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Entries in Sanctification (111)


Learn from me

Fear is not a good motivator. I know from experience. Fear of rejection; fear of loss; fear of failure; fear of not being good enough; they don't lead anywhere good. I know it's a besetting sin, and I'm working on it; I likely will until I die.

I am a fairly determined person. I have strong opinions, and I like to ask questions. But fear caused me to suppress that part of myself for many years after I became a Christian. Especially as I joined the church where I have been for the past 22 years, I was so afraid of not fitting in, not being good enough, that I did whatever I could to prove that I deserved to be there. Even as you read that sentence, you should pick up on the theological error: it was not about me being good enough. None of us is "good enough." And we don't have to be. Christ was good enough for us. But that was a truth that I was a long time learning.

After I was converted at 20, the majority of the teaching I received was very behaviour oriented. Dress the right way. Read the right version of the Bible. Listen to the right music. And some of the doctrines that I was taught were crucial to my salvation -- like embracing a particular kind of eschatology -- turned out to be what I now see as secondary issues. But out of fear, I embraced them all without question. I didn't know any better.

I remember the moment when I began to question everything I had been taught since my conversion. I was sitting in communion one Sunday, and the pastor said over and over again: "This bread has no power to save; this bread is a symbol; this bread does not give grace; it is just a symbol." I remember feeling like he was robbing it of any meaning. But what did it mean? I realized I had never thought about it myself. After that, over fifteen years ago, I started making the effort to understand my faith. 

As I look back I wish I had been less inclined to find so much comfort in being like everyone else because it caused me to model a shallow view of faith in the eyes of my children. I passed on some of those preoccupations with fitting in. I worried too much about what others would say about our family. My husband reminds me regularly that looking back with regret gets us nowhere, and he's right. What I can do, though, is learn from my mistakes. 

Learn from me: think through your faith yourself. Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12). That verb "work out" is in the middle voice in Greek, which means the subject acts on himself. Take ownership. Don't let other Christians, as well meaning or as popular or as famous as they may be, work it out for you. Yes, do accept the voices of mature Christians, but think about their counsel. Pray about it. Search the Scriptures. Study. Of course we all make mistakes and we all grow, but if we can learn from others we should. Learn that lesson from me. I don't have a lot to offer, but I can offer that little suggestion.


Shaken complacency

On Tuesday, I returned from a visit west to see my family. I was also able to see some friends; women I have known for twenty-five years. I was exhausted with all the visiting. I don't normally sleep in public, but I allowed myself to nod off on the plane en route home.

The exhaustion was mostly from having too many visits crammed into too few days. The other was some of the information I took in over those days. There are some people in my life with some very serious circumstances. I was aware of the possibility of them, but when I sat down and had them confirmed to me, it was sobering. I think just about every person I visited had a struggle to face, whether it was illness, financial difficulties, problems with children, or relational difficulties. I was reminded of the reality that we all face struggles. I left wondering if anyone comes from a family which does not have some kind of dysfunction. It's trite to say it, but we live in a fallen world. 

My family members are not Christians. Hearing about their struggles and seeing how they are managing (or not managing) apart from Christ was really hard. I was struck by the difference when I had dinner one night with some women with whom I attended church many years ago. How my sisters in Christ are handling their struggles and maintaining joy was quite a contrast to how hopeless some of my family members seem to be. And despite my family's need for the gospel, their complete disinterest in it makes it even more painful. Quiet toleration best describes their reaction to my faith. In discussing women with one of my family members, I referred to human dignity being rooted in our creation by God. Blank stare; momentary pause; move on to the next point.

While I waited to board my plane on Tuesday morning, I checked out Twitter for a while and looked at some articles, and I was restless while reading. What I choose to read online is largely a function of who I follow on Twitter because that's where I get a lot of suggested articles. I saw less about how to minister the gospel to an unbelieving world than I needed that morning. My unsaved family members with serious health issues don't care about what is going on in the Southern Baptist Convention (and for that matter, how does it affect me?) or whether or not someone thinks women of colour should have a special meeting.

I sat on the plane that morning wondering whether or not I have become complacent about those who don't know Christ. We worry a lot about refining our message in the Church and developing atttiudes that are engaging to the world, but what about simply ministering love and care to those who are in need? In my own dark hours, what has helped is understanding who God is; hearing about the cross; understanding what Jesus did for me. I thought to myself, "I want to hear about the hope in Christ." Maybe that is my trouble. Maybe I have been reading more about what to be disgruntled about than I have to be joyful about.

