Buck up, Buttercup: On Running With Horses & Our Non-Coddling God

run with horses

If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses?

Jeremiah 12:5a

Our culture is getting so soft. No one can handle criticism. People just wilt. I can’t tell you how many times that gist has come up in conversation lately.

I’m no expert on culture. So correct me Mom and Dad if you think I’m wrong: You weren’t much for coddling. And correct me sons if you think I lie: I’m not much for coddling.

Which is probably just fine. Here’s why.

I Thought I’d Be Wrecked

No bright pink line. Another stinging sign of my empty womb. I thought I’d be wrecked at the next fruitless month. Little did I know there would be more than two hundred empty months (and nine full months) ahead. But here I am. I’m not wrecked.

I was looking for dirty socks under his bed. But there it was, my clue that something was off. I thought I’d be wrecked if we didn’t fix this now. But the rascally habit grew. It got more entrenched and bore bitter fruit. But here I am. I’m not wrecked.

They walked out of our house in silence. We’d have to meet again and try again to patch things up. I thought I’d be wrecked by year’s end if we couldn’t mend. But it would be ten long years before hugs. But here I am. I’m not wrecked.

If anything I’m stronger. Because sufficient grace kept flowing as all those ruins fell.

God gave compassion and comfort and care. But there was not coddling.

Warm Mush & Helicopter Moms

So what is coddling?

To coddle means to overprotect. Not to protect, but to overprotect. As in helicopter mom. As in Ashley and her twelve year-old daughter Lacy, A girl was mean to Lacy at lunch, so I called her teacher and messaged the girl’s mom. As in, It’s 50 degrees so wear your hat and mittens and coat, Lacy, or you can’t go outside.

But I know many of you enjoy word study and a few love Latin. So here’s the quick etymology of coddling:

Coddle is probably a dialect variant of obsolete caudle: ‘administer invalids’ gruel’, based on Latin caldum: ‘hot drink’, from calidus: ‘warm’.

Oxford Languages

God protects us. It’s what my friend Kat calls life under the wing. She’s right. When God is our refuge, no evil will befall us.

But that doesn’t mean he spares us grief, trouble and pain. While God is absolutely compassionate and merciful and comforts us in our sorrows (2 Corinthians 1:3-4), our Heavenly Father does not coddle his children.

He doesn’t overprotect us or spoon feed his adult children mush. God wants us to grow up (Ephesians 4:13, Colossians 1:28). But solid food is for the mature.

Anti-fragile: Children Prepared For The Road

I probably wouldn’t have had coddling on my mind if our book club hadn’t just read The Coddling of the American Mind. In it, Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt take on some great cultural “untruths,” like human fragility: the untruth that what doesn’t kill us makes us weaker. The truth, they say, is that humans are anti-fragile.

While that is true now and then—the greater truth is that human beings need physical and mental challenges or we decline. Stress actually makes us stronger, not weaker. For example, muscles and joints need stressors to develop properly. Without stress, our muscles to atrophy, our joints to lose range of motion, our heart and lung function to decline, and blood clots may form.

This is not mere resilience as when when we bounce back from a fall like a rubber ball. It’s more. Anti-fragile means we actually get stronger, we move past baseline, because of the stress.

The foolishness of overprotection is clear as soon as you understand the concept of anti-fragility, Lukianoff and Haidt explain. Given that risks and stressors are natural, unavoidable parts of life, parents and teachers should be helping kids develop their innate abilities to grow and learn from such experiences. There’s an old saying: “Prepare the child for the road, not the road for the child.”

In other words, the trials you’re facing now will prepare you for bigger ones later. Running against men will get you ready to race horses.

Not the Exception, the Rule

Time to explain the horses. A little background might help.

I’ve been reading Jeremiah lately. It strikes me again that God doesn’t coddle his children. He doesn’t overprotect the ones he loves. Rather, he prepares them for the rocky road ahead with smaller bumps now.

