No place for fear in a Fearful Life

I secretly stalk my son.  I admit it, I do.  I don’t think he knows but maybe he suspects as he feels the eyes boring into the back of his head.  This stalking began at the instigation of my husband who rightfully insists that our son, now 6 years old, be allowed to play by himself in the backyard.  It’s a safe backyard with a high fence and lots of room to play and the requisite interesting neatly stacked heap of wood outside the garage.  Dreamland for a boy who has been cooped up for a lot of a very cold winter.  I didn’t think I would be a stalker.  I grew up on a farm and spent most of my days, winter and summer, outside.  My mom said that she knew to come looking if the dog came back without us.  It was a free and easy life.  But despite this kind of upbringing once I had kids I turned into a stalker.  My son is allowed to play outside by himself with the cautionary tales about what to do if a stranger comes into the back yard.  This does not prevent me from peeking out the windows at the back of the house about every 5 minutes (hence the stalking).  The dog is back there with him to sound the alarm if someone comes into the backyard and I keep just the screen door closed to the deck so I can hear him at any time.  Yes, I am a stalker.

What makes me do this?  It isn’t the inherent carelessness of kids that makes them wander and forget that anyone or anything else exists except the joy of their own play.  It is partially due to the fear that all those horrible kidnapping stories on the news will come true in my life.  It is lack of trust in all the protective hedges I have put around him to keep this precious child of mine safe.  Outwardly I don’t think I come across as a crazy person; in many things I’m pretty laid-back.  But, the biggest fears in my life come into play when it comes to my family.

It’s fear, plain and simple.  Fear of loss, fear that I can’t protect them, fear of the unknown and the evil found in the world.  This blog is about living in good and healthy fear of God but what I experience that prompts me to spy on my playing son isn’t that kind of healthy fear.  There are verses in the Bible that tell us not to fear, that God is with us.  But, like many other people I’m sure, fear creeps into my life on a daily basis.

Proverbs 31:21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet. (NIV)

This woman who fears the Lord and allows that knowledge to change her seems to have no fear at all.  I don’t imagine that there is any person that has ever lived without fear in their lives.  At the time this woman was living fear may mean fear of war, fear of famine, fear of losing her husband and children.  If she lost her husband and children, if she was left widowed she would be penniless and relying on the kindness of family and strangers.  Her children would be the people to care for her in her old age and make sure she did not spend her remaining years destitute and hopeless.  I’d stalk my children too if I was her.  That knowledge combined with intense mother love for my children might cause me to make them wear helmets on a regular basis and three snowsuits even in summer, for the padding, you know.

But, verse 21 says she has no fear for her household.  I have fear for mine, daily fear, so what is God trying to tell me here?  When I look deeper I see that this verse is talking about physical provision for her family.  Having her household clothed in scarlet can mean a couple of things.  It can imply that the family is clothed in wool (because of the color) or the Latin version says they are clothed in double (meaning doubled fabric = very warm).  Either way, it means that when winter comes her family is protected and provided for.

Now, I do keep my family warm, I hope, but I think this verse is more than just taking care of the family physically.  When I look at this verse I see a woman who looks at her family and knows that they are taken care of.  As a mother and wife there is only so much that I can do to care for my family.  There are times when I’m not with them, when I can’t protect them like I would want.  There are going to be things that my children go through, hurts, slights, disappointments that I am powerless to protect them from.  These are the snowy times in life, I guess.  These times of hardship where you know that only time will heal.  How does this woman who fears the Lord not dread these times?

I think this verse is a reminder to me that my care for my family is limited but God’s is not.  When I see my son playing in the backyard I try to remember that God loves this child more than I ever could.  That God has told me not to fear because his eye is on me and my family.  My scope in controlling what happens to my son is limited, which I think is healthy.  Sometimes we hold too tightly and when our grip loosens things spin out of control because they’ve been restrained and the pressure has built.  Know any 18 year olds that has happened with?

If I am a woman who is seeking God and seeking to respond to who he is, this type of fear has little place in that.  This verse says that the hard times, the winters will come, but if we can look around we can see how God is covering and holding our families in the palm of his hand.  Because of who God is I can trust that he sees what I do not see, cares more than I can care, and provides for us even in times of hardship.  So when I fear and peek out the window at my child I try to see his joy in his freedom and his space.  I try to see how God is rejoicing in him and I take a deep breath and promise not to peek again for at least another 5 minutes.