I'm taking a class in the Synoptic Gospels this fall, and it was my plan to read through each one as many times as I can over the summer. I even bought some Scripture Journals for marking (these are great little tools, by the way). And I still do plan on reading those. But I also picked up a Scripture Journal for Revelation, and a commentary by Grant Osborne. I already know how the story ends, but I need to be reminded, and I want to become more versed in ministering hope instead of disappointment.


I'm thankful I was boy crazy

I have three brothers, and I have a mother who wasn't a "girly girl." My first best friend was a boy. I always liked being friends with boys. And when I got to be 12 or 13, they became even more fascinating. I was boy crazy. I wish I had not been. Being too boy crazy distracted me from other things. When I think of what I am learning at seminary and what I would like to do, I'm sad, because for me, at 53, it's a little late. 

And yet, I know that God is in control of the universe. He is in control of my destiny. I was reminded of that as I read Rebecca Stark's book The Good Portion: God. In her chapter on God's wisdom, she points out that God has perfect and unlimited knowledge. And it is a knowledge about my life. She says:

Let your mind rest in this: God knows everything you don't, and not merely because He sees into the future, but because he planned the future. You are in the hands of the one for whom nothing future is uncertain, the one who knows it all because He planned it all.

When I look back at things in my past, when it is tempting to feel regret, I take this truth retroactively and remind myself that God knew what he was doing in my past. 

Eleventh grade was a difficult one for many reasons. Not having been raised with any religious training, other than having been baptized as a Catholic, I used to spend my Saturday afternoons in St. Cecilia's Catholic Church, which was across the street from my high school. I would just sit there and wonder. What did it all mean? I was too shy to ask anyone, and no one really ever came into the building while I was there, anyway.

And then, there was a boy (wasn't there always a boy?) in my 11th grade English class whom I liked a lot. I wanted to get to know him more. This boy was a Mormon. There were many Mormons in my school, living in Calgary, Alberta, as I did. How could I get to know this boy? A girl across the street from me was Mormon. On previous occasions, she had invited me to the dances that were held every Saturday night (an evangelistic tool) for young people. I would kill two birds with one stone: I would ask to investigate the Mormon Church.

And I did. And I was immersed in it for a number of months. And I was a good Mormon. The anticipated romance of the century with the red headed boy in my English class never came to fruition. Ultimately, I decided against the Mormon church in an eleventh hour change of heart. And while I knew it wasn't for me, I knew one thing: whatever church I looked into, it needed to use the Bible. While the missionaries who taught me eventually guided me to the Book of Mormon, they started with the Bible; James 1:5 to be exact (and it was taken out of its proper context).

After I changed my mind about Mormonism, I finally got the courage up to visit that Catholic church again and ask to speak to a priest. I remember that morning well; the Calgary Stampede parade was on a little television in the office of the Church as I waited. The priest listened to my story, but when I asked him if he could tell me where in the Bible it said I must do things like go to confession, and how the bread and wine became flesh and blood, he had one answer: "Come to mass." 

Well, thanks for that.

That was the end of that. I was seventeen years old that day, and when I was twenty, after meeting the man who would become my husband, I read in the Bible what my greatest need was: salvation because of my sin. That was the beginning of the rest of my life. And it all started with a boy. 

God knew my future in that school in Calgary. He knew where he would take me. Perhaps being boy crazy interfered too much. Well, it did. In high school, I never got the grades I did while in university or seminary. I was looking for meaning in a relationship with a boy, but God knew there was something better for me. And he patiently allowed me to fumble and bumble about until the moment when he knew I would see in his word how I could know him.

God has a reason for everything. It may not be something we understand, and trusting in that takes faith. But it's faith he will give us.


Because we know there is something better

Over the years, I have often found it frustrating that I have allowed the relationships in my life to discourage me. Especially troublesome is the reality that the worst friendship experiences I have had have been with Christian women. When I read articles about the wonderful fellowship I'm supposed to be having with my female friends, my cynicism takes over. That has not been my experience. At times, I have felt that we have turned female friendships into an idol. 

