I listened to Ashley Hales podcast, Finding Holy, the other day. Tish Warren Harrison, the guest, shared her desire to help the Church find a way, “…between capitulation and combativeness,” in relating to those who see the world differently than they do.
I’m always drawn to discussions about how Christians should relate to those whose worldview is different. Not because I’m trying finally find the right answer, but because that is my life. My husband is not a Christian. As he puts, we have different loves, “You worship Jesus and I don’t.” Those are his words.
My worship of Jesus and my husband’s resistance to worship has been a source of pain between us for 28 years. And like Tish discussed on the podcast, I’ve swung between capitulation and combativeness, or in my case, capitulation and comatoseness, in our 28 years together. I’m an enneagram 9. So I don’t tend toward combativeness. In fact I’d rather go numb than combat anyone, over just about anything except my kids. Come for my kids, and I’ll turn Rambo on you. But I digress. What Tish said caught my attention because I have experienced the hand of God continually guiding me to walk the path of vulnerable and fearless love on the solid ground between joining my husband’s unbelief and fighting against it, or in my case, going numb to it.
There is a way to love between capitulation and combativeness…or comatoseness.
The temptation to surrender to unbelief, to give up on being involved in church, reading my Bible, praying, singing songs of worship, giving generously, serving others and teaching my children about Jesus is always there. I don’t even need my husband’s unbelief to be tempted to give up on those things. My own self-centered desires beckon me to take up the life Christ has called me to lay down. As though I would be a better god than He.
The other option would be to fight against my husband’s unbelief, berating him with Bible verses, well-thought out arguments, pointing out all his moral failings. Or in my case, saying nothing. Withdrawing. Going into doormat mode. I am guilty of both. The temptation to check-out whispers, “It doesn’t matter what you say. You might as well disappear. Nothing you say or do is going to change anything.”
Jesus has been pulling me out of the ditches on either side of loving my husband well for 28 years. And he’s kept my husband’s heart turned towards his family, despite all the siren songs that have tried to shipwreck our life. When I find myself veering towards one ditch or the other, I’m helped by being honest about my own brokenness, being vulnerable- willing to bear the pain that comes with speaking the truth, and by taking a posture of service.
Don’t get me wrong here. I fail at those three practices all the time. Like I said, Jesus has been pulling me out of the ditch on either side of this trail following him in learning to love well. But I am learning.
One of the things I’m learning is a key to fostering healthy relationships with others, whether they share your faith or not, is acknowledging that we both have brokenness. Part of learning to love another well is facing your own problems and lack of faith. I can’t easily turn towards combativeness or comatoseness with my husband if I acknowledge that I too struggle with lust for power, self-centeredness, and pride.
When the differences between what guides my decisions and desires and what guides my husband’s seem to pit us against each other, being willing to be vulnerable, to speak the truth in love, even if it’s not received, puts a cruciform posture in my part of the relationship. That posture speaks Christ. It’s says, “This is wrong. And I love you. I’m not going to abandon you even though dealing with this hurts.” To be willing to suffer the pain of addressing the problems we have with each other and not abandon the relationship simply because we don’t agree is a Christlike posture that deals in a currency of compassion rather than combativeness or comatoseness.
When I think about what I believe-that the Jesus of the Bible is God in the flesh, come to live a fully human life and take the form of a servant. Touching the untouchables. Reasoning with the proud and argumentative. Healing the sick. Delivering the demonized. Teaching the stubborn. Washing the feet of those who would abandon him. When I think about this Jesus, I can’t take a posture of proud distain of even the most corrupt combatant who disagrees with me. Much less my own husband or neighbors, coworkers or friends who don’t see eye to eye with me. Jesus compels me to take a posture of serving these. How can I help you get what you need? What can I do to bring joy or blessing to you? What can I say that would encourage you? These are the questions Jesus brings to these sometimes awkward and strained relationships
This man I love, I wish he would embrace the Jesus of the Bible as his savior and God and follow him with me. I wish that for my family, friends and neighbors and those who think I’m nuts.
But if they never do, it will not be a waste of my life to let Jesus spend my life teaching me to love them well.
