Anger Is Not a Sin

'don't worry be happy' photo (c) 2009, Evil Erin - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Today marks the final installment in our faith and parenting series with a guest post from one of my very favorite bloggers, and people—Kathy Escobar.  Kathy is the co-pastor of The Refuge, an eclectic faith community in north Denver.  She is the author of Down We Go: Living Into the Wild Ways of Jesus, which will totally transform the way you think about “church,” I guarantee it. Kathy is married to Jose and is the mother of five. What I love most about Kathy’s writing is that it is real—representative of a life spent “in the trenches” of loving God and loving people. It consistently inspires me to love and follow Jesus better.  I really look up to Kathy because her actions line up so consistently with her words, which is a rare and beautiful thing indeed. Be sure to subscribe to Kathy’s blog. (It's a favorite.) You can also follow her on Twitter. Enjoy!  

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"In your anger, do not sin" 
- Ephesians 4:26

Transient

When I was a kid, I was taught that anger was bad.  It had nothing to do with Christianity because I was not raised in a family of faith; rather, in a home with an alcoholic, there was an underground but extremely strong message that negative emotions should be avoided at all costs. 

Happy, thankful, quiet, and easy-going were highly valued but mad, frustrated, hurt, or sad, not so much.  That was reserved for the parents.  

When I became a Christian and started learning more about Jesus in "church", I discovered that some of the same rules applied.  Messy feelings were ones to avoid.  They were equated with a lack of faith or an inability to turn it over to God properly in the moment.  For me, honestly, it didn't work half bad because I was already a master at stuffing negative feelings and pretending like nothing was wrong.

20 years ago, my husband Jose and I had our first son.  Two years after that, a daughter.  And two years after that, another son. In a wild twist of events known as "almost the immaculate conception" we had twin sons three and a half years later.  My claim to fame was having five children under the age of seven.  

And yeah, there was a lot of emotion in the house. 

During the early years, however, Jose and I practiced a parenting style consistent with what we were learning in church—negative emotions were "bad" and somehow needed to be avoided or at least taken care of quick.  For our kids, this looked like being mad at them for being mad (yes, I get the irony).  Things like "Go to your room if you are angry and come out when you're happy again!" "Stop crying now!" and "You need to change your attitude right this minute!" flowed freely from our lips.

We had good intentions.  We weren't abusive. We were just following the books that temper tantrums were a sign of faulty parenting and kids needed to learn emotion control.  

I know there are all kinds of ways children need their parents to guide, teach, and set limits on what is appropriate and what's not.  But looking back, I have learned something very painful about our early parenting years—we sent our children a strong message that we didn't tolerate negative emotions, only positive ones.

Oh how I regret this!  

The church is really good at this, too.  As a body of believers, it does seem like anger, sadness, and hurt are not tolerated very well.  We want people to go to their room when they're angry and come out when they're happy again, to change their attitudes quick, to get on with the business of feeling good as quickly as possible.  

Even though we say it's not true, it sends a message to all of us that God loves us more when we're happy and is disappointed with us when we're sad. This message gets all tangled up with our faith.  

We forget that Jesus, God in the flesh, embodied a full range of emotions.  He cried.  He yelled.  He lamented.  His blood boiled.  

He was human.

Part of my shift in faith and parenting has been about embracing the full range of my humanness. Much of how I was operating in our faith was about rejecting parts of me to somehow "please God more."

The scripture reminds us that in our anger, we shouldn't sin.  Not that anger is bad.  

And what I have learned, and keep learning, is that God wants all of us, all of the time.  He doesn't send us away when we are pissed off or turn away from us until we are happy again.  Even though I am human and not God, part of my responsibility as a parent is to reflect to my babies my full, deep, wide, and as-unconditional-as-possible love in the midst of their real lives, their real emotions, so that they can feel more secure and free.

But that shift had to happen in me first. 

Part of my responsibility as a woman of faith was to begin to accept that God wants all of me—the angry, sad, hurt, frustrated parts of me along with the happy ones, too. 

As Jose and I shifted, how we parented our children did, too. We have made many an amends to our older kids, who received the brunt of thinking that any negative emotion was a sin.  Thankfully, they have offered their grace (and told us that they had been pretty mad about it, ha!).   

We keep learning.  We keep stumbling and bumbling and making all kinds of mistakes along the way.  But I'm more sure of this than ever for myself and my kids, too—anger's not a sin.

