Thursday, June 21, 2018

Twice a Mother

Isaiah 26:3
“You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You; because He trusts in You.” (American Standard Version with thee's replaced.)

Motherhood seems to be a journey of navigating changes. Just about the time you figure out one phase, you’re on to the next… at different times, with different personalities, that require different techniques. If you aren’t already comfortable with change — God is going to work on that. :)

As a christian wife and mother, our first ministry is to our family; I have found it so easy to get caught up in the doing: change her diaper, nurse her, feed him, clean poop (whether his or hers), nurse her, pick up at least some portion of the house, change his diaper - oh, drink your water! - nurse her - wait, when am I going to eat? - keep things civil between the siblings, sleep when the baby… wait, how do I get them to sleep at the same time? 

I get so focused on the urgency of the doing. Knowing it’s a fulfillment of my ministry to the Lord, my doing becomes the gauge on which I judge my walk with God… and I start to judge my worth by my walk, which puts my worth in constant flux based on my performance. Yet neither my worth, nor my relationship with God are based on my doing, but on the unchanging God, and what He has done, and is doing in my life. He always remains constant. He is the Rock to which we cling in the shifting circumstances of this crazy, beautiful, temporary life. He has poured out His grace on us through His only Son to credit us with His righteousness. And that never changes. My performance - or even how well I’m doing in my walk with God - has no bearing on my worth.

When I focus on Him - stay my mind on Him - I don’t see what I can or cannot do; I begin to see what He can do. I start to realize no matter what I do or don’t get done, His grace is greater. No matter how I mess up with my kids, His grace is greater. No matter what this world throws at us mothers - or throws at our kids - God’s grace is always greater.

When I stay my mind on Him, my perspective begins to change. My goals become less important - and I begin to compare my goals with His goals. My goals often have way more doing than His. But really, His main goal is defined in Romans 8:28-29: to make us more like Christ, which benefits us and brings Him glory.

The following passage is often split into many different sections, but I think it’s also important to consider it all together. 

Romans 8:28-39
“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, ‘For your sake we are being put to death all day we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Concentrating on doing brings us joy or guilt based on our performance. Concentrating on Christ and the far-reaching effects of what He has done for us brings us joy in every circumstance. I don’t mean you’ll be happy when grieving; I mean you’ll have the peace of knowing God is using this for the good of His children and for His glory.

Trust Him and what He has promised. Lean not on your own understanding. Meditate on His ways in the watches of the night. Dwell on His goodness, His mercy, His love so great that He’s willing to do the hard things. Then make it real to yourself by purposefully being thankful for it. “You will make known to me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; in Your right hand there are pleasures forever.” Psalm 16:11

Now I chose Isaiah 26:3, because I think it describes the idea most succinctly. But there's a similar verse in Psalm 1:2-3:

“But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night. He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers.”

I love this passage as a reminder. God and His Word is the root which can grow us into beautiful trees. This doesn’t mean the tree won’t need pruning. And neither is the tree expected to produce fruit out of season, but in its own time, according to the Lord’s direction.

It’s important to note this passage is also a Psalm, and while it gives impeccable advice, it is not a promise. As a general rule, when we follow God’s Word, we do well. Yet God also teaches us through trials with the aim of perfecting us; it’s often how we learn best. This may look like failure to us… yet our inability to get everything done on our list is not the measure of our success. In fact, God uses that inability to teach us how to prioritize, to ask for help, to keep us humble and reliant on Him - and a myriad other custom-tailored lessons His Holy Spirit teaches us. Each and every circumstance is not a measure of our worth, but of His grace. He always has the victory.

One other example of His victory and grace is when I mess up with my kids. When I let my temper flare and I snap at them… despite my failure, God turns it into a success. It gives me the opportunity to apologize to my kiddos, and to teach them how to deal with their own failures. To show them what I should have done, and where I should have turned. God’s grace is not shown in our supposed perfection, but in our weakness. God always has the victory.

Nothing has taught me this so well and clearly, as being a mother - especially twice a mother, with a little boy and girl! I thank and praise the Lord for this gracious gift, and pray for His help to stay my mind on Christ - and smile at the future. What trial has God used to teach you something you might not have learned any other way?

Sunday, February 25, 2018

The Fear of the Lord

Job 28:28
"And to man He said, 'Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding.'"

I think you’ll agree when I say motherhood is a beautiful gift of the Lord - but we don’t always feel that way. Motherhood as a christian demands a diligent, patient, and joyful self-sacrifice day in and day out. When the hundredth question has passed their lips for the third time, while you’re trying to remember: how much flour did I just put in? - and also just remembered you forgot to turn the timer on for something else, and then you hear a crash in the other room from another child… it can get pretty difficult to focus on the hope and grace of an eternal God rather than the circumstances of the present.

And then there are the things we want to do and accomplish. The gifts we want to use, but don’t really have time for. Or the goals and dreams we want to work toward, but end up working toward others’ goals instead. We often mention the rewards of motherhood: the snuggles and smiles, belly laughs and eureka moments, and the times when God has brought about understanding of a key spiritual concept (which we often want at least a little credit for). Yet, in the face of the things I want, and the goals I have, I often struggle with those rewards being enough. Yes, that little hug brings a smile to my face, but what I REALLY want is… fill in the blank. My focus shifts, and I lose my joy.

