Thoughts on Convictions – 2

In the first post in this series I explained that while the Bible speaks clearly about how we should live, there is often freedom to apply its commands in various ways. In these second two posts I hope to give some examples of how this works. These ideas can be applied to many different biblical commands, but my intent here is to examine some of the bigger issues in conservative Christianity.

Education
                There is a clear command in Ephesians 6 for parents to raise their children in the Lord. Many take this to mean that the only form of education is homeschooling. This is supported by Deuteronomy 6, where parents are told to speak to their children of God’s laws when you rise up, when you lie down, when you walk by the way, etc.  Homeschooling certainly makes obeying those commands easier, especially with younger children who don’t yet have the discernment to sort right from wrong in a secular teaching environment.[1]
But I have seen families who homeschool neglect the spiritual teaching and even more, spiritual care of their children, and I have seen families who do not homeschool excel in raising their children in the Lord. Those families had to work extra-hard to disciple their children, but they most certainly did not neglect God’s commands in sending their children to private or public schools. Successes and failures aside, what really matters is not what worked for someone but what God says.
My understanding of those two commands (Deuteronomy 6 and Ephesians 6) is that the place of education isn’t as important as the interaction between parents and children at home. Discipling your children and homeschooling are not synonymous. Neither is simply doing family worship at the end of a school day, whether that day was at or away from home. It is teaching your children when you rise up (but you can be getting ready for school or studies at home), when you lie down, and when you walk by the way (whether that’s the car to and from school or up and down the stairs of your house).
We see homeschooling as the easiest and most practical way of doing that and so have chosen to homeschool, but believe making that the only valid option for Christians is beyond the teaching of scripture.

                Post-high school education is often hotly debated. This is an area that I don’t believe there are commands in the Bible that directly apply. However, there is teaching on the company you keep, making wise choices, and the calling of God.

We don’t see college as the only or even best route, but one of many. What is most important is receiving what you need to fulfill any calling or passion God has given you – that might mean internship, trade school, online courses, college, or simply reading and studying this and that on your own. This goes for daughters AND sons. The aforementioned callings and passions should be shaped and checked by scripture (for example, only men are to be leaders in the church, so if a daughter aspires to that she must re-think her desires). First, one must study the Bible to determine what a Christian is to do and be, and then what a man or a woman is to do and be, and finally what they personally should do and be with the giftings God has given them. From there one can determine what the wisest route is – and that is never sitting idly at home!
Because of the above, I don’t believe a daughter must stay at home, but I do believe that after careful study of biblical commands to women, it would likely be the wisest route in order to prepare for the future. I do not see a career as being the norm for a woman; see “women working” below.

 

Youth group
                As with education, the clear command of scripture is for parents to raise their children in the Lord.
Does this mean others can’t be involved? No. But others should not take the place of parents in any way. There are definitely times when peers can gather and do peer stuff. Is it always wise? No. But should it be banned across the board or generalized as dividing the church into age-based factions? I don’t think so.

 

Women Working

“Older women… are to train the younger women to be… working at home.” Titus 2:3-5. (Other translations say “keepers of the home.” Strong’s concordance suggests that the Greek best translates into the idea of housekeeper.)
The understanding of this command does depend some on the variance in translations, as noted above. Because of that, some read this passage and believe that women may only work in and from the home. Others apply that only to a wife. And still others see the application as the keeping of the home being the woman’s first and primary duty, but once that is done she is free to work outside the home. Because of Proverbs 31, there is rarely any dispute over whether or not a woman may work from the home. The issue is not a woman generating income.

I tend to side with the latter two opinions, thus concluding that daughters have more freedom in this area (though living at home would perhaps be wisest, and if at home, any family duties must be fulfilled), and that there are times it is permissible for a wife to work outside the home.
Our view is that if a woman can still manage the home (which pre-baby could easily have been as little as 15 minutes of chores and an hour of cooking a day), working is not an issue (it should also be noted, however, that working from home can cause as much if not more of a distraction from wifely duties than working outside!). This means that it would most likely only be part time and not full-time or a long-term career. However, that doesn’t mean it’s the wisest use of her time.

Before we got married, Ezra and I decided that we were okay with me working part-time pre-kids if I wanted to. But his job is plenty to support us and we decided my time would be better used in other ways – like volunteering at the pregnancy center, writing, visiting people from church, etc. Not that it was wrong for me to work, but we saw that the better use of my time would be in these other ways that were more along the lines of how the women who were applauded in scripture spent their time. Also, just because you “can” do both on paper doesn’t mean it will play out that way. As a couple, you must consider what it really means to be a keeper at home, versus simply making dinner at the end of a long day.
I wrote about this more in 2012, and you can read that here.
I understand and have respect for more conservative views, especially considering the variance in the translation of the passage, but do not see it as an across-the-board rule.

