Okay Y’all. You know that September is book giveaway month — and congratulations to Sharon G. and Beth P., who won last week’s copies of Sara Hagerty’s new release, Unseen (which my pal Jeannie Cunnion and I are super excited about!):
Today I want to share insights from another beloved author friend, Hannah Whitall Smith. And BTW, Hannah has no idea that we are friends, but I know we will be, in heaven. She looks like someone you could confide in:
The reason I want to tell you about Hannah today is because of something she wrote about the “mother-heart of God.” And if you’re praying for a child who has made some bad choices (or who has maybe even walked away from the Lord or from your family), listen up. Because Hannah said (and I know you mamas will get this) that her experience as a mother did more than anything else to shape her ideas about God’s goodness and love.
“Who,” she wrote, “can imagine a mother with a lost child ever having a ray of comfort until the child is found, and who can imagine God being more indifferent than a mother?”
(In other words, take the love you have for your child, times it by about a zillion, and realize that God will never stop loving — and pursuing — your child.)
Not only that, but I love what Hannah said about the whole idea of being “lost”:
“Are we not,” she wrote, “distinctly told that the Good Shepherd leaves the ninety and nine good sheep in order to find the one naughty sheep that is lost, and that He looks for it until He finds it? And, viewed in the light of motherhood, has not that word ‘lost’ a most comforting meaning, since nothing can be lost that is not owned by somebody, and to be lost means only, not yet found?”
Nothing can be lost that is not owned by somebody, and to be lost means only, not yet found.
Isn’t that just the best? As a mom, I love knowing that my children belong to God. I love knowing that he is loving enough to go after them, and powerful enough to do more in their lives than anything I could ask for or imagine.
And if you’re praying for a prodigal today, can I just encourage you with a couple of thoughts? This is something I talk more about in Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult Children, but that book doesn’t come out until December, and maybe some of you need this right now:
First, God knows our pain. He knows exactly what it’s like to love a child, to teach him to walk, to feed him and kiss his cheek—and then to have that child grow up and walk away, choosing a world marked by bondage, rebellion, dishonesty, and destruction. He knows what it’s like to be angry with a child or devastated by his choices…and yet still be utterly, overwhelmingly consumed by love. (If you don’t believe me, check out Hosea 1:1-11.)
Second, God’s love for our children is not contingent on their faithfulness (or on ours). God’s love is higher than the heavens, his faithfulness reaches to the skies, and even if we are faithless, he remains faithful. He can’t help it; that’s just who he is. (Psalm 108:4, 2 Timothy 2:13)
And finally, God gives us a wealth of promises that we can use to pray for our children. Jesus told his disciples that no one could come to him “unless the Father who sent me draws them” (John 6:44), so let’s pray that. Let’s ask our gracious Father – the God who is infinitely tender, and infinitely strong – to draw our kids to Christ, and bring them home.
Give _____ a heart to know you, that you are the Lord. Count ______ among your people. Be their God. And draw them to return to you with all their heart. (Jeremiah 24:7)
(The quotations from Hannah Smith are from the original edition of her spiritual autobiography, The Unselfishness of God. I can’t find that book in print, and more recent versions omit several chapters. But Catherine Marshall talks about Hannah and the mother-heart of God in her book Beyond Our Selves – you can find the relevant stuff in chapter 2.)
If you have children, you probably know how embarrassing it is to be you. I know I do.
Sometimes, though, I just can’t help myself.
Like on our last family vacation. We’d gathered in Bethany Beach, Delaware, where pretty much every beach-goer is either a lacrosse player, a bookworm, or (and yes, this does happen) both. Oceanfront real estate is dear, and by 9:00 a.m. every day, the good campsites have all been claimed by athletes and readers. Families stack themselves three and four deep, the ones in the back having to thread a course between chairs, towels, sports equipment, and a summer’s worth of New York Times Bestsellers just to get to the waves.
Got the picture? Good.
Because it was going on noon and the beach was super crowded when I finished Sara Hagerty’s new book, Unseen: The Gift of Being Hidden in a World that Loves to be Noticed.
I’d started reading early that morning, taking my coffee and the book out to the sand.
I read about Sara’s post-college passion to “change the world for God,” and how her escalating effort to get the job done (and earn the approval of others) left her empty. I read about her career in sales and how, in the midst of client presentations and spreadsheets and co-workers who took credit for her work, she found herself craving more. I read about how, as a young mom, Sara tried to make a difference in her family amid piles of laundry, endless meal prep, and bickering kids in the backseat…and how, through it all, she scouted her days, trolling for the tiniest sign that what she was doing mattered.
