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Monday, May 23, 2011

Raising the Bar for Babies: Part 4 of 4

Age-Appropriate Responsibilities

By Guest-Blogger Tet George

A third way we can raise our expectations for toddlers is through age-appropriate responsibilities. Here we have the application of the principle that our son is a privileged member of our family with duties and responsibilities that come with the position. Many parents might already be scratching their heads… responsibilities? For a toddler? Yup. Responsibilities, chores, pick your term. Even very young children can start to learn that they have a role as a part of a bigger system, the family. Even though allowing a toddler to “help” may actually involve a little more work for you as a parent, the right time to start teaching these skills is now.

Here are some examples of toddler-appropriate chores:
-Putting away their toys
-Wiping up their tray after eating
-Carrying a dish to the sink
-Helping to set the table (putting a napkin at each seat, etc)

Training a child in simple chores can be a great way to instill confidence as they learn and conquer each new skill. It also encourages the child to see himself not as the center of the family, but as a contributing member. In other words, assigning age-appropriate chores is another tool in your arsenal in the fight against self-centeredness. I remember the first time I had my son find his sneakers and bring them to me so we could get ready to go out. When he completed both parts of the task successfully, I suddenly realized that my little needy guy had saved ME a trip! At 18 months old, he had actually completed a task that made my load a little easier. It was exciting to realize that with each level of development, he will learn to handle a little more responsibility and be slightly less dependent. But again, he won’t naturally take on more responsibilities unless we give him the opportunity to do so in age-appropriate ways.

Responsibility and chores also provide ample opportunity for the development of character qualities like thoroughness, diligence, resourcefulness, and orderliness. When I was way past my toddler years, one of my weekly tasks was cleaning the bathroom. Saturday was our chore day and we each had jobs like vacuuming the entire downstairs, cleaning a bathroom, or sweeping and mopping the kitchen floor. My mom would always survey our work after we were done to make sure we hadn’t missed anything. She taught us to take pride in accomplishing even a menial task to the very best of our ability.

Although my son is a little young for toilet duty, the same lessons can be taught through responsibilities that fit his developmental level. Similarly to teaching a child to speak politely and appropriately, with each new level of ability, we can increase the expectation. Chores should change and become more challenging as your little ones develop. Assigning and coaching our kids in household tasks may be one of the easiest ways we can increase our expectations for toddlers. And the results will speak for themselves- even a simple lesson in applying some elbow grease can make a lifelong impact on your child’s work ethic.

When we raise our expectations for toddlers and older babies, we challenge ourselves to rigorous consistency and commitment. We must gird ourselves for the challenge, keeping our eyes on the prize: self-controlled and secure kids with a head start in the lifelong journey of submitting to a Higher Authority.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Raising the Bar for Babies: Part 3 of 4

