That's a Good Question!

Christine received this outstanding, insightful question on her blog. She and Mike are fielding questions about their first month of marriage (can you believe it's nearly been that long!?):

Just wondering... but as another self-described "independent woman," I find myself wanting to know which parts of the engaged/married experience (so far) have been the most trying for a woman who had been used to making her own decisions in every area without having to submit to another human being in each of them. I think it will be very difficult for me to adjust to that, given that I've been living on my own since 1999. Have you experienced frustration or fear or similar feelings along the way? Has it been harder or easier than you expected to live in Biblical "coupledom"? Or is it, frankly, too soon to tell?

Hey, Anon. As a single gal myself, I've been hashing out this issue in my own life for quite some time. The Lord has brought about two major changes in the last year: my living situation, and my job situation, both of which have helped me address the complex tangle of how to practice being a godly woman while being single. The situations don't really matter except as they revealed sin in my own heart, so don't read this as though I'm telling you to move and get a new job!

About 9 or 10 months ago, my community group leader's extremely wise wife advised me to start looking for a situation where I wasn't living on my own. She asked me to consider it not just as a way to assuage my loneliness, but also as a way to learn to live in community with other believers -- as I will someday do with my husband! I had become ingrown and selfish. I resisted strongly at first -- I loved my little apartment, having privacy at the end of the day, being able to decide when and if I wanted to see my friends. Mostly I loved having something that was mine! But my friend encouraged me to pray about it, and almost as soon as I started praying, the Lord changed my heart and provided me with a place to live. I moved in January into a beautiful old house in a quiet neighborhood with two lovely Christian girls.

During this same time, the Lord in his grace started revealing the sin in my heart regarding dissatisfaction with my singleness. I struggled with (and lost against, more often than not) bitterness and resentment toward my Creator for putting me in such a horrible situation -- pretty good attitude, right? Two of my good friends reminded me that discontentment is not a function of our circumstances, but of our satisfaction in Christ. The Lord was giving me an opportunity to deal with my sin of discontentment (which is really just a euphemism for distrust) now, while my life is simple and independent. Otherwise, my sisters reminded me, I was going to end up likely married and still struggling with bitterness -- just with a different set of circumstances!

This Spring, while I was unemployed and fast running out of money, I started coming in to volunteer at the church, answering phones and making copies, just a few hours a week at first, but quickly building up to nearly full-time. It was an agonizing time. I was frantic about my finances, and pretty resentful of the pastors, who I (wrongly) felt were taking advantage of me. I knew they were probably going to hire someone to do the job, and I was almost certain it wouldn't be me. I had a terrible attitude toward my pastors and took many opportunities to roll my eyes and sigh heavily when they would give me yet another task. I began looking for other jobs, and even had a very promising interview, but the Lord seemed to be closing door after door. Finally, at my most frantic, in the midst of my distrust of the Lord's good purposes, our counseling pastor called me into his office and offered me the job. I cried, and laughed, and cried some more, and was deeply convicted. I had failed to trust the Lord and he still provided for me. It was truly the Lord's kindness that led me to repentance!

Since that time, the Lord has been taking me to the woodshed -- lovingly applying discipline in lots of circumstances with my housemates and my job. I'm learning a lot of lessons about what it means to be faithful in this time of singleness.

I'm starting to "get" the fact that being single doesn't mean I'm a junior-varsity Christian. My marital status doesn't determine my eligibility for ministry or service, my contribution to the body of Christ, my maturity in the faith (or my personal maturity), my sanctification, or anything else. Marriage isn't a higher calling than singleness (although let's not get into that whole "called to be single" shenanigans right now). I don't think anyone would say, "Y'know, if only Paul had been married, then he really could have dug into some deep theology in Romans. He would have been way more qualified to preach to people if he'd just had a wife!"

I have a precious opportunity to learn how to rely on and submit to Christ now, while I am still single, when I can recognize my need in a more acute way, rather than trying to learn that lesson once married, when I will doubtless be tempted to substitute a relationship with my husband for my utter dependence on my Savior.

