By / Mar 24

The world tells women that they need and deserve to find time for themselves. Yet, as a Christian mother, I find myself a bit hesitant to pursue it.  

Don’t get me wrong. I’d love some me time. As a mother of little ones, I rarely have a moment of uninterrupted thought. My hesitation comes as I consider the idea of spending time solely on myself, rather than on serving the needs of my family. It just seems contrary to what I think I ought to be doing as a Christian mom.

As I look at the heart of the world’s advice, it seems women are being told they must find the time to escape from their normal reality and re-energize by focusing on themselves for a while. This might include being pampered by a massage or facial, or it could be a night out with friends. The main idea, though, is for women to relax and treat themselves to activities that make them happy and refuel them for their everyday lives.

That doesn’t sound all bad—and those activities aren’t bad in and of themselves. Yet, the secular worldview doesn’t take into account several realities that I believe could transform the typical me time mentality into a more God-honoring time of true refreshment. By acknowledging the following truths, I believe me time can be redeemed for Christian women.

1. We can never really escape reality, especially the reality that we live in God’s kingdom.  

The secular idea of escaping reality for an evening of personal relaxation forgets to take into account that we live in a universe where God exists and that he is King (Ps. 103:19). We live, move and have our being under his rulership, whether or not our families are in our proximity (Acts 17:28).  

Our alone time can never be viewed as a way to do whatever we want with no regard for the King. It is always secondary to his authority over us. As believers we are happy to be his subjects and under his good care. Time alone can be considered a gift from him, especially as we acknowledge that he is primary.

2. Since we live in a kingdom that is not our own, “me time” is really his time.

Since God is creator and owner of everything that exists, even our time must be considered his. The world would have us believe otherwise. The name itself depicts this. It is mine. I have rights to it. I deserve to spend it however I choose. These are thoughts that even my own sinful heart seeks to demand. But Christ has bought us with his blood (1 Cor. 6:19-20). As Christians, we are fully his. Just as our lives are not our own, neither is our time. How we spend time alone must ultimately be how he wants us to spend it.

3. We must take into account the paradoxical nature of God’s kingdom.  

Me time insists that if I live for myself, I will benefit. But in God’s kingdom, the way up is down. When the disciples disputed over who is the greatest, Jesus declared the greatest will be the least (Luke 22:26). At other times, he said the first in this world will be last (Matt. 19:30). The humble will be exalted (Matt. 23:12). Giving is better than receiving (Acts 20:35). And dying brings life (Luke 9:24).    

The world calls these things foolishness because they do not have eyes of faith. But sadly, I think many Christian moms have also neglected to believe this principle. We get caught up in serving our families more out of obligation than by faith and begin to view mundane tasks as insignificant. If we really believed that God brings eternal rewards for us as we serve by faith, maybe we wouldn’t need alone time as much as we think we do (Matt. 10:42, Col. 3:23-24). Loving our families would become more of a joy instead of a burden. Our hope and sense of fulfillment would be set more on the Lord and his promises, instead of on finding time alone for ourselves.  

So, is me time biblical? Given the world’s definition, I wouldn’t exactly say yes. However, time alone can certainly be a kind gift from God, especially as we acknowledge the realities explained above. If he gives you some time to yourself, thank him for it, put your hope in him and use it for his glory.  

How? Meditate on the Scriptures. Journal or reflect on how he might be growing you through specific life circumstances. Talk with him about these things. Prayerfully dream of ways he might want to use you in ministry, either more intentionally to your family or to others. Actually minister to others. Have life-giving conversation with a Christian friend. Go for a walk, enjoying the world he gave us. Or, use the creativity he put within you to make something unique. These are all ways to use alone time that honor him and acknowledge his kingship.

By / Feb 10

“Mine!” is a declaration with which most parents are all too familiar. Parents often respond to fighting over toys and possessions by becoming referees and sorting out what happened in order to decide the fair way to proceed. The parent becomes an investigator to find out the facts of the incident: Whose toy is it? Who had the toy first? Did they know the other wanted to play with it? Were they actually playing with it or just keeping it from the other child? Don’t they want to play with their sibling’s toys sometimes? Can’t y’all just be kind to each other?

A gospel opportunity

The answer to the final question is an emphatic “No!” The “Mine!” problem is not simply an isolated behavioral glitch. It is a worldview problem that has behavioral implications. The parental battle in this situation is not to coax the child into being a bit nicer; it is a gospel opportunity to call them to repent of idolatry. When the parent adopts the posture of referee, he or she is actually reinforcing the child’s existing self-referential categories that are the problem—not the solution. When parents permit an attitude of entitlement about toys and possessions, they are discipling their children in an entitlement worldview.

What is the alternative? Could the gospel reshape our response to the “Mine!” problem? An entitlement attitude is the manifestation of self-justifying pride, and we know according to the Scripture, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (Prov. 3:34, James 4:6, 1 Pet. 5:5). Our hope is found in humility, thankfulness and grace, not in our own idolatrous self-determination about what we deserve. In fact, prideful self-determination is the root of both the rebellious angelic fall and the fall of humanity (Gen. 3; Is. 14). A parent should respond to “Mine!” with intentionality to create categories that help make the gospel intelligible.

