Ben and I finally named the three babies we lost in 2012-2013.
Blythe Eco (March, 2012)
Grey Eco (November, 2012)
Neva Eco (May, 2013)
Eco is an acronym for ex caelis oblatus meaning “given from the heavens.” I still miss them every day, every single day. In naming them, I can keep them close to me, remember them always, but also let them go.
Thank you, Shelby, for the final big push I needed to do this.
Ben Zedek and Berek, please pray for me.
A friend of mine sent me this message one year after my second miscarriage (click here). Reading it, I cried till I thought my heart would burst, and for the first time, I felt like things started to make sense and I could start to heal. She graciously gave her permission to post this on my blog. I hope it will help other grieving mothers to heal, too.
I’ve been thinking about you a lot and want to say soooo many things, but I need to weed through it a bit.
But after I got your message, I was at church and we knelt and prayed one of the prayers for confession from the prayer book. And there was a line in it that seemed like it wanted you to hear it.
“Not only in outward transgressions, but also in secret thoughts and desires that we are not able to understand.”
I’m not bringing this up to beat you over the head with repentance, I’m bringing it up in order to say that this is true. And I want you to bathe in that truth. God can forgive your secret thoughts and desires that you don’t even understand.
I also am going to venture to say that your babies, being in Abraham’s bosom, are pretty well-equipped to forgive you as well. And on top of all of that, I don’t believe that feeling overwhelmed and scared and even “what-the-fuck?” about finding yourself pregnant when you’re drowning in baby poop is a grave sin.
You are but the human being that God made you.
Now that I’ve said all of that, let me establish my credibility on the subject.
3 and 1/2 years ago, I was nursing jumbo baby Huck (he was 25 lbs at 6 months), spending on average 4 hours every night awake with him, cleaning up spit-up, and trying to navigate the deep waters of a 4-year old Flannery.
I was eating in the night when I was up with Huck and it suddenly dawned on me that being hungry at 4 am is not normal. I took a test. It was positive and I was stunned.
It had taken 3 years to conceive Huck, I wasn’t prepared to get pregnant that easily. All I could think about was morning sickness. Of course I wanted another baby. This had nothing to do with the baby. But I was not ready to be pregnant and continue my sleep deprivation for 4 more years.
We didn’t tell people for a week because I needed to be able to be happy when they congratulated me. And I wasn’t ready for that.
As morning sickness hit me (like a freight train) I remember wondering why we have children at all. I’m not defending myself. It was what it was. I was depressed.
At some point, Noel gleefully suggested twins. I remember throwing up in the back yard and praying that it wasn’t twins because I didn’t feel like I could hack that. Very clear memory.
A week later, my water broke. I was 10 weeks. I freaked out, cried, contracted for a half an hour. Told God I really did want this baby, please don’t take it away from me. Noel came and tried to find a heartbeat. Now, I wasn’t bleeding, which was weird.
As Noel was talking with us about our options, she still had the Doppler on my belly and the goo made it slide. For a split second we all heard a fast heartbeat.
Eventually, we went in for an ultrasound. I’d never had one and didn’t see a heartbeat, but I saw my baby. I started to cry and the nurse said, “Yup, there it is!” And pointed to one flashing pixel on the screen. Atticus’ heartbeat.
There was an empty deflated sack next to his. I had lost a twin. God had heard my prayer and the load of guilt I had for praying it was awful.
I finally said something about it to Noel. Her response was simple and true:
“God didn’t take your baby to punish you. Every mom who miscarries struggles with that. But it’s not true.”
Jesus died for your sins. They.are.gone. Even if you had sinned grievously God has forgiven you.
But maybe there’s another story here and you can’t see it yet? A story where God is kinder than you think, where you are His Beloved (remember He used that language to speak to His bride when she was worshipping idols, not when she was faithful), that what He does is for your good and your children’s good.
James Jordan once suggested that when we eat and drink in communion that we bear each others burdens. We offer ourselves as sacrifices for our brothers and sisters in Christ. Maybe your babies are safe with Jesus because God knew that there was someone else who couldn’t bear that burden, someone else whom it would break. So He let you be a sacrifice for an unknown sister. It needs a lot of explaining. Jordan’s skinny branches freak me out, but he seems to usually end up being right.
There’s one more thing. Your babies are neither unwanted nor poor. Their flesh is dust now and they are dead in that sense. But they have voices and eye-color and the value of all eternal souls and they are safe. Their mortal remains will be resurrected from wherever they are and it will not matter where from. That is the real, physical power of the gospel. Cling to it.
Because of this, I do think it help you heal if you named your babies. It doesn’t have to special or deep, just a name you like. We named Finch ‘Finch’ because he was our little bird who had flown away. We named Amicus ‘Amicus’ because he had been a friend to Atticus in utero.
But acknowledging the realness of their lives makes them less phantom and more resurrectable. Even if Ben won’t talk to you about it, you can name them. You don’t have to tell him if he doesn’t want to know. But you can tell me, and I’ll know. It’s hard, naming. Horrible in fact. But those were the first tears that felt like cleansing to me. My babies were written in the Book of Life with a name I knew. I needed that, as hard as it was.
There is no way out but through.
I hope I’m not being too blunt. I find people think I’m unsympathetic when I’m just really trying to communicate. But I pray for you and I’m praying that you’ll finally be able to lay your babies to rest in peace. Peace for you.
Here I am, after one lavender kombucha, a couple bottles of water, a beer, and a bag of kettle chips at 3:30 in the morning, sitting in my living room, my limbs weak and limp but so swollen, my head pounding, feeling my baby bleed out of me with each cramp and gush of blood, in too much pain to sleep, and I wonder what the “right” way to have a miscarriage is.
Every time I have heard about a friend’s miscarriage, I have wept and sobbed and mourned. And now, it is my turn.
How should I be doing this? I don’t know what to do while I lose my baby. What do I do? There’s only so much praying possible until all the prayers and pleadings are spent, the well of tears has dried up, and only numbness remains.
No matter what I try, I cannot keep you with me, inside of me, safe, where you can grow big enough to be strong and beautiful like your sister and all your brothers. No matter what I do, how I pray, what I pray, my body is pushing you out of me. And I hate it.
God is taking you away from me. I think I know why: I don’t deserve you and you were too good for this earth. God is sparing you all the pain that you would have had as my child, that you would have had as a sinner in this world. Your sister and brothers will tell you all about it someday, though you know already because you’ve heard it already and you’ll be watching us from heaven.
As unworthy a mother as I am, I still wish you could have spent time with me. I wish I could have held you, nursed you, smelled your sweet breath, stroked your smooth skin and shiny hair, and rocked you to sleep as I marveled at the long, dark, curled lashes all my children have.
I have been bleeding for the last 10 hours. This afternoon, I called and texted and messaged and e-mailed everyone I could think of to ask for prayers. I did everything I knew, everything I was told, to stop the bleeding. It stopped for a while, but then it started up again and it just wouldn’t stop and I keep bleeding more and more.
I keep wondering, I wonder, I wonder if you are a boy or a girl, how you would have changed my life, all our lives, what you would have looked like. Maybe a girl with Rinah and Prester’s perfect skin, Buddy’s blue, blue, sapphire blue eyes, and Thane’s beautiful dark, wavy hair? Or a boy with delicate features like his brothers and a delicate build like Thane or a medium build like Buddy or a big build like Prester? Would you have been a tiny baby like Rinah or a huge baby like Prester? Cheerful and spunky like Prester? Spicy sweet like Thane? Sensitive and imaginative like Buddy? A realist and an artist (as she calls herself) like Rinah? Would Berith have had the baby sister she has asked God for for years and years? Or would I have had another boy, to add to my army of often gallant (and often whiny) little boys?
