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By Michele Morin — 2 months ago
By the time I was 21, I had been thoroughly inoculated against any threat of marriage by the wistful comments of my married friends: “Oh, you can do that now, but just wait till you get married and have kids . . .” They painted an image of a small, constricted world with no scented candles (dangerous open flame!), no possibility of travel (too complicated!), and no orderly bookcases (kids destroy everything!).
When I eventually did get married and start a family, I was determined to prove them all wrong. I bent over backward to prove that nothing in my life had changed. Sure, we had a new baby, but we strapped our firstborn into his fifty-pound car seat for long road trips. We dragged ourselves through antique stores and spent Saturdays doing yard work together. We welcomed houseguests into our fixer-upper and fed them from the produce grown in our huge garden. We did it! Life went forward unchanged — except that I was exhausted all the time.
Today, nearly thirty years later, I want to pour that tired woman a steaming mug of tea, sit across the table from her, and whisper to her that no is not forever, but it can be a freeing word when we say it at the right time. I would tell her to get comfortable with uncertainty in the small details and to sharpen her understanding of God’s sovereignty over every season of life. Then I would offer three insights that I discovered on the job, but wish I had known from the start.
Lesson 1: Make the truth your home.
We have a choice to make every day as to whether we will dwell on the positive or the negative aspects of that day. Will we choose to focus on negative campaign ads, wildfires in the Pacific Northwest, and the parts of our schedule we can’t control — or will we hand our anxieties over to the God of the universe? We might employ the apostle Paul’s language and call this taking “every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).
If this sounds impossible to you, then you’re on the right track. Paul was not a self-help guru, and while he knew where his bootstraps were and could employ them as needed (and so should we!), nowhere in Scripture do we get the message that Christianity is a self-improvement project. The discipline of our mind, emotions, and will is just one battle in the believer’s ongoing warfare, and God has equipped us with weapons that are effective for that spiritual battle. Psalm 1 describes the way of the righteous as a way that is steeped in biblical truth. God’s word is an object of delight and regular meditation.
During one long February of serial stomach viruses and lonely isolation with my four sick kids, I discovered that regular doses of gospel truth were far more effective than caffeine or a girlfriend chat. Even the Son of God, in his time on earth, used Scripture as a potent weapon against evil, and he’s our example. The point is to give the truth more room in your life than you are giving to the screaming banshees inside your head.
“In the endless monotony of laundry and food preparation, our hearts need a beautiful horizon of truth ahead of us.”
In the endless monotony of laundry and food preparation, our hearts need a beautiful horizon of truth ahead of us to energize our efforts. Love of Christ fueled by biblical knowledge motivates daily obedience and inspires a healthy longing for his return.
Lesson 2: You are more than what you do.
As believers, we embrace the truth that our salvation comes to us by grace, but when it comes to living the Christian life, we’re often not so sure. New mothers can be some of the worst Pharisees. Cloth diapers versus disposables, breastfeeding versus formula, eventually how we educate our children — they all become points upon which we divide and judge one another.
I chose to quit working outside the home after the birth of our oldest son, and since we homeschooled, my résumé went on mothballs for over twenty years. Whenever I allowed myself to “walk . . . in the counsel of the wicked,” I felt apologetic about my choice (Psalm 1:1). Maybe I really could “have it all”? Was I missing out by not having a career?
Then, listening to a different chorus of error, I would begin to define myself as a “stay-at-home mum,” making it the most important element of my identity. I was tempted to condemn the choices of other mums, and that habit of comparison built walls where bridges of understanding would have been so much more redemptive.
Finding grace to “delight in the law of the Lord,” to focus on who God is, enabled me to accept who I was (Psalm 1:2). Whether you stay home full time with your children or continue to be employed in some capacity, your “job” does not define you. You may prepare menus and grocery lists a month in advance, or you may do your best meal planning standing in front of an open refrigerator door. You may vacuum daily, preside over a miraculous two-day laundry turnaround time, and administer a color-coded family calendar on your kitchen wall. Or you may function so well on the fly that planning ahead feels like going to jail.