I’m pretty sure I’m one of the most forgetful people on the planet.
I joke that I think I have early dementia, but it might not be a joke. I forget the names of people I’ve known for a long time. I forget what I was doing when I walk into a room, and have to go back to where I started to try and jog loose some clue that will send me back to the room to do what I set out to do in the first place. And I forget about God.
I have this nagging ache for Jesus to break through in my life in a visible, tangible way. I want so badly to see the evidence that he is alive and changing the hearts and lives of those I love. Even my own life. I want to see that I have an actual desire to love those who I feel unloved by. And I forget that he is here, with me, unseen, and working to transform me. I also forget this means I will actually need to make intentional changes and stop in the parking lot at the grocery store to tell God out loud in my car how angry I am, how frustrated I am, how tired I am, and then thank him for the promise that He won’t leave me or abandon me. I forget that Christ lives in me. In ME.
So tonight, I’m intentionally remembering the miracle that it is in me, even now.
“To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” – Colossians 1:27 ESV
I read somewhere recently, or maybe I listened, I don’t remember, that the meaning of glory in the Bible has to do with substance or weight. Glory isn’t just getting attention or honor or being at your peak in performance or potential. Glory is weight. Glory is substance. (Oh, I remember now, it was the book God Of All Things by Andrew Wilson). As Wilson put it, “To speak of God’s glory, in biblical terms, is not just to speak of his splendor and beauty (though that too) but also to speak of how weighty, heavy and substantial he is.”
The lyrics to the song by Switchfoot come to mind here.
I can feel you reaching Pushing through the ceiling ‘Til the final healing I’m looking for you
In my restlessness, in my longing to see God’s substance, his glory in my life, my changed life, and in the lives of those I love, I forget Christ in me.
This is why I need the Church. This is why I need the disciplines of meditating on scripture, praying, all the time. Or like the Bible says, “without ceasing.” This is why I need to remember.
Father, it’s quite miraculous that I wake up still being held by you. Jesus still has hold of me. I still love Him whom I have never seen. It’s a miracle. Please, let me see your glory. Let my children see the weighty substance of your actual life-changing reality. Don’t let me forget you.
There’s a handmade wooden sign in the hallway leading to my bedroom with these words in black:
” And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:20
I walk by that sign daily and don’t give it a thought, but the other day I stopped and read it over and over. I considered whether I really believed what it said. I mean, Jesus told his followers to go out and tell all kinds of people all over the world about him and what he has done and taught. He told them to baptize them and teach them, make Jesus-followers out of them. And then, he said, “Hey, pay attention (which is what I take “Behold” to mean). I know what you all are thinking. I know this will feel, and is, impossible for you. So get this: I WILL BE WITH YOU. All the way to the end.”
Do I believe that? Do I believe Jesus is with me? The Jesus of the Bible. The Jesus who told a storm to stop after being woke from a nap, and it did. The Jesus who touched untouchables and healed them. The Jesus who suffered the torture of Roman execution and the rejection and abandonment of his friends and came back to life after three days of rigor mortis in the grave. Do I believe this Jesus is with me?
I am surrounded day in and day out with people I love who don’t turn to Jesus as, “…the way, the truth and the life.” And I can’t explain my belief to them. I just know, even in the midst of my own lack of faith, that he’s with me.
In Colossians, Paul wrote that there’s a mystery going on in those who follow Jesus, the mystery is: Christ is in us. I can’t explain this mystery. I can’t even get my own mind around it. But I know, something greater than me and my tired pea-brain compels me to, cry out to a God I’ve never seen but love, reach out to a people who look at me with condescending sighs (because I’m their mom) and constantly seek to love God and love people better. For Jesus’ name’s sake. Because he’s worth it. That is happening in me. And it’s a mystery.
I’ve been in a church since the week after I was born. Every church I’ve been part of has impacted my life in a unique way. Like an arm is different from the liver, these churches were all very different. Among them were bad teachings. But at each church I grew. I learned. I love Christ more because of them all.
It seems there’s a reckoning happening in the American church. There are good reasons why some have left titles or denominations behind. The Church is in need of washing and pruning, discipline and rebuke. But She is also the source of health and growth for the Christian. See 1 Corinthians 12:12-31.
