Archives For Parenting

This morning I dropped my firstborn off for her first day of school. Maybe that doesn’t sound impressive. But listen: this precious little girl, whom I have been holding since she was 7 pounds 9 ounces 19 and ¾ inches, whose food I have shoveled and airplaned into her mouth, who has received a late night kiss from my lips every night of her life as she sleeps, with whom I have watched countless episodes of Mickey Mouse and My Little Pony, and for whose sake I gladly renounced what I used to call “free time”—I drove this little girl to a government owned facility and left her there. For most of the day! I left her with a group of five year old strangers (and a couple of friends, thank the Lord).

First Day of School 2

Here’s the crazy part: I fully intend to do this again five days a week for the next 13 years! Then I’ll probably be sending her (at crippling personal expense) to some far-flung college (may it never be!) for another 4+ years of being shaped outside of my immediate presence. And then she’ll likely meet some punk kid (everyone will probably think he’s super sweet, but I’ll know better), fall in love, and start a family of her own. Then I’ll see her from time to time at best.

Needless to say, I’m sitting here thinking, “What have I done?” How could I drop her off and drive away?

Let me admit right off the bat that I don’t know what I’m talking about here. My oldest child is almost six: I know nothing about parenting. But as my daughter sits in a classroom, being taught for the first of countless days by a teacher I’ve never met (I’m sure she’s wonderful, truly), it occurs to me that this is just one in a long sequence of letting go experiences.

When my daughters, Abigail and Claire, were first born, it was all about holding on. I scooped them up. I held on tight. I’ve spent so many delirious hours rocking to sleep and singing nursery rhymes and crawling on the floor and reading Goodnight Moon and applying band-aids to nonexistent owies and kissing chubby cheeks and holding miniature hands. At some point, my back will offer its last piggy-back ride, but I could continue with the holding on phase forever. And then for forever again. I’ve grown my own friends, and I love how they’re turning out. Letting go strikes me now as the worst-case scenario.

I’ve literally cried while talking to parents during our college orientation weekends—parents who are dropping their daughters off to attend college across the country—I smelled these parents’ uncertainties and I shed tears of panic, realizing that one day I’ll be letting go of my beautiful girls.

And I started letting go today. I’m not sorry that I’ve been holding on. I’ve “helicoptered” around the playground, and I don’t regret the times I saved my daughters from breaking their necks by falling off the climbing wall. I’ll hold these girls tightly for as long as the Lord leaves them in my care. God entrusted me with these two magnificent human beings, and I plan to cherish every moment I have with them. But I realize they’re not mine to hold—at least, not forever. Right now, holding them has been an important part of fulfilling the stewardship God has blessed me with. But to be a faithful steward, letting go will be an important part of the process. The world is all around them, and they need to see it. I can tell them about it, but they need to get out there.

First Day of SchoolI recently taught Abigail how to ride a bike. I removed the training wheels and ran alongside my little pedaler, holding the seat of her bike to keep it steady. She did great with my hand firmly gripping that seat. Eventually I let go—only for a few seconds!—and she rode. I put my hand back on and steadied the now wobbling bike. And then, one time, I took my hand off the bike and she rode well and I didn’t put my hand back on the bike again. She’s my little bike-riding girl now; she’s having a blast and I’m so proud.

I expect to continue to have recurring moments of holding on. She’ll get the tightest hugs of her life every day when she comes home from school, and I plan to give her late night sleeping kisses every night she lives under my roof. I’ll hold her when she cries and when she’s happy and when she succeeds and when she’s feeling sappy. But I’ll also let go—every single day—and get her out there in the world. There’s so much I still want to and plan to teach her about the world and God and people and herself. But I will also let go and send her to learn from other people, to thrive in real friendships, to experience the beauty and joy and brokenness and glory of the world firsthand. I’ll teach her about all of these things, and I’ll help her debrief her experiences with them. And in between I’ll let go.

I don’t want to. I want to hold on tightly forever. But God has given me these miraculous little girls to make his world a better place, to spread his kingdom into nooks and crannies I could never dream of, to heal hurts that I’ll never be aware of, to reflect his image in places and ways that go beyond my tiny imaginative capacity. These girls are his. And I’m so thankful he has entrusted them to my wife and I. And I’m beginning a regular process of praying for the strength and wisdom to let go at all the right times.

