On Looking Out For Our Own Interests

I confess that if you pass a tray of cookies to me, I'll be looking for the best one.  Of course, best to me might be different than best to you, but I'm scoping them out for softness, an even distribution of mix-in's, no burnt edges and size is important.  If you were to ask me about this almost automatic habit, I wouldn't consider it 'unloving', just a small something I do that doesn't mean very much.  (It's just a cookie.)

Or is it?
Have you ever noticed this about yourself?  Maybe it's the cookie tray, the best seat in the car, the TV channel or the extra time you take at Target to browse the accessories, but we all do it.  Why?  Because we are experts at looking out for ourselves and our own interests.
"Let each of you look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others." Philippians 2:4
No one has to teach us how to look out for ourselves, but we do need to learn to love others as much as we instinctively pursue our own interests.

What does self interest look like?
Self interest isn't all bad.  It's the thing inside of us that makes us eat food and take care for our basic needs.  But it has its indulgent quirks as well.  Here are some ways I regularly "love myself" or "look out for my own interests" without even noticing:
  • I make sure I have at least some clothing that is new and fashionable each season
  • I prepare meals for our family that I find appetizing 
  • I make sure to nourish with a good breakfast and lots of semi-healthy snacks.
  • I pursue my hobbies, dreams and passions and make time for them when there doesn't appear to be any
  • I find moments to watch shows I like or read books that I find enjoyable
  • I take breaks when I need or want to, and ensure that I don't get burned out
  • I learn and listen to things that are of interest to me, growing and developing different parts of my mind
  • I favor my prefered time to rise in the morning and go to bed at night
  • I make sure to take my nice clothes out of the dryer, and I hang them carefully to prevent wrinkles
  • I take time for basic hygiene - showers, moisturizer, makeup, etc.
  • I find space in my life for friendships and deep conversations (something I enjoy)
  • I fight sin and look for ways to grow in Christ
This list could go on and on, but overall, as I evaluate my life, I see that I regularly "love myself" by meeting basic physical needs, making time for things I enjoy, pursuing my preferences and investing in my heart and mind.   Self-love like this isn't something I do through gritted teeth.  It's something that flows naturally from a heart that values a person.  And since I value myself, seeing purpose in my own life, I take care of it.  These things are important to my well-being, and I place a high priority on that without even thinking about it.

Looking out for the interests of others
A while back I read an article by Jen Wilkin that I haven't been able to shake.  In it, she discusses the biblical command to 'love our neighbor' and argues that our closest neighbors actually reside inside our home.  We love our neighbor starting with our own family.  On the surface, this sounds like a pretty straightforward command to obey.  I mean, of course I LOVE them!  I'm around them all the time, I like them, I take care of them and I give them lots of hugs and kisses.  Isn't this the sum-total of the love I'm commanded to give?
"You shall love your neighbor as yourself" Matthew 22:39 (is what Jesus Calls the second greatest commandment)
Well, Jesus says it's deeper than that.
The kind of love we are supposed to give to others should look a lot like the kind of love we instinctively and carefully give ourselves.  At the end of the day, can I really say that I care about the interests of my family as much as I pursue my own selfish desires?
  • Did I make sure they had nice clothes to wear as much as I clothed myself?
  • Did I make sure they had good food to eat as much as I fed myself?
  • Did I make time for their hobbies, interests and passions as much as I pursued my own?
  • Did I make sure they read books and engaged in activities that they found enjoyable?
  • Did I listen to their words as closely as I want people to hear mine?
  • Did I look for ways to feed their minds and hearts with truth as vigorously as I pursue that for myself?
  • Did I encourage them in Christ the way I wish people encouraged me?
  • Did I treat them with as much love and careful scrutiny as I give my own wants and needs, or did I knock them down a notch below my self-serving interests?
It's not a competition
I think the biggest thing I struggle with in all of this is the "yours or mine" mentality.  I tend to think that in order for me to care for someone else's needs or interests as much as mine, I'm going to have to suffer wildly.  That I am going to become a bottomless pitcher of giving until I dry up and wither away.  Do you ever fear that?  Do you ever fear that if you give an inch of care for others, it's going to run a muck and you'll never recover?

