Tuesday, January 28, 2014

23 Important Things My Parents Taught Me

Can I just say that my parents are amazing? It really is true, and thinking about it makes my heart hurt because I'm painfully aware of how often I forget that fact. God, in His goodness, hand-picked two flawed, sinful human beings to bring me into existence and raise me, and there isn't a single person I would choose to replace either of them as my parents. It struck me recently that I've spent too many years focusing on their flaws instead of their virtues, and I want to fix that right now. When I sat down at my computer a little while ago, I realized that they really were and still are GREAT parents. Perfect? Nope. But nobody is (especially, as I'm quickly finding out, not me). Though there are probably things they would choose to do differently if they had a do-over, I want to stand up and testify that they did a lot of things right. It didn't take very long for me to remember some of the great lessons they've taught me that helped shape me into the person I am today, and even now are shaping me into who I will be tomorrow. So thanks, Dad and Mom, for being such awesome parents, and for training me up in the way I should go. Here are 23 important things that my parents taught me (conveniently, one for every year I've been alive):

23. A Different Opinion Isn't A Personal Attack
As a teenager, I would get into arguments with my friends about everything from politics, to theology, to video games. It wasn't a friendly debate, either; I would get really fired up when they had an opinion that was different from mine. It turns out I was very arrogant, and I was certain that everything I believed about everything was correct and everyone else was wrong. Which, of course, was ridiculous. I remember Mom sitting down with me and explaining that it's okay if someone thinks differently than I do, whether they're wrong or I am (or we both are). I don't have to take someone's differing opinion as a personal attack, because it simply isn't one. And even if they were attacking me, it says more about them than it does about me! So now, if I'm discussing beliefs with other people, I sit back and try to learn something. Because there's a good chance that I've gotten it wrong somewhere, and getting other people's perspectives about things will help me to realize it.

"The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice." -Proverbs 12:15 (ESV)

22. The Right Thing Is Often the Hardest Thing
When I was a child, I somehow had this idea that making the right choices in life would be easy. I learned very quickly that was not the case. In fact, almost every time I've chosen to do the right thing, it's been really difficult. One thing I didn't count on was the solitariness that comes with taking a stand. Aside from my family, I really didn't know anyone else who was making the difficult choices that I was making at the time. Without their support and encouragement, I know I would have faltered. Doing the right thing has almost always proven to be hard for me, but it's always been worth it.

 "I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world." -John 16:33 (ESV)

21. Treat Others the Way You Want to Be Treated
Many people have marveled over the close relationship my brother and I share with one another,
and I can attribute it almost directly to this simple saying. When we were younger, I would tease my brother about things or argue with him over whose turn it was to play the N64. My mom would take me to the side, look me in the eyes, and say, "Sara, are you showing love with your behavior? Would you want him to treat you that way?" Of course the answer was always no, and as I got older, it really began to grieve my heart when I would be selfish or hurt my brother's feelings. When I really took the time to consider how it would make me feel if our positions were reversed, I no longer enjoyed teasing or arguing. His feelings began to matter more than my desires. This principle expanded beyond the childish arguments and selfish attitude as I grew older, and I can still hear my mom's voice today in various situations asking me if I would want to be treated the way I am (or the way I'm considering) treating someone else. 

"Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets." -Matthew 7:12 (NKJV)

20. Honesty Is The Best Policy
When I would do something wrong, my parents would always tell me that if I was honest with them, then I wouldn't get in trouble. This didn't always stop me from trying to cover up the truth with a lie anyway, but it taught me the importance honesty. As an adult, I've found that being honest is essential to building and maintaining healthy relationships. Honesty should be loving, of course, and sometimes the truth hurts; but it's better to be hurt by the truth than destroyed by a lie. Being honest builds bridges by which to move forward, while lying sets painful traps for you to fall into later.

"Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, 
that is, Christ." -Ephesians 4:15 (NIV)

19. Anything Worth Having Is Worth Waiting (and Working) For
Growing up in a culture that demands instant gratification, this concept was a challenging one to grasp. But now I can speak from experience and say that delayed gratification makes me appreciate things more, and enjoy things more when I work for them rather than being handed everything I want. The most precious gifts I have, I spent years of my life waiting or working for, and I wouldn't trade those years of toil for anything.

"And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, 
if we do not give up." -Galatians 6:9 (ESV)

18. Laughter Really Is The Best Medicine
When I look back over my childhood and the beginning of adulthood, laughter is one of the first things that comes to mind. My family - both immediate and extended - really knows how to make people laugh! Whether my dad was putting balloons under his shirt and popping them against his skin, or my mom was getting tickled at nothing (seriously, nothing) to the point of crying and snorting, both of them excelled at laughing and making me and my brother laugh. There have been too many times to count when we would all get sucked into a laugh attack, and those were some of my happiest moments. The saying is absolutely true, and if you don't believe me, go and watch this video.

