Cultivating Sincere Love

 

Image of a sunrise peaking out from behind storm clouds and text pulled from the post.

We can’t feed bitterness and simultaneously cultivate joy. We won’t experience the full to overflowing life Jesus promised if we cling to unforgiveness. And perhaps most importantly, we can’t display the beautiful, grace-giving love our world needs when pride, envy, or malice clog our hearts.

I wish I could say I routinely radiate Christ, but unless I guard against this, when difficulties hit, I’m often quick to complain and slow to pray. I’m easily distracted by the imperfect, unexpected, or undesired rather than the abundance of blessings God’s provided.

In fact, there was a time when that was my default demeanor, until God woke me up through a series of encounters.

Initially, when I met Tracy*, compassion drew me to her. She was new to the area, appeared to be hurting, and I thought perhaps she could use a friend. So, I issued an invitation, and we began meeting for coffee.

Soon, our conversations felt repetitive, filled with complaining and bitterness. At first, I wondered if she was depressed, and she may have been, and if so, in need of patience and grace.

She may have been depressed. But I wasn’t, and yet, I’d been acting just like her.

In other words, though I had much to be thankful for, including a daily connection with God Himself—the source of all joy—I chose bitterness and negativity. I chose to focus on momentary “offenses”, what I didn’t have that I wanted, on expectations gone awry, and robbed myself of the peace and full to overflowing life Jesus died to give me.

Through my interactions with this other woman, God helped me see how my attitude, which I’d displayed without thinking, was choking my spiritual vitality, hindering my relationships, and diluting my prayers.

Worst of all, it was squelching my love, the one thing those I care for most needed from me.

In a letter bearing his name, Peter, an early church father who spent time with Jesus before His death, wrote to Christians experiencing oppression and persecution. Living under the evil emperor Nero, they needed not only encouragement but also incredible emotional Picture of two friends with text from 1 Peter 1:22support. So he urged them to “love one another earnestly from a pure heart.” (1 Peter 1:22, ESV).

We all know what casual love looks like—the type that offers kind words when it’s convenient but seems absent when needs arise. The kind that’s more self-protecting than sacrificing and prideful than initiating. The kind that might look good on the outside but lacks substance when it counts.

That’s not the kind of love Peter commanded. Instead, they were to demonstrate a sincere, unfeigned love free from hidden agendas and selfish motives.

Sadly, I can’t remember the last time I showed that type of love. Selfish motives often creep into my best, most altruistic intentions. This lessens, however, when I diligently practice Peter’s admonitions that follow in 2 Peter 2:1-3: “So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk”—Scripture— “that by it you may grow up into salvation—if indeed you have tasted the Lord is good” (ESV).

In other words, we can’t harbor bitterness or envy in one area or in relation to one particular person and expect our other relationships to remain pure and sincere. Malice, deceit, and slander, and all their equally destructive sisters, once entertained, invade our hearts until everything becomes tainted.

To display the love, joy, and peace God commands, we need to both purge and fill. We need to actively and continually throw out everything that hinders while soaking in everything that ignites.

That is the only way we will truly be able to love others well, as Christ loves us.

Let’s talk about this. What’s hindering you from fully expressing the love of Christ? Is there an old offense you’re rehashing? Unforgiveness you’re feeding? If so, hand that to God. Ask Him to remove it from you, to replace it with truth, and then intentionally remember all the ways God has shown you that He is indeed good.

It’s really hard to remain angry or bitter when focused on the love and grace of Christ.

It’s equally hard to experience the full to overflowing life Jesus promised when we’ve chosen bitterness instead.

What resonated or challenged you most in today’s post? Share your thoughts, stories, examples, and questions in the comments below.

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Join the Wholly Loved team on March 23rd to discover how to live fully, vibrantly alive, prioritize your time according to God’s leading, and experience the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in your most enjoyable and difficult moments. Visit the Wholly Loved website to find out more and King of Kings Lutheran Church in Omaha to register. We also encourage you to grab a free copy of our Bible study, Becoming His Princess. You can do so HERE. Listen to each week’s opening session HERE.

Want Jennifer or her team to come to you? Contact her HERE.

