Harness The Power Of Complaining

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Have you ever resolved to stop complaining only to find that a few hours into the experiment it seems hopelessly impossible? I’ve been there many times.

I can’t promise you a cure for complaining, but I do have an idea that solves two problems with one act.

Are you good at keeping a diary? I somehow realized even early on that keeping a diary was something worthwhile but I never managed to keep up the habit.

My childhood diaries are little more than dates followed by profound observations like “Hi” and “Bye.” It didn’t make for an exciting friendship.

So if you ever wonder what you should write in a diary, here’s my tip.

Complain to your diary.

There is no better listener than the blank page. It won’t judge you too quickly or look bored. It will listen until you’ve found the words to express your worries and will not throw pithy solutions at you.

Simply writing down concerns feels good, but more often than not before I’ve finished writing a solution comes to mind. Even more complex problems are easier to analyze when they sit objectively in front of you in pen and ink.

So the next time you want to complain to a friend or dump on a spouse, grab a sheet of paper or an old notebook and retreat to a quiet spot long enough to get all your feeling out. You can always throw it away if you don’t want any record of your emotions lying around.

I still find it hard to make the time to journal enough and even harder to take the time to reread what I’ve written, but it’s always rewarding when I do. After a month goes by I hardly remember I even had those struggles and take improvement for granted – a surefire way to stay unhappy and stoke the urge to complain.

Reading about past troubles that are no longer issues is a wonderful way to naturally produce feelings of gratitude and hope.

 

And now an administrative note:

I’ll be taking the month of December off of blogging to refocus and plan for the next year. I’ll give the Blue Ocean Families concept one more year of increased effort to see if it’s something I should continue with, or shut down. If you appreciate what I do here or see potential for growth, please email me personally or use the contact form to share your thoughts and suggestions. Thanks, and have a wonderful December!

When Not To Take Advice

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How often do you receive parenting advice from well-meaning family, friends, and even strangers?

When my first was born it felt like I’d received a sticker on my forehead that said “New mom, criticize me.”

Strangers said I didn’t dress my baby warmly enough, friends gave me books saying I’d ruin my kid if I didn’t parent in a particular way, and comments from family that weren’t in the least meant critically would hurt.

I had received unsolicited advice before, but it ramped so quickly after having kids that I knew I’d have to come to terms with it somehow. I quickly learned I could never please everybody and I better find a way to make peace with critical comments.

Sometimes the advice made immediate sense in a kind of “Why didn’t I think of that?” moment. More often, the advice was at odds with something intentional I was doing. It was then that I would suddenly feel insecure.

I hit upon a simple and helpful question to ask every time a comment made me unsure of my path:

Has the person giving advice ever given me concrete, selfless, and timely help?

If the answer is “no,” then I’m free to listen to the comment graciously, say “thank you” and move on with my life without guilt.

If the answer is “yes,” then I need to take the time to consider the matter carefully.

In other words, listen to your mother.

But seriously, I’m not saying do whatever your told, my point is that only people who have sacrificed to invest in your life in a way that you personally find helpful and uplifting are the folks who are likely to have chosen their criticism carefully.

Advice is cheap and there is plenty of it spread around, but the folks who have invested in your life are to be treasured.

I’m not a puppet of those that help me, I just take what they have to say seriously and take the time to wrestle with their ideas.

Where this question is most helpful is when a comment is bothering me that really shouldn’t. The comments of haters on the internet is perfect example.

Somehow these comments hurt, but they are not based in reality – or only in a twisted way – and though we all know haters aren’t worth arguing with, their comments still hurt.

This question helps me see the matter more concretely and reminds me to turn to the faithful few in my life for perspective and advice and not to be blown by the winds of opinion.

If we set out to build a family culture according to our deepest values then we will bump up against established norms and ruffle feathers and get criticism. We need to stay calm, gracious, and confident in such exchanges and bounce right back again.

I hope this question helps you the next time you feel oppressed by negativity!

The Fear of Being Different

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TED lectures are a great way to wake up my mind when my body wants to go back to sleep in the morning. The other day my brain went crazy with all the implications from Kelli Jean Drinkwater’s 12 minute talk at TEDxSydney.

