Saints, sinners, and what Italy taught me about abiding

Robbie and I just got back from Italy. It was a bucket-list trip, one made all the sweeter since we went with a group of friends from our church. Billed as the “Saints and Sinners Tour,” I think the idea was to take a bunch of (mostly) old American sinners and introduce us to a bunch of (really) old Italian saints, and hope something good would rub off.

Saints and Sinners Tour book

We marveled over the humility of Francis of Assisi, a pampered party boy who renounced his luxurious lifestyle in order to “wed” Lady Poverty. That move didn’t sit too well with his father–especially when Francis stripped naked in the public square to demonstrate his commitment, leaving the Bishop to try to, um, cover things up:

Giotto's painting of St. Francis standing naked in the public square

We applauded the courage of Catherine of Siena, a spunky saint best remembered for telling Pope Gregory XI (and I’m paraphrasing here) to “Man up!” and get back to his duties in Rome. (The Pope had been living in Avignon; having been to both cities, I can see why he might not have wanted to move.)

Catherine of Siena telling the Pope to return to Rome

And we heard about folks like St. Philip Neri, a Florentine monk who thought Christians ought to be more cheerful than melancholy, and that being holy didn’t mean you had to look serious or sad. Known to carry two things in his pockets–a Bible and a joke book–Neri is one of those saints I hope I get to sit by at the welcome dinner in heaven.

I liked the saint stories, or at least most of them. Truth be told, though, they were not my favorite part of the trip. Maybe I’m just a bigger sinner than most, but what I really loved about Italy were the vineyards. Which, remarkably, seemed to be flourishing.

Vineyard in Italy

I’m no farmer, but I did take one class in meteorology at U.Va., and I could tell it was hot. Over 100 degrees, according to the weather apps on our phones. Plus, Italy was in the midst of a drought. “Pray for rain,” our tour guide pleaded, when she realized our group was on speaking terms with the Lord. “We really need it.”

Sunrise in Italy

We could see what she meant. I woke early one morning to greet the Tuscan sunrise, but I had to look down every few steps. Walking was tricky; the ground was so parched that the soil was cracked.

Cracked soil in Italy

How, I wondered, could anything survive in that heat? How could the vines keep bearing fruit? I would think they’d be spitting out raisins; how come the grapes looked so healthy and lush?

As I pondered these questions, I sensed the Holy Spirit’s whisper. “The branches survive as they stay attached to the vine,” he said. “They don’t have to try to produce grapes; that happens naturally, as they do their one job: Abiding.”

Grapes on the vine

Ahhh. A fresh twist on Christ’s words in John 15:5. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

Created for connection

Like grapevines, you and I are created for connection. The degree to which we stay connected to Christ is the degree to which we will thrive. But what does that vine-branch connection look like in our everyday lives? How do we, practically speaking, abide?

Back in 1900, R.A. Torrey tackled this question in a book that’s now widely considered a classic: How to Pray“To abide in Christ,” he wrote, “is to renounce all life independent of Christ, and constantly look to Him for the inflow of His life into us, and the outworking of His life through us. When we do this, and in so far as we do this, our prayers will obtain that which we seek from God.”

Put another way, when we take Jesus up on his John 15 invitation–when we say yes to dwelling in Christ and letting him dwell in us–our prayer life changes. No longer do we cultivate our own feelings and desires; rather, it is Christ who forms his thoughts, emotions, and purposes in us. And the more we allow this life-giving flow of his life into ours, the more powerful and effective our prayers become.

The more we become people of impact.

The more we live lives marked by purpose and meaning.

The more we bear lush, healthy, life-giving fruit.

Lemon tree

Lemons in Italy

(And yes. I was captivated by the ginormous lemons in Italy. They were like footballs.)

(Well okay. Footballs for children. But still.)

A harvest on the horizon

If you’re following along with our 31-Day Prayer Challenge this month (and if you are, you’re not alone; more than 20,000 people have downloaded the calendar and are praying with us!), you might already be seeing a harvest–or at least a glimpse of it on the horizon, as you allow God’s promises to give shape to your prayers. This week, for example, we invited God to animate our relationships, praying Philippians 2:3-4 (“Let me value others and put their interests above my own”) and asking him to fulfill 1 John 3:18 in our lives (“Give me friends who will love not just with words but with actions”).

