The Shape of Water won best picture at the Oscars last night. If you haven't seen it, you probably have at least heard about the fact that the plot includes a woman having sex with an aquatic creature. You might think that a film with such a scene has little to teach the church. But it actually is an incredibly convicting story for an American church that continues to grapple with racism and sexism.Read More
Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, a time of fasting in various ways and preparation for remembering and celebrating Christ’s death and resurrection on Good Friday and Easter. It’s also Valentine’s Day. They are odd bedfellows, but what they both have in common is that they’re both days I’ve had mixed feelings about in the past.
I grew up going to Ash Wednesday services and often giving things up for Lent, from TV and movies to chocolate. I really liked the services and appreciated the results of fasting, if I didn’t exactly enjoy it during the moment.
I also grew up enjoying Valentine’s Day. I loved making a pretty valentine collection box and reading all the valentines from my classmates, and I loved candy and the heart-shaped chocolate chip cookies my mom would make.
But as I got older, I started to wonder a little bit about both of those days. In college, I was surrounded by people from denominations that didn’t celebrate Lent at all, and I heard a lot of questioning about why Lent was even necessary -- if you were giving a bad habit up for Lent, maybe it just meant you should give it up all the time, it was a legalistic Catholic tradition, etc. I had had too many good experiences with Lent to be fully convinced by these arguments, but stressed out from school work and realizing how legalistic I had been at times in pursuing different kinds of fasting, I stepped back from Lent for a few years.
My opinions about Valentine’s Day started to be shaped by others, too. I became increasingly aware from high school onward that the “cool”/“mature” way to feel about Valentine’s Day was to be against it. It was a cheesy, consumeristic holiday pushed by Hallmark to sell cards and make single people feel bad about themselves. And cool girls who were actually in a relationship didn’t need to get a gift on a predetermined day, and if they wanted it, they were probably needy and kind of shallow. I now see a lot of defense mechanisms and internalized misogyny in these views, but there they were. And so my first married Valentine’s Day, I told Dave I didn’t want anything and bought us a romantic Men in Black DVD instead.
But at the end of the day, I felt sad that I didn’t have flowers or chocolate or some token of “Be Mine,” and I realized that, deep down, I did want to celebrate Valentine’s Day. Has it been used for capitalistic gain and caused pain via unmet expectations? Yes. But there’s a lot of good to be found in Valentine’s Day, too, and I still cared about it. The same can be said for Lent -- it’s a church season that has been used for legalistic, shame-ridden purposes. But at its heart, it’s for good, and I was always a little sad when I was part of churches that didn’t celebrate Lent and glad to be part of a church now that does.
Our pastor, in explaining why we follow the liturgical church calendar, points out that our lives are shaped by all kinds of calendars -- the school year, the sports seasons, different holidays, etc. -- and so it also makes sense for our lives to be shaped by a calendar that honors our faith. I’ve realized that I want to be shaped by the religious season of Lent. And when it comes to being shaped by secular calendars and days, I want Valentine’s Day to be one of them, too. Other people may feel differently, but that’s where I’m at, and it is disrespectful and dishonest to pretend otherwise. So I’ll take the strange juxtaposition of Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday today, and look forward to the future juxtaposition this year of Easter and April Fool’s Day, although I think I’ll be okay not being shaped by the latter.
I grew up in the Christian church, which is very big on the gospel. The gospel goes something like this: All of the bad things we’ve ever done deserve punishment. But Jesus Christ died on the cross to take away the punishment and grant us eternal life and lots of other awesome benefits. To access those benefits, you have to believe in Jesus and repent of all of your sins. When you repent, God forgives you, because of Jesus, and all is well.
Because the gospel is the Best News in the world, Christians talk about it A LOT. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. What is bad is when these important categories start becoming the only categories in your life.
To be fair, I do sin quite a bit. And when I sin, I feel guilty. And then it is good for me to confess my sins and turn away from them. It’s a cleansing and freeing process. But having repentance emphasized so strongly meant that I began to see all my problems as sins. And then I started repenting for things I had no business repenting for.
I got depressed, and I repented.
I had negative feelings about people who hurt me, and I repented.
I made silly mistakes, and I repented.
I wasn’t fully reconciled to people I had forgiven, and I repented.
Other people got needlessly upset at me, and I repented.
I had low self-esteem, and I repented.