I read about how God saw her in those hidden seasons, those hard-to-measure “middle minutes” of our lives. And I read how Sara saw Him, too. How she found herself drawn by His gentle expression. By his open stance. By the lines on His face.
The lines on God’s face.
Can you imagine? That image – that one little line, hinting at indescribable closeness with God – just undid me.
Fortunately, my kids didn’t notice the tears slipping out from behind my sunglasses, or the fact that (and I am not proud of this) I had to blow my nose into my beach towel. What they did see, however (and what pretty much everyone saw), was when I stood up.
As I said before, I couldn’t help myself. So captivated was I by the raw beauty of Sara’s writing that, when I finished the book, I had to let someone know. Thinking that I was only addressing my family, I held the book aloft (as in high, as in above my head) and said: “THIS is the BEST BOOK on the WHOLE BEACH.”
I turned, wondering who had spoken.
It was a lacrosse player seated one campsite over. He wasn’t reading, but his mom and his grandmom both had books in their laps. As did about 15 other beach-goers, who all now looked up, expectantly, to see what book was so good.
I had no choice. As my children buried their heads in their towels, trying to signal that they were not actually with me, I plowed ahead.
“Yes,” I replied. “Yes it is.”
“What’s it about?”
“It’s about…” and here I faltered. How do you tell someone that the best book on the beach is about how God has lines on his face? Or that it’s about how he sees you, and loves you, even in the most mundane and seemingly unproductive moments of your life? Or how he just…knows.
“It’s about God,” I finally said. “It’s about how we were actually made to be seen. And it’s…it’s just really good.”
“Okay,” said the lacrosse player. “I’ll check it out.”
I hope he did.
And I hope you will, too. Because I realize, reading back over this post, that I have not done a good job of explaining this book. Not at all.
Fortunately, Sara gave me permission to share an excerpt with you. And I’ll do that in just a sec, but first, you need to know two things.
Number One. Right now (as in, right now, cuz this promo ends tomorrow), Zondervan is offering a buy-one-get-one deal on copies of Unseen purchased at Barnes & Noble. Click here for details.
And Number Two. If you want a FREE copy of the book, post a comment on this blog. Tell me if you like Sara’s writing (I loved her first book, Every Bitter Thing is Sweet), or maybe what you’ve done lately to embarrass your kids. Or just say hello; anyone who comments will be entered to win (and I love this book so much that I’ll actually pick two winners, so your odds just went up). This giveaway will be live through 9/21, so jump on it.
“Why this waste?”
(excerpted from Unseen: The Gift of Being Hidden in a World that Loves to Be Noticed)
I’d been in a suit and heels since 5:00 a.m., and after a full morning, I was at the airport for an early afternoon flight home—home to a husband, but no children.
I’d recently started to crave more. I wanted more from my sales support job. I wasn’t tired of doing it or even tired of the desk work and the travel, but I was tired of working for little more than sales goals and a paycheck. I wanted more than productivity and success. I wanted brushes with God and meaning and almost anything that mattered but wasn’t easily measured.
My work for the day was done and I was tired, but my heart was hungry, and I was beginning to like heart hunger. So I prayed: God, I want to meet with You in this airport.
Meeting Him required quieting my insides enough to hear and respond. The kind of dialogue I was learning to have with God burgeoned when I saw it as an exchange—my mind for His thoughts, my fear for His assurance, my whispers for His response. As I made my way to a restaurant near my gate, I noticed an elderly gentleman who was being pushed in a wheelchair. I prayed for God to breathe life and strength into his frail body. I saw a man running as fast as my mind usually worked, and I prayed his racing heart would come to know Jesus. I saw a young woman with vacant eyes, and I prayed she would find the filling her heart most needed. I realized afresh that the people all around me weren’t merely interesting. They were God-created. I wanted to talk to Him about what He had made.
God, what do You see in the man who is late for his flight? And the one in the wheelchair—how do You see the heart buried underneath that broken body? Rather than looking at people as faces among the masses, I asked for His eyes for them and responded with minute-long prayers: God, I want to meet You in this airport.
No one knew this conversation I was having in my head with God. And I was starting to like these secret exchanges.
At the restaurant, I grabbed the last available seat at the bar, which was full of day travelers with carry-ons. As I scooted up onto my stool and glanced at the laminated menu, I noticed the gentleman sitting next to me. He looked to be near retirement, but he was dressed for business. I was drawn to him in the way you’re drawn to someone who is not at all like you, but with whom you feel a strange connection.
Maybe I’m supposed to share the gospel with this man, I thought. I ordered my food and opened my book, trying to concentrate on reading while staying aware of what felt like a nudge from God.
