Church & Ministry, Taking Heart, Truth & Orthodoxy

We Quickly Fly Away, But…

flower1

I don’t normally talk to inanimate objects, but there’s this one time I got mad at a flower.

During this particular day, I was standing on the sidewalk waiting for a ride and happened to look down. That’s when it did it. Or at least, that’s when I noticed what it was doing. A tiny flower, no taller than 2 inches or so, had bloomed in the little patch of dirt. It was pretty and colorful and it was just standing there, being all flowery, and as far as I could tell, happily so.  I, on the other hand, completely drained and empty inside, exploded, yelling in my mind, “Why do you even exist??!”

Here’s the context: though only in my early 20’s, I was burning out in ministry and probably showing signs of depression. For me, life had been boiled down to what I accomplished in ministry and the purpose of life was being fruitful (ministry-wise). I was laboring for the sake of what I understood as eternal (visible conversions, explicit discipleship), seeing other parts of life as superfluous and worldly, and by the end of two years I was running on fumes.
Continue reading “We Quickly Fly Away, But…”

Motherhood & Family, Truth & Orthodoxy

Why does my work matter?

After my daughter was born, one of my recurring prayer requests was that I would learn what it meant to worship God in the season of new-mommyhood. Up until then, it was pretty straightforward for me to answer questions of why I did what I did- I had seen my education as a given prep stage in life and then afterwards, being in campus ministry it was easy in my mind to explain why the things I did were of value to God and his Kingdom. I only found out what I was lacking in my understanding of God and what he desires of us in life when I could no longer measure what it meant to “glorify God” in the same ways that I had before.
Here’s a bit of what I typed up in a journal entry that became the first in a file I ended up naming “Vocation” (you’ll see why later):

The problem: I know to reject the non-Christian worldview on what the reason is for doing what we do in work. We don’t work for the sake of our own personal glory and fame or for the sake of pursuing wealth as our security and comfort.But it seems as if the Christian alternative given is that well, we can’t all be working vocationally in ministries, so we will use our jobs as ways to allow us to 1. do the types of things that would be done in ministry (Bible study groups at work, evangelizing to network of people you meet)  or 2. support the work of ministry (money, invite people to church, influence culture for sake of evangelism). The support for this understanding is often as follows:  The world is passing away and what’s more important and eternal? People’s souls or fill-in-the-blank? Shouldn’t we pursue heavenly, eternal  vs. earthly, temporary things?[…] There are different reasons why I know this perspective of the Christian life isn’t complete. One reason is that it’s not comprehensive to explain, for example, someone with a child with a severe cognitive disability or someone who is doing a job that doesn’t allow them to have influence or even much interaction with others. Another is that it ignores that we could be eating and drinking “for the glory of God” […]

Main Questions:

What does it mean to “give glory to God” in the earth-bound tasks we do?
What does it mean to do mundane things in faith?

I felt like I needed a course on the Theology of Motherhood! And it turns out I was looking for was actually best summed up by what has been known since the Reformation as the Doctrine of Vocation. That, along with my growing understanding of the doctrine of Providence since my ways at WTS have been monumental in shaping my understanding of my own calling as a mom. Here are some of the things that have helped and snippets of that “Vocation” file: 