Birth Control
                 The Bible does not say anything about birth control specifically, however, it does speak about how we should view children, the sovereignty of God, the sanctity of life, and also to issues of sin in our hearts. Some look at these teachings and conclude that using birth control is always sin, implying that if you don’t take “as many as God gives you,” then you’re not really seeing children as a blessing. Others believe we have freedom to use whatever birth control we choose as long as we still view children as a blessing. In the middle are people who would use only some forms of birth control, or only at certain times.
This is a complex issue that is often emotionally charged, personal, and has many facets.
                First, there is our mindset towards children. The Bible is clear that children are a blessing, can bring their parents great joy, and are like arrows in the hand of a warrior – “tools” for engaging our culture.
                Second, there is the sovereignty of God. God is in control of every area of our lives – which combined with point one say to me that the number and timing of children isn’t something for me to regulate. This is even more clear to me as I think about the timing of S’s conception and birth – with circumstances that were better than we would have chosen, but also ones we would not have chosen – yet still showing how God’s way is so much better than ours. To say “it’s just science” is to deny God’s hand in every day details of our lives, including the science of things like the rising and setting of the sun. It does not feel right to me to try to take control of that, nor does it ever seem to me like there is a “good time” to have a baby – babies are always work and life is always kind of crazy.
                Third, there is the sanctity of life. This applies to specific forms of birth control that can be considered abortifacients, and that therefore I believe are wrong for Christians to use. If after points 1, 2, and 4 are prayerfully considered a couple still chooses to delay or prevent children, there are other options to choose from that do not compromise life, some that could even be considered God’s design (ecological breastfeeding, Hosea 1:8). However, I think in most circumstances, after said prayerful consideration, the use of birth control will be excluded.
And fourth, there is sin in our own hearts. Ask yourself: why do I want to use birth control? It’s easy to want to wait for a better time, or a longer gap (side note: I do believe God can and does give us more than we can handle – but never more than HE can handle!), or to want to be done so you can focus on other things. Those are often complex and deep concerns that often belong to the couple (and sometimes their mentors) alone, but whenever steps are taken to prevent children we must check our hearts for sin, particularly selfishness. Selfishness can also show up in our ideals for what we want our children to have. Love is not measured by what things we can give them or activities they can do.

Within that framework, I know people who have chosen to use legitimate forms of birth control, particularly for health reasons (and I know people who have chosen to still forgo any birth control despite health risks – and both decisions were reached with much prayer), or in seasons of particular trial. Whatever the reasons, though, we must always check ourselves to make sure it’s not simply selfishness that leads our decision.

Whichever side we fall on, the decision seems to come from more general texts (Children are a blessing and God is sovereign) that combined with wisdom are lived out a certain way (If the above statements are true, are we really in a place to seek to prevent kids?).

On the other side of things, I don’t think it’s right for us to pry into others’ plans for children. I always felt that if people weren’t divulging that information, then that was their choice to keep it a private matter and that was completely fine. I think that someone in a mentorship position can and even should ask about that at times, especially if the couple is waiting to have children, to help check their motives.

I’ve also often found that behind the asking and/or the way it’s responded to, there’s usually an unspoken implication that they’re hoping you take the same position as them, which in our circumstances has been the mindset of leaving it up to God and it makes it awkward if that’s not what you’re doing.

But what clicked the other day was also that the way some people reply to pregnancy announcements (or ask if you are pregnant yet), implies that we really hope you are because it’s the best thing that can happen in/because of your marriage. I don’t mean by being annoyed at this that children aren’t a great blessing or that having them isn’t good for your marriage (the past months have been very good for our marriage, especially communication, and I think a fair amount of that is due ways we’ve grown because of S). But marriage is about WAY more than having children, and there are other blessings God gives as well.

 

[1] Unless a child has a clear profession of faith and fruit to match, we cannot claim they are a necessary “salt and light” in the secular schools.

Thoughts on Convictions – 1

In the last two years or so, I’ve thought often about convictions, particularly the way they play out in conservative circles. I was raised with a lot of books and CDs from “ultra-conservative” circles  and benefited from them. However, I often accepted the rationales given for their values without question,[1] and there was definitely a time when I was lock-step with most of their teachings. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I began wondering at some of what they said, so that I started studying to make sure that my thoughts were biblical and not just things that “sounded right” to me.

