Tilling the Soil of a Child’s Soul

mother-child-at-beach-783180Looking at me with his big blue eyes over his peanut butter and jelly sandwich, my at the time four year old tells me that he wants to pray to an idol.  Perplexed at first, I remember that his Sunday school class has recently studied the Old Testament stories of idol worship.

Taking a deep breath, and careful not to overreact, I gently explain that it is not good to joke about these things and that we pray to God; the God that created us and made us a family. Satisfied with my explanation, he smiles and offers a prayer of thanks for his peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Years later as I reflect over this lunch time discussion with my little boy, I realize that every time a child sows even the tinniest seeds of rebellion a mother must seize the opportunity to put on her gardening gloves and dig up these seeds before they have a chance to take root in the child’s soul.

Tools are important to any gardener, especially to mothers who till in the soil of the heart.  The tools she strives to embrace include praying continually to God for wisdom,  studying to grasp the deep  meaning of scripture, and learning from the joys and trials of older gardeners.  With these tools in place she can confidently dig up those tiny seeds of rebellion before harvest time.

A mother’s hands get pretty dirty while tilling the soil of her child’s soul.  Her face will even loose some of it’s youth, just as a farmer’s face is callused by the winds of winter.  But she doesn’t really mind. Her garden is beginning to bloom.

Children, like all seedlings, will take on a development of their own.  The mother’s soul is not the child’s  and the child’s soul is not the mother’s.  They are separate, but connected through the love they share.

Attempts to plant evil seeds in the life of the child will continue to occur long after they are grown…long after the parent’s gardening tools grow dusty.  So while there is opportunity, mothers must give themselves to the important work of pulling the weeds planted in their child’s life,  smoothing out the soil,  drawing a line in the child’s soul and laying a new row of good seed to grow in the life of her child.

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Battling Burnout

montage-of-clocks_i-G-28-2811-4UYOD00ZAn Orlando-area resident watched as her custom-built home collapsed.  It fell into a sinkhole in the earth.  Scientists say that sinkholes occur when underground streams drain away during seasons of drought.  This drought causes the ground at the surface to lose its underlying support.  Without warning, houses, apartment complexes and streets cave in.

In the midst of the fatigue caused by job burnout, many people have experienced a similar sinking feeling.  They feel like life is caving in on them.

Most people start their careers or jobs with high expectations for what their work future holds, only to eventually come face-to-face with the concept that work and family responsibilities exceed the allotted time in which they are to be accomplished.  As a result, body, mind, spirit and emotions suffer, and recovery is slow.  Fortunately, unlike sinkholes, today’s working Christian woman has the capability to foresee potential burnout and keep it from happening.

Burnout comes on gradually and sometimes is not recognized until the motivational fire has nearly died.  All areas of life must be watched for burnout signs.

Before burnout occurs, energy, enthusiasm and ideals are at a peak, possibly due to a new job or a long-awaited career change.  New beginnings associated with job changes rate high on stress charts.  These times of transition also often involve moving, income changes and lifestyle adjustments.

After a period of time, the job honeymoon ends and unexpected reality begins.  Less energy, enthusiasm and idealism can result.  At this point, people often complain of having less physical and emotional energy before their workday has even begun.  They may feel like the faster they go, the more behind they get.

Emotions such as these cannot be experienced without family and friends being affected.  Many people pull away from relationships at this point of the burnout process.  For example, on the way home from work, do you consciously hope that your husband and children are not having a problem or needing any extra attention?  This sign says little energy is left for those most important in life.  If burnout is not dealt with at this point, a more serious state is entered.

General physical pains, chronic exhaustion and insomnia are signs of chronic stress overload and burnout.These symptoms can result in irritability and hating the work place.

The most severe phase of burnout involves obsession with problems and apathy.  Physical symptoms become more serous an can even be career, family and life-threatening.  But this process does not occur overnight and can be avoided by being more aware of early burnout signs.

When facing potential burnout, our greatest help comes from those who have been through the same low points and have suffered the same frustrations.  The writer of Hebrews tells of a Savior who earned the right to speak to those suffering through problems like burnout:

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:25,26 NIV)

In Matthew 26:36-46, Jesus is seen under great stress as He contemplates His approaching suffering and death.  Much can be learned from the way He handled His burden.

Jesus, being overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death, took His friends to a garden just outside the city to deal with the pressures of His life.  Notice that He did not try to handle His distress without the support of His closest friends. Although wanting to become detached from people is a sign of burnout, Jesus taught us that we need friends in times of stress.

God brings people together for the purpose of encouraging one another (I Thessalonians 5:11).  Staying close to church family can help when life is tough and temporarily out of perspective.  A Christian friend can act as a buffer when one needs to vent frustration.

While asking for support of His close friends, Jesus also temporarily removed Himself from His situation at hand and prayed.  Physically and emotionally worn out, He prayed to His heavenly Father for strength and support.

Philippians 4 says that when anxiety is traded in for prayer, peace beyond understanding will guard the heart and the mind.  This phenomenon is even witnessed by the secular book, Unstress Your Life, in the chapter, “The Calming Power of Prayer.” By praying and journaling on a regular basis, many have found that life is more easily kept in perspective and burnout thus avoided.

When one notices the warning signs of burnout, she needs to review the events that may have led to this point and accept the responsibility to make constructive changes.  Bill Hybels suggested in his article “Reading Your Gauges,” published in Leadership Magazine, that three areas of life need to be kept in balance to avoid burnout.  He calls these areas “gauges” on the dashboard of life.

