Tag Archives: Christian

Great Reasons to Leave Church

I want the reason people leave our church to be:  It’s too hard.

The sermons make me think too much.

Those people think that prayer is the answer to everything!

They expect me to actually STUDY the Bible!

They make me think about others too much.

Those people are too interested in me and in my life.

Those people hold me too accountable.

Their standards are too rigid.

These should also be the reasons people join our church.

I am blessed to belong to a little church which meets this description well and I thank God often.

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Trying on Hats with Proverbs 31 Woman

The woman described in Proverbs 31 is meant to be the ideal, but she’s an object of ridicule among dedicated Christian women. At the same time, we ask her to wear a lot of hats. She is regularly called upon to endorse our preferences.

I have heard one too many times from theologians, from well-known pastors, from other women, that the woman in Proverbs 31 had a career outside the home. I cannot find the evidence.

My point is not to object to wives having careers. Our cultural and economic context is very different than that of the Old Testament era society described in the Book of Proverbs.  But let us refrain from misusing Biblical text.  Let’s let Scripture say what it says, and not press it into our service. There may be Scripture to support our career choices; I just do not find that support in Proverbs 31.

Does the woman in Proverbs 31 have a career?

Can we take a look together?

A wife of noble character who can find?
    She is worth far more than rubies.
11 Her husband has full confidence in her
    and lacks nothing of value.
12 She brings him good, not harm,
    all the days of her life.
13 She selects wool and flax
    and works with eager hands.
14 She is like the merchant ships,
    bringing her food from afar.
15 She gets up while it is still night;
    she provides food for her family
    and portions for her female servants.
16 She considers a field and buys it;
    out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
17 She sets about her work vigorously;
    her arms are strong for her tasks.
18 She sees that her trading is profitable,
    and her lamp does not go out at night.
19 In her hand she holds the distaff
    and grasps the spindle with her fingers.
20 She opens her arms to the poor
    and extends her hands to the needy.
21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household;
    for all of them are clothed in scarlet.
22 She makes coverings for her bed;
    she is clothed in fine linen and purple.
23 Her husband is respected at the city gate,
    where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them,
    and supplies the merchants with sashes.
25 She is clothed with strength and dignity;
    she can laugh at the days to come.
26 She speaks with wisdom,
    and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
27 She watches over the affairs of her household
    and does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children arise and call her blessed;
    her husband also, and he praises her:
29 “Many women do noble things,
    but you surpass them all.”
30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
    but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
31 Honor her for all that her hands have done,
    and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.

Certainly no one can deny that this woman works. She is quite busy at home. She is such a diligent, efficient, committed worker that she seems to do the work of several people. Mentally walk through what she is doing. When exactly do you find time in there for her to go to a job? Between “…her lamp does not go out at night”…and…”she gets up while it is still night…?”

So where is the career in this proverb? Is it this?

She considers a field and buys it;
    out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.

She is the wife-manger of her husband’s estate.  An estate would include a home, the property where the home is located, and the fields where food is grown, animals are pastured, and other agrarian products might be produced, all for the provision and wealth of the owner’s family.

She is the manager of all she surveys.  She possesses the trust of her husband and her community, and the prerogative to increase the wealth of her estate. She buys more property to add to her family farm.  This makes her an independent real estate agent?

Or is it that we’re so addicted to the trope that says that ancient women were subservient and socially powerless that we are blind to the plain meaning here: she, as a faithful homemaker-wife, is a respected woman of social standing with perfect freedom to manage the household estate and broker a land purchase in the marketplace?

Is it this the career?

She makes linen garments and sells them,
    and supplies the merchants with sashes.

I use some skills I picked up in art college to create handmade books. I hope to grow my tiny tiny micro business into a small business in the next few years. I do it all at home. I do not receive a paycheck. I do not spend my days assigned to a different location than my home. I do not observe company hours or union rules. And most importantly, I do not work for a boss.

Mrs. Proverbs 31 does not answer to any “boss” but her husband. 

The woman in Proverbs 31 excels at sewing.  She creates garments for everyone in her household so that they are properly, modestly dressed and warm in winter. In addition, she is such a diligent worker that she designs and sews sashes which she then sends to the marketplace to be sold.  She even ingratiates herself with the merchants who will offer her products for sale by gifting them with beautiful sashes. This has been a common practice of homesteaders, farmer’s wives, and colonists throughout human history. This makes her a businesswoman with a career?

