Archive for November, 2011

Overcoming Giving Up

I was recently counseling a couple who were really struggling. Their effort at counseling had been quite low; very little of what had been discussed or assigned was being implemented. Oddly, both of them seemed more committed to counseling than the marriage. There was a sincere desperation that marked the conversations.

As we talked about the key dynamics that needed to change, there was agreement on most every point. It was bizarre. They would both admit was they needed to change to each other and did not get defensive when their spouse agreed with them.

The problem was that this was our third session like this. We were like a football team. Everyone was lined up and knew their assignment. We read the defense accurately and were confidant that the play call would be effective. Each of the players had rehearsed his or her function and could execute the play. What was wrong?!

After a little conversation about the repetitive nature of our sessions, we concluded they had given up. They were not leaving the marriage (not yet anyway); they had just given up on it. There was no sense of hope that anything (even if seemingly well suited to their situation) would do any lasting good.

The question became, “How do you overcome giving up?” Every answer seemed to begin with try harder and that was just redundantly restating the problem a second time all over again. It was like the comic book villain whose special power was feeding off of energy. Everything the good guys did to attack him made him stronger.

Here was the solution we reached – gratitude. I began to highlight the difference by telling a story (slight historical fiction) about my son. He comes home from school and is very frustrated by his math homework. The problems don’t make any sense and the longer he tries the more daunting the few pages become. Eventually he looks at me and says, “Papa, I just can’t do it.”

Seeing the sincere despair on his face (and getting the opportunity to respond to a story I authored) I said, “Bud, I’m proud of you. It would be easy to quit and go to your room to play with your toys. But I admire you. You’re the kind of kid who stays at the table. That’s impressive. And that’s why I know you’re going to do great things. You have a character that is stronger than a math problem is hard.” Then we hugged and figured out the math problem (at least when I get to make up the story).

The point to the couple was this. Don’t do anything you are not already doing. Just say “thank you” for the things that are already happening. Any time you see something that your spouse could have left undone or unsaid, affirm them. Any time they are in the room when they could have stayed away, express appreciation. Any time they ask a question when they could have let silence stand, say thank you and then respond.

Why this homework? I believe there is a link between gratitude and hope. Without hope, effort is lifeless. It’s like eating celery; the act of chewing takes more calories than the vegetable contains so the digestion results in a net loss of calories. Gratitude was an attempt to create jumper cables for hope in an attempt to put life back into their most basic efforts.

What do we take away from this case study reflection? First, counseling is about more than giving the right answer. Second, counseling requires flexibility when “the right answer” isn’t working. Third, gratitude can be more effective at overcoming giving up than a new technique.

C.S. Lewis on Loving Myself

A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“For a long time I used to think this a silly, straw-splitting distinction: how could you hate what a man did and not hate the man? But years later it occurred to me that there was one man to whom I had been doing this all my life—namely myself. However much I might dislike my own cowardice or conceit or greed, I went on loving myself. There had never been the slightest difficulty about it. In fact the very reason why I hated these things was that I loved the man. Just because I loved myself, I was sorry to find that I was the sort of man who did those things (p. 117).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

Is the primary problem of the human condition that I don’t love myself enough (low self-esteem) or that I love myself too much (pride)? That is a question that can stir a great deal of debate.

I would contend that the fervor of the debate itself reveals that the scales tip toward pride. If low self-esteem were really the core human ailment, then we would timidly defer to one another and our disagreements would be mousy.

When reading the larger works of C.S. Lewis you will find that he sides on the pride side of this debate. However, here he is discussing self-love in a way that is distinct from pride. He does not seem to denigrate the self-love he describes here as pride (nor do I think he should).

Lewis describes this healthy self-love as hating the sin in my life because it destroys something that was intended to be good – namely self.

This points helps to answer one of the strongest points made by critics of the self-esteem movement (and I count myself in that number) – self-esteem assumes that we are basically good people who only do bad things because of negative outside influences. Scripture clearly teaches the opposite. We are people marred by sin who naturally love darkness instead of light (John 3:16-21).