“Fear is feeding the diet industry, which is keeping so many of us from making peace with our own bodies, for waiting to be the after-photo before we truly start to live our lives.”

Waiting for the after-photo before we truly start to live our lives . . .

How often do we let our deep desire for the end result keep us from making the journey?

“Once I get the housework under control I’ll start inviting people over more.”

“Once the kids are in school I’ll have time to start an Esty shop.”

“Once my To-Do list is done I’ll build an awesome family culture.”

I’m sure you have your own list of dreams you aren’t working towards because you don’t have the resources, the time, or the know-how you think you need to get started.

But worst of all, waiting for the after-photo means we don’t see ourselves as worthy enough to live the lives of meaning we desperately want.

“I’m not worthy of dinner guests when the floors aren’t vacuumed and the walls are bare.”

“I’m not worthy of doing the work that matters to me until I’ve done the work everyone else wants me to do.”

It’s hard to be different

In a way these excuses keep us safe, because if we start building a family culture based on our values whether or not they match those of society around us, we’re going to meet resistance and even outright hostility.

“I soon learned that living outside what the mainstream considers normal can be a frustrating and isolating place. I’ve been openly laughed at, abused from passing cars and been told that I’m delusional. I also receive smiles from strangers who recognize what it takes to walk down the street with a spring in your step and your head held high.” -Drinkwater

If we fear what our neighbors, friends, and strangers on the street will think if we start living our dreams, imagine what the internet could do to us!

There’s no way around it. If we say anything about how we are different on-line we will receive hate mail.

Crawling back to bed sounds like a good idea until we realize that absolutely no one can wear the straightjacket of “normal” all the time. Some of us fit it much of the time, some of us can’t fit in it at all, but no matter how you live, people will comment.

So we might as well relax, have pithy polite responses to the comments we get all the time and stay at peace knowing that it’s not about us.

It’s not about you

Our differences might be the target of the comment, but the comment comes from a place of personal insecurity.

If I’m happy with my white walls I don’t have to comment on how much work it must be to paint all the walls when I visit a friend’s colorful house. But if I think I ought to paint my walls and put up curtains, then a well-decorated house will intimidate me.

If I haven’t made up my mind whether I really care about wall color and curtains or not, then I’m even more susceptible to saying something that might seem critical when it’s really about me, my own house, and my own insecurities.

This happens to be a live example and I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit it, but I think we all have areas in our lives like this.

Find Peace for yourself

The best antidote I’ve found to quieting these insecurities (besides prayer) is to make sure I am doing my most valuable work and using my time for things that matter most.

Then at the end of the week we I see all that I haven’t done, I know that I was living according to my values.

It might be frustrating how slow progress seems to be, but knowing I was in the right place going the right direction gives me peace about those things that have not yet happened, like beautiful walls.

I hope you can see that sometimes we’re on the other side of thoughtless and hurtful comments and that it can help you tempter the hurt of negative comments. It’s not about you. Let it go.

As one 12-year-old TED lecturer said, “hater’s gonna hate.”

We can never please everybody, so let’s stop waiting for the perfect “after-photo” version of ourselves and start living our lives!

“Easy to say”, I hear you thinking. I know it’s not that easy to live.

Thin or healthy?

“I’ve even been called “the ISIS of the obesity epidemic” — a comment so absurd that it is funny. But it also speaks to the panic, the literal terror, that the fear of fat can evoke. It is this fear that’s feeding the diet industry, which is keeping so many of us from making peace with our own bodies, for waiting to be the after-photo before we truly start to live our lives.” -Drinkwater

I’ve disliked Trim Healthy Mama (a diet cookbook that seems to be in right now) from the time it came out and haven’t known exactly why, but this talk helped me see into my own insecurities.

The title implies that the only way to be healthy is to be trim and the only way to be a mama is to be healthy and trim. I’m pretty sure my kids don’t care if I’m trim – actually I know they love a cuddly mama.

I also remember my college days where I spent countless hours hating my body and swinging wildly from diets to binging. I never want to go back to that wasteland again.

God made food for our health and our pleasure but he warned about being a glutton. Our society may have neglected the Bible but it still despises the glutton.

