Christmas dysfunction—or growth and peace. Your Choice

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If my Christmas feels out of control and produces more anxiety than joy and peace, I’m probably to blame. Nine times out of ten, when I honestly evaluate those things that cause me the greatest stress and anxiety, it’s my fault. I’ve failed to establish and maintain clear boundaries, have given other people’s behavior and opinions power over me, or both.

Most often both.

Let me explain using a parenting example. When our daughter was in high school, she went through the messy phase that seems inherent to adolescence. I’d nag, cajole, pester, and remind, and yet, dirty clothes remained on the floor, dirty dishes on counters, and piles of randomness cluttered nearly every surface.

As this problem continued, my frustration grew, until one day I realized … the situation was largely my fault. Though I’d stated my expectations, I lacked direct and clear follow-through. In getting upset, nagging, or running around tidying things up, I’d taken ownership of my daughter’s behavior.

I had three options:

  1. Communicate natural consequences and follow through.

(And if I do that, there’s no reason to get upset. I simply enforce the consequence and move on.)

  1. Remain perpetually frustrated.
  2. Determine to let the situation go.

Though this holds true year round, our lack of boundaries and unhealthy responses are felt most strongly over the quote pulled from text with Christmas wrapping and items backgroundholidays when obligation, expectation, financial strain, and reduced availability magnifies and reveals every dysfunction.

And whenever God allows something unhealthy to come under the spotlight, He’s giving us the opportunity to align ourselves and our lives more closely with truth and bring increased wholeness to what is now broken.

I think we probably know this, at least in theory, but many times, we’re afraid of what our healthy decisions might cost. We may know Great Aunt Leola’s expectation that all families, regardless of their schedule, commitments, or personal needs and desires, attend her Thursday night dinner, are unrealistic and unfair. But we fear, should we do what we feel is right for ourselves (our sanity!) and our family, we’ll lose the relationship or create uncomfortable tension.

Therefore, we determine her feelings and perceptions, regardless of how unjustified, and lack of conflict are more important than emotional and relational health. Than true peace, which, biblically speaking, means wholeness. We can’t set a boundary unless we’re willing to stand by it, regardless of how things play out and others respond. Otherwise, our boundaries are merely suggestions that will likely leave us feeling more frustrated and defeated than before.

The other morning, I spoke with a group of single moms on pursuing healing and learning to recognize what is and isn’t about them—what to take ownership for and correct and what to “shake off” in a refusal to “own” someone else’s opinions and poor behavior. The question that followed: How?

I think what they were asking is, “How can I stop getting so emotionally entangled in other people’s opinions, behaviors, and perceptions (which usually means, when evaluated at its root, how can I care less what others think about me)?

To which I responded: What gave them the right to hold that power? What did they do to warrant this, and what makes them—their opinion—more important than you and your emotional health?

That’s a question we have to ask ourselves each day, because until we’re able to say, “Nothing and no one gave them that power,” we’ll likely remain victims. Worse, we’ll teach our kids to do the same, and we’ll all suffer for it, the person with the poor behavior included.

Along these same lines, if we’re the ones attempting to override someone else’s boundaries, we must ask ourselves: Who gave me that power? Who gave me authority to force my dysfunction onto others? And what might Jesus have to say about that?

Because as the saying goes, truth without love is hurtful and abrasive, and love without truth is deadly. It kills relational intimacy, personal integrity, robs us and our families of peace, and perpetuates a cycle of dysfunction.

But truth and love combined? That’s power. The power of life, transformation, hope, and peace. True, biblical peace, not simply the momentary conflict avoidance that has killed way too many happy holidays.

Let’s talk about this! How much of your current stress is caused by lack of boundaries? What areas might God be wanting to bring wholeness to this holiday season? Share your thoughts and ideas with us in the comments below, because we can all learn from and encourage one another!

For those in the Omaha Metro area, fun news! I’ll be leading Wholly Loved’s new Bible study, Becoming a Princess, this January at Wildewood Christian in Papillion. I hope you’ll join us each Tuesday from 6:30-8:00pm as we learn to center our identity in Christ, recognize His peace and power in our most challenging circumstances, rest from our striving, and daily live in God’s grace. I’ll share more details along with a sign up link soon!

Wayward Teens–Their Parents Left First

MamaMondaysjpgThis isn’t a relational law, and obviously, exceptions always abound, but from my observations, when one takes a big picture look at the life of a wayward teen, they’ll discover, more often than not, the parents left first. I don’t mean they bailed or cut off all ties, but emotionally and in terms of accessibility, parents began to drift further and further away. 