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Extending Yourself

One think I find difficult about caring for three young children is the limits on my time and physical proximity.  I am limited to a certain extent in where I can be when and to what I can commit.  In my secret heart of hearts, sometimes this feels pretty good.  My priorities are to care for kids right now and sometimes other things can go by the wayside.  But, if I’m honest, it’s not just having kids that can slow me down.  I had our first son while I was finishing my Master’s degree and when I look back I see that when I was in school my focus was, well, school.  Oh, and I got married 2 years through my undergrad.  Transitioning from school to marriage and school to kids and school to kids and ministry means that I honestly do have limits on my time and resources.  However, this is a reason and should not be an excuse.

When I talk about being limited and saying, “not right now” to things, that is legitimate in many areas.  I’ve known times when my priorities weren’t straight and certain elements of my life suffered.  Saying no can be a good thing, but in my search to be a woman who fears the Lord and is praiseworthy by him, there are certain things that are nonnegotiable.  Proverbs 31:20 is one of these.

Proverbs 31:20 She opens her arms to the poor
and extends her hands to the needy.

The reason I see this verse in this passage having so much weight is because of the constant teaching through the Old and New Testaments about caring for the poor and needy.  There were special laws set in place by God for the Israelites on how to treat those who were in need of extra help, financial, physical, spiritual, or emotional.  God sees those around us who need the help of others and his heart bleeds for them.  So, what have I been doing lately to help the poor and needy?  Not a lot, really.  It seems hard in everyday life to find the poor and needy.  Who are they anyway?

Well, sometimes the poor and needy are obvious; that person on the street who sleeps where they sit, that single mom with 4 mouths to feed and a broken down van, that child on the television or the missions presentation with the distended belly and hollow eyes?  These are the obvious needy around us.

As I’m traipsing after my 1-year-old and baby, just trying to maintain, how do I help the needy?

One option that many people choose is to offer financial assistance.  This is important and so many people are in need of the financial help we in North America can offer those in our own neighborhood and around the world.  Offering what financial assistance in whatever way I can is one option for me to help the poor and needy.

There are those, too, who are poor and needy and it’s not just in the financial way.  When we try to help someone our conscience can be cleared by giving money to help solve the problem.  But is this enough?  Being poor and needy in the Bible does not just mean financial need.  People who are poor and needy also include those who don’t know Christ, who have these deep dark holes in their lives, despair and discontent that they might not even recognize.  If this need is greater than financial and extends to the spiritual, emotional, and physical, is taking care of the financial enough to fulfill the mandate that God has give us?

What about the gift of our time?  That isn’t an easy one for me right now.  It would involve childcare and scheduling and loss of family time.  I can’t commit to a bi-weekly volunteer position right now.  But, there are small things I can do to help.  I can pack care packages for the women’s prison, sort food bank items, fill that Shoebox around Christmas.  There are small things that I can do with my time that can free up someone else’s time so they can go out and serve in a way that I will have to wait to do.

When I look at this verse, a woman who fears the Lord is someone who opens her arms and extends her hands.  What does that mean?  Extending your hand can have financial connotations and donating your time is important but the verse goes beyond that.  She extends or opens her arms.  What does that imply?

We extend our arms for many reasons, to welcome people into our home, to hug, to carry.  What would it look like for me to welcome, embrace, carry those around me who are poor and needy?  Hospitality can be a powerful tool.  I once heard the saying that hosting and hospitality were different.  Hosting can imply that the focus is on you, with all the need to clean, have the perfect meal prepared.  Hospitality focusses on the person who is coming into your home.  Hospitality means sharing what you have with them and not caring so much on how you come across.  You know people who have this gift.  No matter what they serve, no matter what condition your house is in, you always feel welcome and cared for.  You have a wonderful time and leave feeling refreshed.

At this time in my life when it seems that my time and physical proximity resources are limited hospitality is a tool I can use to care for the poor and needy.  Maybe there is that person who you met at class or work, that other mom with a kid your age, what would it mean to invite them over for coffee, a meal, a playdate?  People have so many needs we don’t know about and aren’t apparent on the surface.  Sometimes one of the best ways we can help is by offering part of ourselves, our friendship, letting people into our lives  so that we can be this representation of Christ’s love here on earth.  How can we show people Christ’s love if we never let them near us?

In offering using my hands and arms to help those who need it I need to remember that there are times in my life when I have been  needy.  I have needed someone’s love and hospitality.  I have needed someone to help me out of this physical hardship or emotional dark place that I was enduring.  When I’m looking at ways to help the poor and needy I need to think of how I would like to be treated if I was in their shoes.  How did I want to be treated when I was in that emotionally difficult place?  What did I need?  I also look to people who have extended themselves meaningfully to me and try to see what it was they did or said that helped me and made me feel loved.  If we think back, I’m sure we all have people in our lives who did that for us.

