I have always struggled with consistency. Yet, ironically, every year I do consistently fail at keeping my New Year’s resolutions. Despite my predictable failures, at this time each year I make new goals. Perhaps my failure to is the result of the highly-addicted state I find myself in every January, after weeks of holiday-induced sugar consumption and late nights; not exactly conducive to resolute self-denial. I have found that if I start a new goal in March, it has a much higher chance of success. Nonetheless, if only for the example of determination I show my children, I plan on attempting new goals in the New Year. I hope that by applying some insights gained this year, I may succeed where I have previously failed.
Dr. Peterson gives some enlightening, and somewhat blunt, advice for those of us that cannot seem to achieve our goals, or even be motivated to make them.
We need to “negotiate with ourselves” by deciding who we want to become and setting achievable goals. We have to be realistic and adaptable. It takes a certain humility to work within our limitations, but only in working within them, can we then expand them.
“Aim small. You don’t want to shoulder too much to begin with, given your limited talents, tendency to deceive, burden of resentment, and ability to shirk responsibility. Thus, you set the following goal: by the end of the day, I want things in my life to be a tiny bit better than they were this morning.”
Dr. Jordan Peterson
One year I decided I was going to wake up at 5 every morning and exercise. Some of my friends do this and I have always admired their tenacity. I really tried, I did it for many weeks. I was miserable and grumpy. From childhood, I have always been a sleeper. As a mom, I wake up a lot earlier than I want, but 5 a.m. pushed me way beyond my capacity. I tried. I failed. This goal required too much of a transformation for me. Now some would say, This is why you should never compare yourself to other people! This will only discourage you and make you feel bad about yourself. To me this viewpoint assumes the path of envy, but we can take a higher road. We can choose to admire the goodness in others and attempt to emulate those qualities that we would like to adopt. However, we need to have the maturity to adapt their successes to our own capacities as well as the realism to see that success is often accompanied by set-backs, for them and for us. When I failed to maintain my 5 a.m. workouts, I made a new goal. Now I work out during my youngest child’s nap. That works for me.
“No amount of falls will really undo us if we keep on picking ourselves up each time. We shall of course be very muddy and tattered children by the time we reach home. But the bathrooms are all ready, the towels put out, and the clean clothes are in the airing cupboard. The only fatal thing is to lose one’s temper and give it up.”
Once I develop my working-out-everyday muscle perhaps I can make inroads on my need for sleep. Perhaps not. Maybe I must come to terms with my weakness and accept frailty in certain things. If we attempt too much at once we overwork our growing willpower muscle. The important thing is that we start the trek, however small or halting our steps may be.
“It’s the job that’s never started that takes the longest to finish.”
We don’t need to beat ourselves with a stick of our own creation. When we become our own tyrant, we rebel against our own repression. We need to have patience and realistic expectations for ourselves if we are going to achieve. We need to examine our failures and look for clues. Was this goal unrealistic? Was I unmotivated? Do I need to get rid of some bad habits blocking my path? Making and keeping goals is the path to progression.
Hope Found on the Quest
What is the point? Why attempt new goals when the chances are we will fail? Why would this time be any different? I admit to having these thoughts after my numerous failures, usually around February 1st. But the moment we give in to whatever “sorry state” in which we find ourselves, that is the moment hope departs. Without hope there can be no happiness.
“Happiness does not lie in happiness, but in the achievement of it.”
We all want to achieve more from life. This is as it should be, as a previous post said, we should “be easy to please, yet hard to satisfy.” Striving to improve gives us hope that things can get better; and acknowledgment of our current blessings gives us hope that our fortunes will continue.
“Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year. Finish every day and be done with it. … You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. To-morrow is a new day; … begin it well and serenely … It is too dear, with its hopes and invitations, to waste a moment on the rotten yesterdays.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Our own imperfections make our path, and that of others, more difficult than it needs to be. We can change. We have the gift of free will; we can choose to overcome habits and practiced reactions. However, change can be difficult. We must be mindful and intentional if we are going to reach our goals. We must have our eyes on the goal, undeterred by the failures of the past, the distractions of today, or worry for the future.
In the book Pilgrim’s Progress, Pilgrim seeks a better life, away from the darkness and hopelessness of his hometown, The City of Destruction. He is warned that his quest will be difficult. Pilgrim must keep his eyes on the Celestial City and follow the path upward. However, when his path becomes too difficult, or he gets distracted from his goal, he leaves the path. The result is always disastrous. Fortunately, as he remains determined and hopeful, he repeatedly returns to the road. Pilgrim is beaten-up from his unnecessary misadventures, but he has learned to appreciate all the more the safety of that arduous path to his goal.
“It is always hard to see the purpose in wilderness wanderings until after they are over.”
John Bunyan (Pilgrim’s Progress)
As parents, if our children see our quest for progression and our ability to remain constant in effort, despite setbacks and failures, they too will set their course for progression.
“This hill, though high, I covet to ascend;
The difficulty will not me offend.
For I perceive the way to life lies here.
Come, pluck up, heart; let’s neither faint nor fear.
Better, though difficult, the right way to go,
Than wrong, though easy, where the end is woe.”
John Bunyan (Pilgrim’s Progress)
Good luck this New Year in your valiant efforts up the hill.
Let’s try and imagine the thoughts of Mary, the Mother of Christ, on the night of His birth. She lay uncomfortable and in pain, in dirty and unfamiliar surroundings, remembering the events which brought her to such low conditions. Nine months previously she had been visited by an angel and was told she would miraculously conceive the Savior of the world. She had the faith and humility to accept her role in this glorious event and humbly keep the truth to herself. God blessed her with confidants in her cousin Elizabeth, and her kind husband Joseph, but otherwise she was alone in her knowledge of the awesome Truth. When she and Joseph made the trip to Bethlehem, did she wonder why they were asked to embark on this journey at such a time? She surely had faith that God would do all He could to protect the precious cargo she carried. After a long and uncomfortable journey, they had arrived in Bethlehem. Any woman who has carried a child pities Mary riding a donkey in her trimester. Did she turn her eyes upward and ask why God would allow this? When she gave birth in a stable filled with dirty animals did she question all her previous revelations? Is this really your plan Lord?
Mary was a remarkable woman. Perhaps she did not doubt, but I would have. I would have expected a God who protected Mary from the harsh elements; a God who did not allow others to gossip and criticize the virtue of the Mother of God. I would have expected a God that made the path clear and bright. But God’s love does not show itself in freedom from hardship. Suffering and difficulty do not show God’s disfavor; they show we live in a fallen world. Yet God was there, His love could be found on the burdensome path and in the dirty stable. But His kindness was not exhibited in the way I would have imagined – a nice warm bed with sanitary sheets.
As she held her beloved newborn baby, in circumstances which could not have been less friendly, there arrived a miracle: poor shepherds, coming to glory the newborn King.
8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. 15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. 16 And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. 17 And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.
What feelings of relief and comfort the arrival of these poor shepherds must have brought to Mary! There could be no doubt that God was aware of her, her son truly was the newborn King! These strangers bore the first testimony of the Savior of the World. Mary and Joseph were no longer alone in their secret. Their faith and purpose were confirmed, their sacrifice had been accepted, and God’s son had truly arrived. The poverty of their circumstances surely fell to no importance as the love and glory of God filled that humble abode.
Verse 19 tells us about Mary’s reaction to these events:
But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.
Mary cherished the sacred and miraculous appearance of the shepherds. She kept this miracle in her heart always, and she would need it there. She would need to rely on it in the days that followed, when her young son faced death at the hands of Herod and their family was forced to flee to Egypt. She would need it when Jesus was a child lost in Jerusalem, when He was hung on the cross. She would need “these things” to comfort her, and to remind her of God’s love and mercy.
Likewise, when we see God’s hand in our lives, when we feel his love, we need to notice and retain these miracles. God’s profound visitations or revelations to us can seem infrequent, but they are powerful, and if we “keep” them and examine them again and again we can feel the same love and comfort we felt when they were given.
As I think of mother of the Savior giving birth in these horrid circumstances, I take comfort in the knowledge that God did visit His chosen daughter. He was with her along her difficult path and at its culmination. But he also provided her a miracle. He sent angels to the shepherds and these strangers sought out their Messiah. The shepherds arrival was a glorious and reassuring gift for Mary in a strange and inglorious place.
“Love makes all safe.”