Yet Lewis’ depiction of healthy self-love allows for a fundamental moral brokenness in the human race. His take on self-love still allowed him to admit, “I was the sort of man who did those things.” No silly, illogical excuses like, “You know I didn’t mean it,” or “I only behaved that way because…,” or “That wasn’t really me who did/said that.”

I believe it is instructive to see how Lewis got to this view of self-love. He got there by thinking of others. He wanted to know how you could hate the sin and love the sinner. Taking the Second Great Commandment seriously led him to consider the one example where he already obeyed it. Coincidentally, it was the example Jesus said to use – love others “as” (implying something that is already naturally occurs) you love yourself (Matt. 22:39).

It was from this example that he got an answer to his question: how do you hate the sin and love the sinner? Answer: You are grieved for how sin destroys the life of the sinner. Even when the sinner gets an advantage or pleasure from his/her sin, you are grieved that sin’s addictive roots are being reinforced.

How is this love? It is love, because all grief is rooted in love. You will only grieve after you have loved. You are saddened because of an obstruction in a desired joy. In this case, another person’s good.

So let us realize that we love ourselves naturally even when we are made miserable by our actions. Our misery actually reveals our love for self – we genuinely desire our good. After realizing this let us love others with that same desire for their good. That is the only thing that will prevent a healthy self-love from becoming pride, self-centeredness, or self-preoccupation (insecurity).

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Self-Esteem” post which address other facets of this subject.

Forgiveness Made Easier: Part II

A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“And secondly, we might try to understand exactly what loving your neighbor as yourself means. I have to love him as I love myself. Well, how exactly do I love myself (p. 116)?… [Lewis was using a war illustration] Even while we kill  and punish we must try to feel about the enemy as we feel about ourselves – to wish that he were not bad, to hope that he may, in this world or another, be cured: in fact, to wish his good. That is what is meant in the Bible by loving him: wishing his good, not feeling fond of him nor saying he is nice when he is not (p. 120).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

In a politically correct world where we must say that every one is “nice” or “good” even “when he is not,” it makes it harder to love our neighbor as ourselves and, thereby, harder to forgive. I’ll try to follow Lewis’ logic from each point.

First, Lewis connects a forced attribution of niceness as an impediment to loving our neighbors as ourselves. When we cannot declare bad to be bad or foolish to be foolish, then we are prematurely forced to extend grace by the abolition of negative words.

When this happens, a basic form of loving others is taken away. We are no longer able to want “good” for them, because we have been forced to declare what they are doing “good.” Because of this we are forced to a higher level of relational involvement – from wanting their good to appreciating what they are doing.

This brings us to Lewis’s second connection. Now their offense against us not only has to be forgiven, it must be enjoyed. Forgiveness must mean more because love means more. If I cannot merely love them by wanting their good (because all things are good), then I must agree with their offense as being acceptable.

Think about one of the most common modern sayings given in resistance to forgiveness – “I’m not going to say that what they did was okay.” At first it may sound like a leap, but in light of Lewis’ assessment, it makes more sense.

Now let’s work Lewis’ logic backwards. If I am allowed to say that an offense or even an offender is bad (which Scripture holds to be universally true; Romans 3:23), then forgiveness would be made easier. I can now desire their good – being delivered from the moral condition that resulted in their offending me.

This is actually the same sense of regret I feel for myself every time I become convicted of my own sin. I desire my good – that I would be delivered from the moral condition that makes sin so deceptively tempting and illogically appealing. I now want for them what I would want for myself in the same situation.

When I can love them by wanting their good, I can see how forgiving them does not mean condoning or approving of their offense. Forgiveness, by definition, must declare something wrong before it can be enacted. Declaring everything good, neutral, or a matter of personal preference makes forgiveness an illogical exercise.

To summarize: wanting someone’s good is the foundation of love and allows us to see that loving them is not a contradiction to the moral infringement we feel when they offend us.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Forgiveness” post which address other facets of this subject.

Dynamic Submission to Ungodly Authority

This post is meant to offer guidance to common “What now?” questions that could emerge from Pastor J.D.’s sermon on I Peter 2:13-25 preached at The Summit Church Saturday/Sunday November 19-20, 2011.