 

Day 7: Friendship prayer from Philippians 2:3-4

 

Day 8: Friends prayer from 1 John 3:18

And there are plenty more topics on tap. We’ll ask God to help us to navigate suffering and grief, give us freedom from worry and fear, and teach us use our gifts and talents wisely. We’ll even pray about what it looks like to approach aging well!

31 Days of Prayer Calendar

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: There is nothing we’ll face in life that God has not already thought of (and provided for!) in his Word. If you want to join us on the prayer challenge, click here for more info. If you just want to download the calendar so you can follow along on your own, click here. And if you want to dig deeper on the whole subject of staying connected to Christ, click here to get your copy of Praying the Scriptures for Your Life: 31 Days of Abiding in the Presence, Provision, and Power of God(There’s an entire chapter on what it means to abide, filled with insights from biblical brainiacs who know how to put the hay where the sheep can reach it.)

I’ll leave you with one more reflection from Italy, which comes (appropriately) in the form of a confession.

Yes, I liked the saints. And yes, I liked the vineyards. But what I mostly liked (and what I maybe got in trouble for stealing) was the secret stash of ice I found in the hotel refrigerator.

The cubes were almost as big as the lemons.

And boy-oh-boy, was I grateful.

Enjoying the fruit of the vine

 

Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
    whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water
    that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
    its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
    and never fails to bear fruit.

Jeremiah 17:7-8

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DIY Advent Printable to Ignite Praise

(Friends…many thanks to those of you who told me that the Thanksgiving printable prayers were too big to download. Whoopsie! We’ve made some tweaks in case you want to try again and use the cards as stocking stuffers or hostess gifts; click here to access that file. You’ll be glad to know that the Advent printable in this post is much more manageable; I printed the cards from my phone…hope you love ’em as much as I do!)

Advent candles

Ready or not, here it comes!

Advent officially begins on Sunday. And if you’re like me, that can conjure a mix of emotions.

On the one hand, I adore Christmas. I love everything about it:  The carols, the gift-giving, the tree-trimming, the lights. The everyday, everywhere reminders that Jesus is born.

On the other, the everyday, everywhere reminders can leave my soul feeling stressed. “O come let us adore him,” the radio beckons. And I can’t wait to do that–just as soon as I get the presents wrapped, the cards mailed, the cookies iced. Then, I tell myself, then I will be able to settle down and adore.

Maybe you find yourself in the same place.

Or maybe it’s not the busy-ness of the season that holds you back. Maybe you hear the invitation to adoration and you just don’t feel like giving God praise. Maybe this will be your first Christmas without a loved one. Maybe anxiety, disappointment, or fear over a child’s circumstances has dealt a blow to your faith. Or maybe you’re just plain bone-tired after not-one-but-two very long years.

Advent Adoration

If that’s where you find yourself today–longing to experience the thrill of hope but too hurting, too anxious, or too weary to open your heart–may I offer a gentle suggestion?

God doesn’t need us to come to him full of faith, brimming with joy, or overflowing with energy. He simply invites us to come–as we are–and adore. And as we do what my friend Sara Hagerty says and “sing our way into the truth,” something happens. The very act of praising (even when we don’t feel like it) releases the power of God into our lives.

Praise opens the door to hope.

One of my most favorite ways to praise God is to reflect on his attributes. I find that the more I think about who God is–merciful, faithful, Almighty, kind–the more my perspective changes. Problems that once loomed impossibly scary or large begin to shrink in the light of his splendor.

Psalm 100 says we come into God’s presence with praise; Psalm 22 says God is enthroned on our praises. If you long to draw near to God–to experience his closeness as you draw near to Christmas–adoration is the avenue that will get you there. And if you aren’t sure where to begin or how God’s attributes might impact your life, this DIY Advent calender might be a good place to start.

Advent Cards on table

Just print, cut, and fold!

The Advent printable includes 25 cards, each one highlighting a different one of God’s character traits. They’re super easy to access – just print, cut, and fold! 

Cut Advent Printable

Display the cards with the numbers facing out as you welcome December, and then flip them over discover a new facet of God’s nature every day. You can hang the cards on a strand of twine, prop them on a mantle, or or keep them in a bedside box as a reminder of God’s lavish love!