I am learning what it means to wait on the Lord and lay all my hopes and desires before him, trusting that he will lead me in the best path, for his own glory.

I have time to serve and love my community, especially those who are in a season of stress and busyness, like new moms or ladies with several small children.

I am discovering the joy of community and the delight of having close friendships with older, wiser women who will correct and rebuke me in love. Submitting to their correction deepens my trust in the Lord's desire for my sanctification!

I am really beginning to understand that God's purpose for my life is that I become like Christ, who perfectly submitted to the Father in all things, not that I get married or have children -- those things might be a part of God making me like his Son, but those things, no matter how good they are, are not the ultimate goal. Christlikeness is.

I can practice submitting to my leaders as the Lord has commanded -- not just because it's good practice for marriage, but because it's obedient to God. This has been a tough practical step for me as an opinionated woman. Sometimes this bunch of men make decisions I think are insane, but I must respect and submit to their authority! Hebrews 13:17 even says I must obey them! It's an intelligent, deliberate obedience, but my desires, will, and choices go to support those men in my church who teach God's word.

Wow. That turned out to be a long, long discussion. But I hope my journey can help you see how many opportunities we single ladies have to learn how to be godly women. Christian singleness and Christian marriage have something in common -- they're all about the Gospel. The Gospel motivates and enables our obedience to God, our submission to earthly leaders, and (Lord willing) our submission to our husbands!


Let's Play a Game

Name a Christian book that addresses each of the issues below (excerpted from THIS brilliant article that Craig linked to):

  • I want to feel loved for who I am, to be pitied for what I’ve gone through, to feel intimately understood, to be accepted unconditionally;

  • I want to experience a sense of personal significance and meaningfulness, to be successful in my career, to know my life matters, to have an impact;

  • I want to gain self-esteem, to affirm that I am okay, to be able to assert my opinions and desires;

  • I want to be entertained, to feel pleasure in the endless stream of performances that delight my eyes and tickle my ears;

  • I want a sense of adventure, excitement, action, and passion so that I experience life as thrilling and moving.
Edit: another excerpt from that article. What are our real needs?

  • I need mercy above all else: "Lord, have mercy upon me"; "For Your name’s sake, pardon my iniquity for it is very great";
  • I want to learn wisdom, and unlearn willful self-preoccupation: "Nothing you desire compares with her";
  • I need to learn to love both God and neighbor: "The goal of our instruction is love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith";
  • I long for God’s name to be honored, for his kingdom to come, for his will to be done on earth;
  • I want Christ’s glory, lovingkindness, and goodness to be seen on earth, to fill the earth as obviously as water fills the ocean;
  • I need God to change me from who I am by instinct, choice, and practice;
  • I want him to deliver me from my obsessive self-righteousness, to slay my lust for self-vindication, so that I feel my need for the mercies of Christ, so that I learn to treat others gently;
  • I need God’s mighty and intimate help in order to will and to do those things that last unto eternal life, rather than squandering my life on vanities;
  • I want to learn how to endure hardship and suffering in hope, having my faith simplified, deepened, and purified;
  • I need to learn to worship, to delight, to trust, to give thanks, to cry out, to take refuge, to hope;
  • I want the resurrection to eternal life: "We groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body";
  • I need God himself: "Show me Your glory"; "Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus."



Some of you may know that a team of incredibly passionate, dedicated guys from Sojourn are right now in Sudan filming and photographing to raise awareness of the turmoil that has wracked that nation for far too long.

Visit their blog to see some of the pictures from the trip and read about their amazing journey. Please keep Coury (and his wife Anne and baby Abel), Tyler (and his wife Noel), Eric and William (and his wife Lindsy) in your prayers as they pour our their lives for the people of Sudan.

What Do You Think?

Interviewer: Something we've noticed among single men is that there is no urgency to marry — they're not worried that someone else will come and snatch up this great catch they found. What is the lack of urgency from?