Ten minutes later when the waitress brought out my order along with that of the man next to me, I noticed that we both had ordered the same meal. I awkwardly mumbled a comment about it, looking for a way to begin a conversation. But my voice, perhaps too quiet from nerves, got lost in a salvo of loudspeaker announcements. He hadn’t heard me. I went back to my book, resigned that I’d misread God’s cues.
The book I was reading explored the concept of abiding in the vine from John 15. The author used the notion of tree grafting to illustrate this abiding. After hours of client presentations on throbbing feet, my mind couldn’t absorb the words. I read and reread the same paragraph, but without comprehension. And then this prompt dropped into my mind: Ask the man sitting next to you to explain it.
Uh-oh, I thought.
As much as I wanted to hear from God, I knew that we humans sometimes mishear Him and mistake our mental wanderings for His voice. What should I do? Talk to the man and risk awkwardness and embarrassment? Or not talk to him and risk missing what might well be God’s answer to my prayer to meet with Him in this airport?
Well, at least I’ll never see this guy again, I thought. So I went for it.
“Sir, excuse me,” I said, much louder this time, almost shouting to compensate for my nerves.
He startled. “Yes?” he said, raising his eyebrows like the authoritative boss of a fresh college grad.
“Do you know anything about grafting?” I coughed out.
“What?” he asked.
Oh no. I had to say it again. This business exec didn’t even seem to know what the word meant.
“Grafting, sir. Do you know anything about grafting?” My face was red hot.
“It’s funny you should ask,” he said. I noticed tears welling up in the corners of his eyes.
My heart started racing.
“I majored in agriculture in college and I minored in grafting. I run a farm equipment business but have gotten away from what I once loved.”
Now I was sure I could actually hear my heart, not just feel the pounding.
He stretched back on his stool, took off his glasses, and rubbed his eyes. Then he enthusiastically explained the details of how the branch of one tree is grafted into another as if he were telling me a page-turning story. I showed him the paragraph in my book and asked him questions. He made it all so clear.
I’m not sure if I was more surprised that the prompt to talk to this man really was from God, or that God was personal enough to meet me at an airport barstool. Apparently, God was meeting this man too, right over his hamburger and French fries. He thanked me after our exchange as if he’d been reminded of his boyish love for trees and for grafting, a love that needed rediscovering.
Twelve years later, this conversation remains my most memorable business trip. Still. I can’t remember where I’d gone or even who I met with on that trip. I remember it only because I’d felt seen and heard by God.
God showed up when I was in my suit and heels, and He winked. We shared a secret. During those days of client presentations, excel spreadsheets, and conference calls, He was whispering, I want to meet with you, here. What I might once have considered a waste of time—conversation with Him in the midst of a demanding day—became, instead, food for my hungry heart. It was a gift of hiddenness during a season when my work required me to be on during the workday.
God’s currency is communion—a relationship that grows, nearer still. A relationship that is cultivated when no one else is looking. A relationship accessed not just when we feel we need His help but at all the odd times that punctuate our agenda-driven days. A depth of relationship that feeds the recipient in the way that productivity and accomplishment just cannot.
What a waste. What a beautiful waste.
(Unseen is the last book in our September Book Giveaway series. To those who just joined us this week – welcome! And congratulations to Alexis from Tennessee, a new subscriber who won a copy of Praying the Scriptures for Your Children!)
(September is BOOK GIVEAWAY month! Congratulations to last week’s winner, April from Sidney, Ohio, who’s getting a copy of Jeannie Cunnion’s new release, Mom Set Free. And this week I’m giving a copy of Praying the Scriptures for Your Children to a NEW blog subscriber…so if you’ve got a friend who might like these posts, please spread the word and invite her – or him! – to sign up.)
So…Robbie is slogging through the third week of a college course called Theories of Financial Markets. I’d be jealous…except that I’m not.
But honestly? He’s not the only one hitting the books:
The Bible says we’re supposed to stand firm and give ourselves fully to the work of the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:58). “The work of the Lord” is kind of a broad category, but I’m pretty sure that praying fits in there someplace. And right now, I’m workin’ it on behalf of Robbie and his U.Va. teachers.
I’m praying, for instance, that they would “not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time they will reap a harvest if they do not give up.” That’s Galatians 6:9…and it’s my all-time favorite teacher prayer. Because being tired or worn out is no fun for anyone. And no matter how sorely they’re tempted, I don’t ever want a teacher to give up on my kid.
(Some of you get that.)
I’m also praying that Robbie will be teachable. I want his heart and his mind to be open to things like wisdom and understanding. I want him to have a good attitude as he heads off to class every day. I want him to be able to confront academic challenges with grace, and to see hard things (which, to me, would include theories of financial markets) as opportunities to grow.
