You never know how much stuff you have until you put it all in a box.
I say this (and write it) all the time, but it’s true. Most of us feel we’re packing pretty lightly, that our life doesn’t include a ton of excess, that we don’t own too much or buy too much or eat too much or socialize too much or criticize ourselves too much — until we see our life from an objective perspective.
Once we start pulling things out of the closet, once we begin organizing the drawers, once we try to pack it all into a cardboard box — that’s when we realize just how cluttered our life really is.
If you’re like most people, this is the time of year when you start thinking about what you want next year to look like. You may have considered some New Year’s Resolutions, or you may be boycotting resolutions. Either way, I’m guessing you’ve spent at least a little time thinking about how you want 2014 to look differently from 2013.
The problem is, most of us spend a good portion of time thinking about what we want to add to our lives without first considered what already exists in them.
I thought about this recently while I was reflecting on the last year of my life.
The thought came to me accidentally, to tell you the truth. I was scrolling through my phone, looking at pictures, when all of a sudden I realized: the last 12 months of my life has been so full.
So much had happened, I realized. So much has changed.
It’s been a full year; and I don’t say that to brag.
I say that because, my guess is, your year has been really full, too.
Something incredible happens when you just spend a little time taking inventory. You realize how much you had in the first place. You never realize how much you have until you put it in a box.
There are a few reasons taking inventory is so valuable as we try to move forward into our next year.
First, we realize how “rich” we really are.
When I go through my closet to clear out old clothes, I realize the complaint that I have “nothing to wear” is really unfounded. I have so much to wear, I forget I have most of it.
The same is true for events and achievements in life. Next time you catch yourself thinking the last year of your life has been a waste, go through your Instagram profile. In the place we tend to record our most proud moments, chances are you’ll find memories of the most lovely, wonderful things that have happened to you in the past 12 months.
We are all more blessed than we realize. Our lives are really full.
Second, an honest inventory points to our priorities.
When I spend time to determine where I’ve invested my time, money and energy, I discover what matters to me most. Not what I say matters, but what really matters. I might not like what I find there, but if I’m willing to be honest about it, the information can be incredibly valuable.
Am I spending my time, energy or money on things that really matter?
Is there a disconnect between what I say matters to me; and what really does?
When we take an honest inventory of our lives, we’re able to see how we want to move ahead differently in the future. For example, in my own honest inventory, I realize I spent way too much time, energy and stress over my e-mail inbox. What a waste. I’m not going to do that again next year.
What would it look like for you to take an honest inventory of your last 12 months?
Lately, I’ve been thinking about what I’ve been thinking about. In other words, I’ve been listening closer into the spiritual realm to discern the demonic activity trying to come against my mind and trying to come against people in my region.
When I was driving to church last week, for example, I suddenly heard thoughts like, “I’m so discouraged.” When I got in the car and started driving, I was happy as a lark, listening to classical music and praying. But when I crossed the line into Fort Lauderdale, Fla., thoughts of discouragement suddenly started bombarding my mind.
Although I’ve experienced this before, I almost fell for it. I started thinking about discouraging things going on in my life and in the world. By the time I pulled into the church parking lot, I was deflated. And then the Holy Spirit broke in and reminded me, “That’s not your thought.”
I called a friend and asked her if she was sensing discouragement in the spiritual climate, and she offered a confirmation. As a church, we prayed against a spirit of discouragement, loneliness and oppression, and we felt something break. The joy of the Lord fell on the congregation, and we had a lovely service.
What Are You Thinking About?
Of course, it’s not always something in the city I’m hearing. Sometimes the enemy is targeting my mind with destructive or seductive thoughts. Yes, Satan does put thoughts in our minds. Consider Luke 4:3, where “the devil said” things to Jesus. The devil is a spirit—a fallen angel—who moves in the spirit realm. He doesn’t need a body to talk to you any more than God needs a body to talk to you. Just as the devil talked to Jesus, he’s still talking to people today.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about what I’ve been thinking about. In other words, I’ve been keener on discerning the thoughts that are floating around in my mind and their origin. Did you know that you could go throughout much of your day on autopilot? You can get dressed for work in the morning, drive to the office, drive home, cook dinner and watch television at night while your mind is reasoning through all sorts of thoughts.
We need to start paying attention to what we’re thinking about and the origin of those thoughts. We need to be quicker to listen to the inner talk going on in our souls. When we do, we’ll start to discern the demonic strategies against our lives. For example, you may hear thoughts like, “No one appreciates me.” If you reason that thought out in your mind, you’ll end up a little angry, maybe resentful and eventually bitter. That thought will eventually drive your behavior toward the people you feel underappreciate you.