Dr. Scott Stanley: I think it has to do with a resistance to "moving across the line." When males cross the line, there is a huge step up in their sense of identity about the commitment and their level of responsibility. So essentially, there's a resistance to crossing the line. Because right now, men can get so much of what they want without crossing it, and they only see increased responsibility from crossing it — "why would I be in a rush to do that?" In the meantime, they are often treating women in a way that diminishes their value even while they hang on to all their power and choice.


Dancing Down the Aisle

May 5, 2007 will remain in my memory as one of the most wonderful, amazing days of my life. Why? It was the day my baby brother, all grown up, imitated his Savior almost as closely as a man can possibly do. He took for himself a radiant bride, long-sought and long-awaited, pledging his lifelong faithfulness to her, and promising to protect and honor her as his beloved.

Jenn, Dave's wife of just over two months as I write this, has a handsome five-year-old son and a beautiful nearly-three-year-old daughter from her first marriage. When she first moved to Sterling almost two years ago, she was newly divorced and facing the grim prospect of living in a strange town with her parents and her children, in a home designed to accommodate one cozy couple, not a multi-generational family of five. Jenn started attending her parents' church, which she had visited a few times during weekend trips to Sterling.

She soon joined the worship team, and met my brother, who plays guitar and leads worship occasionally. My mother encouraged him to invite her along when the younger members of the worship team would go out to coffee after practice, knowing that she was in need of some friends her age. They spent quite a bit of time hanging out in groups before they started dating -- in fact, when they met, Dave was dating someone else!

Dave knew that Jenn was a package deal. He waited and prayed and sought advice before he ever asked Jenn to go on a "real" date with him, until he knew that he could be a father to her children. My admiration and respect for my brother during this time increased exponentially, because he was already protecting Jenn's heart by putting her needs and the needs of her children ahead of his own desires.

May 10, 2006 marked their first "real" date, an honest-to-goodness date at a nice restaurant, complete with wine and fancy clothes and door-opening and chair-pulling-out and the whole nine yards.

Their courtship progressed pretty quickly. Jenn got a new job at a bank, and Dave started working full-time at a local furniture store. Dave asked Jenn's parents for their permission to marry their daughter and Roy and Angela delightedly gave it. They got engaged just before Thanksgiving of 2006, and announced their engagement when Jenn and the kids came to Iowa with us. We were all thrilled (though not particularly surprised), and they started planning right away. A joint bank account called "The Gettin' Hitched Fund" was opened and they dutifully socked away every spare penny. Bridesmaids were selected, dresses purchased, tuxedos rented, music picked, helpers recruited, decorations bought, invitations sent, registries created. And before we could turn around, it seemed, the day had arrived.

I was honored to be a bridesmaid -- mostly because I got to see Jenn's total delight and excitement as she anticipated walking down the aisle to meet her groom. I read Scripture to her (from Ephesians, naturally!) as she was getting her hair done. I held her hand and prayed with her to calm her nerves. I reassured everyone when the tornado sirens (!!) went off as we were getting dressed. I stood on the platform with her as she spoke her vows to love, honor, and cherish my baby brother for as long as she lives.

Divorce is an ugly, ugly thing. The Lord hates it (Malachi 2:16). But the Lord is also in the business of redemption.

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland. (Isaiah 43:18-19)
My dad, who officiated at the wedding, read this verse while he was preaching the wedding sermon. There was not a dry eye in the place -- dad had to stop in mid-verse and compose himself before he could go on!

I have never seen anyone so excited to get married as my sister-in-law was that day. She laughed and cried and smiled and laughed some more out of sheer delight in her groom! He lovingly gazed at her, taking great (although much quieter) joy from seeing her excitement. As she came down the aisle, she could hardly contain her emotions, which bubbled over in tears and laughter.

