Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Value of Your Counsel

I recently heard this statement by the mother of a 16 year old. “I am so glad my daughter decided to break up with her boyfriend. He was really bad news, but I wanted it to be her decision. I feel proud of myself for staying out of it and letting her decide for herself.”

Since the story ended happily, this mother was pleased with herself and her daughter. I, on the other hand, have felt concern for both of them ever since. Why? Because I wonder why that mother felt that it was best to avoid giving input to her daughter in such a serious matter.

I see this approach in many families. Parents feel that in order for their children to “grow up” they must experience decision-making for themselves. This is true. But rarely will any adult make a serious decision without getting some input or advice. So why should your child be left without your input?

Would you buy a car without asking for recommendations or looking up model reviews online? Would you move to a new area without first asking friends, co-workers or realtors in the area about it?

For that matter, don’t many of us ask for input on simply buying clothes? (“Does this make me look fat?”) How many of us look up a recipe blog online before trying a new dish?

There is no inherent value in letting your kids make serious decisions with no input from you. The Bible is full of references to the value of wise counsel, a parent’s advice in particular. God made you a counselor in your child’s life for a reason.

If you’re still hesitating about giving input, let’s look at some of the reasons why you may be holding back.

You don't think your view is valid. Our culture tells us that wisdom comes from youth, rather than adults. But that’s not a biblical view, nor is it a common sense view. Young people may know more than the older generation about how to use a smart phone, but they do not have the life experience that age brings. Your view as a parent and an older person is always helpful and valid.

You think it's more important that they express themselves than that they follow your advice. If this is true for certain situations, they can still be helped by receiving your viewpoint. For instance, “Julie, I think you look more mature in the red sweater, but I know blue is your favorite color. Choose the one you want - I want you to enjoy how you look.” Now Julie can decide if she wants to go with her favorite color or rely on her mother’s advice on how to look more mature.

However, parents should be careful to weigh whether an issue can be left totally up to the child. The color of a sweater is non-life-changing. However, the choice of a boyfriend, or a college, or a job can make a large difference in a child’s life. You can help your child create wise parameters within which he or she can safely express himself.

You want to avoid conflict with your child. Sometimes it’s tiring having to argue with your child. Sometimes it seems not worth the effort to explain – again – why they should keep their room clean, not stay out past curfew, or practice for music lessons. But then again, that’s what parenting is about: training the foolishness out of young people. Sometimes that creates conflict.

Conflict may be occurring not because you disagree with them, but because of how you disagree. Kindness and a desire to educate rather than dictate will go a long way towards helping your child see your viewpoint. However, a wise parent will not shy away from giving counsel simply because it may create dissension.

You can't figure out how to articulate your views. Sometimes you know in your gut that you are right, but can’t figure out how to explain it to your argumentative child. Your “gut” is based on years of experience. Don’t let an immature, willful child make you afraid to confront them about foolishness.

I am reminded of a friend who felt “in her gut” that her teenaged daughter’s peers were having a bad influence on her. But since she couldn’t put her finger on the exact problem, she let things slide. Her daughter eventually ran away with those peers and wound up in an emergency room. If her mother had trusted her own God-given instincts, she may have been able to prevent much heartache.

The Bible tells us that, “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed (Proverbs 15:22).” God has divinely appointed you to be the primary counselor in your child’s life. Don’t abdicate. Help him succeed in his plans – and in life – by offering godly counsel.

Written by Heather Sheen

Sunday, February 8, 2015

An Early Midlife Crisis

It’s not uncommon for young people to have a “midlife crisis” twenty years too early. Sometimes when you hit your early or mid twenties, it feels like you are still searching to find your niche, while your peers appear to have it all together and know exactly what they are doing. In some ways I think this affects homeschool graduates in a unique way because our lifestyles are often different from the norm.

My sister and I were homeschooled back in the day when homeschooling was weird and suspicious and even illegal in some states. (This gives us Ancient Veteran status and goes to our heads.) However, even though homeschooling was weird, it was okay to be weird. Our lives were at least predictable. When you finished your sophomore year, you started your junior one. When you finished your junior year, you started your senior one. Questions from others about the future were shallow and polite and didn’t weigh heavily on our radar screen.  

