The Calling of a Coach’s Wife

My friend Beth wrote a post about how being a coach’s wife is more than a title; it’s a calling.

I happen to disagree with that (Beth has read this and supports it; we’ve had a great conversation privately about it).

But first, there is a lot in Beth’s post that I do agree with, so let’s start there. We also run a lot through the “football filter;” this is why we pretty much only travel in July, and nobody expects us to be able to do much during the fall, unless maybe there is a bye-week. 

I also have helped 1 my husband a lot. I have created season highlight videos, managed social media, made travel arrangements, cooked meals for players…and probably a lot more I can’t even remember at this point. I have attended almost all the home games he’s had, and have been supportive. I am happy to help with some things as needed, and when I can make the time to do it.

But it isn’t my calling.

The topics of identity and calling are of high interest to me, and I’ve written and spoken on them before. In a recent talk I gave on calling, I explained that our callings can actually come and go; we don’t necessarily have one specific calling in life, but we can have multiple callings in our lives. My understanding of calling comes primarily from Frederick Buechner, who says:

The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.

Beth writes:

“God does not make mistakes, and he has created you for the life you are currently living. He is not surprised you married a coach, even if you are.”

I fully agree God isn’t surprised I married a coach. But that doesn’t mean God called me to marry a coach, and even if someone is called to do this, while it might be a description of her life, it’s not a prescription for all of us.

People choose to get married for different reasons and love usually has something to do with it, regardless of the career paths each person chooses to take. I was a little surprised Beth “knew exactly what [she] was getting into” because I certainly didn’t! I had some general ideas that there would be long hours and job changes and moving involved, but I had no idea of any of the ramifications of those.

I’ve since learned what it can mean, like what resigning “to pursue other opportunities” or “spend more time with family” actually means, that when people say a win-loss record isn’t important that they actually mean the opposite, and that most people outside the staff and the staff’s families have next to no understanding about what coaching is like.

But at 22, I didn’t know any of that.

I didn’t know the anger and resentment of having my life turned upside down by people making decisions for me that were out of my control. I didn’t know the heartache of leaving people and places I’d grown to love.

No, I certainly didn’t get into it knowing what it would entail in full.

I also wouldn’t change it.

It’s taken me to places I’d never have gone on my own, introduced me to people I’d have never met on my own, and given me experiences–good and bad–that I’d never have chosen on my own. I’ve learned and grown through all of it.

Now, maybe there are some women out there who do believe they are uniquely called to be a coach’s wife. I’m not going to judge someone else’s calling. This should be considered carefully, though, because what happens if her spouse decides to quit coaching? If her identity and calling is so wrapped up in this one particular career of his, that could be cause for concern. But if your deep gladness meets the needs of the football program, maybe you do have a calling, though maybe not for life, and if your husband leaves coaching and you still have a calling to be involved in a football program, what then?

A few years ago when I spoke at a MOPS group, the topic the women wanted to hear about was how to be a better wife.

I said there were a ton of marriage advice books out there, and that we’d all heard the advice to have a date night, but that what I thought was important was understanding that:

“we are not only wives and mothers.  We are our own unique selves, created by God with interests, passions, abilities, and gifts that sometimes do not fit into that mold, and we should learn to be able to celebrate who God created us to be”

Beth also wrote something similar in her post as well.

But if we continue to think that being a coach’s wife is the calling, we can miss out on so much more that God has in store for us!

One way to start finding out is these 4 questions my friend Andy from Align Coaching uses:

  • What are you good at? (what talents have others recognized in you?)
  • What makes you curious? (what do you want to know more about?)
  • What are you passionate about? (what do you believe in deeply or what are you concerned about?)
  • What do you find exhausting yet exhilarating? (what drains you in the best way possible?)

I could be wrong, but I’m not sure anyone really can answer those as leading to being a coach’s wife anymore than the answers can lead to being the spouse of a doctor, teacher, electrician, or plumber. And if that’s the case, then how is being a coach’s wife a calling, if it is not necessarily a calling to be the wife to someone in any other profession?

And in answering those questions, we might find out that those answers may not fit into the myriad of duties that coaches wives take on. We may find out that there is so much more to us than we ever realized, and we owe it to ourselves to explore that and truly know who God created us to be.

