By Grace Alone

The real life struggles of a Christian mom

Greed November 29, 2007

Filed under: spiritual growth,Uncategorized — Marissa Henley @ 12:55 pm
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Tuesday night at the dinner table, as Noel prayed before the meal, he thanked God for all our material blessings. This isn’t a routine part of our pre-dinner prayer, so in my mind I started wondering if he had found out about a Christmas bonus or a raise or some exciting news like that. Later, as I drove home from BSF, I realized how disgusting and sinful my reaction was. I had been sitting in a beautiful home, filled with furniture, food, clothing, and toys, about to eat one of many meals that could be prepared from our fully-stocked pantry–we have more than we could possibly need. And instead of joining my husband in being grateful for all the ways God has blessed us, I was thinking, “Is there more??”

It gets worse. I thought back on the things that consumed my thoughts during the day. I had contemplated whether or not I would ever own designer jeans, when I might be able to have a set of Lenox Christmas china, and when I might be able to afford a housekeeper. I spent time obsessing over the layers of fat around my stomach and spent too much time and money making sure that if I wasn’t able to look cute, my kids certainly would.

Then I remembered an incident a day or two before when Christopher had some kind of treat and wanted another one, and I admonished him for being greedy. “You need to be thankful that you got a treat–to want more is just being greedy.” And more layers of sinfulness started to peel back in my heart as I saw not only a shocking level of greed in my life, but hypocrisy as well. How will my children ever take my warnings about greed seriously if they see me chasing after more and more in my own life?

It was part of our BSF lecture that night that drew my attention to this particular pattern of sin in my life. In Matthew 9, Matthew gives his own testimony (verse 9). He was a tax collector, which means he was the most corrupt, hated man in town. He was becoming filthy rich by cheating his own people. When he left his tax collector’s booth to follow Jesus, he suffered a massive financial loss. But, as our BSF teaching leader pointed out, Matthew never mentions this material sacrifice. Because his heart had been transformed by Jesus’ amazing grace, it just wasn’t an issue for Matthew.

I am willing to give for Jesus. I’m willing to have less because I’m trying to glorify God with my finances. But I can’t say I don’t think about it. Sometimes I feel like I deserve a medal just for giving God what is His to begin with, and I look down on others who I feel aren’t being as holy as I am in this area, when in reality, I have a lot of work to do. I want to be like Matthew–to be so singularly focused on Christ that the things of this world are of no significance, except in how they can be used for God’s kingdom.

I’ll admit, this entry is not easy for me to post. I’m embarrassed about my thought life, and it would be much easier to keep it between God and me. I’ve thought a lot lately about why I’m keeping this blog. The two primary reasons are for my own growth as I grapple with issues and then go back and read the posts and remind myself of what God has been teaching me, and also as a legacy for my children to see what God was teaching me through them and others. The goal of this blog is to bring glory to God. So if I can be reminded in a few weeks to continue to repent of my greed, and if my children can someday see that I was trying to live with integrity as I taught them to not be greedy, then I’ve accomplished my goal. And if other women reading this are struggling with these same issues and are helped by my making this post public, then I hope God is glorified by that result.


The Mommy Action Figure November 21, 2007

Filed under: Uncategorized — Marissa Henley @ 3:30 pm

Last night at BSF, our teaching leader was lecturing on Matthew 8. In that chapter, we see a man with leprosy, a Gentile military leader, and Peter’s mother-in-law all taking action that demonstrates their faith in Jesus. Our leader gave an illustration about a new line of religious action figures (including a talking Jesus doll) that will be sold at Wal-mart. (Click here for the news story.) She talked about the fact that if our lives have been changed by God, if we have been saved by grace through faith in Christ, our actions will prove that we have put our faith in Jesus as our Redeemer. In the second half of Matthew 8, we see that Jesus is the Ruler of the universe–over nature and demons–and that our faith in action should reflect this truth as well.

At the end of the lecture, she asked us, “If they made an action figure out of you, what would it look like? What would it say and do?” Would my action figure reflect my hope in Jesus as my Redeemer and the Ruler of the universe? Or would it reflect my desire to glorify myself and hang on tightly to my rule over my life (and the lives of as many other people as possible)??

The mental image that comes to mind when I think about an action figure of myself is not a pretty one. She would be dressed in sweats but never actually make it to the gym. She would be loud, speaking mostly in commands and exasperated rebukes. When you pulled the string in her back, you would hear, “Give that back to your brother! Stop whining! Do you need to go potty?? Go get in the car RIGHT NOW–we’re late!!!” She would run around a lot and run out of battery power frequently. And by the time the Daddy action figure got home from work, her head has exploded and you have to glue her ears back on so she can listen to how his day was. She would come with a SwifferVac (my new favorite toy!), laundry basket, and diaper bag sold separately.