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Some Material May Not Be Suitable for Children

'Tamar' photo (c) 2007, Richard Moross - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Today’s guest post on faith and parenting comes to us from my friend Alise Wright, who I had the pleasure of meeting in Knoxville earlier this week.  I can assure you that Alise is as delightful and funny in person as she is online.  A mother of four, talented musician, wife to an atheist, and prolific writer, Alise blogs atAlise...Write!  She is the editor of Not Alone: Stories of Living with Depression. You can follow her on Twitter and find her on Facebook. Enjoy! 

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Transient

“There are people who don’t like this music because they say that angels are the same as unicorns and elves.”

We had been listening regularly to the They Might Be Giants album, Here Comes Science. We loved the songs about the planets and the elements. But the CD also included a song called “My Cousin the Ape” and songs that discussed evolution. Songs that didn’t jibe with the standard line in our more conservative Christian circles. And at 8, our son was beginning to notice that a lot of what we embraced in our home wasn’t what he was hearing at AWANA or on Sunday mornings.

My best friend is gay, and I’m affirming, so my kids knew why I cried when Prop 8 passed, and why I cried again when it was struck down. Their dad is an atheist, so my kids know that one doesn’t have to have religion to be a loving, caring person. We live in a more racially diverse area of our primarily white state, so they hang out with kids who don’t look like them. We accept evolution. We vote Democrat.

Some might suggest that my kids are too young for such adult themes. They don’t need to know about homosexuality and atheism and racism and evolutionary theory. Why not just allow them to be kids? Save the grown up stuff for when they’re adults.I understand why people want to shield their children from these topics. Issues like theses are difficult for us to wrestle with as adults. There are complications that result from a stance on any one of them. Each one has shaken my faith in ways that I never could have imagined.

But much of the issue surrounding my faith-shaking was related to the fact that I had not encountered these differences when I was younger. I didn’t know how there was a path from Christianity to atheism. I didn’t know that you could be a Christian and accept evolution. I didn’t know that you could be a Christian and be gay. So when I encountered these situations as adults, my faith had to grow quickly to accommodate these ideas and these people, and that kind of growth can be painful. It can leave splinters in your heart and cause pain in your relationships.

By exposing my children to these ideas now, they have the opportunity to incorporate them into their growing faith. They can look at a passage like “Love your neighbor as yourself” and know that their neighbor may be the person sitting beside them in church, but that neighbor could also be someone who doesn’t even attend church. They have fewer preconceived notions about who is “in” and who is “out.”

The message that I want my kids to hear and embrace every day of their lives is that they are loved. Loved by me, loved by their dad, loved by their extended family and friends, loved by God. When my children see that love being extended to all people, it makes it easier for them to believe it for themselves.

Embracing that love is something that is appropriate for all ages. Even children.

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Redeeming Cinderella's Stepmother

Today’s faith and parenting guest post comes to us from Sarah Bost-Askins. Sarah is a poet writer, feminist thinker, Jesus lover, and Springer Spaniel wrangler. She grew up in Lynchburg, VA, the epicenter for conservative evangelicalism. She attended Tennessee Temple University, and after college, she moved to North Carolina to teach English at a Christian school. During her second year teaching, she met her Redneck Romeo through a blind date arranged by one of her students. In 2006, she married her husband and gained an immediate family with her two stepchildren. Her husband encouraged her to pursue her graduate degree in English, and in 2010, she was graduated from The University of North Carolina at Greensboro  with a Master of Arts degree in English. She works as a freelance writer by day, poet and fiction writer by whenever life gives her a few free moments. When she is not writing, she enjoys cooking, tending her herb garden, and drinking too much coffee.

Currently, she is working on a collection of short stories set in rural North Carolina and a collection of poetry. You can find her poetry and some fiction pieces on her blog From Tolstoy to Tinkerbell. She also is one of the co-founders of The Dark Jane Austen Book Club. You can follow her on Twitter or find her on Facebook.

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Transient

No little girl ever wants to be Cinderella's stepmother. We dream of princes and balls and weddings and babies, but all of those things would belong to us first. We would mother our own biological children, not someone else's. No one wants to be a stepmother.

The Bible doesn't offer us a shining example of a stepmother. We could posit that Sarah was the  stepmother of Hagar's son Ishmael; however, she forced both Hagar and Ishmael to leave after the birth of her son, Isaac. Not the best pattern to follow. Literature isn't kind to us either. We give away poison apples, prey upon feeble-minded men, and force servitude upon the stepchildren. Even the Greek playwright, Euripides said that “it is better to be a serpent than a stepmother.” 

