Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Holy Parenting: A Book Review

I was talking with a pregnant friend.  A godly young woman, she relayed a conversation that she had had with a mutual friend: "She says that after she was a mom everything changed.  She didn't get to hear a lesson for months; she didn't have time to spend closeted in prayer like before; she didn't even have the time for Bible study.  She said her spiritual life really suffered."  I know she wanted me to smile and deny the truth of it.  But I couldn't do it.  

What I am going to do instead is recommend a book to her.  This summer I downloaded Holy Parenting, by Benjamin Kerns, for free, and I devoured it in a single afternoon. (I downloaded it based on the recommendation from the Deputy Headmistress at The Common Room Blog.  She's got a regular free book feature often including books about faith, childrearing, Christian fiction, clean mysteries etc).

I would be hard pressed to pick my favorite thing about Holy Parenting. The entire book is about how to practice spiritual disciplines as a parent.  But rather than make an infuriating list of 10 more things an exhausted mom or dad should be doing, the author speaks with honesty and grace.  The book is aimed at people who had vibrant marriages and spiritual lives before they became parents but wonder how to sustain them now. 

I was very impressed by his honesty.  He didn't feel any need to make his wife, his kids, or himself seem perfect.  His wife misses her job sometimes.  His kids are perfect, right up until it's time for playdates, and their tyrannical nature is revealed.  And he is happy to stay at work sometimes to avoid the chaos.  He has been depressed and resentful and spent his days wishing for "later."  

Let's tell the truth.  Haven't you?  My kids aren't perfect either.  Sometimes, as the summer comes to a close, I desperately wish for lectures, PowerPoints and students instead of play-dough and crayons.  At our house, we are making retirement plans to buy two Harleys and tour Europe (or possibly one Harley to save on gas and help the environment *wink*).

The author, Benjamin Kerns, has a number of really practical suggestions notable mostly for what they are not. For example, they are not suggestions about the "right" method for anything; not how to get your kids to sleep, not how to get your 3 year old to eat his vegetables, and not how to get everyone happily to worship on time. Rather he suggests that you take all the "right" ways with a grain of salt and look for what might work for your kid and your family in solving these problems.  He does not suggest that you should smile more and enjoy this time because it's short.  He affirms that truth but goes on to say that for most of us there is a real sense of mourning for the freedom/sleep we have lost.

He suggests beginning the discipline of "presence."  If you've never heard of that, I'll summarize; it means to try and be aware of God, his presence, and his action, all the time.  He says that when your baby is 2 months old and you can't get up at 5:00 am to pray for an hour anymore, that's ok!  God is there at 2:00 am when you are nursing her and nodding off too.  

He also leans into some areas that are painful.  He reminded me that kids DO pick up a family's values.  That sounds like good news right?  If their daddy and I value our relationship with God they should too.  The problem is that what families proclaim as their values and the values revealed in their purchases, time and daily actions are often out of sync.  When that happens, he says firmly the kids will reflect the values their family lives out not the ones they trumpet about!  I am quietly taking a second look at our family's budget, time management and discipline procedures and asking myself if what I say and what I do are in tune. 

He also reminded me that fasting is a spiritual discipline that I need to re-institute but not fasting from food.  He pointed out (with some pain to my toes) that we invest HOURS a day into an on-line persona from which we gain a sense of acceptance and importance (think Facebook) and then neglect the very people that we are "closest" to.  He also stated that we "have no free-time" but the margins of our time are eaten away by "checking."  Check twitter, check the notification for a Facebook comment, check the status of an on-line game.  Check, check, check.  Nibbling away our time.  

I think I need an internet Sabbath.  

Of course there are always things I disagree with in any book I read.  I felt frustrated when he poo-pooed homeschooling and didn't put what I felt was enough emphasis on the way parents can and should teach their kids bible at home. 

All in all it was a wonderful book.  I'm going to read it again. I recommended it to my friend with the new baby today.  But most of all I'm going to be glad that I'm not alone.  
Not only are there other parents out there, tired and in need of a break, but God is there, good times and bad, ready to walk with me in continual presence and prayer.    

Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE(R), Copyright(c) 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

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