She sees that her trading is profitable,
    and her lamp does not go out at night.

Picture her sitting in front of the household accounts at night after everyone else is in bed.

I just can’t find that outside-the-home job in this passage. If you find it, please let me know.

This woman, and by extension her family, profits from the overflow of her domestic activity.  She is doing all these things anyway; she is diligent enough to go beyond the bare minimum and God rewards her industry. This is the home overflowing out into the world, not the world (job) inserting itself into the home, nor her leaving her home to work for another interest.

She opens her arms to the poor, and extends her hands to the needy.” Charity does indeed begin at home. God’s design for the family home was a generous center of industry and benevolent influence radiating out into the local community. The wealth she produces benefits the local community by spreading the wealth in trade with other homes and merchants. She is extending her wealth out into her community in charitable work. And she is sending that wealth outward by discipling the next generation to go out into the world and into the future.

This woman is a wife and mother who works tirelessly toward the betterment of her family’s estate. She feathers her nest, she builds up her home. I  do not see any evidence whatsoever in the passage which places this woman under the authority of a boss not her husband, or transplanting her energy and effort to another sphere outside her home, non-inclusive of her home.

Read it over again. Don’t we have to devalue her hard work at home in order to insist that she have a career in addition to her homemaking?  Is it because the work done by a woman in her home, for her home, isn’t perceived as being hard work? Or “real” work? Or significant work?

Let’s find other sources of blessing on our lifestyle choices. Proverbs 31 Woman is busy enough without putting on all the hats we need her to wear. Or are we trying to wear hers?

The Jesus God

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways,
but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.
The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.
Hebrews 1: 1-3

Human beings like to construct a God who we feel we are justified in rejecting. That way we can rationalize doing as we please, being accountable only to ourselves. We all do this. We prefer a Straw God.

But the book he wrote says we ought to recognize him by His Son. God = Jesus Christ.

We ought to see in Him not the god who commits genocide, the god who punishes disobedient children in eternal torment, the god who holds us accountable to silly rules and whose only response is to punish, the god who expects to be appeased. Or the god who winks at our mistakes because we’re really good deep inside. Not the distant god, the irrelevant one, the god of that Old boring Testament.

The Bible says Jesus represents God; He is the exact representative of who He is.  Jesus said so himself too.

I and the Father are one. John 10: 30


All things have been handed over to Me by My Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. Luke 10: 22

I can of my own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not my own will, but the will of the Father who has sent me. John 5:30

Do you have any bones to pick with Jesus?  He went about doing good. He healed, he raised the dead, he lived an utterly selfless life.  He was always kind and patient. He validated the worth of women, children, the lowly, the socially unfavored, the outcast. Then…

He went to torture, humiliation, abandonment and painful death. This is how we should think of God.  Here was God become fully human, hanging on a torture device and dying of blood loss and suffocation. Not for his own crimes, but for some abstruse offense assigned to him by those in power who wanted him out of the way.

He had no crimes to die for. He died on the behalf of others who deserved to die: me and you. He did all of this to show us Who God is. That is the True God. That’s how we ought to think of GOD.

Then, in order to show us the power and acceptance of this self-sacrifice, His death was undone.  He became alive again. The penalty was accepted and it is we who are credited with forgiveness.

All I need to do is recognize this and accept his gift for myself. It is a gift because I can in no way earn it; God had to do this for me.

That’s who God is: Jesus.

A Better Gateway

Atomized…separate floating islands on their own courses…the loss of community, loss of a sense of family…these are words used to describe some of the young adults of today in a recent conversation.

May I suggest that the real gateway to adulthood is not beginning a career, not cohabiting while keeping your options open, but building a home and family?

Not so long ago, we understood that one sought gainful employment so that one could build a family. The goal is the home and family; the job the means to it. Past generations understood this. They understood that they were part of a heritage in which people appreciated what had been passed to them through hard work and sacrifice, and in turn worked and sacrificed for those who depended on them, and for future people who would come after. They aimed to honor both a past and a future.

Relationships were regarded as permanent and legally bound.