I got a bad haircut, and I repented (just kidding, but barely).
If I had any kind of problem, or any kind of bad feeling, the obvious answer seemed to be repentance. I needed to say I was sorry for whatever had happened, and then God would forgive me and I could stop feeling bad about it.
Unfortunately, it turns out that repentance is not a cure-all. It does not magically solve any and all problems. It is only good for dealing with actual sins. It’s pretty worthless when you try to use it where it doesn’t apply.
When I get depressed, I need medications or lifestyle changes to help me get out of it.
When I have negative feelings about people who hurt me, I need to know those feelings give me important information and work from there.
When I make silly mistakes, I need to learn from them and move on.
When I’m not fully reconciled to people I have forgiven, that can be hard, but it’s not wrong.
When other people get needlessly upset at me, I need to let it go. It’s not my issue.
When I have low self-esteem, there are things I can do to improve it.
When I get a bad haircut, the answer is hats.
These days, I am repenting for my actual sins, and finding appropriate responses to my other problems. Repentance is great, but it is not the answer to everything. It’s like I was trying to get ahead in Super Mario by destroying all the goombas and other enemies AND destroying all the blocks. You don’t need to destroy the blocks. That’s the wrong strategy, and it’s just a waste of time. I need to focus on the actual enemies, and treat blocks like blocks. My life is much better and makes a whole lot more sense.
As part of my series on Christians and self-esteem, I’m responding to what I see as a number of fallacies in Phylicia Masonheimer’s recent article, “Dear Women’s Ministry, Stop Telling Me I’m Beautiful.” Last week, I addressed the “worms” fallacy, or the idea that we have no value or beauty apart from Christ and his redeeming work, and argued that we do have inherent value because we are created by God, whether we ever become Christians or not. This week, I want to look at another part of Masonheimer’s argument I’ll call the “it’s never about you” fallacy.
Masonheimer argues that focusing all of our attention on Christ will solve our insecurity issues. She refers to these as “insecurity, fear, and identity crises,” “poor self-image,” and “anxiety.” Hearing that we are beautiful won’t fix these problems, she argues: “exalting Christ” will. We don’t need to talk about us, just God. As she writes:
[W]hen all women do is worship Jesus, the insecurities, fears, and anxieties pale in comparison to His everlasting glory.
When our eyes turn to His beauty instead of pandering to ours, insecurities die.
When our ears listen for His voice instead of listening for more about us, fear has no place.
When our minds think about who He is instead of who we are, we find an identity wrapped in eternal purpose.
Worshiping and hearing about Jesus is all we need, then, to feel okay about ourselves. Masonheimer made this sentiment more clear in her comment to my first article:
The message I am writing "against", if you will, is "fluff" theology. Never digging deep into the gospel, saturating ourselves with God's Word, studying the Bible for ourselves to defeat depression, anxiety, and "low self esteem". A high God esteem, like you said, is the cure for low self esteem.
As I wrote back to her, I distinctly did not say that “A high God esteem...is the cure for low self esteem.” But this wording helpfully sums up the “it’s never about you” fallacy: the idea that “high God-esteem,” by itself, will solve low self-esteem, that all I need to do is focus on God to fix my personal issues. I don’t need to hear any application of the truth about God or understand how it applies to me, because it should never be about me or my issues. Praising God is all I need to “defeat” any insecurity, anxiety, or depression.
If you think I’m reading this idea into Masonheimer’s article, look at what one of the commenters wrote:
I’m only a senior in high school, so while I haven’t been to many women’s ministry events, I do see this idea also permeating youth ministry–instead of telling students about Christ, they try to tackle the superficial issues of relationships with peers and watered-down theology. Thank you for this reminder of what we really need to be focusing on–your writing has blessed me so much! It’s so important to remember that Christianity is, at its heart, so simple–all we need to focus on is Jesus. Not ourselves, not beauty, not marriage or self-esteem–only Christ.
Masonheimer’s response? “Excellent observation Kimberly! Good for you to notice this and be a difference among your peers!”
Masonheimer is being consistent here. The “it’s never about me” fallacy logically follows from the “worms” fallacy. If we believe, as she does, that all of our beauty and value comes from Christ alone, that we’re really just worms without Christ, messages really shouldn’t ever be about us. It makes perfect sense that all we need to do to cure our insecurity, anxiety, depression, or any self-esteem issue (or, apparently, any issue), is to focus on Christ and how good He is -- talking about ourselves won’t solve anything, because all we are is worms, anyway. I’ve already made my case for why the worms fallacy is wrong, but there other reasons why having high “God-esteem” and solely focusing on him won’t give us high self-esteem all by itself.