A person’s calling isn’t dependent on another person’s calling; it’s dependent on what God calls us to be and to do. My husband would never say he’s called to be a writer’s husband. So why should I think I am specifically called to be a coach’s wife?

What we can do is explore how we live out our callings within this particular lifestyle that we’ve chosen. That’s actually much harder and more nuanced. Moving means losing jobs and finding new ones; there is a lot of sacrifice involved, there is a lot of reevaluating, there is a lot of confusion.

There’s also a lot of opportunity.

Each of us has our own lives to be lived, each of us has our own callings to pursue, and this lifestyle can enhance that in unique ways; we just have to do the work to figure it out.

 

 

1Please note “helper” does not mean subservient to or less than, but I can’t go into detail here. For an easy-to-read treatment of this, see this post.

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Cleaning Out the Mess

I’m not a morning person, never have been. The only reason I get up is because that’s what responsible adults have to do. I don’t roll out of bed happy and ready to meet the day; I get out of bed ready to meet my coffee.

I do, however, enjoy sleeping with the windows open to let in the fresh air. Unfortunately, along with the fresh air comes the songs of the birds at four in the morning.

Since I had slept very well and didn’t feel too groggy, I decided to get up since there wasn’t going to be any more sleeping that morning. I got some coffee, read and journalled about Falling Upward, thought about the concept of “necessary suffering” and posted my Instagram post about the death of my daffodils and birth of my lilacs.

Around six, I decided I should go outside and do some yard work.

There’s a lot of work to be done and I decided to work on the small area by my lilac tree. As I bent down to clean out some of the dead leaves from the fall that surrounded it, I saw new growth coming from the bottom. Last year, I had pruned it, but I didn’t think I’d pruned anything there; I thought it was only up much higher that I’d pruned, and I had often looked at it thinking that it was kind of a waste that the flowers were all up so high and there weren’t any lower.

Now, someday, there will be.

I am excited to see how this lilac tree will continue to flourish with pruning that it needs to be able to do so.

I started cleaning out all the leftover fall leaves from behind the lilacs and a hedge. It seemed like a relatively unimportant place to cleanup; it’s not that visible unless you are actually out in the backyard looking at the back of the house. You can’t see it when you’re sitting in the sunroom and it’s not like it’s the front of the house where any neighbors and cars passing can see.

But the hedge is potentially dying; I’m not sure if it will recover or not, and if it is dying it’ll need to be removed. If it’s removed, it’ll reveal the mess and ugliness behind it if I don’t clean it up first.

We all have something hidden within us that needs to be cleaned up. We all have something that needs to be pruned. We just don’t really want to do it because it’s messy, hard work.

It’s also necessary.

Pruning takes away what is dying and holding us back. It takes away that unnecessary stuff we carry around. And when we can finally get rid of it, we have more room to grow and bloom; we will be more who and what we are meant to be, not the decaying mess that we find due to the neglect of our hearts and souls and lives.

And like the lilac tree, we might see growth in places we never expected.

 

When the Darkness Lifts

The last five months have been hard. Life’s been in upheaval; there have been questions and concerns and answers were slow to come. My writing–and my motivation to write–has dried up, as it often does during stressful and uncertain times (except for my journalling, which isn’t for public reading until I can look back on it with a better perspective). It’s felt fairly dark and dreary. I’ve tried to fight it; to make myself move on and get over it. But moving on can’t be forced. and sometimes you just have to ride it out and see what happens.

Yesterday was the last Sunday for our pastor and his wife to be here before they move to Illinois for their retirement. This last day reminded me of my own last day before I moved where I currently live, and my own last sermon from my last job in ministry and how appropriate it still is to me today, since I am also about to move to Illinois. With a sick kid the night before, I almost didn’t make it to this last day celebration, but thankfully I did, and while the tribute to our pastor was great, there was more to it than that.

I’m not much of a singer and even less of a hand-raiser, but this morning, for the first time in a long time, I actually did both. It’s not like it was a new song or anything; we’ve sang “Exalted” enough times before and I knew the words well and could close my eyes and sing.

And something changed.

I felt a tiny shift, somehow, as if the darkness and anger and sadness is lifting. I know there is a future with hope.

It’s just that getting there is often fraught with difficulty.