“We live in a culture where being fat is seen as being a bad person — lazy, greedy, unhealthy, irresponsible and morally suspect. And we tend to see thinness as being universally good — responsible, successful, and in control of our appetites, bodies and lives.” -Drinkwater

The idol of thin

When we focus on the end result – being thin – we get distortions, like the claim that you can drink all you want of the Trim Healthy Mama shake and still lose weight. In other words, “be a glutton, and still believe you have self-control.”

To be clear, I am sure Trim Healthy Mama and other diet books have helped people and that they can be used wisely, but a focus on thin can lead to the worship of something other than God: our own body image.

Other factors are much more important to our health that our weight and measurements.  Do I have the energy to get through the day?  Am I flexible enough to get down on the floor and wrestle with the kids?  Can I kick a soccer ball around with my kids without gasping for breath?  Do I partake of God’s gift of food with thankfulness?  Do I enjoy the pleasure of movement and dance?  Do I have the self-control to temper the appetites of my heart?

Why am I writing about diet and health on a family culture blog?

Because views about body image and self-worth are passed on primarily in the family. It is in the sphere of family that children first pick up the idea that they need to wait for the “after-photo” before they can start living their lives.

However unworthy we feel, surely our children deserve better? If we want it for our children, we need to live it ourselves. Our actions speak louder than words.

You are loved the way you are, now go and do your most meaningful work!

The Antidote To The Checklisted Childhood: Raising Self-Directed Learners

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How often do you read something that convicts you as a parent but fails to provide sufficient help on how to change?

It happens to me all the time. I can see problems myself, people, what I need is help and solutions!

I recently watch this engaging TED lecture about How to raise successful kids – without over-parenting.

Julie Lythcott-Haims’ critique is good, but her solutions just scratch the surface.

She points out that over-parenting sends the kids the message “Hey kid, I don’t think you can actually achieve any of this without me.”

“[O]ur overhelp, our overprotection and overdirection and hand-holding, deprives our kids of the chance to build self-efficacy, which is a really fundamental tenet of the human psyche, far more important than that self-esteem they get every time we applaud.

“Self-efficacy is built when one sees that one’s own actions lead to outcomes, not one’s parents’ actions on one’s behalf, but when one’s own actions lead to outcomes.

“So simply put, if our children are to develop self-efficacy, and they must, then they have to do a whole lot more of the thinking, planning, deciding, doing, hoping, coping, trial and error, dreaming and experiencing of life for themselves.”

So if we shouldn’t micromanage and limit our kids to the checklist of things that we personally deem as important in life, what should we do?

“[A]m I saying every kid is hard-working and motivated and doesn’t need a parent’s involvement or interest in their lives, and we should just back off and let go? Hell no.

“What I’m saying is, we should be less concerned with the specific set of colleges they might be able to apply to or might get into and far more concerned that they have the habits, the mindset, the skill set, the wellness, to be successful wherever they go.”

But how?

In her talk, Julie Lythcott-Haims goes on to discuss the importance of kids doing chores and parents providing unconditional love, and that’s a very good start.

But does requiring chores train kids to “think, plan, decide, do, hope, and cope” or develop the “habits, mindset, skills set, and wellness” necessary for success?

That’s asking a lot of chores.

Happily, this time I won’t just leave you with questions, I can point you to a resource that addresses this very question of how we train our kids in their self-efficacy so they become makers, dreamers, and doers full of hope and grit and ready for success wherever they are.

And you can buy it from me for just $987! – JUST KIDDING!

This stuff is so valuable it should be available to every parent, and it is.

Lori Pickert writes at Camp Creek blog and volunteers countless hours to help parents learn to be mentors in their children’s self-directed learning.

She has a book that explains her ideas and gives concrete steps on how to start NOW wherever you are, whoever you are, whoever your kids are, whatever your budget.

She is also one of the most encouraging people I’ve ever met. Her standards are high, but she believes everyone can take that next step toward raising self-directed learners.

The book is Project-Based Homeschooling, and don’t let any word in that title intimidate you. The book is about how to support that part of your child’s life that he or she is in control of, and you as the parent gets to decide how big that part is – this is not about letting go of all control or giving your kid one type of education!

Lori’s book explains how to be a supportive mentor in the work your child does apart from the checklist you give him.

