Taking Heart

Some Questions On Being

IMG_4511.jpgI prepped to teach on Titus last Sunday. I thought long the week before about the relationship between life and doctrine, and personally, about my calling as a woman and mom in the home a la Titus 2. I was reminded about the goodness of my work in loving my family.

It turns out Sunday morning had us waking up to sick kids and me texting that I’d have to forgo church responsibilities to stay home. Funny how God did that.

See, if you ever want evidence of my feeble faith, send me a sick baby. Give it a few nights and you’ll hear my sleep-deprived, “For what purpose God??” (Read: “Whyyyyyy?”) And it isn’t wholly my grumpiness speaking here. I actually feel justifiably upset about the seeming meaninglessness and inefficiency of these small trials.

I’ve been sitting in Ephesians 1 all week, savoring glorious truths a few words at a time. (Which, incidentally may be partly due to the fact that, in my sleepy haze, I can only hold a few words at a time.) After a night of little faith, as I wondered what practical good could come out of my sleep-deprivation, God answered through these words— that we should be holy and blameless before him.

He spoke to me of my being chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world for this reason (Eph. 1:3-4). He reminded me of his commitment to work all things to my good and his purposes— to my conformity into the image of his Son. I had forgotten about that.

So I’ve been thinking about this being made more into Christlikeness. And I’ve been seeing that my why’s and search for productivity and purpose and usefulness in glorifying God often miss this vital ingredient, the aspect of what God is doing in me and the call to be like Christ.

In the (possibly false but sometimes helpful) “being” vs. “doing” dichotomy, I gravitate to the latter. I’ve always had the desire to be helpful. The fear of being useless and the desire to hear “well done” on something truly well-done and most of all from God, are deeply rooted in me.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always thought of “being” as important, and I thought I had the relationship between who we are and what we do pretty well sorted out. We act out of who we are. (Which is true.) God cares about the heart behind what we do. (Which is also true.) Therefore, (this is where I start veering), I need to be who I’m supposed to be so I can do what I’m supposed to do to God’s glory without being disingenuous. I’ve never doubted the importance of being made more like Christ, but the fundamental orientation, the driving heart motive, usually leans “so I can do more, or right, or better.”

Years ago, as a teenager, I remember telling a mentor about my deep fear that God won’t use me. He gently push backed, with grace I didn’t understand at the time, maybe that isn’t the main thing. Evidently, I still need this pushback, and received it in part last week through a powerful article on mental health by Alan Noble. In it he writes,

Usefulness is the sole criterion for the World, the Flesh, or the Devil. But you have no use value to God. You can’t. There is nothing He needs. You can’t cease being useful to God because you were never useful to begin with. That’s simply not why He created you and why He continues to sustain your being in the world. It was gratuitous, prodigal. He made us just because He loves us and for His own good pleasure. Every other reason to live demands that you remain useful, and one day your use will run out. But not so with God. To God, your existence in His universe is an act of creation, and it remains good as creation even in its fallen state.

We were made for God’s pleasure, not his use. He made us because he loves us, because he is good, because it pleased him. Even more, according to Ephesians 1:12, he redeems us and makes us his “that we who were the first to hope in Christ might to the praise of his glory.” Here Paul doesn’t write that we might do things to the praise of his glory (though certainly we do). More fundamentally, we are made to be to the praise of his glory. And this isn’t a command, but a statement here. God has come through great lengths to make us his because his intent is to glorify himself through what he does for and in us.

As image-bearers, we give evidence to his “prodigal love”, his powerful sustenance, his wonderful creativity, and more. As those being recreated into Christ’s image, we give evidence to his wondrous grace, his redeeming love, his infinite patience, his holy nature, and more. Who we are brings glory to him because what he is doing in us is glorious.

Ephesians 1, along with thoughts about our lack of use value to God, is simmering in my heart. God’s truths are an elixir for my anxious doing and as the Spirit continues to stir, I am catching the waft of healing soul-questions. Questions arising from the suspicion that I have often headed in the wrong direction with my “why’s”. Questions that reorient and help my heart to rest, that comfort, that have me praising God for his other-worldly wisdom.

For others who seek God’s glory but have trouble working from a place of peace, other restless doers like me, perhaps some of these questions would serve you as well.

Dear beloved, chosen in Christ from before the foundations of the world, redeemed for the praise of his glorious grace.

…What if you glorify God not just by what you do, but by virtue of who you are?

…What if the most glorious display of his goodness is not in our works, but his workmanship— us (Eph. 2:10)?

…What if we believed that just as Adam and Eve were the glorious apex of creation, we believe our being remade into the image of Christ (us, the church) is the glorious apex of the new heavens and earth?

…What if, when the day of Christ comes, the most God-glorifying work done in the world is not done by man, but God himself? What if the most God-glorifying work done in our lives is that which is being done in us?