God has sent me shepherds in times of discouragement and suffering. These instances may seem insignificant to the outsider but when I examine them, I feel God’s love for me. I remember walking to college one cold winter day. I was feeling discouraged and alone, doubting God and unsure of my own path. A car pulled up beside me, it was a young woman I had never seen. She asked if I wanted a ride up to campus. Tears welled in my eyes as I got in the car. I think of this experience, and many others like it, often. God had inspired this girl with His love, that love healed my doubting soul. She was also certainly strengthened in love as she followed His gentle promptings to help a spiritual sister.
“The more you succeed in loving, the more you’ll be convinced of the existence of God and the immortality of your soul.”
God’s love is the miracle. A miracle we can all share with each other. This Christmas season I want to hear Gods’ voice and follow it. I want to be his instrument in relieving the burdens of others, as Mary’s was by poor shepherds.
“Miracles are a retelling in small letters of the very same story which is written across the whole world in letters too large for some of us to see.”
*The three wise men did not arrive at the time of Christ’s birth. They came when He was about two years old.
“This Helper who will, in the long run, be satisfied with nothing less than absolute perfection, will also be delighted with the first feeble, stumbling effort you make tomorrow to do the simplest duty. Every father is pleased at the baby’s first attempt to walk: no father would be satisfied with anything less than a firm, free, manly walk in a grown-up son. In the same way, ‘God is easy to please, but hard to satisfy.”
C.S. Lewis (Mere Christianity)
The relationship between God and his children is a model for the ideal relationship between parents and children – easy to please, yet hard to satisfy. I love the analogy of a baby learning to walk. As parents, we want our children to walk. We know we can’t do it for them; they have to figure it out themselves. But we still have a powerful role to play, a Helper as they stumble uphill towards greatness.
How we react to our children’s first steps and the role we play in their striving will frame their experience in life. Sometimes we may want to discourage our nine-month old who is already trying to walk. She is still a baby, she will hurt herself! I am not ready for her to grow up. While an understandable reaction, this is Stifling Motherhood – low expectations and ultimately selfish. Other times, as was the case with my overly-contented babies, we are frustrated by our chubby 14-month old who is still satisfied with his crawling. Is there something wrong with this kid? Why can’t he just walk! This is Disappointed Motherhood. Because our expectations are too high, we miss being present with our current child- the glorious crawler. We have already forgotten our joy at his mastery of that long-awaited skill.
As a previous post explained, we need to have proper expectations for our children. These should be high, but adapted to each child’s capabilities, personality, and talents. We can have high hopes for our child but we must also glory in every feeble step they take- no matter how imperfect or delayed. Expectations become a burden when children feel incapable of achieving them, or when parents never seem content with their efforts.
The Answer of Patience – Joy
So what is this God-like attribute described in the quotation above? How do we maintain our hard-to-satisfy expectations while glorying in our children’s journey? The answer – Patience. God looks upon our feeble and halting steps here on earth as a Loving Father towards his learning toddlers. Just as we would never shame our two-year-old who tearfully admits to knocking over the lamp, He does not chasen us when we trip and fall short of perfection. He freely forgives, if spiritual toddlers even need forgiveness. God may well laugh at our distraught anxiety at our imperfections – just as I chuckle at my three-year-old’s frustration that she can’t ride the hoverboard like her big brother. He knows the timeline, he is in no rush, but the expectation remains the same. Our immaturities do not demand condemnation. They simply require patience and perseverance. Perfectionism is the thief of joy.*
A few years ago, I began praying for patience every night – having 5 kids under 7 can do that to a woman. One night after a day full of my own impatience, I had the thought, Maybe I am doing this wrong. Do I even really know what I am requesting? I would pray, “Please give me patience with these kids’ disobedience! Give me patience with my cold and moldy basement apartment! And please give it to me now!” I don’t think I actually wanted patience. I wanted my wishes granted. I wanted submissive kids and to get out of that basement.
So what is the patience we seek? It can’t simply be learning to wait because necessity requires that. It also isn’t an ability to stop wanting things. We need our desire so we feel compelled to crawl, walk, and run. Good desires should not be abandoned on the altar of “patience”, and waiting without action is no virtue. What we need is to develop God’s patience. Patience is finding joy while we wait. We don’t wait to have joy when our kids are perfectly compliant or our house is above-ground but we find pleasure in the here and now, while we wait. Rather than begrudging that my chunky baby wasn’t walking, I could glory in his crawling. Instead of complaining about living in dilapidated student-housing, I could buy heavy curtains and rejoice in my space-heaters.
“The principle part of faith is patience.”
When our children start to walk, but continue to fall; or when they get discouraged and refuse to attempt the journey into our welcoming arms, we show them God’s Patience. We also accept that our Helper’s patience is there for us as well, in our stumbling steps as a mother. We strive to be better, and delight in each and every small stride. We bless our children with a joyful mother, modeled after our joyful Father, glorying in their small steps toward greatness.
*I hope to do a future post on dropping the load of worldly “perfectionism”.
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“Gratitude is a currency that we can mint for ourselves, and spend without fear of bankruptcy.”
Fred De Witt Van Amburgh
An expression of gratitude is a gift to both receiver and giver. Receiving thanks reminds us that our efforts are not in vain, that we are valuable to others. Giving thanks opens the windows of heaven; it allows us to see what we may have otherwise been blind to.
One of the more difficult aspects of motherhood is that our efforts are often unappreciated. Not only is its significance increasingly disregarded by society but even our own families often don’t acknowledge our sacrifices. Little children rarely think to thank you for making them a sandwich, or going through the hell of potty training. Husbands simply can’t comprehend the misery of the third trimester. This is a reality best accepted rather than resented.*
“Gratitude is a duty which ought to be paid, but which none have a right to expect.” –
Despite the ingratitude of others, we can live in thanksgiving as we adopt our own attitude of gratitude. Even without receiving it, we can spend grateful-currency on others, which makes us richer in the spending.
A few days ago I noticed my son, age ten, allowing his three-year-old sister to drag him around by the shirt as he pretended to be her puppy. This went on for quite a while and I could tell he was not loving this game. He moaned a bit as she pulled him up the stairs, but he generously allowed his persistent little sister to dominate him. She never expressed her gratitude to her older brother, but she was having the time of her life. After they finished playing I sat down next to my son and said, “Thank you so much for playing with her like that. I know you would rather have done something else but she had so much fun with you. You are a very kind big-brother.” It was obvious that this statement of appreciation meant a lot to him. We had a wonderful bonding moment together. He felt loved and I felt blessed to have raised him. It is sad to consider how many similar selfless acts I have ignored. It seems it is not just mothers that are unappreciated.
Thankfulness is only found when we step out of the humdrum nature of life and notice the miraculous around us. As mothers, we have before us perfect miniature-models of this capacity – small children. Children haven’t forgotten to look – they glory in observing their world. They discover new joys everyday as we become increasingly blind to them. When I first moved to the Hill Country of Texas, I remember being enthralled by the majestic Live Oak trees. Now I can go weeks without actually seeing one – despite their ubiquity. I took a walk with my toddler the other day. She inspected the cracks in the sidewalk and screamed excitedly as she discovered a string of fire ants. She lovingly gave me five dandelions to put in my hair. She chased an ill-tempered stray cat. Rather than the annoyance or disregard I typically give to all of the above, she, in actually seeing them, experienced their magic and joy.
But it is not enough to open our eyes, we must open our mouths. Children live in a spirit of gratitude, as adults we must learn to express it.
“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.”
William Arthur Ward
Now we can call up our mom and thank her for potty training us. We can thank our daughter for not complaining about her chores. We can thank our husbands for taking out the trash. With every acknowledgement of appreciation life looks brighter. In recognizing others good deeds, we see that our own have paid off. My son must have listened to my lessons on kindness, my daughter must be maturing out of her obstinacy, my husband notices the needs of his family.
It is an unfortunate truth that we are all tilted towards the negative, we tend to focus on the wilted rose in our beautiful bouquet.
“Man only likes to count his troubles; he doesn’t calculate his happiness.”
However, if we consciously decide to notice the joy in life, and acknowledge it – we unlock the joy that was hidden.
“No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock it is opened.”
If we open our eyes as a child we see the glory of life. As we receive these riches we will live in a state of thankfulness, and become rich. If we spend our self-minted money of gratitude generously toward the oft-unappreciated efforts of others, joy increases. The world can become a truly glorious and miraculous place.
“Don’t worry about being happy. Just try to be grateful, and happiness just comes.”
-We are always grateful and appreciative of your shares, recommendations, and comments.
*There are things we can do to teach appreciation to our children, I hope to write a future post on how we can help our children learn the art of gratitude.
“The world is a looking-glass, and gives back to every man the reflection of his own face. Frown at it, and it will in turn look sourly upon you; laugh at it and with it, and it is a jolly kind companion; and so let all young persons take their choice.”