As a continuation of those thought processes, I re-read some of the books we own dealing with homeschooling, birth control, emotional purity, etc. I really started thinking about phrases being used and where they come from. Is guarding your heart really a biblical concept? Are we really supposed to “give our hearts to our fathers?” How “wrong” is youth group? How absolute is homeschooling? And what should a daughter do with her time? In the end, my convictions remained the same in their basic outworking, but my explanations for them changed. This was mostly due to one thing I kept seeing again and again as a pitfall in these circles: It seems that the clear commands of the Bible, such as parents discipling their children (Ephesians 6, Deuteronomy 6), are often blown out of proportion. Instead of acknowledging the freedom we have to apply such commands in different ways, the application itself becomes a further command: you must homeschool. This also happens in areas such as modesty, courtship, birth control, youth group, and women working outside the home.
I firmly believe that the Bible speaks to each of these issues. It is usually very easy to see exactly what God desires:  you shall not steal. You shall not commit adultery. Children, obey your parents. Flee sexual immorality. Parents, teach your children the ways of the Lord. However, as proved by the varied ways Bible-believing Christians apply the commands of scripture, it is clear that the simple commands of the Bible are not so simple to apply. The way a brief command interacts with culture is complicated. Sometimes, people use that to ignore commands of God, sweeping everything off of the table and saying nothing of those commands, refusing to consider the differences between our culture and what the Bible says. Other times, they make the commands to mean more than they are (as in the previous example of “bring [your children] up in the training and instruction of the Lord” becoming “homeschooling is the only form of education for the Christian family”).
There are many times when we have more freedom than some allow in the application of His commands. Things like homeschooling may be the wisest and most practical way to obey Him, but homeschooling is not the only way, nor is it a command from the Bible. It may be a right thing to do, but I believe it is the application of a law of God, not the law itself. I hope in the following posts to show examples of how this plays out in various issues. I hope by these examples to demonstrate that these things are important, but also delicate and require grace in the way we live them out.

[1] Despite my family’s use of the materials in a way that went to the Bible FIRST and applied any teaching with grace.

A Greater Goal: Conclusion (5)

{this is the final part in a series}
Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four

Conclusion

I’m not going to say His blessings for obedience will always be visible on earth, but as I’ve sought to reorient parts of my life, there has been blessing. He’s provided opportunities to serve the church with music, wisdom in making decisions of things to cut off, and then proof that it was the right decision.

There are two main examples of this. The first was when I decided that now was not a good time for me to play piano at church. The timing was bad and it didn’t feel like a good fit, but I wondered if that was selfish. I really did want to serve the church with music, but playing for the service just didn’t feel right. That same day, my friend told me she had been asked to be in charge of music for our Carol service in December and asked if I would help her.

The second was in turning away piano students. I wasn’t sure I could handle it as far as capacity was concerned, and also was feeling pressed for time that week. Then the next week I felt I could’ve and wondered if I could take on more – but then I was asked to help lead the younger girls’ Bible study, which fit with building up the church, schedules, and a desire to disciple some of the younger girls in our congregation.

It’s still often a struggle and a challenge as I seek to apply these things, and most often, I fail. But I’m slowly growing, learning, and dying to self.

In closing, here are a few statements to summarize and cement these past five posts.

–          I’m not saying we shouldn’t enjoy hobbies like knitting, or that we can’t do them for the sake of aesthetics and beauty. We can and should enjoy them and make things beautiful. But we need to be sure that we’re doing them for the right reasons and not neglecting other things that we should be doing. So do things you enjoy, and take time to rest and make things beautiful!

–          We shouldn’t judge our fruit by our production. I may finish five quilts in a month but not be seeking Christ – and abiding in Him is how we bear fruit.

–          We shouldn’t judge our faithfulness by how many things we checked off our list today, or how good we feel, but by whether or not we’re doing what God has given us to do. I may volunteer at the Crisis Pregnancy Center but be dishonoring my parents, or accomplish a long list of tasks while failing to do it to the glory of God.

–          There is no problem with these hobbies, just with making them our priority and goal rather than our goal being Christ. In fact, when we are seeking to obey His commands, we will run into many of these things: Learning a meek and quiet spirit will include cleaning sinks. Washing the feet of the saints and hospitality will include baking. Helping mothers will include holding babies. Serving the church may mean you sew or knit. Ministry may include knitting – we used to knit hats for crisis pregnancy centers. Honoring your mother and father may mean you do all of these things and more.