I first noticed this trend when our daughter turned twelve, the legal age for staying home alone. It was as if, for many of her friends, life had changed overnight. Moms started returning to work or working longer hours. Family dinners and game nights were done away with. And as parents drifted further and further away, I heard them say, regarding their teenager, “They don’t want to spend time with me anyway.”

And, if we focus on the eye rolls, the arguments, and overly-dramatic, body-flailing sighs, it’s easy to believe that’s true. It’s easy to believe that as our children age, they no longer need us, or even want to be near us.

But statistics overwhelmingly prove the opposite.

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Photo by David Castillo Dominici taken from freedigitalphotos.net

In a study conducted by Childtrends.org, seventy-nine percent of teenagers enjoy spending time with their parents.

Consider this quote from Dr. John Townsend, author of Boundaries With Teens: “Parents are the center of a child’s life, so it’s always difficult for children to disconnect from them. So when you look at your teen’s surly, angry face, understand that she does not enjoy the alienation any more than you do.” (pg. 24)

In other words, our teens need us.

In fact, according to Ellen Galinsky, President of Families and Work Institute, when conducting interviews with children, she found, “it was teens more than younger children who felt that they didn’t have enough time with their parents.” (You can read the entire interview HERE.)

Our children change dramatically during their tween and teen years, for sure. And our relationship will–must!–change with them. But that doesn’t mean it should become nonexistent. If anything, that is the time when they will most need us.

IMG_1219They need to know we’re on their team. That we “get” them and will always be there for them. When they’re world is shifting and they’re bombarded daily by negativity that tears away at their self-worth and confuses their sense of identity, they need a safe place to land, to be encouraged and uplifted.

If the relationship is hard, work through it. It’s okay–healthy, even–to set boundaries on behavior. Healthy boundaries, not emotional withdrawal. Get help if you need to. But don’t pull away. Too much is at stake. 

Back to my original example… As I mentioned early in this post, when my daughter turned twelve, I noticed a dramatic parental shift–in some. I noticed parents who began to distance themselves from their teens, not intentionally, but rather, through self-justification as they allowed busyness to overshadow relationships. Less than two years later, in every single instance I witnessed, those teenagers began to rebel.

To self-destruct.

But then there was another set of parents, some working, others who chose to stay home, but all who determined to stay involved. To intentionally build and maintain their relationship with their teens. They continued with family dinners, maintained open communication, worked through issues to hold tight to positive relationships. And those teens excelled. They grew increasingly mature and remained close to their parents. In fact, in the second set of teenagers, when difficulty and confusion hit, they turned to their parents first.

As I said, our teens need us. Not just to drive them from place to place or glance at their report cards from time to time. They need us to walk beside them. They need us to carve out time, regularly, where to connect with them on a heart level. Because if we don’t, their hearts will break, one hurried, frazzled, disconnected day at a time.

Let’s talk about this! Parents of teens, what advice would you give to moms of little ones? How can their choices today set the foundation for their relationship with their children later? What are some ways you’ve made a deliberate and consistent effort to connect with your teen’s heart? How do you address those eye rolls and disrespectful behavior without pulling away emotionally? For those with rebellious and aggressive teens, have you sought help, and if so, what was the result?

Share your thoughts with us, because we can all learn from one another!

Other resources you might find helpful:

Boundaries With Teens (Excellent!!)

It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again

Making Lemonade

Somewhere Between a Freak-out and a Pajama Party

And don’t forget to come back Thursday for part two of the S word! (Read part one HERE.)

With Eyes Wide Open

Oh, my poor, sweet, white-knuckling honey. He tells me daily he worries about me, to which I respond, “There’s no need.” Then I lose my wedding ring in the laundry hamper before climbing into my van to casually back out … into a half-opened garage door. Nope, no need to worry at all. I’m not flighty. I’m just a bit distracted, with my head plunged in my next story, radio-drama, or article while reality passes through my peripheral vision. But, oh! If I could begin to live with my eyes wide open, not just to the signs and street-bumps, but to the people God places in my path.

When we lived in Southern California, I read and tried to live out The Prayer of Jabez. The thrust of the book is about asking God to expand your boundaries (for proclaiming Christ) then being alert to the God-moments that arise. The results shocked me. Every day, from the playground to the grocery store, God brought people into my path ready to hear the gospel. Why? I don’t believe it was because of the book or some mysterious prayer, but instead, because He knew I’d seize the opportunity. He knew I was walking with my eyes wide open, ready to proclaim His love and truth. And that’s what it’s all about. Christian, that’s the whole reason you’re here. Not to build a home or nest-egg, but to  point continually to the famous One and God of all comfort.

