Monthly Archives: April 2017

The Challenge of Parenting

faith and family

The Challenge of Parenting

by Marcus J. Carlson

Being a parent is a great joy; in fact, it is one of the greatest joys life has to o er. It also is one of the most challenging tasks we are ever asked to do as human beings. I often tell expecting or new parents that parenting is one of the greatest and most meaningful things you will ever get to do, but it is also one of the hardest.

Like many things in our world, there is a lot about parenting that has not changed over the years, yet there are also many aspects of parenting that have changed dramatically and over a very short period of time. Over the past decade in particular, as I have worked with parents and made my best attempt at this thing called parenting, I have made some observations I believe can be helpful to us all, even those of us who are not currently parents.

The truth is the world is busier, messier, more dangerous, more divisive and uncertain than it has been at almost any other time in history. This adds to the challenge for parents as their children have greater access to resources and information, both good and bad. Many children face higher levels of pressure and anxiety than previous generations, while experiencing greater levels of resource and entitlement. This makes for a challenging and toxic combination.

Most parents today feel particularly alone. Though we have more tools and opportunities to connect in the world today, we have become more isolated as a society. In our busy world today, many parents feel very alone. Few parents I know or have ever spoken to feel as though they have friends who are also parents they can journey with in an honest and authentic way. For those who do have connections, they are far too few and far too often insufficient.

Many parents also feel judged by other parents, grandparents and adults in their lives. I could not begin to count the number of parents who see other families around them as so much better and as perfect, while I know full well that those very families face some of the same and perhaps even greater challenges. The grass is always greener on the other side, and many of our families have felt a need to pretend or put on an image of being more put together than they are — especially in churches and around other church members.

At one church I served, I often had the opportunity to see this dynamic in action every Sunday. From certain windows in the office area I could see a vast majority of the parking lot. Each Sunday I could look out the windows, and based on where a family would park in the lot I could tell which families were having a harder morning than others. I could easily discern which families were still nishing their argument before they walked into church to put their perfect image on display.

Parents today are simply overwhelmed. While this may have been true throughout all of history, it is more widespread than ever before. I have been blessed to have been surrounded by many wise people. My kids are gifted with many adults in their lives who care about them. We have been privileged to work with many kids and families, even before we had our own. We have had careers in education that have given us access to great tools and information.

Even with all of this at our own disposal, we have been overwhelmed many times as parents. Added to these three challenges is the reality that today more grandparents than ever are raising their grandchildren. No one plans to spend their golden years, the end of their career and their retirement season, raising children. Parenting today is a great challenge.

So often in talking with and working with other parents, I nd myself frequently doing two things: letting them know that what they are experiencing is normal and giving them permission to struggle.

Any good parent wants to be the best parent possible, and also wants to be better parents than the ones before and around them. We love our children and want to give them our best, but there are plenty of times where, for whatever reason, that does not happen. Most parents need to know that what they are feeling, experiencing and going through is normal. Many parents feel as though they are the only ones facing a particular challenge when in reality it is a common problem.

I also nd I often need to give parents permission to struggle. Parenting can be a scary adventure, and so often we doubt ourselves. Not only do we doubt ourselves, but many parents worry about how others view them. More times than not, we simply need permission to trust our instincts.

All this said, we are all in this together, and we need each other. No two parents can raise a child alone. It takes a village, Christ’s village, to raise a healthy, Christ-following child. Above all else — and perhaps more than ever, parents need each other. We need to learn from one another, support one another, encourage one another and pray, cry and laugh with one another.

I have found that gathering parents together is a gift to all. The beauty of the body of Christ, the church, is that God knew that while we each have a relationship of our own with Jesus, we need each other and faith is best expressed and lived in community. Every parent needs a community of parents alongside of them as they journey together through this gift, this adventure and calling we know as parenting.

In working with educators, social workers, pastors and other leaders who work with parents, I often remind them their job is to support and encourage parents, even if they do not agree with their parenting approach and even when their parenting falls short. We are meant to be a complement to parents, not a supplement. Those of us who have in uence in the lives of children and youth must build up, support, complement and partner with parents. We are all in this together, and our children and our youth need us all.