Where I learned the hymns that saved me
From birth through fourth grade my parents brought me up in a non-instrument, no classes Church of Christ. I didn’t realize it until I was in my late teens, but the church of my childhood believed it was sinful and a show to use musical instruments in the church gathering. We were to “sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to one another” in the church gathering.
My childhood church also prohibited classes of any kind. Not for kids. Not Sunday school. No classes. But they loved to sing well. Since there were no instruments I guess they honed in on making sure we were all in tune.
I remember seeing the man leading us in hymns blow on his tuning pipe, then humming to tune his own voice, then putting his arm in the air to conduct the congregation in the right tempo of the song. We sang, “Some glad morning, when this life is o’er, I’ll fly away,” and “There is power, power, wonder working power. In the blood. Of the Lamb.” The women harmonized with the men. The heart rumbling tone of the baritone men, singing their part, is forever in my memory.
My childhood church’s doctrine on water baptism, women being silent and submissive, singing strictly acapella, and classes being prohibited made a huge impression on me. And not for the good. But despite the bad teaching, the Holy Spirit reached me there.
At age sixteen, listening to an acapella singing of Amazing Grace at a Bill Gothard conference, I heard the Lord call me to follow Him. At my childhood church I learned to love the hymns. And I learned to love the simplicity and commonness of the gathering of God’s people. My childhood church taught me to receive the reading of scripture, engage in the singing of hymns to each other, and to partake of the Lord’s Supper in memory of Jesus.
Where I learned to love the Bible
In my early adult years I looked for a church alone. My husband and I were newlyweds and I was newly aware of his lack of interest in going to church. I was also a new believer. I was hungry for God’s word. And I found a church that fed me. Calvary Chapel.
I remained in a Calvary Chapel for more than ten years. During those years I learned about the Holy Spirit, prophecy, spiritual gifts and the power of the Bible. The pastors and teachers at Calvary Chapel showed me that anyone, in the context of the church, under the authority of elders, could open a BIble and teach God’s word.
In those years at Calvary Chapel I didn’t realize how the emphasis on a certain interpretation of the end times was impacting me. I would later come to see this over-emphasis on a pre-tribulation interpretation of scripture as distracting from the gospel and discipleship. But in my years at Calvary Chapel I learned to pray, listen to God, and study my Bible.
Where my childhood beliefs were challenged and I was loved
When my sons were just entering elementary school I began attending a Bible church. In this small Bible church I learned about church history and the words church people have for different theological stances.
I learned about Calvinism and Armenianism. I learned about cessationism and dispensationalism. And I learned that there are churches that don’t baptise people in water.
This was a source of wrestling for me. I grew up with a theologically heretical teaching that said you had to be baptised (emersed) in water at a Church of Christ to be accepted into those pearly gates we sang so well about in our accapella hmns. I knew that teaching was off, but no water baptism at all? The Bible church’s pastor challenged me to examine the meaning of baptism.
Even though I don’t agree with the reasoning for no water baptism, that Bible church showed me what it means to love the members of your church. That church supported me when my marriage was about to end. They bought me a car. Gave me a bed. And sent me to Oregon to visit my family. They also whet my taste for church history.
Where the gospel was held high and I learned to lead
This brings me to my current SBC affiliated church. This church, I love her. The pastor and leaders in my church have made the preaching of the gospel powerful and applicable. They’ve taught me the importance of discipling others, making friends about Jesus with open Bibles and open lives in small groups. They’ve taught me to lead, which has filled in a void from my childhood where I was taught women were never to lead anything. But mostly, they’ve taught me to respond to the gospel as a believer with faith and repentance on a day-in, day-out basis.
The Church has sin that needs to be confessed and repented of. Wickedness that needs to be purged. Abuse that needs to be exposed and condemned. But She also has the truth that builds up the Christian, deepening her roots in the love of Christ and helping her to produce fruit for the glory of God and the good of the kingdom. I’m grateful for the Church. I love her.