In the devotional I wrote in the NIV Bible for Women, I said that sometimes God’s presence is like sunlight hiding behind a thick gray fog. Sometimes, that fog takes a very long time to lift. Sometimes, it feels as if it will never lift. It takes a great deal of energy to even get through it. That darkness is real and is different for all of us. We often ignore this in the church. Our music is often about being happy and joyful; we don’t hear sermons about Lamentations or the Psalms of Lament. Ignoring that darkness collectively as we do can make us individually feel as if there is something wrong with us. Sometimes we try so hard to force the darkness to lift. Pray more. Have more “quiet time.” Read the Bible more. Do more. Do more. Do more. But God doesn’t often work in the ways that we want or in our timeframe.

In 2 Corinthians 12:7-9 Paul asked for a thorn to be removed three times. God didn’t do it.

Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.

The funny thing is that while Paul seems content to hear God’s no and turn the thorn–whatever it was–into a way of experiencing God’s grace, I rarely–if ever?–hear about anyone boasting of their weaknesses now. We talk about how we only need faith the size of a mustard seed, or that we shouldn’t doubt, or that we should always feel God’s presence, or always be happy. It’s as if we expect our thorns to disappear if we just do more or ask enough or believe enough or have faith enough. We don’t see weakness as a strength; we don’t see weakness as a way of Christ dwelling in us.

But what if our questions, our doubts, our fears, the darkness in which we walk and in which we may not feel God’s presence, is a weakness similar to Paul’s thorns?

If we look back to Genesis, when creation was in chaos, it was in chaos until God stepped in. And God said let there be light and there was light…GOD said. The chaos didn’t say,”I need to make a change in my life” or “I need to pray harder” or “I need to read my Bible more.” The chaos was in chaos until God brought order out of it.

What if instead of trying to force our own outcome, we trusted that God knows chaos of our lives, as well as the outcome, and is leading us to it? What if, instead of trying to work hard to get rid of it because we think it means we aren’t faithful enough, we trusted God through it instead?

Looking at the Future with Fear & Trust

It’s a new year. People are inspired to make resolutions, set goals, or choose a word to define their upcoming year. I don’t feel that settled to be able to do that. I’m not good at goal setting or resolutions and I don’t even remember if I chose a word for last year.

There was a Facebook app I clicked on a few weeks ago that promised to give me a word to define my upcoming year, based on my typing my name. Very scientific. It told me my word was “Future.” Now, I’m sure there are a lot of other people who randomly got a word assigned to them, but I really liked this random choice. It fits well, since at the moment, my future is more uncertain than I’d like it to be.

It always, is, of course. None of us can predict the future, and life circumstances and events can quickly change the plans we make whether we are ready for it or not.

As I was journaling today in my new journaling planner I created for myself for this year, I started thinking about Exodus (as that is the suggested reading I have for today). When we read about it, we often think of it in terms of how great God is for rescuing Israel from slavery and when they are free and want to return, we can’t quite understand why.

We should understand though. Even though their circumstances were that of slavery and oppression, they were comfortable because life was always the same. After God delivered them, life, though free, became very, very uncertain.

I’m getting ahead of myself though, as none of that is actually what is covered in today’s scriptures.

In Exodus 1:1-6:1, we have Moses, whose life was saved from being murdered, who was raised in Pharoah’s household, who fled after killing an Egyptian, who God met in a burning bush. We have the midwives, who defied Pharoah and let the boys live. We have Moses’ mother (Yocheved), who hid him for three months and then put him in a basket on the Nile to save him. We have Moses’ sister (Miriam) who waited to see what would happen. We have Pharaoh’s daughter who found him. We have Moses’ wife, Zipporah, who insisted on circumcising their son. we have Jethro and Aaron and Pharoah and all the Israelites.

What we have are a variety of individuals, each with their own lives, hopes, dreams, and stories, all living an interconnected life, taking action despite not knowing what would happen. The midwives risked Pharoah’s wrath in order to let the boys live, as God was more important to them than Pharoah. Yocheved risked keeping Moses alive. Fear was most certainly a part of what they were feeling, despite that they likely also trusted they were doing the right thing.