I actually wrote about the value of being teachable in Praying the Scriptures for Your Children. And, since that’s this week’s book giveaway (whoop!), I figured I’d share an excerpt from the chapter about praying for our kids’ relationships with their teachers and coaches. Here it is:
Praying for a Teachable Spirit
If you’re like me, you tend to spend more time praying for your kids to get the right teachers than that they will be the right students. But how our children think and behave in the classroom or on the athletic field can go farther toward fostering strong relationships with teachers and coaches than just about anything else.
Ned and Drew are two of the most teachable young men I know. Eager learners, they are quick to explore new ideas, and they have learned to recognize and respect the giftedness of their teachers – even when some of the concepts they were taught clashed with their own Christian convictions.
Ned and Drew’s willingness to learn is also evident in their athletic pursuits. Both are outstanding runners, a trait they inherited from their father, Jim, an Olympic medalist who was the first high schooler to run a mile in less than four minutes. When Ned and Drew won spots on the high school track team, Jim vowed not to interfere with the coach’s methods. Moreover, he encouraged his sons to respect the coach’s authority, even if the man’s coaching style differed from their father’s teaching.
As it turned out, the high school track coach did not do everything the way the former Olympian would have, and Ned and Drew knew it. But rather than argue with the man or rebel against his methods, the boys opted to buckle down and do their very best, while Jim and his wife, Anne, stayed content to pray for their sons from the bleachers. As a result of the family’s gentle, teachable spirit, the coach saw Christianity in a very favorable light – a testimony that would not have been possible had Ned and Drew taken an aggressive or defiant stand against his techniques. What’s more, the track team won an unprecedented series of three straight state championships.
Every life has it’s share of boredom, dissatisfaction, frustration, and tragedy. But if our children can learn to meet each new challenge as Ned and Drew did, by seeing the value in other people, respecting authority, and looking for opportunities to learn and grow, then even painful or disappointing circumstances can become reasons for thanksgiving. And long after our children have graduated from classrooms and playing fields, a teachable spirit will prove its lasting worth in their careers, their marriages, and their ability to minister to others.
There’s more, but you get the idea: When we pray for our kids to honor and respect their teachers and coaches, good things happen.
So let’s do that.
Cause ______ to obey his teachers and coaches and submit to their authority. Let him know that these people keep watch over him, and that you will hold them accountable for the job they do. Show ______ that when he honors his teachers and coaches and makes their work a joy instead of a burden, the end result will be to his advantage. (Hebrews 13:17)
And P.S., if you like that Galatians “don’t get weary” prayer, here are a few more ways you can ask God to bless your kids’ teachers. Click here to download this image as a printable postcard:
Ever feel like your kids’ future is riding on you? Or like you have to be perfect (or at least really good) so that they’ll have an example to follow? Or like God is watching the way that you parent…and that if you blow it, he’s gonna be bummed?
Yeah, me too.
I think I told you about the time Robbie took the SATs. He’d spent most of his childhood playing outdoors, and I couldn’t remember ever seeing him read. Did he know any vocabulary words? I wasn’t sure. And so, in a last-ditch effort to redeem my academic parenting fails and get him prepped for the test, I bought a case of lacrosse balls and turned them into flashcards. If Robbie learned even just two or three words while he played, that might help.
Oh how I wish I’d had Jeannie Cunnion’s new book, Mom Set Free, back then! She could have saved me a lot of angst (and kept me from ruining Robbie’s lacrosse stick, cuz the mesh part turned pink when the Sharpie marker wore off).
As it is, I’m highlighting and starring and underlining pages in Jeannie’s book now. My kids may be grown, but I still need all the help I can get when it comes to rejoicing – and actually relaxing – in the blessing of being a mom.
As the book’s cover proclaims, Jeannie’s heart is to free moms from the pressure to get it all right. Our kids’ future (whether they’re headed to kindergarten or college) is not in our hands, any more than it’s up to us to “make” them honest and kind, strengthen their faith, or protect them from hardship. All of those things – and so many more – are ultimately up to the Lord. He has good plans for them (ideas that are way better than ours, BTW), and as Philippians 2:13 reminds us, it is God’s job (as in, not ours) to work in them to “will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.”
Don’t get me wrong. Jeannie isn’t trying to get us to sit back and do nothing. Parenting, she says, is hard work – and it involves discipline and boundaries and consequences. But it also involves grace – huge buckets of grace! – the kind that frees us to discipline and teach and correct our children without relying on anger or scare tactics or shame. As Jeannie sees it, parenting with grace is what lets our kids know (the way that God lets us know), that even when they make unlovable choices, they are still (and forever will be) deeply, unshakably loved.
