Talking About Things That Matter

I grew up in a Christian home, but didn’t grow up in church culture.

That statement begs explanation (we did attend church, even organized home churches at times), but would take a post of its own to fully expand upon.

All I really mean by this is that until I was an adult, I’d largely neither experienced nor been aware of nominal Christianity, “Christianese,” dead religiosity… nor the idea of a faith just compelling enough to land a person in a pew on Sunday, but not enough to change how he lived throughout the week.

My father quoted the old preacher who said, “I’d rather my children spend a day in a bar than one hour with a lukewarm believer.”  He understood the immense spiritual danger of learning to “talk the talk” without genuine heart change behind the words. Of convincing oneself of having love for God while actually becoming hardened to the Gospel.  Of feeling spiritually secure… while deeply and hopelessly estranged from God.

I’m sure his time as a teacher at a Christian school shaped some of his perspective on this.

The believers I knew still failed to walk in the Spirit and sinned— as we all do.  Of course. Some had to fight not to lean toward law, and some had to fight not to lean toward license.  In our flesh we are all prone to extremes. But there was a realness, a glowing aliveness, and a genuine love for Jesus that filled them up to overflowing, truly transformed the way they lived, and made you want what they had more than anything.

So, it was bewildering— a shock, more accurately— to first experience what I call “church culture:” the specific lingo, the unspoken idea that swearing is somehow more sinful than gossiping, the little things that become embedded in any subculture… but most of all, the discovery that there are people who say they love Jesus but feel awkward, uncomfortable, or even hostile about talking about Him.  Even with other believers. 

For some reason, I still remember the first woman I encountered who eschewed spiritual conversation.  She consistently met anyone’s excitement (not just mine) about what Jesus was doing in their lives with disinterest, silence, and a subject change.  It confused and crushed me.

We should each personally delve into the root causes of this kind of disinterest, and we’ll get into that a bit later.  There are many reasons why someone might struggle to have spiritual conversations.

But whatever the reason, the end result is that our discussions during times of Christian “fellowship” very often revolve around anything and everything except the one thing that truly unites us as brothers and sisters.  Since realizing a lot of people dislike these conversations, I’ve certainly failed to initiate them myself, at times. 

My dear husband spoke of this with Spirit-filled wisdom in a recent Facebook status:

To my Christian friends: I am hesitant to write this, knowing that I will be held to the standard that I desire to achieve, but hopefully that will just motivate me more to be consistent with God’s Word.

Why do we go to church?  By that I mean, why do we go to a building on Sunday to hear a sermon and worship God?

I pose the question as one that has come into my mind occasionally in recent years. Not because I don’t like church; I love being there!  But […], we can listen to a sermon online; in fact, even the sermons from our own church. We can sing songs of worship as a family. We can pray together. […]

[…] One of the primary defenses for why we go to a church building is found in Hebrews 10:24-25– “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

We tend to focus on that center part– “not neglecting to meet together”– and while we are aware of the parts around it, we tend to not practice them.  We need to “stir up one another to love and good works,” and “encouraging one another.”  This is not something the pastor does for us when he gives the sermon. It may stir us up to love and good works, it may be encouraging, but the exhortation in this passage is for us to be doing that with EACH OTHER.

[…] How often do I talk about the sermon with people afterwards? Pretty much never, and I could say that is true for pretty much all of us it seems. The talking with our fellow brothers and sisters about what we learned and what was convicting and what we can apply is where the Holy Spirit works in us to actually ACT on what was taught and solidify it in our hearts.

If we don’t do that, it’s usually lost before we even get home and kick our feet up for the Packer game. That’s what we seem to rather talk about after church, anyway: the Packers, the weather, our jobs, the latest gossip, our projects, our kids… pretty much anything but spiritual things or what was just taught.

It’s my encouragement to you all, and myself, that we talk about what is truly important with our brothers and sisters in Christ, especially while at church, but really any time we are around them. It’s really not Christian fellowship if we aren’t talking about anything even related to being a Christian. It’s just two people talking. And while I do think it is important to share life circumstances and realities with Christian friends, it can’t be the only thing. It should only be shared under the assumption that spiritual conversation is the first or primary part of your dialogue, and using that spiritual wisdom to inform on our life circumstances.