First, obviously, clinical depression and anxiety are mental illnesses that need mental, emotional and sometimes even physical solutions. They’re not spiritual problems. No one would tell a cancer patient that all they need to do is pray more -- they’d tell them to pray, but also to get chemo. Likewise, if someone has clinical depression, she should pray, but she also get counseling, cognitive therapy, medication, etc.
But let’s say we’re not even talking about clinical mental illnesses, but just about having low self-esteem or insecurity. Focusing solely on God and talking about how great he is, and never hearing about ourselves, won’t fix that either.
First, on a very general level, the whole idea that Christianity is only about looking at Christ and never focusing on ourselves and the issues we deal with cuts out half of the gospel. The gospel message is about God and all of his goodness and holiness, yes, but it’s also about what God has done and is doing for you. And even if we know that Jesus died for us, the question remains, as the title of one of Francis Schaeffer’s books says: How should we then live? Look at Paul’s letters -- they start out with theology and who God is, but then they move to specific instructions about specific issues, or application. It makes no sense that we would never, as Christians, need to focus on beauty, marriage, or self-esteem -- how we look at those issues should be influenced by how we view Christ and his gospel, but that doesn’t mean we don’t need to look at the issues themselves. To go even further, the Christian life can’t just be solely about Jesus, because otherwise we’d never learn anything else, like math or spelling or how to drive a car.
But to focus more specifically on insecurity and self-esteem, only saying how great God is without any reference to ourselves will never give us self-worth. Just imagine the thought process here:
You: “Wow, I really don’t like myself that much. I don’t feel confident that I have anything of value to offer to anyone.”
Women’s Ministry Leader: “Well, did you know that Christ is AMAZING and he died for you?”
Would your response be: “Really? Great! I feel great about myself now! Thanks!”
That certainly hasn’t been my response. It’s been more like, “Wow, God really is great to die for someone as terrible as I am. He’s so great that he loves me even though I’m awful.” That’s high God-esteem, but does that sound like high self-esteem? From my personal experience, I can tell you that it doesn’t. I can talk all day about how great God is without feeling any better about myself.
What I need to hear is something like this:
Women’s Ministry Leader: “I’m really sorry you’re struggling with that. I hope you know that God, who is AMAZING, created you in His image and for a purpose, so you have dignity and worth. You are beautiful and special to Him. In fact, you are so valuable to him that even though you, like everyone else, are a sinner, he died for you so you could have a relationship and life with him, forever."
Me: “Wow, God really is great. And if GOD created me and loves me so much that he died for me, I really must have value and worth.”
That’s high God-esteem and high self-esteem. I need to hear not only about our great God, but about what our great God thinks about me (and, to get back to the worms fallacy, that he doesn’t think I’m worthless).
So, it’s not only okay but necessary for women to hear about themselves in addition to hearing about God, especially if they struggle with low self-esteem, depression, and/or anxiety. It can be about us sometimes.
But there’s another reason why Masonheimer thinks that it should only be about Jesus and not about us. She argues that insecurity is only one of many “symptoms of the real disease,” which is sin, often implying that the root cause of insecurity and low self-esteem is always personal sin. Next week I’ll discuss the fallacy behind that idea.
This week, Buzzfeed published a full document of unsubstantiated claims against Trump.
This was, as the Times said, a “break from typical journalistic practice,” and it’s been widely condemned. But you wouldn’t necessarily know that scrolling through Facebook or Twitter, which would lead you to believe all of journalism is falling to pieces.
This election season in general was not great for “the media.” People hate “the media,” and I use quotation marks, because who is “the media”? As a reporter, I'm pretty sure I'M "the media." Yes -- I absolutely agree that click-baity news is literally the worst, and that articles like Buzzfeed’s are extremely worrisome. But let's take a moment to remember there is still a lot of genuine, quality reporting going on.
This is why this article, written by a Christian journalist for the Washington Post late last year, spoke to my soul:
Your quick dismissal of the entire “mainstream media” feels deeply inaccurate to me as a Christian and a journalist — at least the kind of Christianity I was raised on, where the newspaper informed how we understood the world. The act of doing journalism is a way to live out my faith, a way to search for and then reveal truth in the world around me.