Extending myself to those who are poor and those who have need means being thoughtful.  It means noticing the people around me who I can help, who I can welcome, who I can love.  Maybe it’s that new family at church who would love to come over for lunch.  Maybe it’s that new person at work who is new in town.  Maybe it’s that single mom who’s pregnant and could use those baby clothes you still have.  Maybe it means donating your time to help fix a car for someone who can’t afford a mechanic.  (My husband is really generous about that)  Loving people in this way means using what you have to help them and show them God’s love.  So, if I want to be a woman who fears the Lord, I look at what I have and extend that to those who need it.  It can be big and small but it needs to be a priority for me because it is a priority for God.

Weak arms and unlit lamps

I am in Bootcamp.  It hurts.  Some people say it is a sweet pain, that the end goal makes it all feel worth it but sometimes as I’m lying on the mat, trying with all my might to get my 2-month post natal abs to raise my legs even one inch, the end goal is just getting through until the instructor gives you a break.  Why do I do this, you may ask?  I do this for a couple of reasons.  The first and most superficial reason is that I want to look better.  I want to look better to other people and to myself.  I want to have all of my stomach fit into my jeans, not just the lower 8th.  I’m not as concerned about weight as I am about how things appear.  I also want to be healthier.  Having a baby at 31 is different from having a baby at 25.  My body doesn’t bounce back as easily as it did after my first child.  I’m noticing pain in my lower back that wasn’t there before (thanks to the soft-boiled egg abs from throwing up for 9 months).  Hopefully bootcamp will make my body better able to withstand raising 3 kids.  Hopefully I will feel stronger, less tired, better able to cope.  Bootcamp also offers me something else very important.  It offers me the chance to get to know people I might not encounter in the everyday of my life.  People who are out working, playing, doing different things in their lives completely separate from my own except for these tri-weekly training sessions.

I am in Life and Spiritual bootcamp.  It hurts.  Some people say it is a sweet pain, but as I’m lying in the middle of the night praying, crying or angry or desperate, I lose sight of the end goal.  We all have times where it feels like every part of us is being battered and bruised and we wonder why in the world we’re putting ourselves through this.  It can come upon us suddenly.  We’ve been faithful and relatively cheerful, serving others in various ways, working in ways that suit us, using our talents and gifts and WHAM.  We’re in a place where we’re not as patient.  That person is starting to annoy us.  We wake up dreading this role that used to bring us such joy.  Where you used to love playing with your kids lately, you just can’t wait until nap time.  Walking in the door, you kiss your spouse because that’s what you do, not because you’re particularly excited to see them.  You’re feeling unappreciated, resentful, and wondering why do I do this?

I hate this kind of bootcamp.  There are times in my life and ministry that are so so tough.  I get jealous of what other people get to do in their ministry or life and get edgy because my life and commitments won’t allow me to do the same right now.  Sometimes I feel unappreciated because my role seems minor and supportive.  Times like this sneak up on me and I find myself getting irritable and losing my perspective.  Bootcamp is all about perspective.  Bootcamp means enduring the aches and pains along the way, believing that what you’re doing will make you stronger, healthier, better.

When I’m in a place of spiritual bootcamp, once I realize it, I know that there are certain things, exercises, that I need to do to get to a place of health.

First, I realize that the end goal is and should be the focus.  When I’m ministering to other people, be it people in my community, church, or family, I need to remember that there are consequences to what I’m doing that I may never see.  When I think that maybe I won’t go or won’t bother talking to that new person in the lobby at church, I try to think of God’s purpose in putting these opportunities in my life.  Opportunities don’t always seem like a blessing at the time.  They can feel taxing and little and not worth it.  But, what if my smile is the only friendliness that new person has seen in a church in 20 years?  What’s the long-term goal?  What about that retreat your spouse has been excited about for months.  On the second day about 6:30pm, the baby just had a blowout, a bag of flour got spilled, you’re out of milk, and your older kids are fighting and you just heard a crash.  Your spouse comes home about 2 hours later after the kids are in bed, bubbling with joy about their experience.  Do you blast them back out the door with an anger filled account of your awful time or do you focus on the end goal.  A healthier spouse who feels rejuvenated which can lead to a healthier marriage?  Think of the long-term goals; our personal goals and God’s ultimate goal of showing his love here on earth to everyone.  Do you have your eyes on the goal?

