Spiritual Practices Common to Kids Who Flourish As Adults

** The following article was copied form thegospelcoalition.org.

Parents, don’t take the biblical proverb “train up a child” and treat it like a promise, assuming that if you do everything right in your parenting, your children will turn out right. Proverbs are general truths, not specific promises. Besides, when we consider the overall context of the Bible, we see how counterproductive it is to try to train our kids to trust in God if what we model for them is that we trust in our training.

But even though we place our hope for our children in God, not in our training, we recognize how this proverb teaches us to take our training of children seriously—both where we guide them andalso  how we shepherd their hearts. And part of that shepherding and guidance includes the effect of a family’s culture.

A new LifeWay Research study commissioned by LifeWay Kids surveyed 2,000 Protestant and non-denominational churchgoers who attend church at least once a month and have adult children ages 18 to 30. The goal of the project was to discover what parenting practices were common in the families where young adults remained in the faith. What affected their moral and spiritual development? What factors stood out?

You might expect that family worship services would play a major part, or the simple habit of eating meals together around the table. Perhaps you’d expect a Christian school kid to be more likely to follow Jesus than a public school kid. Everyone has ideas about what practices are formative on children.

The research (compiled now in the new book Nothing Less) indicated that children who remained faithful as young adults (identifying as a Christian, sharing their faith, remaining in church, reading the Bible, and so on) grew up in homes where certain practices were present.

BIBLE READING

The biggest factor was Bible reading. Children who regularly read the Bible while they were growing up were more likely to have a vibrant spiritual life once they became adults. This statistic doesn’t surprise me. God’s Word is powerful. The Bible lays out the great story of our world and helps us interpret our lives and make decisions within the framework of a biblical worldview. Bible reading is a constant reminder that we live as followers of God. Our King has spoken. He reigns over us. We want to walk in his ways.

PRAYER AND SERVICE

Two more factors follow close behind: prayer and service in church. The practice of prayer did not specify whether it was private or corporate, before meals or before bedtime, or in the morning. But prayer was present.

Note that the church-related factor is about service, not just attendance. It wasn’t just that parents took their kids to church (where “professional clergy” could feed them spiritually), but that the children were included and integrated into the church through the avenue of service. The habit of serving others in the church and community likely formed these young adults in a way that kept them from identifying merely as a churchgoing “consumer,” but instead as a contributor to the building up of God’s people. Down the list a little, church mission trips show up, another indicator of the power of active service.

SINGING CHRISTIAN SONGS

What may surprise you is how high up on the list was this factor: listening primarily to Christian music. Christian contemporary music gets a bad rap these days, usually for being more inspirational than theological (although I believe this stereotype is not true across the board). Still, we shouldn’t dismiss the truth behind Augustine’s ancient observation that we sing the truth into our hearts. When we sing together as congregations and when we praise God on our own or sing songs that fortify our faith, we reinforce the beauty of our faith. (Also noteworthy was the finding lower on the list, that listening primarily to secular music was an indicator that negatively affected one’s spiritual life.)

CULTURE, NOT PROGRAMS

For decades now, many Christians have assumed that certain church programs are the key factors in a child’s spiritual development: Vacation Bible school, youth group activities, Sunday school, and so on. But the research study shows that these programs make an impact when they are connected to consistent habits of prayer, Bible reading, praise, and service. It’s the culture of the family and church, and that they integrate children and young people into spiritual disciplines, not the how that matters most.

Also notable is the impact of the parents’ example of reading Scripture, taking part in service projects, sharing their faith, and asking forgiveness after sinning. In other words, the more the repentant, joyful Christian life was modeled, the more likely children were to remain in the faith.

THE POWER OF IMITATION AND ENVIRONMENT

Research shouldn’t be misused in a way that transforms children into blank slates. There is no perfect parenting formula, and as I mentioned above, no one should assume there’s a surefire formula or method to bring about the result of a faithful kid. Don’t overestimate your power. The Holy Spirit saves, not you.

But don’t underestimate the Spirit’s power to work through the environment you create for your home either. Nothing Less shows that there’s power in faithful, Christian imitation. Children are more likely to repent and ask forgiveness when they’ve seen parents do so, and when they’ve experienced grace in human relationships. Children are more likely to aspire to faithful Christianity when they see joyful service as a virtue modeled in the home.