Her article talks about how much of the danger with villainizing the mainstream media is that people then rely on opinion sites, and then people live in their self-selected silos of information. That IS dangerous.
But what’s also dangerous is that of the little kids growing up in church communities that are constantly bashing the media -- how many of them do you think will grow up wanting to be a reporter? And if you think the media is so bad, why on earth wouldn't you want more Christians in journalism?
I had a pretty negative experience earlier this year visiting churches with my friend Katelyn, who is also a reporter. We went to a “meet the pastor” event, and he engaged us in conversation afterward: Where are we from? What did we do?
This was all well and good for about 30 seconds, until he found out we are reporters at the CapTimes.
The CapTimes is one of Madison’s traditionally progressive newspapers, and there’s no question the editorials tend to lean to the liberal side. But news and editorials are two completely different things, which is why the pages, editors and offices for each are completely separate. Everyone I work with has incredible integrity. If we published unsubstantiated claims, we would (rightly) hear about it from readership. Believe me, I have heard from readers for a lot less. (For example, I forgot to include an address in an article this morning, and someone tweeted at me five minutes later to tell me I had missed a "journo basic.")
I think if this pastor had read the CapTimes, he would see that. Instead, he asked whether we take all the facts, and then write a story, or just go in with the story we want to tell and rearrange the facts around that. He said reporters need to take logic classes. He spent about 10 minutes talking at us, and at the end we didn’t feel valued or treasured or even just politely engaged -- we felt attacked.
We did not go back to that church. But Katelyn did write an email politely explaining how offensive the experience was, so he could learn or whatever, because she is a good person.
And supposing we were columnists who had written scathing articles condemning the church --- shouldn’t he have welcomed us anyway?
Because think about this: if I, as a white, privileged Christian who has grown up in the church felt in no way welcome-- could you imagine if I wasn’t white, or had a criminal record, or was on the brink of poverty, or knew nothing about theology or wasn’t sure how I felt about Christianity? If Katelyn and I were condemned that much for being reporters, I can’t imagine how much condemnation those people would feel.
Why are we, as a church, so quick to villainize everybody? Wasn’t Jesus about the opposite of that? (Hint: yes.)
Here’s a great, encouraging tweet I saw this week, right after I saw one that was from a popular evangelical ripping into “the media”
We could all do with a little more of that.
I introduced a series on Christians and self-esteem several months ago, then promptly postponed it once I realized I didn’t have the brain capacity to devote to it while moving. I’m happy to say that I’m ready to start up again. As a refresher, I’m taking a look at harmful messages about self-esteem that I’ve seen being taught by Christians, messages which can have especially devastating effects for those who struggle with depression or anxiety. I described these types of messages in my introductory post as follows:
Some Christian teachings that I’ve read or heard really do contain the message that self-esteem is wrong, or at least it’s their logical conclusion. Some Christians really do think that feeling good about yourself denies the truth that we’re sinful. For some, there seems to be an obsession with sin, that above all else, we must never forget that we really do suck and don’t deserve anything.
It was pretty easy to get back into this series this week because, unfortunately, a fresh new example of this kind of thinking has been making its way around social media: “Dear Women’s Ministry, Stop Telling Me I’m Beautiful” by Phylicia Delta. The basic gist of her post is a plea to women’s ministries to “Stop preaching the easy message [that we’re beautiful and special], and start preaching the right one. Stop exalting us as women and start exalting Christ.” In other words, stop focusing on messages that raise self-esteem. Delta’s point might not seem harmful at first blush, but it is problematic on several levels. Today and over the next few weeks, I’m going to address the different fallacies Delta uses. Today I’ll start by discussing what I’m calling the worm fallacy. (I highly recommend you read her article first before reading the rest of this post.)
Delta begins by sending mixed signals about the message often given at women’s events -- “You are a beautiful, chosen, special woman of God. There is no one in the world like you!”” She starts out saying this message is “well-intentioned” but “deficient,” because we’re “not actually that special,” and “any woman who knows the depth of her own inadequacy will find these Christianized platitudes of beauty and ‘chosen-ness’ entirely insufficient for daily victory.”