In order to be a fruit bearing branch, we must be connected to the vine.
The first thing to remember is that we can't do any of these neighbor-loving actions for very long in our own strength.  We need to be filled up in our own relationship with Jesus, abiding in him, and out of this overflow we can give even when that means a sacrifice on our part.  If we feel like a dry pitcher trying to pour things out, that makes us greedy for our own interests.  But if we are connected to Jesus and have all of our spiritual needs met in him, we can let him use us to pour out his love for others.

In order to care for the interests of others well, at some level, we have to be caring for our own.
Also, Philippians 2:4 makes an assumptions: that we already do care for ourselves.  The same assumption is made in Ephesians 5, when Paul says husbands need to love their wives as they love their own body.  It's implied that there is some level at which we do care for ourselves well, in order that we would care for others well too.  So I don't think looking out for the interests of others always means "neglect your basic needs".

We should see these things as compatible, not a competition.
As I care well for myself (by abiding in Christ and living in wisdom) I can care even BETTER for others.  As I make sure that my heart, body and mind are well nourished, I have even MORE to give.  Can this truth be skewed into selfishness...absolutely!  But I think there is a balance between indulging our needs and starving our needs.  If you are on either extreme, it's going to be difficult to love others well.

Because really, what do I have to lose if I pass up the best cookie on the tray? (except for a few unhealthy calories)  In the scheme of eternity, I have already been given the greatest gift and had all my needs met.  I get to spend FOREVER worshipping, living with and loving my creator...so that cookie can just pass me by...

Beginning Formal Gospel Instruction With Toddlers

As mothers, we have an important mission field inside of the home.  Each of our children starts life as a sinner born from Adam, needing to hear the good news of the gospel.  When the word of God is heard, it can then be planted as a seed in their hearts, which will be watered through the family and church body over many years.  The hope being that someday, by God's grace, our children will understand, accept and believe the good news for themselves.  Most Christian mothers agree that passing along faith is crucial, but it's the 'how' that sometimes leaves us feeling passive and insecure.  I've felt this way too, and have spent a lot of time considering what it looks like to give our children every opportunity to understand and believe the truths that we hold so dear (while it is ultimately only God's grace that can finally transform them).

For the word of God and the gospel to be received and believed, it must first be heard.  This should happen in a variety of settings throughout our day as we naturally discuss the word of God, and as it's modeled by our lives.  However, we also must be careful to assume that our children will just 'get it' as they watch our lives and attend religious services.  While children can perceive a lot from their surroundings, they can also wrongly understand and interpret what we hope to teach them.  Instead of remaining silent to spiritual matters, there is at least some portion of our teaching that should be done intentionally and explicitly in the home.

Many months ago, I was convicted that I was dropping the ball in this area - considering biblical teaching like baby sign language (a nice-to-do but not need-to-do).  But as I've considered what type of treasure I'm putting into the hearts of our children, I've realized that I'll never regret spending time and energy making this type of investment into their lives.

After many attempts to do things that weren't sustainable for us, here's what I learned and some tips for getting started:

Build into a routine you already have.
When I first decided to do a 'bible learning time' I thought I could corral all of our little chicks into a nice circle for a 10-15 minute lesson.  In hindsight, the thought of three boys under three sitting quietly is a little laughable.  Getting into a new routine and 'adding' something to our already crazy day was extremely difficult and hard for me to remember.  What finally made things work for our family was doing the bible time during breakfast - something we already do everyday.  Instead of adding a new activity, I just utilize the time while they are sitting at the table as a mostly captive audience.  This has also been an excellent way to involve my husband, as he is able to take the lead on our bible time when he joins us for breakfast.  It's turned into a meaningful meal for our family, so much so that the kids ask for us to do our bible learning time if we forget .

