Dear 3 year-ago me,
Congratulations on getting married and getting accepted into Redeemer. You look like you couldn’t be more excited — as if this is something you’ve waited on for years. The Lord has given you an extraordinary gift in David and his encouragement. Cherish it.
People will make jokes to you about seminary (“more like cemetery” they will say). You don’t want to listen to them because you think you’re different. But their intentions are good and their warnings worth listening to.
You will be tempted to think of your time in seminary as a “means to an end.” You don’t now — you don’t “have” to have this degree to serve as a minister of the Gospel. Especially as a woman. As a result, you see this season as a true gift, the pursuit of knowledge of your Savior. Keep this intention ever before you. Pray hard against the temptation to see this time as a means to an end.
You see, especially towards the end of your time at Redeemer, the temptation will grow stronger. With past voices in your head of “you will be successful at anything you do,” you will start to be afraid. Afraid of what they will think when you don’t have a high-powered job right after you graduate. Afraid of the pay cuts you’re sure to face after being in the business world. Afraid of the word “internship.” Afraid that you wasted 3 years of your life slaving away with nothing to show for it. Afraid that you missed out on what everyone else seemed to be doing with their lives. Afraid that 30 is too old to start a new career. Afraid of not finding your place as a woman in ministry. In a word, you will be afraid to fail.
You see, this fear has tripped you up all of your life. It has led to seeing successes as disappointments. It has bred discontentment. It has darkened otherwise shining moments. And you will stare it in the face for the hundredth time.
But take heart. Remember that your Jesus has a plan. Remember that his way almost always looks mysterious. Remember that his life was one of humble servanthood. Remember that he is worth trusting with everything you’ve got. Remember that he has provided for you in countless unexpected ways up to this point. Remember his miraculous salvation in your life, a salvation that speaks more life into you day after day. Remember that the journey of seminary, not unlike the journey of your whole life, is to know him.
This is the best advice I have for you: Make your aim to know him. In every class that you take, are you meeting him? Are you in awe of his goodness? Is the overflow of that worship making your face radiant? Are you keeping your relationships a priority – because they are the most precious in his sight?
27 year-old me, you are in for a wild ride. Keep your eyes set on Jesus and you can’t go wrong.
And don’t be afraid to fail. In the failing, in the ashes – you will know him. And you will find life.
“Jesus has many who love his kingdom in heaven, but few who bear his Cross. Many follow Jesus to the Breaking of the Bread, but few to the drinking of the Cup of his Passion. They who love Jesus for His own sake, and not for the sake of comfort for themselves, bless Him in every trial and anguish of heart, no less than in the greatest joy.”
This quote from Reliving the Passion by Walter Wangerin Jr. stings a little at first.
“They who love Jesus for His own sake, and not for the sake of comfort for themselves…“
Do I truly love Jesus for His own sake, or do I love him for my own comfort? What happens when I’m uncomfortable? Do I expect to share in Christ’s sufferings, treated no better than he was? Do I expect my way to look different than the way of the cross?
The truth is, I want the joy that Jesus offers without embracing his prescribed way of joy. I want circumstancial comfort instead of embracing my Comforter in the midst of circumstances I wouldn’t ever choose.
And there have been a lot of circumstances I wouldn’t ever choose.
It seems that the more we try to sacrifice, the more we labor to serve and to lay down all that we own at Jesus’ feet, the more opposition we encounter. We have had several Judas-esque betrayals and false accusations. We have had to sit through two “trials” of sorts and keep our mouths shut, while our accusers hurl insults and lies at us. I’ve sat there, biting my tongue and looking away to hold back the tears. And they have left me extremely weary.
Yet – this. “They who love Jesus for His own sake…bless Him in every trial and anguish of heart, no less than in the greatest joy.”
There can be no resurrection without the Cross. I believe this for Jesus, but do I believe it for me?