I think we either forget about that or miss it–we talk about not having fear, about perfect love driving out fear, of not really trusting God if we are afraid. But fear is also a part of life, too, and I wonder if the trust and obedience of these people would be as amazing if fear and risk didn’t play a part in what they did. I don’t think it would. They feared and they trusted despite not knowing the details of their future, despite only having promises they didn’t necessarily know how they would turn out.

And so, as I think about and read Exodus over the next few weeks, I want to realize that looking back on it from my own perspective takes away from the story. I may know their future, but they do not. And that’s something I can relate to. Can’t we all?

 

Time Doesn’t Heal All Wounds and Everything Doesn’t Happen for a Reason

They say that time heals all wounds. That’s a lie.

When I was six years old, I sliced open my left foot in a freak accident while riding my bike. More than thirty years later, I still have a scar. The skin is thinner there, and, I suspect, more vulnerable to another cut than other parts of my body where the skin is thicker and there are no scars. I’m also not a believer in “everything happens for a reason,” as if the reason everything happens is a good one. Sometimes, it’s not. It’s better and more nuanced to say that despite the bad that occurs, there can be lessons learned and good can come from it.

Our wounds are many; grief comes into our lives in many forms. In the beginning, it often seems as if we will never get through it. Time passes, and we think life is returning to a new normal and that we’re getting over our pain. But then something happens to rip the wound wide open again, and we are faced with the same feelings of sadness, despair, and anger that we thought we had left behind. They are still there, lurking below the surface, erupting when we least expect them. Sometimes, we’re trapped in them, as water freezes and stays as ice for a time.

I’ve been teaching a class at church on Luke’s gospel this fall, and this past Wednesday we came to chapter 21 in which Jesus talks to his disciples about the future destruction of Jerusalem. He warns them about arrests, persecution, wars, betrayal, hatred, distress, fear.

Sounds like what a lot of us feel is happening in the world today, and what many people feel in their own individual lives.

But then in verse 28, he says, “Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

In other words, don’t be afraid, don’t cower, don’t hide. In order to get to what is better, face the difficult stuff head on. It will get better.

My life feels very difficult right now (though not nearly as difficult as the sufferings that many people are facing) and it is easy to want to crawl back into bed and go back to sleep in the morning instead of getting up and facing the day, to feel as if the ice will never melt.

But as I read those words of Jesus and taught them to my class, I realized how applicable they were to my own life right now. Jesus doesn’t promise us that life is pain-free, even though as we’d rather it be that way. He does tells us that there’s a way through it, and the result is redemption. The ice will melt, water will flow, life will come again.

 

The Sign of the Blue Jeep

I recently reread a novel in which the protagonist believes in various signs to tell her what to do, such as when she rolled a die, got a 3, and took it as a sign to drive for three tanks of gas, no more and no less, and that would be the place she should live.

I’ve never been much of a believer in signs, as I’ve always thought they are very much left open to interpretation and not very reliable. I’ve been thinking about them lately, though, as one of the Advent readings for last week mentioned signs:

There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars…” (from Luke 21:25)

While that section of Luke is one of foreboding and warning, it started me thinking about other times in the Bible that signs are used. There are a lot. Here is just a sampling:

And God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. –Genesis 1:14-15

God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.–Genesis 9:12-13

 

You yourself are to speak to the Israelites: “You shall keep my sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, given in order that you may know that I, the LORD, sanctify you. –Exodus 31:13

 

There was one time, though, that I did get a sign of something to come. I wasn’t necessarily looking for this sign specifically, and I certainly didn’t ask for a sign. It is in my mind now, though, because it is advent, and because we are waiting, again.

Four years ago, we were also waiting.

The summer or two prior to that time, my son had spent a great deal of time playing with the granddaughter of our neighbors down the street, and it included a lot of driving her pink Barbie Jeep. He wanted his own Jeep, though, and was very specific: Mommy, I want a blue Jeep. Well, Mommy pretty much said no, because Mommy wasn’t about to spend that amount of money on a brand new toy Jeep. With cold and snow, the Jeep was mostly forgotten, and given up for inside toys.

Then one day, a few days prior to Christmas, I walked into our local thrift store. When I entered, sitting right in front of me was a like-new blue Jeep, priced very nicely. I didn’t buy it that day, but promised myself that if we heard about my husband’s potential new job before Christmas, I would come back and buy it for the kids.

They’ve gotten a lot of use out of that blue Jeep over the last four years.

