“For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” ~Galatians 1:10
In the spring, I started most of the plants we wanted to grow in our garden from seed. It was quite a chore to keep them watered, and for the lack of a watering can, I found myself using just about anything to get the job done.
At first I tried to use a large glass of water to nourish the newly forming shoots, but as I aimed it at the individual cups, the water came out too fast and splashed everywhere. So, I grabbed a small pitcher that was sitting on a nearby shelf and used it instead. I was amazed at the difference the contoured spout made. Depending on how I tipped it, it would produce a dribble or a gentle stream of water compared to the deluge of the glass with the larger rim.
That’s when the Lord spoke clearly to my heart about the difference between a gentle, steady stream of encouragement and the destructive floodgates of condemnation.
Have you ever exclaimed to your family, “I’m making changes now!” Have you ever, out of frustration come across as a bit of a tyrant?
Sometimes we moms can pour change to our families like a flash flood, suddenly and with little warning! Usually after reading an inspiring book or blog post that offers good advice (i.e. the prescribed number of steps to reach success) our hearts become conflicted between our personal reality and the ideal family life we hope to achieve. A critical voice rushes in to say: My kids aren’t where they need to be. They can’t do anything right! When is my husband going to act like the other spiritual leaders I read about? I feel like a failure compared to…
We become overwhelmed by all the changes we think our family members need to make (or we want to make for them), and a suffocating feeling rises up in our chests, and we panic!
So we go on a campaign of sweeping change. Like an AAA member cleansing the house of every last bottle of alcohol or a dieter tossing an unopened bag of cookies in the garbage, we try to rid our kids of bad habits or sinful attitudes and our husband of all of his shortcomings in one fell swoop, only to embitter their hearts in the process.
But comparison only produces fed-up mamas, exasperated children, and clueless husbands.
I have known many wives and mothers, who because of the spirit of comparison have heaped an impossible load of expectations on their families only to find that they have instead planted seeds of discouragement and bitterness.
In my younger years of mothering, I was one of them.
When I reflect on some of the reasons I failed to introduce change gently, fear seems to be a big factor: fear of the future, fear of failure, and fear that my children might make the same mistakes I made when I was their age. But fear is a poor impetus for the spirit-led change that brings life and liberty!
The word of God tells us that comparison is not only foolish but futile. Not every model of family life we see presented out there in the big beautiful blogosphere is meant to be our model–at all. Not every path explored is the path we are to personally follow. It takes a discerning spirit to sift through all the advice, the bulleted points, and the endless stream of helpful suggestions.
The motivation behind making changes for our families deserves a period of evaluation–weighing decisions against the word of God, seeking to be in agreement with our husbands, and praying and asking, “Lord, is this the direction you want our family to go?”
Psalm 25:12 says, “Who is the man who fears the Lord? He will instruct him in the way he should choose.
The Hebrew word for instruct (yarah) is such a beautiful word. It’s like the flow of water or a gentle rain. But it’s also purposeful like an archer taking aim at a target. The word Choose denotes taking a keen look at your options based upon thorough examination and not an arbitrary whim. In choosing, we are to thoroughly examine the way in which we should go.
Isaiah 30:20-21 say, “And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.”
The Holy Spirit speaks comfortingly to us on a daily basis, instructing us in the way we should go. We are to lead our children in the same way. I pray that God will council us mamas and give us wisdom in the secret place of our hearts, and that we will contemplate making changes, not on a whim or suddenly for shock value to whip our families into shape, but in encouraging, gentle ways that will be refreshing and nourishing to their souls–like a steady stream of gentle rain from the hand of God.
I don’t know why lately, but Grandpa makes me laugh when I should get mad. Must be God’s grace for another of life’s “trying” moments here at the “Just Keep ‘Em Happy Old Folks Home!”
For instance, my child (Grandpa) did not get a good night’s sleep due to a sore on his toe. I gave him two Tylenol last night, and re-tucked him in in the wee hours of the morning.
Later around 9:00 a.m. when we went to get him up and I checked on his toe again, he asked me to call the paramedics because he said he was having leg spasms for the last three hours. I just wanted to laugh, but I didn’t let on…
He looked just fine, so Bob and I proceeded with the usual morning routine because He didn’t seem to be ailing – at all.