–          Doing street evangelism with your church isn’t “holier” than honoring your father and mother by scrubbing a floor. Both are obedient and necessary and have their place. Everything we do, whether big or small, can be used to worship and glorify God.

–          This isn’t one-size-fits-all. There are aspects of it that are – God’s commands to build up the church, evangelize, practice hospitality, be self-controlled, and care for the afflicted apply to all women. But the practical outworkings of that will look different to all. For some, that may mean a lot of knitting. For others, it may mean none. But for all, it shouldn’t take us away from the work we’ve been given to do.

–          If used to help us fulfill our duties, worship God, or for seasons of rest, hobbies can be a very, very good thing. But if they distract us from what we should be doing, then we need to reassess how we’re using them.

–          If we are following the commands of God but doing them for ourselves rather than for Him, then we must ask Him to change our motive.

–          Done for the glory of God, even the most mundane and temporal things will have eternal value.

–          If our first desire is to knit, bake, and marry, we have a very small vision. I urge you to put that aside and seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and make Christ and Christlikeness our goal. Put off me-time and put on fruitful, faithful, obedient ministry that puts others and their needs above your to-do lists and projects. You can use knitting and baking to further His Kingdom and to be faithful. Marriage is a wonderful and beautiful thing – but only Christ is ultimate, so seek Him first.

–          Find the balance in using gifts and talents in a way that aids, rather than detracts from, what God has laid out for us to do. Remember that little things like knitting can have eternal value, but also that it shouldn’t distract us from being faithful daughters – of our earthly and heavenly Fathers. These things are not good or bad in and of themselves – it’s how we use them and our time that makes them helps or hindrances.

Let’s not strive for good knitting, the praise of men, someday having immaculate houses, being modest, or just being good daughters. Loving babies, serving our families, knitting, and writing – all of those things are gifts, but they are means to an end, not the end. Knit – but do it to serve and not for your own gain. Bake – but do it to build up the church, not receive the praise of men. Hold babies – and help and bless mothers when you do so!

 As living sacrifices thankful for what He’s done for us, let’s press forward to the goal, not getting entangled in civilian pursuits, but being faithful with what scripture commands us to do, for our sanctification, for discipleship, known for good works, building up the church, evangelism, our families. Do it by knitting, cleaning, baking, sewing, praying, talking, serving, and many other ways, for the glory of GOD alone, that His name would be praised and exalted and that He would be worshiped. 

{If you want another angle at this or a quick summary, there was one over at Six Angles a few weeks ago}

A Greater Goal: Redeeming the Time (4)

{this is part four of five}
Part One
Part Two
Part Three

Redeem the Time

In the past few months, I’ve begun re-working what my priorities are and where I should spend my time. This has meant a number of things.

 It means reminding myself of the big picture behind motherhood and family life – God’s commands to do it, the eternal fruit it bears, and the witness of a godly family to the world. In moments when I feel that my chores and someday being a mother isn’t “enough” and I could “do more,” I must remember that this is where God has put me, motherhood is His beautiful design, and that I’m being faithful in what He’s put before me to do in my family. And when it’s still really hard – I have to pray that He will renew my mind to rid it of worldly, feminist thinking that has crept in. It means that there are times when sewing is good and what I should be doing, and that cleaning and cooking is so important and not to be downplayed. I also must remember the bigger picture of why we do all those things and that even the most mundane and temporal things done for the right reasons will have eternal value.

It means multitasking when I sew, drive, run, or crochet, if possible (multitasking is less efficient, so this can only be done in certain situations). Often that means I crochet while we’re watching movies, listen to sermons or pray while I drive, sew, and run, or put on Christian songs and sing to Him, so the time spent on mundane and temporal things can have even more investment in eternity.

It means recognizing seasons of learning and rest, when something that will one day bear fruit now takes a lot of work, and also seasons when things have to be put aside, to be picked up later or left forever. We can do things just because we enjoy them, or just because it makes something beautiful, but that should not consume us.

It means if I already have enough dresses I don’t need to sew another one for me, but will use that sewing time for quilts for new babies, mending, etc. This goes for other things, too. I have plenty, so I should use what I have to help others, using gifts to help the church and ministries. This means I give a lot of what I earn – since I don’t need it, I save and give it. It also means giving of my time so someone who has less discretionary time can do something else.

It means putting aside “my” schedule for others. Even the good things, like working on my musical or latest hymn arrangement or that email I was going to reply to.