All these thoughts keep whirling around in my head, over and over, and I do not know how to stop them. I do not know how to grieve this death, this life flowing out of me into menstrual pads and into the toilet, how to “just get over it” like I’ve been told to “just get over” so many other things in my life.
This was our first baby after Ben and I were truly one, our first Seattle baby, our first Anglican baby, our baby conceived in utter happiness, our first baby not cursed by those accursed in the damned dead desert, the first one to be born in our Promised Land, the tiny incarnate answer to so many wordless prayers, voiceless yearnings and longings.
I was starting to have very vivid dreams almost every night like I did with my other pregnancies, wild, crazy, beautiful dreams.
Ben has never been more supportive, his response never more perfect, more wonderful, than it was with you. He was so gentle, he told me to go to prenatal yoga classes, promised me Japanese and Chinese food (because this is the first time we’ve lived somewhere I could have pregnancy food cravings satisfied), promised me a wardrobe of maternity clothes that actually fit. These past few weeks, he has never looked or acted more manly, more fatherly, like the strong husband and the sweet lover of my dreams. We have never been closer. I have never been more in love with him.
I was so looking forward to being parents together again, all over again.
I know there are a lot of people who think you never should have existed at all, that five children is far more than anyone should have, and they will shrug and forget about you. I wish I could feel sorry for such soulless people. I wish there was a way I could prevent them from ever opening their cruel, thoughtless mouths.
“Maybe it was for the best.”
“It would have been too overwhelming after all.”
“Maybe this means you should stop having children.”
“A fifth baby? That’s crazy. That’s irresponsible.”
“You already have 4 living children. Most people don’t even have that many.”
“At least you’ve never had to deal with infertility.”
“Miscarriage means the baby probably had some kind of defect.” This was the most common one.
Or those well-meaning fools who quote Romans 8:28. I don’t want to hear any of that.
Your father has been told so many times to “get fixed already.” Every time I was pregnant in the desert, there were people who cursed and were angry at me. But here, here in paradise, you were never cursed, never reviled, never condemned by anyone in your short, short life. Five children is not too many. You were never extra, never an afterthought. None of us are better off without you. I will never forget you. You will always be my precious, special baby. I just wish today wasn’t your birthday. You were supposed to be born next summer.
My baby died tonight. My baby died. My baby. You died.
Why? Why, God?
Oh, baby, I will miss you, my baby, so much. I am so happy to have had you, even for such a short time. Every day till I die, I will miss you. I am looking forward to the day I die, too, so we can live for eternity together in heaven. We will all be together soon, very soon.
You helped me let go of my mother’s lost baby, my little baby brother or sister. I feel that God killed my baby because I didn’t want it. So, really, *I* killed my baby. Let go of the guilt, I mean. But it’s replaced with a larger guilt. Partially because as much as part of me wanted you so much, part of me is relieved you’re gone. It would have been so, so hard to have 5 kids in less than 6 years. I feel so evil.
You died the day I was going to start taking weekly pictures of my belly, which I was always too depressed to do before with the other babies.
For months afterwards, I went through all my familiar postpartum symptoms, the postpartum sweat, postpartum stink, postpartum hair loss, and postpartum depression. I never occurred to me that all that would happen after miscarriages, too.
For months afterwards, I felt phantom baby kicks, my dead baby kicking my womb from beyond the grave. Sometimes, I felt the kicks when I was out talking with a friend and it took everything I had in me to keep smiling and nodding instead of collapsing into a sobbing heap on the floor.
Every day, when one of my children does something cute, every time I notice similarities or differences, like the way they curl their toes or lisp a word or curl up in my arms, I wonder what the babies I lost would have been like. I can’t stop thinking, throughout the day, throughout the night.
For many people, naming the baby they lost is a healing experience. I have been thinking about it for almost a year now but I cannot find a name for any of three babies I’ve lost in the last year and a half. If God has numbered every hair on our heads, then I know He has a name for each of them and I will find out what they are when I get to heaven.
Note: I wrote this during my second miscarriage (on November 11, 2012) and the few days following. I had two other miscarriages, one a few months before and one a few months later. I decided not to edit anything and just post this as I had written it.
One year and 4 days after I wrote this, a friend of mine sent me a message. She helped me more than anyone else and her words healed me more than anything I ever read.
Most of the years I’ve lived in the US since I was married, the places I lived were mostly or completely carpeted. With 4 small children, it is impossible to keep carpets clean. With all my babies learning how to eat and how to go potty, you can imagine what a dismal state our carpets were in. We had a puppy for a while, too, which added to the chaos. Then we moved into this house, my dream house, my very favourite place I have ever lived … and it has no carpet whatsoever!
After we moved in, for a fleeting moment, I thought of cleaning all the floors Japanese style (see this video) but, hahaha, nope. Not happening. Our hardwood floors became dirty very quickly with mud, dirt, food, and whatever else the kids spilled and tracked in. So I started asking around, checking Consumer Reports, asking everyone I knew about it.
Let’s skip all the boring stuff and get to the point: the Eureka Enviro Hard-Surface Floor Steamer is the very best floor steamer you can buy on a budget, bar none. It works just as well or better than most other floor steamers that cost a lot more. I bought a set of 4 extra pads to add to the 2 pads that came with the steamer so we never run out of pads if the floor is extra dirty.
For all the details about why this is the best one, click here to read the most amazing Amazon review ever. It has incredibly detailed comparisons for the other top steamers on the market. It is still my favourite Amazon review to date and has been voted as helpful by almost 6,000 people.
Oh, and to be completely honest, I rarely use this thing. My husband usually steams the floors after we put the kids to bed. I think I will keep him.
Do you have hardwood floors? Tile? Vinyl? As Christmas is approaching, husbands, buy your wife this steamer with a card that says you’ll always steam the floors. Trust me, she will love it.
For context about why this post was written, read this.
What is a household?
In the Bible, “house” or “household” is referred to almost 2000 times. In Hebrew it is the word “beth” (as in Bethlehem, Bethel, etc.) and in Greek it is the word “oikos” (economy, ecology, etc.). The phrase “head of household” does not occur anywhere in the Bible.
Neither the Hebrew nor the Greek word “household” ever refers to the nuclear family (one husband, his wife, and children). They are used in reference to
- a tribe,
- group of tribes,
- a nation,
- or a generational family (father, children, grandchildren, and unborn descendants).
It is also used to refer to a place of worship (tabernacle, temple, etc.). When used in the context of a family, a household always included possessions, i.e. human slaves and livestock.
Some people wish to carry on the system of household organization into the modern church citing the Philippian jailer being baptized with his family as an example of male headship in a nuclear family. However, they seem to miss the part in the same chapter where a wealthy woman is baptized with her household earlier in the same chapter. Although there is no mention of Lydia having male relatives, there is nothing in the chapter to indicate she was a widow.
So, in Acts 16, a woman is baptized with her household and a man was baptized with his household. I do not see any basis for male-only heads of household meetings. If anything, that would be the basis for patriarchal-matriarchal meetings where the oldest or most respected member of the family attends the meetings and all the younger members of the family, married or not, do not attend.
Households in the Church
So, what does this all mean for the modern Church? If we were to hold head of household meetings in the biblical or ancient sense, then only the oldest male or female of the extended family or clan could attend. Married sons whose fathers or mothers were still alive could not attend.
So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
Paul says this in order to break apart the Old Testament model of household so that we each go to Christ directly.
A slave is not part of his master’s household when he is at church. He is an equal heir to the Kingdom of Heaven, part of the Body and Bride of Christ, and a brother in the household of Christ.
There is no more circumcision anymore. There is no more representation by circumcision or heads of household anymore. We are each individually baptized into the Body of Christ.
Women no longer go to God through their husbands and fathers. And men no longer go to God through the priests. On Sundays, Christ invites us into Heaven, into the Holy of Holies. He is the High Priest and we are each priests under Him.