In Acts chapter 3, Peter and John head to the temple to take part in the afternoon prayer service. While in route, they met a man lame from birth. I imagine the temple gates and surrounding area was much like downtown Seattle or Kansas City with the homeless lining the sidewalk with outstretched hands. I’m sure many walked by, but I imagine many gave. Perhaps some even offered a prayer, focusing on the physical need, then moving on.

But Peter and John, although moved by compassion, kept their eyes on a bigger picture.

Acts 3:4-11

4 Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, “Look at us!” 5 So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them.

 6 Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” 7 Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. 8 He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God. 9 When all the people saw him walking and praising God, 10 they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

Peter Speaks to the Onlookers

 11 While the beggar held on to Peter and John, all the people were astonished and came running to them in the place called Solomon’s Colonnade. 12When Peter saw this, he said to them: “Men of Israel, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?

There’s a lot of powerful truth packed in that little passage.

1. Peter looked straight at the man. And to this you all say, “Amen!” and “Uh-huh,” as if this is a normal and expected reaction.  But let us not forget how we feel walking down main street, passing by those men with matted hair, dirt-packed fingernails, and a thick stench emanating from their body. It’s not easy to look them in the eye, is it? In fact, it’s much easier to avoid them, to pretend we don’t see.

2. Peter addressed the man’s immediate need. Preaching a sermon or saying a prayer is great, but love moves beyond that. Love sees the person, notices their deepest need, then makes every attempt to meet it. This may mean baby-sitting for a single mom, going grocery shopping for the elderly, or providing meals for the homeless. There are as many needs as there are ways to meet them. If we want to accurately represent the love of Christ to a hurting world, we’ll actively follow in Christ’s footsteps.

3. Peter saw the man’s deepest need and pointed to the solution. There are countless humanitarian programs out there, but unless rooted in Christ, they lack the power to create long-term change. A sack lunch will be eaten and digested. A home will house a family but won’t heal a marriage. But a life grounded in Christ moves to healing, to wholeness, to rational-thinking and reconciliation, and ultimately, to the life here-after where there will be no more pain and tears.

4. Peter used the opportunity the miracle provided to create a Jesus-loving buzz.

Like Steven Curtis Chapman says in his fun song, “Every Little Thing,” everything we do must be done for the glory of God. Instead of patting himself on the back and walking away from a job well done–which it was. I mean, come on, they’d just healed a man!–Peter saw an opportunity, an open door:

11 While the beggar held on to Peter and John, all the people were astonished and came running to them in the place called Solomon’s Colonnade. 12When Peter saw this, he said to them: “Men of Israel, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? … “

Lord, may we live with our eyes wide open, ever aware of the needs all around us. May we, like You, see the physical and spiritual needs, and may we use every opportunity to point others back to you, the God of all comfort and truth.

Let’s talk about this!

Join me at Living by Grace as we talk about ways to live with our eyes wide open, making the most of every opportunity, continually pointing others back to Christ.

I also encourage you to read Janalyn’s post about the Famous One, and fellow Living by Grace hostess, Lynda Schultz’s post on making an altar every where we go.

What about you? Has God asked you to let go of something? What made that hard? And what was the result?

When is Helping Hurting?

A few years ago, my daughter would look at me with a twinkle in her eye and an adorable, slightly crooked smile on her face. I knew that look, and what was to follow. “Mom, because you’re such a kind, loving mom, will you…?” Then she’d bat her eyes and try to weasel an act of service out of me. As a parent, I must continually ask myself: What is best, long-term, for our daughter? When is helping an act of love and when does actually cause harm?

Our daughter’s behavior lasted but a blip because I’d always respond, “Honey, I love you too much for that. I want to train you to have a servant’s attitude, not a serve-me attitude. I want you to be responsible and confident, not dependent and insecure.”

In my opinion, helping hurts when it prevents growth or perpetuates faulty thinking.

About ten years ago I read Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. In the book, one of the authors share a story of visiting a friend. While there, this friend picks up her teenage son’s room. Watching this, the author says he feels sorry for the young man’s future wife. Basically, he pointed out that although the mother thought she was helping, her assuming responsibility for her son would actually hurt him in the long run by creating patterns of behavior that would affect future relationships.

I wrote a story about this very thing on Samie Sisters, a tween E-zine. You can read it here. Through the story, I explore the habits formed during chores, habits that will carry into your child’s adult years. Although I didn’t mention it in the article, I also believe chores go a long way towards strengthening your child’s confidence. Each time we assign a task, then allow our child to complete it without jumping in, we are in effect saying, “I have full confidence in your ability to do this.” Each time we rescue them, perhaps because they throw a fit, get overwhelmed, or don’t do it how we’d like, we say, “I don’t believe you can do this.”