It means spending time in the Word – not just reading a chapter, but dwelling on it and in it, in worship to God and allowing it to show me who I am and who He is. It means slowing down and savoring my Savior. Our worship serves and glorifies Him.

 

It means being bold in conversation to take it deeper than trivial things – whether this is for me to learn from others or to be able to help and teach them.

It means assessing what is being faithful. Sometimes finishing a sewing project seems more fruitful than spending time with a sibling or doing extra chores. For me, spending the day taking pictures wouldn’t be a good use of time – but for a young lady blessing a family by doing family portraits for them, or using photography skills as a business, it would be. We choose things that seem more fruitful but sometimes they take us away from what is faithful: and remember that being faithful will bear fruit in the long run. Remember that fruit is not up to us, but up to God – ours is to be faithful. Samuel Rutherford said, “Duties are ours; events are God’s.” There are times when I should be sewing, and there are times when I shouldn’t be. I have to ask myself: Is this what I should be doing right now? Sometimes that means doing a job someone else could do just as well, or something I really don’t want to do or serving a busy sibling by doing their chores for them. Sometimes it means I put aside what seems like greater ministry to honor my father and mother by doing dishes.

Another important thing for me to remember is that not every possibility is my responsibility. There are good things I could do – billions of good things I could do – but just because I can do it doesn’t mean I should do it or that it’s my duty to do it. That’s why passages of scripture that outline what women should be doing are so helpful, because it helps me prioritize.

It means asking myself often: Is what I’m doing with my time helping me and others be faithful to the commands of scripture, or is it just something fun and enjoyable that needs to take the backburner, or even, is it good but keeping me from something better? Music practice is good. But when I’m not serving my family because I “need” to practice, that’s a problem. Writing stories is good. But when I’m neglecting a family in the church that’s in need, I’m not loving the brothers (1 John 3:16-18), and my priorities need to change.

Part Five

A Greater Goal: Priorities (3)

{this is part three of five}
Part One
Part Two

Priorities

I’ve said a lot about being careful how much time we spend on our hobbies, so they don’t distract us from what we should be doing. But I haven’t said a lot yet about what scripture lays out for women to do. Here are three passages that we’re all familiar with but that we always need reminding of, and sometimes require looking at in a new light.

Proverbs 31. The Proverbs 31 woman is busy caring for her family, helping her husband so he can sit in the gates, and preparing for the future. What she does is productive (v. 31), but she is praised not for what she does, but because she fears the Lord. Are you emulating her in your business or in your fear of the Lord? (Hopefully both!)

Titus 2. While we invest time in physical homemaking skills that can be learned more easily (especially the non-essentials like knitting and sewing), we need to be sure we are learning character – are you self-controlled? Kind? Pure? Are you being trained by older women in these areas?  Paul is very clear that the woman’s role is in the home – but that doesn’t mean eating bon bons all day and that doesn’t mean that our job is just to cook and clean – there’s more to be prepared for than that. These character traits are often learned in practical skills that are challenging because they are hard to accomplish or because they are so easy and “little” that we must use self-control to turn off Facebook or Pinterest and do the dishes.

1 Timothy 5. One day, many women will be widows. While we don’t want to dwell on that, the list provided in verses 9-15 are important – because those who are widows supported by the church are women who are already doing these things when their husbands die. Do you have a reputation for good works? Have you shown hospitality? Cared for the afflicted? Washed the feet of saints (literally or serving them in other ways)? Or are you an idler, gossip, and busy body? And what does Paul tell the younger widows to do? Marry, bear children, and manage their households, knowing this will keep them out of sin and also that it’s God’s design for women.

While I was reading these, I realized we don’t have time to do this and keep up with all of our hobbies. Obeying these commands and following these patterns will mean we have to give some things up. It doesn’t mean we never do anything we enjoy or that we can never pick up knitting needles again, but before we do so we must weigh our motives and obedience. What we’re giving up is temporal, and the time invested in souls (notice how almost all of what we’re told to do is relational) will bear fruit.

Preparing for motherhood is good, and is a godly goal. But we need to be sure we’re preparing for the right things and investing in what really matters. A meek and quiet spirit is harder to learn than making bread and cleaning sinks, and it’s more important than a clean house and good food. But even so, you don’t learn a meek and quiet spirit in books. You learn it in real life – when the baby gets ahold of your knitting or when schedule conflicts mean you give something you really wanted to do to cook for the sick. You learn it when you’re cleaning sinks, especially when the sink is your own family’s and there’s no glamor or pride in saying you helped the single mother. Volunteering at the pregnancy center is not “holier” than honoring your parents by doing the dishes. In fact, the girl who honors her parents is being more obedient than the girl who leaves duties at home for even the “best” ministry or dishonors her parents.