“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” – Ephesians 3:20-21
So much of what I was read in Welcher’s book I am currently struggling with in raising my teen sons. Growing up, I didn’t read any of the books popular in the purity culture of the 1990’s. I was married for four years by the time I Kissed Dating Goodbye came out. But I did grow up in a church and youth group that taught the lessons those books promoted. And I bought Every Man’s Battle for my nephew when he graduated from high school without ever reading it myself. I was guilty of what Rachel pointed out, “…we need more… conversation. Instead of trying to find the perfect book, let’s keep talking about sexuality and purity out loud.”
So many of us have tended to reach for a book to give to a teen when we should have been reaching for a conversation over their favorite fast food. Years have past since those early adult days when I was fresh out of a church culture strong on women’s modesty, submission and avoiding dating, but the weeds from those days are still popping up. I look at my sons who have not grown up in a church culture like I did, who in fact have grown up in a mostly secular culture, both in our home and in their school, and I wonder how in the world I’ll ever reach them with the hope of the gospel. And I fear they’ll believe the culture and use people, sex and power for their own pleasure and give no thought to the way of Jesus in their sexuality, relationships and manhood.
Welcher’s book examines how Purity Culture is the fruit of our tendency to to make rules or laws a savior that only Christ can be.
Dane Ortlund said, “Our natural of-works-ness is a resistance to Christ’s heart.” The books and methods of a generation of parents and leaders in the church, trying to ward off the culture that we viewed as causing teen pregnancy, STD’s and a disregard for family values, is a result of being what Ortlund refers to as an “of-works” people.
It’s my natural bent to try to guard myself or my kids from what I fear will overtake them with rules, methods, pledges, programs and other works. Rachel’s book looks back on the effects of purity culture and demonstrates that our attempts to live for the heart of Christ through programs that prevent undesired behaviors may be well intended, but this posture of living has damaging effects that actually make it harder to see the gospel in all it’s scandalous beauty. As Ortlund wrote, “You can live for the heart of Christ or from the heart of Christ.” Which position we take makes all the difference.
The Damaging Fruit of Purity Culture
“It’s a dangerous thing when married sex becomes the ‘finish line’ for sexual purity.”
When I read those words from the first chapter of Welcher’s book I felt challenged and grieved. For me, married sex had been the finish line for purity, but I had disqualified myself from the race two years before I got married.
In my teens I attended youth group and went to a youth camp where the speaker sent a rose to be passed around to the members of the audience. We were instructed to each hold the rose, smell it, look at it and pass it to the next person. While we waited our turn to handle the rose the speaker preached the dangers of pre-marital sex and the permanent damage that would be done to us if we had sex before we were married. Afterwards, I pledged to stay pure until marriage. Then I went on a walk with my friend who shared she had already had sex and felt lost. I didn’t have an answer for her. I didn’t have the gospel. All I had was a stay-pure program in one hand and a friend who felt rejected in another.
At sixteen I wrote a list of requirements I wanted in a husband and gave them to my dad in the form of a contract, asking him to give me a promise ring. My dad wasn’t a big spender and certainly wasn’t going to buy me a ring, but he was a carpenter, so he made me a hope chest and I put our signed contract to keep me pure in it.
Gosh, just writing this gives me the creeps. But it was well intended. I thought I was doing something that demonstrated my new zeal for the Jesus I had just recently decided to follow. I was trying to live for God’s smile, as Ortlund put it, not from his smile.
Less than a year later I met a long-haired boy with a pink corduroy hat and ripped, bleached Levi’s from the big city. I loved the way he made me feel and by the time I was seventeen we had sex. I was torn. I hadn’t lived up to my contract with God and my dad. I reasoned in my mind that I could make up for what I’d done by getting married. And in the two years before our wedding day I vacillated between guilt, shame and wanting to run away. I was disillusioned and confused.
Three Areas to Look for Purity Culture Weeds
Rachel’s book examines landscapes of life where purity culture’s efforts produced noxious weeds that must be separated from the fruit of the gospel when it comes to virginity, being a man or a woman, marriage, sex, sexual abuse, and what we tell the next generation. Of these, three stood out to me as good places we can start looking for weeds of purity culture in our lives.
