Thursday, May 08, 2008

Children and Spiritual Disciplines

Cheri and I try to read Scripture (and memorize) and pray with our kids regularly. A friend asked us recently whether or not we would force our kids to memorize Scripture if they were resisting it. I thought the issue helped me clarify some of my parenting philosophy, and here are some thoughts as a result:

I would have to say that if one of our children (or more than one) were resisting our efforts to memorize Scripture as a family, I would:

1) Not force them, but since it is a family activity I would require them to sit quietly so as not to distract others.

2) I would continue to lay before them why we do it. I did this just the other night when talking to them about Psalm 1. I reminded them that we memorize because Scripture is treasure.

3) I make sure that I often expand on the Bible memorization with teaching questions; after we work on memorizing together, I often ask, "now what does that mean?" I want to make sure they are actually thinking about the content of what we are memorizing.

This question speaks to the larger issue of how we engage our children in family worship, our expectations of them in the spiritual disciplines, how we want to present the "Christian life" to our kids, etc. In expecting them to engage in the disciplines are we assuming they are Christians? Whether it's a child or an adult, I wouldn't expect engagement in disciplines without them presupposing their value in some way.

I want to strongly avoid putting external pressure upon my children to mimic Christianity. I would rather them be honest with where they are and not participate (yet still expecting them to respect my authority and our family time). My goal as a dad is to lay before them the beauty and desirability of following Christ, and trust the Spirit to give them hearts that desire Him. All teaching, spiritual disciplines and spiritual conversations are to serve this end. I want to go after their hearts, romancing them with truth through biblical imagery and story that will engage their minds and imaginations.

Another example of this is with my 9 1/2 year old son and Bible-reading. As far as I can tell, he doesn't read his Bible on his own out of a desire that is his own. He hears it and reads it as part of homeschool assignments, kids ministry, and at our family time that I already mentioned. I would like to see him desire his own time though. I will not force that upon him however. To do so seems problematic.

We have to be careful, as much as possible, not to allow negative emotional attachments to be placed in our kids' minds and hearts regarding the disciplines or Christian living in general. I would rather my children not engage in the disciplines if it means they will associate resentment with such practices, or the cold hardness that can come from empty mimicry.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Gethsemani Retreat - Spring 2008

I had my bi-annual retreat of silence and solitude at the Abbey of Gethsemani this past weekend. I wanted to record some of my reflections here.

Toward the end of last week I was feeling alot of fear as I contemplated being alone for this extended period of time. I am used to this being a part of going on these retreats. For some reason, fear is the first dragon to be slain. By the time I arrived around 5pm, my jaw was clenched and my back tense. I always struggle with fear over how I will sleep there, and fear of back pain has often been myth-laden for me, representing a larger blackness of abandonment and pain.

To "process" my fear and try and release it to God, I began reflecting on Isaiah 43: 1-5, a familiar ally in this battle.

1 But now, this is what the LORD says—
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
"Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.

2 When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.

3 For I am the LORD, your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;
I give Egypt for your ransom,
Cush and Seba in your stead.

4 Since you are precious and honored in my sight,
and because I love you,
I will give men in exchange for you,
and people in exchange for your life.

5 Do not be afraid, for I am with you;

The phrase that really stuck out to me was at the beginning of verse 4, "you are precious and honored in my sight, and . . . I love you." I felt the Lord speaking this very strongly, and it enabled to let go of a good deal of fear.

This was further confirmed by God's romancing me through one of the most spectacular sunsets I have ever beheld. I had to remain inside much of the evening as a thunderstorm blew through, but as it abated I got myself outside walking around. As I looked out over the Abbey garden and to the hills beyond, the clouds above had turned a bright orange pink. These stationary clouds seemed to envelop the sky above me. As I drank this in, I noticed a smaller band of clouds that were closer to me and moving very fast across the sky, driven by the winds. They were dark and stood out in stark contrast against the orange mass. As they passed, I could not help but see shapes in them; first, a camel, then a bear - all appearing to be in some grand cosmic race before me. Then a few ships with large sails followed them.

The effect of all of this on me was pretty breathtaking. I distinctly heard the Lord repeating through the array of colors and shapes, "You are precious to me. This is for you."

I let go of the rest of my fear and laid down to rest.

On Saturday, I began reading the book I had brought specifically for the retreat: "Healing the Father Wound," by Kathy Rodriguez. It wasn't long before I was deeply resonating with her words. The outline of my own wound was being described in great detail and wisdom through both psychological and scriptural insights.

Overall, I felt better able to release my wound into God's hands and let him father me. Foolishly, I thought that perhaps the entire process might be contained in the weekend at the Abbey. I soon realized that, as usual, it would take alot more time to unpack and surrender.

I came home Saturday night. I had prayed for several hours after I had felt the "well of inspiration" dry up a bit, and felt his release to go home. I needed to be exposed to daily things like marriage and church to put into practice what the Lord was speaking to me. Many areas of my life such as my sexuality, work, finances, relationships, church, etc. have been dominated by the myth-laden blackness of my father wound. I have been looking everywhere for masculine affirmation. Affirmation that only God my Abba can provide now. As I objectified this reality and surrendered it, I felt more and more free to imagine what a life of freedom would look like. I am committed to pursuing what that means in the coming days.

The text of God's fathering that has continued to resonate with me from the weekend is Psalm 103. I quote the text in full. This is my Father:

1 Praise the LORD, O my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.

2 Praise the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits-

3 who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,

4 who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,

5 who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.

6 The LORD works righteousness
and justice for all the oppressed.

7 He made known his ways to Moses,
his deeds to the people of Israel:

8 The LORD is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.

9 He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbor his anger forever;

10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.

11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;

12 as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

13 As a father has compassion on his children,
so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him;

14 for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust.

15 As for man, his days are like grass,
he flourishes like a flower of the field;

16 the wind blows over it and it is gone,
and its place remembers it no more.

17 But from everlasting to everlasting
the LORD's love is with those who fear him,
and his righteousness with their children's children-

18 with those who keep his covenant
and remember to obey his precepts.

19 The LORD has established his throne in heaven,
and his kingdom rules over all.

20 Praise the LORD, you his angels,
you mighty ones who do his bidding,
who obey his word.

21 Praise the LORD, all his heavenly hosts,
you his servants who do his will.

22 Praise the LORD, all his works
everywhere in his dominion.
Praise the LORD, O my soul.