But that’s the beauty of God’s grace. He knows exactly where we are, and exactly what we need - whether or not that matches up with what we think. He loves us too much to let us have our own way, if it isn’t best. To be completely honest, had it been entirely up to me, I would not have chosen motherhood. Kids never have been my thing. But God doesn’t call the equipped… He equips the called. He has called me to be a mother… and not just for my husband, or my children. He has also called me to be a mother for me. Much as I may not want to admit it sometimes, I need motherhood.

God has been working on me a lot in this - especially in the past couple of weeks. In fact, He’s torn my building from its foundations, shaken it around a bit to get out some of the rotten boards, and then held it midair with me still in it while He’s ripped out and repoured some of my foundations. I might be just to the point where He’s set me back down and begun replacing the missing boards on the new foundation. It’s not the first time He’s done this, and it won’t be the last; I’m sure some of you can relate.

I’m going to share with you a conversation I had with my husband via text. I was brutally honest with him, so it shows exactly what I - and what I think many of us - struggle with, and also shows the truths I need to combat them with.

Me: Sooo… I’m fighting depression and anxiety. Do you know of another Scripture about parenthood/kids being a blessing? I think I don’t believe I’m a good mother, and that I can get better. I’m scared I’m going to screw up my kids. I get overwhelmed by all the things the kids need - mostly for school. I feel like I’m the only driving force behind James getting any work done. And it’s another thing on my plate. I’m a little confused because I think I have the time, but emotionally it’s hard. 

Husband: Don’t forget that it doesn’t all rely on you. All you can do is your best and that’s not enough on its own. Trust that God is the one working in the lives of our kids and that He will accomplish His purpose in them. God doesn’t need you to be a great mother. He wants you to trust and obey Him. He will be the one to work in the kids’ lives. 
Me: How do I deal with not wanting to be a mother?

Husband: Focus on wanting to honor God and bring Him glory through your life. You are serving Him when you are caring for the needs of the kids. 

Me: I’ve been having a hard time with that. I’m being really selfish. Right now I just want to do what I want to do. I know God’s way is better, but I don’t see it. 

Husband: Then you need to ask God to help you repent. Ask Him to help you see how you are idolizing your desires over worshipping him. 

Me: I know I’m idolizing myself - I’m not seeing why He’s better. 

Husband: Then go back to the end of the book of Job. That’s a good reminder that he is God and you are not. 

Me: But that only holds fear, not joy. 

Husband: You need some fear right now. If you don’t see why God is better than you you won’t be able to enjoy him. You can’t have joy without humility.”

As you can see, God used my husband to throw out a number of nuggets, but that last one really hit me. Even in those moments, I understood. I needed to fear God - not the kind that feared punishment, but the kind that recognized His awesome power and might, so I could “Humble [myself] under the mighty hand of God… casting all my anxiety on Him, because He cares for [me].” 1 Peter 5:6-7 

So I did - I opened the book of Job and started reading from chapter 38 through 41. It was a great blessing! It’s not like everything was peaches and cream after that, but it really helped ground me and my emotions. Part of me really wants to quote you the whole passage, because it took reading the entire thing to really drive home how great God is during those moments. However, for the sake of time, I’ll give you a couple highlights that seemed to convey the core of the ideas I needed.

Job 40:8-14 ~ God is speaking and says, “Will you really annul My judgment? Will you condemn Me that you may be justified? Or do you have an arm like God, and can you thunder with a voice like His? Adorn yourself with eminence and dignity, and clothe yourself with honor and majesty. Pour out the overflowings of your anger, and look on everyone who is proud, and make him low. Look on everyone who is proud, and humble him, and tread down the wicked where they stand. Hide them in the dust together; bind them in the hidden place. Then I will also confess to you, that your own right hand can save you.”

Job 41:10-11 ~ God just finished describing the might of Leviathan and says, “No one is so fierce that he dares to arouse him; who then is he that can stand before Me? Who has given to Me that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heaven is Mine.”

How’s that for humbling?

So… when I’m struggling with not wanting motherhood because I’m focused on what I’d rather be doing - whether it be using talents or getting rest - my focus needs to shift to recognize how big and great God is. When I bring my focus to bear on the fact that, “the earth is the Lord’s and all it contains…” (Psalm 24:1a), I’m reminded that He’s given me everything I have - including those talents I’m wanting to use. And that rest that I can’t seem to get? Does God not have sovereign control over my circumstances? Does He not know best and cause “all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose”? Romans 8:28

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have all those who do His commandments; His praise endures forever.” Psalm 111:10

The fear of the Lord is to focus on Him and all that He is, and to then realize who we are. We have nothing to offer Him, but He has made us His children. Praise God and obey His calling, and He will see to the rest.

A small side note: once I was able to shift my focus to humility, thankfulness, and praise, God showed me something else. He wouldn’t give me talents I couldn’t use in His calling of me to be a mother. So instead of focusing on how much I wanted to use my gifts the way I understood - outside my calling, I need to continue to spend my time considering how I can put my gifts to use within my calling. 

So I leave you with this: motherhood is humbling, and we need to be humbled. Remember that while God called us to this, He doesn’t expect us to do the whole job - He’s working, too. In fact, He’s the driving force enabling our work. He calls us to trust and obey Him - He’ll take care of the rest. 

The snuggles and hugs, and ability to watch them grow are rewarding - but so are the trials for those who choose to follow God, because once God has brought you to the other side, you’ll be stronger, wiser, and more like Christ.

I thank the Lord for the "fear of the Lord," and how He has revealed more to me of how the concept applies to the Christian life. Praise the Lord for His goodness and grace! How can you turn to the fear of the Lord in your circumstances?