This passage addresses a very uncomfortable subject – being subject to authority, even when that authority is not honoring God or loving its subjects. The passage is made less popular by the context in which it was written – teaching exiled Christians how to response to an oppressor emperor (v. 13). We cannot chalk this passage up to theory or idealism; it was written for real people in a very un-idealistic situation.

While much more could be said about what this passage does mean, in this post I want to derive three things from the text that this passage does not mean.

First, this submission is not value neutral, and it is not to be applied to criminal activity. Peter states the purpose for which the authority has been put into place – “to punish those who do evil and praise those who do good” (v. 14). While Peter’s reader may have been in a situation where they had no protective authority to petition for help, it is clear that Peter was not saying “authority makes right.”

Based upon this, no one should apply this passage to fail to report criminal activity of someone in authority. Recently, this has been in the public discussion because of the Penn State scandal. More commonly, families fail to report physical or other forms of abuse by a parent. In these kind of cases, “being subject” does not include “being silent.” Knowing the function of authority actually requires just the opposite.

Second, this submission is not passive. The objective of the submission is to silence the ignorance and foolishness of those who are abusing their power (v. 15). Peter is not silencing his readers; he is teaching them God’s way of silencing their abusive authorities.

It is important to note that Peter does not surrender the definition of “good” to the abusive authorities. He is not saying, “Do whatever they want. Concede. Make them happy to protect yourself as best you can.” That is the mindset of codependency. It does not triumph over evil with good (Rom. 12:21). It lets evil define good and pretends that evil is right.

By doing good—true God-defined good—in the presence of evil, you leave evil speechless—at least to say anything coherent. The worst that can be said is, “Are you so stupid that you would continue to live well even when life does not reward you?” The reply is, “No, I just do not think the alternatives of being bound in fear or joining in foolishness are worse than not getting a reward.” But most often that answer is better lived than spoken until the question is asked with genuine inquisitiveness (Prov. 26:4-5).

Third, this submission is not mindless or will-crushing; it is free (v. 16). Peter does not equate submission, even to an ungodly authority, to counter freedom. Here I think it helpful to define freedom. Freedom is the ability to pursue what is most important in life. For Peter that was living as servants of God. Peter’s friend Paul spoke similarly about his experience with an unjust justice system (Phil 1:12-14).

In the oppressive environment in which his readers lived, it would have been easy for them to use their limited freedom as a reason for living in ways that displeased God – taking their anger out on one another (after all the police would not assist the exiles), to escape through substance abuse, to exact revenge on the authorities by stealing to “make things even,” or other such practices.

So what do we gain from learning what submission is not? We gain the ability to be boldly submissive with a mission. Ungodly authority does not rob us of our mission or the ability to carry it out. Evil doesn’t win when it has the upper hand. Evil wins when it becomes contagious.

In the same way, good doesn’t lose because it is disadvantaged. Good wins when it becomes contagious. Our goal when we have an ungodly authority is to make good—the gospel-powered embodiment of Christ’s character—contagious in our sphere of influence. In oppressive circumstances, we do this by utilizing the freedoms and resources we have to make God’s good more contagious than the authority’s evil.

Summit Grief Ministries

At the Summit Church we want to care well for those who have experienced a loss. We recently conducted an EQUIP seminar entitled “Taking the Journey of Grief with Hope.” That presentation is available in video form and the accompanying study guide is available through the church office. From this event we have launched four ministries to care for those who are grieving.

 

Women’s Freedom Group for Grief – This group is for women who have experienced the loss of a loved one and would like the support of others who are at various stages of processing their own losses. This group meets on Tuesday night at 6:30 pm at the Brier Creek Campus. You can sign up for this group at www.summitrdu.com/freedom

Women’s Freedom Group for Past      Hurts – This group is for women who have experienced grief related to the loss of innocence to abuse, the loss of a dream, the loss of stability, or the living death of divorce and would like the support of other women who are at various stages of grieving similar losses. This group meets on Thursday night at 7:00 pm at the West Club Campus. You can sign up for this group at  www.summitrdu.com/freedom

Men’s Freedom Group for Grief / Past Hurts – This group is for men who have experienced the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job, the loss of another dream, or the living death of divorce and would like the support of other men who are at various stages of grieving similar losses. This group meets on Thursday night at 7:00 pm at the West Club Campus. You can sign up for this group at www.summitrdu.com/freedom

Ministry to Mom’s Who Experience Miscarriage – In this ministry we pair mothers who have recently lost an unborn or stillborn child with other mothers with similar experience to walk with one another during this unique time of grief. These are informal, one-on-one relationships.

