Labeling Myself as Vegan

I’m vegan.   I’ve been vegan for 13 and a half years.  I remember how long it’s been because my third child was six months old at the time.   Besides any non-vegan nutrients she received from my body before her birth and through breastmilk, she has been vegan her whole life.  I also gave birth to one more child after her, my second son, and at ten and a half months old, he is still vegan as well.   My older two children became vegan sometime after I made the decision to become vegan, and they have continued to be vegan as well.

The problem is that some people wouldn’t consider us to be vegan.  They are welcome to their own beliefs about what being vegan means, but I admit it’s been troubling me lately, the idea that I might not be “vegan enough” for others to feel I have the “right” to call myself vegan.  It’s been bothering me so much that I almost, just almost, felt like giving up the label.  My older son, though, says we shouldn’t give it up.

Here’s my confession of why I may not be “vegan enough” to call myself vegan.  First of all, I eat something with honey in it every once in a while.  I try to avoid buying things with honey, but say my mom buys me some throat lozenges that have honey in them, I might go ahead and use them.  Or like the other day my husband bought some tortillas that have honey in them, and I went ahead and ate some.

I actually buy something with beeswax in it sometimes — Spry Xylitol gum.   My older son avoids eating anything with honey or beeswax, but my other kids really like that gum.  It’s easy to find (I buy it at Super Supplements), and it’s a fairly okay price, so I buy it from time to time.

Oh, and Trader Joe’s spearmint lip balm — I also buy that. It’s such a good price, and it works so well, but I think it has beeswax in it.   I should probably stop buying it, but I’m not going to throw out the lip balm I already have.

I bought some leather shoes the other day.  *blush*  I usually avoid buying leather shoes, I search for non-leather shoes, and if I were rich, I would never buy leather shoes.   These shoes that I bought were on clearance plus they were 70% off the clearance price.  They were such a good deal, and I really needed another pair of shoes, so I bought them.  I figure they were such a low price that the store selling them probably didn’t make anything much off of my purchase.

Once a year at the fair I enjoy eating a scone, that I’m betting probably has dairy in it, oh, and of course it has regular sugar in it.

Of course I buy non-vegan cat food for our four cats. I’ve heard it’s important that cats, for their health, not eat a vegan diet.  I’ve thought, though, maybe I should try to cut back on how much non-vegan food they eat and make some homemade vegan food with which to supplement their diet (there must be a way to do that, right?  I haven’t looked into it much), but that would be really hard for me personally to do (time-consuming). Also, I can’t afford to buy special food for them.

If someone gives me something with a bit of wool in it as a gift, I’ll accept it.

And, here’s a big one:  we like some zoos.  We think that there are some zoos that do important and good things for animals.

Also, as mentioned above, we eat some food that contains regular sugar, on special occasions, like in candy for Easter or around October 31st, or Skittles to celebrate the Seahawks being in the Super Bowl.  Oh, it just dawned on me that I bet I eat more regular sugar than I realize.  *gulp*  I buy raw sugar or organic sugar or beet sugar when I make my own baked goods, wanting to avoid the kind that filters the sugar through the charred bones of animals *shiver* . . . that sounds gross. . . but I buy certain things pretty much weekly that have regular sugar in them, such as semi-sweet chocolate chips and candied ginger at Trader Joe’s.

We do so many things, though, that are definitely vegan, and our mind-set, I feel, is vegan. It’s not just about food choices for us.   We care about animals, and we don’t want to add to their suffering.  If it were just about food choices, I would be buying butter rather than Earth Balance, or I would eat eggs from “happy” chickens every once in a while.  But I can’t.  I just can’t.   It would feel wrong to me for me to do those things.   But I’m not perfect.  And I still feel it’s okay to call myself vegan.

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Small Things

I’ve set a goal of writing at least 300 words a day in my blog for the rest of this month.  I’m going to try not to worry if it’s not very good.  I figure the practice of writing is good for me, so here goes!  

I’ve found that making goals for myself really helps me get things done, so I made a goal recently that I would do some yardwork every day.  I’ve kept with my goal for the most part, though I’ve missed a couple times.

Partly sunny and windy, it felt really good to be outside working in our yard today.  I decided to work on cutting back some of our blackberry bushes, especially the long stems  reaching up to the trees above them and blocking off light to the plants beneath.  I also worked on a space that used to have pretty flowers growing in it, but now the berry bushes have taken over.

I only partly finished both of those places.  It took quite a while for the blackberry stems to grow as much as they have, and it’s going to take some time to complete the tasks.  It’s crazy to think about how they start out so small you can’t even see them, and then they grow bigger and bigger, and boom, you have a whole area full of sticker bushes.

Someone recently mentioned to me the idea that when we put off doing small tasks, they can become big, overwhelming tasks, and that’s so true.  Similarly, with bad habits, or even good habits, we start with something small, and when we do that thing over and over it can grow into something hugely bad, or amazingly good!

So by going outside and tackling even a small portion of yardwork every day I’m attempting to create something good.   Our yard, really big and wild, with lots of sticker bushes, is truly overwhelming, but small steps grow into bigger things, and I’m going to keep my focus on my goal, and day after day, I want to work towards creating beauty for my family.

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Afraid of a World Run by Adults Who Were Never Spanked?

I saw a meme on facebook recently, and I wonder if those who like it have thought it through.  The meme says this:

I’m afraid of a world run by adults who were never spanked as kids and got trophies just for participating.

