Christ Calls Christians to Compassion, NOT Comfort

I know everyone is passionate about what is going on in the country right now. There are a lot of legitimate reasons for people to be concerned about the direction we are heading, and emotions on all fronts are understandably close to the surface, which makes it really hard for us to listen to each other. But for a moment, I’d like to talk to the Americans who call themselves Christians. Everyone else, of course, is welcome to read on, but I’m specifically directing this towards those who strive to be Christ-like.

First of all, no one is perfectly Christ-like. That is simply unattainable. But if we are going to call ourselves by his name, that should be our aim. It is what we should strive for, and we should always be pressing towards that goal, to get as close as we are able.

There are a lot of words that you could use to describe Jesus’ three-year ministry on Earth. But the aspect of his character that always seems to shout the loudest to me is: compassion. Indeed, it is compassion that brought him to Earth in the first place. But almost every interaction that you see between Jesus and nearly everyone he came in contact with (perhaps with the exception of the religious rulers) was dominated by compassion. Here are just a few examples (in no particular order):

The (Samaritan) woman at the well,  John 4:4-26

Even though she was a “half-breed” Samaritan who would have been rejected by many of the Jews of her day, Jesus was not reluctant to associate with her, listen to her, and offer her a chance to accept him as the Messiah (who most Jews felt was exclusively for them)

The woman with twelve years of constant bleeding, Matthew 9:20-22, Mark 5:25-34, Luke 8:43-48

This woman had exhausted every penny she had going to doctors for healing and had found none, for twelve long years. We don’t know if she was in a lot of pain (although many of the conditions that cause constant menstrual bleeding are quite painful), but we do know that because of the restrictions on cleanliness there would have been many social and religious aspects of life she would have been excluded from.

 The feeding of the multitudes (two events), Matthew 14:13-21, Mark 6:31-44, Luke 9:10-17, John 6:5-15; and Matthew 15:32-16:10, Mark 8:1-9

Jesus and the disciples were exhausted. A seemingly never-ending stream of people with physical and spiritual needs had left them with no time to rest, relax, and restore themselves. In fact, the “feeding of the 5000” was right after they found out about John the Baptist’s murder. They hadn’t even really had time to mourn. But when the disciples wanted to send the crowds away, Jesus instead asked what they had to offer the hungry masses. He blessed it into enough not only for the crowd at that moment, but enough to send them home with leftovers.

The children who came to him, Matthew 19:14, Mark 10:13-16, Luke 18:15-17

 Again, these guys are wiped out. The crowds were pretty much constant at this point, and the wear on the disciples was beginning to show in their crabbiness as they tried to shoo away the children and the parents who tried to bring them to Jesus. But Jesus urged them to allow the children to come to him.

 Mary and Martha (when their brother Lazarus was dead), John 11

There are tons of commentaries on this passage and the background of this family’s relationship with Jesus, and I am no scholar. The point I’m trying to make here is that he cared very deeply about this family, and his compassion moved him not only to tears, but to action.

Even on the cross, he was more focused on his compassion for others than on his own suffering:

Praying for forgiveness for those who were carrying out the orders to crucify him (Luke 23:34)

Assuring the thief on the cross next to him that he would join him in paradise (Luke 23:43)

Bidding his mother and Peter to care for one another as mother and son after he was gone (John 19:25-27).

Why am I prattling on about this? Because I believe that if we are going to label ourselves with his name, then this profoundly fundamental aspect of his character should be something that we are continually working towards. But what exactly does that look like in our current society?

I believe it looks like this:

Whenever we have an opportunity to ease another person’s suffering, we should do whatever we can to do so. Close to home, this may mean volunteering at a soup kitchen, supporting ministries that provide shelter for the homeless, medical and mental health care, sanctuary for abused spouses and children, etc. As we expand our outreach to those beyond our borders, I believe it should include humanitarian aid to victims of natural disasters, war, famine, etc. We should offer what we have to give to relieve the suffering of refugees, immigrants, and the like. Christ didn’t say only to care for those who believe as you do, or behave as you wish them to. In fact, he said exactly the opposite:

Luke 6:27-36 New International Version (NIV)

27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full.35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back.

