Managing Worry and Anxiety

If anything can cause someone to worry or become anxious, it is parenting. Yet one of the most common phrases in scripture is “Fear not.” God knows our fallen world can be a scary place, but He wants us to not live our lives constantly wrapped in a blanket of fear. He wants us to put our trust in Him and fear not.

What do you do though when you can’t seem to shake those worries and anxieties? Managing Worry and Anxiety by Jean Holthaus LISW, LMSW addresses that very question. The book reads somewhat like a textbook on worry and anxiety – covering brain science and other secular basics of the problem.

Once she moves into the practical solutions part of the book, she addresses the faith aspects along with familiar secular solutions. The faith piece of the book is practical without being the type of book that can feel more emotional than helpful. It’s also not intended to be a Bible study. There are few specific scripture references, although she does refer to God, faith and a few verses.

The author shares some personal experiences in the book, but the book doesn’t read like a story. Rather, she uses her experiences to give specific examples of some of the points she is making.

Much of the information in the book will be familiar to anyone who has done any reading on brain science, anxiety or worry. She did have several practical suggestions though, that I hadn’t seen before. For some, those suggestions could make it worth reading.

This book is a solid introduction to worry and anxiety for Christians. It incorporates faith without laying blame or adding unnecessary guilt to the equation. If you are attempting to understand anxiety and want some practical tools to try, this is a good book to read.

This book was given to me for free in exchange for my honest review.

Finding Community in Christian Parenting

I recently was added to one of those online communities where everyone is asked to introduce themselves. Woman after woman seemed to share a heart filled with loneliness. They were different ages and in different life circumstances. They were from all over the world, but they all longed for meaningful Christian community.

Parenting has some tough moments – and that’s when you don’t encounter additional challenges. Christian parenting is even more difficult. You are trying to parent in counter cultural ways because you understand the parenting choices you make can impact your child’s spiritual life. As any teen can tell you, going against the crowd can feel very lonely at times.

Perhaps it seems like your life has been an unending string of lonely parenting moments. It doesn’t have to be that way. God created Christian community to help us through those lonely times – whatever the cause.

At times though, tapping into that community can appear more difficult than climbing Mt. Everest. Perhaps you have been praying that God will bring you the community you so desperately want and need. There are things you can do to scale that metaphorical mountain and find that supportive Christian community. God will be there to guide you, but He may want you to grow in your ability to create connections with others by trying some of these tips.

  • Find a church home. It’s hard to find Christian community when you don’t stay in one place for very long. No church is perfect – even the ones that seem that way at first. Find one that teaches the Bible as accurately as possible and make a home there.
  • Make yourself at home in your church. Attend regularly, introduce yourself, engage in conversations with people whose names you can’t seem to remember yet. Attend classes and small groups. Volunteer to serve in a ministry. All of these will give you opportunities to connect to fellow Christians.
  • Look outside the box. Don’t just look for friends who are exactly like you. Sometimes the most supportive, helpful friendships are with people different from us. They bring a unique perspective to our experiences. People just like us tend to get stuck in the same places we get stuck. We often learn more from people who are older and have gotten to the other side of those things with which we are currently struggling. Younger friends can often bring a bit of carefree joy back to our lives. People from other places may have tips we would never hear from people who have been in the same place for decades.
  • Be brave and ask. If you see someone you think is interesting or wise, ask her to lunch or coffee. Most adults are in their own routines. They don’t think about looking for new friends, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want new friends. It is rare to have someone approach anyone they barely know and seek a chance to fellowship and get to know one another. So don’t wait – initiate.
  • Don’t take rejection personally. Since these are often people we don’t know very well, you probably don’t know their responsibilities and struggles. They may be overwhelmed and need help themselves. It is not a reflection on you or your value. Try again later or move on to the next person.
  • Give it time. Occasionally you will bond with someone you just met as if you have been best friends for years. Most of the time, it takes time spent together and sharing experiences and hearts to build a friendship.
  • Be okay with different levels of relationship. You may have one woman who is your advice person. For many reasons, you will never be best friends, but she is available when you need advice and gives godly advice. That’s okay. You can have acquaintances, friends, activity friends, best friends and a host of other types of relationships. All will ease your loneliness and give you some of the Christian community you need.
  • Accept disagreements and practice forgiveness. It’s rare that even the best of friends agree on everything. People who spend a lot of time together can get on each other’s nerves at times. Disagreements are not a reason to end a friendship. Forgiveness is crucial. Yes, there are rare instances when a friendship becomes toxic and you may have to spend less time with that person. In general though, think of your friendships as a way to improve in showing others agape love and practicing forgiveness.

God doesn’t want His people to be lonely. Remember how He created Eve so Adam wouldn’t be lonely? Escaping loneliness will probably take some effort on your part. Having those godly friends who encourage you in your Christian parenting journey makes any work seem worth it. Don’t let Satan continue to discourage you with loneliness.

Fun Ways to Teach Kids Empathy

Empathy is crucial for showing God’s love – especially to people who may seem difficult to love. Kids are often naturally empathetic, but as they get older, empathy can begin to fade. Children with certain special needs or with trauma in their past, may also find empathy difficult.