However, after graduation, my sister and I, like many homeschool grads, opted for non-traditional paths towards higher education. Some grads choose to postpone college for a year or more while they start a home business, which is something my sister and I did. Some people choose to take college classes part-time via distance education, which my sister and I also did. Some people work part time and attend school only part time, which I did for my master’s degree. Some choose to go right to their chosen field and skip college altogether by choosing an apprenticeship path. And some grads simply want to take a few years to experiment with their strengths and weaknesses and mature a little before making formal decisions about their future path. None of these options fit the paradigm of going to college for four years immediately after graduation and instantly getting a high-paying job in your chosen field.

In other words, your post-highschool future as a homeschool grad may seem a little freaky to others. Your life might not be tidy. It might be unconventional. It’s popular nowadays to prattle about the value of  “following your dreams,” or “listening to your heart,” or “daring to be different,” or “dancing to the beat of your own drum.” However, if you actually try any of that and go against traditional societal norms, people may think you’re a fruitcake. And while we can usually handle other people thinking we are fruitcakes, sometimes we can become discouraged by self-doubt and our own uncertainty. Are we just floundering? Should we be doing something more... “official”? More traditional? More focused? Are we just spinning our wheels and wasting our time and talents? Does everyone in the whole world have it all together except us? Before we know it, we’re smack dab in the middle of a midlife crisis.

How do we handle an early midlife crisis about our future?

First, remember the following verse: For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10) We may still be sorting out our plans for the future, but we don’t have to stress out about it. God has planned out opportunities for us before we were even born. We should seek God’s direction, but meanwhile do what is at hand to do and trust God that if He wants you to be doing a different set of good works, He’ll direct you to them. He prepared them in advance for you and if you’re bent on following Him, He’s not going to stand by and let you accidentally wander off into a bunch of useless junk that benefits no one.

Second, remember that societal norms are not somehow God’s standard for our lives. We may or may not fit societal norms. Honestly, they’re irrelevant. We may always be the odd duck. In fact, we probably will be. The majority of my life has been outside the traditional route. I used to think fondly of the time when I would finally have an “explainable” life to outsiders and have finally concluded that it will probably never come. So be it. What matters is if we are pleasing the Lord, not whether we’re fitting in with everybody else. It may be a lonely road. In fact, you can probably count on it. But it doesn’t matter. The path of obedience is frequently lonely. It can be a good sign, actually.

Third, success is ultimately not measured by the size of our bank account or the string of credentials after our name. Obedience and love are the foremost measures of success. But as Christians, even more important than our success is the fact that God loves us and we are His children. It isn’t about us, it’s about Him. He doesn’t love us because of our good deeds or because of what we can do for His kingdom. He loves us because He loves us, the end, kthxbye (translation, “Okay, thanks, bye.”) We don’t have to earn His favor or His love any more than we have to earn our parents’ love. They love us intrinsically because they’re our parents and we’re their kids, not because of what we DO.

Fourth, don’t listen to gloomy thoughts very much. If self-doubt pops up, pray earnestly for wisdom, purpose, and direction, but don’t make a habit of giving credibility to doleful feelings. They will always, categorically, world-without-endedly, make you feel more doleful. I have never yet had a hand-wringing “I’m a failure” session that made me feel less like a failure. I have had many that made me feel worse.

Lastly, while they are bad masters, sometimes feelings of discouragement and self-doubt can be used by the Lord to cause us to reevaluate what we’re doing and where we’re going. Sometimes the Lord uses periods of frustration in our lives to spur us to new heights and new adventures. But those new heights and adventures don’t have to look like other people’s heights and adventures and they probably won’t. I highly recommend reading the book Start, by John Acuff. It gives helpful guidance and encouragement on what to do next in life. Remember that God can and does steer moving trucks. He is perhaps less likely to move an impassive hunk of granite, although He just might give a hearty nudge to the granite too. I love that fact that God is bigger than our fears, passivity, and inertia.