According to Welcher, women are delivered a confusing message through purity culture. On one had we’re told we’re responsible for guarding sexual purity because we’re less lust-driven than men and therefore we’re the “morally superior” ones with the skills to keep sex out of the picture until marriage. On the other hand we’re told we’re dangerous. If our bra strap shows, or our clothes are deemed to make us look too sexy, then we’re causing the prey-drive of the men around us to kick in and therefore we’re responsible if they go too far.
Like that slithering serpent of old, purity culture deceives us into blaming, shaming and hiding. Scripture, and the gospel tell men and women they both bear God’s image and they both receive the gift of being heirs with Christ of the kingdom he’s promised us. Rachel calls we who’ve tried using purity culture’s tactics of modest dressing and careful distancing from men in an attempt to be pure in God’s eyes, to see that our purity doesn’t come from our clothes, but from Christ.
For men, purity culture paints a picture of manhood devoid of Christlikeness and pumped full of lust-steroids. Rachel calls those who’ve used the tactics of purity culture to excuse ungodly aggressive behavior from men and employ stereotypes to cast an image of biblical masculinity that’s lacking, to give those up for a gospel-born vision of men.
“Instead of teaching men to avoid women, a proactive strategy for battling sexual lust urges men to see women as neighbors,” who we are command by God to love as we love ourselves.
Rachel draws men to remove their personal-purity blinders and take a broad view of the community God calls his people to live in. She calls those tainted by the lust-focused weeds of purity culture to look up at the character of Christ and the gift he has given them as they put their trust in him.
There is a high view from which men and women should see themselves, and it is not the view purity culture has tried to produce through its rhetoric. God said he made man and woman in his own image. And Christ has given us his own spirit, his promised faithful love and he will never stop making us more like him. Welcher encourages men to look to Christ, their hope of glory right alongside their sisters, mothers, wives, and friends.
What Will I Tell My Kids?
This is the question that has haunted me from before I began reading this book. What will I tell my kids about what to believe about sex, marriage, girls, women, lust, porn, and abuse?
Call it coincidence, but even as I write this my senior in high school son walked in the door. I stopped to ask him for a few minutes of his time. I asked him if he feels like Jesus impacts his everyday life and relationships. His answer was, “Mom, I get told all the time by so and so (he named names) that my relationships should be about marriage. But I don’t think so mom. Yeah, I think Jesus wants me to treat others with respect and dignity, but I don’t think I have to think about marriage just because I like a girl.”
I was gobsmacked. He had no idea I was reading this book or writing this review. Listening to him, I realized, there’s a lot of pressure in our culture, whether from purity culture’s children (in high school with my son), or from the current spirit of the age, to conform to that culture’s idea of what relationships should look like. And as a mom, I don’t need to give my son a book or program, I need to spend time with him, listening to him, asking him questions and helping him remember Jesus.
As Rachel points out in her book, the message we give our kids about sexuality, marriage, singleness and the gospel is important. I know my tendency as an “of works” person with a “lawish” heart naturally wants to hand my sons a manual or a class or commitment that will keep them from the pain of sexual sin and idolatry. But it won’t work. If I want to give my sons a message that will not spring up life-choking weeds and breed disillusionment and confusion, I’ll leave the books and extrabiblical practices to the side and point them to the beauty of what Jesus has done for them.
My son confessed today that he doesn’t think about Jesus very much. I told him, “Well he thinks about you. A lot! And he likes you! He wants you! He’ll never give up on you! And I love you too.”
Rachel’s book exposes that at the bottom of all of purity culture’s “relational leveraging, fear stuffing, nervousness, score-keeping, neurotic-controlling and anxiety-festering silliness” you find a “gospel deficit.” ( a phrase from Ortlund’s book)
We all need people in the church to help us see when we go down the path our fallen nature is bent toward, trying to achieve godliness with our own methods. Rachel does that. And her book loves the Church in doing so. I for one am thankful to have read it at this time in my life. I needed to be redirected back to the gospel as the only hope and power for me and my sons.
