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What my Kids' Bedtimes Taught me About my Heart

Bedtimes. When they come, my kids’ room can feel like a battlefield and the victory of sleep is not easily won. I would like to say bedtimes are the most peaceful moments of our family’s day. I would like to say we have a perfect routine and each night we sing our songs, say our prayers, get the kids tucked into bed, give them a kiss on their foreheads and they snuggle in for a deep sleep, not to be heard from until the morning.

That is simply not the reality in our home. We do have a routine, but it does not always go as planned and it nearly always has interruptions. And once the lights are turned off and we leave the room, the kids have perfectly timed and flawlessly executed stall tactics.

Lest I leave you disappointed, I need to tell you now, I have not discovered the perfect strategy to consistently leave your bedtime battles with a peaceful and simple victory. This is not so much about bedtimes, but what they have taught me about the battleground of my own heart. Bedtimes, and parenting in general, has helped me see what deeper idols lie beneath the surface. Peeling back the layers of sin can be ugly and parenting has a way chipping through the layers pretty quickly. My kids' bedtimes have taught me that I love control and comfort too much.

"But dad, I want what I want"

My son's transparency about his desires has helped me see my own more clearly. Earlier this year, when he would not get his way, he began to tell me, "but Dad, I want what I want." He was brutally honest, not knowing his statement betrayed his own selfishness. I began to realize I often feel the same way. Like my son, I really just want what I want.

What I have begun to see is that my experience at bedtime is highly influenced by my own heart idols – by my desire to get what I want. My frustrations can be disproportionate to the good and right motivation I have for my children's obedience and need for sleep. At some point, I am not so much motivated by what is good for them, but I am motivated by my own comfort and control. I just want them to listen, because my idol for control wants to be listened to. I want them to listen, because my idol of comfort wants to move on with the rest of my night.

Their behavior and my heart

Sleep is good and necessary for kids. Learning obedience is good and necessary for kids. Therefore, I stick in the battle for bedtimes, for their good. All the while, I wage war on my own heart idols. It’s important that we distinguish between their behavior and our hearts.

My heart issues do not give my kids the freedom to do whatever they want. We might be inclined to give up on some aspects of parenting, because at times we find ourselves having selfish motives. But we should not give up. We must pray. Repent. And trust in the gospel. Don’t allow your heart idols to stop you from following through on what you know is right and good for your kids.

Not just at bedtime

Bedtime shines a spotlight on my heart, but I have begun to see that my idols of comfort and control are present all over my home. When I walk through the door at the end of a long day at work, my idol of comfort tells me that I deserve to sit down and rest for a bit. When I am bombarded with requests to change a diaper, read a book, play with cars, set the table, take out the garbage, or build a tower, I can feel my idol of comfort fighting to say no, I just got home, I need to sit down for a bit.

My idol of control goes wild when my daughter is taking her brother’s toy… again… In that moment, I don’t want to patiently give her correction and instruction again, my idol of control wants, no demands, that she listen. In those moments, I am not as concerned about helping her understand the impact of her decisions, because I am too preoccupied with my idol of control.

Fighting our Idols

Bedtimes have illuminated some of the ugly that still wages war against my soul. I am not content to allow these patterns to continue, so when I am fighting on the battleground of bedtime, I am reminded there is also a war raging on the battleground of my heart. I cannot ignore what parenting is revealing about my idols, so I continue the lifelong habit of repentance and faith.

When sin is revealed, no matter where or when, even during the daily routine of bedtimes, I am called to repent. I am called to recognize my sin, admit my wrongs and turn away. Sometimes, this will require me to humbly ask for my kids’ forgiveness. In faith, I also remind myself of the beauty of the cross and the grace Jesus offers. As I model this for my children, they get a taste of God’s goodness – which is more important than an extra thirty minutes of sleep anyway.

We Fight Sin by Loving God

Sin is attractive. It is alluring. If it wasn't, we wouldn't be drawn to it so often. Through personal experience and conversations with others, I know sin can feel overwhelming powerful at times. In response, we often enter our battles with sin carrying a pea shooter for a weapon, while sin crouches like a powerful lion. The deeply entrenched idols of our hearts, which drive our sinful behaviors, can not be fought through a few well-devised strategies.