How do you feel after reading that quote?  Do you think it’s true?  Do you feel connected to others who agree with that sentiment and feel like cheering “Amen!” along with the crowd?  Or do you feel saddened, wondering how people can think violence is the solution to help raise our children into healthy adults?   (Or perhaps you, like me, are scratching your head and wondering why two such seemingly disparate ideas–not-spanking and giving trophies for participation–are being coupled together!)

If you don’t spank your children, seeing that others feel scared of a world run by children who weren’t spanked, do you feel convicted and think, “Wow, maybe I need to start spanking!”  Or do you feel upset that so many are judging you and your children?  Or maybe you yourself weren’t spanked as a child.  Maybe you received a trophy or medal for participation (*gasp*).  Do you feel offended that others are scared of a world run by people like YOU?

Do you feel anxious as you picture a world run by adults who were never spanked as kids?  Or perhaps, looking at the world we live in today, you feel hopeful at the idea of a world run by adults who weren’t spanked as kids, but are saddened because you fear that there is a long way to go before we get there.

If you don’t agree with that meme, maybe you can’t get over how illogical the statement sounds.  It certainly makes a lot of assumptions.  Maybe you think it’s narrow-minded and simplistic. It sure has its basis in stereotypes and lays a huge amount of blame for the troubles of the world on families where children aren’t spanked (just think of the huge variances involved in such families) and in which children are given trophies for participation.

I wonder if some blame shifting might be at play here.  If we look down on other families, the way they raise their children, and the type of adults we fear will be the end result, do others who spank their children feel better about themselves and their children and feel assured that they aren’t adding to the “scariness” of our future world?

Maybe you wonder, what exactly is that meme saying?  It raises a lot of questions in my mind.  I wonder does it mean that those who agree with it think spanking is the main determining factor in how a child turns out (and where do trophies come into this)?  Should we judge others on the basis on how their parents raised them?  Do those who agree with that statement believe there is no hope for a child raised without spanking?

The biggest question raised in my mind is where is gospel, and where is mercy and grace in all of this?

Trophies for participation or not–and I know I personally was pretty elated at the medal I received for the triathlon I completed this past summer. Spanking or not. . . . these things do not define good parenting.  A good parent might or might not spank their children, and a bad parent might or might not spank them.  There are so many variables that I can barely begin to scratch the surface.

Spanking can look as different in different families as apples are from. . . . , oh, I don’t know, how about mangoes.  Sometimes a parent slips up and spanks and then humbly apologizes and makes amends.  Sometimes parents have many discipline tools in their toolbox, and only use spanking as a last resort.  Some parents spank when their child does something annoying or embarrassing, while others save it for what they term “direct disobedience.”  Some save it exclusively for “danger situations.”  Some do it in anger because they snap and feel out of control. Others  recoil in horror at the idea of doing it in anger and use a very carefully predetermined formula which a parenting “expert” has told them is the “right” or “Biblical” way to do it.  Some children are more naturally compliant and only need a “look” for their parent to gain compliance, and some are more strong-willed and don’t follow along so easily.

When a bunch of parents rally around in support of spanking it’s concerning because, for one thing, spanking is hitting, it’s violence, and it’s never the right solution to help teach and meet our children’s needs.  It breaks connection and relationship with our children rather than building it up.  Also, though, seeing parents rally around in support of spanking is concerning because of the immense amount of possible variables involved:  what you mean by spanking could be at complete odds with what another parent means by spanking.  They could be so different from each other that you would be heartbroken if you were to hear what they mean by it.

Above I asked the question “where is the gospel, and where is the grace and mercy in all of this?”  Parenting a certain way does not save our children. The way we choose to parent is important, no doubt about it, but it doesn’t nullify the fact that Jesus saves, not a parenting method: spanking (or not spanking) doesn’t save, our parenting doesn’t save.  And thank goodness, because we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and even if we tried to be as good as we could be, we could never save ourselves.  We are only saved by God’s grace.  It’s the same way with parenting.   We could be the very best parent in the whole world, but we still would fall short, we still would make mistakes, and we still would need to rely on God’s grace to save our children.

Just as God extends mercy and grace to us, I believe we should extend it to our children.  Jesus paid for our sins, not only for my sins, but for my children’s sins, too.  He took the punishment for their sins, and I don’t need to punish them further.

My kiddos have all made a profession of faith, have been baptized, and take communion at church each week.  Are you who are Christians who say that you are scared of a world run by adults who weren’t spanked saying that this doesn’t matter?    You know it does matter.  Whether you agree with the way I parent my children or not, how could you say you are scared of a world run by children like mine?   My children are empathetic and caring, creative, they are great thinkers, they love animals, they care for God’s creation.  They are not perfect, but I dare say that you are no better than they are. We all are in need of God’s grace, living together in this world He has made.   If you are a Christian reading this, you, as do myself, my husband, and my children desire to bring glory to God, and why can we not work together rather than tearing one another down.   I’m not scared of a world run by your children, even if you spank, because I believe deeply in God’s grace, and I hope you will learn not to be scared of a world run by children like mine.

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God’s Plan is Good

I really struggle at times with anxiety, and I get overwhelmed way too easily.  I don’t respect myself like I should or think very highly of myself.  Sometimes I ask God “Why did you make me? Everyone would be better without me.”  I know that thinking those type of things are irrational and not true.  I know how God sees me, that I am precious to Him, and that He has good plans for me and wants the best for me.  I know of His promises, and I know of His goodness.  I’ve seen It’s a Wonderful Life many times (I love that movie!) and I know the things we do, even seemingly small things, can make a huge difference for so many people.  I don’t know why I struggle like I do.  I am getting better; I am feeling these negative things less and less, but I hate it that I still struggle.  At least I’m not giving up, though, right? And I guess we all have our struggles, and this is definitely one of mine.

