My Grandfather was a hardworking, honest man who raised ten children on a farm in Boise, Idaho. He often said something that stuck with my father, “I can be talked into about anything, but I don’t push worth a damn.”
This is the nature of a free man or woman. We have a will so that we can make moral choices. If that right is taken from us, we have good reason to dig in our heels.
The poet Samual Butler wrote,
He that complies against his Will, Is of his own Opinion still;
If someone resorts to pushing, often it is because they don’t have an convincing argument. Dictators and governments throughout time have pushed and compelled their subjects. Sometimes out of “well-meaning” compassion, probably more often out of self-interest. But minds are rarely changed through pushing. Often anger and resentment simmers underneath from such interference of our God-given free-will.
As Dostoyevsky famously explained, “The whole work of man really seems to consist in nothing but proving to himself every minute that he is a man and not a piano key.”
We, as parents, need to minimize our pushing. Sometimes it may be necessary- across a busy street or into a car seat – but we should, at as young an age as possible, begin taking the time to “talk them into things”. In previous generations parents often expected obedience without question. Moderns parents seem to have given up on obedience altogether.
But what parents across time should desire is to raise children who are obedient to moral truth. We as parents set boundaries and rules and should expect obedience from children. Not “because we said so”, but because our rules and boundaries are reasonable (can be reasoned) and we are responsible for raising our children.
The truth is convincing to kids. If we explain our reasons for 8:30 bedtime they will probably still push back, but we won’t be a tyrant – a tyrant never gives his reasons. We must give the truth time to work in our children – it may take years for our more stubborn children to be talked into reason but we are placing a voice of conscience into their minds.
Often if we describe a difficult scenario to our kids and ask them what they would do, they can describe the moral path out. If they can’t, we can explain what they might do. The more we do this the better, they will have played out their responses in advance. When the time of moral choice comes, they have already worked out their choice.
If we find our relationship with a child strained, it may be that we are pushing too much and not convincing enough. This does not mean we let them do what they want, it means we give truth a chance. We speak with them honestly and openly about the reasons, the consequences, the long-term repressions of their choices. If kids understand the why, they are much more likely to make the right choice. Children are still humble and teachable. They are adaptable. However they, like we, will do all they can to resist being played like a piano key.
“I slept, and dreamed that life was beauty; I woke, and found that life was duty. Was thy dream then a shadowy lie? Toil on, sad heart, courageously, And thou shall find thy dream to be A noonday light and truth to thee.”
Louisa May Alcott
A mother’s life is duty. Young mothers often awake to this truth in sorrow, especially with our modern need for affirmation and praise. But as we toil on, we settle into our life of duty, duty motivated by love. We let go of our naive expectations. We become grateful for the purpose and direction our duties provide. Duty transforms a selfish life into one of service. We will find our dream of beauty fulfilled as we labor in love.
As mothers we need beauty. We need it to sustain us through difficult and duty-filled days. We need beauty to guide us toward the truth and goodness our children need for their growth and development. And yet, we live in a world full of ugliness and distraction. We live in a culture of excess – a different outfit for every occasion, pop music in every store and restaurant, and images flashing before our eyes on every screen. If we fill our short days with the mindless and superficial we become desensitized to beauty, and it becomes more difficult to discern and enjoy. I enjoyed this piece by D.T. Sheffler as he describes the necessity of strengthening our souls for beauty. In our culture of excess, noise, and self-adoration, I hope I can be a better example to my children of spurring the excess and more closely “guarding the gates of my inner castle”.
“I think,” she paused, “in the new year I’m going to create better boundaries.”
She was a high school student I was walking alongside in the church and the goal was nothing out of the ordinary for the self-care language our culture encourages. Honestly, had it not been for the years of late-night conversations and navigating a post-pandemic world, I would have smiled and requested it right then in prayer. But the atmosphere has changed a bit … and I knew her fears.
“Let’s say your dream boundaries are in place,” I began. “Describe to me what’s at the center. What are you creating limits around and protecting?” I asked.
She told me she wants to protect her heart and her time. She wants to control the things she can control. She doesn’t want to feel bad or spend energy in uncomfortable situations. She painted a perfect picture, like that of a tailored social media feed, where everything she interacts with brings her happiness, peace, and pleasure.