The crux of this passage is that we (as Christians) should never sacrifice compassion for the sake of comfort. We should be willing to sacrifice our comfort for the sake of compassion. Yes, that means temporarily sacrificing our physical comfort in order to give our coat to someone who needs it, but I think it also includes something else. I think we are FAR too unwilling to sacrifice our psychological comfort for the sake of compassion. Follow me down this path for a moment, and maybe I can explain what I mean. If seeing a homosexual couple makes you uncomfortable, are you willing to sacrifice your comfort for the sake of interacting with that couple in a compassionate and loving way? If the Black Lives Matter movement makes you uncomfortable, are you willing to sacrifice your comfort for the sake of maintaining a dialogue, coming together in a spirit of reconciliation, and a true desire to right the undeniable wrongs that continue to be an issue? If the militarization of the police force makes you uncomfortable, are you willing to sacrifice your comfort to maintain a dialogue with them, addressing their very real fear for their safety, and the changes that need to be made in selecting and training our police force? If the Women’s March made you uncomfortable, can you sacrifice your comfort for the sake of reaching out to minister to the needs of those women, instead of calling names, labeling, or dismissing them?

Now, I don’t claim to know where the line should be drawn between the expected actions of an individual, and the prudent actions of a nation. But I do know that Christ did not call us as individuals to act out of fear, or greed, or entitlement, or paranoia, or anger, or retribution. If we are attempting to follow him, we should be acting out of compassion. And while I do not believe that a nation can be “Christian” (I believe that is a title that can only be assigned to individuals who have made that choice for themselves), if we would like to claim that we are a nation that is led by at least some fraction of Christian individuals, the decisions they are making should at least in some measure reflect compassion, even when difficult decisions have to be balanced with other concerns.

Obviously my sphere of influence doesn’t include our nation’s leaders. But if you’ve read through this far, maybe I can encourage you. Don’t let fear make decisions for you. God’s love is perfect, and perfect love drives out fear (1 John 4:18; note that it is in present tense, meaning it is an ongoing process–it continues to drive out fear, not that it drove out fear once and for all). Let us not belligerently withhold desperately needed aid in the name of self-protection, or nationalism, or entitlement. We are one of the richest countries in the world, in so many ways. We should be sharing that abundance. Do we have needy within our own borders? Absolutely. But we are blessed with such abundance that this should never have been an either/or discussion–we should be doing what we can to help both our fellow Americans in need AND our fellow human beings in need around the world.

Is there a way that you, personally, can sacrifice your own comfort for the sake of compassion?

A Ray of Sunshine Instead of a Rain Cloud

Let’s talk about cooking for a bit, shall we?  Imagine a big pot of your favorite comfort food slowly simmering on the stove.  It might be stew, or chili, or potato soup, or gumbo, or veggie soup.  You’ve been working on it all day, and you just taste tested it; it may be your best batch ever.  Perfectly seasoned, perfect texture, perfect blend of ingredients.  You can’t wait to sit down and have a nice big serving, maybe two.  But then someone comes along and throws in a big chunk of rancid meat.  Or a tiny vial of poison.  Or a ladle of sewage.  Suddenly you’re not so apt on eating that perfect bowl of comfort food.

There are a lot of phrases we use to symbolize this idea:  one rotten apple spoils the whole barrel, a little yeast leavens the whole batch, etc.  While I’m not sure it’s quite as absolute as my above example (would you just scoop out the offending item and eat a bowl anyway?), I truly believe that even little bits of negative garbage can have a drastic effect on our lives.  And if it happens often, it becomes a real problem.