If you want to lean more about Summit’s Freedom Group ministry, here is (1) the core value of Freedom Groups — What are Freedom Groups, (2) an outline of the nine steps used for suffering groups —  9 Steps (suffering), and (3) the “job description” of a Freedom Group member — JOB — group member (suffering).

If you want to learn more about the miscarriage ministry, here is a one page “job description” (JOB — grieving mom mentor) that describes the qualifications and role of the mentor in this relationship.

Forgiveness Made Easier: Part I

A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“It is going to be hard enough, anyway, but I think there are two things we can do to make it easier. When you start mathematics you do not begin with the calculus; you begin with simple addition. In the same way, if we really want (but all depends on really wanting) to learn how to forgive, perhaps we had better start with something easier than the Gestapo (p.116).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis graciously starts the difficult lesson of forgiveness with two important and sequential questions. First, do I really want to forgive? Second, only if the answer to the first question is yes, where do I begin with this arduous task?

Wanting to forgive is almost an oxy-moron. The experience of being hurt, slighted, or offended is predicated upon a sense of justice. Without a sense of justice, there would be no standard of fairness to be violated. But forgiveness is anti-fairness. So forgiveness is not just emotionally challenging, it fights against the very experience that calls for it.

Wanting to forgive comes from valuing something more than the offense. In many cases the “something” is the relationship with the offender. But when (a) there is no substantive relationship with the offender, (b) the offense is greater than the relationship, or (c) the accumulation of offenses is greater than the relationship, then the “want to” gets challenged in this mathematical/investment approach to forgiveness.

The difficult is wanting to forgive when forgiveness is (or at least is perceived to be) a bad relational investment. This is what we mean most often when we say, “You don’t deserve to be forgiven.” No one deserves to be forgiven; “deserve” and “forgive” are mutually exclusive. What we mean is, “Forgiving you would be a bad relational investment for me.” There are times when this is a completely true and unselfish statement.

This leads us to C.S. Lewis’ second question. If we start with trying to resolve the “worst deals” we will likely be overwhelmed and give up. Even Jesus’ teaching radically redefining the investment mentality towards forgiveness (Matt. 18:21-35) may serve to discourage us.

When we engage in genuine forgiveness for “lesser offenses” we learn something about forgiveness; it is a blessing to us. There is more than one prisoner set free. The offender is set free from the moral (but not legal, if applicable) obligation of his/her offense. But we are also set free. As Nancy Leigh DeMoss says  in Choosing Forgiveness, “You see, God never intended our bodies to hold up under the weight of unresolved conflict and bitterness (p. 67).”

It is in the practice of forgiveness that we realize how the investment truly works. We are playing a game with grace-rigged scales. The investment we make in forgiveness is not directly or exclusively in the other person. The investment is primarily a faith investment in God and His kingdom. God extends the influence of the gospel in our lives as we extend the influence of the gospel in our world through forgiveness.

As we practice forgiveness in these “lesser offenses” we begin to realize that the primary “return on investment” is not from the offender to us, but from God to us and God through us. As we grow  to trust in this pattern and more wise in the practice of forgiveness, then our willingness and ability to forgive in the “greater offenses” increases.

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Forgiveness” post which address other facets of this subject.

At the Corner of Small Groups and Counseling

This post was originally posted the Biblical Counseling Coalition blog “Grace & Truth.” It is a part of their current two week series on how local churches interface their small group and counseling ministries.

