Friday, September 30, 2011

A Tale of Two Books

So I'm proceeding with great alacrity through Choosing Gratitude. I'm finished with the chapters and have the 30-day devotional left.

I've talked about how I know I'm approaching this with prejudice. I bring a lot of baggage to the table and then read through that lens (while simultaneously mixing metaphors). Once or twice I think NLDM gets it: "like every other sanctified character trait, it does nothing to make us more loved and accepted by God" (p.69); "no one should ever make you feel as though gaining victory over your hardships requires acting like they don't exist, as if refusing to speak about them or make reference to them will cut off their blood supply" (p. 145).

But I get the feeling that's what she wants us to do, shove down the "bad" feelings and "offer the sacrifice of praise." At one point she says if we don't "give thanks" we'll never be right with God. I can't find the quote right now but she uses the word "never." The context might be more if we do it half-heartedly we'll never be right with God, but it gives off the feeling of if we don't do what she says, we won't fit into her definition of what a Christian is.

Because sometimes a halfhearted "thanks" for something trivial triggers a more sincere thanks for something bigger. Or, starting half-heartedly is better than not starting at all.

I also really get the feeling like she thinks "gratitude" is a destination we'll arrive at. She does finish off with a glancing reference to our continual sanctification, but following her 30-day plan isn't going to help me arrive at a place of perfect gratitude where I never complain again. Because I'm a human being. Sometimes things bother me, or I'm hurt or grumpy or in pain and I need to share. or vent. or whatever you want to call it.

In fact, I find when I'm complaining about something absolutely trivial or ridiculous that I am most able to laugh at myself, step back, and be thankful for what I have. Like that comedian clip where he talks about being on a plane and freaking out that the wifi doesn't work (a commentary on how we as Americans are spoiled rotten) (google it if you haven't seen/heard it; it was going around FB awhile back). First-world problems and all that.

But at the same time, if it's bothering me, it's bothering me. If my wrist hurts, I know it's not cancer and it'll be over in a day or two, but it still hurts. I can't pretend it doesn't, and I can give thanks that I have a wrist, and health insurance, and not a bigger problem, and lots of hobbies that bother my wrist to give me carpal tunnel in the first place, and splints to wear at night, etc. etc. etc., but the truth is it still hurts. And I want your sympathy (which may be a curious side effect of social media, that I can announce my trivial pain and elicit your sympathy, but I digress).

At one point (p. 129) she refers to the "stigma of social motherhood," which really makes me think she lives in a bubble or doesn't get it. Maybe in Fundystan there's a stigma, but a single mother doesn't need our stigma but our grace. Our sympathy. Our love. Is there a stigma to single motherhood? I guess in her world.

Right before the 30-day how-to, she offers a "p.s." saying she struggled with publishing a book telling us to do something she hadn't arrived at yet. But I say, none of us arrive there. There's an ebb and flow to life; there's seasons of joy and ones of despair; we're never going to "arrive" until we arrive in heaven. Sometimes I complain. Sometimes I give thanks through gritted teeth. Sometimes I raise my hands in praise to a holy and wonderful God who loves me in my sin and failure (not just loved enough to die for my sins, but loves me now). Sometimes I'm frustrated and grouchy, sometimes peaceful and grateful.

The truth is God loves me through all of that. He uses my complaining to show me how to turn it around to gratitude. At least I think so . . . I'm not going to wallow in my grumbling, but I'm also not going to beat myself up that I have a negative thought or two.

Twice now people have mentioned One Thousand Gifts so I would like to get that next.

I'm also re-reading Grace Based Parenting. It's fantastic and if you are a parent and haven't read it you should. Grace doesn't leave at the foot of the cross. It can be a lifestyle; when NLDM uses "grace," I hear "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." in my head.

I think I'd get arrested for violating copyright laws if I quoted everything I wanted to from this book. One part I really love and that really helped changed my perspective is where he talks about Proverbs 22:6 - the "train up a child" verse.

Looking at it through our 21st-century lens, we see (and I've read in other books), the idea that if we make this kid do what we think he should do and what we want him to do (or what we think we can justify the Bible telling us we want him to do), he'll be an awesome Christian when he grows up. Kimmel points out "The 'train up a child' part has an interesting usage when you break down the Hebrew text. The expression 'train up' is used in other Hebrew literature to describe a maneuver that ancient midwives used to cause newborns to begin the sucking impulse" (p. 111). He goes on: "The writer is saying we should use childhood as an opportunity to build a clean and healthy thirst for life that God has uniquely designed for that child." Because "in the way he should go" could be translated "train him up his way." Kimmel: "One of the most accurate English synonyms for derck would be the word bents. This is how the same word is translated in Psalm 11 referring to the bend of a bow."

He then explains when making a bow, the bow maker works with the bend of the wood rather than against it (pp 111-112). So we know our children and their strengths and gifts and "[this] also means that we should study them enough to know which natural bents they have that push them in the wrong direction. They might struggle with [list of negative personality traits] . . . We can't make these liabilities disappear, but we are to raise them in such a way that we account for them and give them tools to help process them properly."

To me this means not snapping "no whining" when asked for a snack or a drink by my child who is helpless to get it him/herself (another of Kimmel's points); it means being aware of what Sam's grumpy triggers are and helping him recognize to and work to give him tools to deal with those emotions; it means not just rebuking, correcting, punishing, lecturing, or just plain yelling at Kate and her impulsivity and button-pushing, but giving her the tools to be a more agreeable child.

Hopefully. Prayerfully. Not just paying lipservice to "God made her this way and He has something great for her," but knowing her and her bents ("good" and "bad") and teaching her (by words and example) to rely on God "for [His] power and help." (I struggle with this with Kate more than Sam because, well, I don't know. She's a girl and I know what it's like to be a girl and not a boy, or because she doesn't fit into the prissy, mild-mannered girl definition society like girls to be, or just because.)

So now we come up against the primary problem of writing a post about this book: it's all so good. It's not what I came from ("My family's early relationship with Jesus was less about His love for us and more about His disappointment in us. This notion, of course, led my family down the on-ramp to legalism." [p. 128]). It's not what I thought parenting would be. But it is hopeful and encouraging ("You may feel extremely inadequate and fragile in key areas of your life, but God comes alongside you in those very areas of weakness and carries you through with His grace." [p. 21]).

As I'm reading, I think, "that's a great quote, I should put it on facebook" and then seven paragraphs later realize I'm just quoting the entire section. So I tell you again: read it. Get your own copy, because I tried loaning mine to my sister and immediately regretted it and wanted it back. So you can't borrow mine.

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