God’s Thoughts Versus Satan’s Thoughts
Where are your thoughts coming from? God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts (Is. 55:9). Satan’s thoughts are lower than God’s thoughts. Which way our internal thought life sways depends, in part, on our reasoning. God’s thoughts toward us are of peace and not of evil, to give us a future and a hope (Jer. 29:11). Satan’s thoughts toward us are of war and not of goodness, to give us a future without hope. Which way our internal thought life leans depends, in part, on our reasoning.
Although our thoughts will never reach the height of God’s thoughts—the Creator is all-knowing—our thoughts need not reach the lows of Satan’s thoughts. In other words, God gave us the ability to reason and a free will to choose what we think about—whether thoughts of peace and hope or thoughts of evil and hopelessness. So, stop and think about what you’re thinking about.
And know this: Many of the negative words we speak and the ungodly actions we take originate from the seed of a thought Satan whispers to our souls. That seed can grow into demon-inspired weeds as our minds reason out the thought. That seed can spark a fire in our souls, so to speak, that fuels more wrong thoughts, wrong words and wrong deeds.
When the enemy plants a vain imagination in our minds, we have two choices: cast it down or meditate on it. When we meditate on vain imaginations, we tend to connect demonic dots that create skewed pictures of reality. Believing what we see in our thought life is real, we talk ourselves into taking action based on a wrong perception. That action could be a negative attitude toward people, an angry outburst that hurts someone you love, or a sinful behavior that leads you into bondage. But believe this: It all starts with a thought.
There’s a war in your mind whether you discern it or not. I urge you to start discerning what is going on in your mind, will and emotions and to bring your mind into submission to the mind, will and emotions of God by His grace. Paul put it this way: “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled” (2 Cor. 10:3-6). Amen.
Be sure to check out the video below for more of my teaching on this topic.
During two years of an overly distracted life, I communicated more to a screen than to the people in my family. My schedule was so tightly packed that I constantly found myself saying, “We don’t have time for that.” And because there wasn’t a minute to spare, that meant no time to relax, be silly or marvel at interesting wonders along our path. I was so focused on my agenda that I lost sight of what really mattered.
Calling all the shots was a mean voice in my head. My internal drill sergeant was continually pushing me to make everything sound better, look better and taste better. My body, my house and my achievements were never good enough. Holding myself to such unattainable standards weighed heavily on my soul, and my inner turmoil eventually spilled out at people I loved the most.
Sadly, there was one person in particular who bore the brunt of my discontent: my firstborn daughter.
She could not make mess without me shaking my head in disappointment.
She could not forget her homework, her jacket or her lunchbox without me making a big deal about it.
She could not spill, stain, break or misplace without being made to feel like she’d made the worst mistake in the world.
Although it pains me to write this, I remember sighing heavily in annoyance when she fell down and hurt herself because it threw me off my “master schedule.” My daughter was not allowed to be a child who learned by trying and, yes, sometimes failing.
The truth hurts, but the truth heals … and brings me closer to the person and parent I want to be.
Every time I came down hard on my daughter, I justified my behavior by telling myself I was doing it to help her—help her become more responsible, capable and efficient and preparing her for the real world. I told myself I was building her up. But in reality, I was tearing her down.
I vividly remember the day my mother was visiting from out of town. The children were playing alone in the basement. My younger daughter began crying hysterically. I ran downstairs, fearing she was seriously hurt.
The first question out of my mouth was directed at my older daughter. “What did you do?” I asked angrily.
My child didn’t bother to explain that her little sister had slipped on the library book that was sitting on the bottom step. There really was no point. My beautiful child with humongous brown eyes that once held so much optimism looked defeated. Silent tears of a broken spirit slid down her face. My daughter knew it didn’t matter what she said, she’d still be wrong; it would still be her fault.
And there was my mother standing beside her, a silent witness to the whole ugly scene.
As my older daughter ran off to the sanctity of her bedroom, an unexpected question came out of my mouth. “You think I am too hard on her, don’t you?” I snapped.
My mom, who’d experienced her own difficult parenting moments and struggles, held no judgment in her eyes, only sadness. Her simple response of “yes” only confirmed what I knew in my heart.
I mustered up the courage to find the words that needed to be said. Apologizing didn’t come easily for someone who strived to make everything look perfect all the time, but I knew what needed to be said.
I found my child crumpled up like a dejected rag doll on top of her bed—her face puffy and red from crying.
“I’m sorry,” I mumbled.
My daughter didn’t move.
I sat down on the edge of her bed and began saying things I’d never said to another human being—not even myself. “I feel mad inside a lot. I often speak badly about myself in my head. I bully myself. And when I bully myself, it makes me unhappy, and then I treat others badly—especially you. It is not right, and I am going to stop. I am not sure how, but I will stop. I am so very sorry,” I vowed, trying not to cry.