Age-Appropriate Rules
By Guest-Blogger Tet George
A primary way we need to raise the bar for our older babies and toddlers is through age-appropriate rules. Rules provide boundaries for your kids, give them ample opportunity to practice obedience and respect for authority, and also help develop character qualities like orderliness, responsibility, and self-control. By implementing and enforcing reasonable rules in your household, you can create an environment where chaos is not a given, even with very small children. Some may consider me a mommy nazi, but my husband and I have chosen our rules with care, keeping in mind the powerful role rules play as part of our kids’ “holiness training.” As we teach and enforce these rules, we always reinforce the crucial concept of authority: Mommy and Daddy are in charge. Just as we are under God’s authority, He has placed you under our authority, living in our house, and using our stuff.
The specific rules you establish will obviously depend a lot from home to home, but to give some concrete examples, here is a list of some of our family rules. To provide some context, Baby Bettis was obeying these with only periodic verbal reminders by about one year old:
-Eating is only done in the kitchen while sitting in an appropriate chair. This is true even if other people are eating in the living room.
- Even if food is within your reach, you must ask permission for it. You never help yourself to food. (This rule is particularly important because my son has a life-threatening allergy, but I plan to enforce it with all of our kids.)
-At meal time, you eat whatever Mommy or Daddy makes without complaint. If you refuse to eat it, we will be glad to serve you the same food later when you change your mind. (Sound harsh? Believe me- even a willful child will cave when actual hunger kicks in.)
-There is a specified place for your sippy cup on a level you can reach in the kitchen. You can drink at that spot while standing and then return the drink promptly to that spot. You may not walk around with your drink.
-You are never to touch any electronics/technology… no remote controls, no TVs, no cell phones, no computers, car keys/fabs, etc. These are adult privileges.
-Unless a cabinet or drawer is filled with toys, you do not open it. All other cabinets and drawers are for Mommy and Daddy only.
-The baby equipment is for babies. You do not climb on or touch buttons on the swing, bouncer, etc.
-Treat your toys with respect. Do not throw any toys that are not intended to be thrown. Do not step on toys or books.
-You may play with all of your board books in your basket by yourself. The paper books are behind the couch (within your reach) but you must ask Mommy and Daddy to read those books with you.
- You may only climb the steps when Mommy or Daddy is with you. You do not climb the steps by yourself.
-TV and movies are special privileges. We sit down and focus when we are watching TV. If you start to walk around or stop paying attention, it will be turned off. The TV is not background noise.
- You may use crayons with permission from Mommy. You do not touch pens, pencils, or markers.
-Sometimes Mommy and Daddy have privileges that you do not. Sometimes the answer will be “no” if you ask to eat, drink, play with, or touch something that is only for grown-ups.
I started implementing these rules, and some additional ones that were more specific to my house (no toys on the piano keys, etc), as soon as my son was capable of eating, drinking, and moving somewhat independently. It’s important to remember that you create your child’s “normal” so these rules have never seemed restrictive or over the top to him. Our rules have allowed me to maintain an orderly environment even with a small, clumsy, messy kid.
And the perks are many—because my son is used to these rules, they are surprisingly transferable to other environments and homes. No matter who I am visiting, I can immediately establish a bench or chair in a friend’s kitchen where his drink will stay while we visit, and he doesn’t expect to carry (and spill) his cheerios around the house. Because he knows not to touch technological devices, I don’t have to worry that he’ll unlock my friend’s car while he’s out of my sight, send a strange text message to one of her coworkers, or shut down her computer. In short, he understands that there will always be some objects and privileges that are simply off limits to him.
Because I’ve established rules that lend themselves to treating objects and property with respect, it’s also far easier to take my kids to houses or events that are not baby-proofed or catered to small ones. This freedom enables me to have a social sphere outside of families within our exact stage of life.
Some of these rules may seem unnecessary, especially if you’re someone who isn’t bothered by minor spills around the house or a child controlling the TV. But at a toddler’s developmental level, these rules are as significant as a 10:00pm curfew would be to a teenager. They require the toddler to submit and obey in spite of his very strong instinct to touch that blinking button or sneak upstairs when you’re not looking. Each time your toddler resists an impulse, even if he only submits out of fear of the consequence if he doesn’t, he is practicing and learning to exercise self-control.
If you establish early that you will enforce the rules every time there is an infraction, soon the child will need only gentle verbal reminders of the rule. Every time your crawler goes to touch the TV power button, you physically move her away and say a firm “No.” If you have a strong-willed child who will test the boundary repeatedly, you need to commit yourself to respond with the appropriate enforcement or discipline every time. The specific method of discipline you prefer matters much less than your commitment to enforcing it. Establishing your authority involves showing that you will follow through on your word.
Perhaps the biggest upshot of these simple rules is that my son is secure and happier because of them! Almost any literature about child development will tell you that small children need consistency and limits to thrive. There’s a reason your 10-month-old will reach out for an electrical outlet and look at your face to see your reaction. Your child wants to know what to expect and what is allowed. My son understands our rules, but sometimes he will still run into the living room holding his sippy cup and look at me. All I have to say is “Please put that back where it belongs.” He runs back into the kitchen to replace it, and the rule is reinforced in his mind.
Sometimes Bubs will start a tickle fight and suddenly Baby Bettis will very intentionally grab my husband’s glasses off his face. Even though they’re having fun, Bubs breaks from the giggles to seriously address the infraction: “You may not touch my glasses. Do not do that again.” Baby Bettis says “Ok, Daddy” and before I know it, little legs are flying and shrieks fill our living room. Lesson learned: the rules apply even when we’re having fun. His world is predictable and safe. A few minutes later, he is sprinting through the house holding his football and yelling “touchdown!” A stifled and restricted toddler? Nope, a happy-go-lucky rascal who feels secure in his predictable and appropriately limited world.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Raising the Bar for Babies: Part 2 of 4


By Guest-Blogger Tet George

So what does it look to raise the bar in the area of politeness and speaking properly? Does politeness even matter? Or is it just a bunch of antiquated social mores?