William Makepeace Thackeray (Vanity Fair)
When I was a freshman at university, I worked in the college Ice Cream Shop. I went through a vigorous fifteen-minute training, done by the creamery supervisor, a sage 19 year-old Sophmore. He demonstrated how to dip the ice cream scoop in water, sink it into the favored barrel, and put it on a cone. After one practice scoop, I had it mastered. He didn’t elaborate on the proper size of the scoop or how to interact with the customers – he didn’t seem concerned with such trivialities. The workplace can be quite relaxed when the management consists of disinterested college students. However, as I worked there I noticed that not everyone interacted the same way with ice cream, or customers for that matter. I discovered some truths about human nature, which have been repeatedly confirmed throughout my life. I realized that there are only two kinds of people in this world – big-scoopers and small-scoopers. Some of my coworkers would dish out wimpy scoops to a child or student, unaware or unphased by their disappointed faces. Others would push the boundaries of a “single scoop” and deliver a very generous scoop to a delighted customer. I was more the latter; in fact, customers began requesting me. After seeing the portions handed out by a tight-fisted employee, they would ask, “Is Ally working tonight?” Now, some would say that the stingy employees were more honest – and if the corporate policy was clear, I might agree. However, it was obvious that no one minded how much we put in a scoop of ice cream.
“For it is in giving that we receive.”
St. Francis of Assisi
I often wondered why someone, given the freedom to dish out a large scoop or a small one, would continually dish out small ones – especially after witnessing the celebrity status of the big-scoop employees. I noticed that those employees who handed out meager scoops, tended to exhibit other attributes. Rather than enjoying their job working at an ice cream shop, (literally every child’s dream), they came to work grumpy. Rather than interacting joyfully with customers, they acted bored or even rude. They discovered a multitude of reasons to complain about their work conditions or shift schedule. Why interact with the world this way? It certainly seemed this pessimistic view of life was making them miserable and building up their own personal hell.
“We are each our own devil, and we make this world our hell.”
Have we Become Miss Trunchbull?
I recently watched the movie “Matilda” with my children. The headmaster of the school, Miss Trunchbull, is a characterture of an angry and vindictive woman – someone that hates life and takes it out on innocents. Miss Truchbulls are all too common in our children’s lives. In school, children are chastised, “No talking during lunch!” “Don’t climb trees!” In Kindergarten my daughter was even reprimanded for hugging her friend, “No hugs allowed in school!” Adults become the oppressors of childhood joy. By focusing on the negative with children, we may be stifling their generous and happy nature and inadvertently creating a new generation of small scoopers.
We have all met real-life Miss Trunchbulls: a snippy store clerk, that curt librarian, or the lady you pray doesn’t call your number at the DMV. Negative women, and men, are easy to spot and we generally try and avoid them. However, for some reason, it is much harder to recognize ourselves as one of them. We may, in fact, be blissfully unaware that we have become a Miss Trunchbull in children’s eyes, or that we are now ungenerous scoopers. We are so consumed by our own suffering, our own injustices, our own stresses, that we don’t see the hell that follows us. We don’t see that our outlook on life is draining the joy of others around us, that our perspective is teaching our kids that the world is an ungenerous place, a place where ice cream needs to be preserved, not shared.
“Hell begins with a grumbling mood, always complaining, always blaming others… but you are still distinct from it. You may even criticize it in yourself and wish you could stop it. But there may come a day when you can no longer. Then there will be no you left to criticize the mood or even to enjoy it, but just the grumble itself, going on forever like a machine. It is not a question of God “sending us” to hell. In each of us there is something growing, which will BE hell unless it is nipped in the bud. ”
Why Debbie Downer and not Fezziwig?
“Life begins as a quest of the child for the man, and ends as a journey by the man to rediscover the child.”
There are many reasons we may have allowed ourselves to become ungenerous or negative. Perhaps we have lived a difficult life or have a disagreeable personality type. Perhaps we feel unloved or unappreciated. Maybe we have developed a scarce view of the world, believing in zero-sum happiness. Regardless of the source of our negativity, we must realize that we can never expect good things from life if we refuse to interact with it graciously.
If instead, we decide to take the opposite course, the cheerful-road less traveled, we will find influence that even the most miserly among us can appreciate and cherish. Ebeneezer Scrooge was asked by the Ghost of Christmas Present why he respected his old employer Fezziwig, who spent his money on frivolous amusements. Scrooge said, “He has the power to render us happy or unhappy; to make our service light or burdensome; a pleasure or a toil. Say that his power lies in words and looks; in things so slight and insignificant that it is impossible to add and count ’em up: what then? The happiness he gives, is quite as great as if it cost a fortune.” (Charles Dickens, The Christmas Carol)
So how do we start rendering others happy, rather than unhappy? What can we do to change our negative habits, personality, or outlook?
1. Become a Spectator
“The best way to keep a prisoner from escaping is to make sure he never knows he’s in prison.”
Are we unaware of the prison of negativity and hostility in which we are residing? We need to become conscious to the way we are interacting with the world. We need to look at ourselves as an impartial observer. This should be done without judgement. If we become a spectator to our own behavior, we may see things we would never expect. Are we giving out wimpy scoops? Are we yelling at innocent children? Rather than feeling condemned by the imperfections we notice in ourselves, we should see hope – hope of progress. We have likely noticed we are unhappy – here might be a good place to start to rectify that. If we seek to improve our interactions with others, their reactions to us will also certainly improve.
Despite my previous notoriety as a Big Scooper, I regret to admit I have many moments of stingy behavior. It is interesting how I can become a witness to my own destructive behaviors, but seem unable to stop them. This is when I let my impulses overtake my free will. I observe a witchy woman – fully engulfed in emotionality, which I seem powerless to stop. I see myself displaying negative habits and reacting instinctively rather than with thoughtfulness and kindness. I see myself yelling at joyfully laughing children in the backseat. I notice myself unloading emotional baggage on my husband as he walks in the door from a long-day at work, without concern for him. These moments all seem to occur above a common denominator, stress. When we attempt to remove our own bias and see ourselves clearly, we can choose to react differently – more positively. Being self-observant has helped me identify my stress-triggers and prevent them.
2. Decide who you want to be
I used to have a distaste for the phrase, “Fake it till you make it” because I dislike insincerity, I always strive to be genuine and respect others I feel are authentic. However, I have found in marriage and mothering that sometimes if I am in a bad mood – I simply need to fake happiness, for the sake of myself and my family. I want my children to remember their mom as happy and nurturing. I want my husband to feel welcomed by a generous and loving wife.
An interesting and well-known study, now known simply as the Pencil Study, showed that people’s moods can be elevated simply by placing a pencil in their mouths – forcing them to use their smile muscles. It seems “faking it” can trick our brains into producing endorphins and serotonin. Doing charitable acts can make us more charitable. Directing our thoughts to others can decrease our selfishness. We sometimes need to force ourselves out of our negative cycles – improve our posture, take a walk, pray, be grateful. But most of all we must decide who we want to be and work to become that person. We must strive to be the hero of our story and shun the enemy we could become.
3. Integrate who you want to be with how you live
We can decide that we are not going to be a slave to a pessimistic view of life. We can freely choose to prevent such reactions and to interact with the world differently. But it takes using our attention and focus, especially if we are in the habit of reacting negatively.
We must prepare and prevent. We know when our own Miss Trunchbull is likely to emerge. For me it is 5:30 at night as I prepare dinner. My noise bucket is now full and my will-power muscle is worn out, so I start to get snippy with my children. If I do not change the conditions, the outcome will always be the same, so I play relaxing classical music or send the kids outside to play. If it has been a stressful day, I consciously decide to not complain to my husband until he has been home fifteen minutes, even if I have to tell Alexa to remind me. I usually find when 15 minutes are up, I have forgotten my complaints.
If we are going to successfully defeat our mean nature, we need to “negotiate with ourselves”, as Dr. Jordan Peterson says. First we need to become a spectator and witness the negative consequences of our pessimism and unpleasantness. Then we need to decide if we really are willing to become a more positive person. Finally we need to integrate that positivity into our lives. This might require a changing of routines, shifting our outlook, and even some moments of “pretending”. But there is hope that we can become a big-scooper again. As we see the benefit of positivity, our efforts will be a reward unto themselves.
“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek, find. Those who knock, it is opened.”