The more I read the Bible the more I see this not as the exception, but as the rule. Job and Jeremiah and Elijah and Paul and 11 of 12 apostles who died martyrs deaths prove it. Recall Jesus’ words to Peter, What is it to you? You follow me. God often turns up the heat before he turns it down. He prepares his children for the road.

Here’s what I mean, spotlight on Jeremiah. As chapter 12 opens, the weeping prophet takes God to task.

You are always righteous, Lord,
    when I bring a case before you.
Yet I would speak with you about your justice:
    Why does the way of the wicked prosper?
    Why do all the faithless live at ease?

We get that, don’t we? How many of us would have a word with the Lord about his justice? Why is it bad guys thrive and honest, decent folks barely survive?

While it is grand to pour out our hearts to God, it doesn’t guarantee that we’ll like his reply. When Jeremiah inquires about the mistreatment he’s receiving in his own hometown (see 12:6), from his own brothers, God gives a shocking response.

You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet

So what is God’s answer to Jeremiah‘s questions? God comes back with a couple questions of his own:

If you have raced with men on foot, and they have wearied you, how will you compete with horses? And if in a safe land you are so trusting, what will you do in the thicket of the Jordan?

Jeremiah 12:5

You ain’t seen nothin’ yet. It’s as if God takes Jeremiah down to a track meet and has him run the 400 meter, the 800 meter and the mile. Then, as he stands doubled over in the infield, God asks, Jeremiah, you all set to race in the derby? You’re in lane five, against Secretariat.

The second question is like asking, If you fall down in the Great Plains how are you ever going to make it over the Rocky Mountains? Things will get worse before they get better. If the hometown crowd is mean to you, get ready for the toughies in Jerusalem.

Buck up, Buttercup. How will you compete with horses?

Prepared For The Road Ahead

In a message on Jeremiah 11-12, Phil Ryken says, God did have great things in store for Jeremiah, but he could never achieve them unless he was willing to persevere in little things. There were greater challenges to come.

By analogy, Jeremiah could expect to run against horses in the future. He needed to learn how to trust God and to draw on His strength in his present challenge, in order to prepare him for the greater challenges in the future.

If Jeremiah was foundering at his mild mistreatment in Anathoth, how would he fare in big-hostile Jerusalem? Before long, he would be locked in stocks (Jeremiah 20:1-3), thrown into a muddy cistern (Jeremiah 38:6), and imprisoned in the court of the guard (Jeremiah 28:13). The troubles he was having in Anathoth, Ryken says, were nothing compared to the troubles he would have later in Jerusalem, Babylon, or Egypt.

In order to our preparation for further and greater trials, we are concerned to approve ourselves well in present smaller trials, to keep up our spirits, keep hold of the promise, with our eye upon the prize, so run that we may obtain it.”

That is 17th-century Bible teacher, Matthew Henry’s take on Jeremiah 12:5 and our non-coddling God. Our non-coddling, deeply-compassionate God who lovingly trains us for more difficult roads ahead.

Our Strength

So where’s the good news in this, Abigail? Good question.

Jeremiah never saw the hard road coming. But I want us to see it. I want you to learn what it’s taking me so long to learn. In the decades since that first negative pregnancy test and that wrapper under the bed and those hug-less years, I’m learning to feel God’s love in the trials, to know his purpose, that the Lord is compassionate and merciful (see James 5:11).

But believing that takes frequent reminders. Reminders about running with horses. Reminders that God is a loving Father but not a coddling grandfather.

Jeremiah’s little exchange with God reminds me again that our God is not safe— if safe means he keeps us from hardship and trouble. No, as Mr. Beaver said of Aslan, Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.

Good parents prepare their children for the challenging roads ahead. Our Heavenly Father is doing just that. Which, I hope you’ll agree, is good news.

As I close, I ask, Who’s running against you? What troubles could wreck you? What is the long, hard road you’re on?

Now stop.

Just look at you. Here you are—running with horses, bucking up. You are strong.

And you are definitely not wrecked.

The LORD is the strength of His people, a stronghold of salvation for His anointed.