Instead of stewing with uncontrollable anger, I want my response to be a compassionate “Father, forgive them.” As I’m being insulted, I want to see the face of Jesus in excruciating pain: shutting his mouth in response to THE false accusations of all false accusations. Because the truth is, I am Judas. I am the one hurling insults at Jesus. But through the Cross, Jesus has taken on my Judas-ness and freed me – but this was not the freedom I was hoping for. I wanted freedom from the shame, the insults…yet he granted me something much deeper – Himself, his presence. He granted freedom from the chains of bitterness and the plots of revenge.
Philippians 4:10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
And so I wait. Instead of despising the suffering, I bear it — knowing that His cross did what only an instrument of torture and death could do – produce a resurrection. I look to him as one that is united to him in both his suffering and his resurrection. I wait, while he uses this cross to produce unimaginable joy — a joy that proclaims to the world that I love him — not for my comfort’s sake, but for His sake alone.
On this Valentine’s Day, here’s one of my favorite descriptions of love from Tim Keller in The Meaning of Marriage. Thankful for a husband that displays this type of radical love on a daily basis!
“…We must say to ourselves something like this: ‘Well, when Jesus looked down from the cross, he didn’t think “I am giving myself to you because you are so attractive to me.” No, he was in agony, and he looked down at us – denying him, abandoning him, and betraying him – and in the greatest act of love in history, he STAYED. He said, “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.” He loved us, not because we were lovely to him, but to make us lovely. That is why I am going to love my spouse.’ Speak to your heart like that, and then fulfill the promises you made on your wedding day.”
“We’re not compatible”…followed by “Is it supposed to be this hard?”
“Define compatible” is typically my reply. I want to give her/him the benefit of the doubt. But most of the time, I know what they mean before they say it.
“He’s not my type.” “Our families are completely different.” “We can’t seem to communicate.”
I fear this is another area where we’ve exalted the god of comfort. Every person who has breathed in the air of America knows the lure of comfort. But maybe we aren’t as good as seeing it in this area.
The reality is, we are drawn to people like us. We understand them without any effort. We can serve them in a way that is meaningful without any effort. We hang out with friends clear across town because they “get” us…when we’ve been given the opportunity to develop deeper relationships with our fellow church member down the street.
It is clear that we value comfort over diversity. But we are not citizens of America (predominantly anyways), we are citizens of the kingdom of God. And this means a re-thinking, re-ordering, living a “the first will be last and the last will be first” kind of life. We are missing it.
I feel the liberty to speak into this specific area because I was a victim of it. And it almost cost be one of the most beautiful gifts God has given me.
When I met David, we instantly became friends. We talked about Guatemala, about Jesus, about theology, about “deeper things.” But when we started dating, the “real issues” (as I perceived them at the time) came to the surface. David didn’t look like a man I thought I would date (or marry): he was a firefighter. His family has experienced a lot of divorce. He grew up with his grandparents in a military town. He wears flip flops everywhere. He is an extrovert. He didn’t go to college. It is embarassing to me now…to look back at this list and realize that these things made us “incompatible” in my eyes.
So, I broke up with him. A lot. He hung in there, and he had a lot of people telling him to be done with me. On the one hand, I felt the Lord pulling me towards him, but I couldn’t shake the “incompatible” factor.
Friends, the “incompatibles” were difficult to work through. I’m not going to act like they weren’t. But what we have found on the other end is a push towards Christ-likeness that we would not have experienced otherwise. Like Christ in the incarnation, I have had to put myself in David’s shoes, approaching lightly with gentleness and humility…and listen. Try to understand where he has been. It has not been easy, but I am confident that this is right and good, because this is what Jesus was called to when he walked this earth. He was far from compatible with the ones he loved. Yet, he pushed through the barriers. And in this, we can see true love — a love that transcends compatibility, a love that transcends languages, cultures, preferences.
