Wednesday, January 22, 2014

As Christ Loves the Church...

One step on the path of intentional living, and I was confronted with soul-searching questions. I have not yet made it past the first set. How do I support, protect, and help my husband?

The conundrum burrows deeper into my spirit as I read Ephesians 5:22-24, and  these words from Claire Smith:
The husband is to promote his wife's godliness and sanctification, sparing no effort in advancing the work of Christ in her life. He is to help her prepare for the future marriage of Christ and the church. (God's Good Design, p.119)
The command to submit rings in my ears. Not because I don't want to submit to my husband, although there have been times when this has been the case. Not because it's unfair or antiquated, as the women's liberation movement decries. No, I keep mulling this command over and over in light of Genesis 2:18, and my role as my husband's helper.

Aimee gives me something to consider:
As a helper, we always need to remember that we represent our other half in all that we do and say. Likewise, our husbands always need to consider our interests in all that they say and do. This is a double-edged sword because our husbands should always want what is best for us. Sometimes we make it hard for them to be able to discern between what is truly good for us, and what gives us that momentary "happiness" that carries serious consequences in the end. We need to keep this in mind in our own temptations. (Housewife Theologian, p. 24)
Question begets question, and I jot them down to explore, to seal them in my memory.

Do I help my husband promote my godliness and sanctification? Not too long ago, we had a discussion about an uncomfortable situation. I admitted that I should feel and act differently, quickly appending my confession with a qualifying "but..." He stopped me: "There is no but. Leave it at that." His words stung.  I played the wounded wife for a bit, yet I knew he was right. I also knew he had my sanctification in mind. I'm learning that if I am to help my husband fulfill his responsibilities according to Ephesians 5:25-28, I must have an approachable and teachable spirit, a proper attitude that makes him feel safe in exercising his God-given authority in our home and in our marriage. I won't pretend it's easy, but I also can't pretend the command doesn't exist.

Do I help my husband make choices that are for my good, or do I demand temporary happiness?  This summer, he participated in a weekly morning Bible study that required him to get up earlier (therefore, going to bed earlier). Our already-short evening together was made even shorter, but in truth, I receive far more benefits from my husband's participation in Bible study than from an evening spent watching TV together. Likewise, it's not always convenient to schedule his haircuts, but having a husband who protects our marriage is much more important than my momentary happiness.

Do I help my husband live with me in an understanding way, honoring me as the weaker vessel?  1 Peter 3:7 requires this of him. My moods and attitudes should facilitate his compassion for me. My demeanor should be gentle and quiet (1 Peter 3:4), and create in him a desire to nourish and cherish me (Ephesians 5:29).  In short, I should be helping him to love me as Christ loves the Church.

I have not attained this. Nowhere close! As Smith writes, "This side of glory, godly submission will never come easily." (p. 145) That doesn't absolve me of the responsibilities to be obedient to God's command.

And so I keep plodding along, painstakingly slow but knowing the rewards of an intentional life will be bountiful indeed!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Making More Than a Bed

I make my daughter's bed.  

Yes, the daughter who's 15. 

Yes, she's perfectly capable of making her own bed. 

Yes, perhaps she should. 

But while some may accuse me of babying her too much and enabling her to be lazy, I disagree. She has weekly chores and responsibilities. Many nights, she helps me prepare dinner. I make her bed because I want to be intentional at home.

When she was small, I made her bed. Somewhere along the way, I taught her how to do it. I expected her to do it each morning before school. After all, how hard is it to pull up a comforter and fluff a pillow? Some mornings she complied, but many mornings she ran out of time. I knew arguments would make our already tense, hurried mornings worse. Besides, her dad worked swing shift and my own bed remained unmade much of the time because of his unusual sleep schedule. How could I expect something from her that I wasn't doing myself? At some point I decided that she was old enough to assume the responsibility of making her bed without my prodding; if she was embarrassed by an unmade bed when she had company, so be it.

That was our modus operandi for several years. And then I took a social media vacation. The free time I acquired before work was a gift; I could do a quick chore to make the evening smoother. One morning I took folded laundry to my girl's room and before I knew it, I was making her bed. It was my small offering that day, an opportunity to bless my daughter.