"He will yet fill your mouth with laughter and your lips with a shout of joy." -Job 8:21 (HCSB)

17. Respect Those In Authority (Even If You Don't Agree With Them)
Mom was always so good about this. If Dad did something I didn't agree with, she made sure that I still showed him respect. If a pastor, teacher, congressman, or president made choices that were contrary to God's Word, we were always encouraged to speak respectfully to or about that person, even if we didn't like what they were doing. We are all made in the image of God, and God Himself appoints our leaders. If those are the only reasons to respect someone, they are still good enough reasons. 

"Submit to every human institution because of the Lord, whether to the Emperor as the supreme authority, or to governors as those sent out by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For it is God's will that you, by doing good, silence the ignorance of foolish people." 
-1 Peter 2:13-15 (HCSB)

16. Save More Than You Spend
It sounds obvious, but you would be surprised how few people actually follow this advice. "Our" money is not really ours, but the Lord's, so we need to make sure that we're using it wisely. When I was younger, my dad worked for himself, and therefore didn't know when or from where his next paycheck would be coming. We had to be careful not to live beyond our means. Growing up in that kind of environment taught me the importance of saving.

"You may say to yourself, 'My power and my own ability have gained this wealth for me,' but remember that the Lord your God gives you the power to gain wealth, in order to confirm His covenant He swore to your fathers, as it is today." -Deuteronomy 8:17-18 (HCSB)

15. Take Charge of Your Education
We were homeschooled, and I loved it. But whether my mom gave me tons of school work, or a little, I'm the one who had to do it. She couldn't make me learn it or remember it, enjoy the work, or go beyond what was expected of me. That was up to me. I can't sit back wait for someone to teach me a new skill or help me out with something challenging; I have to initiate it myself. My parents' decision to educate us at home helped me to be more independent and creative with my education. Thanks to their guidance and encouragement, I'm very much an autodidact. If I want to learn about something, I go and find out about it for myself. 

"Get wisdom, get understanding; do not forget my words or swerve from them." -Proverbs 4:5 (NIV)

14. Don't Play the Comparison Game
The grass isn't always greener on the other side, and my grass would be greener if I watered it regularly. Everybody has their own idea of what is beautiful, so trying to live up to one standard of beauty when we were all created uniquely by God is a losing battle. God never messes up. He gave each of us our own shapes, hair colors, expressions, feelings, and finger prints. Instead of feeling sorry for ourselves because we aren't like so-and-so, we should rejoice in the truth that God doesn't make trash. Everything He creates is a masterpiece that is very good, including you and me.

"For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth." -Psalm 139:13-15 (ESV)

Comparing what we have to what someone else has is a losing battle too. I shouldn't desire the possessions or lifestyles of others, because if I had those things, I might find out that they weren't worth the sacrifices that it took to obtain them. Stuff doesn't last, and it doesn't make us happy. Boyfriends, husbands, and children don't make us happy. Sure, they can add to our happiness, but if we believe temporal things are the source of happiness, then all we will find is disappointment and disillusionment. True happiness, joy, and fulfillment come from Christ alone. Anything else is a counterfeit. 

"Do not store up riches for yourselves here on earth, where moths and rust destroy, and robbers break in and steal. Instead, store up riches for yourselves in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and robbers cannot break in and steal." -Matthew 6:19-20 (GNT)

13. Bottling Up Emotions Won't Make the Problems Go Away
As I child, I preferred holding in my frustrations rather than risk hurting someone's feelings (or if I'm honest, exposing my own feelings) by talking about them. What I didn't understand at the time is that not dealing with something doesn't "keep the peace," and it fails to resolve the issue. If left alone, those emotions continued to build up inside of me until I couldn't hold them anymore. When they did finally come out, they always caused more pain than if I had talked about them in the first place. Now that I'm an adult, I try and work through any problems as quickly as possible. There's a right and wrong way, time, and place to do that of course, but whatever issues I have are resolved instead of continuing to grow larger by being held inside. Most if not all of the things I've struggled with as a grown woman would not have existed in my adult life if I had learned to communicate my feelings well as a young woman.

"Do not hasten in your spirit to be angry, For anger rests in the bosom of fools." 
-Ecclesiastes 7:9 (NKJV)

12. Don't Judge A Book By Its Cover
I've found that the outward appearance rarely depicts the inner person accurately. Some of the dorkiest, weirdest, and most unusually dressed men and women that I've met have turned out to be the most amazing and inspiring people. Don't let crazy clothes, tattoos, creepy piercings, or brightly colored hair keep you from reaching out and getting to know someone. They could be the best friend you've ever had! In the same way, the quiet, seemingly-normal, modestly dressed person can be the goofiest, most interesting person you've ever met. 