Where do small groups and counseling intersect at The Summit Church (www.summitrdu.com)? We are exploring the possibilities of this question with great intentionality, creativity, and passion. At The Summit we divide our ministries into “teams” and counseling is on the small group team, so we want them to intersect frequently, dynamically, practically, and organically.

In fact, we consider one of the most important roles of the Pastor of Counseling to be equipping small group leaders and members to effectively care for one another in the body of Christ. We will unpack how we are striving to accomplish this objective below.

Structuring to Match the Strategy

Before going further on the interaction between small groups and counseling, it should be noted that small groups are the hub of ministry at The Summit Church. By that we mean we strategically organize our church so that people flow into one main place, a small group, where they are then mobilized to go out and do ministry. The small group becomes the hub where we care for one another and together minister to our surrounding community. This is the strategy we’ve chosen for creating a clear “next step” for the marginally connected to move into active participation in the life of the church.

Putting such an emphasis on small groups puts an equally significant weight on how we structure for the development, support, and equipping of these groups. Central to the competency of a small group leader is his or her ability to lovingly guide others through the ebbs and flows of life on the foundation of the Scriptures. In that sense, the bulk of our counseling happens in these groups (we call such care “one-anothering” care for reasons explained below). Thus small groups become care communities and so merging the small groups and counseling staff teams is nothing more than a reflection of what is happening in the congregation.

The blending of these ministries has mainstreamed the influence of our counseling team and brought their expertise into the living rooms of The Summit Church. We are grateful to God for this and believe the greatest results are yet to come.

The rest of this post will discuss the relationship between small groups and counseling with the acknowledgement that our small groups intersect with many other ministries of the church.

What Does It Look Like?

Our attempt to make this connection begins with defining four levels of one-on-one ministry of the Word within our church: counseling, shepherding, mentoring, and one-anothering. These progress from the most formal interaction with a highly trained individual to the most informal “doing life together relationships.”

Our desire is that all four levels of care contain the same gospel-centered, change-happens-in-community DNA with varying degrees of expertise, confidentiality, and availability. The counseling ministry seeks to reinforce and unpack this DNA at all four levels through our seminar ministry.

We offer seminars on various subjects. Each seminar is made available in brief video segments and comes with a manual for group study or personal mentoring. The last two have been “Overcoming Anger” and “Taking the Journey of Grief with Hope.” These seminars are designed for several purposes.

  • One-Anothering – To train our small group leaders to care for their members.
  • One-Anothering – To become a curriculum that small groups can study together.
  • One Anothering – To provide tools for small groups to care for one another.
  • Mentoring – To launch short-term, mentor-level, lay-led support groups (we call them Freedom Groups) that transition graduates into our small group ministry.
  • Shepherding – To provide our pastors with quality, subject-based resources that allow them to shepherd individuals with greater confidence and naturally funnels the counseling case into the small group ministry of the church.
  • Counseling – [This phase is currently in development.] To provide a structured material for our graduate counseling interns from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary to gain experience and provide additional face-to-face counseling hours for our church and community.

From that overview, it should be obvious that everything the counseling ministry does is designed to equip our small group leaders and create a path for counselees (even if they begin with a mentor, shepherd, or counselor) to become active members of a small group. Without small groups our counseling ministry would have to try to replace the church through a therapeutic relationship or release people back into the isolation that allowed their struggle to fester to a life-dominating level. With small groups our counseling ministry can help people through a given life crisis and direct them to a community that fosters healthy relationships and a godly purpose.

Equipping the saints

By embedding the counseling ministry on the small group’s team and channeling the resources we develop towards small group life, we are developing an atmosphere of equipped leaders who understand the resources within their church to help with someone’s struggle when it is more than they feel prepared to handle.

As usual, the overview is much neater than the reality. We are still learning a great deal about how to coordinate these various pieces. Our current collaborative effort between small groups and counseling has developed in the last year (more precisely 10 months). But we are excited about initial fruit we are seeing and the confidence we see growing in our people to care for one another and to use counseling to reach their community (which because of the design puts these unchurched friends on a direct course to small group involvement).

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on the Church and Counseling” post which address other facets of this subject.