Politeness matters because it directly engages two of the principles behind our parenting- establishing authority and building character. You can start by getting into the practice of prompting politeness and respectful ways of interacting before your baby even speaks his first word. When you give your baby a bottle, get in the habit of saying aloud “Thank-you, Mommy” when the baby is finished. If your infant is reaching for a toy, say “toy, please.” Help the infant grab the toy, and say “Thank you, Mommy.”

It may feel silly to be reciting polite phrases to a newborn, but it will help you get used to the constant prompting that will be necessary once your baby starts using language. And just like with all language, the sooner you start using “please” and “thank-you” appropriately around your child, the sooner she will recognize their usage and meaning. By the time you’re in an automatic habit of scripting respectful language, you will probably find that your baby is saying her first words. With each developmental milestone, you can up the ante and expectation. If your baby is starting to repeat words, prompt your baby to make verbal attempts at the words you’ve been rehearsing.

Once your child reaches the point that he can express a desire clearly, you can reasonably expect him to express the desire politely. You can plan to repeat yourself MANY times per day. But if you require politeness and respect, your older baby or toddler will learn to implement them. This means EVERY time your child announces “Drink!” or “Eat!,” you relentlessly respond with “Drink, please” and wait until you hear the proper repetition until you fulfill the desire. And every time you meet a need, you prompt “Thank-you, Mommy” and make sure you get the proper response before your child delves into her desired activity (eating, drinking, playing).

Be willing to take the toy or drink away if the child does not mimic your prompted “thank-you.” Many kids pick up “please” faster than “thank-you” because there is a pay-off for “please.” So be ready for “thank-you” to take a little more time and effort, but be willing to prioritize it. If you tell your child that it’s time to be “all done” with a game she’s enjoying, when she starts whining, prompt “Ok, Mommy” in a pleasant voice. When you start to feel like a broken record, remind yourself that what starts out as rote mimicry will eventually transform into genuine gratefulness and respect for authority.

At around the age of two, you’ll probably find that your new talker loves to have the floor and join in your conversations, even if her contributions are mostly unintelligible. This is a great time to start training your child not to interrupt and how to appropriately get attention. If Baby Bettis starts making a request like “More carrots, please” while Bubs and I are in the middle of talking over dinner, we direct him to say “Excuse me, Mommy/Daddy” and then wait for us to look at him and say “Yes?” Once we’ve turned our attention to him, he can make the request.

Like each of these new expectations, it requires lots of scripting and practice before he will do it on his own. But once we’ve decided that it’s time to implement a new expectation based on his developmental level, we stick to it and try our best to prompt it EVERY time. Now that he understands the idea, we’ve adopted a phrase my sister (head blogger extraordinaire) uses with her daughter when she interrupts or announces a desire without the appropriate preamble. The prompt is “Start over at the beginning.” It gives your child the chance to re-start the whole interaction, from “Excuse me, Mommy” all the way to “Thank-you” after the request has been granted.

Teaching your child to tame their tongue may be one of your biggest challenges as a parent. James 3:6 says that “the tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.” We have an opportunity to train our children to think before they speak and to use their words wisely. Let’s make the most of it.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Raising the Bar for Babies: Part 1 of 4

By Guest-Blogger Tet George

Now that I’m a mom, I’ve become much more in tune with children in general, especially tiny tots near my son’s age. My son, Baby Bettis, is a bruiser of a two-year-old, so I’ve had a couple years to observe him and get to know the first developmental stages every human goes through. I’ve also taken every opportunity to observe other kids, my son’s peers, in their homes, in nursery, at the grocery store, and on the playground.

My husband, Bubs, calls me a “noticer.” I can’t help but watch and study people and what they do. So what do I observe? I overhear a toddler whining continually for Goldfish in aisle three… and ten minutes later when we cross paths again, the toddler is enjoying his snack (and his victory). I see an 18-month-old who treats the whole house like a playground, climbing in and out of cabinets, going through mom and dad’s DVDs, sitting on baby equipment far too small for him. I’m told of a 2-year-old who simply “won’t” eat anything but hotdogs and mac n cheese, “won’t” go to bed unless Mommy tucks her in, and “won’t” give up that beloved pacifier.

I might naturally conclude that parenting older babies and toddlers necessitates an affinity for chaos, compromise, and the cataclysm of a pre-kids lifestyle. If these were conclusions I believed to be true, I don’t think I ever would have become a mom. But I embarked on the journey of parenting with an assumption that the principles and practices of our parenting, and not just the personalities and needs of our kids, could shape the environment of our home. I believed whole-heartedly that I wouldn’t have to let go of my dislike of messes, my aversion to whining and demands, and my enjoyment of a fun and flirtatious romance with my husband.

