Guarding Their Hearts

It was the night of our local homeschool moms’ meeting that we had decided to have in our home because of a scheduling difficulty with our normal location. I had been looking forward to taking the five little ones to Wal-Mart to enjoy a fun evening out.

After some shopping, I decided to buy the children a treat at the snack bar. All six of us were crowded into a small booth, while they enjoyed nachos and Icees. My heart was very happy as I was enjoying my little gifts from my Lord and Savior. Unfortunately, in an instant, like a light switch, my joy turned into a heavy, sad heart.

Our booth was on the edge of the nearly deserted eating area. Right next to us, a young woman of maybe seventeen years had pulled her shopping cart up and stopped. She had a wedding ring on her left hand and a baby in the cart. She had short hair, a stud piercing her right nostril, and she was somewhat unattractive. She was just staring into the snack bar area with the most sullen, sad expression I can remember seeing. Her eyes screamed of the hurt that she was experiencing. Her blank stare was periodically interrupted as her hand came to first one eye and then the next, wiping away what appeared to be tears.

When I had purchased the children’s snacks, a young man had stood behind me in line buying a hot dog and soda. He was scruffy and unkempt. His clothes were mostly black, and he wore a black ball cap. The cap had caught my eye as the bill was bent so it had a ridge in the center, and was pulled down far enough that I couldn’t see his eyes. All I could see was a nose, mouth, and cheeks with a two- or three-day-old beard covering them.

Now I realized that she was standing there waiting for him. “No, God, surely not!” After several minutes of silence, he got up and came out to her. There was no greeting between them, only what appeared to be a few dagger-tipped words exchanged. Then as if the two faced a meal of poison, they reluctantly walked off. It was terrible to watch.

I looked down at my two bright-eyed, happy little girls and thought, “Lord, there goes some daddy’s little girl, but where is he now?” How did a father ever let this happen to his little girl?

Some might wonder if the stud protruding from her nose hinted she had a rebellious history, and if she was the one to desert her father. Certainly, children have their own wills, and we cannot force them to be godly, but as long as there is a God in heaven that answers prayers, fathers must not give up.

I love the example Jesus shares with us in John 10. “Then said Jesus unto them again, Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep” (John 10:7). The shepherd used to sleep in the doorway to the sheepfold. The sheep were in there for their protection and could not walk out without the shepherd letting them go. In the same way, wolves or thieves could not enter without first having to confront the shepherd. This section is a perfect picture of a father’s calling. The father is to be the shepherd of the flock that God gives him. This chapter has many wonderful encouragements for us dads.

“I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). Dads, are we so committed to our calling that we will give our life for our family? We are the door to our family. Our children don’t go out, and others don’t come into their lives unless we allow it. There are no excuses; we are responsible before the Lord in leading and protecting our family.

I don’t believe this teaches the father is a dictator; otherwise, Jesus would have used some other example. A shepherd does not drive the sheep like a cowboy drives a herd of cows. The shepherd leads the sheep with love and gentleness.

With the gentleness of our Savior, we are to protect our family. We must, with great tenderness, guide them to safe pastures. If we have chosen certain goals and paths for our family, we must be on guard for those who would draw them away. Often a family is doing many things right, but then they will allow wrong influences to pull their children away. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen it, and it always leads to grief unless something drastic is done.

For example, if parents have chosen to homeschool a child who is less than thrilled about it, they have to be careful of other influences that will feed and reinforce the child’s dislike of the idea. It might be a close friend who is not homeschooled, a youth group, or an outside activity that prevents the child from coming to peace with the father’s decision. If the bond between the father and each child is not stronger than any other outside influence, he will lose his child, or children, to that influence.

These can present very challenging situations, and it may take a tremendous amount of prayer on the father’s part to know how best to resolve them. It may be the only solution is to sever an influence, but whatever the Lord reveals, it must be done. If not, the parent will lose the child.