Keep it simple.
My first attempts at teaching included printed plans with craft activities and songs to go along with the lessons.  What I learned was that gathering materials and preparation took too long and was too intimidating.  In an attempt to do the 'perfect thing' I didn't end up doing anything at all.  After I lowered my expectations and did really simple, repetitious things that required very little preparation, I found myself doing bible time very consistently.

Don't give up.
I can sometimes be an idealist, and when I miss a day on a new routine, I can feel like a failure.  But when I started our bible time, I decided that I wasn't going to measure success as "doing it every single day" but instead, that I would keep coming back to it.  This is the same philosophy I have with my personal quiet time.  It's the consistency over a long period of time that makes a big impact on growth, even if you miss some days here and there.  Something is better than nothing, and God can do a lot with a little, sowed in faith.  Right now we do our bible time about 4-5 mornings a week, which leaves room for hard mornings and unusual weekend routines.

Start early.
Something we've learned the hard way is this: whatever you start when your children are infants can stick.  It will become your habit and the child's habit.  So much so that there will likely be less resistance as you just continue that routine when they are toddlers and preschool age.  It's easy to expand on an already established expectation than it is to start something completely new with a child engaging in disobedience and power struggles.  Also, what you start depositing into their mind as an older infant really does make an impact.  We have a gospel book that I used to sing through with our oldest child before he could talk, and as soon as he had strong language skills I noticed that he could sing it along with me from memory.  I've heard this type of story from many parents who started to teach their children scripture or spiritual songs from an early age - you'll be shocked at how it's stored in their heart!

Here's our routine:
1.  Sing a song with biblical truth - This is usually something easy, age appropriate and right off the top of my head.
2.  Review the verse of the week - Our church is memorizing the foundation verses from Children Desiring God.  We follow along and I try to explain what the verse means in really simple terms.
3.  Discuss one vocabulary word - I drew these really simple flash cards with basic spiritual words that our children will need to grasp if they are going to understand anything else we are talking about.  Some of those words include; love, forgiveness, grace, prayer, bible, repentance, etc.  Terms like this are foundational!
4.  Sing and discuss one page from our "Simple Gospel" book - This is a book I made with the 'ten points of the gospel' (one on each page).  We have a tune that corresponds with each page (think - twinkle twinkle little star) so it's easily memorized.  My hope is that our whole family will know how to simply and clearly state the gospel, so we can preach it to ourselves and others!  Even though it doesn't click right now for our littles, one day I pray that they will take it to heart.
5.  Pray - We say a really short prayer about who God is (based on our bible verse for the week), and pray for the day ahead.  

Other things I occasionally add:
  • A finger play - A short / silly rhyme for toddlers and preschoolers that can help with transitions and getting attention
  • A book - something from the library to change things up a bit
  • An educational focus - like discussing shapes / colors etc.
This sounds like A LOT.  And it sounds really awesome on paper - but I assure you - in reality this takes as little as 3-5 minutes to go through, and the longest I ever spend on it is 10 minutes.  It took some time to compile these things and think about what I wanted to do, but on a daily basis it takes ZERO prep.  Also, most days our kids squirm and talk through the whole thing.  It seems like no one is listening and I often have to stop and give correction, but they genuinely enjoy it and I'm always amazed at what they remember.

I share these ideas because I really didn't know what to do with our kids, and I hope it at least helps get the ball rolling.  Sometimes you just have to do something and start somewhere until trial and error helps you decide what works best for your family (which might look nothing like what we do).

Finally, I want to emphasize that I don't think this type of religious training will 'save' our children.  Even if they become experts at scripture recitation and can spout off the whole gospel, we want them to know that what matters is their HEART - that they know and love Jesus more than anything else.  But with that being said, when they truly are transformed, I think it will be a gift for them to already have so much truth stored up in their soul.  