But in the next paragraph Delta writes:
I’m not saying these encouragements are false. We are God’s handiwork (Eph. 2:10). We are chosen (1 Pet. 2:9). We are unique (Matt. 10:29-31). The question is not whether or not these things are true, but whether or not this is the most important message women need to hear.
Wait, what? So it is okay to say we’re beautiful and special?
I think it’s safe to say that I’m not the only one who finds Delta’s it’s-true-but-it’s-not-true dance a little unclear. If her issue was really that saying we’re beautiful isn’t telling the whole story, because we’re also sinners too, she would just say that. But she doesn’t do this. She decides that while the fact that we’re beautiful is true (with caveats), the fact that we’re sinners is more important, and in fact, we need to stop teaching the beauty message entirely.
Delta’s ultimate problem with the beauty message is revealed when she says that “women who think they’re pretty awesome don’t need a Savior,” and I think it’s this same anxiety that prompts so many Christians to downplay self-esteem in general, because if we feel okay about ourselves, why would we need God? After all, as Delta writes, “The gospel is good news only to those who recognize their need for Jesus.” So, it’s much more important that we focus on our sinfulness, lest we get too cocky.
Delta doubles down on this position in the comments:
In order to actually live out our identity in Christ as beautiful, chosen, etc., we have to recognize that we are first fallen, sinful beings ONLY made beautiful by the grace of God. If we were beautiful “just as we are”, Christ would not have had to die! Rather, we are MADE beautiful by the grace of God. When we turn our eyes to magnitude of that grace, we find security in our identity. But when we separate “you’re beautiful” from “…because of who Christ is”, the message becomes all about us and not about God.
This is a classic example of what I’m calling the worms fallacy, based on Dale Fincher’s and Chuck DeGroat’s excellent articles that I am heavily indebted to, “Unworthy, but Not Worthless” and “Dear Calvinist - You’re Not as Bad as You Think You Are,” respectively. It goes like this: Before Christ came and before we let him into our lives, we were like worms, with no beauty or value or worth of our own. In fact, we still have no worth apart from Christ. Fincher opens his article with a story of when he read about a worship leader who “said that the purpose of worship is to remember that we are worms before God.” DeGroat recounts a similar story:
I saw a pastor some time ago who was buried in guilt and shame. His mantra – I am far worse than I think I am, but God is far greater. He constantly reminded me of how much he needed the Gospel. I never understood what he meant by ‘Gospel’ (good news) until I said at one point, “Can you see that God smiles at you, embraces you, calls you his son?”
“No, no, no,” he retorted, somewhat reactively. “God cannot look upon me. He can only look upon Christ, who covers me. That is the Gospel.”
I don’t think DeGroat could have responded any better: “If that is the Gospel, that is not good news.” Because it isn’t! If our ultimate message as Christians is that everyone is tremendously awful, even once they’re Christians, that is insanely depressing, and I can’t think of any normal person who would want to get on board with that.
“But, Mary,” you might say, “Of course the world doesn’t get on board! The message of Christ has always inverted the expectations of the world. The first shall become last, etc.! Christ has always been a stumbling block to those who don’t trust him. Realizing that we have no value apart from Christ is just another thing that Christians have to hold to in the face of the comforting lies and deceptions of the fallen world that we’re beautiful and unique.”
To which I say, yes, the Gospel can seem foolish to the world, but it’s never because Jesus valued people less. The Pharisees were scandalized because he valued the the people that the world didn’t -- the poor, the struggling, the weak, the uneducated. His life showed that everyone has value, not that nobody does.
This isn’t to say that we’re not sinners, or that we deserve God’s grace. But that doesn’t mean that we have no value outside of Christ. Fincher explains this well in his article when argues that we are unworthy, not worthless:
“Unworthy” is failing to live up to requirements….If you fail to study for a test, you do not deserve a high grade….You are unworthy of reward when you fail to do what is reward-worthy….You do not deserve God to reward you when, through sin, you’ve done nothing to deserve that reward….To be worthless, however, is quite different. While being unworthy is about our merits, being worthless is about our value. If you lost the Boston Marathon, you are as full of value as the person who won….Jesus did not come for the worthless. He came for the unworthy. Jesus came for those who are valuable. His coming did not make us valuable.