Don’t let an early midlife crisis bring you down. It’s okay to be different. Yes really, it is!

Written by Raquelle Sheen

Sunday, February 1, 2015

How to Train An Alien

Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring in some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility—young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace. He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians. Daniel 1:3-4

Daniel is one of my favorite biblical characters. Taken prisoner by a pagan nation as a teenager, he nonetheless stayed true to God throughout his whole life. And God used him powerfully in the Babylonian nation. The first story of his impact for God occurred when he was about 15 and the final story of his godly life happened in his 80s. He was truly an example of someone who fought the good fight and finished the race.

Something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, though, is what happened before the first chapter of Daniel. The story picks up when he is about 15. But we see in Daniel 1 that he is already a godly, courageous young man. What happened to make him so?

We don’t know if he was raised by his parents, or if they were dead and he was raised by other family. We don’t know how much of his instruction he got from his mom and dad, and how much he got from a tutor or temple priests. Since his family was of the nobility, they probably had enough money to provide the best of teachers for him. Regardless of who brought him up, what we know for sure is what he learned from his upbringing. And since he is one of the few biblical characters about whom nothing bad was written, it’s safe to take him for a model of what to aim for in your child’s education.

Like Daniel, your children will be “aliens” in the world, facing a pagan and hostile environment when they graduate. The anti-God voices in our culture are daily becoming louder and more vehement against Christianity. If we want our children to stand strong for the Lord like Daniel did, it would help us to take some lessons from Daniel’s education.

1. He Had Biblical Theology. We find Daniel’s theological point of view in the very first paragraph of the book. Daniel didn’t say that Nebuchadnezzer conquered Israelite King Jehoiakim. Instead he said that God delivered Jehoiakim into Nebuchadnezzer’s hand. This might seem like a trifling change of wording, but it has huge implications. Daniel didn’t believe that he and his nation were taken into captivity merely by chance, or the fortunes of war. He believed that God planned and ordained their captivity for His own purposes.

When I came to grips with the fact that God is not only able to control all things, but actually does control all things for His glory and our good, it changed my life. This is the first and most important thing a parent can teach His child. This is what separates a thoroughly Christian education from a pagan education. God exists and ordains all things for His glory. If we take away this belief, we are left with a worldview that is based on chance and chaos.

Not only did Daniel believe God ordained Israel’s captivity, he doubtless knew exactly why God had brought it about: Israel’s sin. Daniel’s intimate acquaintance with the law and prophets (which is seen in the rest of the book of Daniel) assured that he knew God had promised exactly these consequences time and time again when warning the nation to turn from sin. Unless we believe there is a God who judges sin, we will never fully learn personal responsibility. Unless we believe that God loves us enough to discipline us into righteousness, we will never fully feel the need to submit to God and be saved from our sins.

If your child learns nothing else in his education, he must learn these theological truths. They have eternal consequences that cannot be avoided.

2. He Showed Aptitude for Learning. Aptitude is based partly on ability and partly on attitude. Ability is something that is different for every child. Some children have more ability to learn math, others have more ability in the area of music and art, and so on. But every child can be trained to have a good attitude about learning. The Bible tells us that children are born foolish and it’s the parents’ job to train this foolishness out of them. One aspect of foolishness is an unwillingness to learn.

Those who brought up Daniel trained him to have a cheerful desire for knowledge. Not only did he demonstrate a willingness to learn both his own and his captors’ cultural wisdom, he showed throughout his life a willingness to learn from God. Learning requires humility because you must first admit you do not know before you can strive to know.

A desire to learn is the foundation of all educational success. Regardless of how thorough your child’s education is (or is not) and whether he has “gaps” in subjects that were poorly taught, he can succeed in life if he has been taught to love learning. He will be able to repair those “gaps” himself through further self-education.

Teach your children to love wisdom and knowledge, and give them the tools to pursue these things. Require them to develop the discipline necessary for thoroughly investigating a subject.