God did something extra special the other day that really encouraged me.  He’s always doing things to show me that He loves me and to encourage me.  Thank you, God!  What happened was someone sent me an email telling me that Chuck Norris linked to my website Gentle Christian Mothers at the end of his C-Force health and fitness column this week in his article entitled You Are Fearfully and Wonderfully Made.   Doesn’t that sound like a dream that he would link to my website, like it couldn’t be real?  I mean CHUCK NORRIS?!  Wow!  It lifted my spirits so much and put a great grin on my face! And my goodness, what a perfect message for me to read!  All babies are indeed a blessing from God!  Our children are fearfully and wonderfully made, so true, and that also means that we ourselves are as well.   I’m so thankful to the person who wrote me and so thankful to Chuck Norris.

There are so many other things that God has done to bless me.  Our van broke down, and it’s been quite discouraging.   Our church has been praying for us, and I received an uplifting email from a dear lady at church, and another one called me at home offering such beautiful empathy and concern and care and offered to take me shopping.  Also, a friend gave us a ride to homeschool co-op and has offered to do so again this week if we need it.  Others have been praying for us, too, and I’m trying to remember that all things work together for the good of those who love God.  I know He has a plan!  Our pastor had a great sermon this week about God’s Providence.  Isn’t it funny when a sermon touches your heart so much that it seems to as if it were written just for you, as if God had a special message that He wanted you to hear?  And of course He does!  I know our family was on God’s heart when our pastor wrote that message.  ♥

And my parents are such a blessing to our family.  I love them both so much.  My mom took me grocery shopping on Sunday so that I could stock up, and she’s so full of faith and love.  I truly look up to her.

There are so many things to be thankful for.  Maybe I should make it a regular thing to write out what I’m thankful for.   Thank you God for all the good things in my life, and for all the things that seem bad to me at the moment, because I know you have a plan and are working through it all and will always bring good even out of things that others mean for evil.

So I will keep plugging along and trusting that God is good and that He knows what He’s doing, that He even knew what He was doing when He made me. . .   and you can trust that He knew what He was doing when He made YOU!  Toward the end of Mr. Norris’ article he wrote,

In the end, we ought to love and cherish the babies and children in our lives (in and out of the womb) no matter what their strengths or disabilities are. And who’s to say that their disabilities won’t turn out to be their greatest strengths?

What an profoundly true statement.  As an example, he mentioned a man named Nick Vujicic, a man who doesn’t have arms or legs.  Then the next day I noticed a friend on facebook linked to a video that showed Mr. Vujicic talking with Oprah, so I clicked on it and watched it and was deeply touched and inspired.  If you haven’t watched the video yet, I encourage you to watch it below.

Remember, we are all fearfully and wonderfully made!  ♥

Psalm 139:14 (NIV)

14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.

Psalm 139:13-16 (MSG)

13-16 Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;
you formed me in my mother’s womb.
I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking!
Body and soul, I am marvelously made!
I worship in adoration—what a creation!
You know me inside and out,
you know every bone in my body;
You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,
how I was sculpted from nothing into something.
Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth;
all the stages of my life were spread out before you,
The days of my life all prepared
before I’d even lived one day.

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Some Thoughts about Being Shy

When I was googling for information about obedience the other day, I came across a sermon that briefly mentioned shy people, so that caught my eye.  It said the following:

Let us remember this when we are tempted to estimate the faith of another. We are limited to visible indications of faith- church attendance, Bible knowledge, involvement in church ministries, and so on. We do not see into the heart.

The faith of one with rather modest Bible knowledge, infrequent church attendance, or a somewhat sharp character; or one who is shy, says little and does not do much around the church– their faith could be much purer and deeper than of many who are active in the church.

Only God knows the heart. [emphasis mine]

That encouraged me because I’m really shy.  I won the label of “most shy girl” in both junior high and high school.  I’m not, by the way, sharing that quote to say that my own faith is purer and deeper, but because it encourages me to see someone speaking out in support of shy people, not dismissing shy people right off the bat, and saying that it could be true. And of course it could be. . . it’s sad that it even needs to be said, but it seems that it does need to be said.

I remember when a teacher in college gave a message during chapel in which he said that being shy was a sin.   What he said felt like a sock in the gut to me, and it left me wondering, do people look at me with my shyness and think I’m self-centered, self-absorbed, not wishing to help people or not caring for others?

I’m also an introvert, too, definitely, so I have both of those marks “against” me.  Introverts are often terribly misunderstood.  Because I’m an introvert I “recharge” by being alone.  I also tend to be careful and make decisions more slowly than an extrovert would because I need to gather and weigh the details before coming to a decision, and I’m not usually very quick to offer my opinions. But that is different from being shy.  I see “shy” more as being nervous around people, worried about saying the wrong thing or doing the wrong thing, and shy people often find it hard to step out and try to connect with people.  I think part of the reason I am shy is because I never learned to accept failure as important, even good, because it’s something from which we can learn and grow.  I’m working on that, but it’s a scary concept.  By the way, I like being an introvert, but I’d really prefer not to be so shy.

I wish I could reach out more in real life.  I want so much to be able to do that, but it’s hard, really, really hard.  Though part of it is that I’m afraid something I might say or do might cause myself embarrassment, I also worry that I’ll mess up in a way which will hurt other people.  No, I admit it. . .  I don’t think very highly of myself. That’s something else I’m working on.