I think my generation was encouraged to think of ourselves, and I think we refined that to an art and taught it to our children. The result? Our young adult children are aging out of a stage of life which is bursting with potential, some still living with their parents and wondering what to do with their lives.They are not children, but they aren’t quite living like adults either.

They aren’t getting married, or building families, or establishing homes.

I’m not blaming them. They want to be driving their own lives, living in their own places. But their obstacles are unusually discouraging.  Just try and start anything in the present economy.

Another obstacle which has been dropped right in their path is the idea that all those grown-up things their parents did don’t have to be for them. Those things are Options in the Someday Maybe category. That there are other ways to be satisfied with your life, as an individual. That finding those things which fulfill me is of first importance, and that I can’t move on until I find them.

And it turns out maybe when you’re only supposed to consider yourself in all those important life choices, the choosing is more difficult. We told them that life is about finding out who you are, discovering your passion, making a difference, and following your dream.  The trouble is that they might pass over many great opportunities because they don’t look big enough. They pass over the seeds looking for the tree.

And we didn’t tell them that it’s their job to turn the seed into a tree, or how much work it takes to help it grow.

When you’re weaned on that Hollywood trope where the unpopular underdog finds his true voice and astonishes the whole world at once with his specialness, it’s hard to appreciate that a life of service and perseverance pays off after decades of faithfulness. And that your truly important work may not be publicly applauded. And we sure don’t teach them to wait for the true evaluation of all things in an eternal context.

When you are presented with one pre-packaged, market-researched, airbrushed life-paradigm-on-DVD after another, it’s difficult to imagine designing your own particular life. Or that achieving that life might be a struggle requiring all the discernment and wisdom you can mine from deep within the earth.

Being an adult was the first responsibility human beings were given–it was what we were to do in an ideal world. The first people were created as adults, and they were immediately given important (not token) responsibility.  Then they were commanded to produce offspring, become a family, and pass on their heritage to future people. (Read Genesis 1.) Do we still need people to do that in a world which is fallen, less than ideal?  A thousand times more.

It might be wise to look at that story again, and consider why the first people were told to work, create a family, and multiply.  Here is wisdom which has entirely escaped our modern culture.  More on this at another time.

Maybe the essence of adulthood is taking responsibility for other people besides yourself. Our young people have been persuaded that it is their untouchable entitlement to avoid having responsibility for other people. And that for sure, to create other little people to have responsibility for is an unbearable burden. This they learned from us also.

I once heard a mother my age liken having a child to being hit by a bus, in a room full of listening teenage girls.

A child is incomplete. A child blooms into an adult. The adult is the manifestation of the person; what a human becomes is an adult.  It is not dependent children, but adults, who pay, build, buy, reproduce more people; teach, disciple, preach, build a heritage. Adults perpetuate the culture. Not loner overgrown teenagers pursuing hobbies really well.

We have promoted the idea that adulthood consists of completing an education and establishing a career identity. At the same time, we have taught our kids that establishing and building a family is one of a handful of options available to an individual in order to maximize his own happiness. It is an optional preference, not a responsibility. They owe nothing to no one. Oh, except money to the government.

What is left for them to do?  They become atomized individuals forever avoiding commitment of any kind, habitually suspicious of joining anything or anyone in any relationship that they won’t be able to back out of. See: The American Family Is a Myth: Why Our National Moral Panic Must Stop.

Where is the vision?  Some of us grew up in home environments which were less favored with intentional Christian guidance, without solid Bible-believing churches for support, without spiritually-oriented families. And yet we somehow found a vision for the future which we acted upon.  Maybe we perceived fewer options, and maybe that was an advantage. Some of us achieved what we’d seen, perhaps others did not.  But the goals were there.

I’m absolutely sure that God is doing His side of communicating with our offspring just as much as He did with us. What is puzzling is that our young seem to be in limbo regardless of the degree of spiritual orientation.  I really have no answer for this.

I feel sympathy for them. Maybe the world we prepared them for is not the one they’re living in. When things don’t happen for them the way we promised, they are left wondering how to get from A to B. We told them that they were special, in a purely material context, but when the dramatic denouement doesn’t happen, they might feel irrelevant. I see a lot of young people who were given every advantage including good teaching still wandering through life unsure where to go, in practical terms as though it doesn’t matter what they do, and as though that is irrelevant.

