These Things Can’t Satisfy Me

by Dani Maddox

I’m a mom of three. If you’re a parent or have ever taken care of kids, you know it’s a pretty demanding responsibility. My kids are always asking for something. They are always in need of attention, entertainment, or food. My days usually consist of me running around like a crazy person trying to meet the demands.

My 5-year-old is bored. “You can have computer time,” I respond.

My 6-year-old is mad. “Go play with your Legos,” I tell him.

My toddler is cranky and whiny. “Here are some snacks.”

The cycle continues again and again and again. They have a boo-boo, I fix it. They are bored, we go do something fun. They are upset, I give them food or a toy or whatever.

As God has been drawing me to a closer relationship with him, he’s been revealing a lot of sin in my heart. The way I parented was in response to how I generally cope with life. Instead of going to God for connection, I automatically turned to things that would make me feel better temporarily. Psychology calls these coping mechanisms. The Bible calls these idols.

Anything we turn to for comfort, connection, happiness, or fulfillment is an idol. God alone is the only one capable of filling these needs. Jesus says in John 4:14 that, “’whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’” Jesus Christ is that living water.

Idols always leave us wanting more and more. They never satisfy, so we will spend our entire lives chasing after these things to find fulfillment. If our idol is food, we are left continually hungry. If our idol is money, it’s never enough. If it’s a spouse, we will constantly be sucking them dry and blaming them for not making us happy.

When it comes to parenting, we usually pass down our idols to our children. My idols of choice are usually food and busyness, so when my children would cry out for attention, I would give them food or something to keep them busy.

As God continued to reveal the ugliness of my heart, I began to see the ways I was teaching my kids to turn to idols. Like me, my kids truly just needed love, acceptance, and connection. Instead, I was giving them a shallow substitute, which left them feeling disconnected from me and always wanting more.

God has slowly been peeling away the layers of sin in my heart, revealing a heart that is so desperate for true connection. As I realize my need for Him, He continues to pour out His love on me and show Himself faithful time and time again. God’s love for me has translated into a deeper love for the people around me, especially my kids.

For the first time, I feel as though I truly know my children. As I seek to understand them more and empathize with their emotions, God reveals their little hearts. Instead of merely judging their actions and offering them a cheap substitute for my love, I offer them myself—my love, my empathy, my acceptance.

It’s no wonder parents feel the pressure to give so much to our children—expensive trips, nice gifts, fun outings, the newest gadgets, delicious food, etc. We feel as though these things are necessary because they have replaced actual heart-to-heart connection. We have this attitude like, “I do so much for you! You should know I love you!” When, in actuality, the gifts we give and the fun time we spend together should be our secondary displays of love, a lesser manifestation of the affection in our hearts.

This really ought to be a relief for us as parents because that means it doesn’t matter how much money and resources we have. We have the ability to express love no matter what our financial situation looks like.

The amazing thing is that when we begin to spend the time connecting with our children, accepting them exactly where they are, and getting to know their hearts, their neediness begins to subside as they are now filled up with genuine love. Which was all they wanted in the first place!

I’m also reminded of how the crowds responded differently to Jesus’ miracles. Miracles are a sign from God that point us to him, just as an outward expressions of love is a sign of our love for others. Jesus performed miracles for the purpose of drawing people to Himself, not just to give people health and sustenance. For some, miracles caused them to put their faith in Jesus. For others, Jesus become merely the source of what they wanted (the outcome of his miracles).

In John 6:26-27 Jesus responds to the latter: “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”

Jesus didn’t continue to miraculously produce bread for these people. He had already performed miracles so that people could see that he was sent by the Father. When the people insisted that he prove himself once again, Jesus declared in John 6:35-40:

“I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”

As in all things in life, I’m realizing that the answer is always to seek God with all your heart. “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33). Before anything, pursue God.

I can only do so much in my own strength, but God gives me the wisdom (John 6:45), the ability (Philippians 4:13), and the resources (Romans 8:32) to accomplish his will.

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Not-So-Great Expectations: Letting Go of the “Shoulds” and “Ought Tos” to have a Joy-Filled Christmas

By Dani Maddox

Christmastime. Isn’t it fun? Well, it’s supposed to be, right? Fun parties, good food, glorious desserts, friends, family. Why wouldn’t it be an enjoyable time?