C.S. Lewis (The Great Divorce)
Bring Heaven Down
When I look back at my days at the Creamery, I remember it as pure joy. I gloried in that ice cream and the happiness it brought. I want that “Ally” back for good. Some days she is here and other days Miss Trunchbull makes her appearance. I have hope that I can live the heavenly days of college again, and why not? I am now surrounded by my children and husband, whom I love dearly. Now should be the time I am most capable of building up my own heaven. I remain convinced of the truth I learned in college: there are only two types of people in this world, big-scoopers and small-scoopers. But now I know that the choice is before me day after day, moment after moment, who will I be? Will I make a heaven or a hell?
“At the end of things, The Blessed will say, “We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven.” And the lost will say, “We were always in Hell.” And both will speak truly.”
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Recently I was visiting my mother, who lives in another state. She makes the best sourdough bread on earth, resulting in an average 5 lbs weight-gain per visit. As I demolished a warm slice, I couldn’t help but exclaim, “Mom, you make the absolute best bread!” Rather than accepting my compliment, she seemed a bit annoyed and said sarcastically, “Oh yeah, I’m really changing the world, one piece of bread at a time!” I chuckled and moved on. However, I thought about this reaction for awhile. My mother has many and varied talents and accomplishments, but for some reason she almost seemed ashamed of this particular skill- baking bread. This task seemed to her so menial that its mention was almost a reproach.
The Shame of the Kitchen It struck me how common this sentiment is. The go-to response from women seeking independence or influence is, “I am not going to be just be a mom stuck in some kitchen!” “I can do more than bake bread!” Hillary Clinton said, “I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but I decided to fulfill my profession.” Miley Cyrus declared, “I don’t fit into the stereotypical wife role, I don’t even like that word…do people really think I’m at home in an apron cooking dinner?!”
Why rip on the kitchen? Why shame bread? Why the constant degrading of food preparation? We Americans are fat after all. Considering our obsession with food, you would think we would view the cooks as next to the gods. When memes pop up in our culture, it is often illuminating to examine them and seek their origins.
Back to the Dark Ages If we look back in time, visiting the Middle Age of human history, we see men and women playing vastly different roles. Women, tied down by children and menstruation, stayed near the home. They tended the chickens, cleaned the house, and prepared the food. Their empathetic and nurturing natures aided them in raising young children. Women were Nourishers – body and soul. The men went out into the world, unburdened by breastfeeding or physical limitation. Their strength and less emotional natures enabled them to do the harsh and dangerous work of hunting. They brought this food home to to be prepared by women.
We see that in ancient times a man’s role as “provider” was not any more prestigious than a woman’s role as “nourisher”. They both made sacrifices and worked hard to survive in a harsh world. Many men died in the hunt or in war. Many women died in childbirth. Roles kept the family stable. It meant everyone had a place. It meant boys and girls knew their future path.
Today, however, we don’t see “provider” and “nourisher” as equal. No, as my mother’s shame for bread-making suggests, the pre-industrial woman’s place in the kitchen is disgraceful to modern-feminism and, progressively, society at large. However the historic male equivalent – a male hunter providing for his family, doesn’t affect disgust.
Why? Both are acts driven by biology to protect and nourish the family. Both are self-sacrificing. The man wasn’t excited about potentially being eaten by wolves and the woman wasn’t eager to work over a hot fire. But what has now made the woman’s role seem inferior? I believe it is the symbol of the hunter we now crave – access to the outside world, to the freedom and prestige it provides. What mis-colors our view of the past? What do we now have that would influence our new perspective: Money. As the Bible says, “For the love of money is the root of all evil.”
Money as Motivation The industrial revolution changed things dramatically. Men began to have opportunities that were not there before. There were new ways to provide for the family. Men transformed the hunting act into tradable labor, and money. This money could exceed the amount needed for simple survival. Money was not made by Nourishers, but by Providers. Women began to feel restrained by their home kitchen. Women were kept from this advantage – held back by their bodies, children, and social mores.
As men began to accumulate excess wealth and power, they gained freedoms women lacked. Survival and family stability were no longer their sole motivators. Women, as Nourishers of the family, decreased in influence as the family’s importance decreased, crowded out by commerce. Local bakers could now supply our bread. The spiritual center, the home, had to compete with a material culture, capable of satisfying needs the home once met, and of creating new needs as well.
The Bread of Life
Somewhere along the way, women, in seeing their lack, forgot their abundance. What’s interesting about my mom’s embarrassment at her bread-making is that she was blind to the true influence she has. When I ask my children what they miss most about Grandpa and Grandma they always mention her baking. The smell of Grandma’s freshly baked bread brings warmth and comfort.
But bread is more than a physical nourishment. Bread has spiritual power. Christ called himself, The Bread of Life.
“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
He did not use hunting analogies in describing his role. Many were disappointed by His chosen title as they had hoped for a Warrior Messiah, a man to overthrow Roman rule. But He made clear he had not come as a material provider. His mission was to the soul. He used bread – the domain of the feminine – to define His influence. “Whoever eats this bread will live forever.” Mothers can live out this symbolism in our own homes. Our love and sacrifice brings abundance to others. A mother’s influence exceeds any power that originates in a boardroom or on a battlefield. If we honestly look back on our lives and ask who has been the most influential, we think of our mother. This influence may be for good or evil. Olympic gold-medalists praise their mothers while otherssit on psychologists couches expounding their mommy issues. The difference is in the bread. We all yearn for bread baked in love and kindness. We feel unsatisfied and neglected with Wonderbread. (Warning: this is symbolic, my own children often eat Wonderbread – but only because my mother lives a thousand miles away).
Modern Times: The Reason Shifts With the invention of birth control, women gained some choice. They no longer had to be “stuck” in the kitchen. They could limit the number of children they had. They had personal hygiene products to allow them to work outside the home. The kitchen became a symbol of the past. Independent-minded women did not have to be slaves to food prep – they could make money and gain power like men. Many women would have rather stayed in the kitchen, but shifting economies and weakening extended family structure forced many women into the workplace. What initially began as an economic necessity, became the norm.
With new monetary opportunities came new sacrifices. The ultimate sacrifice was that of the feminine purpose. Rather than focusing on the spiritual benefits of a present-mother and warm kitchen, many, out of necessity or preference, prioritized material gain. Women had a new and paradigm-shifting question to answer, Are children a blessing or a burden?
“I love these little people; and it is not a slight thing when they, who are so fresh from God, love us.”
If a woman wanted to be successful materially, she would need to give up a large family. If she was truly ambitious, she could decide against children altogether. Children, before seen as motivation for the sacrifice and work, now became, for many, an impediment to material and personal success. A woman’s kitchen, absent of her children, is a inglourious place indeed, with no nourishment or encouragement to be given and no bonds to be formed. Single young women with no dreams of marriage or family have every reason to shun bread-baking. Who would it be for?
The materialistic and independent world taught to our young daughters leaves no place for the nourishing feminine traits of the kitchen. The modern hunting-ground of commerce requires neither nurture or compassion. Women drop their feminine strengths and trade them in for a cold heart and a modern bow and arrow.
What Happened in the Kitchen But what did we leave behind? Perhaps the things left behind, through choice or necessity, are the same ones that prevented the now skyrocketing mental health issues, promiscuity, addiction, and general unhappiness and meaninglessness. If we actually consider it – the neglected kitchen may be vastly more influential in the success of a society than any gains women have made in employment.
So what really happened in that stifling kitchen? Well, some stifling. As I stated previously, I do not personally enjoy cooking. I can see myself frustrated, wanting to go out and explore the world but restrained by my place and expectations. I have compassion for the generations of women that did not have a choice. Women’s lot was certainly hard. But in the modern interpretation of history, the reason given is shallow and simplistic – men subjugated women. The fact is that life was horrific for both sexes – and often horrific in different ways. Men and women had to collaborate to survive. The little joy that was found in this life of hardship was often found in the family kitchen and in the bonds formed therein.
“Family not only need to consist of merely those whom we share blood, but also for those whom we’d give blood.”
The Soul of the Home
Considering that there is “nothing new under the sun”, we can assume that the same dynamics we see in our modern world, occured in the past. What happens in our own kitchens, happened in theirs, minus the electricity and basic hygiene. A mother is feeding her baby her first bite of mush. Children are playing with dough on the kitchen table. A teen-age daughter is crying over her first breakup. A father is expounding the meaning in a passage of scripture. The kitchen is where life happens, where love is given, where ideas are discussed, where bonds are formed. Kitchens are factories of childhood resilience. If we scorn the kitchen – if we ridicule the mother baking bread – we shame the soul out of families. Families without strong bonds, without a spiritual center, will fail. If our society loses the foundation of loving families, we are doomed to a purely material fate. The lack that is felt from a cold kitchen is shown in the psychology and self-worth of the populace.