But why? Why does this matter? Is it going to save us?
No.
What we do doesn’t save us. Christ saves us. He alone can bear the wrath of God for our sins and bring us to God.

But, in Romans 12, after 11 chapters of the glories of God and the gospel, Paul appeals to his readers, saying that because of God’s great mercy to us in saving us, to present our bodies as living sacrifices. And then he gives guidelines for Christian living.

Living a certain way will not save you. Being a “good Christian girl” will not save you – whether that goodness is knitting and baking or caring for the afflicted and showing hospitality. But there is a way to live that shows His saving grace and that leads to a life that adorns the gospel rather than reviling His word (Titus 2:5).

I recently heard of another wise woman I know advising her children when they asked about some other people they’d met who said they were Christians but didn’t act like it. She explained the difference to them between belief and saving faith. Even the demons believe. Is your belief saving faith? So you must ask yourself: is your Christianity just belief? This is a question to be asked by the girl who is immodestly dressed and the girl who only wears skirts.

This takes two levels: there’s the first level of living a self-righteous life or being saved by Christ, and a second level of being good, of living rightly… but being very inward focused, of keeping to yourself rather than engaging unbelievers and building up the church.

If God has saved you, then examine what you’re living for and what kingdom you’re investing in. Are you keeping His commands or just doing what people around you think of as good? Examine your heart to test your motives: if you’re hospitable and care for the saints, but do it for your own glory, then it’s not good – and the girl who just knits and bakes but does it to serve and not bring attention to herself may be more faithful.

If you’re not a believer, then I urge you to repent, to call on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved. Talk to your parents, or a Christian friend, or pastor, or comment here – if you haven’t commented before it won’t be public unless you want it to be, and then I’ll have a way to contact you.

In the next post, I’ll list some of the practical outworkings of the previous two posts in my life, and hope to encourage you in your own pursuit of Christ and godliness. In the meantime, remember this: we can produce a lot and not be fruitful. We can check off all the things on our lists and yet not be faithful.

Part Four
Part Five

A Greater Goal: Known For Christ (2)

{this is part two of five}
Part One

Known for Christ

I think we all know that life is about more than keeping house. Even being a wife and a mother isn’t all that life is about – there’s a bigger picture, and that’s the glory of God. But it’s hard to put that thought into practice. When we’re not in school, we have more discretionary time than most people do. So what do we do? Most often, the things we fill it with are hobbies. Knitting. Baking. Sewing. Crocheting. Writing. Photography. Music. We’ve finished our chores and maybe we’ve done a little extra and we’ve read our Bibles, so we turn to these things.

A hobby is a pastime, diversion, or interest, undertaken for pleasure during leisure time. In moderation, this is good, even necessary. Jesus sometimes retreated from His ministry to rest – but His focus was on doing the will of His Father. Some hobbies can turn into something more and they can serve and build up the church. It’s possible for them to have eternal value. We can turn a hobby into a business, or make quilts to bless mothers, bread to feed the homeless, and hats for crisis pregnancy centers. We learn character through ripping out seams to re-sew the quilt square or patiently waiting for bread to rise. These skills and many more were once necessary to clothe and feed families. But now, they’re nice things to add to life, not life itself. For most of the world, hobbies aren’t what people fill their lives with.  While we can and should enjoy them, they’re not a focal point – of life, of conversation, of blogs.


            This was my life, and something I’m still working against. I run, write, read, play music, and sew. These often filled up my whole day. Sometimes they’re hard things so they’re not always pleasurable, and sometimes I can see production from it and so I feel like I’m being useful and productive. But then I learned that being busy does not equal being fruitful, and it does not equal being faithful.

 

The way a lot of us daughters live, we can be labeled as “good Christian girls.” We feel like we’re doing well since we dress modestly, don’t flirt (but girls, have you ever considered that there’s a form of “good Christian girl” flirting where we try to show off our kitchen skills, baby skills, or theological knowledge to get a guy’s attention? It’s the same thing the world does but in a different form), and help around the house. From the outside, often it looks like our goal is to be good cooks, skillful in handiwork, and adept at changing diapers.  But if we’re Christians, shouldn’t we be known for Christ? Shouldn’t our conversation be about Him? Shouldn’t He be what makes us stand out?