Proverbs 28:8

When Grace Tasted Like Auntie Anne’s Pretzel Bites

Pretzel bites

I don’t get it, Mom. Why did Aunt Danielle get Ella all those pretzel bites?

Ella* was the only one who whined and cried on the drive and now she walks out with the pretzel bites. Just her—no one else. That does not seem right.

I had to agree. As much as I talk about grace and write about grace and stand in grace, I was caught off guard by my sister’s grace.

Why Grace Doesn’t Seem Right

Because from our inside the van perspective, Ella seemed the least deserving of a treat. Oh sure, our drive home from northern Michigan was fraught: six hours of torrid air conditioning, a steadily deflating rear tire and horrid Chicago traffic that delayed potty stops were perfect fodder for any grumbler.

Still, Gabe didn’t grumble.

But when we finally walked into the Lake Forest Oasis, Gabe didn’t get pretzel bites. Ella did. In fact, of all six cousins, only Ella did. Aunt Danielle bought a big cup of Auntie Anne’s pretzel bites just for Ella. A big cup of grace.

So no, Gabe, it doesn’t seem right. Because at its core, grace is undeserved favor. It comes in so many transforming shapes. But it is never earned or deserved. Grace is not just for good people. 

We thing that God loves good people rather than that his love makes people good. But, as Jeremy Treat explains, the Bible is not a story of God looking for good people, but one of God redeeming sinful people.

Behold What Wondrous Grace

Behold what wondrous grace, Isaac Watts wrote. But did you know that you really can behold it? That you actually can see grace?

Did you know that you can see grace?

It’s not invisible like the wind. In Acts 11:23, we read how Barnabas arrived in Antioch and “witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all…”

Short rabbit trail, but I can’t help but think it is no coincidence that it is Barnabas, whose name means “son of encouragement,” who saw God’s grace. I’m not sure if it’s correlation or causation—if seeing grace makes one an encourager, or if encouragers simply see grace more clearly—but I know that encouragers see grace.

Regardless, sometimes we get to do more than merely see grace.

A Taste of a Pretzel Bite

Back in the Lake Forest Oasis parking lot, waiting beside a hot, disgruntled son, I shut my eyes and sighed.

You got it, Gabe. In a way, grace never seems right. Because we think of right as deserve. And we can never ever deserve grace. We can never ever earn the love of God. We can never ever pay our way to his favor.

We looked up. The cousins were coming. They were close enough to see Danielle’s grace. We saw the Auntie Anne’s salty nuggets in Ella’s hand.

Now Ella looked up at me, the selfsame aunt who had delayed our hot van from the potty stop that might have prevented her tears and distress.

Do you want to try one, Aunt Ab? She held out the cup. I took one hot, doughy, unmerited, unpaid for, and fully undeserved bite.

And it tasted all of grace.

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions

it is by grace you have been saved.

Ephesians 2:4-5

Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.

Psalm 34:8

*Not her real name

“Good Grace Stuff That Didn’t Make The Cut”

  1. On “5 Misconceptions of Grace” and “3 Enemies of Grace”: Jeremy Treat explains, “Confusion results because we don’t get grace; meaning, we receive it but we’re not transformed by it because we don’t understand it.”
  2. On being a “Grace Amnesiac”: Paul Tripp says we don’t need more grace. Rather, we need to understand and live in light of the grace God already gave us. Tripp explains the phrase, “grace amnesiac.”
  3. On grace being more than undeserved favor. It is. But, as John Piper explains, biblically it is so much more, including “the action or the power, which produces real, practical outcomes in people’s lives.”
  4. On tasting grace when our taste is gone: I share some spiritual lessons from the time my taste died. One nugget: Appetite comes by eating. Even when God’s Word of grace doesn’t taste good, keep eating.