The mother has the ultimate career. All other careers exist for one purpose only – and that is to support the ultimate career.
Do I Need to Bake?
Does this mean that we can’t work outside the home, that we must handcuff ourselves to the kitchen counter and revert back to all the traditions of the past? Do I need to figure out how to bake bread to be a good Mom? Absolutely not. It means that we respect the kitchen, we glory in the symbol and the meaning of bread – familial engagement and nurture. We harness the nourishing power of this bread where we can provide it. A working mother can give encouragement to her children on the car ride to school. The bread of empathy can be given after our son’s hard day at school. It can be found in the warmth of embrace to our returning husband.
The next time you hear a woman denigrate the “kitchen” or unsung work such as “baking bread”, remember that generations of women poured their love and sacrifice into that bread. That bread was a masterpiece of love and creation; it still can be. Our modern world could do with more bread-makers, more women who glory in their feminine strengths. As we go off to work, let’s refuse to pick up a bow and arrow and instead bring bread. We need women who, before pursuing material gain or social prestige, seek ways to bring love and comfort to others. We have the power to bring the comfort of the kitchen to a dreary workplace, or to a sick neighbor. As women increase in responsibility and influence, let’s not shut the door on the kitchen.
The Glory of the Kitchen
My own mother, despite her own belittling, did have a place in her kitchen. Her glory was not found in the praise of men, but the love of her family. Her kitchen was a spiritual and emotional refuge from the material cares of the world. As a child, my own insecurities and anxiety were always left behind as I smeared butter on my warm, freshly-cut slice. In the end, education, financial gains, and the “glory of men” are insignificant contributors to my current health, perspective, and contentment. My happiness was baked in my childhood, in my mother’s bread.
“It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence, to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words: ‘And this, too, shall pass away.’ How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride! How consoling in the depths of affliction!”
As a weary mother, holding a crying infant in the early morning hours, we may find solace in these words – “and this, too, shall pass away.” We will not have this exhausting baby for long. We shall not long have this privilege. We are grateful for the acute nature of many of our trials, we would never mourn their passing. But parenthood is a burden of a different type. Rare is the parent that, in gazing on their growing child, does not feel a tinge of longing for the fussy newborn they once were. When we see our child growing into adulthood we wish it had not passed so quickly. We reach back into the past and see those early morning feedings in a new light, we see love where before there was weariness. Let’s allow this mantra to find a place in our hearts, “this, too, shall pass away.” If we value each moment all the more for its fleeting nature, we may at least look upon our grown-newborn without regret for the part we played in this fated passing.
“Foolish is the man, and there are many such men, who would rid himself or his fellows of discomfort by setting the world right, by waging war on the evils around him, while he neglects that integral part of the world where lies his business, his first business, namely, his own character and conduct.”
It is futile to attempt to change the world while remaining as we are. In a previous post, Raising Rebels, we discussed the need to rebel against our culture as it spurns traditional morality. Does this conflict with the above statement on the need to focus on our own wickedness before attempting to change the world? Not when the rebellion we seek is deeply personal, an individual refusal to yield to the calls of pleasure-seeking and moral compromise. There will be no successful rebellion if the rebels are themselves subverting the cause by supplying the opposition with ammunition. Hypocritical Christians are horrible recruiters; they have repelled many. In order to bring about the world we desire, we must live that world in our own relationships and in our own choices.
“…Were it possible – an absurd supposition – that the world should thus be righted from the outside, it would yet be impossible for the man who had contributed to the work, remaining what he was, ever to enjoy the perfection of the result; himself not in tune with the organ he has tuned, he must imagine it still a distracted, jarring instrument.”
In order to be worthy of the world we desire, we must begin to build it in ourselves. This requires a humble and introspective nature and the ability to follow our conscience, no matter where it may lead. Recently, in trying to apply these profound words of George MacDonald, I pondered and prayed to discover what I could transform in myself. Shockingly quickly, the answer came – almost as if God has a long list of faults he is waiting to reveal, I only need ask. Luckily He restricted the answer to just one; He knows my pace is slow. I perceived that I need to stop complaining. Of late I have been quite negative about where we live. I would rather live in the country and nearer to family. I have been moaning quite regularly to my husband and as I pondered this fact, I could see that my negativity had been a burden on my family. I am still doing what I can to change my situation, but I am attempting to be more positive and joyful.
The Power of One
We hear many calls to serve and give consideration to a particular group – whether it be a certain race, gender, nationality, or sexuality. These pleas for assistance may be well-meaning. However, any efforts to serve groups must be primarily concerned with helping the individuals that comprise that group. Transformation occurs one person at a time.
“…The philanthropist who regards the wrong as in the race, forgetting that the race is made up of conscious and wrong individuals, forgets also that wrong is always generated in and done by an individual; that the wrongness exists in the individual, and by him is passed over, as tendency, to the race; and that no evil can be cured in the human race, except by its being cured by its individuals.”
It is fortunate that change is wrought at the same level that love is also given, and received; the individual. You may say you love dogs, but you transmit that love to your own particular dog. Your dog receives that love and returns it to you, he is obedient to his loving master.
“…There is no way of making three men right but by making right each one of the three; but a cure in one man who repents and turns, is a beginning of the cure of the whole human race.”
All quotes above: George MacDonald (The Hope of the Gospel)
O’ What may man within him hide, though angel on the outward side!
The burden of responsibility which accompanies self-improvement is rejected by many. In exchange, they opt for virtue signalling and hypocrisy, or as Jordan Peterson says, “an abdication of personal responsibility with the mask of social virtue.” These are the people marching for climate change in the street, then after proclaiming their disgust for an uncaring society, drive home in their gas-guzzling cars. These would find it difficult to live in the car-less world they hope to create. We cannot ask others to climb a mountain while relaxing at base-camp.
“You don’t change the world by going and waving signs at people that you have defined as more evil than you. The probability that they are more evil than you is actually quite low because evil though they may be, you are in the same boat. If you have divided the world up conveniently so you can define the oppressor and oppressed and you are in the positive category, then the probability that you are part of the solution and not part of the problem is zero.”
As I said in the last post, we see the world collapsing around us and we can’t just stand idly by; yet we also see that we have to transform ourselves before we can help. We all have gifts and passions given to us for the betterment of the world. We often feel a call to help others in a certain way. Wouldn’t it be a waste to sit on our gifts and passions until we reach unreachable perfection? How can we harmonize these two seemingly contradictory truths: we should use our gifts and love to help others, we must get “our own house in order before advising the world”?
When Christ was asked what are the most important commandments He said,
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
The first and great commandment is intensely personal, love God. Christ tells us exactly how we love God, “if ye love me, keep my commandments.” This requires action, not words. We must live out the moral life we desire to see in the world. This is our rebellion – refusing to live as the world demands, living instead as our conscience directs. This is “setting our house in order.” We must prioritize this above all else – on a daily basis and in our own perspective.
However, we are also given a second commandment, to love our neighbor. It does not say to change thy neighbor, rather, as Thomas Aquinas described, it is “ to will the good of our neighbor”. We want good things for others, as we want them for ourselves. This love is often found as we journey up the mountain. We gain empathy when we fall, we gain faith when we succeed. We see the world more clearly as we gain the elevation of personal progression.
Don’t climb mountains so that people can see you. Climb mountains so that you can see the world.
David McCullough Jr.
Charitable love is generally not directed at large societal groups. It is shown in the love and concern we share for a friend, or stranger. In this form of love, known as Agape, the highest form of love, the power of transformation is found. Agape is not judgmental or disapproving, it authenticity calls others to truth and light.
“You should not trust people’s whose primary goal when trying to change the world is to change other people.”
As we strive upwards in our own quest for perfection, we can share our struggles and successes with those around us. We can share our gifts and knowledge with the a hope that in so doing they too can improve.
When to Speak and When to Shut-up
But when are we exhibiting genuine love and concern for others and when is it instead a presumptuous and judgmental attempt to change others? I have personally thought a lot about this. Who am I to write a blog? What gives me the right? I am certainly not perfect and many are wiser and more qualified than myself. For years my husband told me I should write about the ideas I discussed with him. I thought his idea smacked of self-promotion.
However, I continued to hear the call. I was particularly concerned as I saw many young women casting aside motherhood without proper consideration. I wanted to provide more knowledge and insight to these women, gathered from great thinkers. Finally one day, after finishing a book by Andrew Klavan, The Great Good Thing, I decided to just do it. He had used his gift and passion to spread truth to millions. I trusted that he was doing it for the right reasons, perhaps I could as well.