Two years later, my brawny little man has never broken a dish, opened a CD case (though they’re within his reach), or emptied my kitchen cabinets. My carpets are as clean as they were before kids, I still have breakable decorations on lower shelves, and Bubs and I still go on dates and enjoy each other’s company above anyone else’s. And it’s not because I have an unusually placid, compliant kid. Baby Bettis has plenty of will, lots of emotions, and fundamentally, a nature bent towards rebellion and selfishness.

Any of the success we have had in minimizing the impact of these traits can be attributed to our commitment to a few basic principles that we have drawn from God’s Word. First and foremost, my husband and I have prioritized establishing authority. We often say to our son “Who’s the boss?” or “Who’s in charge?” and he knows to respond with “Mommy and Daddy.” Our word is the final word in our house, and eventually our son will understand that just as he must answer to us, we also must answer to a perfect Heavenly Authority.

We also want our son to understand that he is not the center of our family. While we will demonstrate to him how much we love and cherish him, we will also teach him that he is a part of Mommy and Daddy’s family- our marriage is the trunk of the tree, and he is just one branch. This concept mirrors our position in God’s family- we are sons and heirs with a privileged position in His family, but He is the center. And great privilege comes with great responsibility. Just as every Christ-follower has a role in the kingdom, so our son has responsibilities and duties as a pivotal part of our family economy.

And finally, behind all of our parenting is a commitment to building character in our children, from the moment they enter this world. We want to help them develop an arsenal of virtues to aid them in the fight against the flesh, virtues like self-control, patience, wisdom, deference, and compassion. Think of it as “holiness training,” building and developing patterns of right living and thinking, spiritual disciplines that they will need if and when they come to know Jesus personally. Our prayer as parents will be that this training paves the way for a living, breathing relationship with their Creator.

But here’s the real conundrum.

I think many of my Bible-believing peers in America would agree with the principles I’ve outlined. They sound great in theory. Yet I still see so many toddlers dictating their parents’ social lives and activities, expressing their needs in rude demands, and showing an attitude of entitlement towards anything within their grasp.

So it must be an application issue. And I think it boils down to this: our expectations for toddlers and older babies are far too low. We think we can wait to do all that “serious parenting stuff” until later- after all, they’re “just babies” now. We do not expect our little learners to be able to listen and obey with any consistency, let alone be polite and respectful in their interactions with grown-ups and peers. We don’t set a goal of teaching them to self-regulate by resisting the temptation to touch something that is technically accessible. Instead, we “child-proof” the house by locking every cabinet and removing any object that we don’t want them to handle, destroying this vital opportunity to establish authority and to teach them that not everything is theirs for the taking.

Part of this expectations issue comes down to bad theology. We do not have a strong enough view of sin, its inherent hold on our children, and the long-term danger it poses to them if we do not wage a parental war on its effects in their lives. The Bible asserts that we are all “by nature children of wrath… [that] foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child… [and] the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” Just as we often ignore and lose sensitivity to our own sins, as parents it is far too easy to excuse or fail to see sinful patterns in our cherubic children. We must make a conscious effort to recognize and address the selfishness in our sweet little babies as soon as it starts to rear its ugly head.

When an 11-month-old throws his lunch on the ground and we dismiss this behavior as “being a baby,” “telling me he’s done,” or even “testing,” we fail to recognize this infantile manifestation of a hardwired rebellion. Every time we throw up our hands instead of promptly addressing defiance or a whiny voice, we reveal that our kids’ character development is less of a priority than our comfort and convenience. If only we understood what was at stake.

In the next three parts of this series, I will address practical ways that we can apply the principles of parenting that I’ve outlined and effectively raise the bar for our older babies and toddlers. I’ll discuss how we can raise our expectations in the categories of politeness, age-appropriate rules, and age-appropriate responsibilities.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Failing Successfully: Part 4 of 4

Big-Time Failure

The Bible talks about failure a lot.  If not explicitly, it’s there in every story, our Biblical heroes falling on their faces, and their mistakes broadcasted for the rest of history.  The lessons, however, are pretty varied.  Failure is just such a multi-faceted topic.

