Battle the Real Enemy

I recently read a little book called After They Are Yours: The Grace and Grit of Adoption. Though the circumstances of the author’s adoption are very different from my own (local instead of international, baby instead of older child, fetal health issues instead of long-term special needs), I can certainly relate to the story of his struggles in parenting his adopted child.

One section totally grabbed my attention because it spoke to much of what we are currently wrestling with in our parenting of Anah. This is what the author, Brian Borgman, says:

“In fact, adoption is war, but adoptive parents must remember that, despite how it sometimes feels, this war is never with the child. Adoption is a war “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). Satan opposes our mission, parents. He would much rather have children live in abusive and negligent homes or in orphanages–anonymous, unwanted, and largely ignored. And the last thing the Enemy wants to risk is to have children raised in the love and light of Christ’s gospel.

“All parenting is spiritual warfare. In fact, the whole Christian life is spiritual warfare. But some children come from dark places, and parenting them means that you will fight a particular battle for their hearts and minds. So take up the whole armor of God and remember that the victory is His. This kind of “remembering” is what I call a biblically wise gospel orientation–that is, a mindset informed by the whole counsel of God and focused on the gospel. You need to keep this perspective if you have any hope of parenting an adopted child well–and the only way to keep this perspective is to wage war.

“Let yourself get entangled in whatever real or perceived misery you might experience because you adopted, and you can lose perspective. There is much at stake here. Self-pity and resentment toward your child for your present challenges will turn you inward–the quickest way to lose ground in your battle.

“You need God’s wisdom if you are going to maintain the proper perspective. A biblically wise gospel orientation keeps you looking past self-pity, personal insults, and inconvenience, and helps you maintain a warfare mentality. It drives you to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might” (Ephesians 6:10). Such dependence on God’s strength and appropriation of God’s provision also helps you to guard your own heart.” [page 54-55, emphasis added]

Lately, every day feels like a battle with our adopted daughter. But in the midst of the difficulty of parenting her, we have to remember who the real enemy is. Our daughter may be obstinate in her sinful rebellion, but she is not the enemy we do battle with. The stress and exhaustion of parenting tempts us to accuse or resent one another as parents, but my spouse is not the enemy I do battle with. Systems of healthcare and government and education promise help but rarely provide it without a fight, but human systems are not the enemy we do battle with.

The real enemy we must battle in this journey of parenting an adopted child is Satan, the enemy of our souls. Joshua Mack, in his blog posts titled “Adoption Is War,” reminds us to put on the whole armor of God, especially the helmet of salvation:

“God has provided something stunning in salvation. And so what Satan wants to do is to make that salvation seem small. This is reality. You have been saved from the penalty of sin. You are being saved from the power of sin. One day you will be saved from the presence of sin. And what Satan is constantly trying to do is to twist that reality and to deceive you into thinking that you are actually fighting a losing battle so that you give up.”

Our battle is real, but we must not give up the fight–we need to remind ourselves continually of how great a salvation we have received in Christ. And we must not make someone we love into the enemy we’re battling, but instead make sure we’re battling the real enemy.

Bath Time

I sometimes think that the greatest accomplishment of my life will be teaching my daughter with special needs to effectively bathe herself. I love to plan retreats and train disciple-makers and teach and write and build furniture, and certainly there is fruit that God has brought from all of those things, but none of those things have required the same level of perseverance and creativity and prayer and focus as teaching my daughter to take a bath.

Anah, my daughter, is now 10 years old, but because of her Down Syndrome and because she spent the first 7 years of her life in an orphanage in China, her mind operates at about the level of a 2-year-old. So while her body is fully capable of coordinating the movements needed to bathe, there is no sense of reasoning as to why she is doing what she’s doing, therefore taking a bath is merely a memorized list of actions to perform.

And have you ever considered how many incremental steps there are in taking a bath? For instance, this is the process that Anah has memorized in order to wash just one arm: 1) Decide which hand to put soap in, 2) Pump soap into hand, 3) Decide there is enough soap in hand, 4) Stop pumping, 5) Rub soap up and down top of arm, 6) Stop rubbing, 7) Turn hand over, 8) Rub soap up and down underside of arm, 9) Stop rubbing, 10) Lift arm, 11) Rub soap in armpit, 12) Stop rubbing, 13) Put arm down, 14) Rub soap on shoulder, 15) Stop rubbing, 16) Rinse hand.

It is close to 3 years now that I have been working on teaching Anah to bathe herself. She has memorized somewhere around 97 steps in the process. She can now fully wash her body on her own, and she is about 70% there with washing her hair. But I haven’t even attempted to teach her how to turn the water on and off, how to towel herself dry, and how to put lotion on before getting dressed. Then after all that, she’ll need to learn to stand up and do all these steps in a shower rather than a bathtub. So it might be another 3 or more years before all of that is happening.

The other day, a command in Romans 12:16 caught my eye and stabbed my heart. It says “Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly.” The footnote in my ESV gives an alternate reading for the second phrase: “Do not be haughty, but give yourselves to humble tasks.” Whether it is a humble task or a lowly person, that is where God wants me to give myself. In my mind, repeating these incremental steps to a 10-year-old, over and over and over again until they are memorized, is a humble task. And frankly, I do not like it. My attitude is rarely one of gracious giving, but is far more often marked by grumbling and impatience and anger–which essentially is haughtiness (thinking of myself as “above” this kind of menial labor).