My goal is to be a godly mother and example to my girl. How does making her bed on occasion fit in? By setting an example of servanthood and appreciation. It's my way of letting her know that I love her, care for her comfort, and notice when she surprises me by cleaning out the pantry or doing a load of laundry.

Making her bed isn't something I do every day. She doesn't expect it or complain if I don't do it. She thanks me when I do. Soon enough that bed won't be unmade every morning. For now, I'll make it and pray the Lord will honor this small sacrifice, that it will make a lasting impression upon my girl and encourage her to be a woman who is intentional in her own home.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The First Step Toward Being Intentional at Home

If Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy.

The grammar of this old Southern bit of wisdom makes me cringe, but the older I get the more I understand - and am convicted by - the truth it contains: my attitude, countenance, words, mood, and actions set the tone in our home.

As I begin this journey toward intentional living, I have found exhortation in Aimee's wise words in Chapter One,
We must certainly show forth our Lord God's beauty in this awesome task [being a helper to our husbands]. And for us to do this properly, it is imperative that we are functioning appropriately in our role. (p. 22)
I see these very words lived out in the life of Sarah Edwards.  As Noel Piper says, Sarah Edwards was a supporter, protector and homebuilder for her husband, a godly mother and example for her children, and a hostess, comforter and encourager to guests.
While she uniformly paid a becoming deference to her husband and treated him with entire respect, she spared no pains in conforming to his inclination and rendering everything in the family agreeable and pleasant; accounting it her greatest glory and there wherein she could best serve God and her generation, to be the means in this way of promoting his usefulness and happiness. (Samuel Hopkins on Sarah Edwards)
The margins of the books are already covered in penciled scrawls. I grab my Living Intentionally notebook to put it all together. There, among the rainbow of arrows, asterisks, and other marks that are meaningless to anyone but me, I see it. Biblical womanhood requires being intentional in my home.

Do I want to support, protect, and build a home for my husband? I consider the question long and hard. The simple - the right - answer is yes. But how? How do I support, protect - how do I help - him?

Do I want to set an example for my daughter? Again, yes! And again, how?

Finally, do I want to be a hostess, comforter and encourager to others in my life? The answer and the resulting question still linger.

These are the things I begin to work out. As I scratch notes in the margins, jot quotes and ideas on paper, I realize God is writing a story across the hardness of my heart. I don't know the ending, but I know this beginning - this first, infinitesimal step - is a good place to start.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Intentional Living

During the months preceding my December social media hiatus I spent considerable time contemplating the quiet life and how best to cultivate it. As I thought about changes I've made and still more that need to be made, I concluded that it's not just a quiet life that I want, but a more intentional one.

There are several areas of my life in which I want to be more intentional, however in this quiet place I will share but two. 

Intentional Reading. My past reading plans have set me up for failure. I've tried to read too many books, gotten sidetracked by the latest "must read", and generally been overwhelmed so that, at times, reading has been a chore. No more! I have developed a reading plan that allows me to immerse myself in certain topics. This year I will be leading a monthly study of Aimee Byrd's Housewife Theologian: How the Gospel Interrupts the Ordinary. In order to give this study the attention it deserves, all of my reading - including fiction - will be focused on the subject of each chapter. The list of books I'll be reading can be found in the Reading Intentionally in 2014 Tab of my blog.

My Bible study will also be limited to whatever book my pastor is covering at church. One blessing of having a pastor who preaches expository sermons is being able to read and study ahead with commentaries. We're starting Exodus, and I'm using Exodus: Saved for God's Glory by Philip Graham Ryken.  As I prepare to hear each week's sermon, I'll read through other Scripture that clarifies what I'm studying. I've begun a 2-year plan to read through the Bible with D.A. Carson's For the Love of God, Volume 1, using Mark Dever's The Message of the Old Testament: Promises Made and The Message of the New Testament: Promises Kept as resource material.

Reading intentionally will allow me to give what I'm reading the thought and attention it deserves.

Intentional at Home. My social media break helped me realize how much time and energy I was wasting, and how I should be a much more intentional wife, mother, daughter and friend. By focusing on putting my family and their needs ahead of my own, I will be serving them as Christ would have me to. I want the people in my life to see my eyes full of love for them, not glazed over from too much time staring at a computer screen.

