When Being Ourselves Means Bearing Bad Fruit

I left Texas two years ago, strong, able, capable, and sure, in the delirium of vows and on the cusp of summer. I came back here weak, knowing my frailty, and my failure ever before me. Limping more than running, praying more than proclaiming.

A week ago I sat in my car with a friend, though, and she said I seem stronger, surer, less fearful of the opinions of others. I went home and asked Nate, "Is this true? And if it is, am I gentle or unkind in it?" We had a fine talk and he said something that hasn't dislodged itself since then: I think one reason you might be stronger is because you've spent the past two years living with someone who encourages you consistently to bear the fruit of the Spirit instead of the fruit of your own sin. 

For 34 years I lived with 42 roommates. With the exception of a few homes that weren't perfect, but sure full of joy and fun and mutual service to one another, most of the homes I've lived in were reaming with dysfunction. It's hard to press that many sinners together in such close quarters without all sorts of insecurities rising up, proclivities pushing out, and humanity running over. Those places were bastions of sinfulness—not because we weren't mostly trying to walk in grace by faith, but because we were at varying places in the long walk of obedience in the same direction.

There were days I cried myself to sleep under the weight of shame I had at my failure to love all those girls fully, my own insecurities rising up and cursing me and others. And other days I cried myself to sleep because I was doing my best to love—even in tough ways, and all I received in return was the hurt that hurt people cause. It was painful. Really painful. It was good, don't get me wrong, and I wouldn't change it if I could, but there were days when it was excruciating and when I felt my whole self was being sucked up in the vortex of the sin of others—knowing they could very well be being sucked up in mine too. 

Here's the thing, though: I thought that was normal. I thought that's how every home functioned.

I thought in order to feel at home, everyone in the home needed to be free to express their best and worst selfbut the result was often that they were free to inflict their worst self on others. I thought being at home meant I could be lazy when I wanted or indifferent or I could close the door when I didn't want to face the dysfunction outside it (but couldn't hide from the dysfunction inside it). I thought it meant bearing the brunt of the shouts and screams of others, the slammed doors, the cold shoulders, and the willful selfishness. In my sinfulness, I thought that was normal. 

A friend told me recently the person she feels most like herself with brings out the worst in her, and I ached inside. We believe a lie when we believe "being ourselves" means permission to be angry, manipulative, indifferent, and unkind, in the presence of the one with whom we feel at home. 

Of all the challenging things I've found inside marriage, one hundred percent of them are the fact that my own selfish inclinations have no place to hide—and they also have no place to express themselves. They're suffocated to death (and rightfully so) in the presence of one who lives and walks by the Spirit, bearing the fruit of the Spirit, and always encouraging me to bear it as well. There isn't space for us to lash out toward one another or "be ourselves," because that's not who we are. We're children of the living God. We're sons and daughters. We're chosen people. We're royal priests. We're a people for his own possession. What gives us the right to live as though we're children of the enemy? Expressing anger or giving a cold shoulder or manipulating others or preferring ourselves over others? Those are the fruits of the enemy. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control. Those are the fruits the children of God bear. 

I'm weaker than I ever thought I would be, but there is a strong and certain confidence in me born partially because it's the first time I'm living in a home where "feeling like ourselves" isn't our currency. I've died a thousand deaths over the past two years, death to selfishness, death to preferences, death to priorities, and in all that pruning, fruit has begun to grow. 

I don't know if you're unmarried or married, a mother or a sister or a brother or a friend, but today, I'm praying that the areas of our lives where we're grasping to "feel like ourselves" or "express ourselves freely," would begin to die today. If we're children of God, we know "to die is gain," "unless a kernel falls to the ground and dies, it remains alone, but if it dies, it bears much fruit" "sown in weakness, raised in power," and on and on. So much of this upside-down kingdom means dying to what feels comfortable, not getting our preferences, setting aside our expectations or desires, and being raised to walk in the glorious freedom of self-forgetfulness. I'm praying that for all of us today. 