If we surround ourselves with people who put us down, put others down, or put themselves down, we’re going to end up being down.  That’s just how it works.  It’s even worse if WE’RE the person putting everyone down, including ourselves.  Think about the things that come out of your mouth (or end up as your Facebook status): I hate my boss; he/she is horrible.  I can’t stand so-and-so; they’re so intolerable.  I hate my body; I wish x-y-z was different/prettier/better.   The reason the country is being ruined is because of (insert least favorite politician here).  If you find that statements like these outweigh more positive statements, you may want to rethink that choice.

Do you really want to be the one who chucks poison or sewage in everyone else’s stew?  Do you want to continue to throw those things into your own stew?

Perhaps your boss IS horrible.  But if you do in fact have a boss, that means you’re employed.  And while circumstances are not an excuse for being horrible to another human being, you don’t know your boss’s back story.  There may be something going on that is consuming his life right now, or something in his past that has left him like that.

Maybe your body is not exactly how you’d like it to be.  Stop focusing on what you hate about it.  Change the things you can (and be patient because it doesn’t happen overnight), and stop whining about the things you can’t change.  Find something about your body that you really like, and think of that when another self-berating thought pops up.

I know everyone gets sick sometimes, and I don’t have the least bit of problem with the occasional, “Ugh, this illness is really kicking my butt” statement.  But if every single post is whining about every single ache and pain, people begin to wonder if anything good ever happens to you.

And I said I was pretty much going to avoid politics on this blog, but I have seen so much negative garbage lately, it makes me ill.  I have seriously considered “un-friending” some people just because their status updates are nothing but constant political poison.  Regardless of your political affiliations, there are two things you need to get through your skull:  one person cannot single-handedly destroy our nation, nor can one person single-handedly bring it out of the difficulties we’re in.  Nobody has that much power.  If you disagree, you were clearly not paying attention in government/economics in high school.  I invite you to educate yourself–there’s this really cool resource called the internet that’s great for that sort of thing.  I might recommend that you avoid sites that pat you on the back for spewing poison, though.  That’s not really going to help the issue.  Nor is it likely to educate you.

I’ll admit it’s not an easy habit to break.  You have to completely retrain your mind.  And hijack your mouth, most of the time.  And then you’ve got to nail those internal thoughts as well.  Like I’ve said before, you can’t control when a negative thought pops into your brain, but you CAN decide how long it gets to stay there, and whether it makes it out of your mouth (or onto your FB page).

While I didn’t make a New Year’s resolution (not really my thing), I do intend to continue working to improve myself in this area.  I have a ways to go yet, but I think progress has been made.  It’s very important to me that I am a source of positive input to my friends and family instead of being a constant rain cloud.  Excuse my Pollyanna moment for the day, but I’d rather be a ray of sunshine.

One of my favorite quotes from my favorite episode of Doctor Who:  

The Doctor, after Amy is heartbroken that they couldn’t save a friend: “The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and bad things. The good things don’t always soften the bad things, but vice-versa, the bad things don’t necessarily spoil the good things and make them unimportant.  We definitely added to his pile of good things.”

May I always be mindful of whether I am adding to others’ piles of good things, and may I not add to their pile of bad things.

35 Gifts Your Children Will Never Forget

This is another great post by Becoming Minimalist.  It helps to redirect the focus towards what really matters in life, not stuff, but people and our relationships.

Read on…

You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.” – Kahlil Gibran

I have countless holiday memories. Most of them center around faith, family, and traditions.

Very few childhood memories actually include the gifts I received. I distinctly remember the year that I got a blue dirt bike, the evening my brother and I received a Nintendo, and opening socks every year from my grandparents. But other than that, my gift-receiving memories are pretty sparse. Which got me thinking… what type of gifts can we give to our children that they will never forget? What gifts will truly impact their lives and change them forever?

To that end, here is an alphabetical list of 35 Gifts Your Children Will Never Forget.