Being intentional at home will allow me to give my family and friends the thought and attention they deserve.

A quiet, intentional life. I like the sound of that.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

What I Learned During My Social Media Vacation

With the Holy Spirit's prompting - and the grace of God abounding - I gave up Facebook and Twitter during December so that I could focus on the Incarnation and prepare my heart for Christmas. I didn't think I devoted an inordinate amount of time to social media; however, when I announced my intention to my girl and her response was something akin to "Good. You need to given them up.", I knew I needed the break more than I cared to admit. I had already stopped posting anything in this little spot for the final months of 2013. Limited blogging at Out of the Ordinary, permanently paring down my feed reader to precious few, and saying no to Facebook and Twitter has taught me some valuable lessons.

~Absence does not necessarily make the heart grow fonder. While there may have been a few who felt my absence, I imagine that I was, for the most part, forgotten. Not that I blame anyone; it's the nature of the social media beast.

~Social media friends aren't always friends. I have made some wonderful friends online. Some I've hugged in person and some I've only seen through a computer screen. I keep in touch with many of them outside of Facebook and Twitter. Before I took my sabbatical, I purged my Facebook friend list by approximately 20%. Not one person I "un-friended" seemed to notice, although, to be fair, I guess some of them could have been too angry or hurt to contact me. Still, I don't imagine it was a big deal, which has given me a new perspective on my own importance (or, more accurately, unimportance).

I have to admit that it hurt- just a little bit - to realize that in all likelihood, I was not missed. Which is probably a good indicator that I really needed this break!

~Being more present in my 3D life is infinitely better than being present online.  Not logging on "for just a few minutes" each morning, gives me time to do little things my family appreciates and makes my evenings at home smoother.

~Giving up social media is a detoxification process. By the grace of God, I've never had to detox from alcohol or drugs; however, I think I got a little taste of what it must be like (on a much smaller scale). The first few days, when I was resolute, were easy. The next few, when I realized how much I relied on my social media "fix", were really difficult. There were ups and downs the entire time.

~Social media doesn't easily unclench its grasp. Even though I wasn't logging on to Facebook or Twitter, I got emails telling me how many notifications I had, or how many people had tweets for me (and this, when my notifications were turned off!). Ah, the temptation!

I also have to admit that on one occasion I gave in to temptation and logged into Facebook for no specific purpose other than to see what was going on in the virtual world (there were times I used Facebook to communicate private messages, but didn't read anything else).  10 -15 minutes later, I realized how easy it is to get sucked into the social media web and lose track of time.

~I gave too much mental energy to social media. Staying away from the latest hot topics and the overload of information freed my mind to narrow its focus and linger on the books and blog posts I did read. Consequently, my thoughts are no longer bite-sized. I've been able to mediate more fully on the Word of God and the words of others. I also found I have more energy to invest in 3D relationships.

~I gave too much attention to social media and its associated drama. Being ignorant of the theological controversy du jour diminished my critical spirit.  By the same token, reducing my exposure to celebrity pastors gave me a deeper appreciation for my pastor and the faithfulness and quietness in which he serves.

~I let social media have an unhealthy impact on my life. I beat myself up with comparisons and felt guilty for not measuring up to the standards set by other women in their parenting, home keeping, and marriages. I spent too much time trying to change myself and my family. I have learned much from other women - and have even more to learn - but I have to guard my heart against discontentment in these areas.

~I really do love words.  Although I devoted most of my social media time to genuinely good words (i.e. encouraging tweets, status reports, and links), I had become mired down in all the words, words, WORDS. Even good things need to be taken in moderation.

And so, these are the lessons I learned. I don't share them here because I believe anyone else needs to learn them (though I pray this is an encouragement to others who may read), and certainly not to disparage social media or anyone who uses it. I am returning to Facebook and Twitter - hopefully, with a new perspective and more limitations. If time were an unlimited commodity, I wouldn't think twice about the amount I spend online because there is a lot of good in social media. I want to choose the better part.

May it be so, Lord. May it be so.