How to Pray When You Don't Know How to Pray

Suffering comes in waves, I find, in multiples of two, six, ten, eighty. Never one at a time, trickling down the side of life. On Monday everything is fine, but it is Friday now and a boy has been killed and a friend is miscarrying and a family I love is fractured and another friend is in the hospital and a girl I know is afraid of some consequences and more friends faced the end of hoping all things and another friend is running away from those who are trying to love her. It's a tattering, shattering, clattering week. I cannot contain the sorrow, it falls out like a floor beneath us and overflows like a sea that drowns us. 

I am sitting on the back patio and I have just pressed end on my cell phone. What do you do when there is so much stuff of life crammed into fifteen minutes two-thousand miles apart? Where do you even start to pray?

I have learned this year to pray staccato prayers: help, thank you, please, I'm sorry, I worship. The Father has no need for the flowery sort of prayers, perfectly formed with pristine theology. Those sort of prayers are more for us than for Him. It is right and good to learn to pray (To the Father, through the Son, with the help of the Holy Spirit.), but at the end of it all, when our snot and tears mingle and the choking sadness is too much to bear, staccato prayers will do. He knows it all before we say a word. 

David said this, 

You yourself have recorded my wanderings.
Put my tears in your bottle.
Are they not in your book?

If the sovereign God who has recorded our wanderings and gathered our tears in a bottle, kept track of them in his book, cannot handle our staccato prayers (Help. Thank you. Please. I'm sorry. I worship.), he is probably not the God of the Bible then, and instead a god I've made in my own image. God, the real God of the universe, can handle the smallest and shortest sufferings and the largest and longest. He has sent His Spirit in order to, "help us in our weakness, because we do not know what to pray for as we should, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with unspoken groanings." 

If the Spirit himself, the God, intercedes with unspoken groanings, I think he can handle our staccato prayers. 

Help. 

Thank you. 

Please. 

I'm sorry. 

I worship.

I think you have most likely slammed up against suffering of your own this week because suffering never comes in small doses but in multiples of two, six, tens, and eighties, You're pressed up against some of these same people or the same people by degree, plus people of your own, maybe your own suffering. I'm praying now that we would be strong enough to be weak pray-ers, knowing the Spirit surrounds, above, below, around, within, making what is weak strong. 

 

When the Ordinary Feels Anything but Glorious: housework and the housewife

I suppose like almost anything, we have a version of what something might be like that is invariably different than what it is actually like once we're one or two years or weeks into it. Home-making is one of those things for me.

When I was in my early twenties, wont to reading poetry about laundry, stories about bread-making, and looking longingly at my married-with-babies friends while I trudged through my office job, I thought home-making was a high and holy calling with warm smells and constant joyful feelings. When I crossed the threshold of marriage, I started working out of yet another office a week later. Dinners still felt hasty, chores filled the margins, and I thanked God repeatedly for a husband who made it clear from day one that dishes would be his job so hold my peace about it—and I have. 

When I was single I lived with no fewer than three girls at all times and so chores were a shared burden, the only laundry I was responsible for was my own, and meal-planning was more of group texts trying to get at least one night a week for us around the same table and less budgeting, shopping, and menu planning. Now that I've spent a full year working out of the home both at housework and paying work, I've discovered a growing dislike of all the laundry, mopping, sweeping, and dusting. Things mound up and it isn't until I see Nate wearing smart wool socks with his dress shoes and scrounging through his t-shirt drawer that I realize, "Oh, the laundry..."

I'm sometimes embarrassed that I'm a stay-at-home wife now, as though we have to have kids to justify me staying at home and working out of it. The question, "What do you do all day?" looms heavily and when people ask, I sometimes stumble over my words. I do stuff all day, but not the stuff that seems to matter, not the kind of stuff I used to do, meeting with people, writing ferociously, preparing speaking engagements, thinking through women and singles in the church. I do a bit of that still, but mostly, I take care of our home. Before marriage that seemed mysteriously glorious, but in reality? It's hard. Not the work itself, but the junk it reveals in my heart about satisfaction, joy, glory, selfishness, and laziness. It has been one of the most revealing part of marriage for me personally.  