There is no formula for perfect parenting. You will never be a perfect wife or a perfect mother — but you may drive yourself and your family crazy trying to be. There was free and abundant grace available when God first saved you. Why should it suddenly be scarce?
Lesson 3: Build habits you can fall back on.
When you are tired, emotionally spent, or simply not paying attention, you will fall back on your habits. Strong spiritual practices give your mind a good place to go so that it can direct your heart toward its rightful Object. The blessing of strong roots is promised to the one who meditates on Scripture “day and night” (Psalm 1:2–3). As a young mother, I wanted to be rooted in truth, stable and reliable from day to day, so that my children would be able to make the leap from dependable parent to dependable God.
“When you are tired, emotionally spent, or simply not paying attention, you will fall back on your habits.”
Memorizing Psalm 103 provided praise words for a tired brain. Learning Psalm 91 reassured me that God would be trustworthy. Soaking in the truth of Romans 8 reinforced my trust in God’s persistent, never-giving-up love that would flow to me and my family. Truth from Psalm 1 was fuel for living a righteous life as a mother.
Motherhood is certainly not the only path to sanctification, but its challenges pushed me toward a deeper dependence upon God and the miracle of actual righteousness that the Holy Spirit alone can produce in me. For example, the habit of confession paves the way to clear communication with God and others. The habit of taking God’s new mercies every morning makes it a whole lot easier to extend grace and forgiveness to your family as the day wears on.
Someday your family will be full grown, and you will want to have grown full of wisdom in your prayers for them and in your counsel to them. Your journey of faith will continue. I know this because I am still a work in progress today, still grace-dependent, and still sticking close to truth as the only safe home for my heart and mind. For this and for whatever lies ahead, God has more grace than we can begin to imagine.
By Marshall Segal — 4 months ago
Few realities in human life are as captivating, fulfilling, and elusive as friendship. Most of us have tasted its deep and dynamic potential for good at some point along our journeys, and yet most of us can also testify to having neglected friendship, maybe for years. Maybe for decades. As Drew Hunter observes, “Friendship is, for many of us, one of the most important but least thought about aspects of life” (Made for Friendship, 23). How much time do you spend thinking about your friendships?
Many of us give our friendships less attention than they deserve, and we suffer for it. The absence of good friends slowly starves everything else we do. A husband without good friends will be a worse husband. A mother without good friends will be a worse mother. A pastor, a doctor, a teacher, and an engineer will all be less effective at their callings without the support and camaraderie of friends. And this thread weaves quietly through Scripture. How many saints can you think of who do something worth imitating while friendless?
To be sure, Jesus stormed the grave by himself. It had to be so. And yet even he spent most of his life and ministry with a handful of guys. And as the cross drew near, he said to them, “No longer do I call you servants . . . but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15). He may have died alone, but he lived among brothers, because friendship is an essential part of being fully human.
Unnecessary and Vital Love
That being said, friendship is an unusual relationship because it’s not essential to existence. It’s why friendship is so often neglected — and, ironically, why it holds so much power and potential.
C.S. Lewis writes, “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art, like the universe itself (for God did not need to create). It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival” (Four Loves, 90). We spend tens of hours a week on work because we would die without food and shelter. Friendship isn’t feeding the kids or paying the mortgage. But it can make parenting richer and more bearable, and make a home feel a lot more like home.
We may be able to live — to eat, drink, work, sleep, and survive — without friends, but what kind of life would that be? The truly good life, we all know by experience, is a shared life. Lewis goes on,
Our ancestors regarded Friendship as something that raised us almost above humanity. This love, free from instinct, free from all duties but those which love has freely assumed, almost wholly free from jealousy, and free without qualification from the need to be needed, is eminently spiritual. It is the sort of love one can imagine between angels. (98)
“We may be able to eat, drink, work, sleep, and survive without friends, but what kind of life would that be?”