Ahhhh…there’s so much good stuff in this book. And – whoop! – I actually got to be with Jeannie this week to celebrate the Mom Set Free launch. She was a guest on the 700 Club (click here to watch her interview), and some of my young mom friends came over to my house beforehand to get her warmed up:
To see a clip from that interview, you’ll have to head over to Instagram (@jodie_berndt)…but first, I’ve got some good news. I managed to snag an extra copy of Mom Set Free while Jeannie was here, and I want to give it to someone! Post a comment on this blog and I’ll choose a winner at random (unless you are a patent attorney who thinks that my SAT-word lacrosse balls are marketable product, in which case I will probably pick you).
Seriously, y’all. I love it when I get to recommend a book that combines my two favorite things: Loving my kids and following Jesus. And Mom Set Free is chock full of great verses; I’ll borrow this one from p. 236 and leave you with a parenting prayer:
Lord, you have promised to fight for me. Help me to do what you say and just stay calm! (Exodus 14:14, NLT)
My plate was already too full. I didn’t have the energy, or the time. Plus, I barely even knew any of the 150 kids who’d signed up.
Why would I want to help out at Vacation Bible School?
Don’t get me wrong. I like VBS. When my children were young, I volunteered every year. I saw the job as a great way to get to know my kids’ friends, strengthen their faith, and maybe even introduce a few newcomers to Jesus. And if doing those things meant dressing up in fake lederhosen to show the kids how to climb Mt. Everest (which, I am sure, had a Very Spiritual Point that I am temporarily forgetting right now), then so be it.
That was then. This is now. And now, when the call went out for volunteers, I said no. Nothing good, I thought, could come out of having me as a helper.
At best, I’d be marked as a fraud. Today’s kids are savvier than they were 20 years ago, and I knew my plastic “snowshoe” tennis racquets wouldn’t cut it. I’d be Googled – and outed – in no time.
And at worst, I’d get hurt. I am too old to climb mountains. When I get up in the morning, my knees sometimes creak. Even my computer knows things are slipping; when I clicked over to BibleGateway just now, look what popped up:
(I don’t know what’s worse: The thought that you might get mistakenly flagged as a terrorist, or that the NSA spies will just brand you as “old.”)
Where was I?
Oh yeah. I did not want to help.
Still, though, it was my church, and I figured I had a duty to serve. So I did what came naturally.
I donated the paper products.
And for about 20 minutes, I felt pretty good. Duty done. But then, early one morning as I was thinking about my Super Important to-do list (I had to get a hair cut, pick up the dry cleaning, alphabetize the pansy orders for the annual Garden Club sale), I read this:
Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere. (Psalm 84:10)
I was like, Seriously God?
And he was like, Yes.
So I said okay. I will do it. I will spend one day as a VBS volunteer.
But, as it happened, they didn’t really need people in God’s courts for one day. They needed people all week. So could I please be a leader for one of the Animal Family tribes at Noah’s Ark?
Sigh. Okay. Make me a lion. Or a tiger. Or even a zebra. Something grand and majestic, something worthy of the “family cheer” that, according to the Leader Handbook, each tribe would GET TO CREATE!
They made me a Tree Frog.
I didn’t even know what a “tree frog” was when I showed up and they gave me my visor. But I put it on and studied my list. I had 10 seven year olds.
Day One began well. One kid showed up, looked at me, and immediately requested a transfer to another tribe. Three children were sick. My ten had been whittled to six. Things were looking up.
“Tree frogs have only four fingers!” announced one little guy, demonstrating the fact by hiding his thumbs and clinging to my arm.
“We’re small, but we’re mighty!” crowed another (which, actually, became the basis for our family cheer).
I liked these kids. They seemed smart. And enthusiastic. And active. No sooner had we finished our first aerobic session of singing when it was time to head outside for rain-and-flood-themed games.
Games like “Line the Leaders Up Against a Brick Wall and Try to Hit Them with Water-Soaked Sponges.”
I couldn’t believe it. A few of the kids had incredible arms, and had I been a middle school baseball coach, I would have been early recruiting. As it was, I stood there, ducking and dodging and trying not to get beaned. And all I could think about was (inappropriately, I know) that scene in The Hangover where the kid tazes Alan and the delighted cop keeps yelling, “In the face!”
(Yet another reason why I should not be a Bible School helper.)
By Day Three, I was exhausted. As in, more than what a glass of wine and a nap had the power to fix. I could not remember any workout that had left me so tired or so sore, not even the ones I used to do in my leg warmers, with Jane Fonda. (See? Old.)
I was also – and unexpectedly – inspired. And refreshed. And encouraged.