An example of intentionality

Judi and I have eight children between the ages of three and eighteen years old. At some point, when our oldest was fairly young, we decided on how we would address the “Mine!” problem. Our plan was to teach our children that nothing in our house was theirs. They were not owners of anything, so “Mine!” was a nonsensical assertion. My wife and I bought the house, furniture, clothes, food, toys, and everything else, so they owned nothing though they had been freely given a great many things to enjoy. Even gifts from grandparents and other people ultimately belong to my wife and I because, apart from a place to store and care for them, our children would be unable to keep them.

We believe our children need to perceive themselves as stewards of an abundance of things given to them for theirs and the common familial good, but they are owners of nothing. Any time we hear “Mine!” there is no need for investigation or lengthy recounting of the facts, we simply say, “Whose is it?” to which the replay is “Daddy and Mommy’s.” If the problem persists at all, my wife and I take our toy (or whatever it is) and remove it, which sometimes means immediately disposing of the item in the garbage can.

A new worldview category

The items we provide to the household and receive into the household are there to create harmony and not division. As parents, we have the responsibility to oversee the possessions and make sure they are used to an appropriate end. Our goal is to create new categories for how our children view the world and not simply temporal behavioral change. If a child knows their parents have entrusted them to be a family steward of something, on what ground would they see it as something for their exclusive use? Or as Paul asks, “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” (1 Cor. 4:7).

To some parents, this strategy will seem harsh at first glance, and if they are lording their ownership over their children as if they are begrudgingly allowing them to be stewards over possessions—it is. However, if the parents’ goal is to shape a worldview that makes gospel categories more intelligible, then they should be eager and glad-hearted givers to their children. It should be obvious to our children that, though their parents will not allow them to act as though they own toys and other possessions simply for their own purposes and selfish ends, their parents delight in providing them things to use and enjoy. Where this stewardship is understood, children become thankful and content with what they are given.

Thankfulness and humility will not grow in the toxic soil of entitlement. The battle is fought in the simple activities of daily life together. One of the rules in our house is that, with a family of ten, we do not allow special orders at the restaurant drive-thru. Simply ordering twenty double cheeseburgers with no other specifications is quick, easy and cheap. One day I was ordering at a fast food restaurant, and I knew one of my children really enjoyed a particular specialty burger, so I just decided to get it for him as a special treat on that day. When I brought it home and he saw it, he said, “Wow! Thanks, I was not expecting that.” Exactly. If he had felt entitled to the specialty burger, he would not have been thankful for it.

Addressing the “Mine!” problem properly helps create categories for your children to understand how you order your family life differently as followers of Christ. Parents should tell their children that they, too, are stewards and not owners of God’s blessings, and that fact shapes how they steward their resources as well. The family home should be seen as God’s gift for the purpose of showing hospitality to others. The family vehicle should not been seen simply as a tool to help the family get around but a tool to serve others. In so doing, the household reflects the body of Christ, “the household of God” (Eph. 2:19).

The church is a community birthed by grace “not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:9). What a joy it would be if your children read about the church, “And all who believed were together and they had all things in common . . . distributing the proceeds to all as any had need” (Acts 2:43-44), and the first thing they think about is your home.

By / Feb 24

Baseball means dealing with failure. “There is more Met than Yankee in all of us,” as Roger Angell has poignantly wrote in The Summer Game.

Every person who has ever played the game of baseball has been a consistent failure. It has been more than 70 years since the Splendid Splinter, Ted Williams, finished the 1941 baseball season with a .406 batting average. Williams' failure rate of 60 percent means that he failed less often than any batter in the seven subsequent decades. In fact, only five other players in the live ball era (since 1920) have matched the success of his 60 percent failure rate. Babe Ruth, known for hitting 714 home runs, struck out 1,330 times in his Major League Baseball career. The Cy Young Award is baseball's most coveted honor for the game's best pitcher each season, yet the award's namesake lost 316 games as a major league pitcher.

Even the unofficial anthem of baseball, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” is a celebration of hope in the midst of managed failure. Singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the 7th inning stretch is a communal baseball rite of passage. Timothy A. Johnson notes how the song celebrates failure both musically and lyrically, “Instead of celebrating a run or a victory, the song celebrates the act of striking out, the batter’s utter failure. He continues, “There is no spectacular hit to drive in runners—no heroic walk-off home run, no victory for the home team—and the structural melodic line . . . aptly reflects this failure. Striking out is represented musically in a deep structural way, by the failure of the melodic line to reach it’s rightful goal—it’s home, it’s origin—through a proper descent to the tonic” (“I Never Get Back: How ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame’ Succeeds in Celebrating Failure,” The National Pastime [2008], 143).

