My Survivor’s Guide

As the mother of ten children, I found the perfect book to help me survive life's rough spots: the Bible. Some of you are nodding: "Of course, it is God's word!" Others have just glazed over: "Yeah, yeah, I've heard that before, but it does not really do anything for me." But whichever group you belong to, the next time you read the Bible, I encourage you to jump right in. The people of the Bible were flesh and blood people, just like you and me. Even Adam and Eve, although they were created in a unique, one of a kind way, were still were just human beings like us.

For instance, how many responsible, loving parents have fretted over the upbringing of their children? Often, it centers on our children not listening to us. If they cannot even remember to turn off the lights, how will they ever manage to function in this world? With this in mind, let's revisit the story of Adam and Eve.

"Don't eat the fruit from this tree," God told His first children. Now how hard was that? Given that they had an abundance of everything they could imagine, why, oh why, would they even think of looking at that tree? But Adam and Eve were like kids who are told never to lick a metal pole when the temperature dips below freezing, yet cannot resist doing the very thing they are told not to.

We all know what happened in the Garden of Eden — the same thing that happens at our houses.

"Did you do what I told you NEVER to do?"

"It wasn't my fault. She made me do it. It's her fault."

"No, it's not. He (the serpent) told me to do it."

Same old, same old. We learn from scripture that the punishment for Adam and Eve was getting kicked out of the Garden of Eden, hard work and childbirth pains. It's also quite clear that part of the punishment was that Adam and Eve would come to understand how they made God feel. "It's not my fault…she made me do it, don't blame me," became the refrain imposed on future generations through original sin.

By Comparison, Things Aren't So Bad

Got a problem with sibling rivalry in your home? It's an old story. There's no record of Cain and Able sharing a room with each other but they obviously could not get along. You just know as a youngster, Cain used to complain, "He's looking at me" or "He touched me." Then there were twin brothers Jacob and Esau competing for the same blessing but I'll get back to them in just a minute. Jacob, the father of Joseph of many-colored-coat fame, had his own share of sibling rivalry to contend with. Faking the death of their younger brother Joseph and selling him as a slave was not a very brotherly thing for the older boys to do. At least our kids aren't that bad.

reading bibleThere is the story of Noah's Ark that teaches us to steel ourselves against peer pressure. Nothing in our lives compares with the kind of gossip that building an ark on your front lawn stirs up. A few years ago, my husband actually dug up a large section of our front lawn to plant a garden. It sure got the neighbors talking. Granted, I don't think God actually told Mark to put the garden there, but he felt inspired to do so since it was the flattest, sunniest spot on our property. By turning to scripture, I was able to put it in perspective. After all, it was just a garden, not an ark. Noah was lucky he did not live during the time of neighborhood associations where building anything on the front lawn — let alone a 450 foot long boat — would have brought a hefty fine along with the ire of the subdivision.

Some Stories Hit Home

The story of Jacob gave me great peace after the birth of our fourth son whom we named Jacob. Jacob of the Bible masqueraded as his slightly older twin brother, Esau, in order to get the coveted blessing from his father, Isaac. Fearing retaliation from Esau, Jacob then hit the road. Many years later, returning home with his wife and family, Jacob feared Esau would come and kill him. He spent the night in prayer when a mysterious being (Hosea 12:4 calls it an angel) wrestled with Jacob until daybreak. Jacob demanded a blessing and the angel said that Jacob would be called Israel from then on, meaning "one who has struggled with God."

Our own Jacob has always been a lively fellow with a penchant for swimming against the parental current. His first word after "Ma-ma" and "Da-da" was "No". Jacob always kept us on our toes. As a toddler, he not only broke out of the church nursery one Sunday, but he led two buddies to sneak out with him. We had to use the nursery because Jacob hated to stay in any one place for very long. At one Mass, he slipped away from me and ran up to the altar. I kid you not. Imagine how embarrassing it was to retrieve him during the homily. The one good thing was that we were on vacation so I never had to see those people again.

One day, my son Luke (five years older than Jacob) spotted a Bible coloring picture with the caption "Jacob Wrestles with His Angel." Luke picked it up and smiled. "That figures," he laughed. Moments earlier I had looked at that very picture and had the exact thought.