Advent Printable on mantle

Advent Printable on twine

Advent Printable on Mantle 1

I designed this Advent printable as a Christmas gift for our email community; you won’t find the cards available elsewhere. If you have friends who’d enjoy this printable or the blogs, please encourage them to visit jodieberndt.com to subscribe and join us!

As a current subscriber, you don’t need any special code to access the Advent printable; simply click here and follow the prompts to download. And as you consider each card, talk about God’s character with your children. Ask questions, even if you don’t know all the answers.

Advent Attribute - God is our counselor

For instance…

  • God is our COUNSELOR. Where do you need his wisdom or guidance today?
  • God is SOVEREIGN. How does it make you feel to know that he is in control?
  • God is IMMANUEL. What difference does it make to know that he is with us?

God is Immanuel…and so much more. Whatever your need, wherever you are, our Savior has you covered. May you sense his nearness, his love, and his grace in increasing measure in the month ahead.

Merry Christmas!

❤️

For further reflection on the power of praise, take a look at 2 Chronicles 20. I read that particular chapter this week and was struck, not for the first time, of what happens when we meet a crisis with praise.

Jehoshaphat learns that a vast army–one made up of three different nations–is about to attack. Alarmed, he resolves to ask God what to do. “We have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us,” he says. “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.

Then he recounts God’s past faithfulness (he considers God’s character) and–get this!–he appoints men to march out in front of the army and sing praises to God for “the splendor of his holiness.” (v. 21)

What happens next is nothing short of remarkable. As Jehoshaphat’s men start to sing and praise, God…

Well, I’ll let you read the story for yourself. As you do, keep in mind that the tide didn’t turn until the praises began. Praise conquers our fears, sharpens our perspective, and releases God’s power.

“We don’t know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” Let’s keep our gaze fixed on Jesus this Christmas season!

 

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Back-to-School Prayers (with a free printable)

It’s back-to-school time. Which means different things to different parents.

I spoke to one empty nester who told me she still hates Labor Day. “It signals that summer is over,” she said, “and I was always the mom in a puddle of tears at the bus stop. I didn’t want to let my kids go.”

And then there’s the Instagram mom who posted that the sun came out from behind the storm clouds as she waved goodbye to her kids–and that when she went back into her house, the dishwasher had unloaded itself, the coffee had brewed itself, and Ryan Gosling had made her bed and was folding her laundry. 😉

Wherever you are on the back-to-school spectrum–sobbing or singing or a little of both–I know you love your kids. And you want God’s best for them during the coming year.

I wish you and I could sit down together as this new school year begins. I’d ask you what you’re excited about. What concerns you might have. And how I can pray.

And I’d share some of what I’ve been learning from other moms–especially as it relates to helping our kids push back against things like worry and fear. I saw one study that said anxiety and depression had doubled among children and teens during the pandemic. How do we help our kids when they struggle? Even if it’s just back-to-school jitters and not something chronic, how should we pray?

I asked Sally Burke, Moms in Prayer president, how she would answer questions like these. I wasn’t surprised when she pointed straight to the Bible. She prays Nehemiah 8:10 over her kids, that the joy of the Lord will be their strength. And she  asks God to help them set their hearts and their minds “on things above, where Christ is,” not on worldly things.

Rebekah Lyons, the bestselling author of Rhythms of Renewal: Trading Stress and Anxiety for a Life of Peace, told me she plays the “Then what?” game with her kids. “What if your worst fears came true?” she asks. “Then what?”  Rebekah knows bad things will happen–things we never see coming–but “if the One who holds all things together is the One who holds us,” she says, we will “still be standing” when the they have passed.

The One who holds all things together holds us.

And he holds our kids.

And when we anchor our trust in his word, we really will have, as Psalm 112:7 promises, “no fear of bad news.”

Again, I wish we could sit down together. I don’t know what you are praying about–whether your kids need good friends, wisdom, protection, or anything else–but God does. Our Father knows what we need before we ask him. (Matthew 6:8)

If you want a few specific prayers you can pray in this back-to-school season, here are twelve of my favorites. I’ve pulled them together in a printable for our email community (but feel free to share them with friends). Click here to download and then keep these prompts on your phone…

Back-to-school printable

…or print them and put them someplace where you will see them. Or tuck ’em in the lunchbox or the backpack with your child’s name in the blank. How comforting it is for a child to know that their earthly parent is talking to their heavenly Parent about their every need!