While reading a description of myself I wrote maybe 12 or so years ago I saw that I had written that “people scare me.”  Generally, I do tend to get anxious around people that I don’t know very well, especially in new situations or situations in which I’ve never learned how to be relaxed.  The anxiety I feel doesn’t mean that I don’t like people or don’t care about people, though.   In fact when I see someone hurting, I hurt, too.  I want so much to be able to help people.  That is why I enjoy being online so much.  I prefer to write out my thoughts, and I can reach out to someone one on one, all while I’m at home, the place I feel most safe.

For various reasons shy people can be intimidating to people who are not shy.  I remember someone years ago telling me they felt like I was like Piglet (in the Winnie the Pooh) and they were like Tiger, and they were afraid they would bounce on me.  You don’t need to be afraid of shy people, though.  I’m not that fragile, really, I’m not.

I worry that people think I’m aloof and want to be left alone.  But I don’t.  Just because I’m scared to go up to a person and talk with them doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate it when someone else makes the effort.  I do, I really, really do.  I enjoy talking with people one on one, and I enjoy listening.

I’ve learned that we can’t assume that people want to be left alone.  I mean, it can be really easy to misread that.  Some people seem like they want to be left alone, but if you reach out to them, you might encourage them and help to draw them out.

There was a situation a couple years or so ago in which someone I knew in real life truly thought I wanted to be left alone.  It created such tension.   I finally wrote her about it, wondering if I had offended her and seeking the opportunity to work through things and make things better.  She wrote back explaining that she didn’t have any trouble with me, but she just thought I was trying to stay away from her and she was trying to respect that.  It was more complicated than just my being shy, I bet, but I feel that my shyness really played a big part in the misunderstanding.

That situation, as painful as it was to me at the time, helped me better understand how being quiet and shy can be so easily misunderstood.  I appreciate what I learned from that, and amazingly it actually helped my relationship with my dad.  My dad is shy, and he’s an introvert, too.  Sometimes he’s really quiet, and I used to think that meant that he didn’t want to talk and I felt anxious about talking to him when he was that way. I’ve found, though, that I can’t take his silence as a sure sign that he doesn’t care or doesn’t want to interact.  If I say “hi” to him and interact with him so he knows that I care, I’ve found that most often he’ll respond in kind.

If you see someone who is quiet, it’s possible they may be shy or an introvert or both, but  I encourage you to please remember the adage “don’t judge a book by its cover” and, as the quote at the beginning of this post says, “Only God knows the heart.”  Don’t judge them as being self-centered, don’t assume they don’t care or assume automatically that they want to be left alone, or assume that they don’t want to help or that they can’t help.  Don’t even assume that they aren’t already helping.  For example, in the quote from that sermon it mentions a person who does not “do much around the church.” They might really want to help, but don’t know how (it can really hard for introverts and shy people to find a role in the church), or they may be doing more than you realize, but quietly. And please note that quiet people are often really good listeners, and I know that some are really good, as some would put it, “prayer warriors.”

We all have our place in this world, and as Christians, we have our place of importance in the body of Christ.  Shy people have their place just like anyone else.  Sometimes we can get too isolated and end up feeling really discouraged, or we can feel like we are unimportant.  If you are shy and you are reading this, I want so much for you to know that you are important, you are needed, and you are unique and wonderfully made!

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Some Thoughts about the Question “Would Jesus Spank a Child?”

While surfing around the web I recently came across an article written a few years ago in which John Piper, a Reformed Baptist pastor and author, responded to the question “Would Jesus spank a child?”  It was actually a video of him speaking, and I read the transcript. He said he thought if Jesus were married and had children He would have spanked His children.  Since then I’ve been thinking quite a bit about his article and how I would respond to that question.  I was a Reformed Baptist for the majority of my adult life, and I’m still “Reformed,” though not Baptist, but I have a different take on this subject.  I’d guess I’m in the vast minority of Reformed Christians when it comes to my answer to that question, but I do know I’m not alone.  Here are some of my thoughts.

Though Jesus didn’t marry and have children and we don’t have that specific example to follow, there are plenty of other examples in the Bible of God caring for His own.  We can read about such things as how graciously Jesus discipled his apostles while on earth and read clear examples of God the Father parenting with gentleness.  We can also look to our own experiences of how we have seen Him work in our lives.  Through what I see expressed in the Bible about God’s character and about how He cares for His children, and through my own experience as a child of God, I believe that if Jesus were to have married and had children, He would not have struck His children nor done anything to purposefully inflict pain on them.

What we can be absolutely sure of is that He would have discipled His children with “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22, 23)–those character traits are the fruit of the Spirit and part of who He is, plus I John 4:8b says, “God is love.”  I do not believe that the fruit of the Spirit meshes with the idea of spanking, that it is not gentle or kind or peaceful or showing our children love to spank them or to otherwise purposefully inflict pain on them.   I want to be clear that I’m not saying that parents who spank aren’t loving.  I believe that many loving parents do spank, but I don’t believe that spanking itself expresses love.

The Bible presents a solid and true defense of the importance of discipline, and as a loving Father, God is very involved in our lives, instructing us, guiding us, caring for us.  I don’t believe He creates painful situations to “teach us a lesson” or scare us into doing His will, though, of course, that doesn’t mean we won’t experience pain.  We all know that life can be terribly painful.  At times He allows us to experience the, sometimes quite painful, natural consequences of our sins, when they will be beneficial to us, while other times He graciously blocks or reduces those consequences, and many times we experience pain simply because we live in a fallen, sinful world.   He always knows what is best for us, and I believe He orchestrates our life in ways that help us grow in holiness and become more like Him, but I feel that His intent is never to punish us.   One reason I believe this so strongly is because there is no need for Him to punish us because Jesus took the punishment for our sins: Isaiah 53:5 says,

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. [emphasis mine]

I believe that instead of hitting His children, Jesus would have protected and gently guided them, like a gentle shepherd cares for his sheep.  In John 10:11 He said of Himself, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. ” In Psalm 23:1, David said, “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want,” and then went on to say in verse 4, “. . . I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”  In Isaiah 40:11 we see a beautiful example of God’s care being compared to that of a shepherd:  “He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.”