What kind of culture do we want in our homes and churches?

What space are we creating for our children to flourish?

How are we rooting our families in God’s Word?

How are we modeling prayer and repentance?

What does faithfulness look like in our home?

What are the songs that are in our hearts and on our lips?

How are we fulfilling the Great Commission?

Let’s ask these questions and beg God to work in us and through us, for his glory and our families’ good.

Parent Network Podcast – Episode 07 with The Ashcrafts

In Episode 07 we interview Mike and Julie Ashcraft just after our recent Parent Network event.  They’ll share a little more about how to create a healthy family culture and answer a few questions from the night.  We also talk about upcoming Parent Network events.  You can listen below, or subscribe to the Parent Network Podcast on iTunes and SoundCloud.  Enjoy!

 

 

Series Links

Looking to check out one of the series that were mentioned at the recent event with the Ashcrafts or on the podcast?  Check them out below.

Hot Heads

Freak Out
Parents Just Don’t Understand

PARENT NETWORK EVENT – WATCH

Interested in watching our recent Parent Network event with the Ashcrafts?  Click here (and settle in for little while!).

How to Raise Changing Children in a Changing Culture

** The following article was copied from www.thegospelcoalition.org.

Starting a new job always requires a few months of settling in before feeling comfortable with various tasks—knowing how to do things, when to do them, and what to avoid altogether. After a few months, things begin to run relatively smoothly and eventually, after years of experience, you become an expert in your field.

Parenting has a completely different professional growth trajectory.

Just when you understand babies, they’re already toddlers—with an entirely new parenting job description. The toddler then heads to preschool—and to elementary school, middle school, and high school—with further changes each step of the way. And just when you have school sorted out, they go off to college, with a new set of parenting dynamics. After college, there’s the potential for in-laws and grandchildren. Our parenting journey is in a constant state of flux, and we rarely feel like experts in our field. How can we find stable footing along the way?

I corresponded with Paul Tripp, author of Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles that Can Radically Change Your Family. (Sign up to hear Tripp address the topic of parenting at our upcoming 2017 National Conference, April 3 to 5 in Indianapolis.) For those of us raising constantly changing children in a constantly changing culture, Tripp offers biblical principles that stand the test of time.


What’s one practice you’d encourage parents with young kids to do to help foster good communication in the teen years?

I always have one single piece of advice for the parents of teens: Don’t let your relationship with them fade away. Often the sweetness and closeness of the parent-child relationship is nearly gone during these years, and an awkwardness and distance sets in. Don’t let your teenager cast the mold of your relationship. Here’s why. Parenting is entirely relational. You cannot effectively be used of God as an instrument of rescue and transformation in the life of someone with whom you have little functional relationship. Heart and life change always takes place in the context of relationship.

Think of the gospel model—the way God works in your life. He first draws you in with an unbreakable bond of love (justification), then tranforms you into what he wants you to be (sanctification). Only those who have been justified by his grace will ever be sanctified by that same grace.

So, do everything you can to create and maintain a loving, tender, patient, and gracious relationship with your teenager. Pursue him each day. Verbalize your love each day. Hug and kiss her each day. Confess your irritation, impatience, and harsh words over and over again. Love him as much when he is undeserving as when he is deserving. Regularly invite her out for an evening, just the two of you, for dinner and some activity. Go to their extracurricular activities. Be glad to provide transportation. Do anything you can to be together and communicate your affection. When you must have a hard talk, don’t do it on the fly. Make an appointment so you are emotionally calm, have time to communicate with affection, and are able to talk about hard things with grace. And don’t forget to pray daily that God would bless you with his grace so you can be a tool of grace in the life of your teenager.

What’s the purpose of parenting? What does the world say is the purpose?

There are only two models of parenting.

The first is an ownership model. Here the driving motivation is that these children belong to me and I have the right to form them into what I want them to be. Usually this model is informed and directed by cultural models of what a successful person looks like. So I set the rules I think are best, use whatever power I have to enforce them, and mete out whatever punishments I think are best when the child goes outside the boundaries of my rules. The ownership model emphasizes the parent’s ability to restrain and control the child’s behavior until he or she exits the home.