  • The primary calling that I have in life and the way that I am to glorify and worship God here on earth is found in the Greatest Commandment.  These days, I often wake up and remind myself that my goal of the day is to love and fear God and to love my neighbor. Luther wrote about the Biblical Doctrine of Vocation during the Reformation when there was a huge gap between what was seen as spiritual (priestly) vs. non-spiritual work. He wrote about vocation (from “calling” in Latin) and how God has placed each believer in different stations of life (in my case, as a wife, mother, church member, etc.) with the purpose of loving people through the work we do. This means that when I get up and make breakfast, clean the house, play with my daughter, I can know that 1. I am called my God to do so and 2. It is meaningful and pleasing to God if I am doing it out of love for my daughter.
  • Love (as defined Biblically) is the ultimate goal. What that looks like will differ given different needs, different gifts, and changing seasons of life. One of the toughest things for me has been trying to find one way of living that glorifies God by looking at people around me or other seasons of life. God has been showing me that he is glorifying himself in different ways through different people. Why? 1. Scripture gives so many different ways that we are called to love depending on what the needs are- we are called to preach the Gospel, to speak truth in love, to care for widows and orphans, to clothe the naked, to visit the imprisoned, etc. As tempting as it is to put these in order of priority, Scripture doesn’t do that (e.g. say that it is more important to preach than to care for widows). But love will see all these things as important- caring for the body and caring for the soul and how I  love my neighbor will depend on who is placed in my life and what their needs are. Right now, my husband and daughter are my most immediate neighbors and my daughter’s needs are taking up a certain amount of time and energy that will not always remain the same. 2. I have been entrusted with different gifts than people around me and am called to exercise them for the good of the church. (I’ve posted some helpful resources regarding this before.) 3. As a wife and mom, the shape of my days and time changes with different seasons.  The way it looks for me to worship and obey God today is not going to look exactly the same as what it meant for me to do so as a student or ministry staff worker. Therefore the orienting question (and my answer to why I stay at home) is “What does it mean for me right now to love my neighbor?”
  • The Biblical understanding of what is worldly vs. spiritual  is not mostly a matter of what is physical vs. what is immaterial but an issue of the heart. When the Bible talks about flesh or wordliness, it is not talking about physical need for sleep or making money- it is talking about the sinful ways that we pursue things other than God and the part of us that rebels against him. There are ways that I can do “spiritual” things in a way that is worldly- doing work in ministry in order to justify myself or for success. There are ways that I can do mundane, earth-bound tasks in a way that is spiritual- exhibiting the fruit of the spirit (helpful blog here about it), doing it out of love for others, etc. Therefore, as a mom, it is not as if the only spiritual things I do are when I am able to explicitly mention God or things that I do which eventually lead up to an opportunity to evangelize/disciple, I can do things that are earth-bound (diaper changing, feeding my baby) in ways that are spiritual when done out of and in love. How John Piper put it in Don’t Waste Your Life is “It is not a matter so much of what you do, but how and why.”
  • God has chosen to work in the world through human actions.  The Biblical understanding of Providence- that God is actively and sovereignly controlling and governing all things that happen in the world- has done massive damage on the sacred-secular divide that I had in my mind. If God is actively involved in all aspects of what happens in the world (providence) and working through people (doctrine of vocation), then he is working through me both when I evangelize and when I tend to my daughter’s physical needs. Luther has been quoted as saying that God milks the cows through the hands of the milkmaids. Similarly, what I do is important because God is working through me to answer my prayers for my daughter’s growth and protection in my day-to-day actions!
  • The work I do as a mom matters because God regards it as valuable. I emailed a question to Matt Perman of What’s Best Next  and this was really helpful from his answer: “What God requires of us most of all is not evangelism, but love…Evangelism and work are to both come from this motive. This makes our work eternal and enduring, as well as (successful, so to speak) evangelism….It is God’s regard of something that makes it valuable. That needs to be our criteria.” Growing up with a misunderstanding of what was spiritual vs. not spiritual and working in ministry, it was easy for me feel that work (non “spiritual”)  is not as important or secondary to the type of work done in church ministry or missions (Bible study, etc.) and that work was only important so much as it led to these activities. This was perpetuated by things I learned in church (e.g. being a spiritual doctor is more important than being a doctor that only saves people who will one day die anyways.) This is not Biblical though because as written above, it is God’s regard of something that makes it valuable. I realized that I had a wrong standard for measuring whether or not the work is important. God commands us to preach the Gospel. He also calls us to cultivate the earth and to work (Genesis 1-3). Love is the goal of both, and both are valued by God. As a mom who stays at home and is limited by my daughter’s developmental stage and my time in terms of how much explicit Gospel-instruction I can give, I can know that the work I do cleaning, caring, etc. matters because it is valuable  to God.
An important note that I have is that I am not trying to say that preaching the Gospel, the work of ministry, discipleship and world missions are not important. I love my daughter and so I desire for her to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, pray for her, and teach her to obey  me so that she can learn to obey God. I believe this pleases God. The main struggle for me though is to know that I can be pleasing and glorifying God also in the mundane and everyday work that I do- not only as a means toward discipleship and missions, but in and of themselves- when I work in faith and out of love. I pray and trust that God will give us all grace and instruction as we love him and our neighbors in the way he is calling us to today!
Here are some of the resources that have been tremendously helpful to me and I recommend to anyone wanting to know more about God’s calling in our lives in our work:
Motherhood & Family