Housework in marriage isn't better, but it's different. And there doesn't seem to be much glory in it. Before marriage, I didn't take my glory in it and it didn't matter because no place was solely my home. Now our place is my domain. Nate works hard out of the home and I work hard in it. And, just like any job I've ever had, there are days I'd trade if I could. It doesn't feel very glorious to fold the same dish-towels every week or sweep the same floor, especially one like mine that just seems to grow dirt. It seems less than glorious, it seems hopeless because it's never done. 

Courtney Reissig reached out to me a few months ago to do an interview with her about working from home as a new wife in preparation for her new book, Glory in the Ordinary's, release. I had a few minutes last night to read through the book and I read it cover to cover in an hour or so. I wasn't sure what to expect because more How-tos and cleaning schedules and promises of fulfillment aren't what I need in this home-making journey. I am not fulfilled in this role and what I love about Courtney's book is that she doesn't pretend we ought to be. She and I have similar struggles in house-work and her vulnerability about it in Glory in the Ordinary was disarming and helpful. The book is full of scripture supporting the necessity of work but also the difficulty of it—which, I don't know about you, I need to hear. The glory in my work is not for myself or even for my home, it's for God, which means what matters most is not how clean my corners are, how perfectly scheduled my laundry is, or how seamless my menu-planning is, but my faithfulness to the God who has called me to it. 

In my interview with Courtney, I said this: 

At the end of Little Women, Friedrich Bhaer says, “But I have nothing to give you. My hands are empty!” Jo puts her hands in his and says, “Not anymore.” I think of my life like that a lot. My hands feel empty much of the time, not because they are, but because my work feels empty or meaningless. But a friend told me shortly after I got married, “If you look around and feel torn in a million directions and aren’t sure what you’re supposed to be doing, “Care for the needs of your household,” it’s that simple.” I’ve gone back to that hundreds of times this year. What is in my hands are the needs of my household and that is contributing to society, whether it looks like it or not. Right now, I’ve been entrusted with this home, this husband, this work, this same bed making every day. That is my contribution and it is not a small one. As insignificant as Josephine March’s hands might have looked in Professor Bhaer’s, they were capable of, as she said earlier in the book, “A great many things.”

Whether you're a seasoned stay-at-home wife or a working mother, both struggling to get it all done, whether you're unmarried and trying to incorporate these rhythms into your life now or an empty nester whose house stays clean for the first time in years, I recommend picking up Courtney's new book. Its themes ran through my mind and heart all morning as I set aside a chunk of time to tackle some as yet unorganized closets, wash our linens, and sweep the floor—again. This work is working something, not just in our home, but in me. 

Glory in the Ordinary just released yesterday. Check it out here. 

Unicorns, Hard Marriages, and a History of Singleness

Opinions are in plenty and so are experiences. We all have both and are rarely short on either. I have often heard the opinion that marriage is hard and will only grow harder until sometime after the halfway point, or further still, when the synergy may still be a struggle, but not more than the thought of going through life without one another. I am married to a man whose first spouse got the itch and am the child of two parents who got it too, so I know marriage isn't a cakewalk for everyone. I know ahead of us there will be dark and hard days, maybe days when I wonder what I've done and who I've hitched myself to for life. 

A conversation with the man I'm hitched to happened over the kitchen counter the other afternoon. I chopped vegetables and he, the one who can't multitask if his life or the lives of others depended on it, spoke truth to me. It seems I have a constant, pulsing fear, lurking somewhere between certainty and faith, wisdom and the future. I fear that, like those in our lives have done, we will come to an impasse someday, cite irreconcilable differences, refuse to make up, and we will have encountered the Hard Place so many talk about so often. 