  1. Affirmation. Sometimes one simple word of affirmation can change an entire life. So make sure your children know how much you appreciate them. And then, remind them every chance you get.
  2. Art. With the advent of the Internet, everyone who wants to create… can. The world just needs more people who want to…
  3. Challenge. Encourage your child to dream big dreams. In turn, they will accomplish more than they thought possible… and probably even more than you thought possible.
  4. Compassion/Justice. Life isn’t fair. It never will be – there are just too many variables. But when a wrong has been committed or a playing field can be leveled, I want my child to be active in helping to level it.
  5. Contentment. The need for more is contagious. Therefore, one of the greatest gifts you can give your children is an appreciation for being content with what they have… but not with who they are. (I think I know what he meant by this, that we should strive to continually improve ourselves, but I’m not sure I liked the word choice here.  Our kids need to learn to love themselves just as they are, even though they know there’s always room for improvement and growth.  We just don’t want to encourage stagnation.)
  6. Curiosity. Teach your children to ask questions about who, what, where, how, why, and why not. “Stop asking so many questions” are words that should never leave a parents’ mouth.
  7. Determination. One of the greatest determining factors in one’s success is the size of their will. How can you help grow your child’s today?
  8. Discipline. Children need to learn everything from the ground-up including appropriate behaviors, how to get along with others, how to get results, and how to achieve their dreams. Discipline should not be avoided or withheld. Instead, it should be consistent and positive.
  9. Encouragement. Words are powerful. They can create or they can destroy. The simple words that you choose to speak today can offer encouragement and positive thoughts to another child. Or your words can send them further into despair. So choose them carefully.
  10. Faithfulness to your Spouse. Faithfulness in marriage includes more than just our bodies. It also includes our eyes, mind, heart, and soul. Guard your sexuality daily and devote it entirely to your spouse. Your children will absolutely take notice.
  11. Finding Beauty. Help your children find beauty in everything they see… and in everyone they meet.
  12. Generosity. Teach your children to be generous with your stuff so that they will become generous with theirs.
  13. Honesty/Integrity. Children who learn the value and importance of honesty at a young age have a far greater opportunity to become honest adults. And honest adults who deal truthfully with others tend to feel better about themselves, enjoy their lives more, and sleep better at night.
  14. Hope. Hope is knowing and believing that things will get better and improve. It creates strength, endurance, and resolve. And in the desperately difficult times of life, it calls us to press onward.
  15. Hugs and Kisses. I once heard the story of a man who told his 7-year old son that he had grown too old for kisses. I tear up every time I think of it. Know that your children are never too old to receive physical affirmation of your love for them.
  16. Imagination. If we’ve learned anything over the past 20 years, it’s that life is changing faster and faster with every passing day. The world tomorrow looks nothing like the world today. And the people with imagination are the ones not just living it, they are creating it.
  17. Intentionality. I believe strongly in intentional living and intentional parenting. Slow down, consider who you are, where you are going, and how to get there. And do the same for each of your children.
  18. Your Lap. It’s the best place in the entire world for a book, story, or conversation. And it’s been right in front of you the whole time.
  19. Lifelong Learning. A passion for learning is different from just studying to earn a grade or please teachers. It begins in the home. So read, ask questions, analyze, and expose. In other words, learn to love learning yourself.
  20. Love. …but the greatest of these is love.
  21. Meals Together. Meals provide unparalleled opportunity for relationship, the likes of which can not be found anywhere else. So much so, that a family that does not eat together does not grow together.
  22. Nature. Children who learn to appreciate the world around them take care of the world around them. As a parent, I am frequently asking my kids to keep their rooms inside the house neat, clean, and orderly. Shouldn’t we also be teaching them to keep their world outside neat, clean, and orderly?
  23. Opportunity. Kids need opportunities to experience new things so they can find out what they enjoy and what they are good at. And contrary to popular belief, this doesn’t have to require much money.
  24. Optimism. Pessimists don’t change the world. Optimists do.
  25. Peace. On a worldwide scale, you may think this is out of our hands. But in relation to the people around you, this is completely within your hands… and that’s a darn good place to start.
  26. Pride. Celebrate the little things in life. After all, it is the little accomplishments in life that become the big accomplishments.
  27. Room to Make mistakes. Kids are kids. That’s what makes them so much fun… and so desperately in need of your patience. Give them room to experiment, explore, and make mistakes.
  28. Self-Esteem. People who learn to value themselves are more likely to have self-confidence, self-esteem, and self-worth. As a result, they are more likely to become adults who respect their values and stick to them… even when no one else is.
  29. Sense of Humor. Laugh with your children everyday… for your sake and theirs.
  30. Spirituality. Faith elevates our view of the universe, our world, and our lives. We would be wise to instill into our kids that they are more than just flesh and blood taking up space. They are also made of mind, heart, soul, and will. And decisions in their life should be based on more than just what everyone else with flesh and blood is doing.
  31. Stability. A stable home becomes the foundation on which children build the rest of their lives. They need to know their place in the family, who they can trust, and who is going to be there for them. Don’t keep changing those things.
  32. Time. The gift of time is the one gift you can never get back or take back. So think carefully about who (or what) is getting yours.
  33. Undivided Attention. Maybe this imagery will be helpful: Disconnect to Connect.
  34. Uniqueness. What makes us different is what makes us special. Uniqueness should not be hidden. It should be proudly displayed for all the world to see, appreciate, and enjoy.
  35. A Welcoming Home. To know that you can always come home is among the sweetest and most life-giving assurances in all the world. Is your home breathing life into your child?