That’s not hipster-irony, it’s true irony. It is tragic because each person is truly unique and infinitely valuable, and there really is a significant life of things worth doing for each and every one.

Our society has set them up.  We raised them on self-esteem, Disney romances and anime.  There is virtually nothing in their popular culture which promotes adult-sized goals or grown-up relationships. We sent them to schools and colleges where they were taught to design a life of single self-determination, like perpetual teenagers. These schools taught them that there is no intrinsic value in anything, and that the family is a man-made construct which has outlived its destructive usefulness. Why are we surprised that they are uninspired to set goals and unmotivated to reach?

College is quickly becoming little more than an albatross. I’m beginning to think it’s morally wrong to encourage our young people to go into debt to attend college, to cheer them on while they load burdens of crushing debt onto their backs. And that is what we are doing. There are few jobs waiting for them at the end of their college education, and we know it. Some of the majors our children are pursuing literally do not lead to jobs. They are too inexperienced to understand the enormity of the burden they are taking on. We do not describe to them the real-life toll taken on everyday life when one carries enormous debt. It’s difficult for us to visualize fifty-thousand dollars; do our children understand how much money that is?

Huge debt which will take them literally decades to repay. They will owe this money to the federal government now. Welcome to automatic government dependence, every single person who wants a college education!

Why does it matter? How long will young people have to put off  getting married, buying homes or even paying rent because they are thousands of dollars in debt?  How long will they delay starting families? What will be the long-term results of delaying family-building and home ownership? What will be the effect, culturally and economically, on our society?

They are not content.They know somethin’ ain’t right. But for more than one reason, it’s very hard to swim upstream.  Sure, it’s hard work to swim upstream, against the current.  But its much harder to recognize that you are being carried downstream when everyone around you is carried in the same current, and the stream is filled with relentless entertainment. First you have to know there’s something else to swim for.

We ought to encourage them to look at their lives in a starkly countercultural way. We ought to tell them that if establishing a career is your life’s goal, you should expect career outcomes. If you want a family outcome, be honest with yourself about it.  Be intentional and proactive about allowing family to happen.  Marriage is not something which just happens. If you have a goal of getting married and raising a family, you’ll have to act like it’s a goal, not a byproduct.

Creating a home, having children, nurturing a family, building a heritage–these are things we must do deliberately.

Lamentations 3:24-25 says: I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;     therefore I will wait for him.”

25 The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,     to the one who seeks him;

We should teach them to seek their portion. They are meant to have a place in the world that is their “portion”, their inheritance, from God. And they are expected to seek it, like a thirsty man seeks water in the desert.  Have we passed to them the skills to do that? Have we modeled the desire to do it?

Of course, if you want God’s portion, you’ll need to ask God about the particulars.

By encouraging our young people to pursue life as self-determined single atoms, we are encouraging them to bear burdens too great. Humans weren’t meant to be alone.  We are made for family support, family structure, family responsibility, family love and affection.        

For the Men in My Daughters’ Lives

The world we live in suggests, no, demands, that we conduct our marriages as though they are a perpetual power struggle. 50/50 and egalitarian marriages would have us counting beans and tallying scorecards the livelong day.

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

Real traditional marriage, not the caricature bandied about by its detractors, calls us to a higher place, and a better one. Love does not keep its eye on the balances to make sure my side of the scale isn’t heavier than yours. The Biblical model is one in which I stop defending my own interests and care more about my spouse’s; and care most about the sacred trust we’ve got called Our Marriage.

We are called to care for each other to a counterintuitive and astonishing degree. Self-sacrifice on both sides is the way of life called for in marriage.

In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.  “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. Ephesians 5:25

Lest you think this language is hyperbole, and that you probably won’t be called upon to put it into action unless you’re aboard the Titanic II, letting your wife get on the lifeboat while you remain on deck, let me assure you that you are living this every day. Or you’re not.

You are called to lay down your life for her, and she for you, every day.

As a wife I might do this by simply being kind and engaged with my husband when life is distracting and irritating. Or I might pour my effort into creating a warm and comfortable home, managing resources economically, doing my part in raising self-directed and wise children to adulthood, or promoting kind and considerate behavior. If you’re wondering why I call this “laying down your life”, you probably haven’t tried it.

