Could Anything Good Come Out of 2020?

Tell me something good that happened to you in 2020.

I know there’s been more heartache and suffering than we want to think about. I’m not denying that 2020 has been a rough year – personally, locally, nationally, and globally.

But if we only focus on negative, negative will be all we ever see. In difficult times, we have to make ourselves look for the good things that are happening.

Image Credit: pinimg.com

You may have to look hard to find them, but there are things to give thanks for in the midst of all this turmoil and pain. There are indeed blessings in our lives.

Tell me about a blessing you’ve experienced this year.

It’s ok if you have to dig to find it.

I’ll wait.

It’s ok if all you have to cling to is a tiny blessing. EVERY good thing counts.

Tell me one good thing…then think about more. List them on paper so you can see them written out.

Here are a few positive things on my list that have happened in our family in 2020, especially since the virus hit in March:

Emery learned to ride her bike. We’ve been trying to teach her for several years, but she wasn’t interested. Then, one evening just a few days after the school closings in March, she said she wanted to learn to ride her bike. And she did! Quickly! She hasn’t stopped since.

We walked around our neighborhood as a family in the afternoons in the spring time when it warmed up and the days started getting longer. We did this almost every weeknight for several weeks in a row. There wasn’t a rush to go to bed because the kids didn’t have to go to school the next day.

I’ve gotten to spend bonus time with my children. Time I thought was gone since they started school, and I went back to work. The virus shut down the schools and my workplace, and it was like they were little kids again, and I was getting to hang out with them all day.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s been challenging – even excruciating at times. Sheltering-at-home and social distancing from our friends, family, and church. Job-site closing. Sickness and death. Fear…

Remote-learning!!!

But I acknowledge that this time with my children has also been a blessing.

Typically, they’re in school. I’m working. My time with them is short. They spend more of their day at school with their teachers than home with their dad and me.

Then, WHAM! All of a sudden they’re home with me.

Tears have been shed. Tempers have been lost…but it hasn’t been all bad. This is invaluable time with them that I wouldn’t have otherwise. I call that a blessing.

I pray you are able to see the blessings in your life in 2020. I pray you are able to find some positive moments.

If something doesn’t come to you quickly, take the time to sit and think.

Ask God to show you good things you missed. Then watch and listen until you see more.

How to Survive Remote Learning

How are you and your family holding up? Has your job resumed? Is everyone back to school on a regular schedule? Do you have children at home remote-learning for at least part of the week?

Many families in my immediate area are involved in remote-learning to some extent. My children go to school 2 days a week for in-person learning and then work from home the other 3 days, so figuring out how to make it through a day with as much school work done and as few tears as possible is at the top of my to-do list Monday through Friday.

Christian Responsibility and Mosaic Law | The Village Church

Notice Zoe – on her back getting a tummy rub (left side of the image) – helping with the stress of remote learning πŸ™‚

I won’t say we’re doing a stellar job in the Hooks house…we’ve had our share of meltdowns and tears (from the kids AND from me). But we’re learning and adapting. We seem to have more good days than bad days after 6 weeks of this. It doesn’t seem to take as long for the kids to complete their work as it did when school started in August. There is less hand-holding on my part. All those are victories in my book.

Along the way, I’ve attempted to figure out how to navigate learning during a pandemic, how to do it better. I want to survive this experience relatively unscathed AND with my relationship with my family intact.

I want that for you as well.

So, I want to share what I’ve learned through trial-and-error during the first 6 weeks of remote learning. Maybe something we’ve discovered will help you and your family.

Tips for Surviving Remote Learning

*Start your day in prayer. Fill up with God so you have something to give. Enjoy some quiet and stillness before the chaos starts. (Here are some free devotional Bible studies to start you off).

*Do what you need to do for yourself before the kids wake up. Drink your coffee. Watch your morning news show. Read some chapters in your book. Wash your face. Shower and shave your legs…give yourself whatever “me-time” you need to start the day.

*Get your workout done early. Do something physical before sitting down with the kids. (Pro Tip – it’s good for the kids to get some exercise in before they start their day as well. There’s something about getting the heart and lungs going with some physical activity that helps them calm down and focus later on).

**Getting these 3 done for yourself before your children hit the ground running may mean you have to get up earlier, so be kind to yourself and go to bed earlier, too.

*Eat breakfast. Protein will keep you full longer. Eat well throughout the day as well.