No one can serve two masters. They will either be drawn to you or to someone/something else. Obviously, dads, we need to be sure we are following the path of God’s calling. At all costs, the father must maintain that bond of love and respect with his children. Once the other influence “wins,” it is then only a matter of where it pulls them.

Over the last twenty years, we have had to make three very major decisions to correct the pull of outside influences. None of these influences were “bad” in themselves, but after much prayer, it was clear that the direction was contrary to that of God’s leading for our family. They had a different heart thrust and thereby were dangerous to our staying on the course and not raising up discontented hearts in the family. Since making those changes, we have not regretted them at all. Rather, we have praised God that He gave us the grace to persevere and follow through once the decision was made.

The good Shepherd is careful to lead His sheep to safe, healthy pastures, and so must we. However, what if a sheep strays anyway? Do we label that sheep as stubborn and rebellious, and let it go? A hundred times no! “How think ye? if a man have a hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray?” (Matthew 18:12).

I find a most interesting reaction in my heart. When I have a child who is struggling with obedience, my flesh wants to pull back from that child. I have even justified this in my mind by telling myself, “When I sin, doesn’t that separate me from my Lord? My child’s sin is causing a separation between him and me.” That sort of rationalization will only result in my losing the child. This is a most crucial time, and it is critical we don’t draw away. It is imperative that we build our relationship with the child. Just like the shepherd who has left the ninety-nine on the hills and gone after the lost one, we must as well.

Our world expects us to blame someone else for our troubles. The shepherd didn’t blame it on that stubborn, rebellious sheep or perhaps a clever wolf. He knew he was responsible for the life of the sheep and would risk his life to protect it, whether it was from an external threat or the sheep’s own doing. “Lord Jesus, please give us the gentle, loving, determined hearts we need to lead, love, and protect our family.”

Little “Nags,” or Are They “Promptings”?

I had two small areas in my life that were bothering me recently. When you read about them, you may even chuckle and think, “Why would those create a problem for her? They are so insignificant.” For me, these are issues that just “nag” at my mind. They are things that I have felt led by the Lord to do and have planned into my daily schedule.

The first “nag” is my writing time for Mom’s Corners. I have this time set aside in my day, but often I will allow myself to be drawn into answering e-mails rather than writing an article. My scheduled Corner writing time is quiet, early in the morning, before the little children are up and interruptions begin.

The second “nag” has to do with a timeline and a set of wall maps that go with our school Bible time. We just haven’t been doing them lately. Our Bible time is held in the living room, but our timeline and wall maps are located in the dining room. Therefore, we must move into the dining room for this part of our Bible time, get out our materials, sort them, and figure out which ones go up for the current lesson.

Neither of these problems is very big. Solving them has been simple. However, I allowed them to “nag” at me for several weeks, even months. I let myself follow my way rather than the way the Lord had led me in these two areas. They were small things, but left alone, they grew in their “nagging” potential in my mind. It really would have been much better for me to have addressed these difficulties early on and dealt with them, rather than to let them drag on and on.

My problem in staying on task with the Mom’s Corner writing was a character issue. It is one faced by many as they implement and use a schedule. The schedule calls for a particular activity, but we are drawn away by something else to take that scheduled time. How do I feel when I allow this to happen? I am discouraged and disgruntled with myself.

Why does this involve character? It is because the Lord has directed me to use my time in this particular way. When I allow myself to be pulled to other uses for that time, uses that He has not led me to for that hour, I am choosing disobedience to my Lord Jesus Christ. It is as simple as that! Do I usually view it that way? Of course not! I rationalize in my thoughts, “This e-mail answer will only take a minute or two. It will be out of the way and off my mind. Then I will get right back to the Mom’s Corner.” Whether it is two minutes or the fifteen it usually turns into does not matter, it is still disobedience to what the Lord has called me to do.