3. He Respected Those in Command. Daniel had every reason to disrespect, distrust and even hate those in authority over him. They had ripped him out of his family and homeland, taken him to a foreign country, and put him in a brainwashing program to make him into a Babylonian. The culture around him was pagan and he could have felt every right to resist anything the Babylonians commanded him to do.

But instead, Daniel showed respect and tact towards those in authority. He wasn’t a rebel or a crusader. He worked within the chain of command to make his requests and he tactfully offered solutions that would allow his commanders to save face while giving him what he asked for. This is an incredibly valuable skill, and it’s especially amazing in a young man of 15. God had obviously given Daniel an extra share of wisdom to deal with his situation, but much credit should also go to those who brought him up to show such tact and thoughtfulness.

This is another aspect of training the foolishness out of children which parents would do well to heed. Even a brilliant person will not get very far if he can’t submit to authority, work with the system, and be tactful and thoughtful to those around him or her. Work with your children to teach them to submit – not with clenched teeth, unwillingly, but with sincere respect and understanding towards those in authority. As “aliens” in this world, we will always face opposition to godliness. But nowhere in Scripture do we see that as a justification for disrespect, rudeness or obstructionism towards those in authority.

4. He Had Courage. It’s not enough to have convictions. You must be willing to act on them, even when it’s hard. The Bible tells us that faith without deeds is useless. Daniel certainly had the hardest of situations. His literally put his life on the line by disobeying the orders of the king.

Not only that, but we can guess that he may have been under pressure from his fellow Israelite captives. “Don’t rock the boat, Daniel, you want to get all of us in trouble?” I can imagine that his less courageous comrades may have tried to squelch his convictions out of fear for their own safety. Opposition from friends can be an even harder trial to bear than opposition from an enemy.  But Daniel stood firm and God blessed him for it.

One way parents can teach this type of courage is by example. Often we avoid making courageous stands because of the fear of “what if?” But if your children see you making principled stands by faith, and then see how God upholds you, they will be emboldened themselves to stand for Christ. The “what if?” question will be answered by their personal observation of God’s protection and blessing on you.

How many of us have been encouraged by the example of others? Hebrews 11 lists a “great cloud of witnesses” to encourage us. Be another in this cloud of witnesses for your child by standing for God’s truth.

5. He Chose Godly Friends. Though Daniel would certainly have had associations with his fellow Israelite captives, as well as Babylonian young men in the king’s court, his closest friends were Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (better known in history as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego of fiery furnace fame). And I think it is no coincidence that the friends he chose were the ones who stood with him against the paganism of Babylon.

Daniel knew he was facing a ruthless conqueror who had no compunction in trying to force him to give up his religion, his morals and his ideals. He knew he was facing an intensive brainwashing course designed to saturate him with a pagan culture. He therefore showed great wisdom in surrounding himself with friends who would stand with him and encourage him to do right.

It is extremely hard to go it alone. The Bible tells us that two are better than one, and three are even better than that. It’s never too early to teach your children to value godly friendships. Starting with their own family and then adding friends from church and other activities, help them learn to discern what kind of people will encourage them in godliness. Help them analyze whether a friend is building them up in righteousness or pulling them in the wrong direction.

In conclusion, I’d like to point out one of the most encouraging lessons we can learn from Daniel’s story. Consider that Daniel was in his mid-teens when he was taken to Babylon. Even by the standards of the day, he was only barely an adult. I don’t know what his parents and family felt when he was taken away, but I imagine there was much anxiety for his safety and his future spiritual condition. They may have felt that their educational work was unfinished or imperfect. They may have worried about whether they had adequately prepared him for the coming battle against paganism.

But God took the educational foundation Daniel had been given and used it mightily in Daniel’s life. One of the most godly men in the Bible, Daniel also became one of the most powerful aliens on earth as a high minister in the Babylonian king’s court.

When parents do their best and ask for God’s wisdom to train their children, God will honor those efforts through His blessing. No matter how imperfect your child’s educational experience is, God can work through your faith to bring great things into your child’s life. The story of Daniel, to me, is one of the greatest challenges to parents – and one of the greatest encouragements.