But it is precisely IN the giving of myself to this humble task and lowly person that God carries on His work of transformation in my heart and life. The command in Romans 12:16 is one of a long list of specific commands that flesh out the bigger command in Romans 12:1 to “present your bodies as a living sacrifice” which then leads toward being “transformed by the renewal of your mind” (vs 2). So perhaps God is trying to imbed in my thinking a similar process of steps: 1) Stop grumbling, 2) Smile at your daughter, 3) Pray, 4) Cheer for her progress, 5) Resist the urge to mentally “check out”–stay engaged, 6) Pray, 7) Smile again.

Maybe bath time will be my greatest accomplishment, not because Anah learns to bathe herself, but because I learn to give myself joyfully to the humble task and person God has put before me.

NOTE: Paul Miller, author of A Praying Life, has a wonderful article that shares some of his similar experiences of God’s transformative work in him through humbling situations with his disabled daughter.

Work Smarter, Not Harder

When I was younger, I could run hard on the basketball court and keep up with everyone. Now that I am not so young, if I’m going to keep up and not keel over, I have to play smarter not just harder. That same principle applies when it comes to raising my children also–my time is limited, so if I’m going to make the most of it, I need to work smarter, not just harder.

A few Saturdays ago, I was at Monrovia Canyon Park, and I was observImageing a little bird who was working very hard but was not very smart. He was sitting on the side mirror of a car, and every time he looked in the mirror, he freaked out because he was convinced there was another little bird invading his territory. So he dutifully attacked this “invader”, over and over again, trying to protect his territory.

I smirked as I watched this not-too-bright feathered friend, but then I began to wonder how often I do something similar. Do I bang my head against the wall, so-to-speak, trying to make something happen in my own strength? Or am I able to step back and gain a different perspective so that I can work smarter, not just harder?Image 5

The biggest testing grounds for this is with my daughter Anah. The combination of her Down Syndrome, her post-adoption institutionalized behavior, and her limited understanding of English can oftentimes make any attempt to train her feel rather fruitless. So many times I feel a bit like that unfortunate bird, like I’m expending all this energy toward something that isn’t accomplishing anything.

So when I’ve tried every trick in the book and Anah still just looks at me blankly, I’m realizing I need to work smarter. And smarter doesn’t just mean persisting in the same thing I’ve been trying for the past 2 years, but trying something new. Call me sloImage 7w, but the new thing I’ve been realizing I need to do is to simply pray and plead with God to save Anah and change her heart. My best attempts to discipline and train her are not getting anywhere because her heart is still sinful and rebellious, and until God makes that change in her that only He can do, I am simply flapping and banging my beak against the mirror.

“God, would You pour out Your grace upon my daughter and regenerate her rebellious heart. Would You save her and put Your Spirit within her, so that she has the capacity to do what is right.”

An Ordinary Man

I’ve been reading a book lately which is a collection of reflections on the life and teaching of Dallas Willard. Dr Willard was a philosophy professor at USC for 47 years, and his thinking, writing and speaking about the Kingdom of God and formation into Christlikeness have been (and continue to be) pEternal Living coverivotal for the Christian church. My own thinking and understanding of Christian spiritual formation and discipleship has been influenced tremendously by Dallas Willard, either directly through reading his books and listening to his lectures, or indirectly by reading others who have been mentored and taught by him (many of whom contributed to this book I’m reading).

Almost 2 years ago, in May of 2013, Dallas Willard entered into the presence of His Lord and King after a long battle with cancer. J. P. Moreland, now a distinguished professor of philosophy at Talbot School of Theology, studied under Dr Willard for his doctoral work, and in his reflection on Willard’s life he wrote the following: “Among those who have influenced me most, [Dallas] stands out like a giant oak in the midst of saplings… We have lost a five-star general in the armies of God, and the world is not what it was when he was among us.”

I had a few opportunities to hear Dallas Willard speak at conferences or smaller gatherings. One thing that always struck me about him was his humility and approachableness. Reading this book now and hearing from many people who knew him and interacted with him far more than I ever had opportunity to do, gives further evidence that he was indeed a very humble and kind man–a man whose brilliant mind did not keep him from being fully present with each individual person whom God brought before him. Dr Steve Porter, also a philosophy professor at Talbot, said this about Dallas:

“Dallas did more than win me over conceptually and theologically. He was for me–and I daresay for any other person who encountered him–compelling evidence of the truth of Jesus’ way. How disappointing it would have been if Dallas possessed a deep, penetrating analysis of Christian formation and yet himself turned out, once you met him, to be a rather lackluster individual. To be clear, Dallas was a very ordinary person in many respects–he certainly was not slick or polished. Rather, the evidential force of Dallas Willard was the extraordinary quality of his presence that emanated through an otherwise ordinary man…. This was an ordinary man who had become increasingly receptive to the grace of God, and it was contagious.”

Dallas Willard had a God-given and often-practiced ability to be fully present to whoever God brought across his path, and God used him greatly through that “quality of his presence.” What makes me–and many others–love that in Dallas Willard is that it reflects something of Jesus. Jesus did not get wrapped up in His own pain or problems or possibilities, but He was fully present to the person or situation that was in front of Him. Even in His darkest hour on the cross, when humanly speaking He would have had every right to ignore those around Him and focus only on His pain and loss, yet from the cross He noticed His mother, He prayed for the soldiers, He dialogued with the repentant thief. He was fully present.

That kind of “presence” is something I desire in my own life, and I am thankful for men like Dallas Willard who have modeled that so effectively for me, and above all else, who help me to see that in Christ.