There’s nothing wrong with a checklist. Put chores on the checklist, put hiking or family time or whatever aligns with your deepest values on the checklist, but make sure you pay attention to, appreciate, and encourage the work your child does apart from the checklist.

When you learn to appreciate your child’s work and see how important you are in supporting it, it will be much easier to know how to cull the checklist so you don’t ruin your child with the “checklisted childhood”.

So don’t worry about your lengthy checklist now, just do the next right thing.  Skim the blog, read the book. Contemplate how the ideas might fit well with your situation and family life.

Remember, you are in charge, you are wiser and more knowledgeable than your child in many things – but not everything.

Then let’s enjoy the journey! It’s anything but easy and well-defined, but it is every bit as exciting as a great adventure story!

“My job is not to make [my children] become what I would have them become, but to support them in becoming their glorious selves.” – Julie Lythcott-Haims

Full disclosure: I write this of my own free will and won’t earn a cent from it. Lori’s ideas have challenged and encouraged me like no other so I’m happy to pass them on!

An Experiment In Obedience

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We are three weeks into a six-week experiment with training our kids in the habit of obedience.

I prefer to secure the child’s will, give him lots of choice within boundaries, and give him time and space to make a decision. But sometimes a child just needs to obey because a parent knows better.

Our kids weren’t bad about obeying, but sometimes it took some convincing. Convincing takes time that we sometimes do not have.

Then I ran into this quote,

“Tardy, unwilling, occasional obedience is hardly worth the having; and it is greatly easier to give the child the habit of perfect obedience by never allowing him in anything else, than it is to obtain this mere formal obedience by constant exercise of authority.” Charlotte Mason

Over time we’ve tried various methods to “exercise our authority,” but no matter what the method used, Ms. Mason is right, it’s a terrible burden.

What does “never allowing him in anything else” mean? Charlotte Mason suggests taking six weeks to train a new habit and she views obedience as a habit.

Six weeks sounds excruciatingly long to work on one thing, but it sounds blissfully short if it means never struggling with our kids over obedience again.

I won’t go into all the details, partly because I don’t like to make suggestions when an idea has not stood the test of time, but here’s a little bit of what we’ve discovered along the way.

Week 1

We saw lots of progress in the first week. I was thrilled to have obedience be a positive interaction with my kids. Since we all discussed the new idea and the advantages it would bring, they were eager to be on board.

I yelled much less, we all celebrated when a child was prompt, cheerful, and lasting in his obedience, and often it only took one child to obey promptly and receive praise to inspire the others to do so, too.

At the end of each day I was exhausted, but not worn out and frustrated, just exhausted like I’d done a hard day’s labor – and I had!

It was work to not give out too many commands, interrupt my work to be sure my command would be heard and obeyed, deal calmly and firmly when someone did disobey, and find my way in this new experiment.

Toward the end of the week the kids rebelled a bit, as if to say, “That was a fun experiment, Mom, but can we go back to doing things our own way when we feel like it?”

It was the first sign that maybe six weeks are necessary. Normally I revel in the success and start to coast. I coast until I wake up one day later and realize I’ve coasted right back to where we were before.

Week 2

We’d been fooled to thinking our work was mostly done because we’d seen so much fruit, but week two revealed that my husband and I weren’t fully on the same page. When he was lax, I was more likely to be lax and we all fell back into old habitual ways.

We had to work details out and remotivate ourselves.

We read through our list of motivations for this obedience experiment that we’d made at the start. We discussed the advantages with our kids again. Obedience brings liberty. Mom and Dad yell less. Not yelling was probably the biggest reason for us all.

We struggled this week, but we got back on track.

Week 3

We’re finding our rhythm. Stephan and I still have to find full alignment, but it’s getting easier for us all to require and deliver obedience.

The house is a bit of a mess. In order to train the habit of obedience, I haven’t been nagging about everything, which means pick-up time hasn’t happened because I’ve wanted to avoid an obedience fight over it.

Yesterday I asked Vivienne to pick up the beads that were scattered all over the floor and to tell her siblings to help as well. She said, “Oh yes, Mommy!” with a smile and ran off.

Stephan and I nearly fainted. Is Charlotte Mason right? Can obedience really become such a habit that it is really no great effort for the child?