We’re busy, and know that these things are important in preparing us for the future, and that Christian women are supposed to be keepers at home and love their husbands and children. We see that the Proverbs 31 woman is an entrepreneur, so maybe we have a little business, too.
But we can produce a lot and not be fruitful. We can check off all the things on our lists and not be faithful.

If you look in scripture, we’re supposed to care for the poor, the orphan, and the widow. We’re told to build up the church, honor our father and mother, spur one another on to love and good deeds, abide in Christ and so bear much fruit, and make disciples of all the nations. Those are just a few commands. Knitting, baking, tea parties, and eating organic can be included in this, but they can also distract us from this bigger, more important vision. They can take time from what we should be investing in, and when we get so excited about them, they can actually HIDE what is of the utmost importance: God and the gospel. I don’t want to detract from the importance of motherhood, and role as daughters preparing for it. But the way we prepare for it is sometimes wrong, and we’re very wrong when we place first importance and desire on getting married and having babies.

The concept of putting these things in their places has really hit home with me in the area of healthy living. Our bodies are temples of the Lord, so we need to take good care of them, to honor Him, and also so we might, by grace, live longer, to have more years to worship and serve Him. But even so, this earthly life is passing away, and our bodies aren’t the only things we have to steward. We need to consider the time and the money invested, too. Is the money and time we’re giving to eat organic, use cloth diapers, make our own bread, and research the latest health fads or the dangers of such-and-such the best use of our resources? Sometimes the answer is yes, and sometimes it’s no. You have to find balance. You have to remember that our bodies will pass away, but our souls are eternal, and so are the souls given to us to care for and the souls in the jungle in Africa and in the mansion or on the bench down the road.

If our goals and pleasures come from these things that pass away, we will be disappointed. Our greatest joy and hope should be Christ; our investment in His Kingdom. We so easily become preoccupied with the little things in life, being content with eating mud pies when there is a feast.

Ladies, let’s have a bigger vision than being “good” and knitting, baking, and sewing. Examine your time. Make the best use of it, redeem it. Search scripture to determine what your priorities should be. This doesn’t mean you can’t do things just because you enjoy them. But you need to examine your heart – are you being a “good Christian” or living for Christ above all? I must take the log out of my own eye. How often do I talk about music more than Christ? How often do I make music seem more desirable than Christ? How often do I spend time on Facebook that should be spent more productively?

Arts and crafts as hobbies are good, but we must be careful how we use them. They can keep us from spending time with our siblings, or they can train a girl’s hands to better care for her home and family. They can be used to make museum pieces or to develop skills that can be maximized in service. They can be used to relax or to be lazy. They can be used to turn your house into an immaculate display or to make it into a home that is comfortable and aesthetically beautiful. Take some time this week to read Titus 2:3-5 and 1 Timothy 2:9-10, 5:3-14 – and purpose to devote yourselves to these things now. Don’t wait to start. For some of us, that will mean less time in the craft room. For others, it might mean more time there. We may need to put aside knitting to serve a family – our own or someone else’s. Or we may need to pick it up to practice the skill so it can be used to serve, or take a break from our labors.

We need to examine our lives: are we more about our hobbies or about the glorious God who has saved us? Do we care more about homeschooling and dressing modestly than we do about the gospel? While other things have importance and the gospel has implications for them, salvation by grace alone in Christ Jesus should be our first priority, and we should first and foremost be known for being His followers.

{I’m thinking of four women as I write this. My mother, Mrs. N, Mrs. C and Mrs. M – all women in my church who are wonderful examples of Christian womanhood. All are incredibly skilled in areas of cooking and crafts – but what marks them – what they’re known for – aren’t these things but hospitality, graciousness, serving the church, discipling younger women, and ministry – the good works we’re commanded to do. And often, they use their baking, decorating, or organizational skills to do this}
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five

A Greater Goal: Introduction (1)

{this is the first in a five-part series. Stay tuned for the rest of it, posting every Monday in December!}

Introduction

In recent months, I have been seeking to find balance. The school year started and there were a flood of new opportunities and a list of things I wanted to do this year. But I realized pretty quickly that I couldn’t do all that I wanted to do, and so I started evaluating how I’ve been using my time. I wanted to decide what I should and shouldn’t do and what things should take a smaller place or be put aside for a time. My understanding of what I should be doing in this season of life as an adult daughter in my father’s home has grown, as has my understanding of what really matters.