How are you investing in your child's treasure chest?

How Business Management Can Help You At Home

In a recent article, I addressed something I've become quite passionate about in the last couple of years; finding a way to utilize my gifts at home.  For women who've primarily chosen to be at home, I think this can be an important topic to address, because it might feel like your God-ordained skills, life experiences and abilities aren't able to be used in that context.  This void sometimes creates confusion and discontentment, especially when women begin to feel that the 9-5 marketplace is the only place they can exercise certain passions - which is simply not the case!  Regardless of how many hours you are home during the week, every woman is called by God to prioritize and manage her home well.  This looks different for everyone, but for me, it's been important to leverage a wide variety of resources as I seek to grow as a home manager.

Here are some things to consider if you find yourself feeling a little bored and unchallenged as a 'homemaker':

Recognize yourself as a manager.
By definition, a manager is someone who is in charge of the administration, activities and development of an organization and the people within it.  Sounds a lot like a mom, huh?  If I were to start a list, I could come up with 20 or more things that I'm in charge of completing, delegating and administrating on a daily basis; including everything from pantry inventory to keeping appointments.  I oversee finances, purchasing, inventory, project completion and most importantly - PEOPLE!  While I'm not the 'head' leader in our home, I do have a significant leadership role in the lives of my children as I seek to carry out the vision my husband and I have for our family.  This is an important task, and it's extremely similar to the role of any other business manager.  Instead of labeling myself 'just a stay-at-home-mom', I try to think in terms of being a 'home manager' as much as possible.  Claim it and recognize that you can take your job as seriously as you want to.

Observe and engage other business managers to learn what they do.
On a regular basis, my husband and I talk about what he does in his own job and how he's managing tasks and people.  I love learning from him and hearing new ideas he has for developing his team and business processes.  When he has a good idea or something that's working well, I try to translate that practice at home (especially if it's something he can get excited about and be involved in).  Even if your husband isn't a manager in his workplace, maybe you have a good friend, parent, mentor or church leader who you can observe in their managerial responsibilities.

Care about productivity and efficiency.
Outline your tasks and responsibilities around the home, and a I guarantee you'll be a little shocked and overwhelmed by all the things you take care of!  A good manager would never go about overseeing all of the aspects of their job without any plan or process.  Instead, they would look at each facet of the job and make sure that those areas are individually functioning as well as they can  to benefit the greater goals of the organization.  This takes thought, planning, regular evaluation and good delegation skills.  Every area of your home management probably needs its own system (even if the 'system' is intentionally flexible).  Cleaning, food purchase and preparation, organizing, budget management, clothing, recreation, and scheduling are all areas that can be carefully evaluated to make sure you are spending your time and resources well to the glory of God!

Learn about leadership development.
Caring for, nurturing and training the hearts of children holds eternal importance.  In some ways, as a mom you have a little 'team' that you are in charge of developing and ministering to.  God has given you a small flock to shepherd, especially if you spend most of your waking hours with your children who look to you as an authority and leader yourself.  Have you ever considered that viewing yourself as a manager who develops other leaders might further validate and challenge you as a parent?  This includes (but isn't limited to):
  • helping your children understand your family's vision
  • recognizing and growing their strengths
  • acknowledging and helping them to overcome weaknesses
  • giving each person in the family clear and important responsibilities 

More and more, as I seek to challenge myself and really grow as a good home manager (of both tasks and people), I find myself seeking out business resources that aren't obviously applicable to the home front.  With a little bit of creative thought mixed with an understanding of my own gifts and passions, I can apply that knowledge to my current full-time job of mother and homemaker.  This is an investment that not only applies at the 'Jensen Residence', but will hopefully be useful in future ministry roles and will certainly have value if I ever re-enter the marketplace.

Some of you might find all of this business talk a little boring, and might even see its application as a stretch.  But I think when women start to see themselves as reflections of God, carrying out his will by living for his glory, they can find purpose in the smallest and most unappealing moments.  Dare I say, this type of identity motivated work can even produce unexpected joy?