I don’t know. This time Stephan went in to help them all pick up and keep a positive atmosphere, but such help in the past would not have been enough to prevent the kids from whining and complaining about the difficulty of the task.

This week I’ll try making more frequent requests for small pick-up tasks and see how it goes.

At this point, three more weeks doesn’t sound horribly long and I’m starting to hope that we really have habitual happy obedience at the end of it!

Have you ever focused on one aspect of parenting over a long period of time? If so, how did it go? If not, why not? The idea is new to me, so please share!

Living in the Moment

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For a long time now I’ve been trying to live more in the moment.

I want to enjoy my family and not be worried about tomorrow or stuck in the past.

Why is it so hard?

Then it hit me: I DO live in the moment. I’m actually very good at it.

“When is this stupid red light going to change?” “Look at the traffic!” “Come on, go already!”

Waiting for my d e l i b e r a t e and s u p e r  s l o w preschooler to put on his shoes is an exercise in torture. It feels like an eternity.

Isn’t that what living in the moment is? Being so present that now feels like all there is?

Maybe living in the moment isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

When I’m razor focused on the most obvious thing in the moment, I often miss the important.

When I focus on my son’s task of putting on his shoes, I’m blind to him as a person, to the beauty of nature outdoors, to appreciating how the older ones have learned to get themselves ready and out the door on their own.

I’m so focused on the task at hand that eternity of the moment is forgotten.

C.S. Lewis wrote, “the present is the point at which time touches eternity.”

But surely that red light will not be there in eternity.

Maybe living in the moment means focusing on the part of the moment that is eternal: the good, the true, and the beautiful.

Not the shoes, but the boy-turning-man.

Not the traffic, but the people I’m with.

Not my problems and my troubles, but the blessings I’m thoughtlessly taking for granted.

Maybe planning the future and reflecting on the past aren’t the enemies of living in the moment, but rather a way to use the present to connect with the eternal parts of the past and the future.

Or maybe planning and problem solving are only helpful in that they make the path smoother so we can focus more on the eternal part of the present moment.

I can’t enjoy my son as a person when we started to get ready too late.

Or can I?

Can I still enjoy the scenery when we’re late and in traffic?

Only if joy is a higher priority than punctuality.

Ouch. I want to be joyful and punctual, but if I have to choose . . . I usually choose being pissed off because we failed to be punctual.

Like I wrote last week, I’m no longer pretending I have more solutions than questions, so this is where my thoughts end and yours begin!

An Effortless Way to Improve Your Family Culture Almost Instantly: The Final Key To Replacing Limiting Beliefs With Liberating Truths

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Two weeks ago we came up with liberating truths to replace the limiting beliefs we sometimes unconsciously hold about our families.

I know how transformative this kind of shift in thinking can be the idea seemed to resonate with readers, too.

But can you recite any of those liberating truths right now?

If you’re like me, you either can’t remember or it took quite a bit of mental effort to dig up those thoughts from so long ago.

How often in my life have I learned something so exciting and seemingly simple that I think I’ll never forget it, only to have it fade from consciousness in a matter of days?

New ideas won’t help us unless we take action, but when our to-do lists are already oppressive, that’s not welcome news.

Luckily there’s a very easy way we can all take action to remember our liberating truths and allow them to shape our lives for the better.

I learned the idea from B.J. Fogg and his Tiny Habits method. You can take a free on-line class from him, but the basic idea is simple (and therefore deceptively easy to forget . . .)

  1. Pick a trigger that you do automatically every day without much thought.
  2. Pick an action that is easy super easy and takes 30 seconds or less.
  3. Rehearse the trigger-action in your mind so you form a few pathway in your brain.
  4. After a week of trying your new tiny habit, review and see if it worked or if you need to revise one of the elements.

Step four is the hardest because you have to remember to check if your tiny habit is working. If the tiny habit is a good fit, you’ll have formed a new healthy habit in less than a week with very little effort.

If it’s not a habit yet then don’t blame yourself for not acting on it, but admit that you didn’t pick the best fit. Tweak one of the elements and try again.

It’s not true that any habit takes 20 or more days to form. It depends on the habit and the trigger.