And so, this year, I wait again, and again waiting and wondering and not knowing is difficult. Having to actually trust God instead of just saying I trust God is also very difficult. I don’t know what my blue Jeep will be this time, or even if there will be a sign. I only hope if there is, that I recognize and embrace it.

Is the Good News Really Good News?

We’re now halfway through the class I am teaching at church about Luke’s gospel. Six weeks. Twelve chapters. A lot of questions. The biggest question of all that I have is “Do we really take this seriously?” For all our talk about the importance of Jesus and the Bible, I’m not sure we really do.
In chapter four of Luke’s gospel, Jesus makes two statements that frame his entire ministry:

And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” –Luke 4:16-21

But he said, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.” –Luke 4:43

 

As we have journeyed through this gospel, we have come back to those statements again and again and again. Jesus is pretty clear on his purpose, his mission, what he is called to do. And twice, when he sends out his 12 disciples and then when he sends out 70, he is pretty clear on what he expects them to do: to preach the kingdom and to heal.

 

To preach the kingdom and to heal.

 

What do we preach today? We preach self-help. We preach that we’re the in-crowd because we are the ones that know Jesus (we may want to take a look at what Jesus has to say to the in-crowd). We preach that if we just follow these certain steps that life will improve for us. We preach that going to church on Sunday and being a member of a church is community.

 

In our class, we’ve learned that the good news isn’t necessarily good news for everyone. Oh, sure, today we say it is–we say God loves everyone (and I believe God does). But if we look at what Jesus is saying and doing and who is threatened by his actions, we see something very different. When the prisoners have freedom and the blind see and the oppressed are released, yes, that is good news for them. But it isn’t good news for those who are keeping people in prison, for those who are causing blindness, and for those who are doing the oppressing of people.
I’ve had people say in class, “why haven’t I ever learned this before?” and “I’ve been in church my whole life and I’ve never been taught this” and “Pastors know all of this; they’ve studied it; why don’t they teach us?”

 

I don’t know the answers to that for sure, but I can only guess.

 

We don’t learn this way because it’s harder, and in our entertainment-focused, instant-everything culture that yes, even our churches are attracted to, we don’t often look at or study the big picture that we see. We don’t learn this because it is a threat to those of us who are in power–even if we don’t even realize we are in power. We don’t learn it because it doesn’t really attract people to come to church to hear it.

 

But if this is the good news that Jesus is preaching, shouldn’t we pay attention?

 

We’re moving on this week to the costs of discipleship and who gets invited to the banquet and why–more challenging chapters. I only hope we can all be courageous enough to be introspective and ask ourselves how we really can apply this to our lives.

Is Your Light Shining or Blinding?

The other day, I sat in the chilly morning air on my deck, coffee in hand. It was still dark out, but as I sat in the quiet of the early morning, somewhere behind me the sun was rising and the darkness was fading.

It struck me, at that moment, how gradual it was. Now, that’s pretty obvious to everyone, but noticing it at that particular moment turned my thoughts to references to light in the Bible.

Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. –Genesis 1:3-4

I’ve always thought of this as God turning on a blinding light so that everything was bright right away (and maybe it was–we don’t actually know from the text), but what if it was more of a gradual light? After all, the sun, moon, and stars have yet to be created. We also see that God separated the light from the darkness. In order to be separated, they had to be intertwined somehow, didn’t they?

And then we see references to God’s call to Israel to be a light to the nations, Jesus’ reference to being the light of the world, as well as his words to his disciples to be the light of the world:

I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, –Isaiah 42:6

“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” –Isaiah 49:6

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” –John 8:12

“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. –Matthew 5:14-16

This isn’t a new theme we’ve never heard about before; sermon after sermon has been preached on the subject. Children sing “this little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.” But do we ever stop to wonder just how bright we should be? If we are driving down a dark road and our headlights are on high and a car approaches from the opposite direction, we turn them down so as to not blind the other driver. On a bright sunny day, we don’t turn them on at all. Different situations can call for different levels of light.