*Start the school day as early as you can – soon after breakfast, exercise, brushing teeth, making beds, putting on clothes (if you try to keep a morning routine like that).

*Create a checklist of assignments/schoolwork to do each day. Kids mark off their own work when they’re done.

*Consider the order of classes and work – does it work best for your child to get the hardest or least-favorite subject out of the way first thing in the morning? What is the subject that tends to bog them down if they wait until later in the day to do it?

*Stop work for physical activity throughout the day for yourself and your children. Take a quick walk or bike ride after lunch. Find a quick yoga, stretching routine, or movement video on YouTube that is kid-friendly. (My daughter likes Melting-Flow and some of the silly Moose-Tube videos from GoNoodle).

*Do a small-to moderate-amount of work (depends on their ages as well as the schedule set by their teachers), then take a short, 10 minute break. Go outside. Jump on the trampoline. Get the mail. Throw the ball for the dog. Climb a tree.

*Leave the easiest or favorite subject’s work for after lunch/in the afternoon/last when their energy and focus are low.

**The biggest thing to remember is that this is trial-and-error. Reevaluate everyday with input from your kids. What worked? What bogged you down? Where did you get frustrated? Did you like doing the hardest assignment/class first?

Change what didn’t work. I’ve heard people say that the definition for crazy is doing something the same way over and over and expecting different results, and that’s true. It’s something to keep in mind when trying to figure out how to help your children learn from home. If you end every day angry or frustrated, look back at the day and try to figure out what caused the mood to go that way. Then try different strategies to change the outcome. Don’t keep doing things the same way and expect the day to go differently.

Encourage your children. Praise them when they do well. Help them when they need it. Enjoy brainstorming with them about an assignment. Use Khan Academy or other online tutorials for help with math. (Follow the link or just search YouTube for videos about the math concept that’s giving your kid grief and watch the ones from Khan Academy).

Know your kids. Are they better earlier in the day? Do they get “hangry” easily? Do they need “heavy work” on their breaks? Do they need quiet to stay focused and work efficiently? Does a schedule or outline of the day help? Do they prefer you to be nearby while they’re working or do they work well on their own? Is it comforting to their brain to have the dog sit in their lap so they can pet him while they work? Does it help their concentration to sit on the back porch and hear the birds and the breeze?

Try different things. Throw it out if it doesn’t work. Be flexible and adaptable. Monitor their progress and take breaks when they start to lose it. Have a quick snack or a walk around the yard.

They can do it.

You can help.

We can get through this.

Image Credit: NYPost.com

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What If There Might be a Way to Feel Less Afraid During This Time of Pandemic and Social Unrest,

What to do if You’re Tired of Living Like This

Why You Should Keep a Personal Journal (and some tips for getting started)

I’m bone-tired. Exhausted.

But when I look back over some of the entries I’ve written in my personal journal since the beginning of the year, I see that I’ve been in worse places. I forgot where I was in January/February.

I flip forward in the journal and see an entry from earlier in September…

“Yesterday was our best day this week so far!”

And an entry from a week after that…

“Ethan had another hard day yesterday.”

Sounds like a roller coaster, I know, but that isn’t the point of this post. When I read back through journal entries from earlier this year, I remembered how separated from God I felt in early 2020. I read entries where I wrote about the sin that was in my life at the time that was keeping me from Him. I was overcome with gratitude for the written record I had of my faith journey.

See, I keep a journal. I try my best to write in it daily. I keep notes from formal Bible studies I do at church as well as concepts I study on my own. When I research the original Greek words used in a Bible passage, I write it down. When I read a book of the Bible, I study and make notes on commentary about that book, plus I record my own thoughts from what I’ve read. I write out my prayers a lot, too, like I am writing a letter to God. I also write down my own thoughts on the day in general – things my family has done, current local and world events, things that are bothering me, goals I have, pretty much whatever comes into my head during my writing time.

I believe in the power of writing, can you tell?

You should try it.

If you don’t already keep a daily journal – especially if you are a Christ-follower who wants a deeper relationship with Him – grab a notebook and a pen and start today. No need to worry about grammar or punctuation. You don’t have to be a “writer.” It isn’t too time-consuming. There is so much value in writing down your thoughts, prayers, what you’re studying, and what’s going on in the world.

For example, I had completely forgotten about the spiritual pit I was in back in January/February.

How could I forget about feeling so desolate, you may ask?

Well, Covid-19.

Enough said.