My daughter looked unsure as to what to do with this confession, this unusual offering from her mother who rarely admitted any wrongdoing. I didn’t blame her for the skeptical look she gave me. I understood why she didn’t say anything back, but somewhere in those eyes I saw hope—hope that things could be different.
I desperately wanted things to be different too. It was time to stop being so hard on my child; it was time to stop being so hard on myself. I prayed I could stand up to the inner bully. I knew I needed an easy first step. I decided to use one simple word: Stop.
Within the hour, I had a chance to try it. The first critical thought that popped into my head arose as I was preparing to leave the house: I looked at my reflection and thought, “You look fat. You can’t go out looking like that.”
“Stop!” I assertively thought to myself, shutting down any further criticisms. Then I quickly turned away from the mirror and recited these words: “Only love today. Only love today.”
I used the same strategy when interacting with my child a few minutes later. Before any harsh words came out of my mouth about the way she was sloppily packing her bag of things, I cut off my inner critic by saying, “Stop! Only love today.” Then I swallowed the hurtful words and relaxed my disapproving face.
Within mere days of using the “stop” technique, I noticed a change. With a more positive thought process, it was easier to let go of the need to control, dictate and criticize. In response, my daughter began taking more chances and began revealing her true passions.
She started movie-making and website design on the computer. She made doll furniture and clothing to sell in the neighborhood. She began baking new recipes without any help.
Nothing she did was perfect. Nor was it mess-free or mistake-free, but the moment I said something positive, I saw her blossom a little more. That is when I began to clearly see beyond the mistakes and messes to what was truly important.
I began noticing my child’s inner beauty rather than looking for perfection on the outside.
I began paying more attention to the person she was rather than the successes she achieved.
I began letting her be who she was meant to be instead of some idealistic version I had in my head.
When I stopped being a bully to my child and myself, opportunities for growth and connection opened up. Over time, significant progress was made. In a little less than two years on my journey to let go of perfection and distraction, I received the confirmation I never thought I would receive.
My daughter was outside before school, tending to a garden she created smack dab in the middle of the yard. I watched from the kitchen window as she lovingly tended to her miniature plot. I was captivated by the utter joy on her face. She was clearly at peace.
Since my dad loves to garden and had taught my daughter a few things, I took a picture and sent it to my parents. Nothing could have prepared me for the gift I would receive in return.
My parents wrote, “Thank for this precious picture of our beautiful granddaughter. Over the last two years, we have seen a tremendous change in her. We no longer see a scared look in her eyes; she is less fearful about you being upset or impatient with her. She is much happier and more relaxed. She is thriving and growing into a content, creative and nurturing person. We know for a fact the changes we see in her coincide with the changes we have also seen in you.”
My friends, I have the following message to offer anyone who wants to believe today can be different than yesterday:
If you think that criticizing, belittling or critiquing yourself will make you smarter, fitter or more valuable, please reconsider.
If you think badgering, bullying or constantly correcting your child will make him or her more likable, more confident or more successful, please reconsider.
Because the truth is this:
It’s hard to love yourself with a bully breathing down your neck.
It’s hard to love yourself when the one person who’s supposed to love you unconditionally doesn’t.
It’s hard to become the person you’re supposed to be when you aren’t allowed to fall down and get back up.
Geri Scazzero, author of The Emotionally Healthy Woman: Eight Things You Have to Quit to Change Your Life, offers insight on her life and why she wrote the book.
Q. What inspired you to write The Emotionally Healthy Woman?
A. It wasn’t so much a “what” as a “who.” I would never have written the book without my husband, Pete. He’s the writer in our family, and, after I began to articulate the eight “I Quits” that are the basis of the book, he was the one who said I had a book in me. The Emotionally Healthy Woman reflects our effort as a team from beginning to end.
It reflects what we both discovered on this missing aspect of spiritual formation. In addition, I have been blessed with a wonderful extended family who has given me a tremendous legacy for which I am eternally grateful. Without that legacy, I never would have had what it takes to quit living a life that was damaging to my soul.
Q. Speaking of quitting, you actually walked into your husband’s office and announced that you were quitting the church that he pastored! That must have taken amazing strength and determination. How did you ever summon the courage to take such a bold and unconventional step?
A. It was certainly no small decision and it didn’t happen overnight. I had been making feeble attempts to get him to pay attention to what was going on with me for years. I wanted him to see how tired I was and how frustrated.
Eventually, I reached the bottom and arrived at that place where I was so miserable I didn’t care what anyone else thought of me. I just wanted out. There is an old saying that a person who has nothing left to lose becomes the most powerful person on earth. I had become that person.
