Sunday, April 6, 2014

Loving a Toddler

Have you ever heard of "love languages"?  Many adults have.  Dr. Gary Chapman's "The Five Love Languages" book is a common and powerful resource that is often recommended to engaged and married couples.  I've read it.  I know my love language.  And while I think there might be a "language" or 2 that Dr. Chapman missed and I also think the principles MUST go hand in hand with the "Love and Respect" principles of Dr. Emerson Eggerich (I'll post about that sometime, maybe soon, maybe not), it is a great resource.

The five love languages Dr. Chapman proposes are: words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time and physical touch.  I believe we all have a primary love language but again, I think Dr. Chapman possibly misses one or 2, that some people have 3 or 4 that are pretty equally important and that in general, men have "respect" languages that make them feel loved and women are more based in the "love" languages. 

I also think as a society we focus too much on getting our own love tanks filled by outside influences and don't focus enough on loving others and choosing to see that others are trying to love us, even if its not done in our primary love language.  The principles, if used incorrectly to push another to focus on us and force them to show us love in our own "language" instead of using it to help us love others better can be very damaging.

So...after all that intro, let's get to the point of this post.   This morning, out of the blue, I had a bit of an epiphany.  I have NOT been focusing on our toddler's love language!  Yes, littles have love languages too, just like adults. 

Adults and older children can take a simple "quiz" to identify their love language.  But a 2 year old can't.  So how do I know his love language and how do I know I haven't been doing a very good job showing him love through it?  Well, it's an educated guess based on knowing this child.  My guess is his primary love language is "quality time", which is mine as well, so I feel even sillier that I haven't focused on it more.  I am making this guess because he is happiest when we are doing things together.  Whether it is a walk, playing tractors, making muffins, playing with play-doh, just going for a drive, he likes to be with me.  Now, some would say that's just a toddler but I don't think so. I know toddlers who are very independent.   Who don't want anyone to play with them.  That's not our toddler.  He comes to me and says "come play with me, Mama".  And I often find myself telling him "I will in just a second, as soon as I finish ________".  Now, am I saying I should spend every second with him?  No.   Am I saying he should depend on me for entertainment?  No.  What I am saying is I need to focus on making sure, especially if he is having a bad day or is extra toddler-emotional, or if he has just coming home from 3 days with his Dad, that I focus on some true quality time with him and make sure he knows that time with him IS a priority.  It also means that as he grows up, if quality time is and remains his primary love language, I need to assist him in learning to look for ways to feel that love, by spending quality time with Christ, with looking for ways that those around him are trying to show him love in other ways and by teaching him that others might feel love from him in ways other than quality time and he needs to make an effort to show them that love.

I believe is closely secondary love language is physical touch.  He is an affectionate child.  When he was about 16 months old he would hug EVERYONE!  He scared other toddlers at play group because even if he had never met them he would run at them, arms wide, and hug them tight and try to kiss them.  He is all about hugging, snuggling, cuddling, fist bumps and high fives, wrestling.  Is this a pretty common love language for a toddler?  Probably.  But I know toddlers who aren't as physically affectionate as he is.   And that means I need to make sure I am making a concerted effort to make my hugs mean something.  It means when he wants to give a kiss or a hug or be picked up and snuggled a bit I need to make sure I'm never too busy.  And it again means I need to help him learn to recognize that not everyone has the same love language and that people he wants to show love to might not always feel it through hugs.  And that people who love him might not always give him love through his love language and he needs to look at their intentions and their heart, not necessarily their actions. 

Our baby has love languages too, right now it's probably physical touch more than anything else.  But as he grows I will learn more and will need to make a concerted effort in helping him learn about them and about those of others.

We all have love languages, maybe one or 2 of the 5 above, maybe one not listed, maybe more respect than love.  And it would be ideal if those around us always showed us love in our love language.  But we can't make that happen.  And expecting it or demanding it will make us miserable.  What we can do is try to identify the love language of those around us and make an effort to show them love in their language.  And we can learn to see that others are trying to show us love, even if isn't shown in our primary love language. 

Christ showed love through many ways...but the most ultimate was an act of service.  If we can see his sacrifice as love, even if that isn't our primary love language, surely we can see the efforts of love from others even if it isn't in our primary love language.  And surely we can choose to show others love in their love language so they can feel our love.

Because LOVE is the greatest gift, language, currency and blessing of all.    

Saturday, April 5, 2014

"God's Plan for You"

As humans we say a lot of things to each other, especially in times of stress or grief.  But as Christians, when we say something we need to make sure it's truly biblical and not just the World's version of our faith.  We need to be responsible with our words, because they have great impact. I used to say some of these "platitudes" and thought I was helping.  I believed them too.  I didn't have enough of a knowledge of my own faith not to and I heard them from people I assumed had a great enough knowledge of the bible to know what they were talking about.  Since I've made the mistake myself many times I 'm going to try over time to dispel some of these sayings...because as Christians we need to stop spreading false information about our God and about our faith.