But reading entries from that time was a blessing for me. It reminded me of what God has done for me, how He knew all the pleas scrawled on notebook paper (and heard the ones that never left my heart) and answered me. How He showed me that the separation was my doing. It was my willful disobedience keeping me from Him. How He forgave me when I turned from my sin and how He restored me.

As overwhelming and out of the ordinary as things have been since the spring, I can’t imagine I would have remembered the experience in such vivid detail if I hadn’t been journaling. The lesson may have been lost on me if I didn’t have a record I could reread.

I urge you – start journaling.

Get yourself a cheap spiral-bound notebook from Dollar General or order something fancy and leather-bound from Amazon. Doesn’t matter. Just get something and start writing.

Tips for Journaling

*In the inside cover of your journal, write the date you start writing in it as well as the date of your last entry.

*Date individual entries – you could even include the time of day and your location

*Set a timer – If you’re new to journaling or writing isn’t really your “thing,” start with 5 minutes on the timer. Challenge yourself to free-write – write without stopping, without worrying about how it looks or sounds – until the timer goes off. As you get more comfortable, add more time or stop using the timer altogether.

*Write whatever you want. There are no rules. No right or wrong.

*Don’t go back and reread entries to edit them. This is just about getting your thoughts out. (If the entry becomes something you want to share later on, go back and edit at that time).

*Set aside time to write every day. Make an appointment with yourself and pledge to keep it. Set a reminder on your smartphone if necessary.

*Type your journal entries into Word or Google docs (if you’re more high-tech than me. I like paper and pen). There are even voice recording apps for smartphones that you could use to dictate your entries. (I use the Voice Memo app on my IPhone when I have writer’s block or when I have a thought that I need to get out, but I can’t stop and write at the moment).

*If you get serious and decide you may want to find and post your handwritten entries or reuse them in some way, use 3M sticky labels to mark the topic of your entries, the verse you were studying, the book of the Bible you were reading, etc.

*If you’re keeping the notebooks in your home after you fill them with entries, choose a specific place to keep them – a bookshelf, drawer, or container, and put them in chronological order.

Ok, then. Ready. Set. WRITE!!!

Image Credit – Lifeway

Ok all you fellow writers and journalers out there, let me hear from you. Why do you write? What do you write about? Share your tips on starting and keeping up a writing/journaling habit.

The Important Things I Miss

“Why did you put quotation marks around all your sentences?” I asked Emery.

She and I were editing the misspelled words in a story she’d written for school when I realized that every sentence had direct quotation marks around it.

Every.single.sentence.

Whether it contained actual dialogue or not. (And there was no actual dialogue in the story).

“My teacher told me to put them around sentences when someone talks,” she told me. “I talked. I told the whole story.”

(Clearly she doesn’t understand the difference between actual character dialogue and narration).

I was already agitated because of some other run-ins I had with her and her brother earlier in the day while trying to help them do their school work. I saw this as yet another task to accomplish that was standing between me and the end of the day.

So, I furiously erased all the quotation marks and moved on to do something else.

Emery (and Zoe) doing virtual school work.

That moment came back to me a few days later because I was rereading something I wrote in my Bible study notes, and I stopped to make my direct quotation marks look better – they looked like tiny, weird curves suspended above the line on the page.

As I fixed my own punctuation, my memory flashed back to the quotation marks Emery used in her story – the ones I erased with almost enough force to rub holes in the page.

Her marks were PERFECT.

She took great care in making them all. The round part at the top (or bottom depending if they’re open- or close-quotation marks) and the curved tail coming off were perfection. I could tell she put a great deal of effort into making each one with her pencil.

Emery’s perfect direct quotation marks. Obviously, I did not erase them as completely as I thought I had πŸ™‚ But seriously, notice the open-quotation marks and the close-quotation marks look exactly like they’re supposed to look.

But, I didn’t compliment her on them. I didn’t even notice how careful she’d been about forming them correctly when I was in that moment. I was too busy violently erasing them and brushing pink eraser scraps off the paper to fully take in how meticulously she’d made the marks.

Isn’t that what emotion does? Distracts us with irrelevant details and makes us miss what really matters…

I missed a chance to applaud her attention to detail – to point out something she’d done well. I didn’t exactly fuss at her about them, but I was clear about my frustration with having to erase all of them.

Who wouldn’t benefit from a pat on the back?

Who doesn’t need a little extra encouragement, especially during this time of separation and alienation?

We could all use some positivity right now.