Of course, none of these gifts are on sale at your local department store. But, I think that’s the point.

What Makes Life Worth Living?

I think this is a question that people often ask themselves, but tend to answer very superficially.  In the article “What Makes Life Worth Living?“, author Dustin Wax reflects upon some of the things that are really important to us.  With Thanksgiving in our so recent past and Christmas right on the horizon, and many friends doing the “30 days of Thankfulness” on Facebook, it’s nice and fresh in our minds.  I don’t want to marginalize this exercise, because I think anything that causes us to focus on what we have over what we don’t have is a good thing.  But let’s not let it be a superficial thing, or let it only last for the month of November.  Dustin came up with these great points on what makes life meaningful:

  • Creating: Writing, drawing, painting (though I’m not good at it), playing music (though I’m not especially good at that, either). For others, it might be inventing something, building a business, coming up with a clever marketing campaign, forming a non-profit.
  • Relating: It’s not “family” that makes life worth living, I think, but therelationships we create with members of our family, and the way we maintain and build those relationships. Same goes for friends, lovers, business partners, students, and everyone else.
  • Helping: Being able to lend a hand to people in need – however drastic or trivial that need may be – strikes me as an important part of life.
  • Realizing: Making, working towards, and  achieving goals, no matter what those goals are.
  • Playing: Maybe this is a kind of “relating”, but then, play can be a solo affair as well. Letting go of restraints, imagining new possibilities, testing yourself against others or against yourself, finding humor and joy.
  • Growing: Learning new things, improving my knowledge and ability in the things I’ve already learned.

I think we all want to live fulfilling lives, ones that make an impact, lives that leave a legacy after we’re gone. But sometimes we don’t really know how to go about doing that.  It’s far too easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of daily life, especially this time of year, and end up just getting through instead of leaving our mark.

I know I am much happier if I have done at least something in one of these categories each day. Even on days when I can’t manage to check much off my “to-do” list, as long as I’ve done something fulfilling, I feel like I’ve accomplished something.  And sometimes I have to celebrate even the smallest accomplishment.

I’d like to make two points here:  First, let’s not beat ourselves up for not making every second of every day a Mother Teresa level activity.  Everyone’s gotta have down time, and everyone has times when they feel overwhelmed by everything that they have to do.  All the greats had their times of inactivity, and I’m sure they had times when they felt like they weren’t accomplishing much.  Seriously, they were human just like the rest of us.