Take the parable of the Talents.  It’s a story of not trying.  I always feel a secret sense of gall at the unfairness of it when the master takes the talent from the lazy servant and gives it not to the guy with five, but to the guy with ten!  Doesn’t he have enough?  Shouldn’t he be in the mega-tax bracket?  God forgives failure because he expects it, but he gets pretty touchy about the not trying.  Peter, clumsy Peter, who denies and chops ears and tumbles out of boats, is beloved of Jesus.  I think Peter would have invested those talents pretty wildly.

For a very different take on failure, how about the Tower of Babel?  These guys failed, and they failed by God’s hand.  They were trying for the wrong things and God stomped on their party.  And then sometimes God lets the bad guys win, or even helps the bad guys win, at least for a while.  Failure in building a tower to heaven, or in a battle fought in our own power, may result in failure because God is teaching lessons, putting us in our place, and making himself glorious in contrast. 

And sometimes, God is just working in our lives.  The bleeding woman who touched Jesus’ robe?  She’d been to doctors, healers, priests, you name it.  She’d tried for over a decade.  She’d been an outcast for that long.  What God was doing in her life was between her heart and God’s, but apparently it took thirteen years of dramatic failure to bring her to that moment of healing faith in Jesus.

It’s lucky that for every disastrous move I make, or that my kids or husband or friends will make, there is somebody in the Bible, somebody now before the eternal throne of grace, that made that move before me.  And those guys found forgiveness and redemption and wisdom and life in the wake of failure.  If I’m going to fail, and I am, at least I’ve got an excellent Failure Manual in hand.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Failing Successfully: Part 3 of 4

Looking Down My Nose

Ever notice how easy it is to rationalize your own failings while cluck-clucking at those of others?  I am personally quite skilled at this particular kind of hypocrisy.  (Luckily, Cookie is quite skilled at pointing out this fault of mine so I can’t get away with it.)   

Here’s the truth: when other people screw up, it is a prime opportunity to put “Do unto others…” into practice. 

Do you want to be branded by your worst moments?  Do you want them thrown in your face forever after?  Wouldn’t you need your friends the most when you’ve fallen to your lowest?  At the heart-level, the opposite of judgment is forgiveness.  In action, it’s encouragement.  Forgive easily. Give space to wallow in grief.  "Do unto others" has lost its impact with repetition, but what if we did it?  Forgiveness is a big topic for another series, but at the very least, what if we put as much effort into being as understanding and magnanimous about other people's failings as we are about our own? 

Maybe the best thing we can do is to really, really believe that it could have been us.  It’s easy to identify someone’s missteps and to imagine that in the same situation, I’d have acted differently.  It’s far more helpful to imagine I would have done just the same.  It will help me empathize, and keep me from feeling superior or judgmental.  The fact is, I am just as fallible, and if I haven’t done just that same stupid thing, I will one day do one stupider.  And when I do, I will need gracious friends.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Failing Successfully: Part 2 of 4

Cute Little Failures

I am very fond of my kids.  I want them to avoid mistakes and pains and yes, failures.  I want them to avoid wearing hammer pants and side ponytails or whatever hideous fads crop up in their youth, and I want them to choose good friends and I want them to never smoke.  I also want them to be girls who think of others first, fear God, and act with integrity.  And I think the best way to sabotage these character goals is to cushion them from all the bad stuff in life. 

If failure builds character in you and me, imagine how crucial it is in our kids’ formative years.  We can let them quit soccer because their coach plays favorites.  We can finish their papers for them because they need that A to get into Stanford and become really, really rich and happy.  We can fight their battles and give everyone a participation trophy and coddle their fragile egos.  And…we can create a fear of failure at best, a bubble of Unreality at worst, by shielding our kids from the opportunity to fail, to compete, to lose.

Parenting, I think, is less about making the world sparkly and pretty for our kids, and more about providing a secure place for them to land when they fall.  Songbird tried monkey bars this week for the first time.  When she couldn’t hold herself up, she said, “Mom, I tried to be a big girl but I couldn’t!”  Which was an interesting way to generalize such a minor failure.  I don’t think her little psyche suffered greatly; she wants to try again next week. 

If we teach and train and guide our kids, they will still occasionally mess up, fall off the monkey bars.  And when they do, and we still love and teach through the failures, we show them a picture of what Jesus does for us.  When we coddle and cushion, I’m not sure what picture that paints, but I don’t think it’s Jesus-y.  

