Wednesday, February 24, 2016

the temptations you didn't know you were facing

Lionel Richie clearly did not have little kids.

When he sang those lyrics so convincingly I am quite certain there were no
epic temper tantrums or
marathon whining episodes or
little girl wardrobe malfunctions or
hair pulling or
name calling or
chases of terror
going on at his house.

Have you noticed?  Sunday mornings are anything but easy.
My version of the song is called Crazy, Like Sunday Morning.

Last Sunday started out smooth enough.  I had some time to myself before the kids woke up.  They watched a show together on the couch while I made breakfast.  Then I began getting us ready for church {insert plot twist}.

Joey was out of town so I was on my own.  I should have been able to handle it.  It's not like we have 10 kids or anything.  There are just two of them and they are small.  Small is manageable, right?  Wrong.

I had just turned on the shower when one of them came running down the hall screaming and crying, being chased by the other who was wielding a wooden spoon and a diabolical laugh.  Things had taken a turn.  My blood pressure flew up alongside the threats and insults -
I'm never going to play with you ever again!! 
I wish I didn't have a brother!
You ALWAYS do that!!
Well, you're a poopy head baby!!
That last one is a favorite.

I intervened, they paused, but were back at it again as soon as I turned around.
I redirected, they moved on for a moment, then resumed with increased intensity.
I resorted to threats and insults myself.  I started feeling like I might lose my ever loving mind and momentarily considered taking them to church in their pajamas and dropping them off in the kids area for all three services while I went out to a three hour breakfast by myself.  But I was afraid someone might call the authorities on me.

The next hour went on like that.  Back and forth, spiraling out of control.  I was about to blow a gasket when I finally told them, through clinched teeth, to go to their own rooms until they could get it together - until I could get it together.

Do you ever have those moments when you stop in the middle of a crazy chaotic home and wonder - Are we all doomed?  
Have I made some fatal mistake as a parent that has led us to complete relational dysfunction?  
Will these children grow up to be mean, spiteful adults who are estranged from their parents?  
Is all this anger and ugliness rooted so deep in us that we can never escape it?  
Why do other moms seem to be able to handle this stuff so much better than me?  
Am I wasting my time trying to fix something that will be eternally broken?  
Will I seriously waste hours of my life dealing with this junk?

As I closed each of their doors to separate us, I began to sense there was more filling the space between us.  More than walls and doors.  There was something heavy and dark and suddenly all of those frantic questions I had been asking myself became irrelevant because I knew what I was dealing with was far beyond anything I could 'fix'.

When I turned and walked across the hall to my own room I couldn't put my finger on exactly what was going on but I knew what I needed.  I bent my knees, took a deep breath, closed my eyes and started the pleading.  I lifted the truth up like a banner over that war zone, over all of the injuries and fatalities.  Then I went back to blow drying my hair.  Life goes on...right in the middle of the battlefield.

When I walked back into the hallway a few minutes later the kids were missing from their rooms.  I stood still and quiet, listening for them, holding my breath, hoping no one was in a head lock.  That would explain the silence.  There was no screaming because there was no breathing!

Just as I set off looking for them I heard talking, not yelling {praise Jesus}, coming from the basement.  I went down to find them with the easel paper rolled out on the floor, stickers and markers spread out between them.  They were creating their own world.  It was a world covered in flowers and sunshine and palm trees and hammocks and rocky roads leading up to picturesque barns.  It was a lovely place.  They were in a lovely place.  Even though we didn't have a lot of time I sat down on the floor and decided to just 'be' in that lovely place with them for a while.  Then we left for church.  No tears.  No tantrums.

I posted a picture on Instagram giving a brief description of our morning because it had been significant to me.  I like to share significant things.  But it seemed more significant than several sentences of social media could convey so I kept processing it on the way to church
and as I left the kids in their classroom
and as I joined hundreds of others in collective worship
and then as, amazingly, I listened to my pastor begin preaching, of all things, on the spiritual warfare that is present in the temptations we face in this world.
My whole morning was turning into a living lesson.

At first I didn't identify a clear link between a discussion on temptation and the spiritual war that had ensued in my home.  Then my pastor began listing the top temptations for women.  Do you know what they are?

Critical thinking

Scroll back up and take a look at those questions I was asking myself on a not-so-easy Sunday morning.  I think we can check every one of those temptations off the list.  I was standing face-to-face with them all.

I tend to think of temptation in more concrete terms.  Being tempted in the areas of food or sex or other outwardly obvious behaviors.  The above list of temptations is more subtle.  Those sins are often hidden, not even acknowledged, and yet do untold damage to a person and those around them.  If I'm honest, I am tempted in those areas every single day.  The enemy of our souls knows our weakness and you can be sure there is strategy involved in the when, where, and how temptation comes exploding into our lives like a grenade.

It wasn't just a home issue we were facing on Sunday.  It was a heart issue.  What was going on around us was just a symptom of what was going on inside of us.  I was being tempted to engage some of my deepest sins.  My kids were probably facing theirs too.  A problem that deep is above my pay grade, outside of my area of expertise.

When a spiritual war is waged, spiritual weapons must be wielded.  Over the years I have stockpiled those weapons.  They are weapons I am unable to manufacture, but can easily access.  They are the words I have read and written and sung and memorized.  The truth of them can put any enemy on the ground.  I have put myself through boot camp.  I have disciplined myself in the ways of prayer and silence and solitude.  I know how to take my thoughts captive and interrogate them until I uncover the truth.  I'm not particularly strong or tough, but I'm ready.  When we are attacked I have the means to fight back.  And when a battle is over I get right back to it - the training, the preparation - because a war is being waged for our souls and we can't be caught off guard.

John Eldredge says it this way.
He probes the perimeter, looking for a weakness. Here's how this works: Satan will throw a thought or a temptation at us in hopes that we will swallow it. He knows your story, knows what works with you and so the line is tailor-made to your situation...When Satan probes, make no agreement, if something in your heart says, 'Yeah, you're right', then he pours it on.  

All those questions I asked myself?  They were tailor-made.  Yours are too.  Far too often I allow them to appear as truth for a moment, maybe longer.  That is a dangerous door to open.  That is how our perimeter becomes vulnerable to attack.  It's a real battle, friends, and nobody can fight alone.  We need an army beside us.

My pastor closed his message yesterday by telling us how he and his wife sign off in every note or letter they write to one another.

They don't say 'love you' - although they do.
They don't say 'see ya later' - although they will.
They say what I want to say to you today.  What I want us to say to each other...

     I'm in battle for your soul.

Whose soul are you battling for today?  Who is battling for yours?

Because sometimes Sundays are anything but easy.  Sometimes the outward struggles are just an indicator of an inward battle.  Sometimes our temptations are so hidden that we engage them unknowingly.  Sometimes we are losing a war we didn't even know we were fighting.  Sometimes we need an army.  Let's be that for each other, shall we?

Check out the message on TEMPTATION from my friend and pastor Tom Harding.  It's a good one.  It will get you battle ready.