Forgiveness: If Received, Then Required

A Counselor Reflects on Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

“’Forgive us our sins as we forgive those that sin against us.’ There is no slightest suggestion that we are offered forgiveness on any other terms. It is made perfectly clear that if we do not forgive we shall not be forgiven. There are no two ways about it. What are we to do (p.116)?” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

I once heard a pastor say that if he preached every sermon on forgiveness, he still would address the subject enough. Well, if he preached with this kind of punch, he also might not have a job. It’s not that I disagree with C.S. Lewis (or have the audacity to disagree with Jesus), but it just hurts to have this truth articulated in such a straight-forward manner.

The force of Jesus’ words reminds of us a central truth to our Christian walk – when we were forgiven we were purchased and therefore no longer belong to Satan or even ourselves (I Cor. 6:19-20). Jesus does not speak as a contractor making a recommendation about repairs to the owner of the house (our lives). Jesus speaks as the Builder and Twice-Owner (by creation and redemption) of the house (our lives).

We are like the renter who has been in a house for so long that we naturally call it our own and increasingly treat as our own, even though we know we pay the “rent” and not the “mortgage.” We are so comfortable in “our life” that when the Owner speaks we get offended and try to find a way to escort Him off His property.

In effect, the command to forgive is God saying, “I let you live morally rent free (paid daily by the blood of Christ), so I expect you not to charge anyone else moral rent. If you must, charge their moral rent to the same account that pays your own.” In that sense, it is actually a very, very kind command.

Think about it. What if someone offered to pay for your housing and their requirement of you was that if someone else ever owed you money to tell them to pay that debt too? Would you take the deal? The only reason that you would hesitate is to verify that it was a legitimate offer.

So when we are offended by the command to forgive others, it is us who have to answer the hard questions, not God. We have to explain how we feel justified in accepting free moral rent while trying to retain the “right” to charge others moral rent. Our indignation is actually our shame.

But that shame is covered with the same offer as our prior debt if we will humble ourselves and receive it. God is not a Landlord who delights in evicting his tenants (don’t stretch the metaphor to encompass the assurance of salvation). But rather God will forgive the debts of unforgiven-debts if we will surrender our perceived right to collect them.

The question becomes, “Who do we think we are?” If we are the same person who prayed “the sinner’s prayer,” then we are welcome to live in God’s provision all our life (temporal and eternal). However, if we believe we have become a different caliber of person, then we will live with all the moral, emotional, and relational “luxury” that our merit can provide. That is the equivalent of being homeless.

Summit Counseling Training (Night One Videos)

“Eyes” of the Counseling Ministry – The presentation will cover two subjects. (1) The core values of the counseling ministry: Bible-based, Gospel-centered, differentiating sin and suffering, not one-size-fits-all, embedded within the church, and transitioning into the general small group ministry. Leaders need to understand how these values are embedded throughout the counseling materials. (2) How to avoid a struggle-based identity when using a struggle-specific curriculum.

“Our deepest problem is that we seek to find our identity outside the story of redemption (p. 27)… In fact, the longer we struggle with a problem, the more likely we are to define ourselves by that problem (divorced, addicted, depressed, co-dependent, ADD). We come to believe that our problem is who we are. But while these labels may describe particular ways we struggle as sinners [or sufferers] in a fallen world, they are not our identity! If we allow them to define us, we will live trapped within their boundaries. This is no way for a child of God to live (p. 260)!” Paul Tripp in Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hand

 

Session 1.
“What Is a Freedom Group?”
Purpose and Vision of Freedom Groups

Freedom Groups Training – Session 1 from The Summit Church on Vimeo.

 

Session 2
“What a Freedom Group is Not”
How to Avoid a Struggle-Based Identity

Freedom Groups Training – Session 2 from The Summit Church on Vimeo.

Handout for Night One, Session Two: WHO I AM IN CHRIST_KELLEMEN

Reflections on Our “Special Trip II”

Since my boys have been old enough to talk, it has been an intention of mine to use special events to frame special conversations. I wrote about the first of these after taking my older on a “right of passage trip” before he entered kindergarten. He began calling it our “special trip” and the title stuck. We took our second “special trip” this weekend.