I told her a healthy heart, intentional time, peace, and joy are all things to want for her and they are good things to strive for and ask of the Lord. I then proposed she remove herself from the center and replace it with the Gospel and asked her how the message of Jesus would correspond with her boundaries.
“Oh,” she said.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.“
Centered Around Me
On the outside, my young friend had a good desire for health and protection, but on the inside, at its center, it was driven by fear of rejection, unbelief, and disappointment. When we place our fears at the center of our boundaries we are allowing what we think will help us to instead isolate and consume us. We fool ourselves into believing that being a functional member of society, and those we interact with, can be modified like our Instagram accounts. We are then let down by the reality that sin and the brokenness of the world can break into every boundary we create, driving us further into our fears. Rejection stirs unforgiveness and bitterness, unbelief cultivates distrust and skepticism, and disappointment fuels hopelessness.
“God just doesn’t throw a life preserver to a drowning person. He goes to the bottom of the sea, and pulls a corpse from the bottom of the sea, takes him up on the bank, breathes into him the breath of life and makes him alive.”
Friend, Jesus was not born in that manager to coexist alongside what we believe should be the center of our boundaries. He’s not here to help out when He can or when we think we need Him. He came to be the center, the Light, the who, what, where, when, and why of all we say and do. The beginning and end, the cause and effect. He doesn’t want to just comfort us when we’re in pain. He wants to purpose our pain. He wants to give reason to everything we do in life. Everywhere we go, and the words we say, He wants Hisgrace and truth to shine.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Centered Around Jesus
Whether it’s physical, emotional, mental, material, or time boundaries, the grace and the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ can illuminate the center of who we are and transform us (mind, soul, strength) for His glory. We discover in knowing His Word, the very Word that became flesh, that He has always been the Gatekeeper to our hearts, the Messenger to a stranger, and the Medicine to a hurting family member or friend. By studying who He is, we learn who we are and can live according to His will. Submitting daily to His way, truth, and life helps us realize bit by bit that each revelation we find in ourselves pales in comparison to who God is and the power He has over our lives.
What would happen if instead of planting our identities and boundaries within our Myers Brigg, let’s say ENFP (me), we rested in YHWH (Yahweh) and His ‘personality’ (His character attributes)? What if we paused on scouring through the 5 Love Languages, and we took a step back and focused on loving God completely according to Mark 12:30-31? And for our motives? Let’s say we take this Enneagram 8 and make it an infinite ∞ motivation to love unconditionally. How different would my life be if I made choices to interact with others, truly knowing in my heart, that Jesus meets me where I’m at? That He calls me to deny myself and follow Him, has overcome the trouble of the world, and that accepting Him as my Savior gives me a sound mind to act and react, the power to move in His name, and the ability to love myself correctly and others compassionately? What do boundaries look like according to that knowledge?
Christ says “Give me All. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. I don’t want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want to have the whole tree down. I don’t want to drill the tooth, or crown it, or stop it, but to have it out. Hand over the natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked – the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours.”
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
Create boundaries. Know your standards, limitations, and need for the King of Kings. You are fearfully and wonderfully made and through faith and reason God gives us the conviction and discernment to keep Him first before putting ourselves or others at the beginning. In her book, The Envy of Eve, Melissa B. Kruger writes, “As we sacrifice our own lives to give to others, we should expect to feel worn out, tired, and spent. The call of the Gospel is not one of self-protection, but of self-denial.” Place the Gospel at the center and when making boundaries ask yourself if you’re allowing dualism to keep His hand from every part of your life (think life preserver in one area vs all-encompassing resurrection). Allow His perfect love to cast out fear. Operate under the full knowledge that we are children of God, redeemed in every way by His grace and truth, and the work relationships, the time in school, and the material and mental stresses will all be ushered into His presence, held and sanctified by the sovereign Light of men.
“In Giving, a man receives more than he gives; and the more is in proportion to the worth of the thing given.”
Here MacDonald uses the general pronoun “man” for mankind. But women are specifically called to give, and we, and the world at large, receive through the giving. In having a child we give that which is of much “worth”. Pregnancy is often difficult, birth painful, and rearing a child is all-consuming. We sacrifice our bodies, time, and comfort to bring new life into the world.