Many people chalk it up to the fact that it’s just too busy. Maybe there’s the constant family drama that keeps people from truly enjoying this holiday season. Or perhaps we’re just losing our focus with all the presents and activities.

What God has been speaking to me is that it’s all in my expectations—of the attitude I should have, of how others ought to behave, of the fun memories that should be had, of the games that ought to be played, of treats that should be baked, of the presents I ought to buy, of the parties I should attend.

Several days ago, God gave me an example of the power of expectations in an incident involving one of my children. We put on a movie for the kids and I allowed them to have some animal crackers as a treat. I then proceeded to offer my husband a snack, which said child thought she deserved along with the animal crackers I had already given her.

When I explained to her that she would not be receiving the additional snack, she began whining and complaining. In that moment, God gave me a glimpse of her heart—ingratitude.

This may seem like such a small, trivial event, but God was showing me something very powerful and he revealed to me how I had contributed in creating this attitude in my own child.

God showed me that because I have expected (i.e.—needed) my children to behave, I was willing to offer them anything to get their obedience. It seemed to work just fine for all these years. I give them snacks, offer them movies to watch, give them computer time, make fun outings a regular occurrence, etc. and then I get the behavior that I want. It’s a win/win, right?

Wrong. The hearts of my children have become spoiled as they have learned to just expect things from me. And I fed into it. In the meantime, I am so exhausted from doing everything for them and maintaining the balancing act of co-dependency.

But thank you, God. You know our hearts and lead us in your way (Psalm 139:23-24). You show us the depths of our sin and reveal truth.

If I wanted change, I had to allow God to change me first. Through the refining of my heart, God has been able to bring me to a place of freedom where I no longer need anything from my children. I am free to love them and discipline them without my hurts, wounds, and unmet needs getting in the way. God is continually pouring out his love on me and filling me up, giving me the freedom to truly love my family.

After God revealed to me the hearts of my children, he proceeded to give me the wisdom in tackling this issue. They need to understand that they don’t deserve these things. It takes a whole lot more than just telling my kids this. They needed to experience it.

Without going into all the details of what this looks like for my family, I will just say that I had to apply more consequences for ingratitude. I had to take away the things they thought they just deserved. I also had to make them earn their special treats and privileges.

I do not, however, make them earn my love, acceptance, and empathy. That is my free gift to them. This also shows them that my love for them is not tied to these special things. Giving them presents is a manifestation of my love, not a substitute for my love. In other words, if I stop giving them gifts and special treats, they still understand that I love them because it’s been shown to them consistently no matter the circumstances.

Now, back to the topic of Christmastime. Could it be that we lack joy because, like my spoiled children, we have come to expect so much of the things that are essentially out of our control and we are lacking in hopeful expectation from God?

Let’s think about this. When your children have a bad attitude and you get overly angry, is it because you are expecting them to have the right attitude? When you roll your eyes at a family member creating drama, is it because you expect this person to behave? When you host a party even though your calendar is already jam-packed, is it because you’re placing impossible expectations on yourself? When you run yourself ragged trying to make this season as special and memorable as possible, is it because you have expectations of how things ought to be?

The fruit of unwarranted expectation is either anger and resentment if my expectation is unfulfilled, or ingratitude when I receive what I expect. Either way, its effects are relationally destructive. My thought for you is to notice these things that steal your joy and consider them the red flags of your heart, not merely outward things to fix or avoid.

Allow God to personally speak to you during these times of anger, sadness, and frustration. Allow him to reveal the deeper heart issues that no amount of fun, food, or festivities will repair. Allow the discomfort to pull you to our Healer and Comforter.

Psalm 4:7 states that, “You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound.” Think about that. God can give us more joy in our difficult circumstances than when life is going perfectly smooth. Think about the joy we can have in celebrating the birth of our Lord. According to Galatians 5:22, joy is a fruit of the Spirit; joy is something God wants to give us!

We cannot expect anything from anyone because, sooner or later, we will be let down and utterly disappointed. But God has promised us abundant life (John 10:10), healing of our wounds (Isaiah 53:5), fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11), and eternal life (John 3:16). And because God has promised it, we can expect it and receive it.

Now that is something to rejoice in!