Printable back-to-school prayer (Eph 4:2)

❤️

P.S. Want to watch the full back-to-school interview with Rebekah Lyons? You’ll find it on my Instagram feedand psst:  She has a brand new devotional book dropping next week! Check it out here!

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Tiny Phrases that Stick (by Sara Hagerty)

Note from Jodie:  Sara Hagerty is a dear friend and a gifted writer who says the things I want to say, only better. When I read her musings about how tiny phrases—bite-sized verses, or even just parts of verses—can shape our perspective as well as our prayers, I asked her to step into this space and write something for you.

If you like the idea of letting tiny phrases from the Bible come alive and color your day, join me on Instagram or Facebook in July, when we’ll be praying one short Scripture every day on my stories.

Here’s Sara…

Tiny Phrases – tiny (big) conversations with God

My very traditional high school experience ensured that I could sing at least one-third of every pop song released between 1991 and 1999. I struggle to call my children by their correct name, but Michael Jackson’s lyrics will go with me to my grave, whether I like it or not.

Songs make things stick.

My husband Nate and I are a part of a community that sings the Word of God.

Yes, you read that right: they sing Scripture spontaneously — reading from the Bible propped on their music stands as they create choruses from that verse, on the spot.

They aren’t the first. And just like after you walk out of a Broadway musical, and you’re wash{ing} that man right out of your hair in the shower, listening to them has made Scripture absorb more deeply into my brain.

Songs make things stick.

Or … is it that bite-sized portions of Scripture come alive when we stay there, a little longer?

Bite-sized portions of Scripture - Sara Hagerty

It wasn’t until my late twenties when I first came into contact with others who were studying and praying and meditating on the Word in phrases, that I considered the potential power of a mere three or four words added to my vernacular … and my mind. Those were the days before smartphones, so this practice didn’t come from fractured attention spans — but it was available for us, still-children, needing to approach the Word of God like the feast that it is.

This has changed the way I see the Word, changed the way I handle it. One sentence has weight. One phrase could be a landing place for days … or a week.

It sounds ethereal without boots.

Boots for me: Psalm 119.

For a year, I prayed through this Psalm for Nate, verse by verse, day by day. Each of the prayers I turned into prayers for him. Before that, they were prayers for me, and the year after, they were prayers for my children:

let me not wander from your commandments (v.10)

deal bountifully with me (v.17) 

take away from me scorn and contempt (v.22)

give me life according to your Word (v.25)

give me understanding (v.34)

let your steadfast love comfort me (v.76)

And on … there’s more—many more—in this one Psalm.

Growing deeper roots in God has meant both heart and practice for me. It does mean meditating on His Word on the days I don’t feel like it. But it’s also meant paying attention to my heart and asking why I don’t feel like it. (When my heart and mind meet His Word it’s not as neat and tidy as I might expect.)

So I can do both: cry through a hard season when I feel sluggish and cold and spend a few minutes, intermittently throughout my day praying a phrase of Scripture, letting it knock around in my head, forming thoughts about it that make it a part of my day.

I can meditate on His Word at 3pm on a drizzly, overcast Monday when my heart feels the same and admit that I’m wondering why God feels just as cloud-covered.

Tiny phrases when God feels cloud-covered - Sara Hagerty

And in doing so, I’ve learned this:  God is at His best in our lives not when we feel strong, but when we practice engaging with His Word in our weakness. When we allow His promises to intercept our thoughts, even the tiny phrases become powerful anchors that hold us fast, stilling our fears, calming our storms, and breathing hope into the dark or weary corners of our lives.

So I have meditated on Psalm 119 when I wake up earlier than my alarm clock and feel on top of the world (this is rare) and when I need two cups of caffeinated tea before I can think coherently.

I’ve lingered on it when my kids were thriving … and when my home felt disruptively painful.

I’ve written my prayers in the margin next to these verses that felt hopeful … and others that felt desperate.

