Lean into Grace in 2014: Change the Way We Think About Change

contact Catherine Claire Larson

I don’t know about you, but this time of year stresses me out. We go from bowing our hearts at a manger cradle, embracing family, lavishing gifts on loved ones, and feasting to burying ourselves in guilt, resolving to do better, and flailing. Give me Christmas, please. Give me advent. Give me anything but this New Year’s I-Can-Do-It-If-I-Just-Try-Harder death trap. My throat’s constricting just thinking about it.

Lord knows, I want to do better. I want to be more, and in some ways less. I want that so very much. But I’ve been around this guilt-track one too many times to know that if change is happening in my life, it won’t be happening because I finally willed it enough. Change happens by the grace of God. Repeat: change happens by the grace of God.

I have tried to make change happen in my life through white-knuckling it. I’ve tried to make change happen in other peoples’ lives by loving them into it. I’ve tried to make change happen with schedules, regimens, and to-do lists. It doesn’t work.

Now hear me, I’m not saying we can or should be lazy, flippant, or haphazard in our pursuit of change. I’m not saying that schedules or to-do lists or scales or love or determination may not be advantageous in our pursuit of change. What I am saying is that they will never get you to change without the grace of God at your back.

Dear friend—dear self—please remember, nothing changes unless God fills the sails with the breath of His pleasure.

Do you want to live a life more pleasing to God? Good. Do you want to be more faithful in your time alone with Him? Good. Do you want your words to be full of grace and wisdom when you speak with your children or co-workers or neighbors? Good. Do you want to live a healthier life-style? Good. Do you want to dedicate your time to finally learning to play an instrument or picking up a new language? Good.

But if you have the audacity to think to attempt any of these things in your own strength, for your own purposes, apart from the grace of God, well friend, enjoy the rollercoaster. I’ll see you on the other side. Because when we attempt things, even good things, without even petitioning God about them, something’s bound to go haywire. You may end up rocking that resolution while totally neglecting other important aspects of what God has called you to do. You may flail when you run out of strength and despair of ever changing. Depression may ensue. You may nail the change but become arrogant and suffocating to be around in the process. Or you may, and I hope this is the case, end up on your knees before God asking Him if this change is one He wants for your life and if so if He’d be pleased to strengthen you with whatever it takes to make it.

So, dear ones, let’s just skip the roller-coaster, please. Can we instead both start 2014 off right? Can we start it on our knees? Can we start it by asking God what changes He wants to see in our lives? Would we be willing to listen—truly listen—to His answer? It may not be where we want to put our energies. Can we just go ahead and confess that in ourselves we are not enough to be better, but that we truly and desperately need help to change? Let’s get real; we desperately need help to even truly want to change. That’s better.

So God, here we are, a mess, at your feet, desiring (but not nearly strongly enough), the changes that will bring us more of your abundant life. Here we are, so blind to the changes we need the most. And here we are asking for your grace, leaning into it, falling. By your grace and only if it is for your glory, help us. Change us and empower us to change. Change the way we seek change.

 

Did you appreciate this article? Consider subscribing to this blog, Live Expectantly, to get every post delivered straight to your inbox. And while you’re here, stay awhile. Check out my books and other writings. Grab a cup of coffee and read some other posts about living in the light of grace.

Embrace the High Calling of Parenthood

Embrace the CallHere’s the secret truth, (and there’s not a parent that doesn’t wish it): I wish parenting was easy. I wish it didn’t require so much of me, or rather that there was more left of me after the day was done. I wish that my children were angelic, obedient, and always eager to please. I wish my stubborn streak had skipped a generation. I wish that I knew what I was doing. I wish that formulas worked, or at least that what worked for one child would work for the next, or even what worked for my parents, or my best friends, would work for us also. But it doesn’t work that way—not even close.

On the hard days, this parenting journey is enough to leave me in tears. On the good days, I feel quietly unsettled that I don’t know how to repeat the same result for another golden day. And more frightening than either of these two kinds of days, are the myriad more where I just don’t care.

And I think it’s this secret truth, and perhaps even a secret belief that it should be easy that keeps us irritated, resentful, and weary when the days are hard. We somehow think parenting shouldn’t require this much of us. That it shouldn’t demand our all. We somehow secretly believe that we’re doing something wrong if our children don’t come out of the womb respectful, courteous, and pliant. We somehow believe the formulas should work if only we could find the right one.