Because I thought I knew Noah. Who doesn’t? He was the guy who built the ark and saved himself, his family, and the tree frogs. He was the guy with the dove. And the rainbow.
He was all those things, sure. But he was also the guy who obeyed God when, honestly, he probably didn’t even know what he was doing, or why. Back then, nobody had ever even seen rain, much less the “floodwaters” that God said were coming. It’s not hard to picture the neighbors talking about Noah behind his back, or even mocking him to his face.
(I mean, let’s be honest. We’ve had neighbors drop hints when our grass got too long. How much more would they squawk if Robbie went out there and started building a boat that was as big as a football stadium?)
And yet…Noah did everything just as God commanded him. (Genesis 6:22)
VBS gave us an up-close look at the guy:
Day after day, we watched Noah’s progress. And to see him there, putting fake tar on his fake ark while all the fake villagers (teenagers whose costumes were definitely more authentic than my mountaineer kit) stood around scoffing, it kind of broke my heart. And I wondered: Did the real Noah ever get discouraged or tired? Did he question whether he had heard God right? Did he ever look up and say, “Hey God. I’m too old.”
He could have. He was (and I’d forgotten this little detail) 600 when the rain started to fall. Six hundred.
And, in that little nugget, God spoke. I don’t know what he said to the rest of the tree frogs, but what he said to me was this: You are never too old to bear fruit. You are never too old to obey. And you are never too old to be mine.
And these tree frogs of yours? They belong to me, too.
And I love them.
Well that was all I needed to hear. Hang on my back and hit me again with a water sponge; I don’t care. Because you know what? Better is one day in God’s courts than a thousand elsewhere.
And so here’s the thing: I don’t know if maybe God has asked you to do something hard – something that takes a long time, something you don’t really understand, or even something that (to other people, at least) looks a little bit crazy. I don’t know if maybe you are wondering whether you heard God right, or if he will actually do what he promised. I don’t know if maybe you’re where I was, and you’d say yes to God’s nudge if you weren’t just so darn busy. Or old.
I don’t know. But I do know this (because it was our VBS memory verse, and we jumped up and sang it every day): Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord. That’s Genesis 6:8, and it’s the same grace that God gives us today, even when we don’t feel up to whatever it is that he’s called us to do. His grace is sufficient; his power is made perfect in weakness.
So…say yes to God. He’ll make it all worth it.
(And if you don’t, who knows what you’ll miss?)
I love Charlottesville. A lot.
And, like a jillion other people in our country, my heart hurts over the images of violence and hatred we saw descending upon that city last weekend.
And, like probably every other U.Va. alum and parent, I have received dozens of emails and text messages from school administrators, fellow alumni, and friends – some of whom have no personal connection to the school, but all of whom want to uncover and share a deeper message of reconciliation, understanding, and love.
On the wider message board of national media, there seems to be a fixation with pointing fingers and assigning blame. While I’m all for confronting (and learning from) our mistakes, I would rather focus on that which is good, noble, and lovely – like the marchers in Wednesday night’s vigil, where songs like “Amazing Grace” and chants of “Love wins!” served to scatter the darkness – than on setting our hearts and minds on what’s wrong. As John MacArthur put it in his book, Reckless Faith, “Federal agents don’t learn to spot counterfeit money by studying counterfeits. They study genuine bills until they master the look of the real thing.”
The “real thing” in Charlottesville – and in any place where we want love to win – is Jesus. I won’t pretend to have all the answers (or even a couple of them) to society’s ills, but I am pretty sure that he does.
“Love one another,” he says. “As I have loved you [as in, being willing to give up his position and even his life], so you must love one another.” (John 13:34-35)
“Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.” (Romans 12:9-10)
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Philippians 2:3-4)
I could go on, but you get the idea. Whether we are working for love and reconciliation on a national scale, or trying to find a way forward in the face of hurts on a more intimate stage (like in a marriage, or a friendship), these are the sorts of wisdom nuggets that make for lasting and positive change. These are the marks of the real thing.
Our son Robbie starts classes at U.Va. on Tuesday, along with more than 16,000 other undergraduate students. Am I worried about his safety, or about the perspectives he might encounter?
No. Not at all. The University of Virginia represents one of the warmest, most welcoming and inclusive, places I know.
I am, however, praying.
I am praying that Robbie will be devoted to his classmates and teachers, honoring their lives and their needs above his. I am praying for things like wisdom, joy, protection, and peace (to download four of those specific prayers, click here). And I am praying for him – and for myself – in agreement with one of the most beautiful emails I received this week, a forward from my U.Va. classmate, Alexis.