I pray I don’t miss that moment the next time around.

“Keep me in the moment; I don’t wanna miss what you have for me.” – Jeremy Camp https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pFuvAXzBt1E

Why We Should Let Our Children Fail {Sometimes}

I’m that parent. I don’t protect my children from every hardship. Struggling builds character. (Sounds like something my parents probably told me when I was younger. I imagine it infuriated me at the time time, but now I realize they were right…like they were about most of the stuff they told me).

Working through hardships helps children learn life skills such as endurance, perseverance (or stick-to-it-iveness as we call it where I’m from), stamina, and self-regulation. They learn about themselves: their strengths and weaknesses, what they can handle on their own, and when they need to ask for help.

These are all good things kids need to learn through the experience of living life as they figure out something hard or work through a challenge.

Of course, parents should support and encourage, but we don’t need to jump in and fix it or rescue them every time they hit a difficult place.

We can model how to work through the difficulty. We can support and encourage them with our words. We can help them talk through mistakes to figure out where they went wrong. We can assist them in developing strategies or alternatives for avoiding the same mistake in the future.

Ethan doing his schoolwork virtually. He’s sitting on the floor on top of the pillow from Zoe’s kennel and an almost-flat beanbag. He’s trying to type with his Chromebook in his lap. But, whatever works, right? I guess sitting at the table was getting boring.

Here’s a conversation I had with Ethan yesterday:

Me – Well, that assignment took 2 hours. What happened?

E – I had to watch the video over a couple of times.

Me – Why?

E – I watched the video, but I didn’t know what the teacher wanted me to do afterwards. When I went read the assignment and what questions I was supposed to answer, I didn’t know any of the answers from the video, so I had to watch it again.

Me – What could you do differently next time so it doesn’t take that long?

E – Read the whole assignment first, write down the questions I need to answer from the video, take notes while I watch the video?

This is something his dad and I and his teachers have told him about doing assignments where you have to watch videos and answer questions with information from the videos. Many times when he does an assignment like that he doesn’t follow the advice he’s been given, so an assignment that could probably be completed in under an hour consumes more time than it should.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not awesome at this “natural consequences parenting”. Sometimes I panic when I foresee the outcome of one of their decisions. Occasionally, I feel bad when they struggle with a task. I want to offer a bail-out from time to time.

Especially when it comes to this virtual-learning-during-a-pandemic stuff. Recently, I have described our journey in virtual learning as “excruciating,” and I have begged for anybody and everybody to help me alleviate this pain. (Facebook friends may remember my desperate plea just last week when I was looking for suggestions for ways to help him stay focused while he does his school work virtually from home). In particular, virtual learning is a learning experience for me, too, but we keep at it every day.

What I do know is that I can’t rescue either of my kids from all their messes for their entire lives, so I probably shouldn’t get them used to it. Yes, they will need help negotiating lots of situations. Some will require a bail-out from mama or daddy. Other times, it might be best to let them stumble and maybe even fall on their faces (with me within arms reach of course – just in case) so they can figure out how to get themselves up again. Failure can be good for a person πŸ˜‰

PS. After I wrote this today, I discovered that Ethan had gone through yet another video-watching assignment without following the advice for completing the assignment that I know that he knows (see our conversation above). When I asked him why it took him so long to do the assignment, he grinned at me…

You Gotta Read This Book

I just finished reading The Garden: A Spiritual Fable about Ways to Overcome Fear, Anxiety, and Stress by Jon Gordon, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Seriously. Go to Amazon or your favorite book seller right now, and order your copy. It is worth the $17 list price.

The Garden is for anybody experiencing fear, anxiety or stress or anyone who knows someone dealing with those issues. I would venture a guess to say…that’s pretty much all of us.

Gordon tells the story of the gospel through what he calls a “spiritual fable” – a narrative involving twin high-schoolers Jay and Kay and their neighbor Mr. Erwin.

Mr. Erwin befriends the siblings, and, using the garden he lovingly tends in his backyard, he helps them see how the enemy distracts people with lies and causes them to be fearful, anxious, and stressed. Then, Mr. Erwin reveals to the teens how God has already won the battle for them – all they have to do is avoid the 5 D’s which are the enemies tools for warfare.

I read this book because my son’s Sunday school teacher recommended it for parents of middle school or high school students, and I can see why. Everyone in my family will benefit from a discussion of the 5 D’s.