And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth, to him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.
When we step into church, we are one household in Christ with Him as our Head. We do not gather as individual households (i.e. clans or groups of generational families).
Baptism & Communion
Baptism is administered by the pastor as a representative of Christ who is the Head of the Church. It is not administered by the father or husband. Baptism comes directly from Christ. Communion as a renewal of baptism should be administered by the pastor and elders not by the father or husband. Christ’s sacrifice is communicated to us from Him through His representative, not through a father or husband. Practicing communion by having a so-called “head of household” distribute the bread and wine to the family is totally unbiblical.
So are Man and Woman Equal?
A common response to all of the above seems to be the horrified question, “Are you an egalitarian? Do you believe men and women are completely equal?”
Men and women are obviously not the same. God has created them differently and given them different gifts. Men are better at some things and women are better at others. God created Man first and Woman second but neither is better or lesser than the other.
Both are equally His image. Both are equally saved. Men are not more saved than women. Saying that men and women are equal in some ways is not egalitarianism.
Though it is common to think of God as male because that is how He chooses to speak of Himself most of the time, God is both male and female. He speaks of Himself in both terms and symbolically is both. Christ in submission to the Father models female submission. He speaks of Himself in female terms (Matthew 23:27). There is much more to be said on this but I will leave it at that.
Both men and women are created in the image of God but are different in order to reflect different aspects of God. If God were only male, then women could not be created in His image.
To understand the relationship between men and women, we need to go back to the Trinity because we are all created in His image.
There is hierarchy within the Trinity, but that does not mean the Persons are not equal. Within the Trinity, the beings are equal but are ordered in a hierarchical relationship.
25. And in this Trinity none is afore or after another; none is greater or less than another.
26. But the whole three persons are coeternal, and coequal.
33. Equal to the Father as touching His Godhead, and inferior to the Father as touching His manhood.
(from the Athanasian Creed)
Before God, a man and woman are equal. But they were created into a hierarchy. To maintain order, God ordained that Man is first and Woman is second.
Within the nuclear family, a husband is over his wife. But even there, they are each to submit to Christ first. They are brother and sister in Christ first, husband and wife second. If either desires or requires something from the other that Christ commanded against, allegiance ought to be to Christ first, spouse second.
When a husband and wife step into church, they enter as brother and sister in Christ, co-priests and co-heirs. Christ has no higher order for male priests and lower order for female priests. There is no higher order for married men and lower order for single men. There is no male and female. They are one in Him.
Another matter that complicates things is that in both Hebrew and Greek, the word for “man” means both “man” and “husband” and the word for “woman” means both “woman” and “wife” so how it has been translated into English has been up to the translators’ discretion.
What about male abdication and feminism?
Given the tumultuous history of male and female relations in American history and in the church, it is understandable that American Christians are especially sensitive about the roles of men and women.
It was sin for a the man in the Golden Days of the Fifties to abdicate, not lead his wife and children, and leave her to drag the children to church on Sundays and teach them the Bible while he stayed home and polished the car or went fishing. Women stepped in and filled the void.
The correct response to this should not be to punish her for being a Deborah or a Jael. The correct response to the abdication of men is not to suppress women. The Man should rise up where he stood back and glorify Woman, lifting her higher.
It is as much abdication for a woman not to attend church worship or church functions as it is for a man.
Interestingly, in the Old Testament, because men were the ones who were circumcised into the Covenant and the women were saved through the circumcision of the men, women were not required to attend the holy feasts. It was only required for men over the age of 20 (e.g. Deuteronomy 16:16).
If we were to be consistent with the household system with its covenant head representation, then only the oldest adult male of a family, the patriarch, should be allowed to the heads of household meetings. His sons and grandsons, married or not, adult or not, are not heads of households.
Church Members Meetings
Maybe you will say a wife is covenantally represented by her husband at the head of household meetings and that it is biblical to do so. There is no precedent for this type of system anywhere in the Bible, Old Testament or New Testament. Just because there is no precedent for something does not necessarily make it wrong but perhaps it is something we should think over some more.
If we were truly going to follow this model, then married sons whose fathers are still alive would not be allowed to attend. If we believe each member of the church is baptized into the church without a male mediator (aka, Head of Household), believe that Christ is our only mediator, and believe that circumcision has been done away with now that we are each baptized into the covenant, then there is no way to have a system of church meetings that only allows heads of households to attend.
[The rest of the paragraphs below are about the particular structure of government in the local church we were attending.]
Additionally, it is incorrect to assume that the males attending the meetings have any kind of authority in the meeting. The men attend as sheep. The men of the congregation are in a female role, as the Bride of Christ. Their votes have no authority over the church.
It would invite less misunderstanding to rename church votes as an “opinion poll” because that is what they are. The votes have no authority as they do in secular political terminology but are merely a way for the elders to gauge where the church members stand. The elders make the final decision and they are not bound by the congregation’s “votes.”
Voting is not an exercise of democratic authority but is rather a submissive representative delegation.
Doug Wilson, Mother Kirk, p. 167
If the votes have no authority then for women to attend them and voice their opinions is an act of submission and not in any way exerting authority over anyone. It is a way for Christ to listen to His Bride.
And as all married folks know, no matter how wonderful a marriage is, communication is difficult and imperfect and it is extremely rare for a husband to be able to express fully (or even accurately!) what his wife would wish to say at the meetings or to relay back to her all the discussion at the meetings.
The purpose for having meetings in person is to communicate and discuss. Women have a valuable voice that cannot be fully expressed if they are not present.
If women are individually baptized members of the Bride, just as men are, and the church business meeting has no authority over anyone, and the votes are in reality opinion polls, there is no reason for women not to attend and participate. In fact they should be encouraged to do so.
Note: This post was written from notes collected after my husband and I studied this with some friends in July, 2011, because we were attending a church where the pastor instituted Heads of Household meetings which excluded women. The pastor of that church told me I was not allowed to write anything more on the topic on my blog or on Facebook or discuss it with anyone in person without permission from the head of my household, my husband, and from him, my pastor … so I did not publish this then.
I know that not all churches practice HoH meetings in the same way and the details of church government in Protestant churches varies greatly from local church to local church. This post was written as a response to the particular way it was practiced in the local church we used to attend. I hope it helps others who are thinking through the issue.
To all those who are concerned I am a rebellious wife, let me assure you that my husband and I are of one mind and one heart.
There are people who say that children ought to “submit” to their parents and “obey” as soon as they are told to do something. If the children do not comply immediately and cheerfully, they deserve to be punished, swift “correction” with a “rod” in order to “train” them.
I expect they will say that what I have written below will teach my children that they do not need to listen unless they understand and I am fostering a heart of rebellion in them. I know that I for one do not “submit and obey” to God immediately and joyfully in all that I do even when I don’t understand why. I should, but I don’t. And God is gracious and kind and patient with me anyway. How is it right for me to be more harsh with my children than God is with me?
There are ways of setting up a situation to create conflict and there are ways of setting up a situation so you peacefully connect with the person you are relating to. I do not see anything wrong with approaching the children in such a way that diffuses conflict rather than creating it. I hope that the way we do things at home sets an example and creates lifelong habits of relating to other people in a peaceful way.
Avoiding conflict can be extremely unhealthy and that is not what I am advocating. Being peaceful in the way the Bible teaches is an active thing, not a passive thing. Creating peace takes a lot of work and it is not something that comes naturally to me so I am still learning every day.
Here is one practical parenting idea that has come in handy over and over again: Google Images.
My children hate having their nails cut. Once they were too old for me to cut their nails while they were nursing without noticing, it became a battle. I hated it, they hated it.
One way some parents deal with this is to hit the toddler on the thigh or other body part till they sit still. Some parents do a more “formal” spanking with a spatula or a “rod” of some sort till the children are “obedient” and “submit.” Too many times, I have witnessed or been part of this scenario. It is miserable.