References and quotes from Ortlund are taken from Gentle and Lowly- The heart of Christ for sinners and sufferers by Dane Ortlund
On May 27th, the New York Times published the 100,000 names of people who died from Coronavirus. If you scroll down the screen of the online piece, you’ll see the images of humans scattered sparsley at first, then densly as time moves forward. Next to many of these human icons you’ll read the name, age and something specific about that person- their occupation, hobby or passion. The response intended from such a piece is sobriety and grief. Maybe if you read the names you’ll stop living with this intoxicated view that everything is fine. Maybe you’ll even feel sad that so many have lost their lives to this disease. When I first read the article I remember feeling sober and sad. But I also had questions. What would we do if we knew the 100,000? What if we knew the wrong they’ve done? Would we honor them like Jesus honors the undeserving? Would we do the vulnerable work of discipleship?
In my work as a nurse, and before that as a nurse’s aide, I’ve cared for people whose family members disowned them. Some had been abusive. Some were addicts. Some had abandoned their children. I’m sure my patients over the years have done many grievous things. My tending to their needs in times of illness, debility or injury is not dictated by how these people lived their lives. Yes it is my job, but also, I believe my work exemplifies the way God made us to live- to love and serve one another. Even when we know the evil the other has done. As a nurse, this way of loving isn’t passive or sugar-coated. It requires the broken to do things that hurt so they can get better, and at times it compels me to ask patients facing their mortality what their hope is.
Today, I read a heartbreaking story from David French about his friend and former client, Mike Adams. Mr. French’s eulogy is titled: A Eulogy for a Friend, a Lament for our Nation. America today—broken people, breaking each other. I was disturbed, convicted and saddened by what I read. Mr. French’s friend had said provocative things. And people sought his ruin in response. I don’t know if someone loved Mr. Adams enough to get close and express concern about things he said. As a people with screens in our faces, we don’t get face to face with others, see their sins and deal with them in an effort to bring wholeness. We do what Mr. French said. We break each other.
Undoubtedly there were many Mike Adams among the hundreds of thousands who’ve died of Covid-19. When the masses die we, as a culture, lament. But when among the masses one is exposed for some evil thing he or she said or did, we crush them. Jesus is not like this. And his people should not be like this either.
There is a distinct difference between our tendency to swoon over people and then destroy those same people on social media from a safe distance, and Jesus. Jesus doesn’t swoon, he knows what’s in people. He knows the evil that lurks in us all. But that knowing doesn’t lead him to destroy. Jesus, knowing what’s in us, deals with us, on a personal level. He lowers himself. He serves, even his betrayers, washing their feet (see John 13). We don’t naturally do this. The virtue of vulnerable love that exposes wickedness and offers redemption and reconciliation, is distinctly Christlike.
I expect humans to devour each other. But as Christians, vulnerable love should distinguish us from the rest of humanity. We should display a tangible foreignness in how we engage people, whether we know the wrong they’ve done or not. Not that we won’t be guilty of swooning and stabbing people, we will. I have. But we should be a people turning from idolizing and impaling others with our words. Increasingly, we should be a people noted for honoring and serving others, not because they’re good, but because Christ is good.
We have been sacrificially and scandalously served and loved by the God who knew our wickedness before we performed it. Therefore, as Christians, we should exhibit a kind of sobriety about humanity that knows the evil we’re all capable of. And with that sobriety we should bravely engage our fellow man with an other-wordly love.
There are a lot of shoulds in this blog. I don’t like shoulds. I want to be motivated by love, not rules. But just like a good parent, there is a need to remind a child what he should be doing, because we love him. I am as guilty as any of looking at the masses with sentimentality or with slander on my tongue. All these shoulds are aimed at me first. It’s hard to love like Jesus. It’s vulnerable. But it’s what I’m called to do. And it is love, that motivates me to do it.
The masses are dying around us, but get close Christian, close enough to love your enemy with your hands, like Jesus did with Judas. Get close enough to have a gracious conversation over coffee with your neighbor about what you heard your him say, like Jesus did with the woman at the well. Get low with the marginalized and despised, like Jesus did with lepers and tax collectors and prostitutes. Don’t engage others this way because they’re kind or good. But because the Spirit of the Lord Jesus is upon us and he is immeasurably kind and good.