The copy I read actually belongs to my friend, but I will definitely purchase my own copy to reread and keep as a reference. I may even ask Ethan to read it himself since it reads like a narrative.

This book’s message is so timely because of the high-stress we’re living in right now with many still out of work due to the pandemic and school in an uproar. My son is most certainly experiencing some anxiety over starting middle school this year coupled with the challenges and frustrations of virtual learning. This, in turn is causing me fear, stress, and anxiety! I already feel more calm and confident after having read the book.

Buy it today and crack it open as soon as it arrives in the mail. It can’t come soon enough.

How to Love God

I love LOVE! There, I said it.

I especially love the idea of romantic love – I have since I can remember. I am a hopeless romantic.

Image Credit: Introvert, Dear

But, since I surrendered my life to Christ, He has taught me that I don’t know anything about love. I thought it was something I was supposed to feel. An overwhelming, all-consuming emotion. It was supposed to make me happy and giddy and forever excited to see the person who was the object of my love.

While some of that isn’t totally inaccurate, it’s only one side of the story.

I have learned that a Christian’s love should focus on God above anyone or anything else; He is the primary object of our love.

We express our love for Him by being obedient to how He said to live and by demonstrating love to other people.

God is love; therefore, Christians are love.

Many would argue that Christians aren’t love. Some of the people you’ve met proclaiming to be Christians weren’t loving. I can’t and won’t dispute that. I’ve met plenty of people proclaiming to be Christians who didn’t act loving either. Heck! I proclaim to be a Christian but don’t always show love well.

God doesn’t call us to worry about those other people as much as He calls us to do better ourselves.

Loving others is our command, and we have to do better at it.

It seems like it would help if we focus on the right thing first: God.

How do we focus on God? How do we love God?

Scripture says we must be obedient to Him.

Image Credit: Pinimg.com

Jesus tells us plainly in scripture that if we love him, we will keep him commandments. (John 14:15).

All.of.them.

Both practically – living them out – and conceptually – keeping our hearts and minds pure, too. (Matthew 5:27-28 gave an example of this).

Obviously, humans cannot do this on our own.

But it’s our purpose in life to keep our focus on God as much as we can. To pray to Him to help us focus on Him and to ask forgiveness when we don’t do it.

Be obedient.

Keep His commandments.

Live like He told us to live.

Pray.

Study the Bible.

Wait for His return.

Love other people.

This is what the Bible says about demonstrating our love for God.

But, exactly how do we do that?

I don’t know. We’ve got to talk to God it.

He’s given us the basics in His Word. He expects us to study it.

Then, we go to Him in prayer for the specifics – for how each individual person is to live out the commands.

It will look different for each person based on where you are in life right now.

He may ask you to be obedient by leaving a job.

by starting a job.

…by moving.

…by starting a ministry.

…by befriending someone.

…by trusting Him with your finances.

…by seeking Him about your relationships.

…by helping someone you don’t know.

by forgiving someone you don’t want to forgive.

by sacrificing your time for someone else.

…by spending more time in prayer and Bible study.

…by taking on a new responsibility at church.

…by stepping out of a responsibility at church.

Only through time in prayer with God can you discover how He has ordained that you should obey Him and show Him love. Spend that time with Him and with His Word and find out what He has for you to do.

How to Give Yourself Up For Others

My mom was an elementary school teacher. She started teaching after she graduated college, at 21, and retired when she was in her late 50s. She loved her students, and she was excellent at her job. It was most definitely her calling in life.

Once a teacher, always a teacher though, and she has worked with all 4 of her grandchildren during their early years. They are all avid readers and super-smart (I am biased, of course, since two of her 4 grandchildren are my children).

Currently, she plans lessons using the North Carolina standards for kindergarten so she can supplement what my younger nephew does in his one day of face-to-face learning and support him on the days he is at home.

My sister, my mom, and me at the beach this summer (July 2020)

“I planned more than he could possibly do in one day, like every teacher does when they lesson plan,” she told me this afternoon when she visited my children on the way home from keeping my nephew until his parents and older brother got home from school.

Between you and me, I am certain that this woman will teach, in some capacity, until the day she dies.

Years ago, after I started my own teaching job (my sister is a teacher, too, as are 4 of my mom’s nieces – I’m not saying my mom had something to do with all of that, but who’s to say she didn’t…) and saw how much time it took outside the classroom to plan lessons and score work, I realized something: I have little to no memories of mama creating lesson plans or grading students’ work. Obviously she did both, but I have few memories of it.