Alexis shared a prayer written by pastor and author, Scotty Smith. To read the whole prayer (in which Smith looks forward to the day when “honoring one another above ourselves will be our delight, not our discipline”), click here. It’s a raw and honest petition, and well worth the read…but if you only have a minute or two, here’s how Smith sums up his plea. Let’s pray this one together:
Jesus, bring the power of the gospel to bear in extraordinary ways in our relationships, churches, and communities. Grant us greater grief and repentance over the ways we love poorly. Stun us, humble us, and gladden us… again and again and again… with glory and grace. There is no other way we’ll change. So very Amen, we pray, with conviction and hope, in your grace-full name.
Which, by force of habit as much as anything else, has me thinking about back-to-school prayers for my kids.
Which would be a little bit odd (my children are grown-ups), except for one thing: It doesn’t matter whether our kids are headed off to kindergarten, college, or to a new job on the other side of the country, they are never out of God’s reach. And to me, the back-to-school season represents as good a time as any to ask God to hold them!
Here are four of the prayers I am praying:
Make Robbie glad by your deeds; may he sing for joy at the works of your hands. (Psalm 92:4)
Keep Virginia from all harm; watch over her coming and going, now and forever. (Psalm 121:7-8)
May Hillary and Charlie grow in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and others [co-workers, bosses, friends, and even each other]. (Luke 2:52)
Keep Annesley and Geoff in perfect peace. Give them a steadfast mind [one that stays focused on you, instead of on “what ifs” or worries] and the ability to trust you. (Isaiah 26:3)
If you want to borrow these prayers and personalize them for your own family, click here to download a letter-sized PDF:
If your children are little, consider writing their names in the blanks and tucking one of the cards into a lunchbox or book bag. If they are far-away grown-ups, you might slip a prayer card into a letter (maybe with a Starbucks gift card, right Virginia?). And if you’ve got teenagers, just stick the prayer on your fridge or your dashboard. Your kids might roll their eyes but trust me: Deep down, they’ll be glad you are praying.
Or maybe don’t share the prayer cards with anyone. Instead, just do like I do, and keep ’em for yourself. I have mine in my prayer journal. Because even though I might THINK it’s my kids who need God, the truth is that I do, too. I need the reminder (as my crew heads off to new people, new places, new things) that, even though I can’t protect them or give them things like wisdom, peace, and joy, God can.
And in fact, that’s exactly what his heart longs to do.
Blog update: Many thanks for reading these posts, and for all the times you’ve reached out to share your own insights and stories with me.
Starting next week, I’ll only be posting on Fridays. I am experimenting with videos and what I hope will be some fun and encouraging posts on other platforms (like I even know what that means). You can find me on Instagram @jodie_berndt and (Lord willing, at some point in August) on Facebook @JodieBerndtWrites.
I am so grateful for you…and for your partnership in parenting, prayer, and celebrating all the ups and downs of this wonderful, abundant life that we share!
Yesterday, I recapped one of the highlights from a sermon on Psalm 23. Today, I want to turn part of that message into a prayer. God is our shepherd, sure, and he does lead and guide us…but sometimes the paths he ordains can look scary or hard. Even painful.
And yet we can walk in confidence and freedom, even in the darkest valley. God is with us. We have no reason to fear.
Thank you for being my shepherd, for leading and guiding me, and for refreshing my soul. As I walk through _________ (whatever situation you’re facing today), may I feel your comforting presence and know that I have nothing to fear.
I am one of those people who still loves to get the mail. Never mind that the daily haul is almost always a depressingly bland mix of bills, advertisements, and unwanted catalogs. Call me Charlie Brown, but every time I walk out to the curb, I can’t shake the sense that today will be different – that surely somebody will have sent me something I like.
Last week, my hope was rewarded. I opened a fat brown envelope and found this:
There was no note, or even a return address, but I knew who the lolli was from. We’d just gotten back from helping Virginia move into her new apartment in New York City, and we’d heard a fabulous lollipop-based sermon at Redeemer Presbyterian Church. The talk wasn’t really about candy; it was about Psalm 23 and how we, like sheep, are lost, loved, and led. But somewhere in between describing God’s love and his leading, the minister shared a story about the time he overheard a father talking to his three-year-old daughter, who was enjoying a lollipop.
“What do you love more,” the dad asked, “the lollipop or this dollar?”
“The lollipop,” the girl said.
The dad waited a moment. “What do you love more, the lollipop or our dog?”
No hesitation. “The lollipop.”
“Tell me,” the dad finally said, “What do you love more, the lollipop or Mommy?”
You can guess what the little girl said. Hilarious.
Now, we know she didn’t really love her lollipop more than she loved her mother. But the illustration helped drive home a good point: Whatever is most real to us is the thing that we love. Or fear. Or find ourselves consumed by. It is the biggest thing in our vision, and so it colors our world.