What I have found on the other end of embracing our incompatibility is an opportunity to speak of our incompatibility with God, yet his joyful embrace of us. We always joke about how neither of us would have even considered dating the other prior to when we met. But the Gospel brought us together – a driving force that drove Jesus to love the untouchable, the woman, the outcast. If he was culture-bound, he would have taken the route around Samaria — Jews (especially men!) were not “compatible” with Samaritans (especially women!). Yet, he set aside the temptation to bow down to the god of comfort and of appearance, choosing instead to bow down to His Father.
And we have been given the same privilege, the same joy, of embracing the “other,” forsaking our own comfort, and choosing instead to glorify the Father through the Son by the Spirit.
I approached the seminary season with great hopes of having all of my questions answered. I ask a lot of questions…so much so that my husband calls me “The Riddler.” Much to my surprise, my questions would birth new questions, deeper questions…questions that have left me feeling as if the very foundation I am standing on is weak. Instead of the newfound confidence I craved, both for myself and for my ministry to others, I have been left with newfound insecurities. I feel like my marriage to Jesus has somehow reverted back to the awkward dating phase, “So…Jesus, tell me about your family. Your favorite color. How you grew up…” It is a bit frightening and I am left vulnerable; vulnerable to answers that I don’t expect, vulnerable to being wrong about something I was so confident in before…vulnerable.
Yet, how would Jesus define my foundation? Would he define it was “thinking rightly” about him? In the same way, how does my husband define the foundation of our marriage? Is it defined as knowing everything about him? Is there room to “rethink” things I thought I knew about him that end up being wrong?
In Matthew 7, Jesus speaks about our foundation, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like the foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”
The variable in this story is the one who either does or does not do the words that he/she hears. Each one hears, yet the emphasis is not on “hearing rightly,” the emphasis is on the doing. I would argue that right hearing leads to right action, and is very important. If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t subject myself to a grueling 3 year intensive study of the Scriptures. However, for the sake of today, Jesus equates the one possesses a strong foundation with the one that does the things that he/she hears.
If I equate my foundation with “right thinking,” I am certainly on shaky ground. This perceived vulnerability has led to a wall in my relationship with Jesus – “If I can’t be sure about you, Jesus, then why should I come to you at all? Why should I trust you, if I don’t even know if I’m trusting who you really are?” The one person I can rely on and put full trust in has made me with limitations in my knowledge. As a result, certain parts of him are veiled, beyond my reach. He has chosen to reveal himself in time to humans made from the dust, rather than in one moment of full clarity.
The reality is, my foundation in marriage and in relationship to Jesus is seen most clearly in covenant actions – first and foremost, actions or vows made on my behalf. The very foundation of Christianity is on the actions of God in history. Jesus not only “thought rightly” about me, but he chose certain actions: humbling himself and taking on the form of human flesh, resisting temptations and dying on my behalf. He certainly thought well, yet earned his “well done, good and faithful servant…not, “good argument” or “good analytics!,” but “well done” on the basis of his actions. Because he obeyed the greatest commandment to love God and love neighbor, he stood strong against the most destructive of storms: betrayal, shame and even death itself.
With Jesus as both my foundation and example of true humanity, I build on the foundation of love with which he loved me. Even in my wrong thinking, he loves me, and beckons me come. And because he loves me, I know love and am free to love. He is more concerned about my building on his unshakeable foundation of love – trusting him in the things I do see of him and loving my neighbor in the ways I ought – than my abstaining from love because I don’t fully know and can’t fully see. He waits for me to come, to hear, and to respond.
It went something like this:
“God, the time is here! We are both getting to do what we love, and I cannot wait to fundraise. Ok, so maybe we thought it would look a little different…with us going overseas to save orphans and all. But, you have been preparing us for this for the last several years. You have come through for us in big ways! I know I will experience you in ways that I couldn’t in any other way. And that will trump every difficulty along the way. I will be so in awe of you, that my afflictions will seem light and momentary! So, let’s do it! This is an adventure…and I love adventures! I know there will be up’s and down’s, but knowing you will make it all worth it!”