Of course, family friendships have also been discouraging to me. I think most of us would be willing to admit that marriage and parenting comes with a lot of heartbreak at times, regardless of how good those relatioinships are in general. I'm sure I've done my share of heartbreaking as a wife and mother. But why have I always let these things overwhelm me? I am not naturally stoic, and as much as I try to be, I cannot manage it. When I fully understand that everyone is sinful and we must not put high expectations on anyone to be perfect, why is this so difficult?

I wonder if it isn't because we know that something better is waiting. We know that when we are united fully with Christ in the new heavens and earth, we will no longer experience heartache, betrayal, or sin. How does our being made in the image of God, carrying his imprint upon us, our being one with Christ unconsciously affect our expectations?

I remember being a child and wishing things were different. I had a fairly happy childhood, but when things didn't go well, I would always resort to wishing that my family life was different, that my dad would be home more, that there wouldn't be so much strife, that my friends were different. It always boiled down to the people, not necessarily my circumstances. God has made us for relationships, whether we are the type who manage several or those who are content with a few. But however many people we allow into our lives, we want our relationships with them to be good. And I wonder if part of my frustration has been because I know what awaits me, and I am frustrated in my waiting.

God is not encumbered by sin. There is no fear of rejection from him. We need not feel uncertain with him. His word tells us that he loved us while we were yet sinners (Rom 5:6). He loves us though we are often unlovely. He sent his son to die for us, and his Holy Spirit to be with us to prepare us for our eventual reunion with him. We were not destined for this earth; we were destined to be with him.

It brings to mind the opening paragraphs of Augustine's Confessions: "you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you."

There is never going to be a human relationship which will exactly mirror what I will ultimately have when I am in heaven. When I am tempted to feel discouragement over relationships, instead of mourning, I ought to think of it as a reminder of what is to come.


Pretense or pride?

In the past couple of weeks, I've read scant few blogs, but when someone whose opinion matters to me shares a post and then someone else whom I respect also recommends it, I read it. I have not read very much of Wendy Alsup's writing, but I was glad I read this article about being disillusioned.

She mentions her feelings at being on the cusp of fifty years old. I remember the year I turned fifty; it was awful. For many reasons, none of which had anything to do with the thought that I was fifty. Rather, it was the intersection of many thoughts of disillusionment. Alsup talks much about her days a Christian college student. I was not saved until I was twenty, so my perspective is different. 

In identifying the problem, Alsup uses the word pretense, which flows from the experience she had in college. I don't think my problem was pretense so much as the contrast between what my life had been like to what I thought it could be. I wanted a life that was different from the one I had. I had a very typical childhood, and loving parents. But there was always fear and a feeling of uncertainty, and I attributed that to my unbelief. What I didn't realize was that deep down, it was about control. How could I control things so that I could feel like things were going okay?

More than pretense, I believe my situation was more about pride. And I suspect others may feel the same. When things are going along swimmingly, it's easy to feel self-satisfied. I believe the greatest years of parenting pride are when our kids are 8-12 years of age. They are still, for the most part, co-operative, and we can see some of the fruits of our efforts in their willingness to help with chores, good manners, and regular attendance at church events. It's when they get older and begin to test the boundaries more that we may realize that what we thought was spiritual maturity was merely compliance. And compliance and faith aren't the same. As a woman who had purposely chose to be at home full-time with my children, disillusionment came in the guise of a sense of failure. That failure was borne out of my own pride. 

I thought I was something pretty special when my kids were at home and we homeschooled. They were smart, excellent students, studied music with success, read a lot of books, and had inquiring minds. I am thankful we homeschooled, and I am not blaming homeschooling for that; every education system has holes. But homeschooling can lead mothers to feel they have more control than they do. Again, pride.

I've thought a lot about my own sense of dislluisonment. In the years since I've been in seminary, I've seen the wrong theology I have had and the arrogance with which I have too often spoken. I'm learning the difference between trying to bend Scripture to my thoughts and letting Scripture bend my thoughts, a theme I hope to write more about when school is finished. 

If we are disillusioned, it is because we held illusions of something. Illusion is not reality. Rather than looking daily at the reality of who I was in Christ, I had illusions of a particular way of life I thought was part and parcel of the Christian experience. I was wrong. Instead of worrying about that, I should have been focusing more on Christ himself; who is he? what has he done? what does he say?

And yet, for all this talk of disillusionment, I believe that without it, I would not be asking the questions I'm asking. So, I guess in some respects, I'm thankful for it.