What is the solution? Prayer. Begin with, “Lord, You have put on my heart the writing of Mom’s Corners. You have even given me the time to spend on them. I have been allowing myself to be drawn into other tasks at the computer rather than keeping my focus on the Corner. Lord, because I know You have directed me to write the Corners, I am really choosing disobedience by doing other things. It is no different from when I tell my children to pick up the toys in their room, but find them playing with those toys instead. They went down to pick up toys; however, they became distracted with the exact thing they were sent to do. Please forgive me, Lord, for following my own way, rather than Your way. Help me to stick with the job You have assigned!”

Then I must look for ways to limit the distractions that pull me away. Just realizing it was disobedience not to spend my time as the Lord had directed was an immense help. Next, I set a specific time in my schedule for doing what was distracting me from my task at hand. In this case, I decided to use the half hour after the little ones were in bed for answering e-mails, rather than fitting them haphazardly in through the day and disrupting other scheduled activities. It really is a perfect time because I am tired by then and don’t have much energy. I am motivated to not let the e-mails pile up so I won’t want to head for bed without addressing them.

My second irritation that “bugged” me, of not keeping up with our Bible timeline and maps, was just as simple to relieve. All I had to do was commit to going into the dining room for part of Bible time whenever we were ready to work on the timeline or map. Doesn’t that sound easy? Why was it such an effort to do this? I think it just shows the depths of my own laziness and enjoyment of comfort. After all, sitting in my living room recliner is much more pleasant than being on the hard dining room chair. Since some of our materials needed to be sorted before we could use them, I took one of our Bible times, gathered the children at the dining room table, handed out the little pieces of numbered paper, and we began to put them in order. We worked together, and it took less than fifteen minutes. Because my supplies weren’t readily available, I kept putting off and putting off this part of our Bible time that really was important to me.

What about you? Are there issues that just “nag” at your mind and heart? Have you taken the time to pray about solutions? “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). Are you ready to seek the answer in order to be rid of the discouraging thoughts? “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him” (James 1:5).

Remember to first determine whether your “nags” are of the Lord. If they are not what the Lord would have you do, find that out so you can let go of the negative emotions that accompany your perceived failures. Pray about these areas, and consult with your husband before you assume they are from the Lord. If they are from the Lord, deal with them as He directs. Perhaps, rather than naming these areas “nags,” it would be better to perceive them as the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Would we more quickly face the issues if we recognized them as the promptings of the Holy Spirit? I would! A “nag” is something that harasses you into doing what it wants you to do. A prompting of the Holy Spirit is something to follow in joyful obedience.

I expect your little areas that “prompt” you are individual to your circumstances and personality but not that much different than mine. They are small issues. Someone from the outside could look at them and be surprised that you struggle with them or haven’t found a solution for them. However, for me and for you, our personal little “prompts” build and grow daily when they aren’t addressed. Despite this, they truly are insignificant enough that we feel we can continue to ignore them, while their “prompting” pressure discourages us.

The solution may be setting aside time in your schedule to do what has been bothering you. It could be needing to prepare the materials for a specific activity. It may mean writing something on a list that needs to be purchased when errands are run. Perhaps it is writing down an issue that should be discussed with your husband so that a direction is reached. For some reason, these small things can be the ones that undermine us through our day.

Remember Jesus’ parable of the talents? Here is His final word, “His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord” (Matthew 25:21). How we respond to these “few things” in our lives is the basis for how our children will deal with similar areas of their lives. When character issues are important to our hearts for our children, shouldn’t they begin with us? Each of my little “prompts” had to do with character, but because they were so insignificant, they were easy to excuse and ignore. However, I wasn’t fooling the Lord, was I? Had these not been significant to Him, I believe I could be sure they wouldn’t have remained on my mind.

May I encourage each of us to not allow these small “prompts” to go unaddressed and unresolved? If they are “nags,” and not from the Lord, may we learn to discern that and refuse to listen to their “nagging.” If they are His leading and the promptings of the Holy Spirit, then may we learn the character, through Him, to move us into joyful obedience.