The ambassador model is profoundly different in every way: Parents understand their children do not belong to them, but to God. They know their work is ambassadorial—their job is to represent the purposes, character, and methods of God. So they constantly ask: What does God desire in the lives of my children, and how can I be part of it? Their labor is driven by biblical values rather than cultural norms.

There’s one other crucial element to the ambassador model. Parents embrace their complete inability to change the hearts and lives of their kids. They recognize their role as instruments in the hands of the One who alone has the power to create lasting change. So they look for every opportunity to be tools of God’s convicting, forgiving, rescuing, transforming, and delivering grace in their children’s lives. Their goal is to exercise parental authority as a beautiful reflection of the authority of him who called them to their parental task—so they constantly cry out for grace to represent the heavenly Father well.

There’s a lot of hustle and bustle in a teen’s world these days. Between homework, sports, music lessons, and service activities, they can feel enormous pressure. What’s the most important thing parents can do to help teens navigate a busy and stressful world?

Every Christian parent must ask a critical question again and again, or they will lose their way in the chaos of information, pressures, and influences of the culture in which they raise their kids: What set of values determines the goals, activities, and schedule of our family? 

You simply can’t squeeze a biblical model of parenting into a frenetic schedule shaped by the world’s view of what a successful child looks like. Many well-meaning parents have little or no relational or instructional time with their children because they’re running from activity to activity, fearful their kids will somehow miss out. It’s so vital to keep focused on what God wants to form in the heart and life of your children, and what you need to do to be a tool of his agenda. Ask yourself:Lightstock

Are you giving yourself the time necessary to build and maintain a relationship of love? Are you setting aside time for family worship? Is there time to share relaxed moments and discuss what’s truly important in life? Is your schedule driven an agenda of heart and life transformation, or by activities and achievements? Do biblical values shape whether you say “yes” or “no” to adding another activity? In the busyness of life, are you working to build into your kids a constant awareness of God and their need for his grace?

Asking these questions again and again protects you from the pressures that can cause you to lose your way.

When disciplining children and holding them accountable for their actions, how do parents usually fall short in teaching grace? 

Too many parents unwittingly fall into the trap of expecting the law to do what only grace can accomplish. They think if they set up a neat system of rules, enforcements, and punishments, their children will be okay. But if all our kids needed was moral information and moral control, Jesus would have never had to come. Yes, our children need God’s law because it exposes their sin and shows them how to live. But the law has no power to rescue, restore, and transform their hearts. Lasting change in a child’s behavior always flows from the heart, and only grace can change a child in this way.

It’s vital to understand grace. Grace isn’t about being permissive, because grace never calls wrong right. If wrong was right, there’d be no need for grace. Grace is quick to acknowledge wrong as wrong, but instead of moving away from a person in criticism, judgment, and condemnation, grace moves toward them with forgiveness, tender instruction, loving correction, and the patient exercise of authority. It’s not enough for parents to be the child’s law-giver, policeman, prosecutor, judge, and jailor. We must look for every opportunity to share grace—it alone has the ability to open the eyes and unsettle the hearts of our children so they run to the Redeemer where real help can be found.

Why are so many parents discouraged, worn out, and overwhelmed, and how would you encourage or counsel them? How can parents find rest and peace amid the challenges they face?

Many loving, well-intentioned Christian parents get up each morning and load the spiritual, emotional, and physical wellbeing of their children on their shoulders. Although they claim to believe God is with them, they act as if they’ve been left alone in their parenting task. They think it’s their job to change their children. If you parent this way, you’ll progressively crank up the size of your threats, the heat of your emotions, and the sting of your words, asking these things to do what they have no power to do. You’ll end up doing and saying things you shouldn’t in a frustrated attempt to force change in your children.

No wonder so many parents are frustrated, discouraged, and exhausted! How liberating to know the wise heavenly Father is with you at every moment, and he is parenting everyone in the room. How freeing to know God carries the burden of your children’s welfare, and he’ll never ask you to do what only he can do. How good to know you haven’t been asked to be the change-agent, but rather a willing tool in the hands of the One who has the power to rescue, redeem, and transform your kids. How important to know he doesn’t condemn you in your weakness and failure, but meets you with forgiveness and empowering grace.

You can go to bed knowing he loves your children, and because he does, he’s put them in a family of faith—your family. He’ll reveal their needs to you so you can be a tool of his work in their lives. You don’t carry the weight of their ultimate welfare; he does. All he calls you to do is faithfully represent him, to play the role of ambassador. He will do the rest.