This trip was triggered by a life lesson more than a life event. In first grade, my oldest son is very discouraged by the unruliness of his classmates. As a collective punishment, he has missed recess, had silent lunch, and faced other negative consequences (a big deal to a social, people-pleasing, perfectionist seven year old). Many days after school he would tell me, “Papa, I’m mad… This isn’t fair… I’m sad.” We could see his vigor of life lessening.

At a parent-teacher conference, his teacher confirmed that he was behaving well and commented that his efforts to motivate his classmates to follow instructions were “exceptional” (proud parent has to add that). So Sallie and I realized it was a time to try to (a) encourage him and (b) teach him about the burden that can come with being a light in a dark place.

Hence, we planned “Special Trip II.” The itinerary was to attend our first college football game, go out for steaks (our four year old’s favorite good), stay at a hotel with an indoor pool, and go to a local farm for a day of fun (pictures available on Facebook). The purpose was to teach two lessons:

“Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” I Peter 4:19

“In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 5:16

We had a great time at the football game. In the third quarter my extroverted, eldest son looked at me and said, “Papa, I feel like I know everyone here.” He had initiated many conversations. We got steaks on Applebee’s 2 for $20 menu and my youngest ate until his belly bulged. We went to the hotel and swam for an hour with the pool to ourselves before we relaxed in the hot tub.

That’s when I started the conversation about school. We both talked for a while and then I brought up I Peter 4. We both talked for a while longer then I brought up Matthew 5. Then we decided to play more in the pool. They chased me so much around the pool that my feet are still bruised as I type. My prayer and purpose was that he will remember that conversation because it was in a hot tub at a nice hotel. My prayer and observation is that he was able to receive it as words of encouragement rather than a “do better… get over it” talk because it was part of a rewards trip.

We went back up to the room and I got out my Bible and showed them the passages we talked about. They asked me questions about why those passages were marked in different colors in my Bible. After a little more conversation we wrestled in the bed and then fell asleep watching football together.

The next morning we got up, ate breakfast, and swam more before they decided we needed to work out in the hotel fitness center (another “learning experience” they genuinely loved). We got chili-cheese conies at Sonic for lunch (my seven year old’s favorite food) before going to Vollmer’s Farm for the afternoon (if you live within driving distance of Bunn, NC this is a must-do family event). We exhausted ourselves for the next four hours. My youngest fell asleep on the way home and my seven year old initiated more conversation about school and how to respond to his friends.

My favorite quote of the trip happened in that conversation. My seven old said he wished I was his school teacher because, “It would take someone like you Papa to change [name of disruptive student] or somebody else who goes by the name Papa… you know, God.” Then as he was making elaborate plans to impact students in his class, he said, “I am just going to keep being an example and saying good words to [name]. I hope they will sink into his heart and change him.” Shortly after that we woke up little brother and pulled off to get ice cream.

As we ate, I asked them what their favorite part of the trip was. The oldest said it was swimming at the hotel pool and watching TV after bedtime. The youngest said it was wrestling in the bed and working out in the fitness center. Then I asked them if they knew what my favorite part of the trip. My oldest blushed, trying to look slightly annoyed, and said, “I know, Papa, it was spending time with us.”

Here is what I think I have learned from my first two attempts at “special trips.”

  • Stay at a hotel with a pool. That means the world to my boys. They enjoy it (and therefore remember it) more than anything else we do.
  • Keep the teaching points to one or two things and tie the teaching times to something memorable. Let the themes of the trip echo through several shorter conversations rather than longer talks.
  • Enjoy yourself. I wouldn’t trade these first two trips for something ten times the monetary cost the trips. From what I can tell it was my enjoyment of the time that prevented the messages from overpowering the trips.
  • Reminisce about the special trip after you get back home. This can help reinforce the key messages of the trip without having to belabor the key messages. It is easier to avoid “talk-malaise” when I ask, “Do you remember what we talked about at the campfire on our first special trip?”

If this post was beneficial for you, then considering reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Parenting” post which address other facets of this subject.