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. –Romans 15:13

Embracing Silence

by Dani Maddox

On most days, you can find me corralling a 6-year-old, a 5-year-old, and a 15-month-old. The school year has begun and I am now homeschooling the two older ones. Along with taking care of the kids, I also take care of household duties—cooking, cleaning, paying bills, etc.

My husband and I live in and manage a 34-unit apartment complex, which includes duties such as finding tenants, collecting rent, dealing with tenant issues, cleaning vacant units, and taking care of the facilities.

We also recently purchased a fixer-upper to use as a rental, so we’re in the middle of remodeling.

I volunteer, plan parties, cook meals for friends, grocery shop, read books, attend small groups, chauffer kids to events, go to playdates, make calls, write blogs, etc. etc. etc.

In other words, I’m busy. If you’re like me (which I am sure you are), you are busy too. We are a busy society.

And if our schedules aren’t chaotic enough, we use every spare second we have to text our friends and update our statuses on social media. We take advantage of every moment of every day…and our to-do lists still don’t get completed!

Since when did busyness become a virtue? We practically brag about how busy we are nowadays, as if that is where our value comes from. Or maybe we use it as an excuse. The fact is, this is nothing new. In Luke 10:38-42, we read about a woman named Martha who has gotten caught up in the same mindset:

38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

It’s not as if being busy and taking care of our households is wrong, but oftentimes we neglect what is most important. Jesus says that Mary chose what is better, and that was to sit in His presence and listen.

Have we, too, forgotten to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen?

I am very fortunate to have given birth to a rather needy baby fifteen months ago. Why, you ask? Since the time of her birth, I have been forced to sit in a dim, quiet room, silently comforting and feeding my baby for 20-30 minutes at a time several times a day.

At first, this was torturous for me. I had so much stuff to get done! And here I am just sitting getting nothing accomplished! I was left in silence to sit and think.

Then something amazing happened—I heard from God.

I began to cherish these moments where I could leave all the distractions, all the housework, all the clutter and never-ending to-do lists behind and just be.

Sometimes God would use this time to comfort me during days of turmoil. Sometimes He would reveal deep heart issues within me. Many times He opened my eyes to wisdom that could only be found in Him. And I didn’t even have to do anything special. I wasn’t sitting in my chair thinking, “Ok. Focus on God. Just focus on God.” No. He was already right there with me, waiting to spend time with me.

As our church enters a time of fasting this week, I want to challenge each of you to set aside time in your day for silence before God. I’m guessing that most of you know the importance of this, but how many of us are actually practicing this? The thing that bridges the gap between knowing something in your head and truly knowing something in your heart is experience. We need to experience the power and the benefits of something before we truly grasp the importance of it and have the motivation to continue in good works and good habits.

So let that be my encouragement for you: Even if you don’t feel like sitting in silence for 20-30 minutes a day, do it anyway. It doesn’t have to be in a dark room, either. Perhaps you can sit out in your garden or go on a hike. And then see what God does. I bet He’s been waiting to spend time with you too.

 

Psalm 23:1-3

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

He makes me lie down in green pastures,

he leads me beside quiet waters,

he refreshes my soul.

He guides me along the right paths

for his name’s sake.

 

Stop Judging Me

By Dani Maddox

For quite a while now, I have felt as though people have been judging me in one specific area of my life: My faith.

And when I say faith, I mean my relationship with God, my dependence on Jesus, my heart, my works for God as evidence of a changed heart, my love for others, etc. I felt from what people said around me that they didn’t think I was mature in my faith or that I wasn’t doing enough for God. Because of this judgment, it turned into a competition of sorts. “Let’s see who can be godlier!”  “Let’s see how much we can do for the Lord!”

Many of my friends were leading groups, starting churches, taking in foster children, and overall doing so much for their community and the people around them. “They must think I’m just sitting on my butt doing nothing,” I thought to myself. In turn, I would begin doing more for God (in my own strength, of course). And if I felt like I wasn’t doing enough, I would either wallow in my shame or begin to justify not living up to this invisible standard.

The judgment I felt from others who seemed more “spiritual” began to turn outwards and I would start assuming things of others like, “Oh, they must be doing all of this because they feel pressured” or “That can’t really be what God has called them to do.” Blah blah blah. But I felt justified in these statements because I assumed they were judging me.

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