The Lord in his Grace, knowing our weakness, has given us some symbols, some ways of acting out the Gospel, so to speak. Communion and baptism are the two most commonly practiced in the church, but marriage, as Paul clearly states, is also the Gospel beautifully portrayed in visible form. Christian weddings, therefore, should be characterized primarily by a focus on the Gospel. The verse that my dad read about the Lord's relationship with Israel points to Christ. The Lord has done that "new thing" that he promised to do. He sent his son to fulfill the requirements of the law on our behalf, to pour out his blood as a perfect sacrifice for our sins, to turn aside God's anger at sinners, to defeat the power of death that had reigned since Adam.

It is that very power that lives within my brother and sister-in-law; that power, the same power that raised Christ from the dead, now enables them to live out the vows they made to each other with joy, knowing that final victory is sure despite their failings. The Holy Spirit who dwells in them empowers them daily to "forget the former things" -- their sins against each other, their prideful attitudes, their selfishness -- and seek to love each other in a way that is defined by the mercy of the Lord, which is "new every morning."


Gospel Coalition Confessional Statement, Part 3

(3) Creation of Humanity

We believe that God created human beings, male and female, in his own image. Adam and Eve belonged to the created order that God himself declared to be very good, serving as God's agents to care for, manage, and govern creation, living in holy and devoted fellowship with their Maker. Men and women, equally made in the image of God, enjoy equal access to God by faith in Christ Jesus and are both called to move beyond passive self-indulgence to significant private and public engagement in family, church, and civic life. Adam and Eve were made to complement each other in a one-flesh union that establishes the only normative pattern of sexual relations for men and women, such that marriage ultimately serves as a type of the union between Christ and his church. In God's wise purposes, men and women are not simply interchangeable, but rather they complement each other in mutually enriching ways. God ordains that they assume distinctive roles which reflect the loving relationship between Christ and the church, the husband exercising headship in a way that displays the caring, sacrificial love of Christ, and the wife submitting to her husband in a way that models the love of the church for her Lord. In the ministry of the church, both men and women are encouraged to serve Christ and to be developed to their full potential in the manifold ministries of the people of God. The distinctive leadership role within the church given to qualified men is grounded in creation, fall, and redemption and must not be sidelined by appeals to cultural developments.


A Curiously Accurate Analysis

Emily Bazelon, a writer for one of my most favorite (and oft-quoted) websites, slate.com, recently wrote an article describing her fear that her environmental responsibility was turning her children into eco-snobs. Relating her quandary, she says (italics mine):

According to a marketing survey (which the Times ran in a graphic I couldn't hide from), more buyers bought the Prius this year because it "makes a statement about me" (57 percent) than because of its better gas mileage (36 percent) or lower carbon dioxide emissions (25 percent) or new technology (7 percent). If I'm being honest, I'd answer "all of the above" in response to that survey. It also made me worry about how my kids perceive our family Prius ownership. Do they think we're doing our small bit to save the Earth, or are they imbibing a look-at-me smugness? This is a problem that can arise in many contexts—nationalism and religion spring to mind. There's a fine line between pride in one's identity and unearned moral superiority.

I was completely fascinated by this concept. Of course, snob that I am, I thought of other people -- Christians whose parochial, jingoist, rah-rah Americanism-as-religion takes the place of their loyalty to Christ and his Church. I'm grateful for my brothers and sisters in Christ who live outside the US. They've helped me understand the unity and universality of the Church across continents. They've shown me the necessity of uniting under the essentials of the Gospel, lest our witness be utterly destroyed by factionalism.

But this deeper understanding of the Church as it transcends national boundaries has created a set of frustrations as I address and deal with the American church. I have a problem with the display of the flag at the front of a sanctuary, the singing of "patriotic" songs in church, obsession over one political party or another and its supposed power to "bring America back" to its ostensibly Christian roots, etc. All those things drive me crazy and I think it's high time pastors refused to settle for syncretism within their flocks.

And yet, even thinking about these issues immediately takes me to a place of pride and self-righteousness. You see, my church doesn't get all fired up about those sorts of things. We don't display American flags, sing patriotic music, obsess about God blessing our nation -- several of our pastors are pretty politically agnostic, and all of them recognize that the Kingdom of God will not ride in on the train of a president.