Second, get what you need to sustain you through bootcamp.  Water and stretching are good but in spiritual bootcamp we need more.  Look to God first.  If you need to air your hurts and anger, tell God.  I got the best piece of advice from my Mother in Law early on in my husband’s and my ministry.  She said “Tell God everything you want him to know about the situation and how you want him to fix it.  He might even do it.”  If I’m feeling like I want to tell another person ‘in all love’ all the things that they need to change, I try to tell God first.  This is one of the most therapeutic things I do.  David did it with his Psalms and we can do it, too.  There’s something about voicing your feelings to God in an honest way.  He can take it and he wants us to come to him with everything, anger and frustration included.  I’ve found that after these times with God, I’ve come away with a much better perspective on the situation.  I’m clearer about the role me and my emotions play in the situation and am better able to discern what God would have me do.  Sometimes that means talking to a person about a particular situation and sometimes it means be silent.  One of those is easier than the other.

Other things I need to get me through bootcamp involve taking care of self.  One of our favorite phrases in our house is an old one passed down from great-grandmothers.  Blowing the stink off.  Get out, blow off steam, try something different, do something you love, get out-of-town, let your hair down, go on a date night with your spouse, drive and play really loud music (I love 80’s power ballads).  Get your focus off the tough stuff for a while.  A change is as good as a rest but make sure you get lots of rest too.

Third, ask for help and get it.  If your spouse is away and you need a break, get someone to watch your kids.  Trade off playdates.  I hate asking for help; I love giving it but have a hard time receiving.  It feels like I’m going to inconvenience people.  I am learning to ask for help when I need it.  Whether it’s day-to-day help or going to talk to a counselor, there’s no shame.  It doesn’t mean you’re not capable, or doing a good job.  Getting help means you can get through bootcamp.

What’s my end goal?  To be a woman who fears the Lord.  When I look at these verses in Proverbs that prompted this post, I see a woman who is likely has gone through spiritual bootcamp.  It mentions her strength so she can accomplish her tasks and that her lamp does not go out at night.

Proverbs 31:16 She considers a field and buys it;
out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
17 She sets about her work vigorously;
her arms are strong for her tasks.
18 She sees that her trading is profitable,
and her lamp does not go out at night.
19 In her hand she holds the distaff
and grasps the spindle with her fingers. (NIV)

Dealing with Spiritual Bootcamp means that when these times do come I try to make sure I have the reserves, the stamina, and the help I need to be strong.  This woman had been through all those things in life and serving others that can drain us and take our focus away from God.  I believe making it through these times gave her stamina and strength for times that would come in the future.  I don’t see a woman who had it so easy and started out with this kind of strength.  Gaining this kind of strength is a process, not something to be accomplished in one session of bootcamp but something that comes with persistence and courage.  I’m hoping that I learn how to endure them with more grace and love each time.

Due Dilligence

Proverbs 31:13 She selects wool and flax
and works with eager hands.
14 She is like the merchant ships,
bringing her food from afar.
15 She gets up while it is still night;
she provides food for her family
and portions for her female servants. (NIV)

As much as I would like to think so, I don’t think this portion of this Epilogue is about enabling my slightly unhealthy knitting habit.  When I read these verses I think of work…and I don’t want to think of work.  Most days my house is a type of moderately organized chaos.  I’m picking up after, washing, soothing, cooking, climbing, managing and all sorts of other tasks and at the end of the day, it looks like I’ve accomplished nothing.  Anyone else?  These verses can be really intimidating.  My hands are not always eager, especially with ironing.  I don’t want to get my food from afar, across town is far enough, thank you and if it’s a crazy day, I can make a lot out of the pantry in a pinch.  I really really really don’t want to get up when it’s still night and providing food for my family can mean meeting my husband at the door holding a crying baby and asking him what he wants for take-out.  I’m not even going to get on the topic of servants.  Sure wish I had some every once in a while.

I’m not trying to be self-deprecating.  I don’t have it so bad, especially right now when my wonderful mother in law is visiting.  My husband is away for about 2 weeks and she and my father in law have come to help.  I’m learning a lot and this passage is actually quite timely for me.  After my daughter, third child, was born, my mom and mother in law both came to help me out.  They did laundry, walked with a crying baby, fed my boys, and generally made life really really nice for me.  They gave me and my husband such a gift. They gave us their time, their energy, and served us in such a generous way.

I have to admit it’s hard for me to accept these kinds of gifts sometimes.  I feel quite guilty about others doing things for me and I’m afraid of putting them out.  I’m very ok to help others but accepting this help is tough.  What I’m realizing, and these verses are quite timely, is that serving others is a gift.  I look at these verses and where I once would have seen a standard I didn’t want to live up to I see a woman who has decided to take the sometimes mundane things in life and use them to serve others.

