April 24, 2017

Oh, Monday, Monday, Monday!

It is a beautiful Monday here in sunny, and yes, warm Phoenix. The skies are clear, and the air temperature is going hit close to 93 today. It is lovely outside right now, but the hot summer is just around the corner, and that means preparing for hot, hot, hot summer days. I am ready, really I am. I mean, this is my 21st year of living in the desert, and frankly, when you have survived one summer in Phoenix, you can survive another. I don’t mind them now like I used to do so. I do miss having access to a pool, though. My parents had a lovely pool that we used almost daily when my son was growing up. Since they downside and moved in with me, though, we are pool-less now. It is a good thing considering the cost to maintain a pool nowadays. Still, the thought of jumping in, relaxing in, and just enjoying a cool pool on a very hot summer day, well, it makes me SIGH!

I woke up this morning feeling less than chipper. I didn’t sleep well last night, and I suffered with feelings of panic all night long. Partly this was due to the sensation that I was being bitten by bugs. I have been suffering with bug bites for a long while now, and last night, I had this “itchy” feeling that simply wouldn’t go away. Yesterday, I woke up with a big round swelling on my forearm, and the Friday before, I had two similar bites on my right hand. I am not making this up, but I cannot for the life of me figure out what is biting me. ICK!

The worst part is that this whole bug-biting thing has caused me to go a bit OCD. It all coincided with my oral exams last year. I was stressed beyond stress, and after traveling to Virginia and passing my exams, I came home and experienced a rash on both of my upper arms. I looked like I had been bitten by some bug in five or six places on each arm. Of course, I itched them (scratched them), and then ended up with a mild secondary infection. The problem was that after those bites healed, I continued to scan my arms for more bites. This process of scanning for bites led me to fixate on them, and well, needless to say, I still have bites on my upper arms (new ones) and leftover scars from the previous ones. This “picking” process is actually a disorder, and while I am not proud to say that I have had this and do still when under extreme stress, I have to admit that part of the reason I still have open sores on my arms is because I simply wouldn’t let them heal initially.

Thus, I spent the entire night trying to not scratch. I put lots of Neosporin on my existing bites, but frankly, the pain and the itch is still bothering me today. I am determined to let this rest, and to simply let God and nature do what they do best, which is to heal wounds.

More so, last night, my mind raced over the impending semester end, and I struggled to deal with the fact that my three schools are all ending at similar times. My GCU classes end on Wednesday, my ASU classes end on May 2, and my Regent classes end May 6. I have so much grading to do between now and then, and well, I am STRESSED. Plus, I am flying to VA in May 3, participating in graduation, etc., and in between, I am going to be grading. Sigh!

So after a fitful and stressful night, I woke up thinking that I wished today was Wednesday. At the least, my summer would have started, and I could just finish grading and say “good bye” to one of the most difficult, stressful, and challenging semesters of my life. Sigh!
Resting in Him

I read this really interesting blog post today. It was written by strategist, Greg Morse, for John Piper’s organization, Desiring God. Morse wrote this article on April 17, and the theme was on finding contentment in singleness. I guess I read it because of the title, which really caught my attention, and said, “Marriage is not the Mission,” but in truth, I read it because I thought the topic itself was interesting to me.

Like I said, the title caught my eye, so I actually click on the link and read the entire article. In fact, I almost bookmarked it because I thought it was so good. Morse writes about a difficult subject for single people to discuss, especially with their married family and friends. In this article, he discusses the mistaken belief that God put the mission of marriage ahead of the great commission. More so, Morse stressed that for many people, married and singles alike, the belief that we were designed to be married has permeated our minds and made it almost impossible to find contentment in any place OUTSIDE this context.

As a formerly married person, this topic and his analysis struck a chord with me for several reasons. First, I had been married. I was married for almost 30 years, and in that time, I learned both the blessing and the curse of being united, one flesh. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the union. I love the covenant of marriage. It is was just that in my marriage, I didn’t really enjoy the blessing part of the union. I saw mostly the curse. However, notwithstanding, I am not anti-marriage nor do I see any issue with remarriage (on biblical grounds of course). It is just that I, too, have heard to comments, the encouragement from well wishers that “someday” I would find my “right person.”

Second, for my entire life (pre-marriage), I believed that a woman was only fulfilled within the context of marriage. I was raised in a conservative home, conservative church, thus I believed that my identity was more about being a wife and a mother than being a Christ follower. Yes, being someone’s wife and bearing children was considered a most high calling.

Third, during my marriage, I was constantly instructed that my place was in the home, and that my contentment came from being a “good wife” and a “good mother.” My husband was the head of my home, and as such, he was the provider. It was all very Godly and God-centered, but in my limited understanding, my joy was to come from my loving and protective husband and the fact that I was privileged to be a SAHM.

Last, despite the fact that I received a clear calling from God early on in my life, and without any hesitation I gave up my calling to pursue marriage, I spent the majority of my life feeling used, abused, and unfilled spiritually. Moreover, I felt guilt and shame for not following God’s call and mandate on my life, and what is more, I struggled with acceptance of my role especially when my husband believed my calling was somehow less important or material to his desire for wealth and prosperity.