However, I remained double-minded about the proposition. I had also spent hundreds of hours listening to Dr. Peterson’s lectures, so his voice rang in my head – warning me of the dangers of “unearned wisdom” and virtue signalling. I worried I was stepping into the hypocritical zone.
I decided to proceed with caution, understanding my many weaknesses. In my writing, I try to be completely honest about my own experience and imperfections. I often check my motivations. Am I trying to impress? Am I here to share truth and hope, or to gain praise? Am I speaking genuinely?
These answers have not always been yes. A few months ago I decided I wanted to write a piece on women’s feelings of inadequacy. I have known many women plagued with low self-worth and it seemed like a topic worth discussing. I found lots of good material and finally finished the post. I read it aloud to myself. Something felt off. I knew I was not the person to write it – I did not have the empathy or experience required for the topic. I decided it was better to chuck the whole thing and seek out a guest-blogger who could genuinely share wisdom gained.
“For knowledge to be yours, you have to see how it applies to your own case and then have a story to tell about how that’s the case. You associate it with the unique particularities of your own experience, you have acted out the ideas and tested them in the world. That’s how you make knowledge your own. ”
If we share wisdom we have not lived, our words will be unpersuasive and inauthentic. We each have insights to share, but let’s resist the urge to pretend expertise on everything. Tiger Woods can write a book on golf, not on marriage. This is not to say that we can not have opinions on things we have not experienced. However, the most powerful art comes from artists who reveal truth discovered in their own personal journey up the mountain.
“Where the spirit does not work with the hand, there is no art.”
Leonardo Di Vinci
In endeavoring to inspire others on their journey we want to utilize our creative gifts. If we are motivated by agape, the art we create can be transformative. If we instead seek our own glory, beauty will fail.
“The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts.”
As we seek our Rebellion against a degenerate culture, we must first commence a personal rebellion; against our own immorality, our own tendency towards hypocrisy and “unearned moral superiority”. As we seek our own perfection, we will increase in love for our fellow-man. We will want to share our gifts and earned-wisdom with others as we journey uphill together.
My oldest son, age 10, recently told me, “Mom, I kinda feel sorry for my friend. I think he has a hard life.” He explained that his friend is always sad since his parents got divorced and he is not doing well at school. We discussed how he might help his friend. For some reason, I couldn’t stop thinking about this boy – one of a million or more children in similar situations. These are not lives of material or physical hardship but emotional and familial distress – sufferings of the soul. How can we keep our children safe from the modern-day plagues of anxiety, loneliness, and nihilism?
Traditionally, children have been protected by a stable family structure and religious values. But increasingly these values are questioned and often discarded. Our culture is now experiencing moral chaos, old norms are going the way of the typewriter and powdered wigs. Concurrently, mental health diagnoses increase, opioid addiction skyrockets, and STD rates rise. The biggest influence on our psychology, morality, and perspective is our childhood home. As the typical home experiences the turmoil of shifting values, we see suffering in our society’s youth.
“Over the previous half-century, an overwhelming collection of research studies in sociology, psychology, biology, child development, and medicine has pointed to one great and common truth: children predictably do best when raised by their two natural parents who are married. Any deviation from this model raises the likelihood of physical, mental, and social difficulties. This is why every healthy polity encourages the creation and maintenance of married-couple homes.”
How do we go about saving our children and a society experiencing moral entropy? In order to fight against our sinking culture, we need to adopt the proper plan of action – Open Rebellion. There is a quaint belief going around that there is a “Silent Majority” that still believes in reasonable and long-held positions of morality. Frankly, the Silent Majority is useless; it is so quiet it might as well not exist. It is either imaginary or it is submissively allowing the wolves to drive us like sheep off the cliff – but more of that later.
“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”
Sometimes we look at political and social polls – tracking what the majority feels on a certain issue, as if it were a gauge for its appropriateness. In a world that has abandoned its core values, the majority can no longer be trusted. The unhappy truth is that the majority of Germans supported the Nazis; the majority of politicians lie; the majority of high school students cheat. As we read history, we often picture ourselves in the role of hero, but chances are we would have been one of the “wicked majority”. Perhaps we would not have actively participated in evil acts – but our silence, immobility, or submission would have allowed wickedness to thrive.
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
Parents and children must realize the reality of the “wicked majority”. If we want our children on our side, we must tell them the truth. Children have a strong desire to conform and be “normal” – life seems easier that way. The dark potential of conformity is not initially obvious. Kindergarteners don’t form gangs. Children are hopeful and innocent to human malevolence. We may not want to darken their view of the world by telling them of the evil proclivities of the crowd. But as children age, and the power of peer pressure grows. They must recognize the tendency to justify immoral behavior rather than risk diverging from the norm. A naive view of human nature will not help our children avoid destruction – it may push them towards it.
Uncovering a Monster
“You don’t have the strength of character to be good until you understand just exactly what sort of monster you can be.” Jordan Peterson. When we recognize our own potential for evil, the monster inside us, we begin to understand why the majority often chooses darkness. Our own potential Monster, foreshadowed by our daily vice, must be uncovered. It must be recognized and rejected – or we will begin to rationalize our immorality and the parallel degeneracy of our society. We may become so accustomed to our collective vice that it will no longer be a monster to us, but a friend.
“Vice is a monster of so frightful mien
As to be hated needs but to be seen;
Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face,
We first endure, then pity, then embrace.”
Alexander Pope *mien = bearing or appearance.
The majority is an increasingly dangerous place to be. The monster is now out, and roaming the halls of the typical high school – casual sex, pornography, and recreational drug use are all “normal”. We need to stop ”hoping for the best” and arm our kids for battle. Our children are inundated daily with evidence of the destructiveness of the crowd and immorality. Their conscience directs them to choose right over wrong; they simply need the proper perspective so they choose to follow it, rather than the crowd. They need to know that they are capable of treading a new path, one more fulfilling than conformity.
“The person who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd. The person who walks alone is likely to find himself in places no one has ever seen before.”
Foreshadowing in Rome
Morality is what holds society together. Throughout time most societies have come to similar norms of right and wrong. However, as societies age, they begin to degenerate and virtues are replaced with vices: materialism replaces humility, lust replaces fidelity, ambition replaces service. The fall of Rome was blamed by Roman historians on a collapsing social structure and morality.
“A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself within. The essential causes of Rome’s decline lay in her people, her morals, her class struggle, her failing trade, her bureaucratic despotism, her stifling taxes, her consuming wars.”
An example of the moral blindness of Rome is shown in their treatment of children. Before Rome’s fall their birth rate plummeted. Pedophilia and child abuse were common. Roman citizens did not place value on infant life. They would “expose” unwanted babies – leaving them on trash heaps to die. The Christians, refused to accept this norm. They believed in the sacredness of human life and began saving these children – taking them into their own homes. The idea of “charity” was virtually unknown in the pagan world before Christianity. The new but growing sect of Christians drew the ire Rome.
“Christians followed the example of Jesus, who had compassion for the powerless… Christian writers openly criticized Roman society for its superstition and hedonism. This, combined with Christians’ refusal to participate in traditional Roman religion, meant that to pagan Romans, Christians seemed rigorously intolerant.”
Mike Aquilina (Seven Revolutions)
Today many pushing progressive values have resurrected the Roman claim of the “intolerant Christian”.
Resisting temptation will often make our lives more difficult – the road less traveled is less traveled for a reason. Any engaged young adult attempting to be abstinent until marriage knows how difficult resisting temptation can be – justifying premarital sex is much easier. Any recovering alcoholic knows the misery of resisting a drink. Any high school student knows it’s easier to cheat than to study.*
The early Christians, including Paul, understood what was required of those breaking from the majority. They were burned at the stake or torn apart by lions as a reward for their intolerance and refusal to deny their beliefs. Disciples are called upon to suffer as a direct result of their attempts to be “good”, especially in times of moral degeneracy.
But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.
1 Peter 4:13
It is crucial that our youth expect that difficulty will come when they diverge from the majority. This path won’t help them be the “cool kid”, but their shining example could bring hope to the hopeless. They may not march in the crowd – but in attempting to model a virtuous and moral life they will bring back an Ideal lost to many. They must be willing to suffer and face their own monster, and be ready for a fight. They must understand that this battle is much more important than the trivialities of school and friends.
“Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.”
My five-year-old daughter REFUSES to wear her hair in pig-tails. But she is so stinking cute with her hair in pigtails that some days I will invoke my own stubborn nature and hold her still while I put her hair up. I quickly tell my other kids to heap praise upon her. Despite this flattery, after a few minutes she will have inevitably taken her hair out.