Happy first day of school, everyone.

Small Theology

Mark Beuving —  May 7, 2015 — Leave a comment

The Beuving Family (Web) _0095I can remember looking forward to the day when I would have kids with whom I could have theological conversations. Not that this was the reason I wanted kids, I just thought it would be exciting to teach my heirs some amazing theology.

My daughters are now three and five years old. I have not begun reading them theology textbooks at bedtime, nor have they heard me speak the words “justification,” “pneumatology,” or “hypostatic union.” But we have certainly had plenty of theological conversations.

These conversations always arise unexpectedly. I don’t plan theology lessons for my girls; the theology invites itself into our regular conversations. Often, a character or plot development in a movie or TV show will lob me a doctrinal softball, and I’ll take a swing. (I’ll ask my girls questions like “Will Hiccup ever see his daddy again, even though he died?” or “Why do you think Rainbow Dash is so sad?” or “Who else do we know who died and came back to life again?”) Sometimes these turn into great conversations, sometimes they don’t. We never go very deep, but sometimes we have meaningful (if not complex) conversations about important theological truths.

We have talked about God’s constant provision and the importance of valuing God’s gifts when my daughters have complained about the dinner menu. We’ve talked about having compassion for the poor when both of my girls threw fits about the kind of sheets mommy put on their beds. We’ve had several chances to talk about human depravity and the importance of forgiveness when kids at church or at preschool have been mean.

My favorite theological conversations lately have come when we sing to our girls at bedtime. I’ve been singing part of Mumford and Sons’ “After the Storm”—the girls love it. I’ll sing, “There will come a time, you’ll see / with no more tears / and love will not break your heart / but dismiss your fears.” Then I’ll stop and ask them, “Did you know that someday we won’t cry or be sad anymore? Do you know when that will be?” It’s a perfect chance to talk about the return of Christ and the reality of heaven.

I also cycle through the verses to “This Is My Father’s World.” Every night I’ll sing a couple of verses, and every now and then we’ll talk about what the song means. Just last night my five year old asked me what it means that God “shines in all that’s fair.” So we talked about God’s omnipresence, his power in creation, and the goodness of God’s world. We did this without using any big terms, which was a great exercise for me.

As I looked ahead to the time I would talk theology with my kids, I also pictured them much older than preschool age. But I’ve been surprised at how often I get to talk theology with my girls. I shouldn’t be surprised—I know that theology is practical. I know that everything in this world relates to God. But somehow, I didn’t expect theology to be so readily applicable to so many of the things my daughters experience so early in life. For me, it has been a great reminder that everything is theological, and that God cares about—and is active in—every detail of our lives, no matter how small our lives may be.

Most parents are concerned about how much television their kids watch. Bad parents, we all know, simply set their kids in front of the TV all day, never considering what their kids are watching or what the incessantly shifting images are doing to their kids’ brains. But the rest of us fall into two groups: (1) those who strictly ration “screen time,” preferring their kids entertain themselves in the good old-fashioned ways, and (2) those who allow their kids to watch multiple hours of television or movies in a given day. Those in the second group often feel guilty about letting their kids watch TV. But I don’t think they should.

Now, I’m not saying that we should turn the television into a babysitter (or a parent!). Nor am I suggesting that we should let our kids watch whatever they want, or whatever comes on the screen (may it never be!). But here’s what I am saying:

My daughters (3 and 5 years old) have watched a lot of movies in their short lives. We definitely limit the amount of time they spend in front of a screen, and we are very careful about the content they’re exposed to at this age. However, I am very glad our girls are movie watchers.

How to Train Your Dragon 2I’ll start my explanation with an example. I recently watched How to Train Your Dragon 2 with my daughters. (Spoiler alert!) In the movie, Hiccup’s father dies by throwing himself in front of dragon fire to save his son. I paused the movie to ask my five-year-old if she noticed that Hiccup’s daddy died to save his son. I think the concept registered to some extent, but we kept watching the movie. Then I asked her, “Will Hiccup be able to see his daddy again?” She thought for a minute and said, “Yes.” When I asked her why she said, “Because of Jesus.” “Yes, sweetie!” I said. “If they know Jesus, Hiccup will see his daddy again. He will miss his daddy very much, but one day, they will see each other again and they’ll be so happy.”