But God didn’t make parenting or children this way. He made this job of mothering and fathering into perhaps the most demanding calling we will ever know. We aren’t raising automatons. We’re raising born tyrants. And we’re doing all that we can to shepherd their hearts to God, so that somehow He might transform them into loving servant leaders. Given that I’m a reformed tyrant myself, is it any wonder that I still wistfully long for this whole parenting gig to run smoothly so that I could just have a little more time for me or get through my to-do list?

But this isn’t about me, it’s about them. It’s about a million and one daily opportunities to teach, correct, train, model, plead, pray, and show forth His ways in situations as mundane as the snatched toy, the disrespectful attitude, the slowness to do right, and the stubbornness to turn from folly.

We’re raising a child from utter helplessness to not just responsible adulthood (which is hard enough in itself), but hopefully to passionate Christ-centered living. This requires everyday, life-on-life discipleship and it demands everything of us.

But too often, my mindset is reactive, not proactive. Too often, my mindset is one that expects this journey to be easy and so resents it when it is hard.

Every calling worth pursuing is rigorous. I’ve never met an accomplished musician who didn’t put in grueling hours of work in the mind-numbing minutiae. I’ve never met a doctor who somehow skipped right through residency and long-hours of studying to an encyclopedic knowledge of their patients’ needs. I’ve never met an athlete who is unacquainted with sacrifice, pain, and self-discipline. And yet somehow, we think that this high and holy calling of caring, nurturing, and shepherding an eternal soul is something that would not demand our all.

The truth is the more I embrace parenthood as a high and holy calling that demands everything of me the less I will grow resentful, frustrated and weary when it does. The more I believe the eternal significance of even my most mundane moments, the less likely I am to despise or shrug my way through them. When I greet my day believing my work is noble, I’m less likely to treat the precious persons entrusted to my care like burdens. When I see my work as opportunity after opportunity for instilling character and teaching repentance and faith, the less likely I will be to view such opportunities, and even my children as interruptions.

The most pervasive thing which I will leave behind to my children is my attitude toward them and toward this calling. It will permeate all their memories, even the ones that on paper should look flawless. One day they will not remember the day at the waterpark or the long-saved-for vacation; they will remember how they felt when they were with me. Did they feel the daily drip of my despondency over my mundane role or did they feel joy in my presence because I knew deep down my part mattered and their time under my care had eternal value? Did they feel I was constantly frustrated and annoyed with them for simply being children in need of training or that I was encouraged by the opportunities I was given to raise them up in the truth? Did they sense me trying to control their every move out of fear or feel the grace of one who deeply believes that God is in ultimate control? Whether or not they remember the waterpark or the beach vacation, they will remember my attitude toward them and it will color who they become.

I pray to God for the grace to embrace this all-demanding work that’s been given to me with joy, purpose, and trust. Because it matters not just for them, but for me. I can muddle through the years of parenting, resenting every hard thing along the way or face those same challenges as one who lives expecting them, embracing them, and believing they are the true path to molding their character and my own. May God grant us grace and mercy; how desperately all who would take up the call of mother and father will need it.

 

Like what you’re reading? Consider subscribing to get these posts to your inbox and also check out my book for expectant moms: Waiting in Wonder: Growing in Faith While You’re Expecting, a perfect gift for any expecting mom you know. You can read an excerpt of the book here. And find out what writers like Ann Voskamp are saying about the book. Or if you’d like to read similar posts to  this, check out “The Interrupted Life,” “Embrace Your Season” and “Not Enough“. Thanks for reading and sharing with your friends. 

WaitingWonder

The Interrupted Life

baby portrait

It’s almost 9 pm by the time I get my three-year old to bed. I come downstairs wash a few dishes and sit down to face a blank page, praying for some words to encourage you and the fortitude for a finished thought. Finally, some quiet. Finally, some time alone. But almost as soon as I sit down, my 16 month old starts crying. His bed-time is earlier and for some reason he’s woken up.

I give him a few minutes to see if he won’t settle down and go back to sleep, but he doesn’t. And somehow creative thoughts aren’t flowing freely while I hear my baby’s cries grow more insistent. I check on him, which only upsets him more. I try to rock him and he flails. I opt to put him back in his crib and rub his tummy to see if he won’t settle down. He does and I quietly tip-toe out of the room. But as soon as the door shuts, he’s wailing again. I give him a little while to see if he won’t calm down and go to sleep on his own. But he doesn’t and because this is unusual for him and he’s just recently had an ear infection, I decide to err on the side of some Advil and a bottle. Finally, an hour after it began, he quietly puts himself back to sleep.

By now, it’s 10 pm and I’m running on fumes. The night before, my older son had a night terror. “Stay with me a little while, Mommy” turned into me sleeping on the floor by his bed until he fell back asleep. I woke up cold and stiff around 4 am and snuck back to my own bed only to have the little one wake up before 6 am, ready to go for the day.