But where does that original value come from? Or as Delta asks in a reply to another comment, “But if we are “beautiful just the way we are”, what role does God even play?” How about the role of creator? We’re valuable and beautiful because God created us, even more so because we were created in his image. How insulting to God is it if we deny that value? As Fincher says, “Creation came before the Cross. We were made valuable in Eden before any temptation to think otherwise.” DeGroat argues the same thing using Calvin’s idea that “sin is not our core identity” but “an invading vandal,” meaning that we have, in fact, an “original goodness.” Shocking, right? It sounds wrong to say that, doesn’t it? And it’s all because of the anxiety that we’ll think we don’t need Jesus if we think we’re any good; as DeGroat goes on to say,
I do sometimes wonder if we’re so afraid of ennobling humanity that we choose a perverted form of Calvinism – a neo-Puritan wormology which defines us first and foremost as depraved rather than dignified. We start at Genesis 3 rather than Genesis 1.
Creation comes first. If we’re going to tell the whole story, it has to be the real whole story, of Creation, Fall, and Redemption, not just Fall and Redemption. In another comment, Phylicia says, “We only fully grasp our beauty when we understand the grace of God and the profundity of the gospel!” That’s true, but only when we know the entire gospel!
But won’t understanding our value diminish God’s glory and goodness in saving us? After all, getting back to Delta, isn’t it true that “our pre-Jesus ugliness magnifies the beauty of God’s love”? It is true that God’s love is shown in the fact that he saved us when we were sinners -Romans 5:8, anyone? But we don’t have to berate ourselves and focus on how we’re even worse than we thought to demonstrate this. Delta says that women’s ministries should focus on Christ, not women. Perfect! Because, as my husband Dave says, we can emphasize God’s glory by focusing on his holiness and bringing him up, not bringing ourselves down.
What does this look like? It’s not by saying, as Delta does, that “He came because we were too grossly sinful to bridge the gap between ourselves and God.” Notice that she says we were too sinful. That implies that if we were less sinful, we might have been able to bridge that gap on our own, which is exactly what Delta doesn’t mean. The truth is that even if we were the best people in the world, who never sinned except for having one fleeting uncharitable thought, we still couldn’t bridge the gap. That’s how holy God is -- anything less than utter perfection leaves us in desperate need of a savior.
So while we are indeed more sinful than we think, I think it’s unhelpful to make that the emphasis to prove the point of God’s glory, especially if you struggle with anxiety, depression and/or self-worth. Start with how great God is, and we’ll figure out how sinful we are. You notice that Isaiah did not say “I am ruined!” after God presented him with a list of all of his sins, but after he saw God in all of his holiness and glory.
To sum up: Delta’s post gives harmful messages about self-esteem because she believes that we have no beauty apart from Christ. The implication is that without Christ, we really are the worst, and that’s what’s most important for Christian women to hear. Can you imagine how hard it would be for women who suffer from mental illness and/or low self-worth to be part of a women’s ministry that emphasizes this?
The thing is, I think Delta thinks that her message will help those women; she claims that focusing on Christ’s beauty and not our own will kill our insecurity. Next week I’ll address the fallacy behind that idea.
After publishing this post, it was brought to my attention that Phylicia's last name is not Delta but Masonheimer. I apologize for the error.
As a married Christian woman, I’ve read and thought a lot about marriage and what it should look like. (Okay, I also read and thought a lot about it before I was even dating anyone.) Now that I have life experience to compare to the theories, I find some visions of Christian marriage to be wanting. One view that particularly bothers me is presented by Francis Chan in this interview with The Gospel Coalition regarding his and his wife’s book You and Me: Marriage in the Light of Eternity, in which the Chans “set out to reframe the entire way we think about marriages, relationships, and parenting.” The part that is most troubling to me is this:
What conversations are essential to have prior to engagement and/or marriage?
Every couple needs to have a gospel conversation. We must ask: Are we both surrendered to the lordship of Jesus Christ? Have we both decided to follow him? Many people call themselves “Christian,” but that can mean virtually anything nowadays. Are we both willing to sacrifice anything? Will we make our life choices based on what will most benefit God’s kingdom? Will we center our lives around making disciples?
Before I asked Lisa to marry me, we had a long discussion about serving the Lord with our lives. I had to know she would encourage rather than restrain me from serving him. As much as I loved her, I was willing to break up with her if she was going to keep me from accomplishing what I was created to do. I’d seen too many of my friends in misery because they married someone who hindered their ministry (emphasis mine).