It is not just our children and youth that need us, however, it is all of the parents in our midst. In order to give our kids our best, we must start with building up and partnering with parents. Parenting is a calling and a gift, but is also a challenge. It is a challenge in which God walks with us, but it is also a challenge that should never be experienced alone. After all, we are all in this together.

Marcus J. Carlson is an ordained pastor (LCMC & NALC), with a Doctor of Ministry focused in family ministry. He cur- rently serves as Senior Pas- tor at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, Auburn, IN. He and his wife, Jessica, have two children.

For more on this topic, contact Marcus at:
or visit his website

Holy Families Parenting Page-Dealing with Money

Holy Families “On the Same Page” – Topical Parent Resource

Dealing With Money

How do we live as “Holy Families” when it comes to handling money?

Living as holy families means we should live as God intended for us to live in every aspect of our lives. We should model our lives after Jesus, imitating him as his disciples. One of the areas many Christians and families struggle to understand is in the area of money or nances. As parents, grandparents and other in uen- tial adults in the lives of our children, we must teach them about money, model stewardship, and give them a Biblical perspective on money. He reminds us that all we have comes from him and that it is to be used wisely in a Godly way. God calls us to be good stewards, to give and to be generous in all we do. We must teach and model this for our children as well.

In Luke 16, Jesus spent some time talking to his followers about money, wealth, generosity, and indebtedness. First he told a par- able about a dishonest manager who was in trouble with his mas- ter for wasting the master’s money and resources. We are called to be wise managers of what we have been given so that we neither squander our resources nor hoard them. At the end of the story Jesus warns his disciples, “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be de- voted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” (Luke 16:13)

Here are some practical ways to teach and model stewardship for our children:

1. Give them a weekly allowance that is age appropriate.

2. Teach them about spending, saving and giving with their allowance.

3. Create ways for them to earn extra money for extra work.

Allowance is a wonderful way to teach stewardship and how we are to live in ac- cordance with God’s word. We can begin by simply teaching our children how to set aside a portion of their weekly allow- ance for spending, saving and giving. As we model this for them, they learn about managing money, spending wisely, saving for the future and giving to the church all at the same time.

The key is to teach our children that all we have comes from God. We need to model stewardship in a way that is consistent with what God intended us to do. Living as holy families re ects our love for God and all He has done for us. It also re ects the love and hope we have for our children.

Topical conversation starters to help parents stay “on the same page” with each other and their families.

Things to Pray and Talk About:

a) Why is money so important? How does God want us to think about money?

b) What are some ways we can model Godly liv- ing with all of the resources we have?

c) What does generosity look like to you?

d) What does Jesus mean when he says we cannot serve God and money?

Asking for God’s Blessing:

God, we thank you for all that we have. Help us to recognize that everything we have ultimately comes from you: our skills, our work, our money, possessions and relationships. Give us a spirit of generosity as we seek to be stewards of all we have. Help us to live Godly lives as holy families in all aspects of our lives, including our money. We thank you for your generosity towards us. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Holy Families! Initiative © Sola Publishing, 2017 (www. Written by Marcus Carlson. Permission granted to copy for congregational and home use.

Holy Families Parent Page-Dealing with Change

Holy Families “On the Same Page” – Topical Parent Resource

Dealing With Change

How do we live as “Holy Families” when dealing with change?

Change is difficult for us all and often gets more di cult as we get older. Even our children have di culty handling change. The truth is that the only one who really enjoys change is a baby with a dirty diaper!

Change can be hard and unnerving even for the strongest of fami- lies. Regardless of whether the change is good, bad or indi erent, change has a tremendous impact on us. So how do Holy Families deal with change?