Once I was reminded of the story of Jacob through the coloring picture, instead of fretting over Jacob's combativeness, I would just smile to myself and think, "But of course." After all, this was the sort of person God chose as His third patriarch. Jacob of the Bible grew into the role God had ordained for him. This story showed me that things can turn out very well in the end in spite of all the wrestling matches.

The story of Jonah shows us that it's best to dig in and answer God's call rather than have to dive into the stormy sea that results from trying to escape. How many times in life do we wish we could just hop on a boat, a plane, or the Amtrak and run away? But if God has a task for us to do, running and hiding isn't going to work. Imagine what it would have been like on that ship with a violent storm breaking out and getting thrown overboard to calm it. But God came through and sent a big fish to swallow Jonah in order to give him time to contemplate things for three days in the belly of the whale. How creepy would that be? So even if I'm having a bad day, I never contemplate running away. Hot baths, yes; jumping ship, no.

David and Goliath is the perfect story to recall any time I'm feeling small. Daniel in the Lion's Den helps me appreciate the fact that although it may be a "dog-eat-dog" world, I can worship God without fear of becoming lion-chow. And Moses, who started out as a basket case but led the Israelites to freedom, makes leading kids through the grocery store seem like a piece of cake.

The New Testament

Then there's the New Testament. Ever lost a child at the mall? Compare that with losing the Savior for three days. Multiplications of the loaves — sure, every time I have unexpected dinner guests. Raising the dead — that would be my teenagers on the weekends. Walking on water — can you spell "M-o-m"? We just need to keep our eyes on Jesus so we don't start to sink like St. Peter did. Giving sight to the blind — that's every parent's job: to help kids eventually see things our way. Granted, the above Bible stories involved real miracles and my examples are mere challenges, but if God is a God of miracles, then I can trust that my life's hurdles are in His hands too.

Peter's denial of Jesus — that would be us every time we participate in gossip we know we should not. Instead of speaking up in defense (whatever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me) we sit and listen; or worse, we participate. It's the same when we hear someone using God's name in vain. Instead of saying, "Hey, don't do that, I know Him," we say nothing. I always say a few silent words of praise, but of late, I've been considering countering by saying, "Blessed be the name of the Lord." After all, if Peter had it to do over again, wouldn't' he have acknowledged Jesus?

Many Bible stories show us that when we've totally blown it we can take comfort in God's forgiveness. We know through the story of Judas that giving up all hope is never the answer. Peter was forgiven, the thief on the cross was forgiven and likewise every guy off the street that Jesus healed was also forgiven his sins. And whenever we doubt that our prayers or efforts are getting heard or making a difference, St. Thomas the Apostle let's us know that although faith does not always come easy, we should not doubt, but believe.

I especially take great comfort in the story about the Wedding at Cana. Recall that the guests had drank all the wine. All of it. Did these people need more? No way. But Mary, mother of Jesus, noticed the embarrassing social situation for the host. Mary went to her son to tell him about it. Jesus told her it was not his time yet. So, even though more wine was a bad idea to begin with and Jesus was not planning on doing miracles that day, he performed his first miracle by turning water into some of the best wine ever tasted. He did it for one reason, his mother asked him. I love this story! If Mary is willing to influence her son to make more wine, she will surely take my concerns to Jesus too. And I seem to have a million of them.

Sure it was a different world during Biblical times, but people are people and the Bible is about God and His people. The Bible is not just for us, it's about us. The stories are full of characters who make bad choices, run to God for help, are forgiven and taught a better way. So, what better way is there to get to know our God and ourselves better than to read the Bible?

Patti Maguire Armstrong

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Patti Maguire Armstrong and her husband have ten children. She is an award-winning author and was managing editor and co-author of Ascension Press’s Amazing Grace Series. She has appeared on TV and radio stations across the country.  Her latest books, Big Hearted: Inspiring Stories from Everyday Families and children’s book, Dear God, I Don’t Get It are both available now. To read more, visit Patti’s Catholic News and Inspiration site. Follow her on Facebook at Big Hearted Families and Dear God Books.

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