The Day of the Lord is approaching. While many of us may still be meeting together, lets make sure we are encouraging one another and stirring up to love and good works as well!

To apply this more specifically to us as wives, mothers, and women, I wanted to pose the question: “How can we be doing this better with each other?”

It seems to me that there are two main reasons we don’t do it.

The first reason might be fear of others perceiving us as weird, even if we ourselves absolutely love such conversations (I can identify with this one).  So many Christians think it’s cool to say or imply that “not everything has to be about Jesus, you know.”  That’s pretty disheartening.  But when this is the case, we need to remember Whose opinion matters, and ask Him to remove our “fear of man.”  I think we can also simply make a point in our minds to do it more often.  And then deliberately act on it.  Make it a habit.

Instead of talking about whatever topic we happen to drift into, we can ask real questions of our friends, such as, “What has God been teaching you?” or “How is motherhood?” or “How’s your marriage doing these days?” (speaking of our own joys and failures, not using it as an opportunity to gossip about our husbands, of course).

Or– how about this– “How’s your walk with the Lord lately?” and then opening up about our own hearts as well?

If that sounds like a strange question to ask a friend, I would just challenge you to ask yourself why.

After all, we hardly think it strange to ask similar questions in just about any other area of our friends’ lives:

“How’s your health after that checkup?”

“How’s your garden doing?”

“How are you feeling about the big move?”

These are easy to ask, because we care about one another.  So shouldn’t we also care enough to inquire about each other’s spiritual health, which is infinitely, eternally, of more importance?

We are sisters in God’s family.  Too often, we live as complete islands unto ourselves.  Single women can be experiencing grief and bitterness over their circumstances, with no one to comfort nor speak truth to them.  New mothers may experience anxious overwhelm and deep sorrow, with no one to offer helpful advice and encouragement.  Marriages unravel, and no one had any idea they were even struggling.

Casual, surface-level conversation has its place in developing a friendship, but it won’t enable us to truly know one another.  If we never ask the real, honest questions and give real, honest answers, we’ll never help one another to carry very real burdens.

The second and more important way we can make these questions happen is to simply consider and not neglect their source.

Whenever we just aren’t excited to talk about Jesus, there’s a good chance that it’s because there’s not much to talk about— because we are not close to Him.  Not taking the time to sit at His feet and talk with Him.  Not filling our minds and hearts with His Word.  Not confessing and repenting of sin.  Not listening to the Holy Spirit and daily being convicted, encouraged, and brought to our knees in awe of Who God is and what He is doing.

Or maybe even don’t truly know Him in the first place.

Have you even met someone in love?  Their conversation is preoccupied with the object of their affection.  They don’t have to force it; it simply bubbles over and somehow spills into everything else they talk about.

The truth is, we talk about whatever and whomever we’re in love with.

What are your thoughts on spiritual conversations?  How can you implement them in your own life?

May 2019 be the year that we “consider how to provoke one another to love and to good works”! (Hebrews 10:24) 🙂

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Do We Vilify the Excellent Wife and Mother?

Pinterest wars.  Facebook wars.  Health food vs. budget wars.  Mommy wars.  Wife wars. Child-rearing-philosophy wars.  Moms-with-fit-bods vs. moms-with-not-so-fit-bods wars.

Among all these, a theme emerges.

We as human beings sure love making ourselves feel better, don’t we?

Don’t we love to justify absolutely everything about ourselves, even if it means ridiculing others?

And we certainly are given to extremes.  Don’t we often respond to our own failure either with vehement denial or with the fatalistic attitude that says there’s no point in trying to be better?

Remember the outrage back when this mother of three joined the “What’s Your Excuse?” campaign and was immediately met with a barrage of accusations from infuriated moms who said she was “fat-shaming?”  I remember seeing her poster before all the controversy and the only thing that honestly crossed my mind was, “Wow, hot momma!  Go her!  It is possible!”