Last year, I was talking to my 5-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son, trying to explain to them why I needed to cut their nails as they yelled “Noooooooo” and I was becoming discouraged and angry.
Then an idea came to me. I whipped out my phone and googled “longest fingernails in the world” and showed the results to the kids.
We scrolled through several hundred results, squealing and screaming the whole time, and then I read them some news stories about these people and how difficult it is for them to have long nails (difficulties with eating and sleeping, driving, getting into car accidents, etc.). It didn’t take too long before they were all begging me to cut their nails.
This past week, my kids all ended up getting pink eye. With all the wailing and flailing, it was impossible to get them to stay still long enough to drip anything in their eyes. Then, we did this.
Here are a few sites and books that have helped me on my journey towards non-violent parenting.
The first five books below are written by Christians from varying perspectives but all of them explain ways of relating to children, teaching and training them in the way they should go, without hitting them. I do not agree with every single detail in every book but they are a great place to start reading about parenting.
I so wish I had read these books before my children were born.
- Heartfelt Discipline
Clay Clarkson is a father of four who believed in spanking for most of his time as a parent. Along the way, he learned about the heart of parenting which he talks about in his book. He also has a very detailed explanation of why the Bible does not teach spanking. For those who are interested, he goes into the Hebrew and explains it pretty thoroughly.
Some online resources, great for reference for specific problems.
Let me know if you have any questions, want more resources, or seek to join an online Christian peaceful parenting community!
Children can be so full of forgiveness and unconditional love. They believe us so completely and wholeheartedly. It blows me away every day that no matter how impatient or frustrated or angry or mean I get with my children throughout the day, when I apologize and ask them to forgive me, they do so with a smile and a kiss and an “I love you, Mama,” without even a moment’s hesitation.
Among some people who believe in the doctrines of original sin and total depravity, there is an overwhelmingly heavy emphasis on sin in children, constantly pounding that point, telling them how horribly sinful they are, that it seems it is easy for parents to lose sight of the fact that their children are made in God’s image, beautiful, loving, forgiving. It is easy to forget how tenderly Jesus treated them and spoke of them.
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 19:14
At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said,
“Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me,
but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin,
it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” Matthew 18:1-6
Amounts, ratios … they matter. They show the emphasis, what is considered important.
When children are constantly told how sinful they are, and more time is spent talking to them about their sin than about God’s love and forgiveness and the power of the Cross and Communion, then the darkness of sin will overshadow the Light in their hearts. As a parent, my most important task is to do whatever I can to reflect the light of God’s love, so they are surrounded by it no matter where they turn.
“Love makes you strong. Love makes you beautiful. Love makes you precious. God loves you. Mama loves you. Daddy loves you. [Insert long list of people who love the child here.] That makes you strong and beautiful and special.”
Most days, at the end of the day, I feel like such a failure as a parent. Then at bedtime when we talk about our day and I ask my children for forgiveness for the times during the day I was impatient or angry with them, I see how quick and happy they are to forgive, I see how eager they are to talk about Resurrection and Communion when we talk about sin, and I am so encouraged and overwhelmed by the love of God they reflect towards me. They are quick to ask for forgiveness from their parents and from each other, too.
Every now and then, we talk about more difficult aspects of love and forgiveness and repentance.
- Forgiveness is one-sided: whether the offending person repents, it is always required.
- Forgiving is NOT forgetting: restoration and reconciliation can only happen if both sides are repentant, open and honest.
- Depending on the offense involved, there are situations where reconciliation is not possible till after the Second Coming, but no matter what the situation, someday, everything will be resolved.
Over the last few months, as I have started consciously trying to learn from my children, listening to them, really listening, I have found myself drawing closer to God, listening to God, appreciating the small things, noticing more, and I have found that they are so much more willing to listen to me and learn from me.
And we are all so, so much happier.
God gave me to my children so He can speak to them through me. And He gave them to me so He can speak to me through them.
“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony.
But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”
? G.K. Chesterton
As my children get older, I find myself repeating the same things to them over and over again. Some things I repeat without thinking but I am trying to choose what I repeat very consciously, deliberately, intentionally.
There are a lot of things I know for sure I do not want to say to them over and over again. One of those things is the Fifth Commandment. Just as I don’t think it’s appropriate for husbands to constantly quote certain verses (“Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands as to the Lord.”), I don’t want to constantly be telling my kids to honour me.
Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t. – Margaret Thatcher
Being a man is the same. A man who goes around and constantly affirms his masculinity to himself and others is a truly pathetic and insecure man indeed. If my husband has to keep telling me to submit to him and respect him, he’s not being a very good husband.
Parenting is similar, too, I think. I figure that if I have to keep telling my children to honour me, I’m doing something wrong. I recite the Ten Commandments with my children all the time. We say the Fifth Commandment together, with each other, but I do not say it to them.
I only have a little over 6 years of parenting under my belt, but I have found over the past year, over and over and over again, that being gentle with my children works far better than being harsh (verbally or physically), and even if I do not get the kind of immediate, cheerful obedience that certain kinds of parents demand, I do not want to hold them to higher standards than Ben and I hold to ourselves, and it is more important to be gentle and loving and playful and patient than dole out constant threats and beatings. It is better to kneel and hug whining children, whisper in their ears, kiss them, and then hold their hand and go do together whatever I told them to do.
I cannot count how many times I’ve been told that not spanking is the easy way out. Maybe it is for some people. It hasn’t been for me. It is so much harder, so much more work, requires so much more patience, time, and effort to relate to each child individually with understanding and creativity than to spank.
These are the verses I have been saying to myself over and over throughout the day as I parent for the past year. I ask myself over and over, am I tempting my children to sin, provoking them to anger? Or am I leading my children towards God and showing them His love?
A soft answer turns away wrath: but harsh words stir up anger. (Proverbs 15:1)
… do not provoke your children to anger, lest they be discouraged. (Colossians 3:21)
And he said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” (Luke 17:1-4)
… do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4)
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)
After much deliberation, my daughter spent the $2 she got from the tooth fairy to buy 12 plastic gold and silver coins.
“Mama! I used my money to buy MORE money. And I can use my new money to buy Christmas presents for my BIRTHDAY! I have thousands of moneys!”
She skipped and jumped and ran all the way home.
I’m not sure what I taught her today by letting her buy fake money with real money but she was so excited and happy that I decided today was not the time for a lesson about the difference between real and play money.
Also, because her birthday is right before Christmas and because from the day she was born she started receiving birthday/Christmas presents, she’s confused by the whole birthday/Christmas distinction. It doesn’t help that Christmas is Christ’s birthday.
(I’m careful to keep birthday and Christmas presents separate, by the way.)
My darling girl has so much to learn but she has plenty of time to learn all that. For now, I’m just glad she is so happy.
And I’m glad she’s so generous that she shared her new-found wealth with all her brothers as soon as she walked in the door. She already knows the most important thing there is to know about money: it is meant to be shared with joy.
The first time I remember visiting America, I was 16 years old. I was flabbergasted at the prices of everything I saw when I went shopping. I felt like I had landed in paradise. I was seeing the effects of the triumph of liberty, capitalism, the free market, you know, all that good stuff. I loved Rush Limbaugh and listened to him faithfully in Japan. I despised liberals with their evil anti-capitalist agendas who wanted to charge way too much for organic, non-GMO, local, fair trade, eco-friendly, handmade, artisan products.
Fast forward a few years.
I have lived in America for six and a half years now. I still would never even think of calling myself a liberal. There’s too much about it that I cannot agree with. For example, I’m prolife.