We came to marriage quickly, three months from first date to wedding date. We came at it surprised, bewildered, happily, and not at all anxious. We came at it not with hopes and dreams of tomorrow, but with what we had built up until then. There's no way we could have envisioned what the next two years would bring (every manner of richer, poorer, sickness, and health), but the future wasn't our focus. Today was. And yesterday was. I could look behind me and him and see years of failure, frailty, fear, and faithfulness. I could see tested faith, submitted lives, broken hearts, and the fellowship of the local church. It wasn't what was ahead of us that determined our path, but what had come behind us. 

My pulsing fear that there is a shoe—or more likely a steel-toed boot—about to drop on us and that our marriage will go through eons of difficulty and opportunities for affairs and abuse and all manner of sin against one another, is a future focused fear, and not a past-proven faith. We came to one another with histories behind us, men and women who had poured into us, loved us, disciplined us, and when we came together with surprising speed, no one was worried about our future because our past had proven us. 

I'm thinking about this today, again, because I read an article today about being unequally yoked and, though I agree with the sentiment, that sort of article can leave unmarried folks feeling like, "Okay, but what?" What do I do? Where is this mythical creature of wit and beauty and chemistry and Christianity? Do they even exist? And if they do, where can I meet this unicorn? 

It's a very lonely place to be an unmarried Christian in the church today. It's very easy to slip through life unnoticed, your history unfolding with no one's eyes on it, your life taking place with no one to reflect on it but you. And when the time for marriage comes, it comes with muddled emotions and confusion and disappointment and a flurry of passion and wedding planning, but little to no consideration of the yesterdays that led you to that place. I've been there, friends. I don't talk about it often on here (because it was a shared story), but I got caught up in the tomorrows, the plans, the hopes, and the future, with little consideration and insight on the paths that led us there. I'm grateful God saved us both from marrying one another and led to the spouses we have today, but that history threaded through became part of who I was standing across from Nate on June 25, 2015. 

I want to live free of a fear others have put on me by saying "Just you wait," or "Those dark days are coming," because I don't think they have to come and I don't want to spend all my time waiting for the steel-toed kick. I want to be faithful with today—not to an outcome, but to the Word of God. Faithfulness in my singleness looked like submission to my leaders, joyful service in my church, faithful relationship with others, and a willingness to accept correction, and faithfulness in my marriage looks very much the same. 

If we had come to marriage with patterns of selfishness, an inability to listen, a need to be heard at all cost, arrogance in the face of rebuke, an unwillingness to submit to one another and others, and no history of serving anyone but ourselves, yes, our marriage would be hard and it ought to be. God will sanctify us and sometimes he uses marriage to do most of it. But, I think, if we let our whole lives be one stream of sanctification, when we come to marriage, marriage itself can actually be a sweet gift. Not our defining gift, but a sweet one just the same. 

I don't want to live as those the other shoe was going to drop. I want to be faithful as long as it is called today. Hard things may come, but many hard things already have come, and my sweetest spot is still next to the man who comes home to me every night. 

If you're single, planning and hoping for tomorrow, but struggling to live in today, I know it's hard, and I'm praying for you. My best counsel is get into a local church and press yourself into the hard places. Get eyes on your struggles, sins, and patterns. It will be hard, but if God gives you the gift of marriage someday, those years of sanctification working up to it will not be wasted. 

If you're married and your marriage is hard, I am so sorry. Living side by side with someone in unreconciled differences is painful, really painful. But those differences don't have to be irreconciled, or unreconcilable. God is a reconciling God, but he always doesn't start with bringing broken things together, sometimes he just starts with just one broken heart being reconciled to him. I hope today, whatever you're responsible for, whatever angsts you're holding onto, you'll turn them over to Him, trusting him. 

