By Jennifer Slattery –
When I first began writing, I’d ask my husband to read my work then offer feedback. Each time he did, if he said anything remotely corrective, I’d get upset and feel the need to argue with him. Needless to say, it wasn’t long before he quit offering feedback. That was when I realized I preferred the constructive criticism, as hard as it was to swallow, to the wall of silence.
In essence, I came to a point where I had to choose—did I want someone to tell me what they thought I wanted to hear, or was I truly wanting to learn and grow?
Proverbs 9:7-9 says: “Anyone who corrects the wicked will get hurt. So don’t bother correcting mockers; they will only hate you. But correct the wise, and they will love you. Instruct the wise, and they will be even wiser. Teach the righteous, and they will learn even more” (NLT).
To become wise, to grow, I had to go from a mocker, one who spurns truth and correction, to the wise, one who soaks it up and listens, receiving criticism with an open heart.
This applies to all areas of life: parenting, at work, in our small groups or Bible studies.
And I suspect, to receive constructive criticism, to take it in and prayerfully consider it, requires a great deal of humility.
Pause for a moment to think of how you typically respond to criticism or correction. If you respond by getting defensive or upset, why do you think this is?
Do you tend to receive criticism better from some people than others? If so, why do you think this is?
What about your children? Do you allow them to openly share their concerns? Do you find this to be a hard balance between maintaining the parental role and creating an open environment for communication?
What changes in thinking need to take place in order for you to openly evaluate criticism received?
By Jennifer Slattery –
A while back, after one particularly crabby day, my daughter looked at me and said, “You forgot to pray today, didn’t you?”
Standing in our kitchen, schooled by a child, I realized how much truth she packed in that statement. Amidst the hustle and bustle of my day, I’d left God out of the equation and it showed. The peace that surpassed understanding? Forgot to grab hold of it. The strength made perfect in weakness? Missed that one, too. By neglecting to connect with my Power-source, I’d trudged through my day ill equipped and overwhelmed.
The 19th century theologian, E.M. Bounds, said, “The men who have done the most for God in this world have been early on their knees. He who fritters away the early morning, its opportunity and freshness, in other pursuits than seeking God will make poor headway seeking Him the rest of the day. If God is not first in our thoughts and efforts in the morning, He will be in the last place the remainder of the day.”
Fritters away the morning. When I neglect my prayer time, that’s what I do. Run around, expending a large amount of energy, accomplishing little. And yet, when I take the time to pause and connect with God, He stills my heart, fills me with truth and clarity, and helps me navigate through the chaos of my day.
In the Bible, we are told to pray continuously. Obviously, no one can live in a prayer closet. But I suspect we all have snippets of time throughout our day when we can connect with God. Continuous prayer, I believe, is a mind-set, a realization that God’s there, ever-present. It’s about inviting God to do life with me, whether I’m cleaning toilets or singing praises. Because I’m easily distracted by the here and now, I often use little reminders to help me pause and focus on God.
God loves it when we carve out time in our busy day to rest at His feet, but He longs for more. He wants to be a part of our entire day. He’s already there, watching us, loving us. The goal, then, is to recognize His presence, grab hold of it, and cherish it.
What about you? How do you find–make–time for God amidst your busy day? Notice a difference when you do?
By Jennifer Slattery –
One day, while cleaning out our closet, I found a shoebox tucked behind a bunch of clutter. Curiosity bid me, and I pulled it down and sifted through the items. It contained rusted railroad nails, an antique pocket watch attached to a chain, old baseball game stubs, and numerous other creased, rusted, or slightly tarnished items. My heart was touched to see the softer side of my husband displayed in the saving of each item.
I’m certain every stub and nail told a story, perhaps of the first baseball game he attended or the watch given to him by his grandfather who has since passed. But what touched me most were the numerous slips of paper and cards I found buried beneath it all, my young, immature writing scrawled across them.
I had to giggle at my immaturity. “I love you,” heart, heart, dot the exclamation point with a large heart. Those letters had touched my husband deeply, so much so that he had saved them all these years.
I paused, remembering the first love letter he wrote me. He’s not much of a talker, and even less of a writer. He’s notorious for the one word email. Or, the blank email, with everything I need to know written in the subject heading.
But on this day, he was Casanova with a pen. It was our first marriage retreat hosted at a nearby hotel. We went with scarred, yet healing hearts, and a bit of baggage. One of the first assignments we were given was to write a love letter to our spouses.
My husband and I found a quiet corner in a far back hotel hallway and set to writing what was in our hearts. We wouldn’t write about what was bothering us. It wasn’t time to resolve past hurts. It was time to love, and to tell each other what we cherished most about one another and our marriage.
Honestly, I was expecting a two, maybe three sentence letter: “I love you. I’m glad I married you. Love Steve.”