Have you ever heard someone, a Christian or not, say something like "Don't worry, God has a plan, it will work out the way it's supposed to" or "that must not have been in God's plan" or something similar? 

Is it true?  If we just do whatever we choose will God eventually work out His "plan" in your life, despite our lack of effort or even our effort to the contrary?  And how do we know if His "plan" is happening in our lives?  How do we know what it is?

Many Christians and non-Christians alike quote Jeremiah 29:11 when they talk about God's "plan" "For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."  Which is an AWESOME passage, right?  But...as happens a lot when we quote scripture, this passage often gets taken very out of context.  Here's the bigger picture of this passage...It's a letter from Jeremiah to the exiles, sent from Jerusalem, with God's instructions and promises TO THE EXILES.  It is a specific letter, from a specific source, to a specific set of recipients.  Not only is it not a general passage intended for all as a promise of God "working things out" in our lives like some sort of puppet master, it is also a passage full of instructions the exiles were to follow before His plan was fulfilled.  Like to build houses, plant gardens, marry, have families, pray for peace and prosperity for their current city, to not listen to false prophets.    God promises that after the exiles have been in Babylon for SEVENTY years, FOLLOWING His instructions...THEN He will come for them and fulfill His plan.  Only then does the infamous "plans" verse come, followed by verses 12-14 "Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity.[b] I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”  Note what the Lord is saying "after you live in exile, following my instructions...THEN when you call on me and pray, WITH YOUR WHOLE HEART, you will find me".  In other words, He didn't just have a plan for them and carry it out quickly and with no requirements or participation by the exiles! 

This is a passage that makes very specific promises to a very specific group of people.  But it also carries very specific instructions, about how the exiles were to live.  And the promise wasn't right around the corner, it was YEARS down the road.  Hard years, of living in a foreign place. 

So...in reality, quoting that verse to someone and telling them "don't worry, if it's in God's plan it will work out" is ridiculous and damaging.  It leads people to believe we can make choices contrary to God's instructions and that He will just mold a new path to get us where He wants us to be.  He doesn't do that!  He has expectations of us. 

Does God have a plan for our lives?  Absolutely!  He had a plan from the beginning.  He gave it to Adam and Eve.  But did He play puppet master and force them to obey it?  Obviously not.  And when they disobeyed He changed their lives...there were CONSEQUENCES.  God wanted them to have the Garden, He gave them simple instructions how to live there.  And they disobeyed.  He has had a plan since the beginning and since the beginning He has given us instructions on exactly how to make sure that plan happens.  And since the beginning as humans we have ignored His instructions, walked our own path and let Satan or the World convince us to twist God's Word as an excuse to do whatever we want.  Because "He has a plan" so everything that happens must be on it, right?  WRONG!

What is God's plan?  Well...I would say the Bible pretty clearly spells it out.  Delve into it, see what you find.  Read the sermon on the mount, the 10 commandments, all the writings by Paul and the apostles, the letters of King David.  They give pretty clear instruction about how we can live to ensure His plan gets pretty closely carried out.  It's pretty clear what His plan is...and it's pretty clear it's our choice to follow it or not.  But when we choose not to He's not going to pull our puppet-strings and orchestrate everything to fall in line.  He will never leave us but He also won't control us.

Please don't misunderstand.  Does God work miracles?  Every day!  Does God answer prayers according to His will? Absolutely!  Does God work details in our lives to help situations, get us to places we need to be, bring people into our lives for His reasons?  Of course!  But does He sit in Heaven with a big controller, controlling our every situation like a great big video game?  NO!  He gave us free-will.  So that when we DO choose to follow His BIG plan we do so willingly, not because He forced us to.  Because He loves us too much to force us into anything, even loving and following Him.

So...next time a friend is having a hard time...a lost job, a hurting marriage, a child with an illness or is just making bad choices...or any of hundreds of other things...please don't say "if it's in God's plan it will work out".  Because as Christians we need to be more responsible.  Instead suggest they pray, not for things contrary to His word of course, but for His will to be done.  Suggest they choose love, grace, forgiveness.  Recommend they stop listening to those in the World and start listening to the One who made it.  If they are facing a decision support them in looking to God's playbook for His true plan, instead of suggesting it will just "work out the way it's supposed to".  Because since Eve ate the fruit God's plan has been off-kilter.  And He doesn't force us to get ourselves back on His path...He let's us choose.

Ultimately...He will complete His plan.  And some of us will eternally regret believing this World's advice.  So until then it's up to us to choose how we live, based on the instructions He provides in the Bible. 

As someone who has felt the sting of someone saying "if it's in God's plan it will work out" in reference to my marriage being restored I beg of you....PLEASE stop saying these things!