Two Ways we Try to Fight Sin

Sin can take on many forms. Whether it is an addiction to pornography, struggles with anger, persistent laziness, engaging in gossip or a pursuit of our own glory, sin can pounce on us when we least expect it. I have seen two common tactics to fight sin, which can be helpful, but are woefully insufficient alone. The first is that we develop strategies to induce behavior modification. For example, we might install monitoring software on our computers, so that when we are tempted to look at pornography, we don't because we know someone will see the report and hold us accountable. This is a good and helpful strategy. I think of this strategy as "building fences" and I wrote about it in another post titled, Fighting Sin by Building Fences. It is necessary, but alone, it is insufficient to battle the deeper idols which drive sin.

The second common strategy is to demonize whatever is leading us to sin. If I don't want to be lazy anymore, I remind myself over and over that slothfulness is sin. I remind myself that "a slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich (Proverbs 10:4)." This can be a helpful strategy, but it does have two problems. First, it can lead us to respond in extreme ways and walk off the road into the opposite ditch. As we demonize laziness, we can make an idol out of ambition and neglect the type of intentional rest God also wants for us. The second problem with this strategy is that we often end up calling evil that which God has given us as good. As we remind ourselves about the dangers of laziness, we often loop in all forms of rest. Even those God has given to us for our good, and call it all evil. For another example, when we demonize pornography (as we should), we can often make all sexuality to be evil in our minds, even though God has given it to be enjoyed in the right ways.

Why is Sin so Appealing?

In our battle with sin, we need to ask ourselves why sin is so appealing. What makes us drawn to it? One of the primary answers is that sin promises to satisfy our desires. It offers solutions to our deepest longings. If we long to be accepted and included, we may engage in gossip, because it makes us feel included. If we have a juicy piece of information to share, then we get to have an audience. We get to feel important, even if only for a couple minutes. Or if we want to be listened to and respected, we might respond in anger. Stern glances and loud voices seem to demand other's attention. Our anger gets us what we want and fulfills the desire we have for respect.

Sin offers us fulfillment, but it can never ultimately deliver on its promise. Gossip might gain us some acceptance immediately, but in the long run, it undermines our relationships with others and erodes the sort of relationships we seek. Anger might gain some initial respect, but it will never develop the sort of relationship that produces long-term respect from others. Sin is appealing at first, but cannot deliver on its promise.

Fighting Sin at its Roots

In the end, we need a much deeper solution to our sin. We cannot simply modify our behavior because that does not deal with the deeper longings that sin promises to fulfill. Behavioral sin is the result of heart idols. Sin has layers, and as we peel them back, we uncover those hidden motivations and desires that drive our sin. If we want to fight sin, we need to address them at their source. Otherwise, we are just mowing over weeds. At first, it looks good, but eventually the weeds will grow back. Another pass with the lawnmower is another temporary solution. Like weeds, we need to deal with the root cause of our sin. (see post, Understanding the 3-Layers of Sin)

At its most basic level, sin pursues something that only God can offer. The longing for significance that drives the pursuit of our own glory, is ultimately found in relationship with God. The desire for love that leads us to pursue acceptance through gossip or our need for respect which we seek in our angry outbursts are ultimately found only in the cross. The significance we want is found in our identity as God's children. Love is found in the unconditional acceptance of God through the blood of Jesus. Respect is established in the humble service that Jesus models for us and then calls us to as his followers.

A Surpassing Love for God

In the end, our battle with sin is fought by loving God. A surpassing love for God is the great remedy for our sin. As we experience the goodness of God, it will reveal the insufficient offer of sin. Matthew Henry once wrote, "The joy of the Lord will arm us against the assaults of our spiritual enemies and put our mouths out of taste for those pleasures with which the tempter baits his hooks." As our affections increase for our savior, sin become less attractive because we see it for the folly that it is. Like good literature - once you learn to appreciate quality writing, you can no longer waste your time on drivel. When you gain a surpassing love for God, sin loses its appeal. In the battle with our sin, we need to fight it on all fronts. We must employ multiple strategies, but we absolutely cannot neglect our need for a robust love for God. You will never win the battle against sin without it.

Four Ways Words Impact the World

When words pass the threshold of our mouths, they can never be put back, no matter how much we wish they could. Once spoken, the things we say enter into existence, and with them comes the impact of those words. Sometimes they enter the world and offer a helping hand to someone in need, other times, our words enter the world like a right hook, landing on the cheek of a loved one. Have you ever said something you immediately wished you could have back? Have your words ever exited your mouth like a fist rather than a hand of help?