Second, on the flip side of that coin, I think it helps to evaluate the value of an activity based on its lasting worth.  If I have an hour to spend, do I really want to spend it playing a video game, watching reruns of my favorite sitcom, or spending time with my family?  My time is at least as valuable a resource as my money, and what I choose to spend the majority of it on shows pretty clearly what is most important to me.

Ultimately, I think it all comes down to balance. There’s nothing wrong with the occasional mindless activity that has no real value in the light of eternity.  But if the majority of my time is spent on meaningless things rather than the things that will make a difference in someone’s life, I’m very likely to come to the end of my life with some pretty significant “death-bed regrets”.

So try to go though your coming days with this in mind.  Take an extra second to hold the door for a fellow Christmas shopper.  Make a call or send a message to a friend of family member you haven’t reconnected with in a while.  Take time to recharge your own batteries so that you have something to spend.  And give yourself the Christmas gift of reasonable expectations.  A Christmas celebration does not have to reach Martha Stewart level perfection to be memorable.  After all, it should be all about the time with loved ones anyway, shouldn’t it?

Merry Christmas to you all, and shower the people you love with love!

The Video Every Mom Must Watch

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/31/the-video-every-mom-must-watch_n_4181007.html

This video is short, and it’s probably not anything we haven’t already heard.  It’s just that us moms need to be constantly reminded that we ARE doing something right, even  when we’re beating ourselves up about everything we’re doing wrong.   Don’t give up out there.  Our little ones aren’t keeping a tally of our shortcomings, they’re loving us just as we are.  Hopefully we’re doing the same for them.   And we’re their heroes, ladies.  Let that sink in for a moment.  And take heart.

Cleaning Out Mind Clutter

I LOVED this article on getting rid of mind clutter at Becoming Minimalist.  It seems as hard as it might be sometimes to get rid of physical clutter in our lives, it’s even harder to let go of mental clutter.  And I’d dare say that it is far more influential to our state of contentment.  Simplifying what we choose to keep in our heads goes a long way towards our being satisfied in this exact moment.

We have a tendency (or at least I do) to hang on to negative things from our past and allow them to have far too much influence on who we are in the present.  It’s hard to let go of the hurts from an unfaithful ex, an abusive parent, an untrustworthy friend.  It’s hard not to fret about all the things that could go wrong in the future, or dreams that might remain unfulfilled.  If we really could apply the idea of packing up our mind clutter to move into a small, cozy apartment, would we really want to hold on to hurts, disappointments, dashed dreams, and other negative thoughts from our past?  Would we want to bring all those worries, fears, and anxieties about the future?

I like how the article says that it’s OK to choose some of those negative things.  Sometimes you just can’t let go of them right away.  But choose them knowingly, and don’t be in denial about it.  Acknowledge that they’re negative, and eventually you’ll be ready to send them packing.  Just remember that the more negative thoughts you allow to take up space in your head, the less room you have for the positive stuff.  Carefully consider what deserves the privilege of that prime real estate.

I’d like to add something here.  I’m a pretty optimistic person, and I’d say I have a lot of hope for the future.  But there is a VERY fine line between having hope for a better future and being constantly dissatisfied with the present because you haven’t reached your ideal future yet.  From the time you are born until you die, your life is a work in progress.  Don’t be discouraged that you haven’t yet reached the pinnacle of your life.  This seems to be a common issue with young adults who want to have the dream house/car/job/family RIGHT NOW that their parents and grandparents had to work for decades to acquire.  I think that’s the biggest allure of credit.  Borrowed affluence is not the same as owning your stuff.  Make sure you work toward your goals with the idea of OWNING what you have, not borrowing.  If that means owning less, so be it.