Here are some helpful resources I've found if you're looking for a place to start:

How God Gave Me Mom Muscles

Just after 9:30pm, I was preparing an egg bake for my family to eat for breakfast the next morning.  It had occurred to me just 30 minutes earlier, that I could take down a few birds with one stone.  We had some bread that was on its last leg, several vegetables and breakfast meats that needed to be used, and a fresh batch of 30 eggs in the refrigerator.  That, plus the promise of a one-dish meal with no clean up in the morning, was enough to make me light an apple-scented candle and dirty the kitchen for the fourth time that day.  As I washed my last dish, dried it and put it away just before 10:00pm, I marveled for a moment at the transformation in my life from a sluggish to an industrious woman.  Emily three years ago would never have noticed the stale bread and brainstormed something to use it for.  Emily three years ago wouldn't have wanted to wake up an hour earlier the next day to pop a casserole in the oven.  Emily three years ago would have left the dishes in the sink and said, "oh well, I'll just get to it tomorrow."  But much has changed.

Our life over the last three years has been a lot like one of those bootcamp fitness places where you pay a lot of money for a few months of intense training.  You go in a little soft-around-the-edges with a love for ice cream, and you come out chanting while you push a tire up the street.  Those places thrive on total immersion.  You push yourself, plateau, push yourself harder and go until you've built muscles your body didn't know it possessed.  There are moments where you think, "I hate this. Why did I sign up for this." all while experiencing the benefits and freedom of a new, healthier lifestyle.

People often comment that our life looks hard.  And it is.
I can't and won't pretend for a moment that a day with 4 boys under 4 is without its challenges.  I mean, it's LOUD here...and people are literally bouncing off the walls.  The other day I wiped a thick hand-prints worth of dirt off of one boy after he stepped inside from the backyard.  That was one wipe, one boy.  We are the best of times and the worst of times.  You might see laughing, wrestling, fighting or crying in our house, and sometimes all at once.

But with the hard things have also come tremendous spiritual blessings, that I like to think of as my 'mom muscles'.  Because when I started this mom journey in 2012, I was that soft-around-the-edges, ice cream eating person signing up for the insane fitness bootcamp...starry-eyed and excited at the possibilities that lay ahead.  I had no idea what it meant to listen to a child's cries, what it meant to go to bed with a clean kitchen because the dishes will overtake you if you don't, what it felt like to discipline a child for the same issue day in and day out, what it felt like to scrub hardened cheerios off the floor or what strategic thinking it took to plan a morning's meal one night in advance.

Building my mom muscles has been a process, and a lot of times, I've wanted to give up.  I've wanted a refund, and I've wished there was an easier way.
Couldn't God refine me with something a little cleaner and quieter?
Couldn't he root out the sin and help me create disciplines without so much work?
Couldn't he have shaped me through something other than faithfulness in the mundane?
Probably, but that's not how he likes to work.

It's the fire that purifies.  It's the fire that pushes you to depend on God.  It's the fire that makes you hold Christ tighter, loving him more deeply than you did before.
It's the trial that makes you wake up at the crack of dawn and cling to scripture when you previously just wanted to stay in bed.
It's the challenges that you can't solve which push you to your knees more quickly.
And this is exactly where God wants me to be.
Dependent and humble.

So for that, I guess I'm glad for the cemented cheerios on the floor.  I'm thankful for the steady stream of whining, jumping, pushing and lion roars.  Because I'm absolutely convinced that I can't do this on my own, and it can only turn out well if it's taken care of by my good redeeming God.

If you are feeling weary as a mom - stay the course.  Yes this is hard, yes it's stretching you, yes it's making you uncomfortable.  But remember, physical training is of some value but this spiritual training you're getting is of eternal value.  Your weakness is a giant billboard, pointing you to the God of all strength who can transform you and give you the muscles you need for the work at hand.
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