Sorry.  Didn’t realize I was experiencing fat-shaming.

Oh, don’t get me wrong.  Of course there are things I don’t like about my body.  But clearly, that’s not Maria Kang’s fault.  While she’s not the norm, I found her example inspiring and motivating.  And back then, as a new mama-to-be, it reinforced my positive vision for staying healthy and fit during and after my own pregnancy.

It’s not just this story.  Every other day my Facebook news feed attests to the fact that we women are quick to defend and excuse ourselves. Apparently, we do not often enjoy the success stories of others, because they make us feel like we have an inferior life.  So we tell ourselves that no one posts pictures of their life as it really is, that every photo is airbrushed, that the love between that one couple is just a sham and they probably scream at each other all the time…

And, we counter with “reality.”  (We like to call it “honesty,” because if there’s one thing we love more than making excuses, it’s making excuses and convincing ourselves that they are, in fact, virtues.)  We pat each other’s backs for having at least semi-stable marriages; for barely managing to feed our children and get through the day without strangling them.  We tell ourselves that we’re doing the right thing by “living life slowly,” even if that means ignoring the fact that our slothful lack of diligence drives our husbands crazy.  We kid ourselves that we simply have our priorities in order, and that’s why the house consistently looks like the apocalypse. 

Oh yes… we romanticize and even spiritualize our shortcomings. 

We stand together, rallying against those nasty women who must be faking it because they can’t really be doing it all, sniping with cynicism that “No mom looks that good without surgery” and “No one’s kids are that obedient.”

I honestly think that if the Proverbs 31 woman were alive today, a massive amount of women who profess Christ would loathe her.

And why not?  Because, as every one of us should be able to admit, responding this way makes us feel better about ourselves.

The problem couldn’t be within ourselves, right? The problem is all those people out there who “make us feel bad.”  They are largely responsible for our own insecurities.

Are they? Really?

Let’s be real with ourselves for one moment and acknowledge a simple truth:

Whether another person’s life makes us feel guilty or inspired has less to do with them and has more to do with how we choose to respond to it.

The woman whose heart is secure in Christ– both in Who He is, and her value is His sight– has no need to lash out at another who is succeeding where she tends to fail.  Rather, she knows how to genuinely “rejoice with those who rejoice” (Romans 12:15).  She refuses to succumb to bitter jealousy.  She takes the humble stance which admits that perhaps she could learn from someone else. 

She can change.  The woman for whom Jesus’ applause is the highest applause there is can also accept the areas she truly cannot change without cutting down those who are shining brightly in those same areas.  She has a “we” mentality, not a “me versus them” mentality.  She doesn’t take offense at everything, nor see every other woman as her competition.

Every woman I know agrees, “Oh, I hate how women compete with each other.”  Yet there are women by the masses spitefully posting articles and blogs that pit themselves against the women who have it all together.  Could it be that perhaps it’s the spiteful women who are actually the competitive ones?

The irony is almost amusing.  A woman whose living room is a wreck feels ashamed about it because she sees a picture of Pinterest mom’s pristine living room… so she posts something passive-aggressively shaming moms with pristine living rooms, making Pinterest mom feel like a jerk and ashamed for having a clean living room…

You haven’t justified yourself very well, mom-with-a-wreck-of-a-living room.  You’re just prideful.  You don’t want to look bad or feel sub-par.  And you feel defeated, like you couldn’t possibly do any more than you already are, so you decide that no one else can, either. That it must not be possible.

Here’s the thing… If you genuinely feel that it’s okay to have a wreck of a living room, you won’t have to justify yourself to moms with clean living rooms.  

If you don’t feel that it’s okay, but it makes you feel like a failure so you just try to tell yourself and the world that everyone has a wreck of a living room, maybe you should take a step back.  Swallow your pride.  And learn from the moms with clean living rooms.

Oh, I know this is all very anti-trending. 