As the man in the equation, one of the ways you can lay down your life is by taking care of your wife. Protect her, defend her. Speak up when she is disrespected. Your wife (or fiancé) is probably tough and tenacious, nevertheless, you ought to take care of her like she’s a fragile and precious treasure.

Protection is not based on the weakness or inability of the protected. We protect what we value. We protect our loved ones because they are ours; unique and irreplaceable.

Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered. I Peter 3:7

If someday you have children together, she will have the minute-by-minute responsibility to oversee your children.  She will be making decisions constantly on the minutiae of managing a household and X number of people all at various stages of development. At the same time, she must keep her reactions to the stress to herself, which requires wisdom, patience, perseverance, energy, selflessness. In practical terms she must think about them rather than herself throughout every day.

That last one is where you come in. Your responsibility is to think about her when she doesn’t have the luxury.  Guard her needs, her dignity, her health. You will look out for her while she looks out for the kids. Keep in mind that you must take this responsibility because she may not. Don’t wait for her to ask for help.

Each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. Ephesians 5:33

You say she’s the strong one? The one with the ideas? A driven career woman? Your job description doesn’t change.

Let’s not join in with the world’s nonsense thinking. Don’t ask her to do your job and hers.  Did you think managing and physically maintaining a home, and nurturing and raising children was not a full time job? Did she have lots of free time on her hands with nothing to do? Was she not pulling her weight? Or was that job not meaningful enough?

Each couple’s response to economic reality is personal, and I won’t second-guess a working wife’s wisdom.  But neither of you should buy into the new paradigm that leaves unquestioned the premise that women’s lives are only meaningful when they contribute their share to the world of work.

Please don’t ask her to do her job, and expect her to earn her half of the economic partnership. One career added to a 24/7/365 task is more burden than you can carry; why do you expect it of the one God calls the weaker vessel?

Remember in what way Jesus Christ “gave up his life for her”, the church. The Church is us, all of us who believe in Jesus as the Son of God, the Redeemer who died on the cross as a substitute for us sinners who deserve the punishment. He who was without sin willingly became the sin-bearer:

But he was pierced for our transgressions,
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
    and by his wounds we are healed.

He made himself utterly vulnerable; he did not protect or reserve himself.

He was oppressed and afflicted,
    yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
    and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
    so he did not open his mouth. Isaiah 53:7

He gave his life for her even when she didn’t understand or appreciate it. He did it because he had created her with infinite value and he had a claim on her; she was his. This was no selfish motive…her true home was with him, and to wander from home would be tragic and destructive for her.

He had created Her, yet he died to make her his own forever.

He gave to the uttermost; he gave everything for His Church, his Bride. What does this look like for a guy in his everyday life? How will you lay down your life for your bride?

Beauty from Ashes?

Beauty from ashes. The hopeful thought that something good can emerge from trials, or that something ugly can be transformed into something beautiful.

The phrase belies itself. “Ashes” are kind of a pretty image. Picture a humble muted-green bowl on a homey wooden kitchen table neatly filled with a casual pile of gray ashes lit by the natural sunlight of a wooden window with garden flowers in bottles on the ledge which looks out on sprawling farmland.

We women have a tick, a habit, a default behavior. It is to turn every disagreeable thing into a pretty thing. We must make all ashes into beauty ASAP. Every ugly thing must be subjected to a makeover. If it’s beautiful we can live with it.

But ashes aren’t really ugly. There are much uglier and messier things than ashes. Everyday life presents us with the mundane forms of ugly: dirt, grime, disorder. Endless little urgent tasks which seem to add up to a pointless waste of time. Tending other people’s sicknesses. Tending other people’s felt needs til multitasking is an understatement. Futile wastes of our precious effort.

The woman who has suffered tragic loss knows that there are things that come into our lives without our permission which are irredeemably ugly. There is no reconciliation with the sudden death of someone you can’t live without. You cannot put a happy face over the long, slow suffering which ends relationship in death. As hard as we try, we cannot make it right.

But someone always tells us to try.

In book studies, ministry gatherings, and all sorts of supportive gatherings for our mutual womanhood, we are constantly asked to expose our pain, replay our disappointments and hurts for one another. I wonder about the wisdom of these exercises. But the next step is where it gets really puzzling.