Heart Struggles of a Newbie Stay-At-Home Mom

It has been 16.5 months since I started as a stay-at-home mom and it has been a grace-filled blur. Sometimes I look at my daughter and I can’t believe she’s mine and that I’m her mom!  There are so many lessons I have learned since she was born and God has used my time at home to bring heart issues and big life questions to light.

I love what I get to do, partially because growing up I always admired moms. I loved watching them juggle ten things at once so adeptly and naturally and I think I watched moms changing diapers, in the kitchen or at the supermarket similarly to how some people admire basketball players on TV.  That’s why when a friend pointed out the other day that I had opened up the fridge with my daughter in one arm, holding a cup in another, and as I turned around kicked the kitchen door closed, I was so grateful because I always thought it was so cool that moms could do that kind of stuff!

Still, with the desire I have always had to be a mom and God-willing, to stay at home raising children, ever since a few months after baby girl was born, there has been an internal struggle . It’s not that I disliked what I get to do- I actually really enjoy it, but it felt like I was always trying to justify to myself why I was a stay-at-home mom. I wrestled thus with guilt, frustration, and anxiety. Guilt at not being able to do more or wondering if I am doing the right thing at staying home. Frustration and anxiety in frantically trying to do things that would make me feel more justified to stay at home and like I was accomplishing something.

I started asking God and other people questions, talking to Jeff, reading on the Biblical doctrine of vocation , and praying  for clarity. I have come to see that the things I was asking myself weren’t just about being a mom or staying at home.   There was a dissonance in my heart because  though I value the work of motherhood and homemaking in my heart, something in my worldview, perspective, and thoughts on God and life was off. My time as a stay-at-home mom is just the circumstance that God used to show what I lacked in understanding and how my motives, thoughts, and attitudes still need to be realigned to God’s thoughts as revealed in Scripture.

The things that were hard and the questions I had could, I think, be summarized in three major categories:

  • Not seeing the spiritual value to God of what I did. What does nursing and changing diapers have to do with living for the glory of God? But more generally, what do things that don’t seem outwardly spiritual (“spiritual” being things like talking to my daughter about God, discipling others, etc.) have to do with living the Christian life and living for God?
  • Not being able to measure success and productivity in the ways I have in the past. Pursuing education, there is a clear goal (a degree). And  working in campus ministry, I saw or at least had measurable ways of measuring “impact”.  Now that my list of things on my to-do list seem so mundane, what do I do with the desire to “make a difference”and bring glory to God? And is taking care of my precious baby only worthwhile because of what she accomplish in the future? That would seem to fit into the way I measured success in the past, but it doesn’t seem quite right. 
  • Looking around at other people and feeling weaksauce. I feel like I should be able to take on more than I am right now. Women in my mom’s generation and even my mom had to work and take care of babies at the same time. And of people I know around me, most also work while taking care of their baby right now. How do I justify not doing the same? What do I do with the guilt?  

God has been so good to me in speaking to all these areas and teaching me so much. I wanted to share about it all in this post, but I think I will break it into maybe three posts in the next few weeks. I am still a newbie but I hope that in sharing what I have and am learning, that it would encourage others- whether stay-at-home moms or not- and spur you on toward God and living for him.