Unnecessary and angelic — this describes the mysterious reality of friendship. It raises, or even removes, the ceiling on all our other experiences. Most of what we love to do, we love to do all the more with friends. Those who find meaningful friendship experience a nearly super-human life. Why? Because they get to see more of God, and because they get so much more done, together.
Personal Windows into God
How does Christian friendship raise us above the unremarkable rhythms of our humanity? First, by intimately introducing us to more of God’s creativity and supremacy. Those who see him together will see more of him. Lewis captures this capacity of friendship when he writes,
Friendship exhibits a glorious “nearness by resemblance” to Heaven itself where the very multitude of the blessed (which no man can number) increases the fruition which each has of God. For every soul, seeing Him in her own way, doubtless communicates that unique vision to all the rest. . . . The more we thus share the Heavenly Bread between us, the more we shall all have. (79)
The beauty and worth of God cannot be exhausted by one pair of eyes, by one finite mind and heart. Therefore, two really can see more than one. The more we share of him, the more we have of him. Surely, this is one reason why God plans to redeem people from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation, right (Revelation 7:9). Because whatever makes each of them unique prepares them to notice and treasure dimensions of Christ that millions of others might miss.
So it is in friendship. As we gaze at God together, over months and years and longer, walking through joys and sorrows, victories and losses, blessings and adversity, we get to see him through each other’s eyes. Worship is communal and contagious. Every human life has the potential to be a unique window into the divine. Because that’s who God is — Father, Son, and Spirit forever adoring and glorifying one another.
Courage in Flesh and Blood
As friendships help us see more of God, though, they also unleash us to live more radically for God. What good have any of us done in the world without the help or encouragement of friends? As you take yourself back through anything you’ve accomplished in life and ministry, and then allow yourself to look around for a minute, what do you see? For many of us, we see faces. The most defining moments of our lives have been most defined not by addresses, degrees, or promotions, but by people — often, by friends.
Hunter highlights the unusual and spiritual productivity of friendship:
One of the greatest gifts we can offer our friends is sheer encouragement. As we listen and light up to their ideas, we stir their souls into action. We lift their hearts and spur them on. Much of what is truly good in the world is the fruit of friendship. (71)
Why did Jesus send the disciples out in twos (Mark 6:7)? Perhaps he was concerned for their safety on the road (a kind of grown-up buddy-system). It seems far more likely to me that he wanted them each to have built-in, by-their-side courage to keep going when ministry got hard. He knew they would do far more good as twelve pairs than they would on twenty-four different paths. He knew they would conquer sin and Satan together in ways they couldn’t alone.
Friendship Isn’t About Friendship
These two insights about friendship — that friends helps us see more of God and that they free us to do more for his glory — explain what makes friendship precious. And what makes it possible. Good friendships, after all, aren’t about friendship, which means we won’t experience them by focusing on them. Again, Lewis, wisely observes,
Lovers are always talking to one another about their love; Friends hardly every about their Friendship. Lovers are normally face to face, absorbed in each other; Friends, side by side, absorbed in some interest. (78)
“Good friendships aren’t about friendship, which means we won’t experience them by focusing on them.”
Lovers often find one another looking for love. Friends find one another while chasing something else. They providentially collide while striving after God, while studying his word, while loving their families, while meeting needs in the church, while discipling younger believers, while pursuing the lost. “The very condition of having Friends,” Lewis continues, “is that we should want something else besides Friends. . . . Those who have nothing can share nothing; those who are going nowhere can have no fellow-travelers” (85).
If you want to experience real friendship, go hard after God, take bigger risks to glorify him with your life, and then look around to see who’s running with you.
By Tim Challies — 3 months ago
The strange machine along the streets of Madrid seized my attention.
Its long arms reached out and wrapped themselves around the trunk of a tree. Its motor vibrated those arms at high speeds so they could shake the tree violently. Its net sat suspended just beneath the lowest branches. As the machine buzzed and roared, a hundred ripe oranges fell from the branches to land in the net below — a hundred ripe oranges that could feed and satisfy a hundred people. That machine was carefully designed to release the fruit from the tree — to release it by shaking.