In this post and the ones that follow it, I want to challenge others with the same questions I have been learning to ask myself. This has been a learning process for me, borne through much frustration, trial, and error. Since I am an introvert, it’s very easy for me to spend the day by myself, my nose in a book or hammering away on my laptop or sewing up a storm. I often choose that route since it seemed more productive. I learn something from my book, get a story done, or finish a quilt – measurable production. Those are all good things, but they often kept me from the things that really mattered. If I had looked carefully at scripture, I would have seen that often it kept me from doing the things I should have been doing. Often I felt that those things were “lesser” since they didn’t seem as productive or fruitful, or that they should come after my writing project.

I want to be a part of big things and so often the mundane or things that seem to have little or no eternal value frustrate me, and I need to remind myself of this: “If by doing some work which the undiscerning consider ‘not spiritual work’ I can best help others, and I inwardly rebel, thinking it is the spiritual for which I crave, when in truth it is the interesting and exciting, then I know nothing of Calvary love.” {Amy Carmichael} Everything we do, whether big or small, can be used to worship and glorify God.

What I hope to do in the next few posts is to encourage others to look at their lives. These posts are not meant to be taken individually, but as a whole, in order to provide balance. We don’t like balance: we like black-and-white rules. Do this. Don’t do this. But what I aim to say here isn’t as simple as that. We must consider our tendencies toward overuse of hobbies – even productive ones like sewing, baking, and knitting – but also remember their place so we don’t fall prey to asceticism. This has been a difficult series to write because it requires balancing the usefulness of hobbies for relaxation, growth, and blessing others, in contrast to filling our time with hobbies so that we don’t “have time” for what God has commanded us to do. I want to make it clear that the mundane and temporal things done for the glory of God are no longer mundane and temporal, but will have eternal value. But the question is when doing anything – mundane or exciting – does it distract us from what we should be doing? If so, it is no longer a good and useful thing. But if they are done in a way that brings glory to God, then even the most mundane task has eternal value.

I hope that many people will be blessed, challenged, and encouraged by what I write here. Some readers will have the appearance of godliness but it will only be belief, not saving faith. Some will have saving faith but a small vision. Some will have a big vision but their way of carrying it out will be in quiet ways. Others will have a big vision but like me will need to be reminded of the small things that make up the big things. Still others will need a reminder that doing little things or spending time on something just because we enjoy it isn’t wrong in moderation. My desire for this series is that we will examine our hearts and test ourselves: are we being “good Christians” or are we really Christ’s?  Is our focus on earthly things, or on Christ? Are we marked by our “goodness” or by Christ? Are we devoting ourselves and our time to the things He would have us do, or what makes us happy and makes people praise and like us?

 

This has application for everyone – man, woman, old, young, homeschooled, public-schooled… but I especially want to speak to girls who enjoy things like babies, knitting, and baking and older daughters like myself – out of school, living at home, seeking useful ways to employ our time. From what I’ve seen from blogs and churches I’ve visited where these daughters are more common than they are in my city, there’s a stereotype. We knit. We bake. We hold babies. We help mothers.

We know the pattern for biblical womanhood, are learning to work at home, and preparing to love our husbands and children, if the Lord gives them to us. These are all good things. They’re laid out for us in scripture and are God’s beautiful design for women. But they’re not the goal, and the nice hobbies that we like to do that are very womanly also aren’t the goal. They can still be useful, however. When we do them, we must consider our priorities and whether we’re being faithful with what is clear we must do. What is our desire? What is our motive? What is our focus? Is our priority as daughters knitting, baking?

The answer to this is a resounding no! Why that is and what we should be doing is something I’ll start looking at in the next post.

{The difficulty here is that sometimes the woman being faithful and pursuing Christ first and the woman who enjoys being “womanly” can look very similar. I can bake muffins for an event and it could be a poor use of my time while another girl bakes muffins for the same event and it was good for her to do so. My aim is not to downplay hobbies and homemaking skills, and I hope I don’t in any way make keeping the home seem lesser or unimportant. What I see so often is an imbalance, where those things have more weight in the lives of Christian women than Christ does, or our time is so taken up with knitting and baking (“icing on the cake”) that we ignore commands for discipleship, hospitality, and good works (“the cake”) and forget that we do these things so that the Word of God is not reviled. Sometimes being faithful will include baking, doing relaxing things we enjoy, watching babies, and cleaning sinks. But faithfulness, not these hobbies, should be our goal. When we fill our time with the little, extra parts of homemaking we often neglect of the world, the church, and even our families, and this unfaithfulness, not the hobbies themselves, is the problem}

Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5