I am stepmother, not a stereotype.

I grew up in  an evangelical Baptist home. On Sundays, we drove to church with hundreds of families just like us. One set of parents. No extra parents, no step-families, no half siblings. We talked about divorce in hushed whispers, always judging. All I knew about divorce came from graceless conversations about brokenness and sinfulness. It's easy to point the holier than thou finger at those not included in our fellowship. Stay away from divorced people at all cost! For awhile, I believed it. Then I met Mark. And grace changed me.

Perhaps, rightness doesn't always come in the perfect Prince Charming wrapper. No exaggerated good looks, no white horse (unless you count his white F-150 with its 300 horses under the hood, and for a redneck, it does.).  But Mark didn't come alone; he also brought two children from his previous marriage. I never thought about being a stepmother or its implications. Maybe I should have been more cautious, more aware of the ways people view stepparents. But in retrospect, it wouldn't have changed anything.

I remember meeting my stepchildren for the first time. A curly haired, blue eyed girl and a too tall for his age boy. The next moment, I met stuffed bears and baby dolls. We cooked pasta in plastic pans and ate invisible noodles with red sauce. Both kids climbed in our laps and watched the Superbowl till bedtime, and I breathed in my first taste of motherhood. I loved it. Somehow, it felt natural and good and beautiful to have extra hugs and plates full of pretend. In a moment, I fell in love with whole family, Mark and his kids.

Then the stepmother stereotype rears its ugly head.

Soon after  Mark and I married, things got complicated and  emotionally wrecking. Perhaps, I was young and stupid, but I thought that this step-mothering thing wouldn't be so hard. How easy it would be to reconcile differences, and we could parent these children together. But learning to parent with one person in the picture is hard; learning to parent with a whole other set of parents and family is harder. Even when both sets are Christians. Even when we know to love others, to speak only truth, to forgive hurts. 

But being a stepmother is like being in-between—not fully mother(I have no biological children of my own), not fully childless either. For years, I wore stepmother like an albatross around my neck, allowing its weight to pull me under the dark waters of depression. No one ever tells a new stepmother that there isn't a societal norm explaining how I'm supposed to mother my stepchildren. There is no What to Expect When You're Expecting to be a StepmotherWe get thrown into the mothering pool head first and pray that we can doggy paddle to keep afloat.  It was all I could do to keep from drowning in the laundry, the daily routine, the back and forth between houses, the unkind words, closed door hiding my tears.  Many nights, I sent up angry prayers to God, to Jesus, to the Holy Spirit. Whoever was listening, begging to be free.  I needed to be redeemed from Cinderella's Stepmother.

I can't redeem myself from Cinderella's Stepmother by bombarding others with anger, my supposed rightness. Grace needs humility to begin its healing work, and it reveals itself through selfless acts of mothering. It's the small moments  that change people's hearts toward stepmothers, to step-parenting in general. As a stepmother, I don't need to argue for my right to parent; I simply need to do the work. The humble work I chose when I married my husband, when I chose to become a stepmother. 

When I wash the bed linens from a night terror induced wetting, I redeem the stereotype. 

When I comfort my child who has been hurt by the careless words of others, I redeem the stereotype. 

When I speak graciously of the other family, I redeem the stereotype.

When I choose forgiveness rather than self-righteous anger, I redeem the stereotype.

When I respond in grace rather than bitterness, I redeem the stereotype.

But I can't fully redeem it alone. 

This stereotype is too big for one person to overcome, and I need the Church to open up a safe haven to discuss divorce and remarriage and step-parenting without judgment. No side taking, no devaluing one parent's contributions over another. Just a space where we allow grace to meld together the shards of brokenness into a new whole.

Only then can we redeem Cinderella's Stepmother.

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Dear Mother...

'Mother/child silhouettes' photo (c) 2008, Narith5 - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Today’s post on faith and parenting comes to us from the wise, witty, and winsome Sarah Bessey. Sarah is one of my favorite writers EVER—the kind whose work I can always recommend, even before reading it. If you aren’t already subscribed to her blog, do yourself a favor and sign up. 

Sarah lives in Canada—the west-coast—and works part time for Mercy Ministries of Canada, an organization that supports young women that struggle with life-controlling issues like drug and alcohol abuse, eating disorders, depression, physical and sexual abuse and self-harm. She and Brian have been married for eleven years and have three children. You can follow Sarah on Twitter here. Her post today is a re-post, originally written for the Mother Letters project.

Enjoy! 

Transient

Dear Mother, 

There is no perfect mother.