Psalm 119 in my Bible has reflected a history of conversation with God through His Word. A messy history, a wrestling history, a meet-with-Him-when-I-don’t-feel-like-it history … where His Word slowly, steadily intercepts my thinking and my praying, and thus my life.

❤️

If you want to follow along with a hard copy of the tiny phrases we’ll be praying in July, click here to download the 31-Days of Prayer Calendar, which features bite-sized prayers adapted from my new book, Praying the Scriptures for Your Life.

31 Days of Prayer (Life)

(The calendar is available in color and in black-and-white; choose whichever version you prefer!)

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A Thanksgiving Present for You!

Happy Almost Thanksgiving!

I know I’m not a Monday email-er, but I’m sliding into your inbox today to kick off Thanksgiving week and let you know how much I appreciate YOU.

When we launched the 20th Anniversary Edition of Praying the Scriptures for Your Children, my publishing team tucked a set of Scripture prayer cards in with some of the very first copies of the book.

prayer cards

We had no idea how popular those cards would be, but once I realized how much people liked them, I asked the design folks if they could re-create the cards in a printable form so I could share them with our growing online friend group. I’m so incredibly grateful for your encouragement and support!

Click here to download the prayer cards on your laptop or home computer (the file is too big to work on a mobile device).

The set includes thirteen different 5″ x 7″ cards featuring topics like protection, diligence, kindness, salvation, and gratitude. I think they’d be fun tucked into napkins or hidden under plates at the Thanksgiving table–maybe as a “prayer prompt” folks can use to pray for the person seated to their right, if your crew is comfy with that.

Prayer Cards on Thanksgiving Table

Or, if you’re one of those squared-away people who is already done wrapping-and-tagging, the prayer cards make meaningful stocking stuffers (especially if you pray them over your children while Santa tucks the cards in with the gifts)!

Prayer Cards as Stocking Stuffer

If you’re looking for a thoughtful gift for a friend or a teacher, package all thirteen cards together with a little easel. I found this one on Amazon as part of a set of six; click here if that appeals.

Prayer Cards with gold easel

Or…just print the collection for yourself. 😊

And as you do, know that I have prayed each one of these prayers over you. I may not know all your names or your needs, but God does. I love knowing that you are on “the other side” of these emails, and that we can meet, as a friend of mine says, “on the bridge of prayer.”

I thank my God every time I remember you. (Philippians 1:3)

Much love,

Jodie

P.S. The prayer cards are meant as a thank you gift for email subscribers, but if you want to forward this note, that’s fine with me. Of course, I always love “meeting” new friends, so if you know someone who might like to receive these posts and prayer prompts (the emails show up once or twice a month on random Fridays), please invite them to subscribe. Thank you for sharing!

 

 

 

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A Prayer for the Already-Tired Teacher

Whether you’re a teacher, a parent, or a teacher-parent this year, you know what it’s like to grow weary.

Even if you’re just on Week One.

Tired Cat on First Week of School

And speaking of tired…

If you’ve read Praying the Scriptures for Your Childrenyou may remember the time when Hillary (then a first-grader) came home from school and told us that she thought her new teacher was a Christian.

“How can you tell?” I wanted to know.

“Because she prays.”

“She prays?” (Our kids attended the neighborhood public school; I didn’t think teachers were allowed to pray there – at least not out loud, where their students could hear. I needed details.)

“Yes Mom,” Hillary explained. “Almost every day she says, ‘Oh God, help me get through this day.’ But sometimes she just says, ‘Oh God,’ and puts her head down on her desk.

Prayers You Can Print

If that’s where you are today – praying that nobody gets COVID, that Zoom doesn’t crash, or even just that you’ll make it ’til lunchtime – can I just say “Thank you”? As someone whose own kids are grown, I can only imagine the challenges that younger parents and teachers are facing this year.

My all-time favorite teacher prayer comes from Galatians 6:9, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if they do not give up.”  This year, I’m combining that verse with two others – 2 Corinthians 9:8 and Titus 2:7-8 – and bundling them all into one “ask” for the educators, both the in-school ones and those teaching at home:

A Prayer for a Teacher

Want to print this card for yourself? Click here. (And if you’re feeling extra ambitious and want to add a few back-to-school prayers for the students, you’ll find a collection of my tried-and-true favorites here.)