I always wanted to raise obedient children. But, unfortunately, as toddlers each child has come to that crucial realization, they have their own will. A new existence of stubborn obstinance begins. However, now, as I recognize the degeneration of our culture, and people’s proclivity for conformity, I appreciate my children’s willful and independent natures. Who wants obedience to such a world? We need rebels! We need to encourage our children to rebel against the culture and defend truth and goodness. If my daughter can resist the pressure of pigtails, maybe she can reject the pressuring of a teenage boy; maybe she can resist the temptation to smoke pot or to tease the new girl.
The Opposition is Already Waging War
As I was researching for this post I wanted to see if the title I was planning, “Raising Rebels”, had been used previously. I did a quick internet search and the top listing was of a podcast, with tens of thousands of views, with the following description: Raising Rebels: Raising trans and queer babies is a fundamental survival strategy for all possible futures.
Considering my core thesis is that we need to raise children willing to rebel against the destruction of traditional morality, I found this quite ironic. However, it also highlights something very important. We are losing this battle, and for one main reason – the opposition see themselves as Rebels, while we are lulled into a false sense of security. They are engaged in cultural warfare while we eat grapes like the Roman aristocracy. They know that the Silent Majority is theirs for the taking if they make enough noise and appeal to our self-righteous, fearful and naive nature. Now, I am not saying the producers of the above podcast are to be hated or that they are not sincere in their beliefs. However, I am saying that they are, in fact, wrong. Their “strategy” to dismantle the traditional family will not help society’s “survival” but instead hasten its destruction. We should be compassionate, but we must not acquiesce. We must continually oppose their agenda. If we stay in the zone of no resistance we will continue to be pushed left – right off the cliff.
“When the whole world is running towards a cliff, he who is running in the opposite direction appears to have lost his mind.”
Enemy Tactics – Appeal to your desire for tolerance
A powerful tactic of any invading force is an appeal to the desire for peace. We don’t want the conflict an insistence on morality may bring. Women particularly fear being accused of intolerance. Almost weekly, I am bombarded on social media with another viral blog post stressing that “we not judge” others based on some moral decision. I agree that God is our judge, we need not concern ourselves with the lives of others because we are not aware of their particularities and should be primarily concerned with our own lives. But in reality, the accused we, by and large, don’t actually care about other people’s private lives – the cry “don’t judge me” is based on the presumption that someone was. It is more often the case that we are all too busy thinking about ourselves to worry what others do.
“You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do.”
But nonetheless, “Don’t Judge”, is the standard method of deflection whenever someone opposes the normalization of a previously stigmatized behavior. It is another way of saying, “Stop talking, you just think you are better than me.” Nope. We just don’t want our culture to slide into the abyss. We can stand up for doctrine or morality without ruminating on your particular love life, or outfit, or health choice. Love the sinner, hate the sin is still a thing, right? Perhaps you aren’t as concerned about our judgement as you are with rationalizing your own choices? Here’s the solution: First, stop caring what other people think. Second, care what God thinks.
My son’s friend is suffering because of his parents’ divorce. I am not judging his parents – I have no idea what the situation was that led to the decision – it is none of my business. But just because this is his reality, does that mean we pretend divorce is not a negative for children? Do we instead, to spare feelings, pretend that divorce is just as good as parents remaining married? You are not going to trick a child saddened by divorce into thinking he is living the good life, but in discounting his natural reactions to break up of his family, you may convince him that there is no good life to be found. In our attempts to avoid judgement we are throwing out the ideal and lying to our children.
Those that want to dismantle traditional values often come to us in sheep’s clothing. We should treat everyone with empathy and understanding – but staying silent and passive in the face of cultural disintegration is not kindness, it’s cowardice.
Enemy Tactics – Use the Lukewarm
Christ tells us that who is “not with me is against me”. But how do we know which side we are really on? Surely it is enough to attempt to live morally and avoid conflict? As a mother, I simply want my family to be free to live out our beliefs in peace. However, the unfortunate truth is that increasingly the fight is coming to us whether we like it or not. The question is, when the time comes, will we stand or lay down? The Romans came for the early Christians, the fame of their integrity before Roman immorality helped demonstrate the truth of the gospel; Christianity grew exponentially. The Romans, on the other hand, fell easily to the Visigoths, they had no strength to stand.
“I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.”
This seems harsh. Why such a rejection of lukewarm water? It could never harm anybody. Exactly. Before their fall, prophetic Romans warned that their moral decay would lead to destruction.
More savage than war, luxury burdened (Rome)
and avenged the conquered world.
Juvenal, Satire 6
The Silent Majority is the biggest asset of the opposition. Material ease and comfort have made us lazy and complacent. We need not struggle, we have even forgotten how to. The majority’s lukewarm nature ensures a non-confrontational march to wherever the progressive leaders desire.
“Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one–the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts,..
The loud and aggressive minority quickly controls the Silent Majority into submission. Children of the Silent Majority are left with no way of deciphering their parents true moral beliefs. They learn only from their parents’ words and actions– the willing acceptance of the dismantling of their culture. Yes, they may not have fully engaged their inner monster – but weakness is not goodness. Lukewarm water will never become warmer – it will only grow cold and quiet.
Conclusion – A Dangerous Minority
“A harmless man is not a good man. A good man is a very dangerous man who has that under voluntary control.”
Better to transform our monster into a destroying angel – capable of defeating evil and doing God’s work. But how? By living out the values we are attempting to preserve. Anyone that resists vice and attempts to live a moral life is capable of defeating our cultural Monster, for they have faced their own before. Those that immediately submit to temptation and the demands of the enemy, will remain naive and weak.
“No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good. A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. After all, you find out the strength of the German army by fighting against it, not by giving in. You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down. A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness — they have lived a sheltered life by always giving in. We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means — the only complete realist.”
If we want to prevent another ‘sacking of Rome’, we must bravely rebel against a culture which is allowing our collective-Monster to corrupt morality and cast aside our children. Increasingly the act of simply living-out a Christian life is an act of rebellion. We must refuse to lose our souls to the Lukewarm Majority as it descends into moral entropy. We must boldly live out our beliefs, stand against degrading values, and teach our children to do the same.
Truth will win in the end. We may not know what “the end” will look like, or what sufferings will be required to achieve it – but heroes are always on the side of truth.
“This is what the Lord says to you: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s.”
2 Chronicles 2:15
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Rather than outline evidence of the negative impact shifting values have on children, relevant resources are found below. I highly suggest the book, Seven Revolutions: How Christianity Changed the World and Can Change it Again, for an in depth look at Early Christianity and Roman Times.
A modern, romantic young woman imagines her future. She sees before her limitless opportunities and potential. She considers the foreign lands she will explore, the intellectual truths she will uncover, the suffering she will prevent. As her mind wanders, she passes a young mother pushing a fussing baby in a stroller. Suddenly she visualizes that unconsidered possibility: becoming a mother. Images flash through her mind of what that life might look like: a life of making sandwiches, driving children to soccer, weight gain, and cleaning up throw-up. A repressive feeling descends on her. She is made for so much more than that. She shudders at the idea of wasting her passion and talent on such ordinary tasks…she is not the Mother-type anyway. She returns to her dream of a life of influence and recognition.
Generations ago, a romantic young woman imagines her future. She sees before her the path her mother and grandmothers walked. She sees the handsome young man she will meet, who is kind and strong. They will fall in love, marry and eventually have their own small cottage. She envisions her cute and obedient children…she will be more cheerful than her mother; she will ensure her children feel loved. This spirited girl imagines the merry home she will create – with laughter and music. Her husband will hug her as he returns from work and they will tell each other stories in front of the fire while the children play.
Both girls are honest and sincere in their desires. Their dreams are largely a product of their time and culture. Both will find that reality will not match their imaginings. The first girl has opportunities the second could never imagine. The second girl will face hardship and limitation – but those limitations bring a focused purpose that is easily lost in the first’s sea of potential.
Each woman throughout human history is a product of her time, but also distinctly unique, with varying talents, interests, and passions. Yet all women share one commonality. We are able to create and renew humanity. The perspective individual women hold of Motherhood determines the course our society will take.
I want to focus on the first women’s perception of motherhood – one common among young women today. The idea that motherhood is a “limiter” is widespread in our modern affluent society. With the invention of birth control, for the first time in history, motherhood is now a choice, not just the natural byproduct of life. Rather than inevitable-motherhood being the driver of decisions – today it is often an afterthought. Increasingly, women are choosing against it.* Women point to many reasons for forgoing motherhood, and I hope to elaborate on many of those reasons in the next few posts, but a primary rationale is the oft stated, “I am not the Mother-type.”