I’m afraid though, when it comes to sharing our faith or being a light of the world, we tend to only think of being a bright light instead of thinking situationally. If our light beams are always on high, chances are sometimes it will blind people, and sometimes it will have no effect. Perhaps we would do well to think about varying the strength of our light depending on the circumstances in which we find ourselves. One person may only need a simple flicker of light in his or her life, another may only need a spotlight, still another may need all the lamps on in the house. It might be that someone needs a constant, dim presence, like a night light in a child’s bedroom while another person can get through the dark night and wait until morning without being afraid.

Sometimes, we’re too afraid of the dark, but without it, we would never see the stars.

 

“All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.” ― Francis of Assisi, The Little Flowers of St. Francis of Assisi

It Is Well With My Soul…Except When It Is Not

I’m not much of a singer (cue my sisters and mother laughing knowingly) and most of the time, really don’t care much for music. For weeks, maybe months now, I’ve stood still in church during singing time, sipping coffee, looking at my watch, leaving to go to the bathroom or get a drink, or simply sitting down and reading my Bible or writing in my journal. Often, I find I am bored singing what seems to be endlessly repeated choruses, and I have wondered if it even makes a difference when the congregation sings because most of the time all we can actually hear is the band. It has a feeling of singing in community but not singing in community, because the community aspect is masked. Sure, we’re there, we’re participating, but for me, I often find something lacking. I understand and appreciate that many, many, many people are touched by music and love to sing praises to God. I’m just not one of them.

And so yesterday was fairly normal for me, until the song at the end of the service. We sang “It Is Well With My Soul.” The music was softer and not overwhelming the congregation and I found myself singing along. I could actually hear my own and others’ voices for a change.

It is well with my soul, I sang, and I thought, “hmmm…I think it is.”

Choosing hymns and praise songs for church is not random; there is a lot of thought that goes into what songs to sing because they should blend well with the topic of the sermon (yesterday was about reconciliation). They are often meant to make us feel good, to give us hope, to help us feel joyful.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t always work. We cannot force ourselves to feel at peace and joyful. Earlier, I’d seen a man standing with arms crossed, bored and/or angry expression on his face. I suspect all was not well with his soul, and I felt badly that he had to participate in something that was obviously not what he was experiencing.

I don’t think we should have these expectations that life is always great once we come to know Jesus. Even Jesus himself told us how difficult it could be to follow him. Do we not believe him?

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. –Matthew 16:24-25

Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. –Matthew 19:21-22

“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me” –Matthew 24:9

And we see just how difficult it can be for even one of Jesus’ closest disciples to follow him:

Then he began to call down curses on himself and he swore to them, “I don’t know the man!” Immediately a rooster crowed. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: “Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly. –Matthew 26:74-75

That night that Peter betrayed Jesus and wept bitterly, I doubt he could have sung “it is well with my soul.” Instead, perhaps, these verses from Psalms are what came to mind:

But I am a worm, and not human; scorned by others, and despised by the people. –Psalm 22:6

I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping.–Psalm 6:6

If one of Jesus’ original twelve disciples, someone who spent an extraordinary amount of time with him, has a hard time following him, why do we expect it should be easy for us? Where do we get the idea that no matter what, it should always be well with our souls (other than the song lyrics telling us that)?

Yesterday, I would not have been able to sing that song if everything was not well with my soul at that particular moment in time. Maybe a few weeks ago, I couldn’t have sung it. Maybe next week I won’t be able to sing it. We have ups and downs in life, and the process of our souls becoming well is just that–a process. It’s not instantaneous and it doesn’t always stay at the same level, for a myriad of reasons. Sometimes, it’s like having the flu, healing from it, but still having a lingering cough.

Maybe we should just admit that it is not well with our souls…and despite that, there’s hope that it will pass. But would we sing that in church?

When You Have “Quiet Time,” but not Silence

The other day, Frank Viola posted this on his Facebook page and asked for some responses.

Just got an email from someone who complained about Christians in their 20s and 30s. If you’re in your 20s or 30s, read this and answer the question I ask below. I won’t give away who this person is, though they are well known.

“Hi Frank. I read your survey results for Christians in their 20s & 30s and your Tale of Two Young Men blog post. I’m impressed with your Deeper Christian Life Network and signed up to register when it goes live. But I differ with you on something. I have a large discipleship mailing list and what I’ve found is that very few Christians in their 20s and 30s care about the deeper things like living by Christ’s indwelling life and God’s eternal purpose. My mailing list caters to deeper matters and discipleship, but 80% are people in their 50s, 60s and 70s. Only a handful are 20s and 30s. In my experience, and I speak in conferences like you do, the 20s and 30s Christians are only into the celebrity preachers who teach pablum and into their own lives with no hunger for the Lord. I doubt many of them would be interested in your Deeper Life Network. Don’t take that as a criticism because the network site looks amazing.”