Q. The subtitle of your book is Eight Things You Have to Quit to Change Your Life. Could you give us a brief glimpse of what those eight things are?
A. Certainly. Quit being afraid of what others think. Quit lying to yourself and others. Quit dying to the wrong things. Quit denying anger, sadness and fear. Quit blaming. Quit over functioning. Quit faulty thinking. And, lastly, quit living someone else’s life.
Virginia Satir once observed that most of us live inhuman lives because we try to live by unhuman rules. The purpose of these eight “Quits” is to allow us to drop those unhuman rules and start living by God’s real rules, not the ones we’ve mistakingly assumed He wants us to live, not by, but up to. By quitting these eight practices, we open the door to allow God in so that He can begin doing a mighty work in our lives.
Q. One of the quits you mention is the need to quit lying. Christians don’t normally think of themselves as liars. Could you elaborate a little on what you mean by that?
A. Of course we don’t think of ourselves as liars because lying is so deeply ingrained in our culture we rarely notice it. But we actually lie all of the time. We lie with our words. We lie with our bodies. We lie with our smiles and we lie with our silence. And we think nothing about any of it because everybody else does it, too.
Here’s an example of what I mean: A neighbor asks you to take care of their dog while they go on vacation. You hate the dog because it barks all the time and keeps you up at night and the last thing you want to do is tend to its needs. But helping your neighbor is the “Christian thing to do,” so you plant a fake smile on your face and say, “Of course. We’d love to.”
You’ve just lied and, in all likelihood, it never once registered in your mind that you were lying, or, if it did, you considered it a “little white lie” and thereby legitimized it. But the truth is that God’s beautiful plan has always been for us to live in truth. Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples, then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” The degree to which we become willing to live in truth becomes the degree to which we live in freedom.
It really is simple. And, for most of us, that first step means we have to stop lying to ourselves. I warn you, though, in the beginning, when you quit the lying, it will feel like death, but it’s the good kind of death because it leads to resurrection and life. When you quit lying, it will ignite your spirituality, remove false layers and reveal the true self God has planted within you. By God’s grace you will become one of the freest people on earth.
Source: CHARISMA NEWS.
Geri Scazzerois a popular conference speaker for church leaders, married couples and women’s groups. A master teacher and trainer, she also serves on the staff of New Life Fellowship Church in Queens, New York City, a position she has held for 25 years. Her newest book is The Emotionally Healthy Woman.
“What is your dream?” It’s the one question they never expect.
You can see their eyes widen when we ask them. They suddenly look up as if to say, “Did I hear you right?” Most of the time, when a homeless family arrives on our Los Angeles campus, they’ve lost just about everything. They have their car, whatever they’ve been able to cram into it, and nothing much else except the clothes on their backs.
Someone on our staff takes them into a room and sits down with them. They’re expecting all the usual questions they’d get from most social workers. But we don’t do that kind of intake here. We have a different first question, and it almost always takes people by surprise.
“What is your dream?”
The question stuns them. Then often their eyes narrow a little with a flash of suspicion: Is this a joke? What is my dream? Are you kidding me? Coming here isn’t about dreaming! It’s about surviving. It’s about staying alive and keeping body and soul together.
I didn’t show up on the front porch of a place like this because I’m chasing my dream. I’ve ended up here because I don’t have anywhere else to go. I want to keep my family together. I don’t want to live with abuse or threats. And I don’t have the energy any longer to fight the alcoholism, the drug abuse and the prostitution that are all around me. And you ask me, “What is your dream?”
But “What is your dream?” is no idle question. It pertains to life and death. Think about Proverbs 29:18: “Where there is no revelation [or vision], the people cast off restraint” (NKJV). In other words, without a dream, people don’t exercise self-control. When men and women have nothing to live for, they “cast off restraint.”
So right up front we ask the people who come to us, “What is your dream? What do you want to see happen in your life? What do you want to achieve? Where do you want to go?”
“Well,” they may say, “we’re just trying to survive.”
And we answer, “But what if we took survival off the table? While you’re here, you won’t have to worry about that. This is a safe, clean place, and we will give you the food and shelter you need. So let’s start thinking about your potential.”
The fact is, when you’ve been disappointed again and again, you become afraid to dream. How could you bear another disappointment? But in the power of Christ, you can begin to dream again.
Even in marriages, there comes a point at which people lose hope. A husband and wife may be committed to staying together for the rest of their lives, but as they imagine the years ahead, it looks to them more like running an endurance test or slogging along on an endless marathon.
Asking people “What is your dream?” is almost like lifting them to a whole different plane. We’ve found that most people really do have something in their hearts they would love to do or pursue, but they have suppressed that dream for so long that it doesn’t seem like a possibility at all.