Poetic language is used to pretty up the tragic. Generic but hokey prettiness papers over the truly ugly.  “Christ is transforming all….” we are told. We are clearly asked to live with the ugly by seeing something beautiful in it. Christ is changing ugliness into beauty? Scripture reference please?

Do we not realize that art can turn the evil into the picturesque? The snow-like ashes floating down from the smokestack of the concentration camp crematorium in the black-and white film. The twisted motorcycle on the ground and the shattered lens of the glasses. These images are symbols, substitutes for the horrible destruction because to see the real thing would make us gasp, shrink and scream.

But life is not art. We have to live with the real tragedy which nothing can redeem as beautiful. We have to look at the death, the cruelty, the crushing loss, usually without being able to comprehend the reasons. Some things are ugly and no mind game is going to change that. We must call ugly ugly, tragic tragic, and evil evil. We cannot confront them and resolve our attitude toward them if we fool ourselves about what they are.

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How does that prettifying advice sound to the Rwandan women who watched their neighbors go insane one day and pull out machetes to kill everyone in their neighborhood? To the victim of childhood abuse? To any woman in the third world whose life is eaten up simply getting enough food for her family to get through another day?

I’ll tell you how: silly, privileged. Even I don’t have time to sit and worry about whether things are pretty.

Alright, I’ll play. We’ll skip over the Scripture search and allow that Jesus can change something ugly (we won’t define what we mean by ugly here) into something beautiful (we won’t define that either). I’m sure He can. But maybe a better question would be: how does Christ change ugly into beautiful?

The question is asked: when did Christ see something as beautiful when everyone else saw a mess?  The answers are given: the woman at well, the woman about to be stoned. Everyone else saw an ugly sinner, but Jesus saw the real person and how valuable and beautiful she was. He affirmed her.

But that’s not what happened. He loved and valued her; that’s true. He loved her better than anyone ever had. He saw her infinitely intrinsic value, broken and marred. Her beauty flawed because of the choices she had embraced. It grieved him.

Then, because he loved her, He did the only loving thing. He saw her sin, and named it sin. In order for transformation to happen, the woman had to agree that she was ugly and sinful. She had to want to disown her sin. She had to humble herself under his judgment and accept His remedy. Then there could be forgiveness, reconciliation, transformation.  These women were told to leave their ugliness behind and sin no more. Then there was real beauty.

He did not dress ugly up and call it beautiful. He told her that He and sin could never be reconciled, and asked her to choose. He changed the truly ugly into something beautiful, as only He can. There is an important difference.

If there is beauty, we find it in spite of the ugliness. One doesn’t replace the other, or the distinction is lost.

The sloppy definition of “beauty” is a problem here. At first it means pretty, then it means popular or desirable. Then it means intrinsically valuable. Then it means righteous. Then it means an ugly thing in which I can somehow find some value anyway. Or something.

Should we value things on the basis of their beauty? We are called to something much better: discernment as to whether things are righteous, true, and holy; or evil, unrighteous and polluted. Discerning between the two poles, and all grades between, is absolutely essential. We are to answer the call to use the two weapons we have against deception: our critical thinking, and the indwelling Holy Spirit.

Then we are called to agree with God’s evaluation.

We are responsible to discern, prove, think. We are nowhere called to evaluate beauty. I’m afraid we are favoring the one over the other. Discernment requires us to apply intelligence, wisdom, and whether we honor God.  Evaluation of beauty makes our feelings of first importance.

So bring on the upbeat alternative Christian-ish music, but instead of  the sunlight dancing across the floor, the homey garden flowers on the breakfast table, the healthy people running up the picturesque hill, or the down-to-earth rock stars surfing, their hair wet, their eyes laughing; show me the very unpretty things we really do all our days.  Don’t show me the rarefied, or even the sadly poetic.

Because I’m listening to the music while I look down at my hands washing the 134th dish of the day. I’m reaching my hand into some slimy garbage so the water can go down the drain.  I’m cleaning up someone’s vomit who didn’t make the toilet.  I’m sitting in an office waiting way too long for an appointment. I’m taking an unexpected drive to pick someone up who still doesn’t understand that I can’t say no, no matter how much I need sleep. I’m reeling from a mutual failure of understanding between me and one of my kids, wiped out from another emotional clash.