We can also see an example of God’s compassionate care by seeing Jesus’ example of how graciously He discipled his apostles while on earth.   Jesus modeled and patiently taught them–he gently discipled them–and we as parents are our children’s teacher: they are our little disciples. We can follow Jesus’ example with our disciples.  A mama friend of mind named Sara once shared this comparison:

I always personally reference how Jesus treated his disciples – a group of unruly, uneducated, fishermen. He never yelled, hit, punched, belittled…yet they came to know and love the Lord with their entire beings – all through his gentle, firm, loving teachings. That is how I want to parent my children.

As defense of his viewpoint that Jesus would have spanked His children, John Piper brought up Matthew 5 where (in his words) it says, “Not a jot nor a tittle will pass away from the Law until all is accomplished,” and he said, “the Law says, ‘Spare the rod, spoil the child.’” He claimed that’s a paraphrase of Proverbs where it says (again in his words), “If you withhold the rod, you hate your son.”  He believes that the Law says we need to spank our children and that since Jesus believed the Bible, He would have spanked. There are many things concerning with what Piper said.  I’ll share a couple, and perhaps you’ll be able to think of more.

First of all, it surprised me that he would correlate a verse in the book of Proverbs with the Law, because the book of Proverbs is wisdom literature and holds a collection of wise sayings, not laws. Proverbs is indeed God’s Word, and we can learn beautiful truths and find helpful guidance from reading Proverbs, but the proverbs aren’t commands or promises or Law, and we need to carefully and prayerfully meditate on them to see what God would have us learn from them and to see whether or not and in what way they are applicable in our situation.  It’s important to keep in mind that the book of Proverbs is written in a poetic style, sometimes painting very clear word pictures, such as “Like a bad tooth or a lame foot is reliance on the unfaithful in times of trouble” (Proverbs 25:19), and sometimes using hyperbole, such as in Proverbs 23:2 where it says, “and put a knife to your throat if you are given to gluttony.”

It also surprised me that Piper used the phrase, “Spare the rod, spoil the child.” When I hear someone use that phrase I assume they don’t know the source of it, because it would surprise me if a parent or pastor who knew the source of that phrase would want to use it to apply to the topic of parenting children.  The phrase comes from a 17th century satirical poem by Samuel Butler called “Hudibras.” In the poem, that phrase is referring to corporal punishment between adults in the bedroom (see Spare the rod. . . by Crystal Lutton).  The phrase “Spare the rod and spoil the child” is a clear match with that poem for it says,

What med’cine else can cure the fits
Of lovers when they lose their wits?
Love is a boy by poets stil’d;
Then spare the rod and spoil the child.

The King James Version (KJV) of the Bible came out 1611, so it would have been used during the time of Samuel Butler. It uses the phrase “spareth his rod” in Proverbs 13:24, though it doesn’t say anything about the idea of “spoiling the child.”  Here’s what the complete verse says in the KJV: “He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.” I think it’s possible the author thought of that phrase because he had read that verse, but even so, as seen above, the meaning is not applicable to parenting.  It would be good for those who cite “Spare the rod, spoil the child” as a paraphrase of that verse to pause and consider that as such it would an incomplete, inaccurate summary, one which both adds to the verse and misses much that is of importance in that verse.  I personally will stick with the Bible verse itself, instead of using that phrase.  I’d like to take a little time with you now to look at the verse.

I find the New International Version of the Bible easier to read, so I’m going to share the NIV translation of that verse here as well.  It says, “Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.“ Whatever you  feel that Proverbs 13:24 means, you may notice that the verse is not law: “Whoever spares the rod. . .” is not a command.  There is no command in the Bible spank one’s children, and many Christian parents and leaders believe that this is an issue of Christian liberty, or adiophora (things which are neither commanded nor forbidden in God’s Word).  They believe that since it doesn’t explicitly tell us that we must spank our children that parents are free to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit.

The idea of hating our children if we spare the rod is a saddening and scary thought, and sparing the rod is absolutely something to avoid.  Some people take the verse to mean that when we don’t spank our children we are showing that we hate our children, and if we are doing something hateful to our children, then law or not, that would mean we are doing something wrong.  Does it really say that, though?

It’s important to try and figure out what Proverbs 13:24 is saying.  Let’s look at the complete verse again:  “Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.“ One thing to note is that it doesn’t say “spank” or any version of “hit/pop/whop your child on the bottom/thigh/etc. when they ____”

In the article Piper asks the question, “What worldview inclines a person to think that you shouldn’t spank a child? Where does that come from?” and his answer is, “Well it comes straight out of this culture, I think.” I actually think the opposite is true: to say that verse says to spank our children is reading our own cultural understanding into it.  Though more and more people are speaking out against spanking, overall our culture in the United States is still one that is supportive of the right and the rightness of spanking, and the majority of children in the US have been spanked.  In fact, a study that came out in 2010 found that  corporal punishment is still used to discipline nearly 80 percent of preschool children.  Also, spanking is more common in certain areas and among certain groups, such as it’s more common down South and more common among conservative, fundamentalist Christians.