The reality that baseball is a game of managed failure for every player, even the great ones, is one of the reasons the game imbedded so deeply in the fabric of American culture. Baseball became the national pastime because it reflected the national character—a collective team endeavor that called consistently for individual responsibility and personal sacrifice for the greater good. John Updike asserted that baseball is “an essentially lonely game.” Once the batting order is set, there is nowhere to hide; a turn at the plate is coming. The fact that the whole team is counting on the each batter produces the possibility of personal exultation or humiliation. Unlike other youth sports, baseball doesn't permit a game to be dominated by a star player whose teammates are simply along for the ride.

I fear that one of the reasons for the waning popularity of baseball in American culture is not because the game has changed, but because we have changed. It takes time and patience to understand the game of baseball, and becoming a proficient player is difficult—very difficult. Natural physical gifting and innate athleticism are not predictors of baseball success. In fact, the baseball Hall of Fame extols the virtues of the game's greatest players, and the shocking reality is not the amazing size, strength, and speed of the game's heroes, but the almost comical diversity of body type and physical ability. The game's greatest players have been tall and short, skinny and fat, slow and fast, muscular and flabby, intelligent, and well, not so intelligent. But, they all have one thing in common; every one of them developed the emotional capacity to persevere in the face of frequent, chronic failure and occasional humiliation.

If my suppositions are correct, what was once seen as a part of the glory of baseball, learning to persevere in the face of consistent failure, is now perceived to be a reason to avoid the game. Parents simply looking for ways to keep their children busy and happy will choose sports that do not include the pressure and individualized responsibility that baseball has always demanded. Baseball requires a kind of moral courage that keeps persisting in the face of inevitable repeated personal failures. That is the sober, unalterable reality for Miguel Cabrera and every little leaguer as well. Thus, baseball demands a huge time commitment for fathers, not simply in teaching and repetitively practicing the fundamentals of the game, but also calling sons to the kind of moral courage the game demands. Rarely ever will a boy persist in baseball if his dad has little interest in the game. As Diana Schaub avers in her essay “America at Bat,” “Without fathers, there is no baseball, only football and basketball.”

Baseball does not fit well with the current trend of sports leagues that do not keep score and where the goal is for everyone to be successful and know that they are always a winner. Such a notion does violence to a game that is structurally committed to constant reminders of the participant's finitude and allows no room for such utopian fantasies. One of the reasons baseball has been so slow to embrace instant replay in the sport (and rightly so) is that a game marked by chronic managed failure propagates no delusions of human perfectionism in its players or its umpires. When a baseball purist asserts, “Bad calls are a part of the game,” he is saying something about the warp and woof of the game.

Only genuine baseball fans understood the reaction of Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga during the 2010 baseball season when he was one out from throwing a perfect game (there have only been 23) and veteran umpire Jim Joyce made one of the worst big moment calls in baseball history. Joyce, inexplicably, called the batter safe at first base. When the next batter was retired, Galarraga was saddled with the most disappointing one hitter in the history of the game. How did Galarraga respond to the injustice? When it happened he offered a stunned grin and after the game he said, “He is human. Nobody's perfect…. I want to tell him not to worry about it.” That moment was a beautiful window into what makes baseball unique.

No baseball player can survive and thrive without hope. When Henry Aaron was asked if he arrived at the ballpark every day knowing he would get two hits his reply was, “No. What I do know is that if I don't get 'em today, I'm sure going to get 'em tomorrow.” Babe Ruth was fond of saying, “Every strike gets me closer to the next home run.” Persistent, daily plodding in the face of chronic managed failure, driven by future hope sounds a lot like my daily Christian walk.

The Apostle Paul wrote, “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15). But he went on to write, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! … There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 7:25a, 8:1). The reality of his persistent failure and limitations did not paralyze him because he knew his story fit into a larger picture of the story of Christ. In the Kingdom of Christ, “all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” and those who love God are being conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:28-29).

As players prepare for Opening Day, every one of them knows perfection is impossible. No team will win 162 games; no one will bat 1.000, and no regular starting pitcher will go undefeated. Nevertheless, they practice with a sense of hope that this just might be their year. Despite their constant failure, if they keep stepping up to the plate and heading out to their position in the field, it all might work together for something special, and if not, there is always next year.

The very existence of another baseball season, another 162-game, seven-month exercise in hopeful, managed failure is a faint echo of the glorious promise James offers to all who have put their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (James 1:2-3). Everyone has the tendency to compare the highlight reel of others' successes to our daily failures and lose heart. But baseball, for those of us who love it, provides a constant reminder that everyone (even the superstar) strikes out, but the game still goes on.

Like most years, I think this just might be the year for my beloved Atlanta Braves to win it all. But whether they do or not, I am thankful that the chill of winter is giving way to spring and umpires will soon yell, “Play Ball!” Angell was right, “There is more Met than Yankee in all of us,” and there is a glimmer of a greater glory that the Mets keep taking the field.