Honestly though? If all you can muster this week is an “Oh God,” that’s okay. You just go ahead and put your head down on your desk.

We get it.

And those of us not in the teaching trenches will have you covered. ❤️

Heavenly Father,

Do not let our teachers (and teacher-parents) get tired of doing what is good. Remind them that, at just the right time, they will reap a harvest of blessing if they don’t give up. (Galatians 6:9 NLT)

Amen

Galatians 6:9 Teacher Prayer

 

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Teacher Appreciation Meets Mother’s Day

It’s Teacher Appreciation Week. To all the professional teachers out there:  Thank you. For now, and for always.

It’s also Mother’s Day. And to all you moms who’ve added “teacher” to your job description in recent weeks (months? is it years yet?):  Thank you, too.

Some of you seem to be crushing it on the homeschooling front. My pal Elizabeth, for example, adopts a British accent when she teaches her children.  (Maybe she thinks they won’t realize she’s Mom?)

"British" teacher doing school with her kids

And I loved the way that Caitlin, a California mom, put her own COVID spin on the traditional Presidential Physical Fitness Test:

 

Clever, right? (I was more than a little impressed.)

Hope for the Overwhelmed Teacher-Mom

Honestly, though? I’ve heard from plenty of you who don’t feel so creative. You feel overwhelmed. Over-tired. Over it. You couldn’t muster up a British accent to say “Shaken, not stirred,” much less to give a spelling test.

One precious young mom sent me this:

teacher question meme

If that’s where you are, can I just offer two bits of advice?

First, hang in there. Don’t give up. Get yourself an index card (even a fake teacher has those at home, right?) and post Galatians 6:9 on the fridge:

Let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.

Galatians 6:9 graphic

 

And second: Don’t compare your insides to somebody else’s outsides.

Seriously. That might be the best piece of parenting advice anybody ever gave me, when our kids were young. And it applies to pretty much everything, from your marriage to your job to your effectiveness as a freshly minted school teacher.

Life Lessons from Little League

If you’ve been around this blog for awhile, you may remember what happened back when I got drafted to coach Little League. Read that post here, if you want; the nutshell version is this:  I knew nothing at all about baseball, but that didn’t matter to my team, the Purple Wolves, at least not at first. We spent our practice time perfecting our cartwheels, working on our team cheer (a growl, paired with a threatening “wolf stance”), and honing our baseball-themed jokes (“Why did the sausage quit playing baseball? Because he was the wurst on his team”).

Life was pretty good. But then Game Day arrived.

I’d found a big old beach blanket so my team wouldn’t have to sit on the grass, and I’d packed what I thought was a strong lineup of snacks. My Wolves seemed pretty happy–until they looked across the field.

“Oh no…” one kid said.

I followed his gaze. The other team wasn’t seated just yet, but you could tell where they’d be. Every single one of the 14 spots in the opposing lineup was clearly marked on the ground by a carpet sample. A carpet sample! And on top of each tidy square sat a matching red water bottle, with a little baseball stopper on top.

“We’re gonna get killed!” a wolf moaned. A few others agreed. And fear spread through my team like wildfire.

Can I just interrupt myself here and let you know that this was tee-ball? If you know anything about tee-ball (and if you don’t, consider us friends), you know that nobody keeps score. You cannot lose. And you definitely cannot get killed. But try telling that to a bunch of kindergartners whose parents are stacked, three-deep, in lawn chairs on the sidelines. My Wolves had come ready to play…and yet they were already feeling defeated.

They had fallen prey to The Comparison Trap.

Watch Out for The Comparison Trap

We do the very same thing.

We can’t help it. We look across the fields of our lives (or our social media feeds) and see moms whose kids are smiling around the kitchen table, workbooks opened, pencils raised, and shirts (clean shirts!) buttoned correctly, while we sit there wondering if the corkscrew would make a good show-n-tell. Or if tracking the steps between the couch and the fridge counts as math.

You know? We can’t help it. We look around at how everyone else is coping with COVID-19 and we think to ourselves:  We don’t have what it takes.

We’re failing at this.

We’re gonna get killed.

We give insecurity a little foothold in our lives and then, like the Purple Wolves’ fear, it starts to spread.