So as I settle in to write, somewhere north of 10 pm, after a long day, and the interrupted sleep of the night before, somehow I can’t help but think about interruptions.

Interruptions are a constant part of a parent’s life. We can’t finish a conversation with a spouse, a meal, a bathroom break, a phone conversation, or a night’s sleep without someone melting down, falling, snatching a toy, crying, or needing a diaper change. We can’t even remember how to finish our sentences we’re interrupted so many times. (Here, I’m not talking about the child who is the habitual sentence-interrupter. That’s certainly something we need to work on training them not to do. But rather, I’m focusing on those everyday interruptions that are just a part of having children.)

And sooner or later, we start learning that it’s not in the goal or the plan, but in the interruption where ministry and real life are happening. It’s in the hours when we rock a fussing baby or hold a boy’s hand until the bad dreams recede. It’s in the moment where we must stop everything to discipline or when dinner gets burnt because we take a few minutes to stop and share our child’s joy in the just-finished Play-doh creation.

With each of life’s interruptions, our children are learning about what we value most. Is it them or the finished task? Is it keeping schedule or cultivating closeness? Is it our own comfort or their well-being? They are learning whether we view them as precious souls or as exasperating obstacles to our goals.

I’m not there yet. Too often I sigh or groan or lose my cool when I’m interrupted. I’m a completer, by nature, and leaving things unfinished just kills me. But little by little, God is showing me that when I view the ordinary interruptions as exasperations that I’m really just viewing my children that way. These are my beautiful, prayed-for, longed-for and desired interruptions. These are precious souls whose nurture and care is the main business of my life… my calling.

So God, give us the grace to embrace these interruptions as opportunities, to see them as the moments where we have the chance to show our children how you view them when they knock, plead, or find themselves in need. May we bear with sleep-deprivation, unfinished goals, lost thoughts and conversations, with grace and perspective. And may our children never question their value in our eyes or yours.

 

Like what you’re reading? Consider subscribing to get these posts to your inbox and also check out my book for expectant moms: Waiting in Wonder: Growing in Faith While You’re Expecting, a perfect gift for any expecting mom you know. You can read an excerpt of the book here. And find out what writers like Ann Voskamp are saying about the book. Or if you’d like to read similar posts to “The Interrupted Life,” check out “Embrace Your Season” and “Not Enough“. Thanks for reading and sharing with your friends. WaitingWonder

A Valentine for the Broken-hearted

Torn

Sometimes God takes a heart and rips it, takes a carefully held-dream and dashes it, takes a good desire and withholds it. And, oh, how it hurts. Not a paper-cut kind of hurt, but the raw, aching, lump-in-the throat, sting-in-the-eyes, gnawing-emptiness kind of pain. It feels like death… because often it is: death to self, death to our way, death to a good that wasn’t the best.

And in our brokenness, we feel so unlovely, so forgotten, forlorn and useless. pieces pm


But God has a way of taking us in our brokenness and putting us back together in a way that is a work of pure creativity, vision, and beauty.

restoring pm
You see, dear One, He never rips us without restoring us, He never dashes a dream without dreaming a better one, He never takes away a good desire without giving us something infinitely richer.

remade pm
And He promises that our brokenness will not be in vain.

restored pm

But that if we look to Him and find comfort in Him through it, that He will use our broken pieces to feed the hungry-hurting. Like Eucharist bread, He holds us up to the Father and blesses us even as He breaks us. In our brokenness we are blessed. In our brokenness we become nourishment for the hungry soul, we become the word someone was longing to hear, we become a vision of broken beauty.

broken for others pm

This Valentine’s Day I’m praising God for the way He has broken my heart that my heart might break for others.

Broken Beauty

(A poem by Catherine Claire Larson in the spirit of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ Pied Beauty)

Glory be to God for broken things—
For long-held dreams shattered, deferred and disappointed,
For selfish pride brought low, exposed and humiliated;
Closed-fisted plans torn from white-knuckled hands,
Self-spun futures crumpled and trampled underfoot,
And all shattered vanity, sufficiency, and entitlement.

All things good, lovely, and over-loved,
Whatever competes for the One true love.
With calm, kind, hands He breaks us like Eucharist’s loaf,
That in our brokenness we might break free and bless:
Praise Him!

Dear Reader, have you ever blessed God for the ways He has broken you? Have you seen Him use your brokenness to meet the needs of others (2 Cor. 1:3-4)

Buy the Book


×