Motherhood, Discipleship, and the Quiet Revolution

The following post is authored by Becky Swanberg. She graduated from Grace University with her Bachelors of Science in 2004. Becky describes herself as, “a wife, mom, writer, book lover, and Dr. Pepper enthusiast.”

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Sometimes I reflect on where I thought my life would go. I remember how I wanted to live overseas and master a foreign language and study the culture all around me. I remember the smells of an open air market place and the sparse rooms in the orphanage and the ragged goats that wandered like cats down the uneven brick streets. I remember how I looked around me, gazed at round orphan eyes and wide gypsy grins and tired missionary shoulders, how I looked and I thought, “This. This matters. This is what I’m going to do with my life.”

Or maybe not.

A decade and a few years later, l’m settled into a life that looks a lot less radical and a lot more mainstream that I had anticipated. Omaha, marriage, kids, house, minivan. At times I wake up and think, “Really? This is where I ended up?” I ask it of myself, not with regret (I wouldn’t undo any of those choices) but with surprise, as if the reality and the speed of it all has caught me off guard.

Eight years into my journey as a mom, it’s been a gentle leading, that is for sure. There have been years of ministry and years of rest. There have been seasons of celebrating life and seasons of mourning loss- loss of babies and close family and changing relationships. My own kids are growing so quickly (my boys are eight and six, my girls are four and two.) I could say so much about the intensity of motherhood and the frustrations with myself and the reality that it just never ends. But what strikes me most is this: almost a decade in, I find that motherhood is a lot like discipleship.

Being a mom, much like following Christ, is a series of choices that are made every day. It’s not flashy, not particularly exciting in the midst of most days, and it asks more of me than I really have to give. As a mom (much like as a disciple), I am at my best when I can stop thinking about myself, when I can live my days with my heart fixated on others and my mind occupied on the eternal.

There are aspects of motherhood that I would change if I could. The endless tasks that seem to undo themselves instantly. The homeschool mornings that hint more of mutiny than learning. The laundry that multiplies. The goldfish crackers that are, somehow, reproducing under the backseat of my car. The fear that I might ruin my kids. The reality that these precious little people are growing up in chaos, not just the chaos of our living room but the chaos of a bleeding world.

In the midst of those thoughts, as I struggle to find my footing in a role that feels so heavy, I am drawn back to Christ and his grace for me and his love for my family. And in those moments, I think that maybe I didn’t need to go overseas to change the world, that I am part of a quiet revolution that is happening right here. But this revolution, this movement toward greater things and finding the kingdom and shepherding little ones who are fearfully and wonderfully made, this is the place where motherhood and discipleship meet. It’s a place of passionate restraint and ferocious gentleness and relentless pursuit of the hearts of four small, sweaty, mischievous kids. It’s a place of exhilarating weariness, a place of significant monotony, a place where character is forged despite us and in us and because of us.

I’m not sure if the teenage version of me would be disappointed with this turn of events, this surprise ending where I tie shoes and peel clementines for a living. But as I look around, past the dishes and through the cultural norms and beyond the internal doubt that I’m not getting it right, I look at my kids and think, “This. This matters. This is what I’m going to do with my life.”

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The Self-Deceived Are Deceivers

Optical illusion faces 3

 

“Now, since all falsehood is deceived, and all deception begins in self-deception, so is it also with this false Light and Life, and for he who deceives is also deceived, as we have said before.”

Theologia Germanica, Chap. 43

Illustration Courtesy of Picasa/Michael Child Photos

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How Does Spiritual Dryness Affect Our Prayer Life?

“Aridity or dryness in the practice of prayer consists in a certain inability to produce the necessary intellectual and affective acts, or in an actual distaste for prayer. It is usually encountered in the practice of mental prayer, and it reaches its most painful state . . . when it seems that God has abandoned the soul completely. Dryness in prayer may be caused by the individual, by God, or by the devil, but those who actually experience dryness should first suspect that they themselves are the cause. Among the internal and involuntary causes of dryness are bad health, bodily fatigue, excessive activity or absorbing duties, vehement and prolonged temptations that exhaust one’s powers, improper training in the practice of prayer, or methods of prayer unsuited to the individual. Sometimes, however, dryness is the natural result of one’s own imperfections: lukewarmness in the service of God, infidelity to grace, habitual . . . sin, habits of sensuality, vain curiosity, instability and superficiality, or excessive activism.