If you're married and your marriage is strong, that is a gift, and a rarer one these days. I want to encourage you to rejoice in that, even publicly. Sometimes I struggle to be public with my joy because I know there are so many others who haven't got it, but I want to balance out the scales of "Marriage is the hardest thing you'll ever do." It doesn't have to be, but I don't hear very many people saying it. Rejoice in the wife of your youth. Praise your husband in the gates. Don't be surprised if your house begins to fill up with unmarried folks, wanting to learn from you because most people just talk about how hard it is, and it's hard to want to learn from those folks. Shout the goodness of God in the gift of marriage to you. 

The Crushing Illusion of Control

I've never known my own weakness like I have this year, never felt more overwhelmed with my frailty. It's nothing someone has to fix or mend or preach to me about—I know the answer is to see the cross in its fullness and my place before it, but it doesn't change the feeling. Theologically I have a spot for the place of weakness and need in regard to the gospel, but (I suspect like most of us) the actual feeling of weakness and need isn't quite as beautiful as good theology makes it seem. It's an ugly spot. There's not much attractive about limping, saying "I can't," or not having any control over how the spiritual/emotional/psychological affects the physical. It's a place where arrogance can grow—a refusal to hear counsel, an intentional ignorance toward truth, and a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps exit from whatever disappoints. It's also a place where humility can grow. I'm not sure which direction is harder, but I know neither of them feel good in the moment. 

During an errand run last week I felt the now familiar panic rising from somewhere in my chest. It stems from a specific event I witnessed nearly a year and a half ago, but it was exacerbated by thirty other events happening in my life around the same time. It is an overwhelming feeling of a lack of control. Nothing I could do in that season of life could change the circumstances of our lives: I couldn't get pregnant and stay pregnant, I couldn't give my husband a job, I couldn't fix what was broken in my work-place and church, I couldn't sell our house, I couldn't make enough money to support us on my own, I couldn't fix my husband's fears, I couldn't stop the gun violence around our house, I couldn't stop the cop from being shot, I couldn't stop someone from breaking into my car—I couldn't do anything. I felt absolutely powerless to change any circumstance in my life. And it crushed me. 

We love to quote II Corinthians 4:8 & 9, "We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed," but we rarely begin with verse 7:  "But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us."

The surpassing power belongs to God and not to us—and the moment we get that wrong (and we will, friends), we panic, we fear, we are anxious, we search for some sort of fix to give us back the illusion of control: exercise, diets, essential oils, medication, massages. None of those things is wrong in and of themselves, but they can all numb the thing we need most: to remember God is the one with surpassing power and not us. And more than numbing us, they can crush us. 

This past year I could not numb the fear. I could not fix the panic. I could not stuff down the tears or fears or emotions or dreams. I could not fix myself. The only thing I could do was go to the cross again and again and again and again and again and again. Take my crushed jar of clay, once full of life and vitality and knowledge and success, and say, "I cannot fix this and I cannot even make you fix it when it bring it to you. I can only trust that someday you will." 

Maybe that's you today, friend. I don't know. Maybe it's not. Maybe you're on top of your game, drinking your supplements and rubbing whichever oil you fancy on your feet. Maybe your bank account is comfortable and your job is certain. Maybe you can get pregnant if your husband merely looks at you. Maybe your church is nearly perfect. But maybe none of that is true for you and you're not sure where next month's rent is coming from and your knee injury is keeping you from exercising and you've stopped buying pregnancy tests because it's just a waste of money now and maybe your church is really hurting right now, limping along. Maybe you have panic attacks on the way to the dry-cleaners too. Maybe God is healing you, but it's taking longer than you wanted. 

I don't have wild words of wisdom for you today, but I read this from Scott Sauls and Russ Ramsey this morning and saw myself in it. I need to know it's okay to limp and I need to know the leaders I respect and follow limp too. It reminds me I'm an alien, but there are other aliens here too—and there's a God who is on his throne and one cross for us all and the ground before it is level and only for those who limp.