I propose that reciting one liberating truth is a super easy action that definitely take less than 30 seconds.

Now the trick is to find a good trigger. Here are some examples.

  • After I brush my teeth I will recite one liberating truth.
  • After my feet hit the floor in the morning I will recite . . .
  • After my alarm goes off I will . . .
  • After I hear the footsteps of the first child awake in the morning I will . . .
  • After I’ve left the room from putting the kids to bed . . .
  • After I’ve poured my coffee . . .
  • After I’ve flushed the toilet . . .

Toilet humor is funny because the subject is universal. So toilets will serve as a good example for tiny habit formation.

Flushing the toilet is something we do automatically even when we have very little time. Even when the kids are calling for Mommy (because the Mom on the pot is their trigger to need help, right?) you still take time to flush the toilet.

After flushing the toilet and either washing your hands in leisure (if you’re lucky) or rushing off to see the damage, there is enough mental space for you to remember your tiny habit and act on it at the same time as carrying on with your life.

Can it get any easier?

Still, there is one more way to help the tiny habit take a firm hold: celebrate your accomplishment.

This part is always hard for me since the action is so super simple I feel stupid celebrating, but it’s scientifically documented as important for getting the brain re-wired.

So after you accomplish your goal (even if it’s as simple as reciting a sentence) give a fist pump or do a little silly dance, or celebrate in an equally small, but encouraging way. (Keep it simple or your celebration will take more effort than your tiny habit!)

Note that toilet flushing has nothing to do with a good family life (well, unless you have a forgetful child . . .). You might think that reciting the liberating truth would be good to do when you are experience a negative emotion toward your family.

The trouble is that we don’t think clearly when we’re upset, and being upset is not a precise trigger – nor one we want to practice! In my experience, the more unrelated the trigger, the better it works.

Here’s your simple action plan for today:

  1. Find where you wrote down your liberating truths and pick one, or make up a new one now.
  2. Pick a trigger that you think might work for you. (Don’t obsess about it.)
  3. Rehearse your new tiny habit using this form “After I . . . I will . . .” saying it out loud to yourself at least 10 times.
  4. Don’t worry about remembering to check how it’s working – I’ll do that for you in the next post.

DO NOT put this on your to-do list. Either do it now – it will only take 5 minutes! Or decide guilt-free that it’s not for you.

I look forward to hearing how it went for you!

Culture Making Part XIII: The Powerful Alongside the Powerless

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Today I’ll wrap up the Culture Making series. There is so much more in the book, especially for Christians, but I think the series has gone on long enough and it’s high time we got back to practical applications.

As promised, I’ll share an inspiring example of the powerful working alongside – and not on behalf of – the poorest of the poor, and then share a few quotes to give you a taste of what treasures await you if you read Andy Crouch’s book.

Surprising Life in a Garbage Dump

“When I feel frustrated with the limits of my cultural power, as I do more often than I would like to admit, I like to think about the inhabitants of Smokey Mountain [a garbage dump in Manila]. . . There is no reason to think that they have any less innate capacity for cultivation and creativity than any other group of human beings made in God’s image, but they were born in a place where, instead of cultural goods being proposed and going on to reshape their world, the detritus of culture is brought to decompose and die.”

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has tried to increase my gratitude by thinking of those less fortunate than myself, but Crouch takes a surprising turn:

“I know just enough about this community to know that they neither need nor want my pity. In 1980 a Catholic priest named Father Ben relocated to Smokey Mountain from the seminary where he was a promising young scholar. He brought the residents there the good news about Jesus. And he began to instill in them the confidence that God had not forgotten them – indeed, that God was ready to breathe life into their efforts at making a better life for their families. The community of garbage-dump workers persuaded the city to provide them with water and electric services. They have built modest but dignified concrete homes at the edge of the dump, replacing shacks of cardboard and tin. They even built a community center where children play games and older people gather to pass the time.”

“The residents of the Manila garbage dump are not primarily a moral object lesson in my relative affluence. Rather, they are a reminder of the inexhaustible human capacity to cultivate and create.”

Good News To The Poor

“Perhaps that is the truest sense of the “good news to the poor” that Jesus came to proclaim: the poor are not as poor as they, and we, think they are. The creative God of history has made his resurrection power available to them. He has made his power available to us if we will become poor in spirit – no longer simply accumulating power but freely sharing it.”