With the lollipop image fixed in our minds, the minister looped us back to Psalm 23 and talked about David and Goliath. Goliath was huge; his presence intimidated the Israelite warriors. And he would have filled David’s vision, too, except for one thing. To David, God was more real. God’s unseen presence in David’s life (whether he was fighting lions and bears or lying down in green pastures) was bigger than any visible threat. Instead of seeing a big scary giant, David beheld the power of God.
There were all sorts of good takeaways (click here if you want to download the whole sermon for yourself), but for Virginia and me, the main one was this: God is bigger than anything in our lives. And as we practice his presence – as we dig into the Bible, obey God’s commands, rely on his power, and love and serve other believers – he will become more and more real. And we will become more and more willing to follow him (even when we don’t know what he is doing, or when it hurts and it feels like we are walking through the “darkest valley”).
To Redeemer’s David Bisgrove: Thank you for an encouraging sermon. Please forgive me for stealing your lollipop story, but it (like your whole message) was too good not to share.
And speaking of sharing y’all…
I WISH I had a pic of Robbie carrying Virginia’s dresser up ten flights of non-air-conditioned stairs. He is an amazing dad, but even the best guys don’t always appreciate their wives’ photojournalism, so I snapped Virginia instead. But don’t be fooled by what looks like happiness; at this point, we were all slightly bonkers. The only thing keeping us going, I think, was the promise of a glass of wine with dinner…and the knowledge that God was bigger and more real than our sore, sweaty selves.
I took a walk with a new friend a few days ago.
We talked about our lives (as women do), and the conversation quickly turned to areas where we were trying to trust God in the midst of uncertainty, frustration, and even pain. We covered pretty much everything: jobs and marriages, children and parents, housing and health, you name it. And as we walked along, sharing our concerns, I finally (and probably inappropriately) laughed out loud.
“Do you realize,” I said, “that if a non-believer happened to overhear us, that they would NOT want to sign up for our team? I mean, who wants to be a Christian if all you do is slog through life, trying to obey God and hoping you get it right? Where’s the joy?”
“I know!” my new friend agreed, with a bittersweet smile. “We are not a very good advertisement for the abundant life, are we?”
That conversation has stayed with me this week. Where, indeed, is the joy? All of us have problems, sure, but do those things really have power to keep us from experiencing God’s goodness – and rejoicing in that? How do we move from the slogging life to the abundant one?
I wrote about the abundant life a couple of years ago, after our daughter jumped out of an airplane with a stranger named Ollie (an adventure we learned about after the fact, via Instagram):
The gist of that earlier post was that trusting God can be scary, but it’s the thing that opens the door to the good stuff. I still think that trust is the key…but if we are struggling with how, exactly, we get there, it might help to take a good look at Jesus.
The Bible tells us that Jesus was a man of sorrows. He was despised, rejected, and acquainted with grief. (Isaiah 53:3, KJV). Put another way, it’s not like any of the stuff my friend and I talked about (challenging marriages, jobs, kids, whatever) was any worse or more painful than what he went through.
And yet Jesus had joy. Not just the “one day this will all be over and I’ll go to heaven” kind of joy. Jesus also had here-and-now joy, and it made people want to be around him. Granted, he was God, but he was also 100% human…and so how, given all the ick he went through, did that work? How did Jesus have joy?
Obviously, there is more to be said, but three keys come to mind:
First, Jesus knew that God loved him. His sense of identity and purpose didn’t come from what anyone else thought, said, or did. His worth came from God – and as God’s beloved, he knew he belonged.
Second, he knew God’s promises. It didn’t matter what sort of obstacle, hardship, or insult he faced, Jesus knew God was bigger. And stronger. And more real.
And finally, he didn’t live for himself. Everything Jesus said or did was others-focused. And, in loving and serving other people, he experienced the fullness of joy.
Again, I’m sure there is MUCH more we could say about joy, but chew on this one, for now: All of these joy-keys are already ours.
We have what he had. And, like Jesus, we can face the worst of life’s muck and have here-and-now joy. He wants us to have that (in fact, he prayed that we would), so let’s follow his lead. Let’s turn God’s promises into our prayer. Let’s ask God to fill us with joy:
Thank you for lavishing your love on us and calling us your children (1 John 3:1). When I feel rejected or alone, remind me that I belong to you. (1 Peter 2:9). When life seems overwhelming and I can’t see a way forward, help me put my trust in your mighty power and unlimited understanding (Psalm 147:5). Show me how to follow your example so that I can love and serve other people; fill me with your joy and make my joy complete. (John 15:10-12).