However, I have changed a lot in certain areas. I still believe in a lot of the same things. But with a lot more qualifications now. I believe that shoppers have an ethical responsibility for what they buy, because whatever they buy, they are funding somebody. I found out that all kinds of things I used to buy without thinking are actually contributing to slave labor. I am paying evil men who buy slaves and force them to work in unthinkably horrible situations, being beaten, malnourished, and dying, all for what? So we can buy cheap, low-quality products at Walmart or the dollar store.
People around the world are literally dying, I am not exaggerating … people are dying so Americans can get a good deal.
Every time we spend money, no matter what we buy, we are helping some people and hurting some people. When we shop, it is impossible to separate shopping from ethics. If we shop righteously, as much as we are able, we are hurting unethical businesses and (I hope!) steering them towards ethical business practices because they want to stay in business and continue to make a profit. When we sacrifice the lives and perpetuate suffering for people we can’t see in countries far away so that we can get a good deal, we are hurting those people, our fellow creatures created in God’s image, and encouraging business to continue taking advantage of those people.
I know that it is not always possible to find out the source of the things we buy. I know that it is not always possible to afford to buy such things. But my plea is for people to start being more careful, paying more attention, and once you know something has an evil source, then quit buying it. Try the very best to stop supporting businesses that hurt people and seek out businesses that are blessing people.
Personally, there are a few things I am trying to pay attention to. And I try to keep my eyes open. Almost all the food we buy is local and organic. It is amazing how much better it tastes and how much healthier the children are. I try to buy recycled, used, local, handmade items as much as possible. When I buy chocolate, I try to make sure it’s fair trade, because so many people die to provide America with cheap chocolate (Hershey’s chocolate doesn’t just taste atrocious and it isn’t just bad for your health, it’s hurting people). When I buy cotton clothing, I buy organic or used whenever I can because there are so many people dying to make cheap cotton.
There is something uniquely communal, Trinitarian, perichoretic, something really lovely, about buying something and knowing the face of the person who you are buying from, whether it’s a local farmer, coffee roaster, or someone with a stand at the farmer’s market. Next time you buy chocolate, or buy cotton clothing, take a moment. Stop. Think. Pay attention. Use your smart phone and Google. Or if you don’t want to think about each thing that you buy, then try to shop at a store that commits to organic, fair-trade, ethical products.
Just because shopping in modern America has become an impersonal, faceless thing does not mean there are not faces on the other side. We just can’t see them anymore. And many of them are suffering and dying so we can get two for $1 instead of one for $2 or $3 or $4 or $5.
I don’t believe that legislation will fix anything. I don’t think it will necessarily even help anything. The only real solution is for consumers to become more aware, to start paying attention, for people to examine their consciences about what their money will do to other people before they pounce on a great deal. Whatever the laws are, dishonest businessmen will find a way around them, as long as there is demand for unethically produced items.
My next related project is trying to find some way to get involved with micro-financing, so I not only discourage bad practices abroad but encourage and support good ones.
Note: One more thing I love about Seattle: how so much of the population cares so much about ensuring that what they buy is ethical.
There was a little girl whose father taught her how to diagram Bible passages. He read lots and lots and lots of James Jordan to her which made her totally obsessed with the number five, looking for and finding patterns everywhere, and marveling over gravity angels. She grew up and got married and had lots of babies so quickly she had no time to read or think.
Her brain died. Most everything in it was irrecoverable.
But while she is cleaning butts and cooking and cleaning, certain background processes keep running even though the hard drive is about dead. This is what they look like.
Feel free add corrections or add your own outlines in the comments.
Crazy Mama Version 4.0, Crazy Wife Version 6.5
Copyright (c) 2012. All rights reserved.
A. Remove the child-proof rubber band.
B. Take out the spray.
C. Replace the rubber band.
D. Use the spray.
A'. Remove the rubber band.
B'. Put the spray back.
C'. Replace the rubber band.
I. Prepare Water
A. Turn on burner to high (fire).
B. Fill kettle with water (water).
A'. Set kettle on burner (water on fire, glorified water).
II. Prepare Filter, Cone, & Mug
A. Get coffee mug, cone, and cloth filter (take hold).
B. Put cone on mug (restructure).
C. Wet filter (baptism).
D. Put into filter cone (restructure).
III. Prepare Beans
A. Open the cupboard (heavens open).
B. Take out the container with the beans (take hold).
C. Measure out beans into the grinder (restructure).
C'. Grind beans (break down/restructure).
B'. Put the container back (ascension).
A'. Close the cupboard (heavens close).
IV. Get Spoon
A. Open the drawer (take hold).
B. Take out what you need (restructure).
A'. Close the freaking drawer (ascension).
IV. Prepare Grounds
A. Take out container with ground beans (take hold).
B. Put them in filter (restructure).
B'. Tamp grounds with spoon (restructure).
A'. Put back empty container and spoon (ascension).
IV. Pour Over Coffee
A. Turn off stove and get kettle (take hold).
B. Pour water over coffee grounds (restructure).
A'. Put kettle back (ascension).
V. Drink Coffee
(take hold, restructure/redistribute into my belly, evaluate,
enjoy as much as possible while children burn themselves by
sticking fingers into it, beg to drink it and then burn
their tongues and cry, climb on my chair, pull my hair,
ask to nurse because they need to recover from shock of coffee
being as burning hot as it was yesterday morning, etc.)
Pour Over Coffee Through New Eyes
I know this post has an extremely limited audience (pretty much just nerdy BH fans). If you don’t get it, get this book. It’s available as a PDF for free online, too.
Growing up in Tokyo, I watched my father make pour over coffee hundreds of times. I now make it for myself every morning. It is a comforting ritual for me and I remember him every time I make it. I recently found out it is becoming a fad in the US (read more here).
Important Note: On page 121 of Through New Eyes, the glass was not put back after being taken hold of, restructured, distributed, evaluated, and enjoyed. Something needs to be done about this glass because it drives women absolutely batty when glasses end up all over the place. This is not proper dominion. Please revise the Rite of Transformation in the next edition of the book. For lack of a better term (I am happy to be corrected), I have decided to call putting things back “ascension” because it reminds me of rest and heaven and peace, where there will be no poop or shrieking.
In the beginning was the Word. The Word spoke the world into existence. The Word gave us words to shape our reality and the reality of those around us.
When two people get married, they exchange words, then words are pronounced to declare them husband and wife. When babies are born, parents give them a word to call them by. And from that point on for the next couple of decades, every word that comes out of their mouths shapes that baby’s world.
As my children are getting more verbal, they are saying things that I never said as a child, asking me things I never asked, and I am constantly taken off guard, searching for the right words. I need to take time to choose my words, because my words have the power to show them Love.
For the next few years, my words are how they know God and how they know themselves. My words, at least during their formative years, shape their reality.
And when they fight, and hit, and bite, and do all the things that kids do, I want to talk to them. I want to talk to them about love, Jesus’ love for us that makes it possible for us to love each other, love everybody else. I want them to know that love is the most powerful thing, more powerful than hate, more powerful than the sword, more powerful than death.
(Sidenote: If words are more powerful the sword, then they are more powerful than spankings, too. God’s Word is a two-edged sword and there’s an argument to be made that the rod of correction is His Word as well, not a literal rod.)
I’ve noticed that they already know this without realizing it. When they fight, one of the first things they say to each other is, “I don’t love you.” Or when they come crying, tattling, they say, “He doesn’t love me.” And I tell them that some words must never be spoken, some words must never, ever cross their lips. “I don’t love you” is not something we say in this family, because it is not true. I tell them, “It was wrong of him to do that. But he still loves you.” (Sometimes, that’s followed by a punch and I suppress the urge to slap everyone involved or run away screaming and crying, and I have to start all over again about kindness and the Golden Rule, blah blah blah.) But usually, after I tell them they love each other and tell them to hug, they start hugging and giggling.