Mary, the mother of Christ, was visited by an angel to inform her that she would be the mother of the Messiah. She was an unwed woman and knew the judgment she would receive from her community. Before her lay a difficult road, perhaps more difficult than she could imagine- suffering on the road to Bethlehem, a traumatic birth in a stable, fleeing to Egypt, and the eventual crucifixion of her beloved son. Yet when the angel appeared to young Mary he said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” To which is replied, “I am the Lord’s servant, may your word to me be fulfilled.”
Mary was not naive to the hardship she would face, but she was faithful. She trusted the words of the angel which told her she was “highly favored”. Later her cousin Elizabeth, who had Mary’s condition revealed to her through the Spirit, proclaimed to her: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”
The word “favored” is used again by Elizabeth. It signifies honor. Mary, a woman of no worldly significance or power, had the honor of carrying, delivering, and raising the Savior of the world, as His mother.
We, women, are highly favored in our opportunity to become mothers. Having a child is an immense blessing of eternal significance. Being a Mother is much more than the physical hardships or sacrifices – it is the spiritual blessing of raising a beloved son or daughter of God. This bond between Mother and Child is eternal. Christ’s thoughts turned to his mother in the moments before his death, his final words instructed his apostles to care for her.
Oftentimes we may not be able to discern how our sacrifice will return to us, but we trust that it will. With the birth of our own son or daughter, we renew humanity. Each child we give the world brings renewed compassion, intellect, insight, revelation, will, and beauty to humanity. When I look upon any of my own precious children I see a gift of great worth, a worth that far exceeds my giving.
Matthew 5:48 says, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”
This seemingly impossible ask is answered by the wise words of C.S. Lewis, “This Helper who will, in the long run, be satisfied with nothing less than absolute perfection, will also be delighted with the first feeble, stumbling effort you make tomorrow to do the simplest duty. As a great Christian writer (George MacDonald) pointed out, every father is pleased at the baby’s first attempt to walk: no father would be satisfied with anything less than a firm, free, manly walk in a grown-up son. In the same way, he said, “God is easy to please, but hard to satisfy.”
If you ask your child how they feel when they do something good – read with their little sister, be kind to the new kid in class – they will respond that it makes them feel good. There is a reward in doing our Christian duty, God’s pleasure. Yet often as parents, we do not recognize the pleasure of our Heavenly Father when we do our duty, as we serve our family.
Because of our own imperfect childhoods or doctrinal misperceptions, we often view God as either a judgemental tyrant or an endlessly accepting and affirming grandpa. He is neither. His perfect knowledge and love allow Him to rejoice in our smallest progress and inspire us to even greater things.
“I want God, not my idea of God.” C.S. Lewis
We should seek to understand for ourselves the nature of God, to recognize how he views our own feeble steps, for we are his children too. We mothers are often plagued with insecurity and guilt, but in our self-condemnation, we forget that Christ called us to be “as little children”. He knew that children err, they are ignorant and often impetuous – yet they are dependent and trusting of their parents. It is not imperfection God condemns, but pride.
A friend of mine had four boys. She was frustrated that all four started walking at 9 months. I remember she even resorted to forcing them on their bum whenever they stood up. She just wanted a baby a little longer! Other times, as with my overly-contented babies, we are frustrated by our fat and jolly 14-month-old, content to stick with crawling. Is there something wrong with this kid? Why can’t he just walk?! We use comparisons and milestonesto measure success, but God uses no such metrics. We may walk early or late but His pleasure propels us forward toward His purpose.
God is a rejoicing parent. Yes, He is displeased by open rebellion, but He does not condemn the unready walk us, spiritual toddlers. He wants our progress, He knows eternal joy is found in growth and perfection. Our knowledge of His true nature helps us to move forward and to grow more firm in our steps.
As parents, we should seek to parent as our Eternal Father does and be parented by Him. We should show our pleasure at our children’s stumbling efforts – notice them, praise them. Our expressed pleasure will propel them forward to become more. We should also seek to feel the pleasure of God as we grow firm in the steady walk of one of his grown children.
I suggest reading the following by C.S. Lewis as we seek to parent like, and recognize our loving Father.
I don’t typically like to give specific advice. I enjoy learning and writing about general philosophy – the kind of philosophy that can help us, with our unique personalities and perspectives, make wise practical decisions about our parenting. We mothers are the most practical of philosophers. However, this “Cyber Week” I thought some of you might appreciate a specific recommendation as we make our Christmas gift decisions. Don’t worry – I am not “sponsored”. I just found something that has worked for us, and may for you as well.