Parenting Dangerously Close to Empty

** The following article was copied from the parentcue.org.

I love to live on the edge. At least that is what I tell my kids when they are all frustrated with me. I am that person. That person that drives until the “E” light in my car has been shining at me for about 30 miles. It doesn’t help that now my car tells me exactly how many miles I have to “E.”

I drive until there are no more miles left. It just has an asterisk on the screen. (I assumed when it said * that meant there was no more gas, but I’m happy to report that you can actually make it at least 5 miles with nothing but an asterisk.) I’ve learned that this drives my middle child crazy. He worries about his mama. He likes to know I’m not going to run out of gas, that I will not be stuck somewhere, that I am safe. One day, as I realized we were near “E” he snapped, “MOM! You are dangerously close to empty.”

A church recently asked me to speak on this very topic: You Can’t Lead On Empty. It was one of those Moses moments. I thought, “God, they have the wrong person to speak on this. I’m a single mom. I’m managing 3 kids. I try to take care of my house, my yard, the bills, the food, their schedules and mine. I’m working full time, plus some side jobs. They have made a mistake asking me.”

But, as I began to think and pray about this topic, I was reminded of an impactful talk I heard years ago on this very subject. Wayne Cordeiro had just written a book called, Leading on Empty and did a talk on it. I don’t save much, but I still had my notes, and the book. It was that good. So, I got busy reading and studying and prepping my talk. Every single principle spoke to me as a single mom and so I wanted to share them with you.

KNOW WHAT FILLS YOUR TANK AND WHAT DRAINS IT.

Answer the statement, I feel most alive when __________________. Now ask yourself these 3 questions:

  • Who am I with?
  • What am I doing?
  • Where am I doing this?

Our life, our very soul, has to be filled up in order to pour out. If I were to keep driving my car way past empty, my car would stall. If I only put 3 gallons of gas in each time I stopped to fill it, I wouldn’t make it very far. We are the same way. Are you putting in more than your giving out? The drain of life can’t be emptying you faster than you are filling yourself up.

And one way to be conscious of that is know what fills you and what drains you. Being a single mom can ironically fall into both categories. Sometimes parenting can be so filling, and other times it sucks the life out of me. Make a list of “Fill” and “Drain” items.

Have you ever noticed that when life gets busy, we tend to cut the things from the “Fill” column? We rarely cut from the “Drain” list. Why? I don’t know, but that is something I’ve worked hard at changing. My kids need me to have a tank that is more on the full side. They deserve that.

UNDERSTAND BALANCE IN LIFE.

I think for most of us, if we were to define balance in life we might draw a seesaw with family on one side and work on the other. I used to think it was a constant balancing game. That is not really how life works. Our family has to be the fulcrum. Fulcrum is defined as the point on which a lever rests or is supported and on which it pivots. Our family is the center. If you lose a job, you start interviewing for another. If you lose your family, you lose everything.

LEAD OUT OF REST.

We don’t mess up as parents because we are evil. It is often because we are exhausted. We have to look at our year, our month, our week and our day with rest in mind. Schedule your rest points first on your yearly calendar.
o Know when you will take a day off way in advance.
o Schedule your vacations at the beginning of the year.
o Use all of your vacation time. You’ve earned it and need it.
o Know when you will sleep. Often people say, “I can’t sleep in. I have to get up, get the kids up, etc…” Sleep in on the other side of the clock. Go to bed earlier. Your best sleep is from 11-3. The average person needs 7-8 hours. If you aren’t getting that, you aren’t the best you.

FIND SOMEONE TO BE YOUR LIGHTENING ROD.

Who is your person that you can be totally honest with and who can be honest with you? If you’re a single parent, you don’t have a spouse to bounce things off of. You need to have a person. Who can you go to when the day has totally frustrated you? If you don’t have someone you can dump it all in front of, you will take it out on your family. Find someone who can take it, listen and then ground it–just like a lightening rod. Sometimes, you need to know when to ask for help. For a season this person may be a counselor. Recognize when your kids may need one too. Finding help when it’s needed is one of the greatest gifts I’ve given myself and my kids. (see my article on when to ask for help)

FINALLY, AND MOST IMPORTANTLY.
PRIORITIZE YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD.