From the corner of my eye, I watched my husband hunched over his paper, pen in hand. He wrote, and wrote, and wrote. I write fast, so I finished first and set mine aside.
He continued to write. If only I had saved that first letter. I have no idea where it went, but it touched me so deeply, tears poured from my eyes as I read it.
Never underestimate the power of a written “I love you.” It has the power to heal, to soothe, to defuse, and to unite.
“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1 NIV).
Sometimes we can get so caught up in the day to day, we forget to tell our spouses how much we love them. Often, we forget to think about our love for them. If you dwell on the negative, you’ll find it every time. But, if you seek out the lovely, good and pure, you’ll find it’s been there all along.
This Valentine’s day, I encourage you to write your letter a spouse telling them what you appreciate about them and what you love about your marriage. Perhaps, in the letter, reminisce about a romantic moment shared between the two of you. And most of all, cherish your spouse, focusing on their good qualities—those things that drew you to them—not things you wish they’d change.
By Jennifer Slattery –
One day, while driving, I passed a blind woman led by a Seeing Eye Dog. Cars zoomed by and horns honked, but the dog remained focused. His task? To bring the woman to her destination safely. The woman’s task? To follow, not veering to the left or right.
As I watched her, I couldn’t help but think how incredibly frightening that must have been. She couldn’t see the path ahead, or what lay between her and her destination. All she could do was focus on her next step, then the next, and the next. Through practiced obedience, she’d become accustomed to her guides every move, and she responded accordingly. When the dog stopped, she stopped. When he veered, she veered. Her sensitivity to his movements, at times, may have meant the difference between life and death.
Our faith walk is a lot like that, isn’t it? In many ways, it’s like walking in the dark, not knowing what obstacles, hurdles, or detours lie ahead. It’s easy to be so caught in the “what-ifs” that we loose our focus on the here and now—that next step. But like a Seeing Eye Dog who guides his companion with unwavering focus, God has promised to lead us to our final destination.
All we need to do is focus on our guide and take that next step.
“The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need. He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name. Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me. You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. You honor me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings. Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23:1-6 NLT).
God leads us, not always along the path of least resistance, but the path of inner peace. When we surrender everything to God, trusting Him to be who He says He is and do what He promises to do, we’ll find rest even amidst the greatest struggles because we’ll realize it’s not about us. It’s not about how great we are, how gifted, talented, strong, insightful. It’s about how obedient and pliable we are.
Our trust is not based on our present circumstances, but instead, in the unfailing goodness of God. I love how verse six puts it–God’s goodness and love will pursue me, all the days of my life.
So keep walking, friend, but release your death grip and enjoy the journey, because God’s got it all mapped out, and it’s more glorious and beautiful than anything you could plan or imagine.
By Jennifer Slattery –
The Bible tells us life, our time on earth, is short and this world is not our home, and yet, we rarely speak of heaven. Perhaps our biggest deception, our biggest distraction, is the here and now. It’s like we’re all stuck in an airport terminal dining on stale ham and cheese sandwiches, fighting for access to the vending machine and the seat closest to the window, not realizing the Bahamas are only a short flight away. Yet Jesus endured the cross, “for the joy that was set before Him.” And He told us to do the same.
According to John C. Hutchison, part of our inability to grasp eternity is due to our need for instant gratification. With instant messaging, texting, and high-speed internet, we’re trained to think of the here and now. Tomorrow is a long way away. Eternity, even longer…so long we consider it almost insignificant. Yet, the Bible tells us this world stinks. It’s plagued by sin, disease and death (Genesis 3, Romans 8:22-28). One of the most oft quoted Scripture passages is Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
We use this verse to comfort ourselves when we lose a job, fight illness, and face tragedy. We use it in the context of today–the here and now–but when we read the entire passage, we realize our world, “groans, like a woman in childbirth.” The hope is not in this life, but in the life to come.
“For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:20-25, 28 NIV).
Here’s the potential problem with misquoting the Romans 8:28 verse. If we’re looking for our rewards in the here and now, we won’t know how to handle it when difficulties come. We’ll be blind sighted. And even worse, we’ll lose hope, because what we hoped for may not come to pass. But our hope is not in this sin-plagued world. Our hope lies in eternity where God will wipe away ever tear from our eyes, where disease will be non-existent, and our joy will be inexpressible. And God will reward His children for every trial endured here on earth.
Matthew 5:11-12 says, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad because great is your reward in heaven.”
Speaking of earthly trials, John C. Hutchinson says, “These dark moments actually have eternal significance!…Our lives are part of a bigger story, a drama that is unfolding in the heavenlies. When we understand this, it allows us to see every situation in life, especially the difficult ones, as faith opportunities that carry eternal significance.”