I get what he’s trying to say here. You shouldn’t marry someone who isn’t committed to following and serving Jesus. True. But if you married a Christian, and then are trying to make a life together, this kind of statement can be dangerous, because it makes it sound like it’s wrong for family needs to come before “ministry.” If it is, then Francis Chan would break up with me, because guess what? I hindered my husband’s ministry.
It was about 7 months into our marriage, and I was really, really struggling with anxiety and depression. One of the times when I felt most anxious was sitting by myself in church while Dave led the worship team. I hated having to walk into church by myself as a still-relatively new member and make small talk with people without him. Not to mention that leading worship meant Dave needed to practice and organize songs during the week, taking time away from us. I really wanted him to just be able to come to church with me; I wished he could give up band for a while.
But I didn’t feel like I could ask him to do that. For one thing, Dave loves to lead worship and use his musical gifts. I felt like asking him to not serve in that way would be like cutting off his right arm. But mostly, I was afraid of being seen as “the bad wife” who kept her husband from serving, especially since everyone in our church loves having Dave lead. In other words, I feared getting a bad rap for keeping him from his ministry. I felt like as a wife I was supposed to help Dave be even better at his ministry, not keep him from doing it all! I thought that Dave should have been able to do everything he did as a single guy, plus probably even more, now that he had his helpmate around.**
We talked to our pastor about it, and I was so, so grateful for his response. He not only understood but encouraged Dave to temporarily step down from band. He wasn’t at all phased by the idea that a wife’s needs should affect what a husband does. Of course your responsibilities change when you get married, he said. You can’t live the same way that you did as a single man because now you have a wife! And as he also pointed out, God can take care of the church and provide for others to lead: “Even if it’s just me banging two sticks together, our church can still worship.” Dave wasn’t the only one who could serve in that way.
I was so grateful for the response of the band when Dave told them the news, too. Of course, they were a little sad, but more so, they were so glad that Dave was doing what he needed to do to help and serve me.
And I’m most grateful for Dave. He could have wallowed “in misery” because I “hindered [his] ministry,” but he didn’t. He told me that no activity was more important than caring for me. He was there for me, and it meant the world to me.
I hope Francis Chan wouldn’t look at my situation and chastise me for keeping my husband away from serving God and growing disciples. I imagine that this sort of thing isn’t what he meant. But do you see how easy it could be for someone to look at these words and use them that way? Or for someone who is struggling and wishes their spouse had more time for them to feel guilty for asking them to step back?
And if you want to talk about making disciples, what’s a better example of the gospel: Neglecting your family’s needs in order to serve the church (and perhaps making them feel guilty for not being as gospel-minded as you), or sacrificially giving up something you love to serve your family? Hint: Neglecting your family usually isn’t a winner for your witness. Being able to tell others about how incredibly loved and cherished you felt by your spouse as they showed you the love of Christ goes over a lot better.
In the end, the real problem with this idea of not letting marriage keeping you from ministry is that it assumes that marriage itself isn’t a ministry. But I would argue that if you’re married, loving your spouse is not only a ministry, but your primary one. Come back next week to learn why.
**One of the things we learned that first year was that we both subconsciously went into our marriage thinking it would be “Dave’s former life, plus Mary” instead of “Dave and Mary’s new life, to be determined by both of them.” It was understandable given that I moved to where Dave was and had been established for a few years, and given my faulty understanding of what submission meant, but it was definitely a mistake that I’m glad we figured out. More on this in another post.
Church coffee time. The time in between the church service and Sunday school, when people stand around with watery coffee and chit chat. A chance to fellowship with believers, learn what’s going on in each other’s lives, catch up, and generally be friendly, encouraging, and supportive. What could possibly go wrong?
It’s not the people I’m talking to that are the problem (usually). Most of the time people are kind, and interested, and caring. The major problem is that I am shy and not great at small talk. This is an event that is built all around small talk. Even when you’re talking with your friends, there’s only so much you can discuss in a crowded church lobby.
So essentially you are attending an early morning cocktail party with no booze. I suppose the social lubrication is supposed to be supplied by the Holy Spirit, but as one of the frozen chosen, sociability has never been one of my spiritual gifts.
Over time I have learned a number of strategies to help me through this trying time. If you also lack the spiritual gift of gab, maybe these can help:Read More