I am so torn tonight. I’m on vacation, watching the world burn on Twitter and Facebook. The vile speech, the violence, the defensiveness and accusations… it’s breaking my heart.
I want my sons to be compassionate. I want my husband to be safe. I want my black neighbors and friends to be heard and loved. Words feel so inadequate.
Tonight I told my sons, there’s only one way for peace and reconciliation to come in this country… or anywhere. And that’s through Christ-like love. Only love is stronger than evil. Someone has to lay down their life for their accuser. Someone has to serve someone who betrays them. Someone has to listen. Someone has to bear another’s burden. Someone has to love their enemy.
Peace won’t come through me writing a short blog post. Or sharing other’s more thoughtful posts on social media. It won’t come through being defensive of my husband. It won’t come through trying to explain my point of view. It will only come if I am willing to absorb the pain and burden of another. If I’m willing to turn my cheek. If I’m willing to serve one who despises me.
Jesus modeled this for me. He’s the author of this kind of love. And he’s empowered me to live this way.
An online friend wrote on her Facebook today that she always wondered what she would have done if she lived in the time of slavery in America. She wrote, “Now’s my time.” Now is my time too. I’m white. I am very privileged. I do not take offense. It’s time for me to listen. I almost want to go where those protesting are, just to listen.
I hit an emotional low this week. Last week I crashed from the adrenaline of responding to this pandemic in my church, community, family and hospital. This week I’ve cried. A lot.
The normal low-level fatigue I live with has become high-level. The irritability that signifies my depression has been showing. Hot tears have been spilling over my eyes and fiery darts of faithless thoughts have stung my swirling mind. I’ve found myself very tempted to hide in a batch of devoured hot brownies. I’ve vacillated between wanting to hide from every day’s grim new statistics of the spread of this virus and the death and destruction it’s brought, to busying myself with organizing my week, writing lists, setting goals and calling on people I care for.
And it hit me today. This is Holy Week. This is a special week of reflection and remembrance. And I’ve been missing it. I’m like the crowds around Jesus when he entered Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. But today, Jesus got my attention.
My sister called me today and reminded me how God saved her. In her words, “You didn’t give up on me sis. When I was mean, you kept calling, visiting, sending cards and notes. You never gave up. You listened to me. You made me see that Jesus is real, not just a religious idea.” Her words shook me awake.
I believe that the Jesus who entered Jerusalem a couple thousand years ago, setting in motion a series of events that would lead to his crucifixion on Friday and his resurrection on Sunday, is alive. And lives in me. I believe he suffered this week those millennia ago so that I could experience the freedom of the glory that only the children of God experience (Romans 8:20).
This week the world is suffering. She groans. I groan. But as the world writhes under the pain of a pandemic this Holy Week, God’s children look to Jesus, our older brother, gone before to save us. We share this week with Jesus. We are in him and he is in us. He is redeeming our suffering. And we are sharing in his glory. It’s a beautiful wonder the world longs to see. And it’s a reality the children of God have been commissioned to invite them into.
This week my pastor called his congregation to pray for and specifically tell another person what Jesus has done for them. To be honest, intentionally setting out to tell my friend what Jesus has done for me via phone call or text or video (because doing it face to face isn’t safe) and inviting her to follow Jesus with me feels a little crazy. It feels a little bit like I might look foolish. I might be misunderstood. I might be mocked. I might be rejected. I might be… cut off. Like Jesus was, for me.
Jesus is the best thing that ever happened to me. And He’s the best thing that could every happen to any of my friends. And if I love them like Jesus loves me, I’ll look all those possibilities in the eye, and like Jesus I’ll set my face determined to go there.
There is no greater love than one would lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13). And there is no greater way to lay down my life for my friends than to give up whatever might happen to me if I determine to intentionally and faithfully love them well and invite them to follow Jesus with me.
I pray that like Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem this week, determined and knowing what he had to do to reconcile me with God, I will set my face toward someone else, determined to lay my life down that they could experience the freedom and glory of Jesus.