Later in the movie, Toothless (Hiccup’s dragon) and Hiccup get literally entombed in ice by the evil dragon. Everyone gasps because they’re dead in the tomb. But then Toothless gains some new form of life that makes him glow, and he explodes the ice-tomb and defeats the evil dragon. So I asked my daughters, “Who else do we know that was dead and came back to life again?” Both girls knew the answer: “Jesus!” “That’s right!” I said. “Why did Jesus come back to life?” They’ve both known the answer to this one from our Easter conversations: “Because Jesus doesn’t stay dead!” And we continued watching the movie, sprinkling in a bit of theology here or there.

Now, I’m not suggesting that the filmmakers wanted us to have this conversation. How to Train Your Dragon 2 is not brought to you by the people who made God’s Not Dead or Fireproof. But those theological concepts are there, embedded in the movie. Actually, these theological concepts are the reason why this movie is so compelling. So I talked about them with my girls. And I believe that these concepts are that much more understandable to young kids (and to human beings in general) because they were embedded in a story. That’s how incarnation works. I do at times try to talk to my daughters about death or resurrection or the power of God, and I think these conversations are beneficial. But there is a special power of understanding available to us when we see these concepts played out in compelling stories.

One day my five-year-old told me, “Daddy, why are kings mean?” “Um, why do you think kings are mean?” I asked. As it turns out, she had been watching the “evil” king on Doc McStuffins. This turned into a great conversation about how many kings are mean because they want to use their power to get what they want. Then I asked her who the best king in the world is, helping her understand that Jesus is the best king. This theological softball was lobbed to us by Doc McStuffins, so my daughter and I took a swing.

I want my daughters to be able to play in the “real world.” I want them to run and sweat and learn to play well with others. So we are careful to do all of those things. But I also want their heads filled with stories. I want to them immersed in tales of bravery, in examples of fear and how it’s overcome, in explorations of good and evil, in stories of true friendship and sacrifice. Sure, Doc McStuffins is not Pilgrim’s Progress, but it orients them to many important concepts, and my wife and I simply do our best to help them process these concepts in biblical ways. There are many shows or movies we won’t let our daughters watch at this stage because we feel they promote disrespect or trivialize violence, but we’ve had great conversations about Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Frozen, Wreck-It Ralph, Tangled, you name it.

So by all means, follow your parenting instincts and don’t waste your kids’ childhood in front of a screen. But when you do turn on the TV for your kids, don’t let yourself feel like a failure as a parent. Just view it as an opportunity to teach them about God and the world and the people that he made. You may never get opportunities this good to talk with them about the things that really matter.

Discipline VS Punishment

Mark Beuving —  November 10, 2014 — Leave a comment

If you’re not experiencing the Lord’s discipline, you’re not his child. That’s how blunt Hebrews is about it:

“Have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.’

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:5-11)

The author of Hebrews compares the way we human fathers discipline our children to the way God disciplines us. Human fathers discipline their children “as it seems best to us.” We’re trying to shape our children, to make them into godly people. So when our children step out of line, exhibit bad character traits, or fail to demonstrate godliness, we intervene. We discipline our children. We don’t let the bad behavior or attitude slide. We love our children too much to allow those bad behaviors to harden into their character. So we do our best to discipline our kids in such a way that they see the consequences of their actions and learn to desire the good.

girlincornerIn the same way, God disciplines us. None of us is making it through life without sin. So if you find yourself without discipline, that doesn’t mean you’re doing fine. It just means you don’t belong to God. When you exhibit bad behavior or poor character or some form of godlessness, God will discipline you in order to shape you—unless you don’t belong to him. Discipline isn’t fun, but if it’s not there, you can be sure you don’t belong to God. God disciplines his children because he loves them.

But here is an essential point: discipline is different than punishment. God doesn’t punish his children. He disciplines us.