Okay, let’s ONLY hear from my FB friends who are in your 20s or 30s. Is he wrong where YOU are concerned … are YOU interested in the deeper things of Christ?

This struck a chord with me because I am interested in deeper things, for sure (though I’m close to the end of the age limit). However, I think one reason many people in this age group are not (or appear not to be) is due to this age group being the age where they are parents of young children. It is extremely difficult to have time in silence and prayer and journaling and reflection. It also may not be that they aren’t interested, but rather that they are just overwhelmed. So the catchy, sound-bite stuff is what they take because it’s all they can handle at the moment.

Then, once we get used to that, we think that’s all there is. It’s about 3 ways to worship or 5 ways to simplify your life or some other type of numbered list that makes it seem as if a relationship with God is just that simple and straightforward.

A sermon series on the prophet Isaiah? Unheard of. It would be “too boring” or “too complex” or there wouldn’t be enough “application.” Because why would we want to know what Isaiah may have actually had in mind when he wrote:

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. –Isaiah 7:14

when we can just assume that the only explanation is the one that Matthew uses in his gospel? Why delve any deeper when we’ve had children’s Sunday school lessons to explain it all to us?

Here’s another example. I was at a Bible study one time and it was at the start of one of the NT books. I commented about the authorship and the person leading the study was shocked that the author maybe wasn’t whose name was on the book. Then she said “that’s too deep for me” and went on to something very surface-level and application-oriented.

We may not even realize what we are missing because we often aren’t exposed to more. We move through our worship services that have every detail planned out. There is little to no time for silence, silent prayer, and reflection. We may be taught 7 keys to better friendships during a sermon, but we are never taught how to have that time of silence. Silence isn’t productive or entertaining. People get restless and bored.

The problem is, without those times of silence and reflection, it is very difficult to move from a shallow faith and relationship with God into the depths of it. It’s like only ever having small talk with an acquaintance and never moving on to an actual friendship. I am curious as to why this time is missing from our church services. If we can hear sermons on the 4 ways to engage or 7 ways to love your mother and be expected to put them into practice during the week, why on earth do we not practice silence, especially when most pastors would encourage daily “quiet time”?

This is especially important for those people that Frank mentioned in his Facebook post: those in their 20s and 30s. As I said, it is very difficult for them, if they are parents, to find that time during the week to go deeper. So why don’t we offer it at church? A reason, I think, is that with silence, we don’t see immediate or tangible results, and so much of our church experience is based on that. How many new visitors today? Was the music great? Did all the technology work or did something happen so church didn’t go smoothly? Was it bad enough that the first-time visitors won’t return?

And in the meantime, there are people leaving church emptier than when they walked in the doors.

And they don’t know why.

We are taught how wonderful it is to meet and gather and worship and sing as a community, how it is our obligation to do so. Too often, though, church is as busy and hectic as the rest of the week and is certainly not a day of rest as we like to claim.

I wrote last week about being exhausted and empty, and while I am becoming less tired and more full, it will be a long, slow process. I suspect there are others out there, like me, who feel this way but don’t understand it, don’t know what to call it, and don’t know what to do about it. After all, they go to church every week. They sing the songs and raise their hands. They go to small group. How can they possibly be empty?

In what has become one of my favorite books that I will likely turn to again and again, Invitation to Solitude and Silence, Ruth Haley Barton writes:

“many of us have no idea how starving we are, and that is one reason the invitation to solitude and silence holds so much ambivalence. Some of us are so far into the later stages of spiritual starvation that we don’t know what it is to be full and well. We have been feeding for so long on the emptiness of words and noise and activity that our soul is emaciated” (p. 128).*

It is a common Christian belief that God speaks to us through prayer, and one denomination’s tagline is even “God is still speaking.” But sometimes, I wonder if we really do hear from God as much as we say we do, because how can we ever expect the Holy Spirit to speak if we do not make room to listen?

 

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