If there is one thing that has tripped me up most as a mum, especially in the early years of this, it’s the belief that somewhere, out there, was The Perfect Mother. Sometimes she was my own mother. Sometimes she was someone online. Sometimes she was someone at church or at the playground. I’d see one brief moment of her life, or hear her speak, or see her kids, and think, I bet she never resents wiping bums or feels bored, I bet she never feels so tired that even her eyebrows are aching, I bet she loves every single minute of this mothering thing and I bet her kids listen to classical music and never bicker. I bet she’s a better mother than me. 

That just isn’t true, The Perfect Mother only exists in the land of unicorns. And the sooner you realise that we’re all in this together, that most of us feel guilty  or inadequate sometimes, that most of us will freely admit to feeling overwhelmed or tired, you’ll relax that death grip of high expectations on yourself to be perfect.

My joy in mothering these small souls was restored to me when I was released from the prison of comparison. That yearning to measure up, to be The Perfect Mother, masquerades as selflessness but really, it’s approval addiction, it’s people pleasing and you won’t be the only victim of its poison and its bitter need for control. 

Darling, you are mothering for an audience of One, and that One, he delights in you. And joy will come to you when you simply let that woman be the mother that she is, perfect or otherwise, and give yourself grace to figure it out as you go. Let yourself be all of the mother that you are – when you yell or get frustrated, when you ask forgiveness, when you feel your heart straining against your rib cage, all because of how he looks asleep in your arms, all because of the sound of childish voices laughing outside, all because of the quiet nights in the monastery of the baby’s room, just rocking in a time outside of time, it’s all real and it’s all you and it’s all okay. There is grace for it all, it all makes you a mother.

There is no one right way to be a mother just as there is no one right way to be a person or a woman or a follower of our Jesus. Your child is your child. You are you. Let those two truths exist together. And let the Spirit lead you, like a wind, like the Word, like prayer and hope, like traditions and rituals, like change and newness, like hope and grieving. 

Mothering is organic, embrace the free-range life. Exhale. Relax the death-grip of comparison on your own soul; it’s crushing, isn’t it? Look to our Jesus, look to how he made you, look to the child he gave you, look to your family’s values and callings and gorgeous craziness and embrace it all. Move with freedom and confidence because you, my luv, you are not alone. 

We’re all out here, figuring it out together. Give yourself the freedom, the grace, the wisdom, the love and gentleness that you crave from others, and then turn around and pour it out, lavishly, on the mothers around you, as a sacrifice of grace.
I honour you as a mother. In fact, I think you’re just about perfect at it.

With all of my love,

Sarah 

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This letter is part of the Mother Letters project. You can buy the Mother Letters e-book here

Subscribe to Sarah's blog

Check out the rest of our faith and parenting series - it's pretty darn amazing, if I don't say so myself.

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Lament and Faith and Childhood: Why my kid and I read the sad Psalms

'The Not so Little one asleep  / a random right here right now iPhone moment....' photo (c) 2012, kate hiscock - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Today’s post on faith and parenting comes to us from one of my favorite bloggers, Micha BoyettMicha, a stay-at-home mom from Texas, describes herself as “Southern Baptist nurtured, Anglican by choice, Presbyterian by former church, and in love with Roman Catholic monastic and contemplative practice.” She blogs as Mama: Monk at Patheos. If you haven’t caught her series on Practicing Benedict, do yourself a favor and check it out. Micha and I share a literary agent, and I can’t wait to see how she blesses us with her gift with words in the years to come. 

Enjoy!

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Transient

A year and a half ago, when my son first dreamed that a walrus (yes, I said a walrus) had entered his closet and rummaged around, I could not make that screaming child feel safe again, no matter what I tried. 

First, I lied about my own power: Look! I have Walrus spray! I’ll just spray your closet and he’ll never want to come back. 

Then, I made up a story to explain it all: Oh, I talked to the walrus and he’s super sorry, buddy. He meant to go to the apartment down the street where his friend lives and he’s really sad that he scared you. Don’t worry; he’ll never come back.

Finally, over the course of weeks, I told him the truth: Honey, I can’t promise that the walrus will never come again. But I promise that God loves you and he’s always protecting you.

I sang one of those old Psalty songs from my childhood cassette tapes, What time I am afraid, I will put my trust my trust in thee. My voice is plain. It’s on key but simple and you’ll never hear me with a solo. But sometimes I sing in my kids’ rooms and I know it’s my best work yet. That little chorus about fear? I sang it rich and I leaned over his bed, my fingers moving the hair across his forehead. Whenever I’m alone, I know that God is there... And God was there. It was lovely. 