Don’t get the idea that I don’t fully understand both sides.  Don’t we all have good days and bad days?  Don’t we all soar wonderfully in some areas and face-plant miserably in others?  Of course. 

The question is this:  how should we respond when we see someone succeeding where we face-plant?

Aside from the Biblical mandate– which is to genuinely love that person, and therefore rejoice with them!– here are some practical ideas.  

1.)  Recognize that this other woman is not “making” you feel like a failure.  No person can do so against your will.  Don’t assign blame for your feelings of inadequacy. Consider that we really only resent the successes of others if we view them as our competition.

2.)  Choose– choose!— to take what you can from her example, and leave the rest. Every family has different values and priorities, and these should ultimately be set by the head of your home: your husband. Let go of the stuff that does not apply or is not feasible for your situation.  Regardless, think genuinely to yourself, “Good for her!”  And put a smiley face with it.

3.)  Remember that her heart is none of your business. If said woman is actually gloating about her victories (assuming this isn’t something you’ve merely imagined), resist the urge to take her down a notch.  Remind yourself that it’s between her and God.  Her attitude is likely not personal, even if it is prideful.

4.)  When you fail, as absolutely everyone does, own up to it but do not beat yourself up.  Know that we are all human… we are literally, hilariously, dust.  (Psalm 103:14)  Simultaneously, do not give up.  Don’t give yourself such a break that you excuse laziness, bad habits, or a general trend of being a drag on your husband.  Have the intestinal fortitude to own up to mistakes, not brood over them; and move onward and upward with purpose. (It will take time and intentionality to establish this new mindset if you’ve been in the habit of wallowing.)

5.)  Whenever possible, learn from the strengths of others.  If you struggle to be organized (hey, my hand’s in the air!), seek out that mom at church who does it well and make yourself a student of her skills.  If you struggle to be fit and healthy, why not ask that mom how she lost the weight and got back in shape after pregnancy… instead of sighing with despair or hating her for what you simply assume is mere genetics? We will not all be equally strong in the exact same areas, but we can all improve our areas of weakness.

6.)  Evaluate how much time you spend gazing at other people’s lives— and be honest about the reason behind it.  Perhaps you do spend too much time stacking yourself up against others.  While your attitude may be the main issue, it could also be that you obsess over things or demand truly unreasonable things of yourself.  Know yourself and live accordingly.  Maybe you need to chuck certain magazines in the trash, and eliminate or limit following certain social media accounts.

7.) Check your language and the heart behind it. Is it actually true that “nobody has it all together”? If we mean that no one is perfect, yes. But if we mean that no one is excellent, no. Every woman has areas of weakness, but many women do largely “have it all together” in their areas of strength. Sometimes we groom ourselves for mediocrity by the mantras we repeat without thinking.

Ultimately, who should we look to for how we live our lives?  It might feel comforting to commiserate with others who subtly legitimize our failures.  But why are we looking to them as our standard in the first place?  There’s a whole lot more in Scripture praising the virtues of an excellent wife (Proverbs 31, 1 Peter 3, Titus 2) than about how to give ourselves a break when we’re a crummy one. 

Maybe we should all read those passages regularly.  The Proverbs 31 woman inspires me.  1 Peter 3 gives me a model of what “the holy women who hoped in God” were like. Titus 2 reminds me of how significant my job is; of the massive, eternal ramifications of how seriously I take my role of wife and mother. (It’s attached to the reputation of the Word of God!)  That’s exciting stuff!  

These passages call women to things that are “excellent” and “noble.”  It is a call from what is to what can be.  It is admirable when a woman works hard as she gives all of herself and endeavors to pursue and accomplish what God calls her to be and do.  Don’t take jabs at such women.

The key is Jesus.  If we want to please him, we will not be satisfied with being mediocre women.  We will recognize that many times we fall short, yes.  But we will not be satisfied with it.  We will learn from it and look to Him for the strength to do better, not justify ourselves or collapse into a puddle of despair because our life doesn’t look like so-and-so’s.

Who are we living for, anyway?

Let’s live for the approval of Jesus.  Another wife or mother having it all together is no threat to that.