I am not always cheerfully serving my family.  When I step on Lego for the 10th time while trying to vacuum around the toys I picked up just 5 minutes ago, my heart is not filled with the joy of serving.  When my kids won’t sit for a meal and my son dumps his milk from his glass onto his plate for the 3rd time, nope, no heart of service.  Life and work is not always fun and there are jobs that I admit I really don’t like that are part of my taking care of my family.  So, what does it look like for me to be seeking God’s praise in all of the day-to-day?

First of all, I don’t think it means being a virtuously martyred drudge who is cleaning up the ashes while other people party around her.  I know some people who get such joy and identity in their martyrdom and I don’t think that allowing yourself to be in that position and receiving your affirmation from that is necessarily healthy.  There are times when I feel put upon and under-thanked but those are times I realize that having to do another load of dishes is not really about me.  I can grow to resent the people I serve, in my home and church and community if my heart isn’t right.  Why am I serving?  To be told how self-sacrificing I am?  To receive praise from others?  Who am I trying to please?  Am I grumpy in my serving because I feel unappreciated and overlooked?

God delights when I serve him in my day-to-day life.  I believe that when I look at my husband and my children and see how they help me despite the tough things going on in their lives, God is delighted when I don’t blow up at them for leaving a sock on the floor.  When I can iron my husband’s shirt so he is free to prep his sermon for Sunday I am giving him a gift and trying to support him in what God is doing in his life.  It makes me think of the times when he’s looked after our kids and worked at home for a morning while I got to pursue my teaching.  Or how he’s taken care of our vehicles so I can go about my day-to-day life not worrying that my truck will break down.

We have opportunities to serve each other in big and small ways through our everyday life.  My opportunities to serve right now tend to focus on things I can do as a stay at home mom.  They can be little things that remain unseen but really they aren’t.  God sees when I attempt to serve without resentment.  He also sees when I try to minister to my children, show them kindness through their difficult transitions in life and their spurts of emotion and independence.  Even though it may seem that our services to others is done in secret it’s not.  God sees our servant’s hearts and honors us for seeing the needs of others.  My husband and children have needs that I can help fulfill.  My desire is to realize that in serving others I am worshiping God.

As I strive to be a woman who fears the Lord, I need to focus on what pleases God.  He is pleased with my attitude, my gift of service to others.  The example of my mother and mother in law has shown me that service to others should be a way of worshipping God and a gift to others.  They never asked me for anything in return, never resented when they helped me, never played the martyr with sighs and slumped shoulders.  They have shown me that to help others when they need it and when they don’t know they need it is a gift and a ministry.  I hope to be a woman like them someday.

My Husband’s Pirate

Proverbs 31:10 Who can find a virtuous and capable wife?
She is more precious than rubies.
11 Her husband can trust her,
and she will greatly enrich his life.
12 She brings him good, not harm,
all the days of her life (NLT)

So, I am my husband’s Pirate.  I’ve always known I was a pirate, deep down.  I’ve even partially convinced my oldest son that I was a pirate before I married his dad.  I knew it.

You may be wondering what this has to do with these verses in Proverbs.  Well, it does have something to do with it.  My journey into Proverbs 31 and discerning what it means for me to be a woman who fears the Lord starts with this first chunk of verses.  It makes sense that if a parent is talking to their son about finding a wife they would talk about how she should treat him.  My oldest son, who is 6 years old, is concerned that there will be no one to marry when he’s grown because I and his aunties are taken.  I’ve talked to him about some characteristics that I wish for his future wife if he chooses to marry.  I’d like her first of all to love GOd with all her heart and I’d like her to be nice.  That’s as much patience as he had for listening.  We went on to talk about Lego.

I think this passage is an important one.  We hear a lot in our society about how we should be treated in a relationship.  It seems that how we treat the other person gets a little less air time.  In a relationship we want to be treated well but it is also vital that we treat the other person well.  If my son marries, I want his future wife to treat him well.  I also want him to treat his wife very very well.  THis passage and these couple of verses in particular give an idea of what it means when a wife treats her husband well.