My son stopped me before I could finish. “But I can’t see God!” He screamed, his face red, his fists clinched. The kid was two-years-old.

You know what disturbed me most about that moment? It wasn’t my son’s rage, his frustration, his realization that he wanted God to be something more for him. It was the reality that I knew exactly how he felt. 

I know what it is to love and believe deeply in the Lord and, at the same time, scream out to him: “Why are you doing this? Where are you? Do you even exist? Do you love me?” And, amazingly, I know how to move from those questions into communion and take the bread and the wine and beg God to swell inside me, to make me whole. 

Faith is complicated for me. I didn’t want it to be complicated for my kids. 

Maybe it’s inevitable. Maybe doubters raise doubters. Maybe it’s in the genes. But since that first late-night moment of frustration with God, my boy hasn’t stopped wanting answers and being unsatisfied with the pat ones I give him. He’s a scientist by nature and he’s exploring this world with the mind God has stuck inside him. He doesn’t know how to say it yet, but he wants to know how God fits into all this beauty, how God fits into all this brokenness. 

I love scripture, I love how parents are instructed in Deuteronomy to talk about the Lord “when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” At my house, we talk about Jesus as maker of peanut butter, Jesus as super hero, Jesus as best friend, Jesus as instructor on how to be a friend. 

But, mostly, we talk about Jesus at night when my son wiggles under his covers in the dark and imagines. He imagines scary monsters and snakes on the wall but he also imagines a whole world where he is the super hero: slaying dragons with magic slime, blasting off in rockets through black holes to wholly edible planets. 

I’m learning that nighttime is as complicated as faith: it can be scary and full of unknowns, but it can also be packed with a dream-world that makes us sigh at its loveliness. Nothing is simple and when we try to wrap the complex in a pretty box of ease, we all know it. And, I’m more and more certain that kids have the best authenticity radar of anyone. 

So I’ve decided not to pretend that faith is simple. I’ve made a choice that with my kids, I will worship and cry and clench my fists and pray at 6:30 am on the couch and embrace the Church and serve and ask all the questions, and I will do it in front of them, for better or for worse. 

I’m starting by not being afraid of letting them love the Psalms. Though I grew up reciting Psalm 23 and Psalm 139, I made it through youth group without ever reading or understanding the painful Psalms. I never knew that God’s faithful people had also questioned him, struggled with fear, felt alone and forsaken.

Sometimes I wonder if I had been exposed to those laments earlier in my life, it wouldn’t have hurt so bad when I found myself vomiting up doubt as a twenty-year-old. What if someone had promised me that anger and disappointment and insecurity have always been part of pursuing God?

What I want to give my son is a picture that faith is messy and complicated and good. I want him to be brave enough to push through the questions of our culture and cling to what his heart knows. I stand over his bed at night with my hand on his forehead and pray that if he strays from the faith that he will always find his way back home. I pray that he will always find his home in the heart of Christ. 

Two weeks ago, I stumbled upon Psalms for Young Children (by Marie-Helen Delval) a paraphrased collection of simplified Psalms filled with beautiful and haunting illustrations. What I love about this book is that the laments have not been removed in favor of happy lambs jumping and illustrations of children praying beside beds with smiley faces. It refuses to shy away from the sad prayers of broken people. 

I’m not shocked that my son is drawn to the saddest ones. I’m not surprised that he keeps asking for Psalm 69 when we flip the pages. 

When I am sad,
it feels like I’m underwater,
like I’m stuck in the mud,
or at the bottomof a dark hole.
Pull me from this dark place,God!
Save me! 
I need your help!

Those words sit on the page beside a little girl curled up at the bottom of a dark sea surrounded by frightening fish with glowing eyes. My son knows about disappointment. He knows about nighttime and fear. He knows about frustration and the longing for God to not be so invisible. 

Maybe it’s a bad idea. Maybe parents raise faithful kids by protecting them from complexity. Maybe I should strive to set up a picture of my faith as complete and simple. But I know my son and I know myself. Neither of us would buy that. 

So I pray that honesty will shape him deeply, that he will grow into a faith in Christ that does not fear sadness or frustration. And that he will lean into a faith that allows honesty and vulnerability and the sweet complication of lament. 

After all, the Jesus that shows up in my chest and promises to help me believe is the same one who is already chasing after my son. So I will not fear that complexity. Beauty is found in the same place where doubt lives.

***

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