Focusing on Those Traits That Will Help Our Kids Succeed

l8snwgunqbu-gaelle-marcelBook learning won’t amount to much if the heart of the reader is weak. Lazy. Entitled. One can excel at tests and utterly fail at life. And parents can run their kids from one activity and class to the next in the hopes of helping them gain a leg up in life and, in the process, cripple them emotionally, robbing them of the chance to develop those very traits that will help them succeed longterm.

When our daughter was young, a friend gave me a homeschooling book that encouraged parents to focus on attitudes and character rather than behavior modification. This book had a huge impact on how I parented.

I thought of this book and many of the ways we sought to train our daughter when I read a sweet friend’s post, shared on Facebook, the other day. I knew instantly the parents among us would find her wise words encouraging and inspiring, so I asked if I could share them here. My friend graciously said yes.

When Our Children No Longer Want to Be Superheroes by Brianna Swick

A few days ago while driving in the car, my seven-year-old daughter, Clara, said, “The paleontologist on Dinosaur Train said he fell in love with dinosaurs at age four. The astronomer from Ready, Jet, Go fell in love with a picture of space at seven. I just LOVE check lists. I want to be a school bus driver or a dance teacher when I grow up so I can check the students off as bus-1319360_1920they arrive.”

Honestly, at first my heart sank.  This girl taught herself to read at four years old.  She spends hours reading about science and space.  She often dreamed of being a superhero with the powers to do anything in the world.  This girl wants to be a bus driver.  I said something like, “Oh, that would be fun,” and the conversation quickly shifted to another topic as it so often does with little ones.

Her words (and my less than encouraging response) reemerged many hours later when I should have been sleeping.  Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in encouraging our kids to be super “successful.”  We want them to know that they can be an astronaut or prima ballerina if they choose.  As if success is marked by how prestigious your job is or how much money you make. Sometimes we forget that hard work and diligence in whatever you do is most important.

Children often see the true value in things we as adults miss. I’m encouraged in being a stay-at-home mom every time Levi says he wants to be a dad who doesn’t go to work. He sees value in what I do.

Although it breaks my heart that she’s realized she won’t really be a superhero with powers to do anything (an evaporated drop in that pool of innocence- does anyone else think of Bing Bong from Inside Out and start bawling at these moments?), I find joy in the fact that she sees the value in the people who take care of her.  They have a huge impact on her life, and impacting lives is the highest ambition.

img_20160522_101809684… just some 4 am thoughts from a tired mom …

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Brianna Swick is the chief baker, chef, story-teller, launderer, maid, inspirational speaker, and chauffeur for three young children and one handsome husband.

Let’s talk about this! What are some ways you have intentionally trained livingbygracepic-jpyour child’s attitude and character? Have you ever paused to make a list of key traits you’d like them to develop? Doing so can help us create a plan of action, a parenting road map if you will. And parents, we can do the same for ourselves. 😉 Because character is a big deal, and something God speaks on often.

Whether it’s regarding training your children, grandchildren, students, or yourself, we’d love to hear from you! Share your ideas, thoughts, and insights with us, because we can all learn from one another!

I would also add, there can be incredible, God-honoring purpose in driving a bus, in sharing the love of Christ with the little ones riding to school each day. Or, for those in public transit, in offering a kind smile and word of encouragement to the lonely and elderly who wonder if anyone sees them and if they have value anymore. Our purpose isn’t defined so much by the what but rather by the how, as Wholly Loved speaker Chaka Heinze reminds us. We live out our purpose any time we accept our role as imago dei. Want to learn more? Join us for one of our upcoming conferences, or invite us to come speak at your next women’s event!

Other resources and articles you might enjoy or find helpful:

Three Ways to Sabotage Your Children’s Future

Parenting With the End in Mind

Team Mentality Parenting

Oh, and before I go, all my previous releases (ebooks) are still on sale for under $2! Plus Restoring Love is still being sold at a discounted rate. I’m not sure how long either sale will last, but you can check all of my books out HERE.

 

 

Making Marriage Work

divorce-908743_1920How can a couple go from googly-eyed in love to utter hatred within a few years? Why is it so many adults who once pledged to love and cherish their spouse “till death do we part” stomp on their vows, toss in their wedding ring, and walk away?