When Bob had him dressed and ready to go, he wheeled him out to breakfast, but Grandpa wanted to skip his bran cereal and go back to bed. Problem is, he needs his medicine and can’t take it on an empty stomach.
Me to Grandpa: “If you can complain this much, you’ve got energy.”
Grandpa: “Yeah, yeah, yeah…”
He keeps up his complaining, but it falls on deaf ears…
“If you would just speed up,” I tell him, “you’d be done with your breakfast in a few minutes. Besides, I’ve seen you in worse condition.”
“Oh, what you do you know!” he says waving his hand at me.
I know you, Grandpa! I think to myself, and today you’re a real “Drama Queen!”
“Do I have to brush my teeth,” he begs (usually he has to brush his teeth after breakfast and drink a glass of water before he lays down for a nap, but maybe he should skip it today).
“Well?” he asks staring at me while I tried to figure out whether I should let him off the hook or not.
“Sure, go ahead and take your nap right away, ” I acquiesce. I decided to give him a break…He can attend to his dental hygiene when he gets up.
Truth is, Grandpa’s pooped… and I’m not looking for trouble.
Once more, mercy triumphs over the little gray-haired man trying to pick a fight!
“Forgiveness is the key that unlocks the door of resentment and the handcuffs of hatred.
It is a power that breaks the chains of bitterness and the shackles of selfishness.”
― Corrie ten Boom, Clippings from My Notebook
Early one morning, a dense fog rolled in across the fields surrounding our house. This rare occurrence inspired our youngest daughter to venture outside and take pictures. That’s how this dramatic photo of the barbed wire fence that separates our property from our neighbor’s was captured.
When I first saw the image, I thought I would like to write a post about it, but I didn’t have a clue what the topic should be. Later that week, the title “The Barb of Bitterness” popped into my head. I had recently copied some verses into my journal pertaining to bitterness, and they were still fresh on my mind. I wondered if the word “barb” had any spiritual significance, so I looked up its meaning. When I read the definition, an analogy began to form in my mind.
“A barb is a sharp projection near the end of an arrow, a fishhook, or similar item. It’s angled away from the main point so as to make extraction difficult.” ~The Oxford Dictionary.
In other words, it “catches” and deeply embeds itself in the flesh!
Bitterness does that too. It goes in easily, but it is so hard to get rid of! Angled away from the heart of God, a bitter spirit ruins relationships.
Bitterness Defiles Many
Hebrews 12:15 says: “See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble and by it, many are defiled.”
Who in their right mind would want to fall short of the grace of God? Not me, and I’m sure not you. And yet, that’s what happens when we let bitterness take root in our hearts. We can’t just expect it to stay hidden beneath the surface—out of sight, out of mind—and go about our daily business. It rears its ugly head, one way or another, usually through angry outbursts and unresolved conflict that deprives ourselves and others of the grace of God. That’s why it’s so important to hide verses about the consequences of bitterness in our hearts. Our only true line of defense against a bitter spirit is the word of God.
Bitterness Abuses with Hateful Words
Bitterness is often accompanied by a barb of cutting remarks—angry, hateful words aimed at the heart of another, whether said to their face or behind their back. Once hurled, however, angry words come back to haunt us, driving bitterness deeper.
Ephesians 4:31-32 admonishes us to be kind and forgive one another as we have been forgiven. “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
If there is an antidote for bitterness, it is the spirit of forgiveness.
1 Peter 2 says: “Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious.”
“The Lord is gracious and merciful; Slow to anger and great in lovingkindness.” (Psalm 145:8) Can we be any less gracious than the Lord?
Freedom from Bitterness
Before the Lord brought bitterness to my attention, I had never really given much thought to how it takes hold of a heart, but I do know that in the past there were times I succumbed rather quickly to its all-consuming power. At this juncture in my life, however, I don’t want to be a bitter well, poisoning my family and friends; instead, I want to be an extension of God’s grace.
How about you?
We all have many reasons to be bitter each and every day. There are people in our lives who continually let us down or others who try to manipulate us. Or we may be bitter toward God for circumstances we can’t control or won’t accept. But once we become sensitive to the presence of bitterness and its attempt to penetrate our hearts, we will find it easier to reject it, repent of it, and respond to others in the spirit of grace.