The first and most important thing is to look to God as the source of constancy in our lives. God is the one constant in our lives and in the world. Malachi 3:6a reminds us, “I the Lord do not change.” In a world that is ever changing, our God remains the same. Look- ing to God as the source and giver of life, remembering that he is the one who gives all good gifts, reminds us that we are not alone. He is our sure foundation as we weather any kind of change in our lives and in our families.

Secondly, we look for God in the midst of the thing that is actually changing. Whether it is good change or di cult change, change we have chosen or change that we did not choose, we look for God in the midst of the circumstances. The Holy Spirit is constantly pres- ent and at work in our families and in the details of our lives. God has something for each of us in every situation, season and tran- sition. God can and will do a good work in us. We must look for where the Holy Spirit might be moving in the midst of the change we face and ask God to reveal that work to us.

Thirdly, we ask God for help in the midst of change. So often when we face change, we try to handle it on our own or we wait to go to God as the last resort. God is always with us and cares about every aspect of our lives. It is in seasons of transition and change that we often need God the most. Prayer is essential to our lives, and it is essential in times of transi- tion, uncertainty and change. We can go to God with any thought, feeling, joy, worry or fear we have. God hears us, understands us and cares about us. He embraces us in love without condition.

Finally, we must trust God because he can be trusted in all things. Trust is our one great act and God does the rest.

Change can be good, it can be hard or it can sometimes be indif- ferent, but it is a reality of life. Regardless of the type of change we face, God is with us in the midst of it and in every season of life.

Topical conversation starters to help parents stay “on the same page” with each other and their families.

Things to Pray and Talk About:

a) How do you feel about change? How do you think others feel about change?

b) What are some ways you can ask God to help you in the midst of change?

c) What can we do as a family to rely on God during change?

d) How does your faith in God impact how you think about and deal with change?

Asking for God’s Blessing:

God, we thank you that you never change. Your faithfulness endures forever, and your love never fails. Help us to look to you in the midst of any change we may face. Help us to listen to the move- ment of your Holy Spirit and to trust you in all seasons of life. Open our eyes, our hearts and our minds to what you have for us. In the name of Je- sus we pray. Amen.

Holy Families! Initiative © Sola Publishing, 2017 (www. Written by Marcus Carlson. Permission granted to copy for congregational and home use.

Holy Families Parent Page-Loss of a Pet

Holy Families “On the Same Page” – Topical Parent Resource

Dealing With Loss of a Pet

How do we live as “Holy Families” when we lose a pet?

Loss is always difficult. When we lose a family member, friend or another person, it is di cult regardless of the circumstances, their age or even our age. Loss is hard when it is expected and when it is not. While losing a person we know or love is di cult, losing a pet can also be very di cult, especially for children. Teaching children about loss is one of the hardest and yet most signi cant tasks par- ents must tackle in their ministry to their children.

Some of the most painful moments come when our children are hurt or sad. There are few things as painful as seeing your own children in pain, especially when you do not feel equipped to handle the problem. It is natural to want our children not to experience pain, yet pain and loss are a reality of life. We have an obligation to help our children deal with pain and loss as we prepare them for adulthood.

The loss of a pet can feel as signi cant as losing a person, especial- ly to children. Pets are not people, but they are often family. Many of us can be very thankful that as children we grew up with pets; pets teach responsibility, care and love, amongst other things. All creation matters to God, and all creatures have been created by God to display his glory, grace and love, even those animals, in- sects and other creatures we are not too fond of! Helping children understand our unique place in God’s creation as human beings made in the image of God is important. Helping our children value all of creation is also very important as we have been given the task of care-takers of the creation.

What do we do, as parents, when we face the loss of a pet in our family? First, we thank God for all creation, especially the pet that we have lost. Teaching our children to start with thankfulness is essential. Second, we allow ourselves and our children to grieve.

Grief is normal and takes on many stages and forms. It is di erent for every person in every situation. Model and allow grief. Third, we ask God to be with us in our time of grief. God always walks with us, espe- cially in our pain and we can trust God with the future. No one can say for certain what happens to our pets when they die, but like our own salvation, we trust in God’s love and grace.