I haven’t yet told them that if they keep saying something, it will become true. That is the power that words hold. If someone, anyone, is told the same thing over and over again, that will become true for that person, whatever it is. That is why there are some things that I don’t let them say.
The more you tell someone, “I love you,” the more you will love that person. And the more you tell someone, “I don’t love you,” the less you will love that person.
People use words in set ways and repeat things over and over again. We were created to say the same thing over and over again. We can choose what we say over and over again.
And that is why I want to sing. Songs are glorified words, words with extra power because they are beautiful and easy to remember and repeat. I am not doing a good job of singing anymore. We used to sing every day. I need to start that up again.
There are some things I tell my children and I try to tell them every day. I didn’t get to tell them today. I was too exhausted and then they all fell asleep. But last night, this is what I said to Thane as I held him before he fell asleep. He usually loves it when I start saying this and snuggles in close.
These are the words I tell my children. These are the words I want to shape them with. As they get older, what I repeat will change and grow. But for now, I think this is what they need: love and assurance of love.
God loves you. God loves you so much He sent Jesus down to this earth. Jesus loves you so much He paid for all your sins and conquered death and Satan. (Mama! The dragon! He killed Satan! Like Saint George!) And then the Holy Spirit came down to be with us always, everywhere.
You are my favourite Thaney. You are my favourite 2-year-old in the whole wide world. I will always, always, always love you.
Daddy loves you. Mama loves you. Bubu loves you. Buddy loves you. Baby Prester loves you.* We will always love you. Always, always. Forever and ever.
*(Occasionally this section becomes really long as he starts adding grandparents, uncles, kids from church, random strangers at the park, characters from books and Netflix … “Spiderman loves me? Clifford loves me?” “Ahhh, uhhh, yeah, Thaney.” Let’s go back to “Daddy loves you. Mama loves you.”)
These ideas pretty nearly all came from the books by Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy that my father introduced me to (I miss you, Papa!). All my books are sitting in boxes after my third move in 8 months and because Life keeps chucking things above the bookshelves in the priority on our shopping list, I can’t get to them yet so I have no quotes or anything from him.
If you enjoy having your mind blown away and then put back together in a way you could never have imagined, start reading some of his books.
You can order all his books and find out more about him at ArgoBooks and at the Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy Society.
Looking back from eternity future to my life in the present, as each moment becomes the past, I feel every day more and more how fleeting my time on this earth is. And as my children become visibly bigger every day, and learn to do new things, learn new words, feel new feelings, time passes faster and faster.
I look at them wistfully, knowing that my time as a mother is getting shorter and shorter with each passing moment. My relationship with them as a mother will only be for a few more years. Then after that, for all eternity, my children will be my brothers.
In fact, they are already my baptized brothers in Christ and He has only put them into my care temporarily. They are God’s children first, as I am. They are my children second.
Don’t call me an egalitarian. If you know me, I am far from it. However, egalitarianism is an oversimplification and a misrepresentation of an eternal truth: each of us is equal before Him. And thinking of my children as being my baby brothers has partially changed the way I relate to them. (It also affects how husbands and wives relate to each other, but that is a whole different topic.)
Every finite human reflects the infinite Trinity. And though we are finite, there are more aspects to each of us than we know. I am the normal things: daughter, sister, wife, mother. And I am part of the Bride of Christ. The Bible also says I am a son and brother.
When I call my children my brothers, I am not downplaying or denying that I have been given authority and responsibility as a parent, I am mentioning an aspect of parenting that I do not hear as often, which I wish I could: parents and children as eternal brothers.
Confessing & Forgiving
Remembering it has helped me keep my attitude in check and it is something I have been thinking about a lot on and off for the past year. It has brought about two changes in the last few months in my daily interaction with my children that I never expected: I started confessing my sins against my children to them and asking for their forgiveness and after I started doing that they began to point out blatantly obvious shortcomings to me and to my husband when we are in the middle of committing them.
At first, it was not easy for me to get on my knees, look into their eyes, and ask for forgiveness. Not just say, “Hey, I’m sorry,” or “I’m not perfect, nobody is” or “Parents make mistakes sometimes, y’know,” but truly ask for forgiveness: “I sinned when I did that. Would you please forgive me?” But as I did it over and over, it became easier and easier.
When my older two (verbal) children suddenly started telling me when I was sinning and telling me to stop it, I was shocked! I was angry! How disrespectful! How dare they! I had clearly lacked teaching them the Fifth Commandment! But as I thought about it, I realized maybe it wasn’t so bad after all. Maybe it was even … right? Yes, I now believe it is. Because God’s law is above us all. And they are my brothers.
Last week, my husband and I were trying to figure out what we were going to pick up at Costco. I can’t even remember what we were saying exactly because we weren’t disagreeing about anything but decibels were getting higher because we were, y’know, so tired (2 teething babies), so hungry, and we both really hate talking about money.
My 3-year-old son walked into the kitchen and said calmly said to me in a very grown-up voice, “Mama, stop yelling at Daddy.” He turned to Ben, “Daddy, stop yelling at Mama.” Then he looked at both of us with his hands up, admonishing us, “OK? Talk nicely.” And he left the kitchen.
Every time I remember it, I end up laughing out loud at how he talked to us like a little adult when we were acting like children. I’m so thankful and happy that he was completely unafraid to approach us and talk to us that way even though he could tell we were upset.
Eventually, of course, we’ll have to have a talk about when it’s appropriate and inappropriate to confront people. But for now, I’m happy with him.
My children sin against God and against me every day. But I sin against God and against my children every day as well.
I believe that one of the most important things I can do as a parent is to make sure I acknowledge my sins to my children, especially my sins against them, and ask for their forgiveness. Not just say, “I shouldn’t have done that,” or “I’m sorry,” but “Please forgive me for [this specific sin] that I committed against you.” True repentance is very specific.
It is difficult for anyone to acknowledge sin but it is especially difficult for those in authority to acknowledge wrongdoing to those below them. Asking for forgiveness from my children when I have wronged them is not only the right thing for me to do and required of me, I am doing it in order to set an example of repentance for them to follow (as pitiful as my example may be).
Sometimes, my children try to apologize saying, “I’m sorry but I hit him because he took my toy.” I tell them that when they are asking for forgiveness, they need to say, “Please forgive me for hitting you,” without adding blame on the other child.
“I’m sorry but you made me do it” does not count.
And it doesn’t count when adults say it either. Repentance needs to needs to be a wholehearted without any blame on anyone else. To my dismay, I have found myself blaming my children when I am asking for their forgiveness. (I tend to do the same with my husband as well.)
- I lost my temper because you did not do what I said.
- If you would have obeyed me, than I would not have done such and such.
- I would have been more patient if you didn’t whine at me.
Children who hear this type of false “repentance” from parents often end up feeling responsible not only for their own sins but their parents’ sins as well … until they are old enough to recognize the hypocrisy. Then they lose respect for parents who “confess” this way.
Frankly, I think it’s worse to give a false apology assigning blame to someone else than not to apologize at all because it is easier to pretend you have done the right thing and pat yourself on the back for being “righteous” or “humble” for saying you’re sorry.
Our behaviour as parents is obviously related to how our children behave but for us to blame our children for our own shortcomings is utterly despicable and it teaches children to blame their own sins on others as Adam did in the Garden.
- “The woman, she made me do it.”
- “My kids, they made me do it.”
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:8-9
As a paedobaptist and paedocommunionist, I believe our children are our brothers in Christ and we are commanded to confess our sins to one another.
If parents are not willing to repent of the sins they commit against their children, and ask for forgiveness from their children, they are teaching their children that it is OK for those in authority to sin with impunity.
When parents ask for forgiveness from their children for sinning against them, they are setting an example of humility and contrition that their children will take with them to eternity. And I am always so astonished at how children forgive so quickly and wholeheartedly. I think that must be part of what Jesus meant when He commanded adults to be like little children.