Maybe the dream is getting free from addiction. Maybe it’s finishing high school or going to college. Maybe it’s being trained for a certain occupation or specific career. The desire is still there, but it’s buried so deep beneath their setbacks, pain and loss that they’ve forgotten they ever had any aspirations.
Once we hear their dream, we tell them, “We’re going to help you get to your dream”—and they can hardly believe their ears. Maybe they expected to have to prove themselves first or completely clean up their lives before we would start talking to them about their future.
Belonging and Believing
This “What is your dream?” interaction is based on a concept that the Lord has impressed on us through the years as we’ve worked with people in crisis. We call it “belong and believe.”
Think about it. In the Gospels, Jesus said to a number of men, “Come and follow Me.” At that point, they were in no way ready to be disciples of Christ. They were just regular guys. But Jesus called each one of them, inviting them to walk with Him and to serve Him. He allowed people to belong first, to see what He was doing, find themselves drawn to Him—and then believe.
For some of them, coming to faith in Jesus took a long time. Two disciples didn’t believe until after the resurrection, when Jesus directly confronted them and said, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” (Luke 24:25, NIV). He didn’t justify their lack of belief or make excuses for their behavior while they were learning, but He allowed them to belong to believe. They didn’t have to clean up their lives first.
Manuel Ramos was 17 when he came into our teen discipleship program (a major program at the Dream Center in which teens who have been kicked out of their homes and kicked out of school are raised in a Christian environment). Manny’s father was an alcoholic, and as a young boy, Manny became heavily involved in alcohol and drug abuse. He has been hospitalized more times than he can remember, he once accidentally burned down his home, and he drifted from trailer park to trailer park staying with friends until he ended up on the mean streets. He was probably as lost and broken and lonely as a young man can be.
When Manny finally came to us—thanks to the help of a concerned family friend—dreams were the last thing on his mind. All too real was the horrific nightmare from which he’d just emerged.
“I had no idea I even had a dream,” he says. “I shouldn’t even be alive! At one point in my life, I was so messed up I thought it was all over. I couldn’t remember what I had done that week because I had never been sober. I was homeless, no one cared about me, and I didn’t care about myself. I didn’t take care of my body or try to stay clean. I just didn’t care.”
And Manny had become an alcoholic by age 13. “Addiction doesn’t really say it,” he recalls. “It was more like affliction. Something awful. I was so lost—but nobody cared. If I had been dying, no one would have heard my screams.
“So dreams? I never had time to think about dreams. I’m only 17 years old, but I’ve gone through stuff in my life that no man should ever go through. I’ve felt pain that’s so painful you want to throw up, but I had to go on.
“So I quit sobbing and wiped my eyes. I hid the pain in the corner of my heart where no light shines. That’s where it stayed, and I forgot it was even there.”
Once in our program, though, Manny learned that he had to re-encounter all of that hidden pain before he could catch a vision for a new life. Jesus helped him do exactly that. Soon after Manny met Jesus, the Lord walked him over to that corner of his heart where he had buried all his sorrow—the still-raw, jumbled up, jagged-edged, poison-tipped blades of pain that had torn into his young soul again and again.
The Bully in the Room
That hiding place in Manny’s heart reminds me of an article I read about storing nuclear waste out in the deserts of eastern Washington state. In a process known as vitrification, radioactive liquids and sludge are turned into large glass logs that are stored in vast vaults somewhere deep under the soil—where they will presumably remain for the next 1,000 years or so. But Jesus doesn’t allow hidden vaults of crystalized pain and deep-rooted anguish. He wants to throw those vaults open. He wants to take that pain on Himself.
“Jesus showed me my despair,” Manny remembers. “I found out right then that I had a Father and that He was a Father who actually cared about me. Without Him, I would have no dreams at all. I guess I had been just too proud to let God take care of me.”
Sometime in the midst of Manny’s discipleship program, somebody taught him Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:33-34: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
As Manny began to seek God first and release all his stored-up pain, he found something he hadn’t even been looking for. Manny found his dreams.
Pain is like the bully in the room that chases a person’s hopes out the door and sends dreams into hiding. That’s why people in crisis who come through our doors are so surprised to have us ask them, “What is your dream?” Their dreams have been overshadowed by their disappointments and sorrows for so long that they may have forgotten they ever had any.
But the Lord doesn’t forget anything. As we ask God to reveal His dream for our lives, He may first have to roll up His sleeves and help us work through some interwoven layers of heartbreak that have hidden His desire and purpose for us.
Jesus did exactly that for Manny, even after all that young man had been through. I encourage you to believe that Jesus can do the same for you and the people God has placed in your care—both in your church and in your community. See what happens when you ask the people in your path, “What is your dream?”.