I asked her about it once. She told me that she did it after school before she came home or at night after my sister and I went to bed.

When we were awake, she gave her time to caring for her family – cooking, cleaning, helping with homework, doing things together as a family. Her work was secondary to us.

She gave herself up for us. In humility, she counted the needs of her husband and children as more significant than her own needs. She looked not only to her own interests but to ours as well.

Image Credit: Pinimg.com

I had to live this out this past Monday. It was the first day of school, and our school district is doing what our governor calls “Plan B.” Students go to school one day a week for face-to-face learning with their teachers. The other four days of the week they learn virtually from home. The preschool where I worked the past two years closed in March due to the Covid-19 pandemic and elected not to reopen this fall, so I am home helping my children do their online learning. Monday, my children started 6th and 2nd grades on their computers.

It was hectic. Tedious. Frustrating.

We sat at our little round table in the kitchen and dove in. Both kids had their computers out. Although I had my own work to do to get my online class ready (I was able to pick up a course to teach online as an adjunct for a college), I knew better than to try to do anything. I knew that the day had to belong to my children.

I sat between them and literally went back and forth helping them figure out how to navigate their pages, find their assignments, learn how to do them, and submit them.

I wasn’t even upset. I knew it had to be done. The only way the first day of school had a chance to be anywhere near smooth or successful was for me to put aside what I wanted to do and focus on helping them get going.

It was painstaking. At times it was nerve wracking. But it was what had to be done. And it was what countless parents, grandparents, older siblings, aunts, uncles, close family friends, or nannies did on Monday and will continue to do until we get these kids settled into a routine of online learning so they can work more independently.

What we did – what we do on a daily basis for our children, our spouses, our co-workers, our friends, the person behind us in the checkout line at the store that we let skip us because they’re holding 5 items and we have a cart full – is a demonstration of love – agapao.

And this is how God instructed us to show love to each other.

Ephesians 5:2 – And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God (ESV, emphasis added).

When we give ourselves up for other people, when we consider others’ needs and interests as more important than our own, when we outdo each other in showing honor, when we count others as more significant than ourselves, when we look not only to our own interests but also to the interests of others, we show love to those people. We act out love. We love the way God loved – or as closely as we are able to in our humanness.

I’ve been studying the biblical concept of love and HOW to show love for over a month now. God has shown me things, and I pray that He will help me put what He’s taught me into practice. I don’t just want to talk about it; I want to live it and do it – even to the people who are hard to love.

Talk to God. Ask Him to show you how to love other people. Ask Him to show you ways to give yourself up for the people around you. Then, as soon as He shows you, act on it right away before the enemy can talk you out of it. It might be something big, or it might be something small. It might cost you money or time or energy, but God has promised to use our acts of love to soften hearts and bring people to Himself. And He promises a blessing on those who bless others.

What can you do to show love to someone today?

Wait…I Have to Love My Enemies?

Has this ever happened to you: Someone hurt your feelings? Talked about you behind your back? Someone was difficult to deal with? Made your life hard or unpleasant?

Of course. We’ve all experienced hurtful situations and challenging people. We may not think of these people literally as our enemies. I definitely don’t think of myself as having enemies. That word’s a little harsh. But we certainly don’t think fondly of people who have wronged us. I know I have people in my life who are difficult to love. They rub me the wrong way. Our personalities don’t mesh well.

However, Jesus was clear that believers must love our neighbor – anybody we come into contact with during the course of our day – and we must love our enemy – the people who have hurt us.

Lately, I’ve been interested in exactly HOW to love others. Does the Bible give me specific instructions on exactly what to do to show love to my neighbor and my enemy?

To find out, I went back to the verse that started this whole thing: Ephesians 5:2, “And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God (ESV).” And I studied the two Greek words for love used in the verse – agape and agapao. Agape is a noun: a thing, concept, or an idea. Agapao is a verb: something you do, an action.

Using the Blue Letter Bible app, I read through all the verses that used agapao and noted verses that gave explicit directions – something specific to do to show love. The first concrete instructions in the New Testament using the verb agapao were given by Jesus. In Matthew 5:44, he said, “But, I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (ESV – emphasis added).”

How do we love others? How do we love people who have done us wrong? Pray for them – all of them – the ones who wronged us, treated us poorly, talked about us behind our backs, don’t deserve our kindness…

Jesus told us to have a conversation with God about that person; that’s what prayer is anyway, a conversation with God.