Modern philosophy seems to say “more is better” and that we should let our children guide us as their desires count as much as our own. This philosophy often determines how parents answer the question of how and when to introduce children to technology. Why not give your kids a phone? Why not trust them to figure it out? Better to learn young, right? Loneliness and depression are rising as technology use increases, it seems unreasonable to have a technology free-for-all. Children don’t have the proper perspective, knowledge, or self-control to act as adults. (Adults themselves aren’t thriving with this technology). Technology is increasingly addictive and social media platforms are divisive and damaging to young minds.
An unlocked smartphone opens a world completely independent and most often contrary to the values and traditions of a loving home. We have worked hard to teach our children – but the voices shouting through a smartphone are louder than ours. Children are not developmentally or morally ready to face this world. We don’t throw our kids into a raging river to teach them to swim and we can don’t give our kids an unfiltered cell phone and expect them not to drown.
We modern parents face a tremendously important decision, one of our most important decisions as a parent – should I get my child a smartphone? The consequences of this decision are real and potentially life-altering for our child, and our relationship with him/her. Through research, observation, and prayer, my husband and I have made a plan for our own family. It is important to develop a plan – a tradition – that we adhere to so that our children know that no amount of complaining or anger will change. Our traditions should not be based on the prevailing philosophy of the world or our neighbors, but on what is true, right, and beneficial for our family.
While we know that phones are often damaging, we practical mothers know that existing phoneless in a phone-obsessed world can be a real disadvantage, even for middle schoolers. One opinion often expressed is that kids will be “weird” if they don’t have cell phones. To which I say, Good! – who wants to be normal in a destructive society? We can teach our kids that social costs are often worth paying – pointing out that “being cool or accepted” is often a poor long-term metric for happiness. And yet, unfortunately, schools, sports, and church activities increasingly rely on using cell phones for communication. Therefore it can be a challenge for parents and kids not to be connected through phones.
With all these thoughts in mind, we developed our plan. We wait until 8th grade to add personal technology to our children’s lives. They do not have any technology of “their own” until they are in 8th grade, at which point they will get a “dumb” phone. My son, almost 14, became our first child to get a phone – the tradition begins.
I am so grateful that now concerned parents have options. With all the data on the damage smartphones can do to kids, companies are popping up with “dumb” phone options. These phones vary but generally, they usually remove games, social media, and internet access, which seem to be the most destructive elements of smartphones. They give parents access to, and control over, what is on their children’s phones and when they are able to use them. I have written extensively on the “devouring mother” and advised against over-controlling parenting. But limiting our child’s access to technology that is known to be destructive, body and soul, is not controlling – it is parenting.
I have yet to meet a parent who has given their preteen, or even teen, a smartphone and not regretted it in some way. I am happy to say that I do not regret giving my son his Pinwheel phone. He texts his friends uses Duolingo to learn Spanish, checks SportsYou to hear from his coaches, and occasionally pulls up Google Classroom at school. That’s about it. He has not become addicted at all and it is nice to be able to tell him I will be five minutes late or send him a text wishing him luck on a test. His phone does the things he actually needs – not all the things he may come to “want” if supplied. He is satisfied with his phone and has not expressed a wish to have “more”. My tendency is to assume technology is bad for kids, but I am now willing to admit that technology, at the right time and with limits, can be a great tool.
At the moment there are Black Friday deals on Pinwheel and Gabb phones. There is also another option called Troomi but I don’t know much about it.
For all you parents out there, good luck as you develop your family technology tradition!
The love of a mother for her child. The devotion of a man to his family. The dependence of a child on his parents. These truths are eternal. They are the foundation of meaning, joy, and purpose. The world may seek progress and change. They may see children as a burden and family responsibilities as impediments to freedom and pleasure. But the truth will prove true. A loving family can stand strong even amidst the storms inevitable to a confused world.
The concept of beauty has been philosophized over, debated, and dissected for millennia. Yet, as a mother, a wife, and a woman, beauty is self-evident if I open my eyes to it. Anything that brings me hope and wonder is beautiful. Those moments that make me pause from care and anxiety – that pull me up out of daily strife for just a moment and into joy – they are beautiful. Beauty is inexpressible, unexplainable – a glimpse of heaven. The world-saving beauty spoken of by Dostoyevsky is much more than aesthetics, it is transformative. We women need to value beauty, share beauty, and believe in beauty.