At other times dryness may be sent by God as a purification or a test. After a soul has become somewhat adept in the practice of prayer, God usually deliberately withdraws all sensible consolation so that the soul will be purified of any excessive attachment to such consolation, will be humbled at seeing how little it can do without God’s help, and will thus be disposed for the next grade of prayer. Throughout one’s advancement in the life of prayer, this altemation between dryness and consolation is usually perceptible at regular intervals, and especially when God is preparing the soul for some new advance or some greater grace. If the dryness is prolonged over a long period, in spite of the soul’s fidelity to grace and earnest efforts, one may suspect that the soul is entering upon the night of the senses or some other passive purification.”

Jordan Aumann, Spiritual Theology, 243.

photo courtesy of Karl Klemmick/Picasa

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Life Without the Holy Spirit

“Therefore, no one has true knowledge or true understanding, or is truly eminent in counsel and fortitude, or has either pious knowledge or knowledgeable piety, or fears God with a chaste fear, unless he has received ‘the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, of counsel and fortitude, of knowledge and piety and fear of God’ (Isa. 11:2-3). . . . No one has true power, sincere love, and religious sobriety, except through ‘the Spirit of power, and love, and sobriety’ (2 Tim. 1:7). . . . In the same way, without the Spirit of faith, no one will rightly believe, and without the Spirit of prayer, no one will profitably pray.”

Augustine, Letter 194 to Sixtus
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Lust, Misdirected Love, and Second-Rate Beauty

“Late I have loved you, beauty so ancient and so new. Late I have loved you. And see: you were within, inside me, and I was outside, and out there I sought you. And I–misshapen–chased the beautiful shapes of things you had made. You were with me, but I was not with you. Beautiful things kept me far off from you–those things which, if not in you, would not be, not be at all. You called and shouted out and shattered my deafness; you flashed, you blazed, and my blindness fled; you were fragrant, and I drew in my breath, and panted for you; I tasted you and hunger and thirst for more; you touched me, and I burn for your peace.”

Augustine, Confessions, 10.27.38

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How Should Christians Respond to Violent Acts?

An evangelical author whom I hold in high esteem once wrote, “when the conditions of a just war are met, it is a moral failure not to go to war, since it involves lack of love for neighbor, an unwillingness to sacrifice for the sake of others.”

At first glance this statement appears irrefutable, but upon further reflection there are underlying beliefs behind these words that need to be brought to the surface. One such belief is that the just-war theory is a viable option for Christians. Much could be said  in response to the just war theory. I won’t cover familiar ground here. But I do want to shed light upon another belief that may lie behind the opening statement.

While I often find myself in disagreement with his ideas, the late Walter Wink made an insightful assessment on the human condition. He proposed that all cultures from the beginning of time have embraced what he terms “the myth of redemptive violence.” It is a intuitive belief of all cultures that violence, although undesirable, needs to be carried out at times to counter evil.

The familiar story line goes like this. “Good” people are put in a position of responding when “evil” people do terrible things and plan to do further terrible things to “good” people. Therefore, violence must be carried out against evil doers, but a violence that is redemptive in nature. In other words, it is violence that will deliver the innocent and/or result in other positive outcomes. Once these violent means achieve their intended end, the “good” people who exercised this violence upon “the evil” will return to civilized ideals of peace, decency, honesty, compassion and justice.

This familiar plot line has been witnessed throughout history, and it plays itself out repeatedly in many world arenas today. But the myth of redemptive violence also appears in the subplots of popular culture, particularly TV and cinema. My first exposure to this came with the TV series “Kung Fu” in the 1970s and just about every Clint Eastwood western. In a word, violence is necessary when countering violence, so that goodness may prevail over evil, civility may triumph over disorder, and peace replace war.

Anabaptist historian John Roth makes the following keen assessment of the myth of redemptive violence: “[it] has a seductive power that blinds us to its real consequences. One crucial element of the myth is the illusion that justified use of violence will somehow conclusively resolve the problem of evil, bringing a decisive end to the escalating cycle of destruction that gave rise to the confrontation in the first place. . . . Yet despite our deepest hopes to the contrary, the truth of the matter is that violence–no matter how redemptive its claims–inevitably begets more violence. Wars ‘to end all wars’ turn out to be vain illusions; ‘final solutions’ have horrific legacies; campaigns to eradicate terrorists invariably sow the seeds of still more vindictive terrorism in the future” (Choosing Against War, 60).