And I know I keep saying this, but it’s so important: try to spend more time dwelling on the positives than on the negatives.  Obviously you can’t get rid of every negative thought that might pop into your head, but try not to let it to take up any more time than it takes to chase it out the door.  Try to imagine sweeping them out of your head with an old-fashioned straw broom.  The longer you let these mental freeloaders hang around, the more they suck the life and happiness out of you. Those negative thoughts are roaches in your kitchen, leeches sucking your blood, whatever makes you most want to eradicate them.  Make a conscious decision to think about something more positive instead.  And not in an artificial, Pollyanna, “starving-kids-in-Africa-have-it-worse-off-than-you” kind of way.  Make it real.  Seriously, there ARE people who have it far worse.  And chances are, you can even think of moments in your OWN life that have been worse than this bad moment right now.  Cling to the idea that it’s going to get better instead of how bad it is.

I too, am a work in progress.  But I have noticed how my overall attitude has improved immensely since I’ve started trying to be conscious about the thoughts I dwell on.  Those negatives still visit me, sure; I am a bit of a worrywort.  But I am getting better and better at chasing those thoughts away and replacing them with something positive.  Keep plugging away, and you’ll start to see a definite improvement!  And even if you feel you’ve taken a step backward, just move forward from where you are right now.  The important thing is that you’re going in the right overall direction.  Try to take a step back and see how far you’ve come.  Work towards the person that you’d like to be in the future, and your “now” will benefit from it.

Why Your Kids Shouldn’t Be The Only Thing In Your Life

Even if you don’t believe in God, you can glean some good advice from this article, They Are Third {on holding our children loosely}

I have said this to many of my friends: Yes, we should adore our children and love them unconditionally, but we cannot hold them too tightly.  And we cannot put them before everything else in our lives.  Because above all, we are trying to raise them to be independent, mature adults, and eventually they will leave.

I have seen marriages fall apart because the parents (often the mother, actually) made the children more important than nurturing their relationship.  Not that there aren’t sometimes urgent things that require our attention, and our spouse time gets put aside temporarily.  But our marriage cannot ALWAYS be on the back burner.  Because ideally, our spouse will still be there long after our kids leave, and we are going to need to know who they are and how to connect with them.  It is far too easy to start treating a spouse like a roommate instead of a life mate.

I’ve said it before: We ARE going to grow and change, the trick is making sure that we grow together.  We do our children no favors if they always come first.  Besides the fact that we’d be teaching them that investing in our marriage is not important, we’d also be teaching them that they are entitled to always be the center of the attention.  And who wants to be around an adult who has grown up with that delusion?  Think about how hard those people are to stomach.  Is that really what you want your child to be?  Besides, if your kids know your marriage is weak, they will become EXPERTS at playing you and your spouse against one another in order to get what they want.

So I agree wholeheartedly with the idea that your children should be well aware that they do NOT come before your marriage, when they get old enough to understand that.  They know that I expect them to leave and lead lives of their own, and that their dad and I will still be together long after they’re gone.  We want to continue to grow together, instead of being struck speechless by empty nest syndrome.  Chances are, both our kids will be leaving within the next couple of years, and we don’t want to be one of those couples who are at a total loss as to what to do with themselves once the kids are gone.

And I’d like to take a moment here to add: Know who YOU are without the kids.  In addition to knowing your spouse (if you have one), every parent should know who they are on their own.  This is doubly hard for single parents, I think, because without a spouse it’s easy to let the kids become everything.  But again, your goal is that they will eventually leave.  You don’t want to be left floundering, directionless, and unable to be your own person when they do leave.  Nurture your own well-being, physically and mentally, and you will be better able to give your children what they need.  Constantly deny yourself and you create selfish, dependent children, and you’re too wiped out to give them what they need anyway.  It’s always a balancing act, but make sure you don’t spend all your time at the bottom of the priority list.

Now, neither of my kids have left yet, so I may be overly optimistic about my reaction, but I think I’ll be ok.  I think my husband and I will be ok.  And I think my kids will be ok.  I certainly pray that all of those things are true!  Those of you who have already survived the empty nest, please chime in and give the rest of us some sage advice!