As a fairly conservative Christian, I know how living in a Christian culture that says spanking is right and necessary can make it hard to consider that anything else could be true, but it’s important to not just follow what those around us do.  It can be all too easy to get caught up in group think, but we need to pull ourselves out of the vortex of influence and read the Bible with fresh eyes, asking the Holy Spirit what it really is saying.   The idea of the rod being either a hand or a soft, flexible object (or a paddle or a belt, etc.) used to hit our children is something that, if you see it there, you are reading into the text.

We see in the Bible that the rod is a symbol of authority.  In Hebrew the word for “rod” is “shebet” (shay’-bet).  It can also mean staff, club, scepter, tribe.  Parents have been given authority over their children, and the use of the word “rod” speaks to the concept of authority.  If in this verse the rod were meant to be an actual physical rod the parent were to lay aside and not use, consider what a rod actually looks like.  Here is a picture I took of a shebet that belongs to my friend Crystal:

shebet

Seeing a shebet helped confirm for me that God isn’t asking us to hit our child with a shebet.  If God isn’t asking us to do that, then what does it mean to not spare the rod?

To help explain that I’d like to share with you something my friend (the same one who owns the shebet seen in the picture above) once showed me.  It was a portion of the film Joseph – King of Dreams where Joseph’s father fights off the wolves with his shepherd’s staff, his rod. That scene helps to paint a vivid picture of what it means to not spare the rod.  I thought it was powerful when I first watched it, and I like to watch it every once in a while so help me remember the example.

I’ll describe the scene. Joseph stands with the sheep, his job being to watch and care for the sheep. After awhile Joseph lays down his shepherd’s staff, and a little lamb runs off. He picks up his rod and runs after the lamb and sees the wolves. Joseph then again lays aside his staff and grabs the little lamb and runs with it, the wolves in close pursuit. Suddenly his father shows up using the shepherd’s staff to defend them and fight off the predators. The wolves run away, and Joseph and the sheep are safe.

When Joseph laid aside the rod, he was “sparing the rod.”  Figuratively we are shepherds of our children, and we need to carry our shepherd’s staff, our rod.  Just as it is crucial that a shepherd not lay aside his rod, it is crucial that we parents not lay aside the rod of authority and discipline. This does not mean that we are to hit our children. A good shepherd does not hit his sheep with the rod, but rather reserves hitting for the predators who attack his sheep. In like manner, we as parents should not use the “rod” to hit our children, but rather we are to protect them, guide them, and defend them.  That is what not sparing the rod means.

If we love our children we will be careful to discipline them, as the verse says, and our discipline does not need to and should not involve purposely giving them pain by spanking or punishing them.  We can follow God’s gracious example, and we can be sure that He is always with us, watching over us, guiding us, caring for us.  God is our Good Shepherd, and He doesn’t strike us when we start to wander, He comes beside us and lovingly directs us.  As Romans 2:4 says, God’s kindness leads us to repentance.

And now I’d like to close with my favorite quote about the question considering what Jesus would do.  It’s from Clay Clarkson in his book Heartfelt Discipline, page 176.

Your children are your disciples, so part of your responsibility is to model for them the character of Christ. Your children will learn what He is like from your example, and they will want to become like the Christ they see in you. Physical discipline is not a part of the biblical portrait of the Savior. There is good reason that you should find it difficult to imagine Jesus raising His hand to strike a child in punishment. It would contradict the biblical portrait of Jesus as the Loving Savior and the gentle Shepherd, laying hands on the children to bless them. But a punitive Jesus is in part, the picture you draw in your children’s minds when you use physical discipline. No matter how loving you try to make it, in a day of ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ it is hard to make the case that spanking is what Jesus would do.

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Book: The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse

A few years back when I was studying the book The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse: Recognizing & Escaping Spiritual Manipulation and False Spiritual Authority within the Church by David Johnson and Jeff Van Vonderen I wrote up summaries of the book through chapter 3.  I think they might be helpful to others, so I’m going to post them below.  I highly recommend that book.

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Summary of Author’s Note, Intro, & Ch. 1

Who Could Benefit from this Book?

I personally feel that most anyone could potentially find this book to be helpful. Spiritual abuse affects many more people than I realized. A lot of struggles that people have with the church, with trusting other people, and with trusting God have their roots in past and/or present spiritual abuse.

This book can be helpful for both those who have experienced spiritual abuse and for those who are being spiritually abusive. This book is not condemning anyone, but rather it shines light in darkness and helps people know that there is abundant grace and hope for healing.

Their stated purpose of this book is “to help readers — victims and abuses alike — recognize and escape spiritual manipulation and false spiritual authority within the church” (page 10) And they clarify that they “write to help, not to condemn.” (page 14)

I thought it was important to note that “Any one of us can be a victim, and sometimes a perpetrator without realizing what we are doing” (page 19).

They list two basic purposes of the book on page 25:

1) “. . . to help you examine your own practice of Christianity first. Are you practicing grace, allowing the Spirit of Christ to live through you in such a way that you help lift oppressive weights off of others and spiritually empower them to live?”

2) “. . . to help both leaders and followers to recognize spiritual systems that have become abusive.”

The dedication reads:

Dedicated

to the wear and heavy laden,

deeply loved by God,

but because of spiritual abuse,

find that the Good News

has somehow become

the bad news.

Handle with Care

The authors share the following caution in the Author’s Note at the beginning of the book: “the subject matter and guidelines given in their book must be handled with care.” Reading about these things may bring up big feelings, and it’s okay and healthy to allow yourself to have big feelings. Some might experience some painful feelings as you learn these things. Others may feel greatly validated reading the things in this book. The authors explain that we can “respond and not react.” They further explain,

“Reactions that burst from pain and disappointment often feel good and right at the time. But most often they do not build, they hurt your credibility, and sometimes those reactions incur further abuse. Take your time. Emotional healing will come. There is recovery from spiritual abuse.”