Can you ask God to burn the bread they’re toasting for breakfast or to give that person a flat tire on the way to work?

NO πŸ™‚

But, you can ask God to change him or her…to make that person into someone who acts kindly, stops spreading rumors, leaves your child along at school. All those requests are fine. In our conversations with God, we’re allowed to tell Him our hearts’ desire.

However, Scripture specifically instructs us to pray for our enemies’ salvation, to express thankfulness for those people, and to pray for their well-being (1 Peter 3:9).

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Sounds extremely difficult, right? When you’re upset with someone, the last thing you want to do is to pray for that person’s well-being! No! You want to call your best friend and tell him or her about who wronged you and how angry you are.

But, this has no place in the life of a Christ-follower. Jesus said we were to love the people who persecuted us. He also said, “do good to those who hate you (Luke 6:27 ESV).”

The apostle Peter echoed this when he wrote, “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called that you may obtain a blessing (1 Peter 3:9 ESV).”

Do good to people who hate you? Bless people who have done evil to! Can you imagine?

The Greek word used for bless means “speak well of,” and this is what God calls us to do. Don’t repay gossip with gossip or cruel words with cruel words.

Instead, try to say something pleasant to or about that person. Or, maybe try what my grandmother and mother taught me: If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.

Do you know what might happen in prayer with God when you talk to him about this person who is difficult to love? He might have some things to say to you as well. A conversation goes two ways, right? He may convict your heart to pray for that person’s soul and salvation. He may encourage you to overlook the offensive things that person has done and will do. He may command you to forgive. To continue to be kind no matter how you’re treated. To speak well of that person (or at least to keep your mouth shut).

So, in your prayer time with God, specifically about this difficult person, who is God actually changing?

You.

Crazy how that works, isn’t it.

I’m not saying the other person won’t also change as a result of your prayers. That is a likely outcome as well. But, God will definitely change you during your time in prayer with him.

Try it.

Right now, think of a person in your life who is difficult to deal with. Someone who has said something to you or about you or done somehting to you and upset you.

Stop right now and pray for that person. Ask God to speak to that person’s heart. Ask God to pursue that person for an intimate relationship like He (hopefully) has with you. Pray for that person’s soul and salvation. Pray for that person’s family. Job. Health.

Ask God to tell you other ways you could show kindness and love for that person and ask Him to give you the strength to do it.

Give God a chance to show you what He can do.

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Maybe this sounds unrealistic or oversimplified. And honestly, you won’t see the outcome you want from each “enemy” you pray for. But that doesn’t matter. It’s what Jesus taught, so it is what God expects. As His children, we should respond with obedience, no matter the outcome.

When Fixing a Cup of Water is an Act of Love

Bill’s cup of water for work πŸ™‚

Fix his water.

I read Scripture and took notes on how to walk in love for over a week and prayed for God to show me practical ways to love the people around me. But, I almost missed it when He told me something to do.

In the stillness of a recent morning, I sat at the dining room table surrounded by my Bibles, journal, and note pads having some quiet time, study time, and writing time before Bill went to work and the kids woke up and started their day.

Fix his water before he goes to the kitchen.

I smiled when I caught on. God answered my prayers.

But, I kept writing a little longer.

I thought, I hear you, God. Thank you for answering my prayer. I’ll do that in just a minute.

And I kept putting pen to paper.

Stop writing and go fix his water.

πŸ™‚

So, I fixed my husband a cup of ice water to take to work and had it ready when he came out of our bedroom.

On weekday mornings around 6:30, I stand in the kitchen and talk with Bill while he is getting his lunch ready for work. Recently, he started asking me to fix a cup of water for him as he made his sandwich.

The first time he asked me to help him – in the spring once the kids and I were home under quarantine and weren’t up getting ready for school and work – my first thought was, Nobody helps me get my stuff ready before I go to work. In fact, I do a lot of stuff the night before so I’m prepared and can get everything together quickly in the morning…

But, I don’t want to think thoughts like that. I want to be a respectful wife and help my husband when he needs me.

After all, I prayed for God to reveal to me practical ways to show love to others. Study of scripture showed me over and over that God expects believers to consider others’ needs and interests above our own.

And that’s what God told me to do: stop writing, something I like to do and am typically doing this same time every morning, and fix Bill’s water, something I knew would be helpful to him.

In next week’s blog post, I’ll share some of the scripture I found that explained exactly what Christian’s were to do to walk in love.