Maybe the better question is, what does it take to make a marriage work? Today, my guest Mary Hamilton shares her experience in doing just that when her son comes home from college. Read on and be blessed and encouraged.

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What Makes a Marriage Work?
by Mary Hamilton

Upon his graduation from college, our son noticed how many friends from both high school and college were getting married. But considering the number of troubled marriages he’d seen and the number of friends who came from homes scarred by divorce, writing-1209700_640he wondered how many of these relationships would succeed.

So, he gave his dad and me an assignment. Based on our 34 years of experience, we were to prepare a list of 5-10 bullet points on what makes a marriage work. While the following are not necessarily in order of importance, here’s the list we came up with.

    • A common faith, and a similar maturity in that faith. Without our personal faith in God, our marriage might not have stood the test many years ago. Faith provides accountability to a higher authority. It humbles us when pride gets in the way, provides hope in troubling times, and deepens the joy of victory over self.

     

    • Agreement on money—both spending it and saving it. Like most couples, one of us likes to save every penny and one likes to spend them. We need each other for balance so that the spender learns to save for a rainy day (and retirement) and the saver learns to enjoy the benefits money provides. Appreciate each other’s “bent” and cooperate to achieve maximum benefit from your finances.

     

    • Communication skills. Are you willing and able to talk with each other about anything and everything, revealing your deepest, darkest secrets? Can you broach a touchy subject withoutnails-1420329_640 fear of rejection, ridicule or punishment? Can you argue without making personal attacks on each other? Communication involves listening as well as speaking. Marriage requires both skills.

     

    • Some common interests. Couples should have activities they enjoy doing together. But allow room for differences as well. Varied ideas and interests keeps both partners growing in ways they wouldn’t achieve on their own.

     

    • A strong sense of humor. Laughing together is fun and builds the relationship in positive ways. When used properly, it can also defuse tension whether pressures come from outside the relationship or within.

     

    • Commitment to each other and the marriage. Make your spouse and your relationship a priority over other family, friends, work, etc. Keep complaints and disagreements between the two of you, speaking only good things about each other to friends and relatives and guarding your spouse’s reputation and integrity in front of others.

     

    • Respect each other. Show gratefulness and treat each other with kindness—even when you’re tired and grumpy, even when you’re disappointed with your partner, even when you’re angry and arguing. (Yes, this will happen!) Attack the problem, not each other.

 

All of these might be summed up in the word “Attitude.” Are both partners in this marriage more interested in having their own needs met or meeting the needs of the other? Are both willing to humble themselves in order to lift up their mate? Are both willing to compromise for the good of the relationship? An attitude that says, “We’re in this together and divorce is not an option,” lays a solid foundation on which to build a strong and vibrant marriage.

Would you add any suggestions to our list?

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HNEmodifiedcoverHere No Evil:

A mother’s rejection. A bully’s taunts. Summer camp isn’t supposed to be like this.

Thirteen-year-old Brady is stunned when his mother drops him off for a week of camp and says she doesn’t want him living with her anymore. His pain only deepens with the cruel taunts and teasing of the camp bully. But is it possible his mother’s rejection was for his own protection?

Find out when you read Hear No Evil, Book 1 Rustic Knoll Bible Camp series, available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Christianbook.

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Alt. headshotMary L. Hamilton grew up at a youth camp similar to the setting for her Rustic Knoll Bible Camp series. Her experiences during twenty years of living at the camp, as well as people she knew there, inspired many of the events and situations in her novels.

Two of those novels have been named Selah Award Finalists.

Mary also enjoys knitting, reading and evenings spent bird-watching from their back patio with her best friend and marriage partner for 34 years. She and her husband make their home in Texas.

Connect with Mary on her website, Facebook, and Pinterest.

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livingbygracepic-jpLet’s talk about this: Marriage should never be entered into without prayer and great thought. Mary’s son was wise to ask those with strong marriages for guidance! What are some suggestions you would add to Mary and her husband’s list? Share your thoughts in the comments below or over on Living by Grace.