Motherhood & Family, Truth & Orthodoxy

Education & Motherhood

Take my intellect and use every power as you choose.” – Take My Life And Let It Be

A few months ago I asked Jeff a hypothetical question. I asked how he would respond if someone, say, a mom wanted to know if it was a waste of education and displeasing to God to go to a good university and then become a stay-at-home mom, or if, in other words, there is no point in a woman getting quality higher education if she is planning on staying at home with children. For some reason he asked me if I was referring to myself (he always sees through my hypothetical questions!), and then answered by saying that he would say that he disagrees with the way the person sees education. He then went on to point out the ways that my education (from high school onward) has helped shape and equip me as his wife and helper, assured and comforted me of my calling, and got me starting to think about some of the things I’m about to write in this post.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted because I have been wrestling through different issues regarding the season of life that I am in as a new mom and haven’t come to an “aha!” moment that is easily blog-able. My main personal prayer request for the last few months has been for me to learn what it means to worship God right now- with vision and in practical ways as a wife and new mommy. As much as I enjoy being a mom (I do a lot!) and have always said that my dream job is to be a wife and a mom, I am realizing that bits and pieces of my theology and worldview have been shaped in a way incongruent with what I profess to believe, namely that being a wife and mom is a calling by God and that homemaking is a task that can be pleasing and glorifying to him in and of itself (not just as a means toward something like, raising kids that will be missionaries one day.) As a result of this, there have been moments of questioning as described above, guilt about staying at home (and enjoying it), browsing of mommy blogs, and just a lot of thinking. It’s more than a Biblical view of motherhood that I’m working through, in this I’m also working through my view of success, productivity and what it means to live a God-glorifying life, stewardship of gifts and opportunities, calling, ministry, the “sacred-secular divide”, and more, all relating to living a life of worship to God. Education is just a piece of it, and I’m sure I’ll be blogging more about these other topics in the future. 
Regarding  education (particularly higher education) I have been reflecting on the values that I have been exposed to and maybe in some part held. Being a mom and thinking about homemaking has served to surfaced these underlying beliefs and motivations and expose them as either wrong or incomplete. Here is a list of the ones I’ve been thinking through:

Secular views-

  • Education as a means toward a profession. The goal of learning is doing well and getting a GPA that will enable you to get up to the next step and ultimately land a good job. In Chinese culture the profession will grant security. In American culture, additionally it’s about self-fulfillment of your potential. This is the view that my mom vehemently responded against when adults who found out I wanted to do ministry wanted to know why I “needed to go to” Cornell for that. This is how I thought before, which is why I only thought of school as getting a degree and studying “for the grade” and not to learn (which, by the way, I regret)
  • Education as a way to “better yourself” and make you a more knowledgeable, well-rounded, person.  This is not so much what I’ve ever believed; I guess this is more of a view of education I’ve been exposed to through teachers and professors here in America.

Views I’ve been exposed to/held in Christian circles. These are the ones that have influenced me more-

  •  Education as a means to getting into a position of influence. The job that you land will enable you to make a difference in the world. The people that you hang out with at a good university will be able to influence large numbers of people later. The higher up you go, the more opportunity to make an impact for God through either sharing the Gospel with influential people or holding a position that is weighty.
  • Education as means of having a specific time of being able to impact the people you study with and grow in God. It’s not so much about classes as it is about the environment of the university. Not focusing too much on your studies and making time for ministry is a way of training you to be willing to focus on the eternal things. It’s a time to impact non-believers and grow in God. It’s definitely not about the grade here and it’s not like classes don’t matter, but learning and education in and of itself isn’t really addressed or thought much about.
  • Education as something to sacrifice in order to do full-time ministry. Implicit in this view is that education is meant to funnel you toward a vocation. Thus, if God calls, it is “given up” in order to take up the task of full-time vocational ministry.
  • Education as a means to a profession that you will use as tentmaking. Having a job provides income to give toward God’s Kingdom as well as to free you up from being a burden to others as you do ministry. It may also be a profession that grants access to do missions overseas.

I’m sure there are more but these are the ones that have impacted me most probably because I’ve been immersed in them. I’m not saying that any of these are wrong, but having them listed out explains why I was wondering whether or not I would be pleasing God or wasting my education. These values don’t allow for a way that someone can go to university, get a degree, and then become a stay-at-home mom except in the case of the idea of it being a sacrifice, something given up for the sake of the calling to be a homemaker. I can’t help but feel that the way I’ve viewed education and heard it spoken about is incomplete. I know this because I know that Biblically, it is a noble calling to be a wife and mom and somehow I don’t think that just because someone wants to do that, their education is just a back-up plan or leading nowhere. I need a bigger picture, God-sized understanding of education. Here is an explanation for the purpose of education that I think may be more comprehensive (Okay, I kind of just typed it up right now on the spot because I realized I had not verbalized an alternative so I may have to change it later…and am open to resources that may explain this better!)