I’m trying to be funny, but it was seriously a great question to get me thinking about how my actions reflect where I’m placing my hope. Is my hope in my stuff, my home, my financial security, my husband’s job, and how well my kids turn out in the eyes of the world? Am I busy about the work of all of those things? Or is my hope in Jesus alone as my Redeemer and the Ruler over all aspects of my life? Am I busy about the work that He gives me which has eternal value? Is my effort as a wife, mom and homemaker seeking to glorify myself by having nice things and a family that looks happy from the outside? Or am I seeking to glorify God alone by humbly serving my husband and children and preaching the Gospel to them with my words and actions? As always, these are some tough and very convicting questions.

And please, don’t buy my kids a talking Jesus doll for Christmas.


Decreasing, the application part November 7, 2007

Filed under: Uncategorized — Marissa Henley @ 2:44 pm

Several years ago (before kids), a friend who had children made a comment to me about how I wouldn’t truly realize how selfish I am until I had kids. I remember being a little offended at the time, thinking she was wrong, and that I had a pretty good idea about how selfish I really was. It may not be true of everyone, but in my life, my friend was right. Before kids, I could usually make things work out the way I wanted them to. There was some sacrifice involved in marriage, but I am an excellent manipulator and a skilled arguer, so I could usually get my husband to come around to my way of thinking. But I’ve met my match when it comes to my kids. They are not concerned at all with what I want. So one of the toughest parts about being a mom for me is that multiple times a day, I have to die to my own desires. Sometimes it is downright painful. And too often I start to resent it.

This was definitely true during the last half of October. Here’s a recap . . . October 18, Will started running a fever. There were 8 days until my birthday, and I always have a sick kid on my birthday, so I was actually glad for my kids to catch the bug then so they could be healthy in time to give me a happy, carefree birthday. After Will had been sick for 4 days, Christopher caught it. By this point, I was starting to lose patience with being at home, and now I had two sick children. Christopher’s virus was short-lived, but Will’s dragged on for over a week.

When I woke up on the morning of my birthday, facing my 8th day of being confined at home with a sick child, I prayed that God would keep me from self-pity, from feeling that I deserved to have a fabulous day just because it was my birthday. I even gave this line to a friend who called that morning to wish me happy birthday and was appropriately sympathetic about Will still being sick.  I thought, “Oh, no, I don’t need your sympathy. I’m super-spiritual mom, queen of unselfishness, and I certainly don’t need to be celebrated on the day I graced the world with my presence.”

As it turned out, the day was a disaster. A mere twenty minutes after I got off the phone with my friend, both boys and I were crying. Later in the day I yelled at Christopher, “Why are you acting like this?!? Are you just trying to make sure I don’t have a good birthday?!?” And anyone else who called me that day got a hefty dose of self-pity and requests for major amounts of sympathy. (But, for the record, my birthday got a lot better after Noel got home from work.)

The boys were healthy for a day and a half, and then on Sunday afternoon, Christopher woke up from his nap with a temperature of 102. I saw all my plans for the week (including Halloween) crumble, along with any bit of emotional stability I had left. I still feel guilty about how I was much more concerned about myself that afternoon than I was about my sick child. I hit an all-new low at the pediatrician’s office the next afternoon when he ruled out anything we could get an antibiotic for and mentioned that it could be mono. (Thankfully, it wasn’t, and he was even better in time to enjoy Halloween.)

Why have I gone on and on about these two weeks of my kids being sick? Because the whole episode has shown me how difficult it is for me to muster the self-denial and unselfishness that motherhood requires. I am required to serve again and again without much gratitude in return. My needs and wants are trumped daily by my kids’ needs. I spend hours trying to teach them to obey, and then struggle to not take it as a personal offense when they do the opposite of what I’ve taught them. (A friend I was talking to on the phone got to overhear this comment last week: “Do you think it is a good idea to hit your brother in the face with a shoe? Really, that should be obvious.”)

One reason all of this is so difficult is that it brings me face-to-face with my sin. I can’t help but notice my selfish reaction to my kids being sick. I can’t ignore the irony when I am yelling at Christopher, “You need to get some self-control RIGHT NOW!!!!” I hardly ever had to apologize to my co-workers, but I have to seek my kids’ forgiveness on a regular basis.

The only answer I can think of is to ask God to change my heart so that I desire His glory more than my own. To pray that God would protect my kids from all my mistakes and that their lives would glorify Him, even if they don’t always make me look good. To saturate myself in God’s Word so that I will become more like Christ, who “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant” (Philippians 2:6-7). Because I cannot muster the strength to fight my selfish desires on my own. If I am ever going to be able to put my kids ahead of myself not only in action, but also thought and motive, it will be by God’s grace alone.