Back to the quote: isn't that precisely what Ms. Bazelon was discussing? There is indeed a fine line between, as I would put it, gratitude for what the Lord is doing in my church community and, as she put it, unearned moral superiority.

So I would offer my thanks to Ms. Bazelon for the (unintended) reminder that I am not morally superior to the woman who tearfully warbles "God Bless America" at her church's Fourth of July picnic. I haven't earned a higher moral standing. Christ fulfilled all the requirements of the law and was perfectly righteous before God. In Christ, I have that perfect standing as well.

How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance -- now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant. Hebrews 9:14-15


Grace Upon Grace

In every station, new trials and troubles
Call for more grace than I can afford.
Where can I go but to my dear Savior
For mercy that pours from boundless stores?
Grace upon grace, every sin repaired,
Every void restored -- you will find him there.
In every turning, he will prepare you
With grace upon Grace.
He made a way for the fallen to rise,
Perfect in glory and sacrifice.
In sweet communion my need he supplies;
He saves and keeps and guards my life.

To thee I run now, with great expectation,
To honor you with trust like a child.
My hopes and desires seek a new destination,
And all that you ask, your grace will provide.


Gospel Coalition Confessional Statement, Part 2

(2) Revelation

God has graciously disclosed his existence and power in the created order, and has supremely revealed himself to fallen human beings in the person of his Son, the incarnate Word. Moreover, this God is a speaking God who by his Spirit has graciously disclosed himself in human words: we believe that God has inspired the words preserved in the Scriptures, the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments, which are both record and means of his saving work in the world. These writings alone constitute the verbally inspired Word of God, which is utterly authoritative and without error in the original writings, complete in its revelation of his will for salvation, sufficient for all that God requires us to believe and do, and final in its authority over every domain of knowledge to which it speaks. We confess that both our finitude and our sinfulness preclude the possibility of knowing God’s truth exhaustively, but we affirm that, enlightened by the Spirit of God, we can know God’s revealed truth truly. The Bible is to be believed, as God’s instruction, in all that it teaches; obeyed, as God’s command, in all that it requires; and trusted, as God’s pledge, in all that it promises. As God’s people hear, believe, and do the Word, they are equipped as disciples of Christ and witnesses to the gospel.


Summer Reading

If anyone visits this blog anymore, they will have noticed the presence of some book-cover photos in the links portion of my page. Those books, which represent a random selection of titles I actually own, are there thanks to the LibraryThing -- a totally free site that provides a place for you to enter the titles of every book you own, whether simply to keep track of them or to participate in the online community also housed at LibraryThing.com. I love my books, and my enthusiasm for often results in my lending them willy-nilly without marking down who has which book! LibraryThing enables me to have a record of who has borrowed what and when and how much their overdue charges amount to... well, just kidding on that last part.

Another cool feature is the count of shared titles -- in other words, how many other people in the LibraryThing community own the books you own. My most common book is, naturally, Pride and Prejudice, which is deservedly popular, and my least common book is (somewhat to my surprise) Nigerian author Chinua Achebe's chilling and beautiful novel Things Fall Apart. 11, 675 other users own P&P, while I am the only user to own Things Fall Apart.

The three new additions to this list, the books I've bought to read this summer, are:

The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dustbowl (Finished this one. It's amazing. I especially recommend it to those who didn't grow up in America -- the Great Depression is probably the defining event of the post-Civil War U.S. I would even go so far as to say that if you don't understand the Depression, you don't understand America.)

Franklin and Winston: An Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship (Reading this now. So far, it's very dense, challenging, and fascinating. I'm really enjoying having to take it slow, and I'm learning a lot! Chronologically it made sense to read this after The Worst Hard Time because WWII basically brought the U.S. out of the Depression.)

Basilica: The Splendor and the Scandal: Building St. Peter's (Looking forward to this. Apparently the building was completely demolished at the whim of a Pope so that he could rebuild it to his specifications. I'm very interested to learn more about the Renaissance through the lens of the building of this important monument.)