Spirit-led and biblically-informed wisdom is required of Christians when they find themselves on the receiving end of violence, or when they see violent things done to others. Something must be done in response. But is retaliation always an appropriate response? When Paul wrote, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21), did he have retaliation in mind? Can retaliatory interventions be implied by Paul’s words? Are there other creative alternatives that might be employed when confronting violence? How this works individually and how it works corporately can be, obviously, quite different. Christ-followers often unconsciously blur this distinction.

The myth of redemptive violence causes us to think more deeply about what constitutes “good” and it helps see that “good” violence may only have short-term “good” effects. Unexpected negative outcomes are often fostered by redemptive violence. The myth of redemptive violence causes us to look more carefully at such deeply held beliefs regarding patriotism and the notion of America as “a Christian nation.” Finally, the myth of redemptive violence should cause us to think more soberly about Christ’s admonition to his followers: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:27).

photo courtesy of warner brothers productions

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How Well Do You Know the Apostle Paul?

“Tens of thousands of believers who pride themselves on their understanding of Romans and Ephesians cannot conceal the sharp spiritual contradiction that exists between their hearts and the heart of Paul. That difference may be stated this way: Paul was a seeker and a finder and a seeker still. They seek and find and seek no more. After ‘accepting’ Christ they tend to substitute logic for life and doctrine for experience. For them the truth becomes a veil to hide the face of God; for Paul it was a door into His very Presence. Paul’s spirit was that of the loving explorer. He was a prospector among the hills of God searching for the gold of personal spiritual acquaintance. Many today stand by Paul’s doctrine who will not follow him in his passionate yearning for divine reality. Can these be said to be Pauline in any but the most nominal sense?”

A. W. Tozer, Keys to the Deeper Life (29).
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What Does the Word “Rest” Mean to You?

“A Girl Reading in a Hammock” by Robert Archibalt Graafland (1875-1940)

The following post was written by Gisele Nelson. She received her B.S. in Humanities from Grace University in 2004. She lives in Atlanta, GA and works for Plywood People, a non-profit that works with the poor, distressed and underprivileged.

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One of the most important things in life is rest. I really believe this with every fiber of my being. From my earliest childhood days I have heard preachers speak of the importance of Sabbath. If I didn’t believe them entirely then, I certainly do now. I think it’s important to take a break, refocus, gain clarity, learn again to be optimistic, and then to plunge ahead again.  If we never pause, we will never take the time to regain perspective

There are two ways I’ve practiced rest that have been really important for me: Sabbath and quitting. I did an in depth study on Sabbath a few years ago at a church in my community. I was in a group of elderly ladies and I wondered what I might glean from them and their practices. But by the end of the study II was 100% convinced. I had to make  some life changes. “Busy” became the dirtiest four-letter word I could think of, and I didn’t want it to be part of my vocabulary. I still live a busy life, but taking time to have a day to rest every single week is key to being able to wipe the dirty word from my vocabulary at least one day a week.

In the Sabbath study, I was talking with one of the facilitators and told her that I didn’t really understand how to take a Sabbath. I understood deeply the importance of rest, but I didn’t know what my day should look like. Do I need to read my Bible and pray all day, because as much value as there can be found in that, I was pretty sure it wouldn’t bring me to a deeper place of rest.

She sat down with me and asked me to fill in these blanks…

  • I feel God when I see  ________________.
  • I feel God when I smell _______________.
  • I feel God when I hear ________________.
  • I feel God when I taste ________________.
  • I feel God when I touch________________.

Once I’d come up with words to fill in the blanks she told me that those were the things I should do on my Sabbath first. She said that once I learned to delight in God fully, my heart would desire to know Him better and the prayer and study would follow.

But I had to delight in Him first.

It has changed me. It’s changed how I view God and taught me what it looks like for God to delight in me as well. He’s thrilled when I’m enjoying Him and what an amazing way to live a day a week, but to do all things that allow God and I to delight in each other. It feels like a celebration rather than a sacrifice.