Regardless of how empathetic your kids are currently, there are some fun things you can do to help them become more empathetic.

  • Act it out. This is especially helpful for young children or children who struggle reading facial cues or noticing when words, facial expressions and body language don’t match. Take turns making facial expressions and having the others guess your emotion. For older kids you might want to have a variety of emotions written on slips of paper and players draw a slip with an emotion to portray when it is their turn. Make the game more difficult by making your body language reveal the true emotion while your face is trying to suppress the real emotion. Or don’t show the face at all and have them guess only from body language.
  • Practice with photos. Grab old family photos, or cut out pictures from magazines. Ask your kids to name the emotions the person may be feeling. If they struggle, give them clues of things to notice, like facial expressions. As they become more adept at the game, turn the sound off on your television and choose random shows. Have them guess how emotions are shifting as people converse.
  • Read books together. As you read a picture book, ask your kids what they think the characters are feeling. Have them share why they chose the emotions they did. Eventually, you may be able to ask them what they think the characters will do next based on their current emotional state. With upper elementary kids and teens, consider reading books like Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper that were written to encourage empathy. Or you can choose any book where people experience a range of emotions. Then talk about how various people in the book must have felt at different points.
  • Examine the life of Jesus. Read the various stories in the life of Jesus. Ask your kids to point out when they believe Jesus is showing empathy. Why do they think he is empathetic in that situation? What emotions is he seeing in the other people? Do their words and actions always make their emotional state obvious? How does Jesus treat them when he is showing empathy?
  • Write empathetic backstories. You don’t necessarily need to actually write these stories down. The purpose is to encourage your kids to think of reasons why people make the choices they do. Focus on getting them to develop benign backstories – the person was having a tough day versus the person has a heart filled with hate. The goal is to get your kids in the habit of giving people the benefit of the doubt, rather than jumping to the most negative possibility.
  • Encourage verbalizing emotions. It’s important for your kids to understand their words and actions can impact the emotions of others. They need to know mom and dad can get their feelings hurt, too. Teaching them to verbalize emotions in appropriate ways can also decrease the problems that can happen when people make incorrect guesses about the emotions of others.
  • On vacations to new places, go where the “regular” people live. Many tourist spots try to give visitors a fantasy experience. They want you to believe life there is perfect. Unfortunately, in many places the reality can be harsh. If you live in an area where it is rare to encounter anyone who is different than your family, this is especially important. Your kids need to see a broad spectrum of what people might experience in life.
  • Encourage people to tell your kids their stories. We attended church with this “little old lady” in her 90’s. The kids were so amazed to hear her stories of working at a fast food restaurant in her 90’s and having dinner with the Shah of Iran – complete with fussing at him – when she was younger and temporarily living in Iran with her husband. They didn’t know who the Shah of Iran was, but it made them look at sweet Miss Emma in an entirely different way!

Teaching your kids to have empathy towards others is part of teaching them how to reflect God’s love accurately. It’s worth your time and effort to help them develop true empathy for those around them.

Top Tips for Raising Empathetic Kids

“You just shouldn’t treat people that way,” the clerk muttered as I stepped up to the desk. I asked if the previous customer had been rude to her. “No,” she replied, “It was a co-worker who chose to assume the worst about me and never considered it might not be true. Not to mention, she was really ugly to me in the process. My feelings were of no concern to her.”

I could feel her pain. I had been through a similar experience recently. Why do people always seem to assign the worst possible motives to others – even if there is no evidence that was indeed their motive? Why do they believe they don’t need the full story before rushing to judgment? Why do they feel justified in whatever they choose to say or do if someone has made them unhappy in some way?

The truth lies in empathy, love and forgiveness – three character traits modeled perfectly by Jesus during his life on earth. Unfortunately, we don’t always model Jesus as closely as we could in those attributes. Let’s be honest, it can feel a little good to unload all of your frustrations about life onto someone who you believe has wronged you. They become symbolic of everyone who has ever hurt you.

Sadly, we pass our poor attitudes and behaviors on to our children We may not actively tell them to forget about empathy, love and forgiveness. If they see us do it frequently, however, they learn that lesson well.

How can we teach our kids to be more like Jesus? In many ways it starts with empathy – the ability to understand how others feel in a situation. It’s what Jesus modeled in the feeding of the 4000 and many other times in his ministry. Teaching your kids to be empathetic begins with all of you remembering and practicing some empathy basics.