Listen to him, talk with him, obey him, worship him, pray to him. He has all of this. He’s got our mess. It doesn’t take him by surprise. He loves us more than we can ever fathom. He is in control and he wants the best for us. I really believe that. He doesn’t want us to live dangerously close to empty at any moment. He wants us to live rich full lives that honor him.

EVENT RECAP – Parenting – It Might Be Less Than You Think with the Ashcrafts

Being Intentional as Parents

By Mike & Julie Ashcraft
With Madison Ashcraft Goslee & Michaela Ashcraft

It’s not about being a perfect parent!

Encounter.  Formation.  Expression.

The culture of the home is an incubator of character. The culture is what actually happens in your home. Ask your kids what your home’s culture is. Ask, listen and then start talking. Kids are made to be great. They need to know that you care about them. What are we doing to foster this?

 How did you see us integrate faith into our household?

            Michaela- I saw what you did in our home to cultivate your faith, and I learned how to have a relationship with Jesus.

            Madison – We behaved as normal teenagers, we weren’t “churchy”.  You simply modeled love in your relationship with me, and told me God loves me even more than you do.

A Pressure Free Home – a place to grow and feel safe

Our home is not perfect, but we strive to make it a place of immense enjoyment, safety and connection. One key component to creating a thriving culture in your home is to reduce pressure on your kids.

 

 Being a pastor’s kid, how have you dealt with pressure?

            Madison – You created for us a pressure free home. We were told that whatever the world sees in us doesn’t matter, only what God sees in us.

            Michaela – We didn’t have pressure to be anything that we weren’t created to be.

Being a Grace Filled Home

We resolve conflict by offering grace to each other. Talk through what happened and don’t wait to apologize.  Julie reminds us that the last thing a child hears when they walk out the door, they will remember. So meet kids where they are AND in that moment. We even restart and reset our day if necessary. We have the security in our home to be mad and then retry again  – the day is not ruined. Whatever is going on, just remember – it is just a season, it’s going to change

Words of wisdom from Julie

  1. Always iron your clothes
  2. Choose to wake up in a good mood
  3. Always celebrate, there’s always a reason for a party
  4. Love each other

Love Your Kids Uniquely

There is six years difference between our girls. They are unique and we have realized our parenting needs to be unique too.

Tell us about the driving contract.

            Madison – When I turned 16 I had to sign a two page legal-like contract. I felt like they didn’t trust me.  But we talked about how I felt, and then went over each item.  I could express my feelings and they showed me why they care.

            Michaela – I didn’t have a driving contract J But, we do talk about my driving privileges and I know that you always want me to be safe and what is best for me.  And we can compromise and work it out.

 

Boys & Other Things

We tell them it isn’t a right to privacy, we will respect your privacy. We have rules and one of those rules is the girls cell phones are ours too. We check their phones often and anything on their phones we will look at. We also had the rule that they could not date until they were 16.

How did you feel about these rules?

            Madison – I wasn’t happy about them, but I was okay with them.  I didn’t feel like I had anything to hide because you were always available and willing to talk. I could come to you about anything because you had created a safe environment and we trusted you. If it was on my phone, you knew about it already.  And as far as dating, you                               were always willing to sit down and talk about the rules and expectations so we came to a level of trust.

            Michaela – We could always talk about the rules. I felt heard, and always listened to. We had conversations about dating and what dating would look like, so I had understood all our expectations. 

Don’t Freak Out, Find Out

Awkward conversations… you have to have them! They are weird and imperative. Kids want a place to process, so give them that space. Another key component to creating a thriving culture in your home is to ask your kids questions and talk with them. We want to preserve their innocence. If we don’t do this, no one else will.

Know each other

You have to get to know your kids, and they have to get to know you.  Make sure the expression on your face matches theirs. If they are excited about something, join with their excitement. If they are hurting, join with their hurting. Don’t confuse vision (the hope of what could be) with expectation (what is required).  We tell them to do your best verses be the best. And make sure they are contributing to the family and they understand what their contribution means.

Everybody wants strategies to make kids behave the way we want them to behave – this is foolish.  What we need in our homes is a culture to thrive!

