhood is not a formula; there's no three step method to children with hearts after God. It is a process of relying constantly upon His grace, forgiveness, help and guidance. And as usual, in seeking to train my daughter well, God has brought the spotlight back to my own heart in many areas (I maintain that one of the best methods of sanctification is raising children!) Here are some of the things I've been convicted of this week:
* Example is SO key in training. Even if I am struggling with an “inward” attitude, without fail I see a part of it in my children. I don't want to be the “whitewashed tomb” or the cup that's clean on the outside only – honoring God with my lips while my heart is far from Him. Neither do I want to be speaking all the correct words to teach my daughter when my heart is not living them.
* The Bible contains all we need for life and godliness. I tend to be somewhat cyclical in my struggles, and in the past have found myself seeking wisdom from many books while neglecting the most important one (of course there is much wisdom in many of these books, but I must learn to seek God's Word first). If I do not LOVE God's Word with all my heart, I can have little hope that my children will. I desire them to learn (by example) to run to God's Word in all situations: for comfort, for guidance, for instruction, for wisdom in all things.
* I need to be upon my knees for my childrens' hearts far more than I am. I can get so busy that when a difficulty creeps in it is too easy to start looking for a “quick answer” while forgetting to seek the wisdom God has promised to those who ask for it. Not to mention the fact that prayer is one of the greatest effectual means God has provided for our help. Without fail when I am consistently praying for and with my girls, I see such sweet fruit.
* I need to teach my girls to seek God's strength and help in their areas of weakness. After I discipline my girls, I've always had them seek forgiveness, and I try to pray for them. But lately I've been leading them in their own little prayers and helping them to seek God's forgiveness, to thank Him for it, and to ask His help in this area of struggle. We've also been trying to pray for our specific struggles at various time throughout the day, like at meals and such. This is really seeming to help my oldest to understand what things she personally struggles with, and reminding her to ask God for help.
* The way I correct my girls is so much more important than that I simply do it. Prov. 31:26 says “She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.” Prov. 16:21 says “The wise in heart will be called prudent, and sweetness of the lips increases learning” When my words of correction are sweet, kind, and wise, it will “increase learning” – my girls will learn more! I need to pray for God to work in me the fruit of the Spirit, notably self-control, so that I will be able to correct in this way.
* I must not lower the standard God has set. If I make a set of “house rules” that's more easily followed by a little one, rather than upholding the “law of love” that God has set before us, I am not teaching my girls to rely upon the grace of Christ. Yes, it is impossible for us to obey God perfectly – that is exactly why we must do all in His strength. It is much harder to learn to put one another's interests before our own than it is to simply set the timer and take turns with a coveted toy, but what does it teach? I would much rather have my little girls seeking His strength than proudly following the letter of a lesser law (like little pharisees in pink dresses!)
* I'm getting long winded again, so the last thing I will share tonight that I've been convicted by is the need to simplify. I think again of Martha who was worried and bothered by so many things, when only one thing was necessary. I also think of the verse which says “All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up.” I Cor. 10:23. There are so many things which take my time throughout the day – a minute here and a few seconds there add up rather quickly. So I've been convicted of the need to simply take things out which may not currently be beneficial (even if they're things I enjoy). Meaning I need to actually keep the computer turned off when it's not my proper time to be on it (to avoid looking something little up, “really quickly”); I need to not be on the telephone (even to someone I may dearly love) when I ought to be “fully with” my girls. I need to be careful to go with my children to ensure that they follow through with the directions I gave, in order not to allow sin to go undetected. I need to be willing to let laundry take twice as long, in order to bring my little ones with me, instead of leaving them to themselves in a playroom (even a minute or so of this can be provoking them with temptation to fight, be selfish, etc). In short, I need to love and rejoice in the work God has set before me enough to give up the little things I might rather be doing here and there. The beauty of it is, though, that His yoke is easy, His burden light. And He came that I might have life more abundantly, and that my joy may be full! As I learn the self-discipline to spend my time properly, giving up little indulgences (otherwise known as time or attention-stealers!), He will bless me, though I am so undeserving of it!
Couple more fun pictures:
More of Naomi in the horsey-riding-hat
Isabelle hiding behind the rocking chair
Matt rocking Hannah, who says “I'm terrible today, could you please pray for my sickness?” (Meaning she has a tiny cold, so she sounds terrible)
More of Hannah and Daddy
Juliette grooving with daddy
Juliette trying to play guitar with daddy