The spiritual nature of beauty allows it to stand as a testimony of hope when all that is rational has been twisted and distorted by prideful minds. The ugly world may grow more wicked, divisive, and doomed but when we open our eyes to a magnificent sunrise or the smiling eyes of a laughing baby, we rise to another reality.
My children and I enjoy watching YouTube videos of talented dancers – flamenco, ballroom, hip hop, breakdancing. I am always a bit embarrassed when I start weeping as we watch. When Beauty strikes the heart , emotions often flow, even in a hardened heart. I weep at beautiful dancing, my husband will tear up at a magnificent soccer goal, my mother cries whenever Handel’s Messiah plays. We each have unique spirits so we find and appreciate beauty differently. Learning how and when we have these “beautiful” experiences will help direct us to personalized sources of spiritual strength and hope. We should help our children appreciate these moments of awe and wonder so they learn to recognize beauty.
We, as mothers, must keep our homes beautiful. If we fill our homes with light, order, art, music, and truth it will be refuge for our precious children. I have stepped into mud shacks that were more beautiful than a mansion. The light, joy, and love that fill a home can transform it into something celestial. In our homes our children will gain strength to be a light in the darkness.
I want to share an excerpt from a speech by Alexander Solzhenitsyn on Dostoyevsky’s bold claim on beauty. His words and the clip from Sir Roger Scruton emphasize the crucial place of beauty in our modern world.
“One day Dostoevsky threw out the enigmatic remark: “Beauty will save the world”. What sort of a statement is that? For a long time I considered it mere words. How could that be possible? When in bloodthirsty history did beauty ever save anyone from anything? Ennobled, uplifted, yes – but whom has it saved?
There is, however, a certain peculiarity in the essence of beauty, a peculiarity in the status of art: namely, the convincingness of a true work of art is completely irrefutable and it forces even an opposing heart to surrender. It is possible to compose an outwardly smooth and elegant political speech, a headstrong article, a social program, or a philosophical system on the basis of both a mistake and a lie. What is hidden, what is distorted, will not immediately become obvious.
Then a contradictory speech, article, program, a differently constructed philosophy rallies in opposition – and all just as elegant and smooth, and once again it works. Which is why such things are both trusted and mistrusted.
In vain to reiterate what does not reach the heart.
But a work of art bears within itself its own verification: conceptions which are devised or stretched do not stand being portrayed in images, they all come crashing down, appear sickly and pale, convince no one. But those works of art which have scooped up the truth and presented it to us as a living force – they take hold of us, compel us, and nobody ever, not even in ages to come, will appear to refute them.
So perhaps that ancient trinity of Truth, Goodness and Beauty is not simply an empty, faded formula as we thought in the days of our self-confident, materialistic youth? If the tops of these three trees converge, as the scholars maintained, but the too blatant, too direct stems of Truth and Goodness are crushed, cut down, not allowed through – then perhaps the fantastic, unpredictable, unexpected stems of Beauty will push through and soar to that very same place, and in so doing will fulfil the work of all three?
In that case Dostoevsky’s remark, “Beauty will save the world”, was not a careless phrase but a prophecy? After all he was granted to see much, a man of fantastic illumination.
And in that case art, literature might really be able to help the world today?”
“The road must be trod, but it will be very hard. And neither strength nor wisdom will carry us far upon it. This quest may be attempted by the weak with as much hope as the strong. Yet it is oft the course of deeds that move the wheels of the world: Small hands do them because they must, while the eyes of the great are elsewhere.” J.R.R. Tolkien
There are many “musts” in motherhood. We must feed our children, we must tend them, we must nurture, we must teach. These duties may weigh on us – yet these deeds are profoundly important. As Tolkien says, worldly strength and wisdom can only get us so far. On the quest for a better world, it is the dutiful “small hands” of a mother – feeding our family, reading stories, wiping away our child’s tears- that determine the direction of the wheels of the world. Those defining moments, found in the safety and nurture of our mothers care, can guide us for eternity. Others may scorn “musts”, seeking status and praise – but their eyes will be elsewhere as mothers shift the culture towards light, by doing small deeds with purpose and direction.