Do you remember your childhood?
When you were a child….
- Did you feel like you could always run up to your parents and get a hug and a kiss?
- Did you want them to hold you for comfort?
- Did you feel loved and secure?
- Did you have assurance of your salvation?
- When you sinned, were you confident of being forgiven?
- Did you enjoy spending time with your parents?
Now that you are a parent….
- How do you want your children to feel every day?
- How do you want them to remember you?
- How do you want them to remember their childhood?
What do you want your children to think about who God is and how He loves us?
Before you read anything below, please understand that nothing I have written is to be taken as a declaration of dogma but simply my current rambling meditations as I go on my parenting journey. I am open and willing to consider other viewpoints and would love constructive interaction. I know that I do not have it all figured out and I know that I am doing all kinds of things wrong every single day.
Feel free to agree or disagree, let me know or not. If it helps you, that’s great. If not, well, I hope you find something else that does.
What I have written below is some of what I currently believe in a quite disorganized (and perhaps incoherent, definitely incomplete) form but I needed to write it down even if I don’t have time to write it perfectly and have it edited perfectly. I pray that God will have mercy on all of us parents whatever we end up doing in our day-to-day practice.
Where I’m Coming From
I grew up being spanked and until I had children of my own I fully planned to spank them as I believed the Bible required. My husband also believed the same. After personal examination of the Bible over a few years, my husband and I and various friends (some of them online friends whom I’ve never even met), almost all of whom started off studying assuming that spanking was biblical and required by God, separately came to the same conclusion: that while it may be possible to use spanking as a tool in Christian parenting, it is not a biblical requirement. Some of us are still working on detailed papers with all the passages and proofs.
Meanwhile, I think these sites are valuable resources.
- Parenting Freedom
While I do not agree with every single thing on this page, the sections called “Is Spanking Really in the Bible?” and “Child (Na’ar) in Proverbs” and the sections about the rod are very helpful, well-researched, and well-thought out.
- Get Off Your Butt Parenting
Get off your butt parenting! Sometimes, spanking is just plain lazy parenting. I love this site!
- Mothering By Grace
A site with a lot of information about Christian positive parenting.
What Is The Real Question?
Let me make it clear that my main contention is not with spanking per se but the attitude or misplaced emphasis of truths that seems to accompany it in certain conservative Christian circles. To spank or not to spank is not really the central question at all. Spanking is a side issue in the larger topic of parenting, and how we parent is part of the even larger issue of what we believe about who God is and how He relates to us.
Here are the questions I believe are more relevant to the broader issue.
- What does it mean to have authority? Lording it over those under us? Ministering unto them patiently?
- How do we primarily view our own children? Precious lambs and covenantal children of God? Vipers in diapers whose sin needs to be stomped out?
- How do we want our children to primarily view God? Sinners in the hand of an angry God? Young lambs in the hand of a tender, protective shepherd?
There is so much to be said about authority and so many conflicting views. I think Jesus summarizes it perfectly here.
But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:25-28
Those with God-given authority (parents, pastors, etc.) are abusing their authority unless they are serving, literally, being like slaves to those who they have authority over. As parents, that does not just mean holding down a job and coming home with a paycheck, doing the laundry and cooking, it means serving them instead of lording it over them in every area of our interaction with them.
Shepherding & Rods, Wrath & Comfort
To be a parent, to be a shepherd, we need to understand the weaknesses of those under us, be patient with them, and love them unconditionally and self-sacrificially. A shepherd serves the sheep, guides them to water and pasture, and protects them from predators.
The shepherd does not use the rod against his flock. He uses it to protect the flock from predators. That is why it is so comforting. I have seen dogs who flinch at the sight of a rolled-up newspaper, even if they are with a new owner who has never abused them. I have seen children who flinch in fear when their parents simply raise a hand to put their hair behind their ears. Yes, it is good to have a healthy fear of God. But I do not think a healthy fear means living in constant fear of His wrath. Healthy fear should be overshadowed by assurance of unconditional love.
Children should know that God is full of wrath against unrighteousness. But they should also know that He is full of love towards those who repent. When they sin, they should have more remorse because it saddens Him than fear of His wrath against them for sinning.
Physical beatings do not usually fill children with remorse. It can change their behaviour to what you demand, it can make them compliant to your will (or “obedient” if you prefer). But it often fills them with helplessness and terror, and rage born of that fear, none of which they can express because they are too afraid of the beating they will get if they express it.
If shepherds beat their lambs on their backs with those big rods, there would be mass lamb slaughter, not flocks full of obedient lambs. How often does God beat us for all the things we do wrong every day? How often does He give us what we deserve?
Are They Elect?
So, are our children primarily precious little lambs or vipers in diapers? I know that the question is setting up a false dichotomy because both are true to a degree but where we place our emphasis on what they are is important and will affect how we relate to them. I definitely do believe in original sin. However, at the same time, as a covenantal paedocommunionist, I believe that when God placed children into our families, He did so trusting us to treat them as little believers, precious lambs of God, already saved, presumed elect unless proven otherwise.
Focus & Emphasis: Cross or Resurrection? Death or Life? Sin or Forgiveness? Fear or Assurance?
Supposing children are elect, when they sin, instead of focusing primarily on the sin itself and God’s hatred of it, what needs to be emphasized is God’s love and forgiveness and how He welcomes sinners always, anywhere, anytime. When speaking of Jesus, instead of focusing on His death on the cross because of our sin, what needs to be emphasized is His resurrection, His love for us and His power over sin and death, how He is with us all the time, everywhere, and has given us His Spirit to indwell us.
God invites us into His House week after week to tell us that He loves us. He wants us to come to Him, eat with Him, make our peace with Him. No matter what we have done, He welcomes us with open arms and forgives us every time we ask for it.
No matter how we treat Him, He is faithful every day. He shows us the wild glory and beauty of the sun and the rain, the wind and the snow, the moon and the stars, and every night we go to bed never doubting that the sun will rise in the morning because He loves us constantly, consistently, unwaveringly.
I believe that is how we should treat our children. We should treat them so they want to come to us no matter what they have done. They should have full and complete assurance that we love them no matter what they have done. There is something wrong if children hesitate to approach their parents because they think they might get a beating.
Presenting God To Children
Our children are born trusting and loving us. That is how God created them to be. He gave us to them to show who He is through how we treat them. When children misbehave, we need to tell them about God’s love and remind them of the Cross and Resurrection, remind them of the Body and the Blood. We as parents misbehave and disobey God every single day. We fall short every single day. God does not “spank” us daily for our infractions. That is not how He loves us.
When I think about how God loves us from day to day, it seems to me that he covers our sins and forgives us of them before we even repent or realize them and embraces us lovingly from day to day.
God & His Smitings
In the last few years, I’ve seen adults treat each other unspeakably terribly countless times, I’ve seen parents mistreat their children, I’ve seen pastors abuse their flocks, all these things justified using the name of God, and God seems to do nothing about it. He is patient with them. He is gentle. I wish He’d zap them with lightning or maybe open the earth and swallow them whole, or at least strike them with some kind of non-serious, temporary disease, but no, they walk around every day in fine health and continue to do these things.
If children are spanked for every infraction, does that teach them who God really is? Does that teach them about how the world works? I used to think so. I’m not so sure anymore. When I was a child, I thought God was waiting up in heaven with handfuls of punishments just waiting to be hurled down on people. Then I grew up and kept waiting for Him to punish people, squash them, humiliate them, or at the very least stop them from hurting other people … and it just hardly EVER happens.
Welcoming The Prodigal
I think many Christians would follow the kind of advice Dave Ramsey (whom I truly admire, by the way) dispenses on his radio show to parents of prodigals: turn them away and let them figure things out on their own. After all, he squandered his entire inheritance, presumably on wine, women, and song.