As a father, I try not to punish my children. When they disobey, my response is not designed to make them “pay” for what they’ve done. I’m not trying to get them back or wrong them for wronging me. My goal is not to inflict pain or shame; I don’t want to put my children down. All of that would fall under the heading of punishment: you messed up, so here’s your punishment.

By contrast, I’m actually trying to discipline my daughters. I confront their disobedience and help them see and feel that what they did is not okay. But I’m trying to form godly character in them. I want them to learn, not hurt. Not feel embarrassed. I’m not trying to make myself feel better, I’m taking my responsibility to help shape their character seriously. I’m trying to help them grow through the experience. I have no desire to inflict pain on my children. (When I became a father, I was surprised to learn that my parents’ insistence that “this will hurt me more than it hurts you” was actually true.)

Sometimes when we sin, we wait for God to punish us. To take something we love. To make us hurt in some way. And sin often does lead to complex and prolonged pain. But Hebrews assures us that God is not punishing us in these moments. He disciplines his children. He doesn’t punish us. When God disciplines us, pain is not the goal. Discipline is not fun, but it’s designed to shape us, to grow us, to make us into the people God wants us to be.

So if you are experiencing God’s discipline, take heart. It shows that you belong to him as a child to a father. And it means that his work in you is not done, it is taking place even in the midst of the pain you’re experiencing.

firstworldproblemsAs my wife and I tried to get our girls to bed tonight (just moments ago as I’m writing this), we had a major meltdown. The reason? Both girls got clean sheets on their beds tonight. Our four year old didn’t get the dancing girl sheets she wanted and had to settle for the lady bug sheets. Our two year old didn’t get the lady bug sheets she wanted and had to settle for the dancing girl sheets. So, super rational.

It put a halt to our routine as we tried to shepherd our daughters’ hearts. In the process I made myself cry. I began to tell my older daughter about kids going to bed this very night who have no sheets to crawl into. I told her about her mommy and I going down to Mexico before she was born and building plywood homes for entire families. The families were bigger than ours; the homes were smaller than her bedroom. I told her how there was no paint, no pictures, no carpet. A dirt floor. As I told her this, I couldn’t stop the tears.

There was an element of pity in those tears, certainly. But they were also tears of repentance. Because I started telling her how happy those families were to receive their new homes. I told her how the little girls weren’t sad about their sheets or the size of their home. They were happy little girls. Truly. Jesus loved them and their families loved them too. Working in Mexico, as we’ve done several times, we saw joy in people over whom materialism had far less power. We renounced materialism on those trips and vowed to live joyful lives. Then we went back to having more than anyone could need and settled in once again.

An idol was exposed in my daughters’ hearts tonight. Sure, bed sheets are an odd idol, but our girls’ desire to have their world ordered just so came to the surface. This was a wonderful night because we got to discuss incredibly important issues: the way the world works and the importance of the heart.

firstworldbananaproblemsWe tucked our girls into bed and I started thinking about #firstworldproblems. How silly our materialistic society can be. We announce to our friends and followers:

  • “What is the point of a cellphone if the battery only lasts for 6 hours? #firstworldproblems”
  • “It’s too hot to sleep with a blanket, but I can’t sleep without one! #firstworldproblems”
  • “My towel was already damp when I got out of the shower. #firstworldproblems”

My conversation with my daughter reminded me that #firstworldproblems is more than a joke. Now, I believe it is a joke, and a hilarious one. One step in solving the problem is recognizing how ridiculous these moments of frustration actually are. So we should laugh at ourselves. And yet the idolatry that these moments reveal is serious. It needs to be addressed, not just tweeted.

It’s ridiculous that my daughter cried for her dancing girl sheets. It’s also ridiculous that forgetting my iPhone at home is a serious concern, a tweetable offense (#firstworldproblems).

Tonight, my wife and I are thankful that we got an opportunity to begin weeding out some idolatry in our daughters’ hearts. We’re also thankful that it reminded us about the idolatry in our own. And somehow, I can’t imagine God viewing my impatience with a slow waiter or my insecurity about the car I drive or my disapproval over my neighbor’s rarely-watered lawn as any less absurd, irrational, insane, childish, nonsensical. An idol is an idol, and for God’s glory, it has to go.

 

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