Thus, I came to this article this morning (as it arrived on my feed) with a bit of apprehension and curiosity. As I mentioned, Morse stressed the fact that being married is indeed a blessed union, a sovereign covenant between God and man — yet — he framed his essay around what I consider to be a more important topic, and that is the great commission and the calling of all Christians to go and seek and save the lost.

You see, Morse identified something that I have seen as pervasive in conservative Christianity for a long time, and that is the misplaced understanding that marriage somehow supplants mission and ministry in God’s kingdom. Somehow good people, good God-fearing people, got this idea that the mission of the church was to “reproduce” rather than to “seek and save.” The words of Genesis 1:28 where God says to Adam, "God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground” became the mandate for all Christians. Our job was first and foremost to reproduce children. And, within Biblical context, this meant that we were to bear children in Christian families where both Mother and Father were united in love and community.

I am not disagreeing with God’s word in this matter at all, however, I do see Morse’ point. If you read the words of Jesus in Matthew 28, verses 16 and following,

"Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

If we look at the “therefore go and make,” the command given and the context does not assume that those going would be husband’s and wives; no, not in the least. The command was given to all people to “go” which suggests that Jesus placed the great commission on the minds and hearts of all His followers — men AND women — alike.

This reading simply suggests that while God’s original command to reproduce and subdue the earth is His intentional design, it never was meant to supplant Jesus’ call to all of us to be His ministers across this earth.

Thus, if you think about it realistically, while the desire to be married is normal, natural, and for most people, something they don’t really think much about, the drive to require marriage as “proof” of ministry fitness is outside the boundaries the mandate. It is man-made. Now, I know that the New Testament bears note because Paul wrote of the qualifications of an elder, and one of those qualifications was that the man be married — to one wife. However, not every disciple was a married man, thus to assume that only married men can serve in this capacity is again a man-made rule to interpret something that was framed in cultural context.

I guess what I am trying to say is this: God calls us all to serve Him. He gives ministries and gifts to each believer in Christ Jesus. We are all commanded to go and make disciples, and for many of us, we will do that as a team — a husband and wife — team. Yet, there is no mandate from scripture that required marriage before engaging in the mission, and that is the truth of Morse’ article. In fact, the author stresses that the mission should come FIRST.

As I thought about his words today, and I reflected on my own life, one thing is sure. I identified with his essay simply because as a single person who is wholly devoted to Christ Jesus, I have experienced more joy, more supernatural and blessed spiritual happiness since becoming single than in any of the many years I worked, served, and lived as a united team. In truth, I am much happier, satisfied, and content in Jesus now that I am single then when I was a married believer.

Furthermore, my calling and my mandate are significant parts of my new life. I see my calling now clearly, and I am empowered with vision and ability to do the work the Lord asks of me. I no longer am standing behind a man, who may or may not, agree that I should or shouldn’t engage in ministry. Rather, I go because the Lord calls me. I go without hesitation, and I work for His praise alone. Yes, I work alone. I am not lonely. I am filled with the blessed Holy Spirit, and I do this work for one reason: to bring praise to my Father in heaven.
Making Sense of This All

In this way, I realize that for many people, married is the natural consequence of physical attraction. It is God’s design for men and women, for sure; but it is not His only design. I believe God is no respecter of persons, in that He is able to use marrieds and singles in His Kingdom work. Therefore, while seeking marriage is a good thing, it is not to become the end goal, which is what I see many young people do. They think they will only be happy and fulfilled when they are married. Women, especially those raised in the church and in conservative homes, seek motherhood as their ultimate goal. This is a misapplication of Scripture, in my view. While marriage and motherhood is a blessed thing, placing such high focus on it is very Catholic in my opinion. The same is the whole idea that marriage has one purpose and that is to produce children. This idea is not only Catholic, but also Mormon inspired. Again, don’t get me wrong. I think children are a blessing, and scripture is clear in the way in which we are to treat the blessedness of children. However, we must remember that our mission first and foremost is in Matthew 28:16-20. It is not Genesis 1:28.

As I sit here today, I have come to this conclusion. Many good people are seeking love and fulfillment in one union alone. Jesus said we were to practice two things — baptism and communion. He didn’t say marriage was to be listed among these lasting ordinances. Marriage is a beautiful picture of God’s love for mankind and it represents the mutual submission of the Trinity. It is a good thing, a high honor, and yes, I believe a blessed institution. But for many people, marriage will never be something they will enjoy. Nor will they ever experience the blessing of children. No matter how much they seek to do so, they may never be united in holy marriage and produce children to mature in a holy family life.

The emphasis on mission over marriage really resonated with me because as Morse said so eloquently, the blessing, the fulfillment comes from a relationship with Jesus and not ones’ spouse. God be praised, if your spouse is united in ministry and mission. However, for those of us who are single, whether by design or unfortunate circumstances, the emphasis is on the mission. The mission, the mandate, and the calling are unique and wonderful provisions by the Lord. Therefore, it is vital to not miss the mission. God has a great plan for our lives, and He has many wonderful things in store for each one of us. If we make Him our priority, placing everything in submission to Him, then we will find that deep and satisfying contentment that can only be fulfilled by God. Everything else is as C.S. Lewis says, “is second.”

In conclusion, as I wrap up this post, I am reminded of Matthew 6:33, where Jesus says,

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.
My goal is to seek Him first. Everything else will fall into place if I put my emphasis on Jesus Christ, alone.

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