Why Call it Spiritual Abuse?

Abuse is such a strong word. Why would it be called spiritual abuse? In the introduction, Jeff shares some thoughts that help show why he believes the use of the word “abuse” is warranted:

“When one person treats another in a way that damages them physically, we call that physical abuse. Damaging someone through emotional means is called emotional abuse. Brainwashing is a phrase that describes psychological abuse. Spiritual abuse occurs when someone is treated in a way that damages them spiritually. As a deeper result, their relationship with God — or that part of them that is capable of having a relationship with God — becomes wounded or scarred.”

Definition of Spiritual Abuse

Spiritual abuse: “the mistreatment of a person who is in need of help, support or greater spiritual empowerment, with the result of weakening or decreasing that person’s spiritual empowerment” (page 20)

It can occur when a) “a leader uses his or her spiritual position to control or dominate another person” (page 20), b) “spirituality is used to make others live up to a ‘spiritual standard'” (page 21).

Results of Spiritual Abuse

Results of spiritual abuse are usually the same: “The individual is left bearing a weight of guilt, judgment or condemnation, and confusion about their worth and standing as a Christian” (page 22). At this point, spirituality has become abusive.

Freedom in Christ

Galatians 5:1 – “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. (NIV)”

1 Corinthians 7:23 – “You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men.” (NIV)

They share what they feel they found is at the root of it all (page 26):

“. . . too many today have forgotten the incredible price that was paid, in blood, for our freedom in Christ. For we have been called to a spiritual life built upon the free gift of God’s grace (Ephesians 2:8-9). The works we are to do are only those that our God and Father prepared for us (vs. 10). Is is to God alone whom we will answer for what we have done in His name and what we’ve failed to do (Matthew 25).”

The chapter closes with this:

“The Christian life begins with freedom from dead works, from religious systems and from all human attempts to “please God.” It’s time for many of us to shake off the religious systems and expectations we’ve created, and return to that joyful freedom in Christ.

“Ultimately, that’s our hope and our goal.”

**************************************

Chapter 2 – Spiritual Abuse is Not New

Headings in this Chapter:

* A Scriptural Portrait

– In the Old Testament

– In the New Testament

* Who Are the Perpetrators Today?

* “Brood of Vipers”

* “Ravenous Wolves”

* Paul’s Battle

* Legalism

* A Seething Confrontation

* Leaders Who Serve and Protect the Flock

* Conclusion

In chapter two we learn that not only does spiritual abuse really exist, but that it is far-reaching, and that it can be “as wounding as other forms of abuse” (page 29). Why is it so bad? On page 29 the authors explain why:

“Spiritual abuse, however, puts people at odds with their best Friend. It causes some people to question, doubt, and even run the other direction from their Source. They see their strongest Advocate as their biggest accuser, and their Ally as their enemy. For some people, spiritual abuse can have eternal consequences.”

In this chapter we also learn that spiritual abuse has been around a very long time, and that it can be seen in both the Old Testament, more specifically spiritual neglect (see Jeremiah 5:26, Jeremiah 6:13-14, 30-31) and New Testament, more specifically by legalistic attack (see Matthew 23:4, Matthew 9:36). We can see in the New Testament that Jesus took spiritual abuse very seriously. He called abusers a “brood of vipers” pg 33 (Matthew 12:34, Matthew 23:33) and “ravenous wolves” pg 34 (Matthew 7:15).

And spiritual abuse is still alive today. Here are the means by which spiritual abuse happens: (page 32)

1) there is the neglect of real needs in favor of the “needs” of authority

A way this is seen today:

“Today, we might parallel Jeremiah’s dilemma by examining our own spiritual setting in which the people of God are so often counseled to ignore their real needs and are offered placebos in the forum of easy answers, ‘try hard’ sermons, and the latest ‘get rich’ formulas. As in all unhealthy relationship systems, in a spiritually abusive system the most important thing is how things look. So the ugly and messy relational process of meeting people’s real needs gets sacrificed for a better-looking but false peace. (page 30, 31)

2) then legalism replaces rest in God with demands for spiritual performance.

They define legalism as “a form of religious perfectionism that focuses on the careful performance and avoidance of certain behaviors. It teaches people to gain a sense of spiritual acceptance based on their performance, instead of accepting it as a gift on the basis of Christ” (page 37).

“People who are spiritually abused feel so tired and so belittled, because they cannot live up to other’s spiritual expectations, that they have lost their sense of blessing” (page 38). An important question to ask ourselves: “Are the spiritual relationships you have bringing the rest Jesus promised, or do you find just more toil and weariness?” (page 28) Jesus wants us to find rest! Here is His stance toward tired, wounded, struggling people (page 31):

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My load is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

I thought this was really important: (page 32)

“. . . Not all strong Christian leaders are abusive, nor are all spiritual systems abuse. It’s also possible that healthy leaders and spiritual systems can sometimes, unintentionally, treat people in hurtful ways. There is no such thing as a perfect family or church where people don’t ever get hurt. But the difference between an abusive and a non-abusive system is that while hurtful behaviors might happen in both, it is not permissible to talk about problems, hurts and abuses in the abusive system. Hence, there is no healing and restoration after the wound has occurred, and the victim in made to feel at fault for questioning or pointing out the problem.”

Conclusion of the chapter:

“It’s not wrong to notice legalism, legalistic families and churches, and to protect yourself from being abused. Noticing a problem does not make you the problem” (page 39). We should be “on guard” (Acts 20:28) against “specific leaders and systems that throw their spiritual weight around” and “the subtle use of ‘formulas and doctrines that are so often used to press good people of the faith into conformity with a religious system instead of conformity to Christ” (page 39).