The Imaginary Good-Mother
A recent post on Facebook featured the complaints of one typical young mother. She said, “Motherhood does not come naturally to me…people criticize my lack of knowledge in motherly things like cooking…I don’t really enjoy kid’s activities, I feel my soul gets sucked away with kids’ day to day demands and activities.” The problem is not that this woman is not suited to motherhood, it is that she has adopted a vision of it that she could never enjoy.
“Often what is refused is a straw-man caricature of Motherhood, raised for the purpose of rejection. Marriage and Fatherhood inevitably follow a similar fate.”
Being a “good mother” has nothing to do with “liking kids activities.” I doubt Mary spent much time playing hopscotch with the young Jesus. Marie Curie didn’t play dress-up with her kids. Mary did nurture and guide Jesus in light and truth. Marie Curie did train her future Nobel-prize winning daughter. She used her God-given passion and intellect to bless the world not only through her own work, but through her children’s.
“Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something and that this thing must be attained.”
The stereotypes of mothers doing crafts, fussing over hairstyles, and continually running their kids to sports or dance lessons are modern-day inventions. Throughout human history, women have not had time for such distractions. Generations of children got along without these luxuries. In the past, women didn’t ask themselves if they were the “Mother-type”. Instead they asked, “Will there be enough bread?”
We are fortunate in our lives of comparative ease to be able to focus on the emotional, social, and intellectual areas of our children’s lives. We have the opportunity to be more mindful and intentional in our mothering than any previous generation. Having more time to play with our children is wonderful. We are fortunate if we happen to have interests which line up with the demands of motherhood – such as homemaking. However the shallowier aspects of practical mothering are not what defines motherhood anymore than the church choir represents the gospel.
Our culture has narrowed Motherhood down to such an inadequate definition that it is no wonder young women are shunning it. Constrained motherhood has never been, never could be, and never should be reality. The opposite is, in fact, reality. Good Mothers must be as diverse as the unique spirits born to them.
“You can do what I cannot do. I can do what you cannot do. Together we can do great things.”
Cookie-Cutter Angel Moms
When I was a little girl I remember being upset by angels. I somehow extrapolated from various sermons and lessons that if I was a good person, I would someday become enough like Jesus that I would go up to heaven and become an angel. I imagined a heaven full of clone-like angels, all reacting and conversing in the exact same manner. Being an independent and head-strong girl, I didn’t like this, and I even told my mom that I didn’t want to be an angel. I had worked out in my young mind that if we were “righteous” we would all unite as cookie-cutter angels. Even as a child, I was aware of my strengths and weaknesses, I rationally extrapolated that the old me would be gone forever, replaced by a perfect person, foreign to my current self.
My mother attempted to correct my misinterpretations but I think, unfortunately, this false idea of “common goodness” remained with me. Part of the reason I initially was apprehensive about my new seemingly all-encompassing role of mother is that if I tried to do it right, which was my desire, I would find myself on the assembly line of “good mothers”. I feared a loss of self. All my opinions, experiences, and idiosyncrasies would be lost to the “higher calling”.
I had an underlying belief that motherhood would be a means of controlling my nature. I saw my opinionated and strong-willed personality as an impediment to becoming a good mother; now I see how these attributes have aided me. Motherhood does not control us into submission. Motherhood allows us to use our gifts to their most worthy ends.
Unity of Mothers
We want mothers to feel a sense of common purpose and unity. This unity is not found in the expectation that we will arrive at the same place, but the knowledge that we are rooted in a common one. It is not in our interests, or our personalities, or how we raise our children that unite us – but our motherly love and the divine desire to raise our children well.
“We are not living in a world where all roads are radii of a circle and where all, if followed long enough, will therefore draw gradually nearer and finally meet at the centre rather in a world where every road, after a few miles,forks into two, and each of those into two again, and at each fork you must make a decision. Even on the biological level, life is not like a river but like a tree. It does not move towards unity but away from it and the creatures grow further apart as they increase in perfection. Good, as it ripens, becomes continually more different not only from evil but from other good.”
Our natures should not change because of our new position, they should be fully engaged in aiding us in our new calling. Rather than feeling like clones of a good mother, we can create our own unique form of motherhood.
There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit is the source of them all. There are different kinds of service, but we serve the same Lord.
1 Corinthians 12
If we feel inadequate or out-of-place in motherhood, we might be holding ourselves to some idealized version of motherhood that we created. We need to mother in a way that feels natural and utilizes our gifts. There is not one way to be a good mother, there are as many ways as there are mothers.
We should not judge other women, or “mom-shame”. Realizing the utility of diverse perspectives among women should help us resist questioning other mother’s methods . However, just because motherhood takes many forms does not mean everything goes; subjective thinking is a dead-end. Validating statements like, “We are all doing the best we can,” are not accurate or helpful. A more honest assessment is that none of us are doing the best we can, we do the best we are willing to do. However, it doesn’t follow that we are all worthless mothers because we fall short of perfection – but we do need to continually attempt to be worthy of the title “good mother”.
“Bad” mothering has nothing to do with discordant talents, interests, or personalities – but everything to do with their underlying philosophy. (Hence the name of the blog). Improper philosophy (motivation and reasoning towards a purpose) is at the heart of our society’s misconceptions of motherhood. What should be a mother’s underlying purpose? To raise resilient and capable children. What is her motivation? Her innate love for her child and selfless desire to maintain a good relationship. In good mothering the child comes before self. When we sideline the best interests of our family to be “true to our self”, we have veered off course.
Don’t Sacrifice Your Soul…
Yes this philosophy requires some sacrifice. If we aren’t blessed with an innate love of cooking and organization, we have to adapt and do our best at developing those skills. The first five years of a child’s life, particularly, require moderation of our own desires. But this reality should not be “soul-sucking” as the woman on Facebook suggested. Our soul can remain intact while doing things we don’t want. If we frame motherhood around purpose, and the areas where we are able to utilize our innate gifts- we begin to enjoy it.
I hate cooking. With five hungry kids I have to cook a lot. I remember coming to the horrific realization that this would be a never-ending task. Once I finish one meal another is coming right up on my heels. This is a duty of motherhood I have to just buck-up and do. It is an area of growth and progression, that’s OK. I do the best I am willing to do. I don’t believe magnificent meals are integral to a healthy childhood. I distract myself from the mundane nature of this task by listening to a podcast or reviewing spelling words with my kids. I am blessed to have a daughter who enjoys cooking, she is my chef-in-training. (Talk about the blind leading the blind). I am hoping she is my path to an early retirement. What’s interesting is that if I look back on the last week I can’t easily remember one meal I have cooked. I guess it isn’t important enough to me to store in my long-term memory. If we really don’t enjoy an aspect of life, that doesn’t mean we don’t do it – but we also don’t waste a lot of brain energy and emotion dwelling on it.
In motherhood it is best to focus on the positive. Let’s fill motherhood with things that are meaningful and engaging for us and drop or minimize what isn’t. We don’t have to be the source of all things for our children. My kids aren’t learning art from me, that’s what their aunt is for.
…Use Your Soul
The trick is to combine the pursuit of our interests with raising our children. My artist-sister, rather than isolating herself in a quiet studio away from the distractions of kids, has made creative apprentices of them. They go through a ream of paper a week at her house, the walls are continually plastered with artwork. Her teenage daughter, trained at her mother’s hip, is now an incredibly talented artist. (She recently surprised me with this pencil drawing of my daughter.)
My own mother loved to learn. She was particularly fascinated by psychology and the brain. After reading a book, she would excitedly tell us all she learned, regardless of our age. She always managed to relate it to our level. I remember her explaining Freuden slips to me at the tender age of six – after I began a prayer, “Dear Heavenly Candy…” My mother was able to use her interests and talents in the medium of mothering. Despite being a very intelligent, educated, and serious-minded woman, my mother never saw raising her seven children as hindering her talents, but rather the most important place in which to apply them.
But what of the second young woman from years past? There is no doubt that she lacked the opportunity and choice of our modern young woman. That is certainly a shame. But let’s not underestimate this woman’s eventual contribution, poor and unappreciated as she may have been. She would use her talents, interests, and energies in raising her future children, she had little else to give them. And for millions of mothers, that has been enough.
Perhaps our first “modern” young woman could reconsider her narrow vision of Motherhood. Instead she could imagine the limitless opportunities to be found there, the chance to expand and utilize her gifts towards a noble purpose. She could refuse to define herself by what mother’s “should” do, and decide instead to be fully engaged in sharing her love and gifts with her child. She may discover she is indeed, the Mother-type.
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