Here’s the thing, though:  Anybody can look like they have their stuff all together, like they are leading a carpet-square life. And if we spend our time scrolling through what other people look like instead of focusing on who we really are—beloved children of God, whose power is made perfect when we are weak and whose grace equips us for every good work—we’ll be doomed. The comparison trap will feast on our joy and eat us alive.

So let’s not. Let’s stop looking across the field at the kids with their matching water bottles, and let’s look up instead. Let’s look at God.

Because He is looking at us. And, like the parents who turned out to watch the Purple Wolves play, He doesn’t care if his kids are sitting on carpet squares or a blanket.

He just wants us to know how much we are loved.

Heavenly Father,

Help me pay careful attention to my own work, getting satisfaction in a job well done, so that I won’t need to compare myself to anyone else. (Galatians 6:4)

Amen

❤️

And P.S., if you want a few prayers you can pray for a teacher (or, a-hem, for yourself), click here to download this printable card:

Teacher Prayer Printable

And if you’re looking for some fun new activities to incorporate into your daily routine, check out the FREE ebook from my friend Susan Yates. (I’m not sure the toilet paper fitness challenge is in there, but she’s got 100 other fantastic ideas!)

Cousin Camp eBook graphic

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The Most Life-Changing Habit for the New Year

Note:  This post appeared earlier this week on Club31Women. They’re featuring a “Fresh Start” series in January, with tips on everything from organizing your home (yes, please!), to meal-planning and parenting helps, to a 100-Day “Love You Better” Marriage Challenge in the New Year. Good stuff, all around!

 

The Most Life-Changing Habit for the New Year

Which habit do you want to carry into the next year?

We were three hours into a family car trip during the Christmas holidays when my daughter pulled that card out of the box. It was a good question. Looking ahead to 2020, which habit would I choose to continue?

My mind cataloged all the usual suspects:  Exercise. Organization. Healthy eating. Financial fitness. I’d made small gains in each of these areas in 2019, and I knew I wanted to keep honing those habits. None of them, though, felt particularly dynamic or productive, at least not in a life-shaping way. I kept thinking.

And I remembered a line from Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life:

“No other habit,” Warren wrote, “can do more to transform your life and make you more like Jesus than daily reflections on Scripture.”

Rick Warren, Scripture

 

Daily Reflections on Scripture

Daily reflections on Scripture. That was it. That was the single most valuable habit I wanted to carry into the new year. I don’t just want to read my Bible; I want to reflect it. To examine it. And to let it examine me – shaping my thoughts, my actions, and my conversations – so that my life dovetails with God’s designs, and so that my prayers line up with his purpose.

Which is, I think, what Jesus was getting at in John 15:7, when he made one of the most jaw-dropping statements in the Bible. “If you abide in me and my words abide in you,” he said, “ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” Put another way, what this promise means is that the more we allow Scripture to penetrate our hearts and our minds – pruning out the bad stuff and breathing life into what’s good – the more our desires (and our prayers) will reflect what God is already planning to do.

I can’t think of a better jumping-off place for 2020 than that.

And honestly? All of those other good habits and resolutions – from taking care of our bodies to managing money wisely – find their inspiration in Scripture. There is not a need we will face, a goal we can set, or a healthy discipline that we can practice that God has not already thought of, and provided for, in his word.

Effective time management? “Teach us to number our days so that we may get a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12)

Dealing with things like worry and fear? “Let us not be anxious or afraid, but instead cast our anxieties on you, knowing that you care for us.” (1 Peter 5:7)

Increasing your giving, or your kindness toward others? “Prompt us to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share.” (1 Timothy 6:18)

Those are just a few of the life-shaping prayer prompts we find in the Bible; there are countless more to discover. And the best part? The best part of Christ’s John 15:7 promise isn’t just the fact that we can ask for whatever we want. The best part is that when we take God up on his invitation – abiding in him, and letting his words abide in us – we get to live out John 15:8:  We bring glory to God. We become productive, fruit-bearing people. And we discover the security of knowing that we are Christ’s disciples, that we belong.