I think one of the greatest gifts we can give our families is a heart free from the “barb of bitterness.”
You know, my husband and I needed some outside support a few weeks ago because Grandpa’s care has become even more challenging, so we called in the “big guns” and asked our Pastor to come over.
Over a down-home lunch of pulled pork, slaw and Kentucky Derby Pie, with coffee of course, we poured out our hearts and sought his advice for enduring the race that has been set before us – namely the “The Grandpa Marathon.”
When I had originally asked Pastor Steve if he would be willing to come over and talk with us, he made the comment that every family has to decide what they are going to do, i.e. when they might have to put their parent in the nursing home.
I laughed, and said. “No, Pastor Steve, you don’t understand. We took Grandpa out of the nursing home!” They couldn’t keep up with him . . .
Anyway, he was so gracious to come over and listen. A pastor who has the time to really listen these days is a rarity, but our Pastor has been around for a few years, ministered to all kinds of people in all kinds of situations, and God has given him the ability to discern human nature pretty well.
One of the amazing things he said, and something I know I had heard before, but forgot was this: the spirit doesn’t grow old. What Grandpa was like as a younger man is what he is now – plus one other major factor: Grandpa’s heart is redeemed!
Even though he can tend toward self pity and manipulation every now and then, especially when he wants things his way (like the day he asked me to feed him breakfast so he could write on his book), Grandpa is a new man compared to the one I grew up with. More than not, Grandpa relies on the Lord to get him through and before Pastor Steve left, he asked him what the good word for the day was. Grandpa said, “His will be done!” So pastor Steve prayed with Grandpa that His perfect will will be done.
And you know what? I cling to those words. We’re going though more changes with Grandpa and I’m relying on the Lord to get us through. I need to know that God’s perfect will is being done for my family.
He also prayed that our house would be a house of prayer. There are so many variables when you’re taking care of an elderly person. How important it is for my husband to remember to pray at the beginning of each new day. We never know what it may hold.
Come to think of it, do any of us know what a day may hold?
All we can say is, “Thy will be done, Lord. Thy will be done.”
Sometimes Grandpa is awake in the morning, like today.
Other days, he practically sleeps through breakfast. Those days I feed him his cereal because his hand just can’t find his mouth.
He’s always awake at lunch time, though. So today, I had the brilliant idea of switching his meals – breakfast for lunch and lunch for breakfast.
He can easily pick up a sandwich in the morning verses navigating a spoon through sloppy bran cereal which somehow pauses mid air and hangs there until I yell, “Eat your cereal Grandpa!”
We’ve tried bran muffins before but they aren’t as good for his digestion as bran cereal straight out of the box with almond milk. So I made Grandpa a sandwich and cut it into eight separate pieces so he didn’t have to hold it all at one time. Then I covered it with a lid to keep it fresh and so he wouldn’t be able to see it before I explained the change in routine! (You’ve always got to be thinkin’ about repercussions ahead of time around here!)
But how was I going to present this new concept to Grandpa? I mean,who wants to eat lunch at breakfast time – every day?
As I stood before him, all cheerful and upbeat – ready to present my case – these words came out of my mouth (with no premeditation on my part, I assure you):
“Grandpa, were you in the air force?”
He nodded “yes.”
“Well the air force is sort of like the army, right?” I said.
He nodded “yes” again.
“Well, from now on, you’re eating lunch at breakfast time and breakfast at lunchtime!”
He nodded “yes” again, didn’t even bat and eyelash, and continued eating his prunes . . .
Wow! He’s totally on board! I can’t believe it!
I breathed a sigh of relief and returned to my work.
A few minutes later, however, I looked over at Grandpa and noticed that he was eating his sandwich with a fork and using his non-dominate hand to do it!!!
Unbelievable . . . This guy just amazes me. From one day to the next, I never know what I’m going to get to work with!
Does it matter on the “Eternal Plan?” Not really, I tell myself.
Eric says, “Well that went pretty well… but just wait until lunchtime!”
Gulp!!! I hadn’t thought of that. He’s right, of course. It’ s one thing to sleep through bran cereal, it’s another to be fully awake and have to stomach that stuff every day.
Eric told me this morning that “flexibility” is my middle name. I just hope it’s an inherited trait – coming from Grandpa, himself. If not, he’s in the army now!
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