5 Tips For Royal Tastemakers: How We Help Shape Tastes

Baby eating watermelon

The words of King Lemuel. An oracle that his mother taught him: What are you doing, my son? What are you doing, son of my womb? What are you doing, son of my vows? It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine, or for rulers to take strong drink… 

Proverbs 31:1-2, 4

Preparing Royal Palates  

Is there squash in this, Mom? I hate squash. Do I have to eat it? 

You do, Son. Two bites. The Tastemaker holds firm and holds her breath.

Yuuuuuuck. It just looks so gross.

Tastemaker looks away and waits. Finally, at the sound of a slurp, she exhales.

Not as bad as I thought, the young prince admits, and dips for spoonful two. 

Royalty holds itself to a higher standard, which may or may not include squash soup. In any case, I doubt Prince William slugged six-packs of Surge or Prince Harry survived on Hershey’s. And it is ours to raise sons and daughters-not of any king or queen-but of the King of kings. To be royal tastemakers. 

Parents, and aunts and uncles and friends, we are influencers. We called to help train children’s tastes. And not just any tastes, but discriminating tastes, and pure spiritual flavors.

Because it is not for kings to go with the flow. Those of royal blood don’t play fast and loose with food and drink. What’s acceptable for some, wrote Matthew Henry, would profane their crown, by confusing the head that wears it; that which for the time unmans them does for the time unking them.

Even kings must be catechised and princes and princesses must be taught.

Healthy Tastes Don’t Just Happen 

One friend tells me her girls actually request squash soup and my five-year old nephew inhales carrots with hummus. But in our house raw veggies routinely reappear in shriveled, dried form in wastebaskets. Hummus migrates there, too.

I’m not above it. I was an Esau. In grade school I’d trade my mom’s hearty whole-wheat bread for soft, squishy white fluff. It used to be Pop-Tarts and Twinkies and Fruit Loops. Now it’s arugula with walnuts and Stilton and Greek yogurt with berries and seeds. 

Tastes do change. But how?


In “Healthy Eating: can you train yourself to like it?” Guardian reporter Amy Fleming answers that question, with Yes! But they must taught. We need training to love what’s good. We didn’t-and our kids won’t-just “grow into” kale and cauliflower.

The holy grail, surely, is to learn to love health food more than junk, thus avoiding the binge-fast vicious circle. We know that most of our food likes are a triumph of nurture over nature, with the exceptions of an innate fondness for sweet, and distaste for bitter.

Most of our “real food” preferences are learned, Fleming concludes. So how do we teach them? I’m right with you in the trenches, beside boys slurping Spaghettios with Ninjago comic books outspread. I’m still learning.

But I won’t go silent into that junk food night. I am that mom who offers snap peas and stuffed peppers and serves salad and lasagna. I want their tastes to shift not to drift, so I pull hard on my Mom oars. I’ve got princes in the boat.

It’s all of grace, for sure, the acquiring of nourishing spiritual tastes. God gives life and new life. He made our mouths and gives us new tastes (Ephesians 2:3-5, 2 Peter 1:4). So desire for healthy soul food is way more than nurture. It’s being given a new nature.

PREPAring Palates For New Tastes

But there are means to put us on the path, to PREPAre the way for healthy new tastes. Means are unavailing unless the Lord blesses them. So we pray God will incline hearts to fear his name, and PREPAre our tastes so that healthy food tastes good.

Diet experts assure us that the best way to increase consumption of veggies is to have them washed and chopped and out. PREPAration clearly counts.


1. P-Proximity

Teach them diligently to your children and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. Deuteronomy 6:7


The familiarity that comes from repeated exposure does not breed contempt. Have them keep trying it, and they just might like it. One study showed that after nine or ten tries, most kids started to like the new veg. Some even said, the liked it “a lot.” So keep packing the peapods and peppers. Keep your library basket filled with good books.


Proximity primes the palate.


2. R-Reward


The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes….By them your servant is warned; in keeping them there is great reward. Psalm 19:8, 11

Another study found that healthy tastes can be nurtured. When kids were first fed sweetened broccoli, the kids liked the taste of plain broccoli more. Bible Lite is sugar: Gabe loves his Minecraft Bible and Sam, his Power Bible. Before the reward is intrinsic, you might sweeten the deal.