Written by Matthew Barnett
Matthew Barnett is the senior pastor of one of the fastest-growing churches in the United States, Angelus Temple in Los Angeles. He is also the founder of the Dream Center, a ministry that demonstrates the love of Christ by rescuing people out of poverty, homelessness, addictions and human trafficking. Excerpted from God’s Dream for You with permission from Thomas Nelson for use in the Nov/Dec 2013 issue of Ministry Today.
On Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and other social media, babies gurgle, toddlers squirm, preschoolers smile, tweens pose and teens rave—all courtesy of beaming parents wanting to share the latest and greatest doings of their offspring. “I see a wide variety ranging from nothing to everything online,” says Kim Luckabaugh, a Fairfax, Va., mother of three children between the ages of 11 and 14. “Some parents post cute stories on Facebook but only use their child’s first initial. Others posts pictures with limited captioning. Still others post pictures and accounts using their child’s name.”
“I’d say many parents think anything is fair game,” adds Jen Wilkin, who blogs about parenting. “They seem to view their child’s story as their property. I think these parents are well-meaning, but that they perhaps haven’t thought through the implications of their posting choices.”
A recent study by Posterista, a print site in the United Kingdom, found that whopping 94 percent of U.K. parents post their children’s images online. Of those surveyed, 64 percent uploaded images of their kids to social media sites three times or more a week and 21 percent did it at least three times per month. Only a mere 6 percent of respondents never posted photographs of their children on their social media pages. The study also found that pictures of newborns are uploaded to Facebook 57.9 minutes on average after their arrival into this world.
Luckabaugh is one of those parents. “I will take pictures of my kids and post to my Facebook page. I keep the GPS tagging ability turned off on my smartphone so when I do upload those pictures, precise locations are not available. However, I do call my child by his or her full name.” Luckabaugh refrains from referencing her kids on Twitter or Instagram because she has less control over distribution on those social media outlets.
“I used to put pictures on Facebook but I don’t even do that anymore, choosing instead to send photos directly to family members and friends,” says Rebecca Cusey, a managing editor atPatheos.com and the mother of two teens and a grade schooler. “I also don’t tell stories about them to large groups (like Facebook), use their names, ages, schools, schedules, or anything that might identify them online.”
Wilkin, a mother of four teenagers, consults with her children before posting any information about them online. “I rarely post photos, and I make use of privacy settings. I don’t post anything on my blog (anecdotes) without their permission. And even then, I make sure my motives for wanting to post the story are pure, and that my kids understand the implications of posting the story (someone might mention it to them or want to tease them),” she says. “I don’t post anything that singles them out for ridicule, i.e. something like ‘High school girls are full of drama.’”
Part of the concern with children’s images and stories being posted online is the potential for harm. Most parents seem to agree that the perceived risk in online postings of their children is less physical and more emotional.
“Honestly, I’m less concerned with the physical risks and more concerned with the emotional risk. I think if parents put themselves in their children’s shoes and considered how those stories or photos might be perceived by their children as they get older, parents would post differently,” says Wilkin. “And I suspect the way parents would post if they viewed themselves as protectors rather than purveyors of their children’s stories would go far toward limiting the physical risk, as they would be far more cautious in posting.”
“I don’t know that posting photos online is a huge risk for safety,” agrees Cusey. “I’m more concerned that the kids have privacy and don’t feel like they’re living their life on stage, even in the modern social media kind of way. I’d like them to trust that I’m not going to embarrass them or expose them, even in small ways. I want them to learn to build real relationships over social media ones, or at least make real relationships a priority. Most of all, I want them to tell their own story, not have me tell an idealized version of their story on social media.”
Another concern centers around the information gathering aspects of social media sites. A recent Slate.com article sparked a firestorm when Amy Webb wrote, “When we share even innocent images and information about our kids, we endanger their future anonymity and expose them to data monitoring by governments and private corporations we can’t control.”
“I hate that they are already being tracked and analyzed more than we could even imagine,” says Cusey. “I’d like them to be as anonymous as possible while still being free to partake of the modern world, but it’s not an easy line.”
Posting photographs and info about your children has its advantages. It’s definitely a fun, easy way to share your life with family and friends, especially those who live far away. But these parents urge others to exercise caution before clicking on the upload button. Here are some things to think about before you put your children online.
Examine your motives. Why are you putting that picture of your child online? Is it to put an idealized version of yourself out there to be judged? “If 50 people don’t like the cute Instagram of your toddler, does that mean she’s not cute? If people don’t like your son’s adorable lemonade stand on Facebook, does that mean he’s not adorable?” asks Cusey. “And that’s just the public version. What would people think if they saw the tantrums and battiness and bad behavior? I think we need to realize that everything about our lives is not necessarily someone else’s business.”