 

Potential Sermon Series to Review:

  1. Hot Heads
  2. Freak Out
  3. Parents Just Don’t Understand

 

 

 

 

 

Divorced at Christmas

** The following article was copied from theparentcue.org.

Christmas is a season that evokes a lot of memories.
Some memories are sweet.
Some memories are bitter sweet.
Some memories are just bitter.

I’m fortunate enough to have some of every variety but one from Christmas Day 2002 stands out particularly vividly in my mind.

My younger sister and I were on the winding road that took us over Blood Mountain from Gainesville, Ga. to Murphy, NC. We had made the same drive for seven years. Although, it wasn’t always this particular drive. After the divorce, my dad lived first in one apartment, then another, then his own home, then in the home of my new stepmother—the one in Murphy, N.C. The locations changed but the drive was the same.

We woke up in one home for “morning Christmas,” then jumped in the car and rushed to another home for “afternoon Christmas.” The picture of post-divorce Christmas had become predictable.

Pre-divorce Christmas? That was another picture.

Pre-divorce Christmas was my family of four: Mom, Dad, me and my little sister. It was about opening one present each on Christmas Eve. It was about being woken up before dawn by my little sister, and pretending like it bothered me when I was just as excited as she was. It was waking up our parents—under the same roof, in the same room, in the same bed. It was my dad messing with the video camera while my mom squealed in delight watching my sister and me open gifts. It was gifts from both sets of grandparents while sitting on the same couch. It was watching my parents open the presents they’d picked out for each other. It was spending the entire day in our PJs, playing with new toys, listening to Christmas music and drinking egg nog.

Until one night, the day after Christmas 1993, the fighting—which was in the picture every other day of the year—quieted from passionate screaming to hushed conversation. That evening, my sister and I sat on either arm of the recliner in the living room, our mom between us, as my dad carried a small suitcase and garment bag out the door.

And our picture of Christmas—and life in general—was changed.

So, for the next seven years, we had “morning Christmas” and “afternoon Christmas”. The “morning Christmas” parent would plan an extra special breakfast, or envision watching a new movie together, or want to see one of us try on our new clothes.

The “afternoon Christmas” parent would wake up with our step-parent and step-siblings to a Christmas tree and presents, only to wait, and wait, and wait for us to arrive. A special lunch might be cooked—and then cooled—while they sat waiting.

So here we were, Christmas Day 2002 driving the path over Blood Mountain, and we were already in trouble. In fact, we were in BIG trouble. This particular year no one was happy with the amount of time allotted for their Christmas and my sister and I were stuck in a no-win tug-of-war.

I don’t know if it was the sight of my younger sister completely despondent on what should have been the best day of the year, or if it was because I was lashing out, but I’d had enough. I pulled over and from my new Nokia cell phone, I drew one of the clearest boundaries I have ever drawn: this was the last time we would pack up and move on Christmas Day.

For seven years we had all tried to do everything we could to re-create pre-divorce Christmas. The problem was, things had changed. And seven years into what started out as good intentions, my sister and I were caught trying to maintain a picture of Christmas that wasn’t maintainable.

What I started to realize that year was this:

We never hold our expectations, traditions, or pictures of family tighter than we do during the holidays.

All of us. Married parents. Biological children. Step-parents. Foster Children. Single Parents. Adopted children. Whatever your label, whoever you are, whatever your family story, it’s never more tempting to demand that the people you love most live up to your picture than it is at Christmas. It’s like something begins to rise up inside us to say, “Okay, I will go with this broken picture 11 months of the year, but just give me this one month for us to be normal.”

And, when divorce is part of your family story, it’s also true that holidays have a way of bringing pain to the surface of our lives. Whether you’ve been divorced ten months or ten years, holidays can have a way of making it feel fresh all over again.

The holiday cards with pictures of smiling families.
The twinkle lights hanging on everyone’s houses—because apparently, they have enough adults in the home to both hang lights and watch children at the same time.
The tree farm you always talked about visiting together.

It all highlights the painful fact that the picture you had for your family has changed.

Over the next couple weeks, we will write more practical responses to being divorced during the holidays. But, maybe it starts with just this one thing:

If we want to find joy this season with the people we love most, we may have to lower our expectations, hold our pictures loosely, and embrace our story—exactly as it is in this season.