The nets filled with oranges remind me of something the apostle Paul once wrote about times of trial and tribulation, of deep sorrow and loss. He contended that Christians must be prepared to be afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, and even struck down — a collection of words meant to display the variety of ways in which God may call us to suffer (2 Corinthians 4:8–9).
The God who is sovereign over all things may lead us into times and contexts that are deeply painful. Yet we can be confident that our suffering is never arbitrary and never meaningless, for God always has a purpose in mind. Hence, Paul says more: we will be “afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” For those in Christ, God’s purpose is never to harm us and never to ruin us.
“The God who is sovereign over all things may lead us into times and contexts that are deeply painful.”
So what is God’s purpose in our suffering? Why does God sometimes lead us away from the green pastures and still waters to call us instead to follow him into deep and dark valleys (Psalm 23)? These were questions that were much on my mind in the days, weeks, and months following the Lord’s decision to call my son to himself.
God Left Us Sonless
Nick, age 20, was at seminary and taking a break from his studies to play a game with a group of his friends when, in an instant, his heart stopped, his body fell to the ground, and his soul went to heaven. His friends tried to revive him, a passing doctor tried to revive him, responding paramedics and emergency-room doctors tried to revive him. But it was to no avail. God had called him home. And since God had summoned him to heaven, there was no doctor, no medication, and no procedure that could keep my son here on earth.
I don’t know why God determined that Nick would live so short a life, why he would leave this world with so little accomplished and so much left undone. I don’t know why God determined to leave Aileen and me sonless, Abby and Michaela brotherless, Ryn fiancéless and ultimately husbandless. I don’t know why God did it — why God exercised his sovereignty in taking away a young man who was so dearly loved, who was so committed to serving Jesus, and who had so much promise. But I don’t need to know, for, as Moses said, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God” (Deuteronomy 29:29).
While I don’t know why God did it, I am already beginning to understand how God is using it.
Lamentation Without Resentment
On the streets of Madrid, a machine shakes the orange trees to cause them to release their fruit. It shakes them violently, shakes them so hard that it almost looks as if the branches must snap, as if the trunk must splinter, as if the entire tree must be uprooted. Yet this is the way it must be done, for the delicious fruit is connected tightly to the inedible branches. And the moment the machine has collected the fruit, I observe, it ceases its shaking, it furls up its net, it withdraws its arms, and it backs away, leaving the tree healthy and well, prepared to bear yet another harvest.
And just like that machine shook the orange tree, Nick’s death has shaken me and shaken my family and shaken my church and shaken Nick’s friends and shaken his school — shaken us to our very core. Yet this shaking, though it has been violent and exceedingly painful, has not caused us to break. We have raised our voices in lamentation, but never in rebellion. We have raised hands of worship, but never fists of rage. We have asked questions, but have never expressed resentment.
“God does not mean to harm us when he shakes us, but simply to release the fruit.”
To the contrary, as I look at those who love Nick most, I see them displaying fresh evidences of God’s grace. I see them growing in love for God, in the joy of their salvation, in the peace of the gospel, in their patience with God’s purposes, in kindness toward others, in the goodness of personal holiness, in faithfulness to all God has called them to, in gentleness with other people’s sins and foibles, and in that rare, blessed virtue of self-control. I see them bearing the precious fruit of the Spirit as never before (Galatians 5:22–23).
Shaken to Bear Fruit
Just as the fruit of the tree clings tightly to the branch, the evil within us clings tightly to the good, the vices to the virtues, the immoral to the upright. God does not mean to harm us when he shakes us, but simply to release the fruit — to do what is necessary to separate what is earthly from what is heavenly, what dishonors him from what delights his heart.
As I consider my wife, as I consider my girls, as I consider Nick’s precious fiancée, as I consider his friends and fellow church members, I see that they have been deeply shaken by his death — shaken by God’s sovereign hand. But I see as well that they have been shaken for a beautiful purpose. They have been shaken to bear fruit.