I’m waking up at 4 a.m. and lying there thinking about what the relentless future is likely to accomplish upon my children. I’m besieged with the Things I Have Failed to Teach Them and wondering if I still have time, or whether they’ll still listen.

If the video makes sense to the devastated woman whose whole family has been murdered; to the young girl who’s been sold by her parents to spend her youth working at a loom, a defacto slave; or to anyone else whose life seems to have become nightmare, then it makes real sense.

If we claim to have Biblically-inspired advice to give, it must work for everyone everywhere, or it’s worthless. Worse yet, it’s a lie. If it’s only true when my problems aren’t so bad, but it’s silly when I meet tragedy, it doesn’t work at all. Because really awful things usually reveal what remains steadfast when the pretty pictures become ironic.

 

 

 

The End of the Honeymoon?

I have a complaint about this concept of the “end of the honeymoon.” I hear from all parts that inevitable disappointment awaits every bride after she has been married awhile. That all women feel it after the newness has worn off. When we are advised to adjust our unrealistic expectations. When we are advised to resign ourselves to his shortcomings.

Oh, I didn’t realize he was a human being. Why didn’t anyone tell me? It’s never supposed to occur to me that he might be noticing my shortcomings now too.

Christian sources tell us to make the best of our now permanently lowered expectations. Elisabeth Elliot, I suspect charitably attempting to meet women where they are, offered this advice:

A wife at that stage of marriage realizes this is not exactly the man she envisioned before the wedding ceremony. This person whom she thought was a prize package has turned out to be a surprise package. But the more you can offset the differences in your personalities and the way you respond to each other, the more you can learn to enjoy this man.

My husband once made the statement: “If a woman conceded the fact that her husband was perhaps up to 80 percent of her expectations, she ought to consider herself very lucky.” Still, what’s she going to do with the other 20 percent?

You can pick away at that 20 percent for the rest of your life, but you’re not going to reduce it by very much. One of the secrets of a good marriage is learning to accept with gladness the 80 percent you’ve got.

I have been married to my husband for 31 years and I seem to have missed the Disappointment Memo.

I am no idiot, I’m no marriage genius, and I’m just as human as anybody else. There are no rose-colored glasses. He is not perfect. He’s human.

We have been through the same sorts of challenges which are common to most marriages, as well as our own particular troubles. Undiagnosed chronic illness which included nine months in bed and all the attendant emotions and turmoil. We’ve raised six extraordinary and sometimes emotionally difficult people. (Sorry kids.) We’ve experienced extended unemployment, financial stress, depressions, sorrows, disappointments, and cosmic bewilderment.

We’ve seen each other at our worst. In marriage, this is absolutely inevitable. When you get married, you make a choice to face a future containing the most stressful, emotionally difficult times you will ever experience. You will work side-by-side at a life full of responsibilities that will be as much as you can bear. More than you bear; you will be overwhelmed. You will see the worst of each other.

How did we do this without becoming disappointed? You’ll have to ask him for his answer; I guarantee it will reflect well on him. How have I avoided disappointment?

It’s very simple. I never wanted to go there.  I did not WANT to be disappointed. I did not want to believe negatives about him.  I didn’t give myself the opportunity.  It was intuitive and automatic.  I didn’t think about it—I just did not do it.

WHY would I want to think that my companion for life was a disappointment? It sounds self-defeating to me.

I did not want to believe that I was better than him.

For a short-term feeling of superiority, we will plant seeds of discontent in our own gardens. God gives us the person he created to be our spouse from the foundation of the world, moves heaven and earth to help us find each other, and we choose to be disappointed.

Ah, but that little thing we can feel superior about…we can replay it over and over in our minds. We can relish that feeling of outrage and self-righteousness again and again.  It’s really worth it, right?

Meanwhile, we can ever-so-slightly pull away from him, allowing that self-interested item to build a little wall between us. We can feel OK about not respecting him, on this issue at least.  We’re justified. We’re being realistic. Because it would be foolish not to see it, right?

Foolish it is. Don’t I acknowledge that I have become ONE with my husband? I chose him. We two have become one, at once both a hardly-comprehensible mystical union formed by the hand of God, and a practical, functional team toiling about the real business of daily life on Earth.

How do I believe that, live it, and yet step aside and pull for myself, against him? It’s one way or the other.