Light and momentary. You can’t fault me for trying to be Biblical. But honestly, the ‘afflictions’ (3rd world problems) have been more so…’heavy and seemingly endless.’
The funny thing is, I’m not an ‘overly optimistic’ personality. I think I’ve just been given a courageous personality in a lot of ways…for better or for worse. A lot of times, when I read the Bible, I’m convinced that this is actually who God is and what He promises (I thought that was normal for everyone, but have since learned that its not). And I have taken plenty of these type of scary steps before. Steps into the unknown. But in a momentary lapse of judgment, it was as if I forgot all the struggle, all the pain, all the fighting with God, all the prayer, all the sleepless nights…that came with the other scary steps. Confident in my own wisdom, I convinced myself that God would make Himself glorious by stacking the odds against us, and then showing up big time. I thought we would be some freaky type of modern day George Mueller, praying secretly in the closet for funds to arrive…and they just…would. I was wrong.
There is a little something in me that has wanted to “hold off” on writing this series until I was in a better (more ‘spiritual’) place with this season. Everything in me knows that I will probably laugh at some of my heavy burdens once it is all over (like today’s antics leaving me stranded in Plano with nothing but a 1/8 Camel Bak of water and 3-$100 bills, don’t ask). But, I think what all of us need most is someone to be courageous enough to be honest. Really honest.
Honesty forges gaps that nothing else can. There is something so beautiful about raw honesty. It reminds us that we are not crazy, and we’re not alone. I wish I would have read some type of testimony (other than George Mueller’s…note to self, don’t read crazy “best case scenario” versions of what you’re about to go through!) of a woman that has walked this road before me. When I said that to David, he gently reminded me that testimonies were, in fact, part of the assigned reading for our fundraising bootcamp. Oops. Something tells me that they’re not putting stories like mine in those books, though. Because if they did, I doubt anyone would willingly quit their job and choose to “trust GOD!!” (insert cheerleading stunt off of the living room couch here) So, this is my non-bestselling version of some things you might expect (or may already be experiencing – God have mercy on your soul!). Stay tuned. And for the love of God, pass this along to those that are in this season, or will be in this season in the near future (or any future, for that matter). I’m on a mission to kill the false pretenses about what you’ll face and get to the nitty gritty, the good, bad and the ugly.
Glad you’re along for the ride.
I tend to bury my pain. But this night, it leapt out of me, no longer willing to be ignored or rationalized away. It had been minimized, pushed aside, and ignored long enough; in the fullness of time, she came.
I rarely have the courage to admit pain and deep longing to myself, so you can imagine my confusion. All I could do was sit and weep, with my head bowed. The silence of the room shouted forth a groaning, a groaning for restoration.
I’m not sure how much time passed, but I distinctly remember a soft weeping breaking the silence. You see, Jesus was in the room with me. And although most tears fall silently to the floor, each drop an accusation against a God who sees, mine were met with a soft cry. The cries said I am with you. I hear you. And I weep too.
Ironically, the weeping came from a dear sister that, moments before, had shared news of life; my words were tainted with death. Yet, her news of life was birthed out of death and so, she wept.
I saw Jesus so clearly in that moment. Although he himself is life and has conquered death, he passed through death to get there. He has willingly taken on the cloak of humanness, embracing the human condition. Although he is perfectly equipped to answer our cries with truth propositions, he has chosen instead to enter into it. My pain isn’t met with “all things work together for the good of those that love him!” it is met with weeping. He knows that I have come from the dust. He has walked this road, and he grieves with longing for all things to be restored.
We are fragile earthen vessels, made from the dirt; yet there is one that breaks us, picks up the pieces and makes something new, something better, something more alive. As you evaluate the broken pieces on the floor, see Jesus, the one whose tears of compassion and mercy heal us.