Verse 11 is particularly interesting to me and that’s where I get the idea that I treat my husband well by being a pirate.  Fun!  And I’m serious about that.  The phrase “she will greatly enrich his life” can be translated as “he will not lack plunder”.  The Hebrew word for virtuous or noble in verse 10 has a military connotation that we don’t really get from the English translation.  So, these are not light and fluffy terms.  Really, when I think about it, I am a warrior.  This husband of mine, this man I married, is someone who I serve with, that I go through life with as part of a team.  I think of it this way.  In ancient battles, two soldiers would work in tandem.  One would hold the shield and the other would wield the weapon.  Each was vital for the other’s survival.  The weapon bearer was vulnerable without the shield-bearer and the shield-bearer was vulnerable without the weapon bearer.

So, in my relationship to my husband, he is to have full confidence in me and lack for nothing because I am there as his partner in battle, as it were.  What does that mean in my life?  When I think of the image of being my husband’s shield-bearer, it means that I help strengthen him.  I don’t attack him or leave him vulnerable.  To my husband it means the world when I speak kind and encouraging words to him.  I need to be a place for him where he feels he can be himself, that he’s not always on his guard waiting for that next unkind remark or that session of nagging.  I need to show him that I have confidence in him as well, in his wisdom and strength and integrity.  Neither of us are perfect but when I look at my husband and see that God wants me to honor my Lord by treating my husband well, I need to seek ways of feeding into him and encouraging him.  The Love and Respect seminar at our church has had some really valuable tools in how to treat my husband well with my words and actions.  It’s an excellent resource for couples at any stage in married life.  One important thing it taught me was that speaking well of my husband to him and in front of our children and others is a very good way of showing him how I respect him.  Kind words, a shout out on Facebook, telling our kids how great I think their dad is are all important things I’ve learned to do to show my husband I care.

Treating my husband well is a way of honoring God.  God loves my husband as his child and wants what is best for him.  I show my love for God and love for my husband by being a strong wife who has his back and cares for him as her partner for life.  I want to be my husband’s Pirate.  Weird, I know, but kind of appealing.

Until tomorrow.

 

 

 

Living in Fear

So as promised here are my thoughts on fear and I have many but for the sake of this exercise, here are my thoughts on fearing the Lord.  Because if I’m going to attempt to work through this biblical journey and strive to be a woman who God finds praiseworthy I need to uncover what fearing the Lord actually means.  Many of us who have grown up in the Church may have been taught or unconsciously given the impression that this means to actually be afraid of God.  I have to admit that there are times when I’ve been afraid of what God thought about my actions and I have struggled with fear in relation to death.  So, fear is something that I am very familiar with.  My history coupled with the ominous sounding phrase “fear of the Lord” can bring to mind images of Ten Commandment epic proportions of a holy finger of judgement coming down from heaven.

That may reflect many people’s image of fearing the Lord.  The burning bush, prostrate before the Holy One of Israel, image of God and our holy reverential fear that is in response to that.  Now, the next thing I’m going to say I have to be careful about because this image of God has been used improperly in the Church through history to strike fear in the hearts of the congregation and motivate them in some way.  I think that is inappropriate and has been hurtful and detrimental to many people through time.  However, and now here it is, when I read the phrase “Fear of the Lord” I do think an important part of that is this holy reverence.  Don’t get tense, let me explain.

I’ll need to wind this around a little bit so please stay with me, it’s all coming back to living this life that is praiseworthy to God.  When a person encounters God, the knowledge of him, the experience of him, or just hearing about him, some kind of response happens.  It might be brushing it off, it might be anger, but hopefully a seed is planted of curiosity, of gratitude, of worship.  God elicits some kind of response.  Your experiences and your personality will color that response but I strongly believe that if you are walking toward God, striving to get to know about him and to know him better certain responses are inevitable.  One of these responses is gratitude.  Gratitude for the love and grace God shows each person through Jesus dying on the cross.  Gratitude that no matter who we are or what we’ve done God can and does forgive and renew.

Gratitude is not the only response, though, and this is where I’m trying to make thread things together.  As we seek to know God better, as we look in the Bible, we cannot help but see his majesty, his power, his holiness.  I can’t stop at gratitude when I read about and begin to experience this God.  He is the Holy One of  Israel, the one who created everything; the one who is holy and powerful enough that he is the only one who can forgive us from sin.  As I get to know God, I realize that it is his holiness and power, as well as his love, that needs to elicit something from me.  I need to revere him, not to see him as a white Wonder Bread god, but a God who is powerful enough to back up his promises.

So (I feel like the Apostle Paul when I start a paragraph that way), what do I do with this knowledge of God and this reverence/fear that I have for him?  I can’t just hug this information to myself, to gleefully chuckle over my good fortune that My God is powerful enough and loves me enough to change my life.  I actually have to let my life be changed.  Fearing the Lord means that my knowledge of who God is, his love and his holiness, needs to change not only my outlook, but my actions.  I need to be motivated by who God is and let that guide my decisions, everyday and monumental.