When I was in high school, my mom used to ask, “Why do you put so much effort into basketball when you’re much better at tennis?”  Four knee surgeries later, after I’d ruined any tennis possibilities with my basketball injuries, I saw her point.  She made me go to one tennis camp for every basketball camp I chose.  She never told me I was great unless I really was.  And though I was no nationally ranked player then or now, and have hideous knee scars, I’m ok with that.  Childhood is not about crafting a perfect adulthood so much as crafting an adult, even a scarred, unranked one. 

If I develop anything in my kids, I hope it’s not a sense that I will break rules for them, that they are the center of the universe, or that their Class-A bilingual preschool defines them.  I hope instead to develop in them a work ethic, a sense of empathy, the ability to fail graciously.  Humility, even.  I hope they learn the joy of earned success, even if it’s first through earned failure.  If they never master the monkey bars, I hope they still become Big Girls.  And if they end up really good people with really mediocre resumes, I’ll be ok with that, too.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Failing Successfully: Part 1 of 4

"If at first you don't fricassee, fry, fry a hen."  -Carol Ryrie Brink in Caddie Woodlawn

Let’s cover a topic on which I can speak with some authority.  I have a long record of personal failures.  I’ve also, therefore, had a lot of opportunity to ruminate on the whys and wherefores of failing.  This series is the result of all that rumination and all that screwing up.

Have you ever had a truly nagging regret?  When we think of failure, it's usually in the active sense; I applied but was rejected, I aimed but missed the target, I leapt and splat.  Chances are, though, that a lot of us most regret chickening out on the trying.  Trying, finishing, and failing usually sits better than wishing you had. 

When I was in grade school, a community children’s choir began with much-anticipated auditions.  Not knowing what the caliber of the competition would be, I sat out the first year.  Was my fear baseless?  Probably.  As a kid who had performed since the age of 2 and sung before hundreds, occasionally thousands, I should have had more confidence.  Instead, I learned that fear of failure is safe but very, very boring. 

But risking failure does more than save us from chicken-regret.  It also potentially delivers real regret.  The kind that makes you a wiser, more thoughtful person.  Somehow, my first-ever interview as a budding journalist was with Newt Gingrich.  I was 18 with a brand-spanking-new steno pad, and I didn’t even know much about him, but I gathered that he was pretty connected.  It was going swimmingly, when, several intelligent questions in, when I should have thanked him and ducked out, I completely lost my head and pretty much asked him for a job.  He rolled his eyes and handed me off to an assistant, and I have recalled this in shocked embarrassment ever since.  Embarrassment, the kind where you have to accept that you are just as big an idiot as everyone else, and maybe bigger, builds the kind of character that in time makes you, hopefully, less of an idiot. 

Let’s redefine failure.  Maybe time lost is really time invested.  Maybe the lucky ones are the ones who fail most spectacularly, because they overcome the biggest obstacle to perfect peace: that last shred of faith in self.  Pride.  One of the greatest freedoms, one I must constantly rediscover, is from short-term-goal pressure.  Whether I try to build a relationship, or learn to cornrow, or get a promotion, or achieve feng shui perfection in my living room, these goals are all just vignettes punctuating this story of God and me, God in me, working toward one ultimate goal.  Failure in terms of career and cornrowing may be crucial to the success of that goal, the one where I get more like Jesus.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Milk and Solids

About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.  Hebrews 5:11-14

I have a friend who adopted a child from a developing nation.  When the baby arrived in America, she was small for her age and underweight.  My friend was told that the orphanage had given the infants powdered milk instead of formula because it was less expensive.  It had been sufficient for survival, but the baby had not thrived.

The warning in Hebrews 5 against apostasy reminds me of this friend’s baby.  A lot of us can recite the gospel message and even claim salvation, but when it comes to life and decisions, consult our own feelings pretty exclusively.  If apostasy sounds like a harsh label, consider that when we box the gospel out of our daily lives, it’s a withdrawal, a desertion of the faith we claim.

“But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil,” writes the author in verse 14.  This writer has little faith in our feelings or guts even to identify, much less choose, the right.  He says we require vigilant training; discernment is more complex than how we feel or even reason.  That means it takes more than just saying, “I’m saved.”  If our view of the gospel and its applications is shallow, we will fail to thrive.

Salvation is not like a club initiation.  It’s more like teaching my three-year-old to read.  It’s repetition and practice and sometimes correction.  It’s a course by which the gospel continually illuminates new areas in our lives that are ripe for growth or change.  It’s transformation by process, not by lightning flash.  If you’ve been dabbling in milk and relegating the gospel to the sidelines of your life, maybe it’s time for some meat and potatoes.