Watch your usage. Those of us who use social media to connect with clients, fans or customers need to be especially careful of posting things about our children. “In the blogging world, it would be easy to put them out there to build a brand. We’re all building brands now, but when your career is writing, your brand is directly linked to your income,” says Cusey, who writes for several blogs and online websites. “It would actually be a version of pimping them out. I don’t want my children to be part of my brand—I want them to be my kids.”
Take safety precautions. At the very least, turn off the GPS tagging features on your smartphones. Don’t mention the location of the photograph. “Do not post the picture as the event is occurring, especially if you are revealing the location, such as a troop camp out at a specific campground,” says Luckabaugh.
Keep private things private. The intimate details of your children’s lives should not become fodder for social media to gobble up. “Do not share extremely private details about a bad behavioral issue with your son, pictures of your daughter in a bikini or medications your child may be taking,” says Luckabaugh. “I am often struck by some parents’ lack of judgment in this regard. Some things need to remain private and parents should always err on the side of caution.”
“I think people need to educate themselves about privacy in general,” adds Wilkin. “My focus is more on protecting the integrity of the parent-child relationship, viewing our children as people, rather than as fodder for our status updates.”
Follow your own rules. Each family needs to think about how they want to view and use social media. “I made rules for myself that have become habits. No matter how beautiful or funny the photo is, if it shows their face or identifies them in another way, I won’t use it. I also don’t post when it’s their birthday,” says Cusey.
Adjust your view. As parents, we too often think of our kids as, well, our children, but we also need to remember they are individuals. “We should ask ourselves if there is potential for harm to come to them, now or in the future, based upon what we share. Running things through that filter is something every parent should do,” says Luckabaugh.
Protect your kids. Above all, parents should not forget that one of our primary goals as parents is to guard our children online as well as in person. “We should have their backs,” says Cusey. “We should protect them even from things that might not be that big a deal, but are slightly detrimental. We should consider the effect of putting everything out there to be judged.”
Social media and the Internet can be a wonderful tool for parents to share their children with family and friends, but there should be a note of caution when it comes to uploading images and information. “It’s not to say that we shouldn’t do social media, just that we should be skeptical of it and question it,” reminds Cusey. “Just because this revolution has happened and happened so quickly doesn’t mean we have to play by its rules.”
Sarah Hamaker is a certified Leadership Parenting Coach™ through the Rosemond Leadership Parenting Coach Institute. She’s also a freelance writer and editor, and is currently working on a book about sibling rivalry, scheduled for release from Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City in the fall of 2014. Sarah lives in Fairfax, Va., with her husband and four children. Visit her at www.parentcoachnova.com.
John stood at our door arrayed in all his black leather splendor. Safety pins ringed his ear lobes; jewelry pierced his nose and lips. Tattoos covered his arms. Both sides of his head were shaved, the hair on top spiked down the middle.
Our daughter had told me her date was coming, but I wasn’t prepared for what greeted me when I opened the door.
My thoughts raced: Should I let this road warrior in? Is my daughter in danger? What will my congregation think if she brings this guy to church?
“Uh, you must be John,” I managed to stutter.
“Yeah,” he smirked. “Is Amy ready?”
“Not quite.” I stalled and searched for an excuse to keep Amy home.
Amy breezed into the room. “We’re off to get something to eat and go to the game. I’ll be home at 11.”
I wanted to tackle John and scream my objections. The counselor inside me said to stay cool and calm, but the parent in me wanted to panic.
Amy was a junior in high school. Her grades had started sliding, and her friends had changed. Warning clouds were gathering on the horizon.
Even though Amy came home on time that night, I still felt uneasy.
“Amy, we need to talk about your new friend,” I started.
“You were shocked by his looks, weren’t you?” Amy replied.
“You got it,” I said. “I’m not sure you should be hanging with him or that kind of crowd.”
I began my sermon, pouring out all my fears about her friends being into drugs, sex, booze and rebellion. Amy angrily defended her friends and her right to make her own decisions. But we failed to hear what each other was saying; the wall of miscommunication went up and stayed up for months.
We eventually tore the wall down, and today, a decade later, our relationship has never been stronger. But on that night years ago, I believed our daughter’s destiny hung in the balance. A supernatural battle had commenced, and we needed every spiritual weapon we could muster.
Tearing down any wall between you and your teen-ager is critical–not only for your relationship but also for your teen’s eternal destiny.
Satan does not want the next generation saved, armed and dangerous. He deceives teens into believing their parents don’t love them and then tries to isolate them from their parents’ protective spiritual covering so he can attack them when they become lost and helpless sheep (see John 10:1-18).