Fearing the Lord means heart and action.  My heart is changed by who I know God to be and my actions reflect that knowledge.  The Proverbs 31 woman allowed this knowledge of God to change her character and we see how that played out in here everyday life.  She was compassionate, honest, wise, hardworking, and used the gifts God had given her in ways that pointed to his love.  All of these attributes and actions listed in Proverbs 31 point to a good woman, a woman tries to do good in the world.  The culmination is in verse 31:30.  There are good people in the world but what made her different, what made her stand out was her motivation.  She knew her God, knew of his goodness and greatness and in response, allowed that to color all areas of her life.  She desired that her Lord would be pleased with her, that she would honor him with her actions as well as her heart.

How can I fear the Lord?  I get to know him.  I spend time trying to understand his might and his love.  I allow that knowledge to change me.  I actively seek to show God my gratitude and my worship of him by changing my actions to reflect not the kind of person I am but the kind of God he is.  It is a good and healthy fear.

 

 

Mamma said there’d be days like these…

I know I promised you that this post would discuss what fearing the Lord looks like, but today has been a day.

At this point in the day I am standing here at the computer, thankful for my Gigi Handmade Baby sling in which I hold my baby girl.  The baby who will not be put down without apocalyptic screaming because of a sore tummy, who is at this point staring cross-eyed (which does cause me some concern, but my mom says it’s normal) at the inside of her sling.  It hasn’t been so bad a day, really, in comparison to some I’ve known.  The dog, who is at this point following me around picking up dropped bits of sandwich I was finally able to make after eating 4 oatmeal cookies (the only thing I thought I would be able to eat while holding said baby, see above).  She has had a great day, this basset hound of mine, including a wonderful outdoor adventure, unplanned, during which I had to chase her through our snow-filled back alley in my bare feet.  Unrepentant, she has consumed the parts of my sandwich off of my vacuumed floor; for which I am actually quite grateful.  My almost 2 year old son is upstairs sleeping after consuming more bran muffins than is good for anyone and three falls off of the kitchen chairs resulting in hurt feelings but hopefully no permanent damage.  He too has had a good day, consisting of the growth spurt induced tumbles and eating flour out of the bag with a melon baller.

Days like these are made up of elements that can make the world of the woman of Noble Character seem inaccessible.  Days when your deodorant fails (provided you remembered to put some on), you end up yelling at your children, eating junk, and generally lamenting the fact that you haven’t had time yet to sit down for more than 15 minutes.  We all have days like this in our own variations, bad days at work where you forgot that presentation, people yelled at you all day, you were late for that ministry meeting at church and found out that a teen that you had been talking to got their girlfriend pregnant.  You know, those sorts of days.

It seems like the woman in Proverbs 31 never had those kind of days.  She had infinite patience, brain power, strength, humor, business savvy, and wisdom.  Why can’t I be like that?  I think the first thing that I need to remember is that no one is like that!  This woman would have had hard days, days where her business schemes went awry, she got out of bed with a sore back and in a bad mood, and you can’t tell me that though she had servants they weren’t sometimes part of the problem.  I like to think of this Epilogue as a sort of eulogy.  Studies show that when people remember back over their lives it is the good things and good memories that stand out, not the bad ones.  This woman, business person, wife, mother, humanitarian, would have had her bad days, but it is her legacy that matters.  This is the portrait of an ideal, the best parts of a person.

When I look at this passage I see how I would want to be remembered.  I would like this portrait of a woman to reflect the attributes that I showed in life.  I am far from perfect, as this day has shown, but when I look at this woman who fears the Lord I see what I hope is my future legacy.  At the end of my life I want people to say “She was a woman who feared the Lord”.  I want that fear and reverence to be  shown in how I treat people, how I handled myself, how my very existence reflected God’s love and glory in my small part of the world.  I see that there is a bigger picture shown in this chapter; a picture of a woman who strove in every part of her life to glorify God, good days and bad, some with more success than others.

So, this gives me hope on days like this.  Now, the baby is finally asleep and my back hurts so I’m going to sit down.  We’ll see how that goes.

Until Tomorrow.