In Jesus’ story, the parable He told us to teach us how to treat our children, the father of the prodigal son did not spurn or curse him. He could have been a good ol’ American dad and shown his son some tough love and turned him away to teach him a lesson. He could have put him on trial at the gate with the elders and have them condemn him to a public beating as was his right as a Jewish father. But what he did was run to his son with open arms and welcome him and kill the fatted calf and throw a feast for him.
That is how God loves us, day after day. If Jesus tells us it was good for the father to welcome his horrible prodigal son that way, what does that mean for us? None of our young children sin as horribly as the prodigal did.
Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. Romans 15:7 ESV
In many situations with children, I think a hug and a good, long talk is more appropriate than a spanking. Or for young babies (under age 2, for example), a nursing is usually more appropriate than a spanking.
We Are All Babies
We sit in God’s lap and spit in his face. He does not spank us. He wipes His face and kisses us back. I have learned to do that with my babies when they spit or claw at me. Instead of pushing them away or spanking them, I have learned to delight in their chubby fingers that are learning to grasp, in their little curved lips that are learning to spit and sputter. And I kiss them. The same patience and love that is so easy to show to our babies, we need to show to our toddlers and children throughout their childhood, all the way to adulthood.
From God’s infinite perspective, no matter how wise we get, we are no different from our babies in wisdom and self-control.
God Used To Kill People, Therefore We Spank Our Children … Really?
In the Old Testament, there are many instances of people being struck to death by God. I really do not see how that can be an argument for spanking young children. It seems rather irrelevant to me.
I think it is far more telling that there is not a single instance of a baby or child being spanked in the Bible. Not one.
If the State has the power of capital punishment, the Church has excommunication, and the Family has the rod, an illustration I’ve heard quite a few times, then it just goes to show that the rod is something to be used only in the most extreme circumstances and not something to be used daily. It is so bizarre to me that advocates of “biblical spanking” (though there is no such thing as “spanking” in the Bible anywhere, I’m not kidding) often bring up capital punishment in their arguments.
To summarize, spanking itself perhaps can be a tool in Christian parenting for some people but it is one that can be very easily abused and is very often abused in the name of God, touted as a biblical requirement when in fact spanking small children is not a biblical requirement at all.
In the spirit of the God’s law that allows some murderers to go free instead of damning all suspects to death, I believe it is far better to err on the side of spanking too little than too much.
It is far better to “err” on the side of too much grace and patience … like God does with us every day.
The Bible commands us to train up our children. It commands us to discipline them. Any profession requires those things. Electricians, doctors, computer programmers, carpenters, no matter what you do, you need training to learn to do it and discipline to keep at it. None of them require physical beatings. It is possible to train and discipline children without beatings as well.
I plan to write more about this later but here are some Christian sites with a wealth of information.
This was not written as an attack on anyone but written to inform in the hope that it can promote grace and help prevent grief, guilt, and regret.
For some people, spanking can cause sexual problems that are irreversible or very difficult to reverse. I personally know several people, both male and female, who have had sexual problems because of spankings they received as a child. This post is for them and for all of us who love God and love our children.
I know the parents of these people never meant to abuse them in any way, certainly not sexually. I know these parents spanked in love believing it was what God commanded them to do. They had no idea they were hurting their children and causing them long-term psychological pain and damage.
There is a wealth of material which explains this phenomenon online but a good deal of it is vehemently anti-Christian so I thought maybe information presented from a Bible-believing Christian who used to believe the same thing would be more easily palatable.
Spanking a child on the buttocks, especially if naked and repeatedly, brings a rush of blood to the entire genital area which can cause involuntary sexual arousal. As the children are spanked over and over again, some children’s brains become hardwired to associate terror, shame, guilt, and physical pain with sexual arousal.
As children are spanked after they have a sense of shame, if they are spanked on their bare bottoms, it increases the sexual shame they feel.
Some people learn to disassociate these feelings later on in life. But others never do.
This means when they see or hear violence (other children getting spanked, see images of pain/torture such as an Auschwitz documentary, etc.), they become automatically aroused. This can cause years of confusion because children do not know why they feel this way but they know something is very wrong.
During adolescence, when they realize that these feelings are sexual arousal, it makes things even worse and the confusion turns to self-loathing. Many times, they have nobody to talk to about these feelings, especially if they are living mostly in a Christian context (home schooled, etc.). Seeing and hearing these types of things still bring on arousal even decades later in adulthood.
Many of these people who become aroused by hearing or seeing spankings or aroused by seeing pain and torture become convinced they are perverts because they do not know the cause: the spankings they received as children. Some of these people choose not to marry because they are so afraid and ashamed of themselves.
Some do get married and when they are with their spouses, they are filled with feelings of terror, shame, and guilt when they get aroused. Or when they are aroused, they involuntarily, instinctively find themselves wanting to have pain inflicted on them. Women with this problem often have trouble with getting beyond the first stages of arousal.
When they become parents, some find themselves horrified at becoming sexually aroused when they spank their own children.
Spanking in the context of sexual abuse is a problem that is not “kosher” to talk about in conservative Christian circles but it is a problem that definitely exists and it is not incredibly rare either. Most Christians with this problem feel too ashamed to admit it at all and if they do they are very reluctant to talk about it in public. None of the people who have talked to me about this feel ready to speak up publicly because they do not want to hurt their parents or they fear other repercussions. Some of them are closet non-spankers because their churches teach that it is sinful NOT to spank.
To be truly faithful to the Bible, beatings should be done on the back (not the buttocks) with big, thick wooden rods. The Bible doesn’t say to use your hand or a paddle or a switch or a spatula on a baby or a young child’s butt. The area that is supposed to be beaten is the back. Arbitrarily deciding to change things around is not being faithful to what the Bible says.
“Well, obviously, children would DIE if we actually used rods or whips on their backs so we’re just going to use a paddle on their bottoms instead.”
Click here for more information about why spanking is not actually commanded in the Bible.
I can understand how people get there because I used to be in the same place myself. They are simply obeying the teachings of people they trust. But as adults, we can’t afford to just believe everything we’re told. It’s time to for Bible-believing Christians to rethink extra-biblical, cultural teachings such as spanking.
Just because some or even most children do not have adverse results from spankings (or at least are reluctant to talk about them) and remain in the faith is not proof that spankings were instrumental in that and it certainly does not mean spanking itself is a biblical.
Sexual stimulation can be cross-wired with spankings. Here is a testimonial written by a girl who grew up in a Christian family who finally decided to go public about her experiences.
The Bible commands us to train up our children. It commands us to discipline them. Any profession requires those things. Electricians, doctors, computer programmers, carpenters, no matter what you do, you need training to learn to do it and discipline to keep at it. None of them require physical beatings. It is possible to train and discipline children without beatings as well.
I plan to write more about this later but here are some Christian sites with a wealth of information.
Today, I heard a very passionate and wonderful talk about forgiveness given by Linn Haralson (Grace Seattle). Hearing her speak was so moving. She is someone who combines intelligence with grace and burning passion and utter fearlessness, such a very rare combination of qualities.
Her talk verbalized, organized, and justified thoughts which have been whirling around in my head for the last few years.
Forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation.
- Forgiveness does not necessarily mean you have the same relationship as you would have had before.
- Reconciliation is not always possible but forgiveness is always possible because it is something you do yourself and is not contingent on anyone else.
How do you know you have forgiven someone else?
- You know when you feel release, when you have you peace, when whatever happened does not haunt you anymore.
- You know when you don’t want the other person to get what he/she deserves.
- You know when you see the other person in pain and you feel sad for the person instead of feeling good about it.
- You know when you pray for the other person’s blessing. And not a vague prayer of blessing but very specific prayers for blessing in the areas that the person needs it.