31-Day Prayer Habit

If you like the idea of reflecting on Scripture each day – of allowing God’s word to shape your perspective, as well as your prayers – can I invite you to join me in a 31-Day Prayer Challenge? Let’s kick off the new year by looking at the Bible not just as something to read, but as something to pray. Let’s allow the words that we read – words first spoken by God – to animate our conversations with him.

Any passage will do (because again, Scripture is full of transformational promises, principles, and prayer prompts), but if you’d like some help getting started, you can download a printable 31-day calendar here.

There’s a different verse for each day of the month, with topics ranging from relationship needs, to character qualities, to ways to develop and strengthen your faith. Pray through each day’s verse slowly, out loud if you can. And whether you’re praying for a family member, a friend, or yourself, try to return to the prayer several times during the day so that God’s word will take root and give birth to hope in your heart.

“My word,” God promises in Isaiah 55:11, “shall not return empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose.”

So which habit will you carry into the new year? I hope you’ll join me in letting the power of God’s word accomplish his very best plans in 2020, both in your life and in the lives of the people you love.

Heavenly Father,

May we delight in your word, meditating on it day and night, so that we will yield fruit in season and prosper in all that we do. (Psalm 1:1-3)

Amen

And P.S., if you want to know where we got the question game for our car trip, it was a tip from my son-in-law, Charlie, who saw it advertised on Instagram and thought, “That looks like a Berndt thing.” He was right. We loved it. And if you want your own game, you can order it here.

(There’s also a set designed just for couples…which Charlie got in his stocking this year. #Mother-in-Law Goals.) 😊

(I only recommend books and other products I really like on this site, and if you order via a link that I share, Amazon sends me a small commission…which, as you know, I almost always spend on more books so I can share the really good ones with you!)

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Grad Tip for Parents: Let God Pick Your Kid’s Career

 

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go.

It’s graduation season, and I can’t think of a more encouraging verse than Psalm 32:8. Whether our kids are headed to college, to new jobs, or into the great unknown, the whole “What’s next?” thing can be daunting! And as parents, our hearts can feel like a tangled mess of emotions:  pride of accomplishment, sadness over the chapter that’s closing, or even (particularly when we don’t know what the future holds) uncertainty, with maybe a little worry mixed in.

The pride and the sadness are both beautiful things; why else would 97% of all high school yearbooks and 29% of commencement speeches give the nod to Dr. Suess:  Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened?

The uncertainty thing, though, is not so much fun. And if that’s where you are (like, if your child needs a job), I’ve got three things that might help.

The first is something Virginia (who was a college senior at the time) told me, as we discussed her (still hazy) future. “Mom,” she said, “Research shows that 72% of college students don’t have a job lined up before graduation.”

I don’t know whether Virginia was right or not. A point in her favor is that she actually worked in U.Va.’s Career Services office, where she would have had access to numbers like that, but you have to stack that against the fact that she is her mother’s daughter, and statistics (like that bit about yearbooks and speeches) sometimes get made up on the spot. Either way, though, the data made me feel better. And if it helps you to repeat this 72% claim, you can say that you read it in a blog.

The second thing that can help is prayer. It’s not just that you get a “peaceful, easy feeling” when you pray for your child; it’s more that when we bring our sons and daughters before God, we really are making a difference. As Paul told the Corinthians“You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.” (Paul and his pals weren’t looking for work; they were more concerned with facing “deadly peril,” but the principle is the same. Our prayers matter.)

And finally, it can be good to remember the plan. We might not know what it is, but after praying (and yes, worrying) three kids through the job-hunting process, I’m finally coming to realize that God does. He knows exactly how our children are wired (Psalm 139:13-16); he’s already lined up good work for them to do (Ephesians 2:10); and he promises to instruct and counsel them in the way they should go (Psalm 32:8). Our job isn’t to worry or nag; our job–if we want to get on board with God’s plan–is simply to trust him.

So there you go: Repeat iffy statistics, pray for your kids, and trust God. And if you want help with tip #2, the folks at FaithGateway surprised me a few weeks ago when they sent word that they’d pulled a collection of prayers from the Adult Children book and created a beautiful “Praying for Your Graduate” resource for parents (click here to download):The guide includes 21 prayers, all neatly divided by seven so that you can pray one every day for three weeks.

Which, research shows, is about how long it takes for the average college grad to land his first job. 🙂

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