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Summary of Chapter 3 – Abused Christians

Victims of Spiritual Abuse Struggle in These Areas

1. You develop a distorted image of God. (page 41)

“A distorted image of God is on tip-off that someone may have experienced spiritual abuse. Here are some distortions people frequently have:” (these are all on page 41)

* A God who is never satisfied

* A mean vindictive God

* An apathetic God

* A God who is asleep (one who doesn’t notice when people are hurt and abused)

* A God who is awake, close, and who see and cares, but is powerless

* “A God who is a kind of fickle baby. His mood can be manipulated by our slightest mistake.”

* “The ‘utterly holy’ God. He is like a spiritual burglar alarm, ready to go off anytime you think about sin.”

2. You may be preoccupied with spiritual performance. (page 44)

Some indicators of a performance-based lifesyle:

* self-righteousness – “a sense of spiritual superiority based on your own behavior” (page 44)

* judgementalism – “a sense of spiritual superiorty based upon someone else’s behavior”

* perfectionism – “a need for situations and relationships to be ‘just so'”

* “high level of anxiety based upon external circumstances and an urge to control what people do and how things turn out”

* shame – they say it’s the flip side of self-righteousness and defined as “a sense of inferiority, a negative self-assessment, an indictment on your very personhood.”

“In spiritual systems where performance is more important than emotional honesty or human need, both extremes [of self-righteousness and shame] will be strongly in evidence” (page 44).

3. You have a distorted self-identity of yourself as a Christian. (page 44)

“People who have been spiritually abused tend to have a negative picture of self, or a shame-based identity” (page 44).

Ways a shame-based identity can be seen:

* “Lack of understanding or even awareness of New Testament texts that elaborate on our identity as new creations in Christ” (page 45)

* “Confusion between guilt and shame.”

guilt: “a valuable signal indicating a wrong or bad behavior”

shame: “an indictment on you as a person”

* “Shame is the prime motivator of behavior”

* “A high need to hang on to a negative picture of self in order to explain negative behaviors”

4. You may have a problem relating to spiritual authority. (page 46)

The authors say that being spiritually abused can lead to “toxic faith,” and that “one of the many areas this would spill is the area of relating to those in authority.”

Here is their definition of “toxic faith”:

toxic faith: “a destructive and dangerous relationship with a religious system, not with God, that allows this system to control a person’s life in the name of God” (page 46)

They explain that those who have experienced misuse of power develop ways to defend themselves from being abused again and that two of those ways are to be either extremely compliant or defiant when faced with someone else having authority, but they also explain that these reactions, though designed to prevent hurt, won’t. (page 46)

5. You may have a hard time with grace. (page 46)

“The idea of being treated gracefully (treated to a fullness of grace) causes you great difficulty. This springs from the shame-based identity which tells you that you don’t deserve to be treated this way” (page 46).

6. You may have problem in the area of personal boundaries, an unclear understanding about “death to self” teachings and “rights.”

boundaries: “invisible barriers that tell others where they stop and you start” (page 47)

Quote:

People who have misused their spiritual power have disrespected or beaten down your boundaries. They have shamed you out of your “no,” clouded your will and intruded into your life with religious agendas. They have violated your spirituality by playing “Holy Spirit.” Having an opinion has come to equal lack of submissiveness. Having a right to not be abused is selfish.

7. You may have difficulty with personal responsibility. (page 47)

The authors explain that those who have been spiritually abused may tend to the extremes of either being “under-responsible in your relationship with God and others” or to be “overresponsible, a burden bearer.”

Quote:

Matthew 9:36 describes the multitudes as distressed” and “down-cast.” This was a result of the performance weight places on them by religious leaders who did not shepherd them, but devoured them instead.” They did this by endless spiritual rules and regulations, and by constantly pointing out the least flaw in others. If you’ve been through this, you wind up very tired, emotionally, physically and spiritually. (page 48)

8. You may suffer from a lack of living skills.(page 48)

Quote:

. . . abusive systems develop a “bunker mentality.” This is characterized by being closed and paranoid toward the outside, and secretive about what goes on inside. The mentality is not only separatist, but highly judgemental . . . . The result is that a student is equipped emotionally, spiritually, and mentally to work only somewhere in the original system or in one like it. (page 48)

Quote:

For people whose lives and relationships aren’t working, it’s important that they come to understand their problem isn’t the evil that surrounds them on the outside. Their need is to develop maturity, strength and the ability to make wise decisions, to grow in dependence upon God as their source on the inside. (page 49)

9. You may have a hard time admitting the abuse. (page 49)

This is common because:

a. “In an abusive system, you are told that you are ‘the problem’ for noticing that there is a problem” (page 49)

b. “admitting the abuse out loud — or even thinking that what you experienced was abuse — often feels like you’re being disloyal to family, to church, even to God” (page 49)

c. “those who have experienced spiritual abuse as ‘normal’ have lost track of what normal really is” (page 49)

d. “. . . natural denial is another factor. Denial is actually a God-given ability to delay feeling strong emotional, psychological or spiritual pain” (page 49)

c. shame “Very often they experience a great deal of shame — a sense of defectiveness — for having allowed themselves to get into a situation that was so obviously abusive” (page 50)

10. You may have a hard time with trust. (page 50)

The authors say that those who have been spiritually abused will have a hard time trusting a spiritual system again, and they explain the significance of this as follows:

“because the essence of living as a Christian is a trust relationship with God, within God’s family (page 50).

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