…What if we believed with God that this work was good? (Phil. 1:6)

…What if God desires to draw attention to his wisdom, power, grace, and kindness most chiefly in Christ’s work done for us? (Eph. 1:4-10, 2:7)

…What if the biggest question isn’t what you would do for God but who he himself is making you to be to the praise of his glory?

Motherhood & Family, Taking Heart, Truth & Orthodoxy

Existential Angst, Baby’s Breath, & The Preacher

IMG_4370She would’ve napped for longer if I put her down in the crib, but I let her fall asleep on me because I love the feel of her in my arms. “You love this age,” my sister said to me recently— I really do. I love the way she still fits, her chubby thighs, and her soft baby breaths.

Baby snuggles are one of God’s answers lately to my existential angst.

“There is godly way to pursue things in the world and sinful ways to pursue spiritual things,” one of my professors said once. His words worked to shift something in my foundations, my concrete paradigms of the Christian life. They also point a finger at the vestiges of sin in me. In particular, a sinful way I try to pursue the Kingdom is to demand direct ties between my good works— whether through writing, at church, or in my home— and visible fruit. This is part of my bent as a big picture person (NF, for you Myerrs-Brigg-ers) who is always looking for connections. It’s why I write, and read, and think. But in the everyday, it means I often try to find peace and purpose through productivity. The measures are ostensibly spiritual— but the trap is that in seeking to justify my work through results, I am seeking to do sacred work while still walking by sight.

This desire to know without a doubt that I am accomplishing all I should do, and in everything doing things of eternal consequence, bears bad fruit. I’m prone to fretfulness over my own effectiveness, to perfectionism in what I do, to anxiety over wasted time, and an overall inability to rest. It also leads to, “Why-do-I-feel-so-tired-and-like-I-didn’t-do-all-I-should-but-it’s-not-like-I-wasted-time-today-so-did-I-make-the-right-choices?” and the aforementioned existential angst.

Motherhood has been sanctifying here. In part, it has limited my ability to spend time on explicitly “spiritual” work so that I need to trust God’s words on the sacredness of secular work. It has led to more exhaustingly “unproductive” days than one. But it also has been the sphere of life I’ve received gracious correction through the comfort of God’s good gifts.

As a seeker of meaning, I find myself circling back to Ecclesiastes every so often, and I have been camping here recently. Here the Old Testament Preacher grapples with the question of life’s purpose. He cannot find it in pleasure, wealth, wisdom, or toil and so again and again speaks of life feeling meaningless, “a chasing after the wind.” His answer ultimately though, is not to deny pleasure, wealth, wisdom, or work. Rather, he declares:

He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man. I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him. I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man. (Eccl. 3:11-12)

The reason the Preacher cannot find meaning in the temporal is not because it is bad, but because on every side he pushes against mystery. As eternal beings, our hearts grasp at the strings to connect all we do to the eternal. But in our finitude, we cannot begin to trace them all. Thus, the Preacher’s answer for my longing to find my security and justify my life through my works is worship. God alone, he says, does work that endures forever. We cannot add or take away from it, we cannot even fathom the sum of it. And so, we fear him who does eternal things. And our role here? We are called to “be joyful and do good” as long as we live, and to receive from God the gifts he gives.

Eric Liddell, missionary and Olympian running, said once that when he did, he felt God’s pleasure. In contrast, his competitor is depicted in the movie Chariots of Fire as describing his races as “10 lonely seconds to justify my existence.” The Christian, justified by Christ and delighted by the Father, does not need to justify her own existence. We work, yes, but as a gift. And we receive all he has to give during our few days under the sun, trusting that he who is over the sun is building something that lasts through the good we do.

As we surrender our self-justification, God gives us contentment and the ability to enjoy his gifts and our toil:

Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink andfind enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions  and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil—this is the gift of God. For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart.

Through the Scriptures, God dismantles my idolatry of productivity and success, silencing the voices of accusation and judgement of a twisted conscience that does not allow for rest or mistakes or a sense of God’s pleasure. I can delight in the things of this world— my work, my children— and receive the contentment I feel in loving and serving them as good. As I learn to walk by faith, to surrender my need to understand and justify my own existence on my own terms, I rest with the little one snuggling in my arms. I receive this rest— and her— as given out of an overflow of God’s love.

We celebrated a birthday in our family this week, it flew by like a highway mile marker, giving testimony that the years indeed are a breath. We each shared why we were thankful for the birthday girl. We enjoyed a meal at one of her favorite restaurants. We delighted in each other. Food and drink, family, presents, and a sudden declaration of “BEST DAY OF THE YEAR!” by one being honored— all gifts. All from God who “keeps us occupied with joy in our hearts.”

Yes, the years are a but a breath, but they are so filled lavishly with good things by the unspeakably good God of infinite worth, power, and wisdom. Knowing this, I will work and rest today, and in worship, breathe it in.

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.