Education as a resource from God used to shape and equip me for whatever he has and will call me to for the sake of loving him and others with my heart, soul, and mind to his glory.

This doesn’t mean that I took whatever I learned in school as the truth or that my mind was shaped in the way my teachers or professors thought it ought to be shaped, but through high school, college, and beyond, God used different teachers and classes not only to teach information but to mold the way I process information, write down thoughts, learn new things, read, think, etc. Sometimes the classes helped toward this directly (classes at Westminster!), sometimes they were testing grounds in which I had to think critically to spot out deception and falsehood and learn to verbalize inconsistencies in arguments to share what I believed was true.  If I see the wider picture of what my education afforded me with, alongside of a degree, practical skills toward a profession, etc. and also understand God is sovereignly orchestrating my whole life,  then I can look back and see how God has equipped me in a special way to help my husband and raise my daughter as well as look forward to how he may or may not choose to use my experiences, learning, and mind to bless them and others.

I’m not sure how my life will look and how all this will pan out, but I love the story of the Mary who anointed Jesus with perfume. It touches me for several reasons, but I remember being particularly struck many years ago by the fact that what is considered a waste by others is considered a precious offering by Jesus. I want to offer my life to Jesus, education included, however that may look to me or to the world- even if it is considered a “waste” to some. As I learn the ropes as a new mommy, waking up in the middle of the night to feed my daughter, rejoicing at each little developmental stage she reaches, singing baby songs and looking ridiculous to make her smile so that I can sneak a spoonful of baby food past her pursed lips, and wondering if my mental capacities will ever return to the point where I will be good at speed Scrabble again, I am holding onto the fact that as I strive by grace to worship God in all things, he is the one who decides what is a waste and what is not.

Take my life and let it be, ever only all for Thee.
Truth & Orthodoxy

Ambition

I’m making my way through Dave Harvey’s Rescuing Ambition. It’s been really great at getting to the heart of ambition and make distinctions that tease apart what godly vs. selfish ambition looks like. It’s been great for me in terms of how I’ve been wrestling with reconciling the voices that say “COME ON, DO IT FOR GOD!! DREAM BIG! GOGOGO!” with the truth that well, we don’t dream dreams for God, we just live in obedience step by step…and we don’t have to do something ‘great’ to be great in God’s eyes.

I am finding that I am way more ambitious than I’d thought! God is helping me make sense of some of the things that have happened and are happening in my life by seeing his hand in placing “fences” in my way to direct my path. I see how he has been using situations to expose self and purify my ambitions and dreams. I am learning that I am called to live in the tension of having great future aspirations for God’s glory with contentment in the now, and that to do so I must find my satisfaction in him alone.

I highly recommend the book! =)

Some good quotes (bolding added):

God loves us so much he’ll intentionally fence us in to keep us on his road. This can be hard, I know. It’s never easy to stare at a fence suddenly blocking the path we want to take. But God fences our roads to keep us moving in his direction…We find no peace in life until we’re convinced our path is his way and our place is his choice. This is so worth repeating: your place is his choice. Fences and all. (78-79)

Contentment means being satisfied and at peace with God’s will in all situations. It’s a state of the soul where your desires conform to wherever you find yourself…Since Paul’s ambitions were not selfish, he could live with them unfulfilled. Sure, he had dreams and desires- but they were God-focused, not Paul-focused. If they remained unsatisfied, that was God’s business. So Paul was able to aspire for more while resting peacefully in what God’ provided. He hungered for more but was happy with less. Deferred dreams didn’t eat away at him. Paul could be at peace in the present without abandoning hopes for the future. (123)

And here’s a quick video from Crossway on Vimeo. Dave Harvey: “Why is ambition important?”