It’s your responsibility to take immediate steps to tear the bricks out of the wall of miscommunication and reach out to your teen. You may be tempted to deny the problem or to believe that time will make the wall go away. But time doesn’t fix relationships; only God can do that.
BRICKS IN THE WALLWhat constitutes a brick in a relational wall? A brick is a word, action or attitude that causes hurt and divides people instead of drawing them together. We use bricks of negative words, hurtful actions or ugly attitudes to hurt, punish or judge another person. Here are some big ones to avoid:
Brick #1: Failing to listen. I was so concerned about telling Amy what I wanted her to know that I failed to listen to her. Even when we appear to be listening, we may be inattentive, thinking about what we are going to say next instead of listening to what our teen is saying.
Focus on your child, and pay attention to your body language and tone of voice. My body language was threatening, and my voice carried the tone of an angry preacher proclaiming fire and brimstone from the pulpit.
After I had delivered my sermon, I left our living room and made myself unavailable. Drowning myself in work and believing that my word was final, I drove Amy further from me. She did what she wanted to anyway. When we are not available to our teens, we remove accountability from the relationship.
Brick #2: Missing the point. Because I had an agenda, I never allowed Amy to explain. I jumped to conclusions about her and John. In any conversation involving conflict, both people have some responsibility for the strained relationship.
The point isn’t who is right or wrong; the point is the relationship. The only one who is 100 percent right all the time is God. Speaking the truth in love means we must keep the friendship intact so we can communicate God’s truth regarding a particular situation (see Eph. 4:15).
Brick #3: Misinterpreting the words. You may have the facts but misunderstand what they mean. Your teen needs to interpret for you. Never assume anything. It’s better for your teen to think you are dense than for you to misinterpret what’s being said.
Driving Amy away from me drove her into a relationship with John. I had misinterpreted their relationship. He was just a passing curiosity in Amy’s life. But the things I didn’t do for her, he did. I didn’t listen; he did. I didn’t understand her feelings; he did. I didn’t let her explain herself; he did. I didn’t make myself available to her; he did.
Guard your friendship with your teen. No matter how right you may be, without friendship you won’t be able to share truth with your teen.
Brick #4: Missing the heart. When we miscommunicate, we miss the heart of our teen. My focus was on how Amy and John looked and how that would make me look.
Church members thought I was a great youth minister and wise counselor, but what good were their opinions if I couldn’t help my own child? In miscommunicating with Amy, I missed her heart concerning John–and me, for that matter. I also missed her heart for God because I focused on outward appearances.
Brick #5: Misusing words. When we abuse words, we communicate death, especially when we use:
**Degrading words such as “stupid,” “dumb” and “ugly.”
**Words that inflict pain: “You’ll never amount to anything. Everything you do is a disaster.”
**Vengeful words said in reaction to others when they hurt us: “You’re driving me crazy. You’d like to see me dead.”
**Deceitful words that disguise our feelings when we’re angry or upset: “Oh, nothing’s the matter. I’m just fine. Leave me alone.”
**Words that deny reality: “I can’t talk about that now. Let’s get something to eat and forget about it.”
Brick #6: Misreading the issue. Parents often start to view every issue as a crisis and every disagreement as rebellion. They misread the importance of events in their teens’ lives.
Teens live roller-coaster lives; today’s low is quickly replaced by tomorrow’s ecstasy. Parents need not ride the roller coaster; they can create a place of stability in a teen’s tumultuous world by reacting calmly to daily–even hourly–crises.
Brick #7: Missing out on closure. Too often, we leave issues hanging. Nothing gets resolved, and we end up with garbage bags full of dumped emotions. In psychological terms, a responsible ventilation of feelings is called catharsis–a helpful tool when the person ventilating takes responsibility for his feelings and has permission from the other person to ventilate.
But once catharsis is exercised, change dumping into sharing. Instead of just letting things hang, bring closure to your conversation.
DEMOLISHING THE WALL So how do we demolish a wall of miscommunication once it’s up? Here’s a four-step plan of attack.
1. Identify the problem. Return to the place where the train of your relationship derailed. Take action instead of waiting to see how things turn out. Do something immediately about the breakdown in communication.
Make the first move toward your teen-ager regardless of who is at fault or whether you think your teen will respond positively. God sent His Son without waiting on an invitation from humanity; He loved us even when we responded to His love with a cross.
2. Replay the miscommunication. Ask your teen to help you replay the conversation, this time saying the right words and listening in the right places. Replaying what happened helps you see where the train wreck occurred and how to avoid the same mistake next time. Allow your teen to critique your words and actions.
Remember that you are listening, not trying to defend yourself. Being defensive always adds bricks to the wall instead of tearing it down.