Everything we do, intentionally or unintentionally, forms habits, positive or negative. Our actions always make a statement. Multiply these unspoken statements over the course of 18 years, and you can see this is a big deal.

I adore my daughter. If given the chance, I’d shelter her from every trial and shower her with blessings, but as a mom, my love for her must override my desire for her pleasure. I need to parent from a long-term perspective, always evaluating attitudes and behaviors (I tend to place more emphasis on attitudes, because I believe attitude precedes behavior), in terms of our long-term parenting goals. We all want our children to be compassionate, responsible, dedicated, etc. The trick is helping them develop those character traits. I believe character traits are learned through consistent action.

Okay, so we all want these things for our children, and we love them deeply, but often we’re not sure how to go from desire to game-plan. (Forming a game plan, with your spouse, is essential because otherwise you’ll have a tendency to parent on emotion and the present, not based on forethought, education, prayer, and long-term goals.)

For me, one verse sums it up and ties it all together: “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.” Ephesians 4:15 (NIV)

Notice truth and love must always go hand-in-hand. And what is the goal? Maturity.

Take a moment to prayerfully evaluate your parenting in light of your child’s adulthood and Ephesians 4:15. Make a list of character traits, habits, and attitudes you’d like your child to develop, then review your parenting in light of that. Are you and your spouse moving your child toward those goals or away from them? And what can you do, starting today, to help train the future adult in your child?

Perpetual Offenders: When to Stay and When to Walk Away

Forgiveness itself is hard enough, but what about those wounds that continue to occur? I don’t have an easy answer for this one, except to say, according to the Bible, there’s no disclaimer on forgiveness. I don’t read, “Forgive, unless the person is unforgiveable.” Or, “Forgive X amount of times, then, if the person refuses to change, walk away.”

Now, there may be times when you indeed need to walk away, if, as my mentor puts it, the person is toxic. Meaning, if their behavior causes harm. For example, if you are with an abusive husband. Then, forgiveness still must occur, but perhaps without reconciliation.

Other times, God calls us to forgive and endure, as He does with us. For me, it helps to bring it back to a human level. By this I mean, first, I remember my actions toward God. Perhaps someone continually rejects me or pushes me aside. Standing as the offended, it’s easy to walk away from the offender. Standing as the offender in the presence of a Holy God, however, alters my perception. The pain of the situation may remain, but it is colored by understanding.

Second, I remember the extent of sin.

According to the Bible, unregenerated man is sinful to his core. And even the regenerated man still fights against the flesh, not always victoriously. We operate from a sinful nature, often causing pain to ourselves and others. When I view people through this biblical lense, their sinful behavior and callus actions are less likely to catch me by surprise. To the contrary–I come to expect them.

Let me illustrate. A few weeks ago, I volunteered in our church nursery. The children ranged from infants to toddlers, and a few toddlers in particular had a bit more of the terrible twos than others. Imagine my frustration if I’d expected them to act like miniature adults!

False expectations often cause just as much pain, perhaps even more, than the actual offense itself.

A few years ago our daughter transitioned from homeschool to institutionalized schooling. This was a very difficult transition for her. Not only was everything done in cursive (which I never taught–I spent more time teaching typing and computer skills. grin.) But she also had to learn to manage homework, learn the expectations of teachers, assimilate with other students, and the list goes on. Initially, she messed up, forgetting to turn in papers, completing the wrong math assignment, things of that nature.

One night as I tucked her in, she cried and said, “It feels like I never do anything right! It feels like I’m always getting in trouble.”

To which I replied. “You’re a kid. That’s how it’s supposed to be.”

Now, don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying I want her to fail, nor that I don’t train, set boundaries and provide consistent consequences when boundaries are broken. What I am saying is I approach parenting with an understanding that she’s going to mess up. She’s a kid–it’s in her nature. This enables me to deal with each situation from a more rational, less-reactive stance.

I believe that is the same approach we must have when we view others. Humans are going to fail us, gauranteed. We are to love them anyway. We are to seek reconciliation anyway. Unless the individual poses a threat to us or someone we love, God wants us to forgive 70 X 7 times, and I don’t believe He intends us to keep a tally, washing our hands of the matter after the 490th offense. When God says 70 X 7, I believe He means, however many times are necessary. In the Bible, seven is a number of completion and perfection–forgive perfectly, to completion. Forgive fully.

Forgiving, however, does not mean inviting others to tread on your back. In the story I shared, although I forgave our daughter, I still set boundaries. Sometimes we need to do the same in our relationships. This is often the case when dealing with family. Often in dysfunctional families, family members behave in predictable patterns, ourselves included. If an offense continues to occur, we may need to evaluate our role in it and set boundary lines accordingly.