“When we put our power [to other’s] service, we unlock their creative capacity without in any way diminishing our own – and in this way, spending power is very different from spending money. When we transfer money to another person, their net worth increases while our s decreases, but the power to create cultural goods rarely has this zero-sum quality.”

This goes for spending our power alongside our children, too. It in no way diminishes our own power and authority. If it does, we’re probably not giving them power to create, but power to destroy.

Where Do You Have Power?

As a foreigner, I lack a certain kind cultural power, and I know what a blessing it is to have someone come alongside me with their cultural power to allow me to unleash my creativity in a land that was not originally my own. Most people who serve me in this way probably aren’t even aware of it or what an impact it has on me (husband, are you listening? Thanks!)

In the same way, the power we take for granted could have a huge impact if we spend it alongside those who don’t have that particular kind of power.

Still don’t think you have any power? Think of it this way:

“Most of us have experienced being in a context where our jokes were funny, our ideas provoked interest and excitement, and we felt light and quick on our feet, able to realize our vision with little sense of friction – and then being in another context where the same jokes and ideas fell completely flat and we found ourselves tongue-tied and embarrassed. The difference was, in a word, power. Power, in this sense, is deeply and absolutely dependent on the nature of the particular public we find ourselves among . . . To leave the circle of one’s power is a deeply, existentially unsettling experience.

I’m tempted to say “See how hard life is for us expats!” but that would defeat the point that everyone, everywhere has some kind of power even if it’s not where we want it most.

“Honestly and gratefully assessing where we already have cultural power is also an essential antidote to the futile process of desperately trying to amass more.”

With whom am I sharing my power?

So let’s ask ourselves, “How can I become a steward, investing my cultural power in the dreams and plans of those with less cultural power than myself?”

Culture Always Starts Small

“No matter how many it goes on to affect, culture always starts small. And this means that no matter how complex and extensive the cultural system you may consider, the only way it will be changed is by an absolutely small group of people who innovate and create a new cultural good.”

“When I was twenty-nine I was just beginning the most important cultural calling of my life, shaping the culture of a family that today includes just four people, which, if we are blessed, will widen over the generations, just as my family of origin began with four but now cannot even fit around the large dining table in my parents’ home. Scaling down can be as important as scaling up – I never expect to have better partners in shaping culture than [my wife and children]. Small things can become greater over time – those who are faithful with little are sometimes, just as Jesus said, given the chance to be faithful with much – but small communities can always create things that are out of reach of wider, thinner network.”

 

Bonus quotes for Christians:

“To be Christian is to stake our lives on this belief: the only cultural goods that ultimately matter are the ones that love creates.”

“Grace is for the poor in spirit, and the disciplines bring us, no matter our ascribed power or actual wealth, to keen awareness of our fundamental poverty.”

“Any experienced farmer can inspect the ground, note where the path, rocks and weeds are, and direct his attention to the best soil. But there is no way to similarly inspect the human heart. . . . What we can do, however, is pay careful attention to the fruit of our cultural work. Do we see a divine multiplication at work after we have done our best? Does a riotous abundance of grain spring up from a tiny, compact seed? This is grace: unearned, unexpected abundance that can leave us dizzy with joy. It is a return on investment that exceeds anything we could explain by our own effectiveness or efforts.”

To me this describes work in the home perfectly. It isn’t efficient or glamorous, but it yields this kind of dizzying abundance that can’t be fully explained or quantified – and the joy, oh the moments of joy!

“So where are we called to create culture? At the intersection of grace and the cross. Where do we find our work and play bearing awe-inspiring fruit – and at the same time find ourselves able to identify with Christ on the cross? That intersection is where we are called to dig into the dirt, cultivate and create. . . For my friend Elizabeth the intersection of grace and cross is found in raising three children who sometimes tax her to the very limit, creating a family culture of forgiveness, play and prayer.”

What we create in the family cannot be accomplished by schools, social work, government programs, or any other organization or network the world can offer.

Soldier on, my friends! It’s a great secret that what we make in the home cannot be made anywhere else and is of utmost importance.