Low Expectations: A Key to Christmas Happiness

** The following article was copied from theparentcue.org.

Expectations rarely run higher than they do at Christmas. From what to give to what to serve to the pressure to host well, expectations hover just beyond reach of achievability for most of us.

A few years ago I was listening to a speaker who was talking about something I can’t remember anymore, but I do remember this.  As a complete aside, he stopped his main talk and said to the audience: “You know what the secret to happiness is, right?”  — Pause.  —  “Low expectations.”

It’s all I remember about his talk.  It’s so simple, a bit disappointing, and so true.

The only reason you and I ever get disappointed is because we expected something better.  Expect nothing . . . you’ll never be disappointed.

Lowering our expectations could make Christmas so much more enjoyable.  Expecting the perfect gift from your spouse? Drop the expectation. Then you’d be happy with anything she gets you. Worried about Christmas dinner? Prepare well, but lose the picture of the perfect family dinner from your mind . . . then you’ll be happy even when the turkey you labored over for hours is overcooked and your third cousin twice removed is more than happy to point it out.

Lowering expectations also increases gratitude. In fact, I think it’s the key to gratitude. If your expectations are chronically high, you will never be thankful for anything that doesn’t exceed them. Gratitude is easy to experience when you realize that spiritually, we are in a position to demand nothing . . . that we’ve received is a gift from a Savior who is merciful . . . that what we’ve received is far greater than what we have deserved.

Lowered expectations might be a great conversation subject with your kids this week.  If their gift list this year consists of a long list of specific items with size, brand, design, and color all pre-determined, it’s going to be hard to be grateful Christmas morning. Why? Because anything short of their exact expectation is disappointment.  You might even want to have the conversation with your spouse. We can place unrealistic expectations on each other about so many things.

Why not think about lowering your expectations this week? You’ll take yourself less seriously, enjoy others more, and be profoundly grateful for things you might have even resented otherwise.

Start the conversation about expectations for yourself and with your family today.

In the meantime, what have you learned about expectations, gratitude and happiness?

Eight Ideas to Help You Reclaim Gratitude This Season

** The following article was copied from www.fulleryouthinstitute.org

Eight Ideas to Help You Reclaim Gratitude This Season

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. I love the weather. I love the food. I love spending four mellow days with my family.

Most of all, I love what Thanksgiving stands for.

In a culture that elevates entitlement and what’s-best-for-me, Thanksgiving invites us to be grateful, and to share that gratitude with both friends and strangers.

As followers of Jesus, gratitude takes on a special meaning. As Dave and I love sharing with our own three kids, we live gratefully because of Gods gracebecause of all God has done for us through Jesus Christ.

Grace is what separates Christianity from every other religion. And grace is the ultimate fuel for our gratitude.

If you asked me to share one insight at your church or your Thanksgiving family table with the young people you care about most, it would likely be this: Because of Gods grace, we live our lives as thank you notesback to God.

But maybe you’re a leader or parent wondering how to help teenagers and young adults marinate in this truth this month—especially because for some of us, this year has been punctuated with more heartbreak than joy.

Parents: How can we help our families reclaim a sense of gratitude that flows from God’s grace?

  1. Talk with your kids about what has happened in the last year that makes it hard to be grateful. Give your young people space to talk about events in our nation and in your family that may be disappointing or distressing. If it feels appropriate, talk about any glimpses of divine light you’ve seen in the midst of those dark moments.
  2. Every night at dinner or bedtime, ask your kids to share one thing they are grateful for that day. Our family has a bulletin board we pull out for the month of November. Almost every night, each of us writes one thing we’re grateful for on a construction paper leaf (that I cut out ahead of time; I’m not crafty at all so truth be told, the leaves look pretty terrible, but we love the conversations they provoke).
  3. Surprise our kids by not giving them a consequence theydeservefor a mistake or poor behavioral choice. While Dave and I believe in being consistent with our kids in our discipline, every once in a while, we don’t give them a consequence. Instead, we make it clear that just like our heavenly father shows us grace and mercy, we are trying to do the same.
  4. Involve your kids in figuring out one special way for your family to serve together. Don’t choose for your kids. Let your kids choose for your family. Before you serve, explain that we don’t serve because we hope God will love us more or like us more. And we don’t serve because it will look good on our college application. We serve out of gratitude for God’s grace.