I’m entering a new phase of parenting. I don’t know what it’s called. But I recently saw a video on a Facebook group for women over 40 that I think may have named it for me. The subtitle of the video from a radio show called Jonsey & Amanda read, “Being the mother of a son is like someone breaking up with you really slowly.” That. That’s what this phase of parenting I’m in should be called: The Breakup Phase.
My sons are (almost) 17 and 15. The 17 year old has his own vehicle and license. The 15 year old is passionate about motor sports and can be found either working on his motocross bike or riding it somewhere in the nearby desert. Both of them have exceeded me in height. Both of them have made it clear they don’t want or need me to hold them, be their caregiver, or watch over them. The nurturer in me has been put on notice. And this is what I signed up for. Heck, this is what my tagline has been since they were two. For as far back as I can remember I’ve been reminding myself I’m raising men, not boys. I’m raising men, who will leave my house, and my side and take to the road with Jesus, I pray.
I was twenty-nine when Connor, my almost 17 year old, was born, and 31 when Ryland was born. I wasn’t supposed to be able to have kids, said my doctor. I didn’t ovulate. And my husband didn’t want to have kids at all. So when Connor and Ryland were born, despite the prognosis of my doctor and the wishes of my husband, I felt much like Hannah and prayed:
I am the woman who was standing here in your presence, praying to the Lord.For this child I prayed, and the Lord has granted me my petition that I made to him.Therefore I have lent him to the Lord. As long as he lives, he is lent to the Lord. – 1 Samuel 1:26-27
I was so thankful for the kids God gave me, and I committed to him that I would not neglect to dedicate them to him. I’d spend my life pointing them to Jesus and when the time came, like Hannah, I would leave them to him.
Leaving your kids to the Lord sounds right, but actually doing it is painful.
Dedicating your kids to the Lord happens in prayer and practical acts of selflessness from the sleepless nights of infancy, through the struggle with the terrible twos and threes, through the years of homework help and self-image confusion and puberty-controlled emotions. And through all those phases of parenting there are actions we take as parents to very intentionally dedicate our kids to Jesus. We, as Paul Tripp said, shepherd our kids’ hearts through discipline and hugs, and self-sacrificing of our sleep, time and resources so they can sense the love of Christ in us, and follow him for themselves.
But then comes a time when putting your kids’ hand into the hand of Jesus means, letting go of their physical hands, of their choices, of their consequences. And this means just as intentionally as you pulled out that children’s Bible when they were three and sang Jesus Loves Me with them, you now intentionally practice at the mind and heart level the prayer and faith that actually hands them over to Jesus.
The thoughts of feeling unwanted and un-needed and the strong urge to grasp for some kind of hold on your kids that might satisfy that need you felt fill with joy when they used to crawl in your lap and put their tender hands on your face and tell you, “I wuv you momma,” cannot win at this stage of parenting. Just like the urge to ignore their need to hear about Jesus when they were three so you could watch Netflix could not dictate your actions then. And when I say you I mean me.
The whole point of raising those men I’m raising (I’m not done yet), is to point them to Jesus. To place their hand in his. To launch them out into the world leaning on him, not me. And it feels like a breakup. But it’s not. It’s a critical stage of leadership, where the leader becomes a leader maker. And it’s that same stage lived out in motherhood when the mother becomes a woman in the life of a man she bore and raised, lifting him up, coming alongside him in the church, as he shepherds the heart of someone else to Jesus.
David and Jonathan shared a deep friendship. But when the time came where they had to part and they knew all kinds of scary things would separate their friendship, the Bible says Jonathan “strengthened” David’s hand in God (1 Samuel 23:15-17). The depth of their friendship wasn’t evidenced by their unrelenting grasp on each other. Their true friendship was evidenced by their desire to see the others’ hand placed in God’s hand, strongly!
It hurts. I’m crying a lot. And I’m sure I’m not doing it all right. But I am praying to the same God who heard Hannah and cared for Samuel, and heard me and has drawn my two teen sons to himself.
Please Lord, I am the woman who prayed and asked you for these children. And you gave them to me. From childhood I have dedicated them to you. They are dedicated to you still. Help me to strengthen their hand in yours.