  • Empathy takes intentionality. To be empathetic, you have to be able to consistently take a breath before speaking, acting or judging and try to understand what the other person may be thinking and feeling and why. That doesn’t happen by accident. You and your kids will have to be intentional about making this pausing and reflection a habit.
  • Empathy can mean asking respectful questions. Sometimes the situation is so complex, we can’t begin to easily put ourselves “in their shoes”. Asking respectful questions can help. “Can you help me understand what happened to help you come to that conclusion?” is usually more productive than just assuming the worst.
  • Empathy isn’t about judgment. Just because I can understand and have empathy for the brokenness that has encouraged someone to become an addict, doesn’t mean I approve of their choices. It does, however, remind me of the love God wants me to have for them and the passion I should have for helping them be who God wants them to be.
  • Empathy and sympathy are different. Sympathy can be a bit condescending. It can give others the impression that we have the attitude we are somehow better than the other person. Empathy is trying to understand the other person as well as we possibly can. This understanding can build bridges between people who might be enemies under other circumstances.
  • Empathy acts in loving ways. Yes, at times that may be “tough love”, but that can also be done in ways that are kind, patient, self-controlled, and all of those attributes found in I Corinthians 13 and the Fruit of the Spirit.
  • Empathy starts by assuming the best. Most people don’t wake up in the morning plotting ways to ruin your day. People are tired, overwhelmed and make poor choices. That doesn’t mean they are at heart hateful, heartless or anything else your mind wants to immediately label them. Teach your kids to start by assuming the best and see what happens. If you give most people a chance, you will see the good in them. Make it a family habit to look for the good in everyone, rather than acting like professional critics.
  • Empathy is forgiving – as often as it takes. Forgiveness is not saying you agree with those choices. It is giving them the chance to start fresh with you. How many times? The Bible says 70 times 7…indicating that we just need to start with forgiveness and not wait to be begged into it by the “guilty” party.

Empathy isn’t easy at times. In the next post, I will share some fun things you can do to help your kids become more empathetic.

Kids, Science and God

Full confession. I am no expert in science. In high school, I had a couple of football coaches as science teachers. In college, my biology professor is what I can only describe as an angry atheist. He seemed to spend as much time bashing God and Christianity as he did teaching biology.

In spite of those negative experiences, there is something fascinating about science. Perhaps because it is a way to examine how amazing God’s creation really is. The problem is that science and Christianity have drawn battle lines that can hurt both of them.

Science has lost a lot by refusing to accept the existence of God (as a discipline – many scientists are still Christians). Christians can miss out by refusing to let children gifted by God in science to participate in the field for fear they will be pulled away from God. This means there are fewer Christians in science today than perhaps there should be.

Your kids exposure to science can undermine their faith under the right circumstances. It doesn’t have to be that way. Taking some precautions can help strengthen the faith foundations of young people who will be exposed to scientists who are atheist or agnostic.

  • Expose your children to Christian scientists and their writings and studies. There is peer pressure in science to agree with the “party line” rather than search for truth – regardless of what it reveals. There are plenty of well educated, Christian scientists, however. At times they are kept out of the journals, because of their beliefs. They, however, are reputable and have published books and studies with a different perspective on the data. Answers In Genesis is a great resource of these writings. They have free resources as well as ones you can purchase. Many are written specifically for kids and teens.
  • Teach your children about bias and how it can impact the interpretation of data. We attended church with a gentleman who had a PhD in astronomy and ran a secular university. He had a very detailed scientific argument for why the flood makes much of the radiocarbon dating inaccurate. For scientists who don’t believe in a worldwide flood (even with lots of physical evidence) radiocarbon dating is infallible. The eruption of Mt St. Helens a few decades ago rocked the scientific world because phenomenon they had claimed took millions of years to happen, happened in a few weeks during the eruption.
  • Textbooks and science teachers aren’t always up to date on the latest studies. Even scientists who are atheists are moving away from the idea of random evolution. As more instruments can detect the intricacy in creation, they have had to admit the idea of that many things happening by accident is beyond impossible. Now, they aren’t ready to embrace God – some are crediting “intelligent life” on other planets – but it’s still a huge step away from Darwin. They have made other steps towards acknowledging God creating everything as described in the Bible – like the pre-Cambrian explosion – where all types of creatures suddenly appeared at the same time. (Of course, stopping short of acknowledging God.) Your children’s teachers may have textbooks that don’t address these shifts or they may not have read more current information.
  • Continually remind your kids God’s truths are THE truth and the truths of others may or may not be true – no matter how much evidence they think they have. If you are old enough, you have seen science declare eggs, fat, sugar and other things good for us and then bad for us in an almost dizzying cycle. Each time they have had plenty of data to support their claim…until the data came out that reversed their conclusions.
  • Science doesn’t have to reject God in order to be “good” science. In fact, some scientific fields have quite a few Christians in them. If your kids are interested in science, they may find things that help us live healthier or better lives. They just need to be aware that they will need to protect their faith against assaults and peer pressure. Discuss the ways they can do that before they begin encountering a lot of people who may mock their religious beliefs.
  • Science can point your kids to God. There is a sweet kids’ devotional book Indescribable by Louie Giglio. It contains a 100 devotions that use interesting things in science to point kids to God. Answers in Genesis also has plenty of resources for kids about things like dinosaurs that acknowledge God and contain solid science. Our parent website Teach One Reach One Ministries has free science project activities connected to Bible stories for those who want a way to do science experiments with their kids while also teaching them about God.

You don’t have to teach your kids to hate science if you want them to grow up to be faithful, productive Christians. You do need to prepare them though, so those teaching them science don’t weaken their faith. It’s worth your time and effort.