And the Journey begins…

With two kids asleep at the same time, shocking, I know, I’m sitting down to lay out this journey I’ve set for myself.  If I’m really going to own this passage and try to apply it to areas of my life, I need to spend some time really uncovering these attributes of a Woman of Noble Character.  I’ve replaced woman with wife because I think this passage goes beyond marriage and children, though it does address these issues.  This passage in the Bible is one of the longest speaking about the attributes in a woman that please God.  I don’t think there is a comparable one about men laid out in this way, but please, if anyone can think of one, please feel in my mental gap.  So, though these attributes laid out in this passage seem to be from parent to son (I am intrigued by the idea that this passage, Proverbs 31:10-31, could have been told by a mother to her son.  The first bit of Chapter 31 is from a mother to her son, so why not?) I don’t think that this is only about married women and mothers.  This passage is for all women to wrestle with and to fit into their lives.

Let the games begin.  I thought I’d take a couple of days to ruminate on the characteristics or attributes I see in this passage.  I believe it’s the attributes that matter here, and it’s the attributes that we can apply to the circumstances in our own lives.  This gives us the ability to cross beyond the cultural barriers (my husband doesn’t spend a lot of time sitting at the city gate) and figure out what God is saying to us today.  Once I examine these attributes I’m intending to look at other women in the BIble who personify some of these attributes.  If I’m going to look at what being a woman who fears the Lord looks like, I want to see her in all her different shapes and forms and circumstances.  What better place than the Old and New Testaments?

There’s the plan.  Look at the attributes in Proverbs 31:10-31, look at women in the Bible who personify those attributes, and focus on one of those women each week.  I’m intrigued.  I don’t want to just look at your typical Marys and Marthas, though they’ll be in there, but at some of the more obscure women mentioned.  Some of their stories are pretty incredible and I am excited to learn what they have to tell me, a woman attempting to live a life in fear of God.

Tomorrow I’ll look at what it actually means to fear the Lord.  Probably more than just a roller coaster, wet your pants kind of fear.  We’ll see.

Until tomorrow.

Charm is Deceptive…

“Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” Proverbs 31:30 (NIV)

I have to admit this verse and I have had a troubled relationship.  Not so much for the verse itself, but really for the company this verse keeps.  This verse is part of the Epilogue “A Wife of Noble Character” found in the 31st chapter of the book of Proverbs.  My relationship with this verse began when I was 19 years old and studying at Bible College.  My mother, a really wonderful woman and feisty as all get out, sent me a letter and at the bottom she included this verse.  It expressed her hope for me and the woman I was becoming.   But, busy dating and being on my own for the first time, I loved the letter but this verse got shoved to the back burner.

It was around the time that I married my husband, at the ripe old age of 21, that I started to examine what this verse meant.  It was prompted by the fact that, despite my lifelong determination not to, I had married a man going into full-time ministry and was thus becoming a “Pastor’s Wife”.  I had been in the church all my life, loved and still do love the church but did not ever want to be a Pastor’s Wife.  I wanted my own life and ministry direction, thank you very much.  But, as we headed through our schooling, my husband training as a Youth Pastor and me to study Old Testament at Seminary, I encountered this passage from Proverbs again.

I was daunted, I have to admit.  How could I possibly live up to this standard of womanly perfection?  How was I go be a woman who was praiseworthy in God’s eyes if I couldn’t meet the criteria he set out for women?  I thought it couldn’t be done.  So, what was I going to do with the fact that this seemingly impossible standard had been set out in the Bible for women to attain?  Well, I could get angry and frustrated, which I did, and resentful of anyone who preached how women were to use this as our guide for life and family.  But, I realized that the God who loves me, gifted me, and created me would not set me something that I could not attain because there just weren’t enough hours in the day.  What to do?  What to think?

So, that is what has prompted this journey and this blog.  I read this passage and I realize that I shouldn’t feel unworthy because of this woman, I should feel inspired.  I know she’s written to look perfect, that’s the point.  But I think what we’re to get out of this passage are the attributes that make her a woman in whom God delights.  I don’t need to be the businesswoman/housekeeper/wife/mother/mistress of slaves extraordinaire, but what I need to get from this passage are the elements that touch on my life.  I don’t need to be everything this woman is presented as being but where my life intersects with hers, in family, in work, in worship, I need to see God in those areas of my life.

This passage is showing us a woman who is seeking God in all areas of her life.  That is the kind of woman I want to be.  I won’t be perfect, but I don’t think she was either.  When I read between the lines I see a woman who may have resented having to get up early in the morning to get breakfast after being up with a baby all night.  A woman whose hands were tired, whose body was sore, and who had not yet reached lunchtime.  But, she was seeking God in every area.  I want to be a Woman like her, a woman who fears the Lord.  A woman fiercely and fearfully living in pursuit of God.