My parents had me memorize the first chapter of John in fifth grade. I don’t know if they asked me or told me to do it, but I do remember the $10 bill that came later. Jesus used reward to motivate. (See that in Matthew 6). And there was that mysterious appearance of big bills in Bibles at church. If that motivation isn’t above our Lord, it’s not above me.


We all long for hearts that crave broccoli without the sugar. God willing, that’ll come. Until then, Lego sets and candy corn motivate.

3. E-Example


Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. Philippians 3:17

Don’t minimize the power of example; for better or worse. Bad company corrupts, and set an example for the believers.

For a decade I’d watch I’d watch Jim shake red pepper all over his pizza. So often I got curious gave it a try. Now a pizza’s not a pizza without a smattering of crushed red pepper. My folks read the Bible a lot. Always, it was on the breakfast table. And my grandparents too. Whenever we had breakfast at Grandma and Grandpa’s, Grandpa would open that special Bible drawer the Amish built on the side of the table and take it up and read a Psalm while we watched the steam rise off our oatmeal.

Now guess who opens a Bible at the breakfast table?


4. P-Prayer


Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things out of your law. Psalm 119:18

Pray. Pray for your princes and princesses. And pray for your yourself and your friends. Pray for yourself. Pray that God will open our eyes to see and our tune our spiritual tastebuds to delight in what is nourishing and good (Ephesians 1:18, Luke 24:45).

Samuel’s words to the people of Israel are for parents and grandparents and for aunts and uncles, too:

Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way.  (1 Samuel 12:23)

Pray God gives our kids new tastes and desires. Pray that they will not love the worldbecause without vigilance, and even with it, they’ll snack on the world’s fare. Love of the world creeps in. 

5. Avoid Snacking

It’s not technically part of PREPAre. But it’s the last tastemaker tip. Because media molds our spiritual tastebuds. Don’t expect that a life filled with the world’s snacks —Fortnite and with its movies and Minecraft and music-will develop more discriminating tastes.


If our kids, and if we, constantly snack at the world’s buffet they won’t magically hunger and thirst for righteousness when they turn 18-or 38. They still might not. God must change their tastes. But, tastes are formed—I know from my experience with Stilton and Italian roast, with arugula and Shiitake and Kalamata – over time. Craving good Kingdom food doesn’t just happen.


Why don’t we hunger more for the living water and ever-filling bread? It could be that we’re already full. Maybe we’re sated by Facebook and Youtube and Netflix. If we’ve been grazing on pretzels and chips all afternoon, we won’t have room for salad and soup tonight.


Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth says that a diet heavy with media influence decreases her hunger and thirst and love for the things of God.

But then she takes us tastemakers to task.

If you want your children to cultivate a hunger and a thirst for righteousness and for the Word of God, you need to then be asking, “Am I allowing their lives to be filled with the influence and influx of worldly or secular media that may be robbing them of spiritual appetites?”

I’m raising princes. Well-adjusted, popular, happy kids is not this mama’s endgame. Don’t get me wrong, those would be great. But, even more than those things, I want my sons to have healthy appetites. I want them to taste and see that the Lord is good and that his Word is the sweetest delight they could ever taste. Because they, and we, are called by his name. So let’s eat like it.

Because we are royalty. We are sons and daughters of the King of kings.  

Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O Lord, God of hosts.

Jeremiah 15:16

On a Lunchable Restored and a Kindness that Leads to Repentance

The note the boy wrote. Lower right on our bathroom mirror reads, “John 11, Jesus wept.”

 

Son, you get the Lunchable. Would you like some ice cream too? 

Those words cut across every grain of my don’t-back-down, actions-have-consequences, hold-the-line parental instinct.

And then some.

On the table was an “Uploaded Pizza Lunchable.” Despite the absence of whole food health, these had somehow weasled their way as a field trip lunch tradition. But when one son had pitched such a fit about a reasonable bit of homework, his Lunchable was off the table. And when he refused my warnings, ice cream for dessert was too.