The first gauge asks, “How am I doing spiritually?” Prayer, Bible study and openness to God’s will are primary spiritual disciplines.  Having close relationships in the church also encourages a healthy spiritual life. Without your spiritual gauge in focus, life’s perspectives become temporary and without the power of God.

The second gauge determines how you are doing physically.  If the body is pushed too hard, eventually physical breakdown and possibly psychosomatic complications occur.  Although staying physically fit with exercise and good eating habits is important, one must also not work to the point of exhaustion.  This can happen when a person accepts more responsibilities than can be handled or by trying to be perfect.

The superwoman syndrome demands gracefully managing family, career and church while at the same time looking great, being a good friend and staying current on social issues. This impossible facade is exhausting.  The solution offered by many ex-superwomen is to decide not to be a perfectionist and to lower expectations. By checking the physical gauge of life, the traps leading to exhaustion can be avoided.

The third gauge asks, “How am I doing emotionally?” Job-related anxiety such as friction with the boss, problem co-workers and rush-hour traffic can be emotionally draining and contribute to burnout.

Recuperation from these stressors involves doing something totally unrelated to the job.  This could be an inexpensive day at the park with family and friend s or a weekend getaway to that bed and breakfast in the next town.  The idea is to balance the work week with enjoyable activities that are emotionally replenishing.

After accepting the responsibility to adjust the areas of life showing signs of sinkhole damage, one must realistically plan and prepare for the future.  In Matthew 26, Jesus accepted the reality of God’s plan for His life and then resolutely proceeded to accomplish what He chose to do for the sake of the sinning world.

In the same purposeful manner, the Christian woman, after praying for strength and guidance, appealing to Christian friends for support and accepting the reality of her situation, needs to proceed resolutely to accomplish a balance life that avoids burnout.

Originally published in Christian Woman Magazine, under the title “Battling Job Burnout” By: Beth Holland

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The Art of Teaching

artwithliz1I have very fond memories of a high school English teacher who singled me out and encouraged me to reach my potential.  The encouragement was well received, and I did better in that class because of it.  But the fact that she singled me out probably inspired and motivated me more than the encouragement.

With billions of people in the world, our society does not single people out very often.  But approximately 2,000 years ago, a man lived that made singling out people His profession. He lived in a crowded metropolitan area much like ours.  His name is Jesus.

His interpersonal skills were beyond those of anyone who lived on earth before or after Him.  Many of our present-day teachers have patterned their philosophies and methodologies after Jesus’ people skills and positive thinking.

Jesus knew the art of teaching.  He was “other-concerned.”  Let me explain.

The art of teaching has been illustrated with a simple piece of string.  Place the string on the table.  If you pull the string, it will follow wherever you wish. Push it and it will go nowhere.

The same is true when we try to teach people. Effective teachers know they can get the best efforts out of people by working with them, by leading them to do their best. But try to push or force efforts from people, and you bump up against a brick wall.

Good teachers don’t push; they pull.  The extent to which someone is able to transform her self-concern into other-concern will determine her effectiveness in getting others to follow along.

Jesus’ other-concern is exemplified throughout His life.  He taught by doing.  He led the way, and people followed. People from all walks of life, even His enemies, regarded Him as a master teacher.

Jesus was also a servant.  Although one may miss the meaning of a teacher’s words, missing the teacher’s example is difficult.

Have you had an employer that rolled up her sleeves and worked right along beside you?  I have observed that this type of employer has greater productivity from her employees.  In John 13, a beautiful incident of Jesus’ other-concern is shown by His washing the disciples’ feet.  Foot-washing was a custom during New Testament times that was commonly performed by the lowest of servants.

John 13:1 states, “Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father.  Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.”

The disciples did not understand why Jesus was voluntarily humbling Himself to perform the chores of a servant.  Jesus’ explanation of His action eloquently reveals the methodology of His style of teaching. Take a moment and reread John 13:13-15, 17.

Perhaps you have known people in your life who taught you first by example Scripture teaches that this is the best way for parents to teach their children.

“Teach (these words) to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deuteronomy 11:19-20)

Jesus’ method shows us how He successfully taught people how to live.  This method is so successful that in His short three-year ministry Jesus filled the world with His message.  Jesus’ other-concern method was enhanced by His attitude of love.  His every action was a reflection of His love for others.

A teacher was celebrating her 80th birthday.  It proved to be a marvelous occasion, highlighted by the presence of a great number of her former students.

She had taught school in one of the worst sections of Baltimore. Before she came to that school to teach, it had experienced repeated instances of juvenile crime and delinquency.

After she had begun her work there, a noticeable change occurred.  With the passing of time, many of her students were becoming good citizens – men and women of good character.  Some became doctors.  Others became lawyers, educators, ministers, honorable craftsmen, and skilled technicians.  It was no accident, therefore, that on her 80th birthday, she was remembered with gratitude and love from a great number of her students.

A newspaper heard about this celebration and sent a reporter to interview her.  The reporter asked, among other things, what was her secret that made her teaching so rewarding?

She said, “Oh, I don’t know.  When I look at the young teachers in our schools today, so well equipped with training and learning, I realize that I was ill prepared to teach.  I had nothing to give but love.”

This Baltimore teacher understood the attitude of Jesus’ teaching.  Without love, the message is never effectively taught.

Jesus’ method of teaching was so effective that many people followed Him while He was on earth, and even today people all over the world are committed to Him and His teachings.  His attitude of love carried Him to the cross to show us the importance of His message.

Luke 6:40 states that a student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher.  If we are students of Jesus, His method and attitude will inspire us to live out His message.  As a teacher to those in your life, Jesus challenges us to teach by serving with other-concern and to love those we are teaching.

(Beth Holland, Originally published in Christian Woman magazine, September/October 2002)

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