To turn it around, be sure give other people a chance to know you if you are the person that is being judged based on your outward appearance. Let people in. If your outward style doesn't quite match up with who you are inside (and even if it does), don't be surprised if others get the wrong idea about who you really are. Give someone a chance by sharing your thoughts and interests with them and asking about theirs. And remember that just because it looks like a person is judging you, it doesn't mean they really are (who is judging who now?).

"But the LORD said to Samuel, "Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart." -1 Samuel 16:7 (NIV)

11. You Can't Control Other People, But You Can Control You
I can't tell you how many times I've heard my mom say this, whether it was to me, my brother, or to herself. Unless I decide to live under a rock or in a fantasy land, then I will run into other people who are just as sinful as I am. Only God knows how they're going to act or what they will say, and whether it's kind or cruel. I have no control over them, but I do have control over myself and how I respond to they say or do. Some people are just jerks, but fortunately I can choose not to be a jerk as well. I'm not going to be responsible before God for how someone else chose to behave, but I will be responsible for how I chose to behave.

"A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls." -Proverbs 25:28 (ESV)

10. Live For Today, While Planning For Tomorrow
Life is short, and none of us are promised tomorrow. We may very well be here tomorrow, though, and that requires some preparation. We need to eat every day, so we buy food, and we work to have money to buy that food with. My parents taught me that today is special and should be lived out to the fullest, but also that it's important to prepare for the future God may choose to give to us. Preparing for the future doesn't mean I shouldn't trust God for all things, but it does mean I need to put effort into today so that there is provision for tomorrow. It's possible to focus too much on potential tomorrows and not enough on the beauty of today. And it's also possible to focus too much on today while neglecting the needs of tomorrow.

"Complete your outdoor work, and prepare your field; afterwards, build your house." 
-Proverbs 24:27 (HCSB)

9. It's Better to Give Than To Receive
God blessed us countless times when I was growing up, meeting both our big needs and our trivial wants. I can honestly say that, although we weren't millionaires, we never lacked anything we needed. Sometimes God would put us in a position to be able to bless others, either financially or materially. Watching the joy that Mom and Dad had when they would give to others deeply affected me, and I quickly grew to love giving. It's always nice when I get a present, but it doesn't come close to the pleasure that I get when I am able to give to someone else. So many people cling tightly to their possessions for fear of losing them, but they don't realize that the happiness their "stuff" gives them falls utterly short of the happiness they would experience if they let go and gave to others.

"One person gives freely, yet gains more; another withholds what is right, only to become poor."
 -Proverbs 11:24 (HCSB)

8. Do Everything With Excellence
Both of my parents taught us this, and my dad really went above and beyond with living out this principle at work. Whether it was something big or small, easy or challenging, he would always give 100%. That didn't mean he did things perfectly, but it meant he did them well. Mom and Dad didn't expect us to be perfect, but they did expect us to do all things in excellence. Half-heartedness just wouldn't cut it. They taught us that both success and failure could be handled excellently. Even today, I'll be folding clothes or cleaning the house, and the word "excellence" comes to mind, reminding me to give my best effort in all that I do. Most of the time, nobody notices the extra effort. But God always notices, and it honors Him when we work hard in life for His glory.

"So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God." 
-1 Corinthians 10:31 (NIV)

7. You'll Be Held Accountable Later, So Be Accountable Now
Accountability isn't a pleasant concept for a lot of people. They don't like to think that they will have to answer to someone for their thoughts, words, and actions. Regardless of whether or not I want to be held accountable, I'm going to have to stand before God one day with my entire life laid bare. That's the purpose of being held accountable now. When I started seeing the man I eventually married, my parents would sit down with me after we had gone somewhere and ask me about our evening. They would ask if I conducted myself properly, and if I honored God with my behavior. They would also ask if I had kept my commitment to save my first kiss and my body for marriage. The knowledge that I would have to look them in the eye and answer their questions after a date prevented me from falling into sin and compromising various commitments I had made to God and my future husband.

As a Christian, I've been called to a higher standard of living. When I ask someone to hold me accountable (or they choose to without a request), it's for my benefit. Accountability helps me to stay on track in my relationship with the Lord. It reminds me of my goals, and of the direction I am moving in. Without accountability in my life, it becomes significantly easier for me to fall away from the heart of God. In spite of what you might think, being accountable to someone doesn't mean they are constantly checking up on you to make sure you haven't slipped up (and scolding you if you have). It means that someone who cares about you is helping you stay focused on the choices that are going to strengthen your relationship with Christ and encourage your growth in Him. Accountability helps us to stay alert in the spiritual battle we are all a part of.

"Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another." -Proverbs 27:17 (ESV)

6. Give God His 10%
My parents always amazed me, because whether they experienced financial blessing or hardship, they would still tithe and God would provide whatever was lacking. Giving God His 10% was always the highest priority that my parents had in the area of finances, and He never let us go hungry. Does God need our money? Nope. But when we're obedient to God in the area of our finances, we put ourselves in a position to receive His blessings. He urges us to test Him in the matter of tithing to see if He won't provide for our every need, and bless us beyond our imagination.

"Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, That there may be food in My house, And try Me now in this," Says the Lord of hosts, "If I will not open for you the windows of heaven And pour out for you such blessing That there will not be room enough to receive it." -Malachi 3:10 (NKJV)

5. Be Faithful in the Little Things
Growing up, we were always taught the importance of being faithful in the little things. God uses the little things to prepare us for the big things. If we aren't faithful with the trivial, we won't be faithful with the significant. If we prove to be faithful in the little things, then God will trust us with bigger things. Mom and Dad encouraged me to be faithful with things like studying Scripture, cleaning house, and cooking meals. Now that I'm grown and responsible for my own household, I find that accomplishing those things is much easier than they would have been if I had neglected them as a child.

 "Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much." -Luke 16:10 (NIV)

4. Life Is Precious
This was the very first lesson my mom ever taught me, and I wasn't even born yet. Mom got pregnant with me when she was 17 and still in high school. People all around her were telling her to have an abortion, but she felt that God wanted her to do the hard thing and keep me. Miraculously, the Lord brought my parents together again (they broke off their relationship at the beginning of the pregnancy), and they married a few weeks after I was born. Mom gave me a chance at life when everything seemed uncertain and when she could have taken the easy way out. God has done such an incredible work in all of our lives since then, and I couldn't be more thankful that He gave my mom strength to do the right thing.

"For Your faithful love for me is great, and You deliver my life from the depths of Sheol." 
-Psalm 83:13 (HCSB)

3. Your Life Has a Purpose
Not once did I ever feel like my life was meaningless when I was a child. My parents always told me that God had created me for a reason, and that He had a plan for my life. They said I was important, and that I mattered. The fact is, we're all created in the image of God, and He cares about us. Jesus died for all of our sins - past, present, and future - and if our lives had no purpose, what would be the point of His sacrifice? He formed you Himself. He breathed life into you at conception, and had all your days and hairs of your head numbered before you were a thought in your mother's mind! Even if everyone else is telling you otherwise, know that God has given your precious life a purpose. You are important to Him, and He literally thinks you're to die for!

"For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them." -Psalm 139:13-16 (ESV)

2. You Are Valuable to God
It seems like so many people believe their worth lies in what they do, who they're with, how they look, or what position they hold in life. They believe that if they fail in one of those areas, then somehow they lose their value. My parents taught me that my value doesn't lie in the external or the material. My value, and yours, lies in Christ. We are valuable to Him, so much so that He sacrificed Himself - defeating death and sin - to redeem us from slavery and eternal punishment! He gave up everything for us, with all of our ugliness, our shortcomings, our sins, and our flaws. We are worth so much to Him. Don't be fooled into thinking your value lies in something else. Christ paid a costly price for you, and you are His treasure and prize!

"Are not two sparrows sold for a penny ? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows." -Matthew 10:29-31 (NIV)

1. Jesus Is Worth Trusting
This, above everything else my parents taught me, is the most important thing I could have learned. Whenever we faced trials, separately or as a family, Jesus was there every time. And when I would forget that, my mom and dad would remind me. They would encourage me to keep trusting Him, because He was in control and He had a plan. Through all my struggles, my doubts, my hurts, my longings, my fears, and my sins, Jesus has always proven worthy of my trust. He's never forsaken me or my family, and not once have I ever regretted putting my trust in Him. He hasn't always worked out things the way I expected or wanted Him to, but His way has always been the best way. Jesus is worth trusting. But don't take my word for it. Take His!

 "Those who know Your name trust in You because You have not abandoned those who seek You, Lord." -Psalm 9:10 (HCSB)

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"Iron sharpens Iron, and one man sharpens another." -Proverbs 27:17

I really appreciate the fact that you've taken time out of your busy life to read my post today. If you have any thoughts about this entry, please feel free to leave a comment! Your perspective is valuable to me, and I would love to see what you have to say. Please keep all comments respectful and mature - we can disagree without behaving foolishly. Any comments that are abusive or contain inappropriate language will be removed. Have a wonderful day!