Because of what, in the education world, we call  “Escalation” and “Red Zone” and “Level 5.”  Because of his kicking and shouting and chair-banging. You might call it a good, old-fashioned temper tantrum. At home we call it raging and losing control or, how I classed this one: out-of-your-head mad.  

Mind over matter, I kept telling myself. Tune it out. Don’t engage. Ignore the beast and wait for the boy. Keep on. 

But the self-talk was to no avail. I managed to finish all of two sentences of a work report in the half-hour my boy lay writhing on the floor. I couldn’t tune out the beast and my mind couldn’t hurdle this matter. And I couldn’t just keep on.

So- better late than never-I thought, and dropped to my knees to pray.

Mrs. Business Relents

…Have Mercy. Help me. Help the boy. Amen.  Then a still small voice said, Relent, even as a loud, mad voice wore on.

The Lunchable’s yours, Bud. You can take it on your field trip. And the loud, mad voice was stilled.

What did you say? it said.

You get your Lunchable back I said.

Then, the silencer: Wanna have a  bowl of ice cream with me? 

Kids need to know parents mean business, child-rearing gurus say. As if I’m not Mrs. Business herself. Give a consequence, set your face like flint and stick to it-I generally subscribe to that. Relenting went against every sound disciplinary principle I knew.

Except one.

Kindness Leads To Repentance

Because our Father in heaven, the Prima Parent and Best of dads, does not deal with us according as our sins deserve nor repay us according to our iniquities. He relents. Sometimes, even before we repent. Romans 2:4 tells us one reason why. (This sermon by Derek Carlsen explains the context of Romans 2 well.)

But between warnings in verses 3 and 5 we read,

Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?

The Lord does not turn a blind eye to sin or make nothing of it.  It is there and it is real and it is offensive to him, Carlsen says.

But God is patient and his kindness waits for us to repent. That is why sinners aren’t consumed.  When God proclaimed his name to Moses way back in Exodus 34:5-7, he opened with “The LORD, The LORD, a God merciful and gracious.”  The reason judgment hasn’t crushed us all is because of God’s kindness and forbearance and patience. God waits for us to repent and come to Him in his Beloved Son.

Charles Spurgeon said it so well,

GOD is often exceedingly good to those who are utterly unworthy of such treatment…The goodness of God to a man of evil life is not intended to encourage him to continue in his sin, but it is meant to woo and win him away from it. (Charles Spurgeon, Sermon #2857)

But kindness isn’t always received this way. It doesn’t always woo sinners away from sin.

Wisdom Required

But God blessed us- the boy and me- this time and it did. My restoring the Lunchable and scooping the ice cream did woo Gabe from his selfish fit. He worked a glorious repentance from a tiny act of kindness.  He turned from writhing on the floor to homework at the table.  And based on the writing on the bathroom mirror that night, Gabe had turned from sin to God.

But yes, Discipline your son, for there is hope; do not set your heart on putting him to death. Yes- be diligent to discipline him. And yes, mercy does triumph over judgment and yes, we are to ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 

It’s all there lumped together and it’s all true. And we do fail and we won’t always do discipline right. We’ll cave when we should wait and hold the line when  we should release. It’s only with divine guidance that we can know when to relent and when to keep the consequences in place and sit tight. Only with the wisdom from above that we will apply these truths aright.

Thankfully, it just so happens that we serve a kind, kind Father who gives wisdom generously and without finding fault to everyone who asks.

Gabe and I are living proof.

My “Whoever does not love his brother, who he can see, cannot love God who he does not see.” (1 John 4:20) To which Gabe’s, “I see you and I love you” made immense and soul-rejoicing sense. God’s truth got through.

 

*Gabe’s reference to “see you and love you” in the photo at the top rejoiced this mom’s heart. He was connecting to 1 John 4:20, which I had written on their bathroom mirror a week earlier.