Our words are powerful. They are something we ought to consider more intentionally, and speak more thoughtfully. It must be said that we are imperfect, and will say things we regret. In those instances, we must be ready to repent and seek reconciliation. Even so, by the power of God's Spirit, we must also seek to gain control over our tongue and give it direction.

James exhorts his readers to give consideration to their tongue (James 3:1-12, and in view of his reminder, here are four ways our words impact the world.

Speak words with humility

James starts with a reminder that we should seek to teach with humility. This is less about the way words impact the world, and more about the manner in which we speak them into the world. He says that "not many of you should become teachers," because those "who teach will be judged with greater strictness (Js.3:1)." When we choose to speak, especially as one with authority to teach, we must approach that role with humility. It is a weighty responsibility, and one that will be judged with greater strictness. We must enter into that role with humble hearts.

Every week, as I send a new article out into the world wide web, I do it with a bit of timidity. I am on a journey of sanctification myself, and like each of you reading this, I am imperfect in my actions. I write as someone who is still in process, and yet, when I write an article, I step into a role of teaching. It is weighty, and I feel the burden. My prayer for myself, and for anyone who aspires to teach and write, is that we would do so with great humility and a sense of the responsibility for the task.

Ideas can change the world

This doesn't necessarily come from the text in James, but something I have thought about a lot recently. Two connections from this passage warrant me mentioning it here. First, the reference to teachers. Words are a primary medium for teaching. Words are powerful, and teachers must use them well. Second, the mention of the disproportionate power of words relative to the size of the tongue. Words are powerful and God uses them to change the world.

I have recently gotten into listening to audio books when I am driving, running, cleaning or working on house projects. Through audio books, I have been able to listen to numerous biographies and history books. One theme I have noticed is that people who have had a significant impact on the world nearly always know how to use the power of ideas and words. Whether for evil, like Adolf Hitler or pro-slavery advocates in American history, or for good, like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jonathan Edwards or Martin Luther.

As pastors, church leaders and Christ-followers, we have the most powerful message in the world. The good news of Jesus Christ, which permeates ever area of life. I have been challenged to consider more deeply what God teaches and how I can communicate these truths in clear and compelling ways. Words are a powerful medium to shape our world and culture. God spoke the world into being, Jesus came as the word made flesh, God's primary way of communicating with us is through His Word, and as his people, we are called to use words to serve God's mission in the world.

The tongue is more powerful than its size

It can be easy to take our words for granted, because they flow from our mouths so readily and originate from such a small part of our body. What James' letter so masterfully communicates is that the tongue has disproportionate power given its size. He utilizes some analogies to help us get a picture - the relatively small bit in a horse's mouth, which allows a rider to direct the powerful animal's movements, or the small rudder that enables a captain to steer large sea vessels, or the small fire that can set a forest ablaze. Each of these images are meant to remind us that even though our tongue is small, it can give rise to powerful words.

Further, the tongue is not easy to control. We can so quickly let something slip from our mouths that is like poison to another. Words can take on the form of many different weapons - the poisonous spread of rumor and gossip, the blunt force of vulgar yelling, the arrow like precision of a well timed smear or the suffocating force of an onslaught of insult. These weapons of verbal war flow from us, often without thinking twice. Sometimes we regret what we have said, and other times we don't even realize the pain we inflict.

Consider the words you use and the way you speak to those around you, often to the ones you love the most. First, recognize the power of the things you say. Do not take lightly the impact your words can have on the people around you. Second, ask God to help you gain control over your tongue. It is a powerful instrument, and one which cannot be easily mastered. You need God's help, so don't hesitate to ask.

The tongue has disproportionate power given its size.

Words can bless or curse

The final way our words impact the world is through the dichotomous ends of blessing or cursing. James comments on the fact that with the same mouth we "bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God (Js 3:9)." We use the same mouth to sing worship songs on Sunday and fling words of insult that afternoon. We praise God with our lips and then use them to defame people made in His image. Our words can either speak life or death. They can bring blessing or cursing.

James is calling his audience to fight this inconsistent behavior when he writes, "these things ought not be so (3:10)." The mouths we use to praise God, for such a good and glorious purpose, should not be used to also degrade His people. Our words have the power to heal or hurt. With our mouths, we have the ability to extend a helping hand or swing a fist. Ask God to help you master your tongue this week, and use it as a means of blessing to those around you.