The second way I’ve learned to rest is to quit.

I am not very good at it, but I’m learning that when I’m overwhelmed, tired, burned out, exhausted, and just plain sick of life, it means I need to quit. It might mean taking some time off from work, or quitting my job completely. It might be quitting cooking for the week, or not serving in my church for a month. It might look like turning off my phone in the evenings, not saying yes to an event someone expects me to plan, or putting down the books for the afternoon to trade in studying for a walk.

I used to think I couldn’t afford two weeks in a row off of work until I had a meltdown and nearly quit my job. I was “busy” and resentful of it. I needed to rest. My boss graciously told me to take all the time I needed to rest and regain perspective. It turned out I needed two weeks. I felt like a new person. I still feel like a new person. There’s nothing wrong with understanding our limitations and sticking to them. It’s actually really healthy. God’s pleased when we release control to Him, and allow Him to renew us.

Is there something that you need to quit so that you can delight in God more fully?

Photo Courtesy of Gabriela Dragoi/Picasa

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What is “Relational Holiness”?

The phrase “relational holiness” is intriguing. Wesleyan authors Steve Martyn and Virginia Todd Holeman offer a definition:

We believe that relational holiness is revealed in how one relates to God, in how one manages one’s emotional reactions, and in how one relates to others, especially during difficult interpersonal exchanges. The hallmarks of relational holiness include a vibrant and deepening relationship with God, a greater ability to identify and manage intense negative emotions, and an expanded capacity to respect thoughtfully, rather than react automatically, to others in the midst of intense emotional exchanges. . . . work in these three areas deepens one’s capacity for relational holiness and that interpersonal problems may arise when one of these components is out of whack (Theology for Better Counseling, 84).

They are on to something here.

I have observed something in my years of living.  You can be diligent in the exercise of the spiritual disciplines, but neglect the pressing needs of friends and family. You may be a productive Christian activist, but be a demanding and difficult person to get along with (i.e., a jerk). You might be a scholar in Christian spirituality, but socially and emotionally maladapted. You can be a trained Christian counselor, yet be very proud and prickly as a person. You might be a preacher who delivers stirring messages, but are deeply afraid of relational intimacy with others. The list goes on.

Too often within evangelical sub-cultures, sin is viewed as externally observable bad behaviors. Scripture does portrays sin as bad behavior. Yet, we are not quick to describe sin as “loving others poorly.” A failure in relational holiness might be described as a failure to put the “greatest and foremost commandments” (Matt. 22:37-40) into practice. Perhaps at the center of relational holiness is the ability to love others well–especially when life is not going so well.

Maybe too, relational holiness means, “don’t be self-focused, but be others’-focused” (Phil. 2:4 PAR). What does it mean to be “self-focused”? In short, it is a subtle, sophisticated, and often rationalized selfishness. Self-focus occurs when: we become the heros of our own stories, or clowns who navigate life through humor, or victims who blame everybody else for their problems, or cynics who see through everything, yet believe in nothing. Relational holiness wrestles with the question: How do I come across to others, especially my Christian brothers and sisters in community? Relational holiness is also concerned with: How do I become beautiful? How do I live out the beauty of holiness? How does my Christian community (i.e., small group) “provoke” me to love (Heb. 10:24)? How does my small group help me become less self-focused as a person?

If ever a revival is to occur in American Christianity, my heart’s desire would be to see an lasting overflow of relational holiness in our churches and para-church organizations.

Artwork, “Trinity,”  by Andrei Rublev (c. 1360 – 1430)

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Counterfeit Masculinity

5880791502_f98c056433_z“Until a man’s movement toward others reveals God’s movement toward him [the man], until a man remembers that he bears God’s image and moves to reveal God’s character to others, that man will pursue counterfeit masculinity with the fierce loyalty of an addict, whether through displayed talent, pleasurable lust, or recognized success . . . . [Those caught up in counterfeit masculinity] lust after feelings of significance and adequacy through any means that require little relational risk.”

Larry Crabb, Fully Alive: A Biblical Vision of Gender that Frees Men and Women to Live Beyond Stereotypes, 70, 76.

Photo Courtesy of Alexander Steinhof/flickr.com

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