Loss is never easy. We thank God for family, friends, and for all of creation. We can trust God in the midst of our grief and walk with our children in the midst of theirs, reminding them that Jesus walks with them always.

Topical conversation starters to help parents stay “on the same page” with each other and their families.

Things to Pray and Talk About:

a) What is your favorite creature? What is or was your favorite pet?

b) Why do you think God gives us pets?

c) How can we learn about God and love from our pets? What are our responsibilities to our pets?

d) How does your faith in God impact how you think about the loss of a pet?

Asking for God’s Blessing:

God, we thank you for all that you have created. We thank you for our pets. We thank you for the opportunity to care for them and for making them part of our family. May we worship and praise you in all that we do. We thank you for joy and beauty and we thank you even for pain and loss. Help us to love all of creation just as you do. In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.

Holy Families! Initiative © Sola Publishing, 2017 (www. Written by Marcus Carlson. Permission granted to copy for congregational and home use.

Holy Families Page-Dealing with Fear

Holy Families “On the Same Page” – Topical Parent Resource

Dealing With Fear

How do we live as “Holy Families” in the face of fear?

Fear is a very common and natural feeling. We all have things we fear. Some of them are things like snakes or spiders; others are speci c situations such as heights or water, and others might be life challenges such as nances or health issues. We all have things we fear as individuals and as parents. Being a parent is certainly one of the scariest adventures we may ever experience. Worrying about the health and well-being of our children is a natural, yet unpleasant reality we all face at various times as we raise our kids.

Fear is not something unique to an individual, nor is it unique to our time. The Bible is lled with stories of people, of God’s chil- dren, dealing with fear. In fact, words that address the issue of fear appear in the Bible repeatedly, “Do not be afraid.” Every time we read in the Scriptures about a supernatural encounter with God, we see this same comment: “Do not be afraid!” We hear about it when humans encounter angels, Jesus, burning bushes, and en- counters on mountaintops. Over and over again, every time God shows up, the dialogue begins with, “Do not be afraid.”

We live in a world driven by fear; our media sells it, businesses market with it and our government runs on it. Fear dictates our words, actions, feelings, and relationships. This is unhealthy, false and not at all what God wants for us. Fear has far too much power in our lives and Jesus has far too little. Jesus brought an end to a world driven by fear and we have become so familiar with the story, we have forgotten that. We have forgotten how to let the story of Jesus and our story as his people dictate how we operate. Instead, we let the story of fear that surrounds us, rule us. That is not the life Jesus wants for us; it is not the life we have to live.

The Bible does talk about fear in another way, fear of the Lord. This does not mean what we often think it means, to literally be afraid of God. Rather, it refers to a posture of respect, honor and awe, which is an en- tirely di erent thing. Instead of knee-shak- ing, nail-biting fear, God calls us to a life of trust. Trust is the opposite of fear.

Nothing good has come from fear in the long term, but life is always found and en- hanced in the midst of hope, regardless of the circumstances. We are a people of hope, not fear. We are called to trust God in all circumstances. The word faith means “to trust.” In a world that sells us a culture of fear, we are called as followers of Jesus to a di erent way of living. We are called to trust. Do not be afraid for there is hope and his name is Jesus.

Fear has far too much power in our lives and Jesus has far too little.

Topical conversation starters to help parents stay “on the same page” with each other and their families.

Things to Pray and Talk About:

a) Why do you think God says “do not fear” so often in the Bible?

b) What are the things you are most afraid of? Why?

c) Why is it so hard to trust God with every part of our lives? How can we allow God to help us with our fear?

Asking for God’s Blessing:

God, we thank you for always being with us. We thank you in our most insecure and fearful mo- ments that we are not alone. God help us to hear your gentle whisper of ‘do not fear’ the fearful mo- ments of life. God help us to trust you with every aspect of our lives knowing that you care for us, will protect us and will make good of any di cult situation. Amen.

Holy Families! Initiative © Sola Publishing, 2017 (www. Written by Marcus Carlson. Permission granted to copy for congregational and home use.