I’m in the midst of a rather busy season. We still have three weeks left in our homeschool year, but summer, with its mowing, gardening, and adventuring, is already in full swing.
As the work picks up outside, mess and clutter build up inside, too. New projects create new piles, and sometimes it’s hard to walk through the house without tripping over something.
I might like to have my plans accomplished and tied up with a bow, but that doesn’t happen very often. I might like to have my whole house cleaned and organized at one time–even just the first floor all at one time!–but that feels like a distant dream and not a soon-to-be-had reality.
So when I sat at my desk to pray this morning after sleepily popping a couple pans of baked oatmeal into the oven, I gave thanks for all I could. And then I pulled out the Valley of Vision and read a prayer, one that happened to speak to me ever so sweetly even as it prompted me to speak to God. I would reproduce it here for you, but I want to respect copyrights, so I’ll link to it instead. The prayer is titled Resting on God. I hope you’ll find it an encouragement like I did.
As I roll up my sleeves and get busy with the day’s work, I’m going to try to keep these truths at the forefront of my mind. Join me?
The mind of man plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps.
The counsel of the LORD stands forever, The plans of His heart from generation to generation.
My soul, wait in silence for God only, For my hope is from Him. He only is my rock and my salvation, My stronghold; I shall not be shaken. On God my salvation and my glory rest; The rock of my strength, my refuge is in God. Trust in Him at all times, O people; Pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us.
Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
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This spring has been full of life: with garden work, schooling, spring cleaning, taxes, and adventures. I just wanted to hop on here today to share some of the wonderful things that I’ve been enjoying (mostly in my earbuds) lately. I’m on a bit of biblical womanhood kick, and whatever the world may bemoan about that subject, I’m incredibly refreshed by reminders of what God has both called me to and given me grace for in this life as a woman made in His image.
The Simplified Organization Podcast by Mystie Winckler (also available as YouTube videos). Mystie interviews Christian moms to get their best tips for parenting and home management to the glory of God. There’s a great variety of topics and tips. The practical and the spiritual don’t have to be kept in separate categories. 🙂 That’s what I love so much about this podcast (and other resources from Mystie)–not just life hacks, but real help toward godly faithfulness in both our homes and our hearts.
Fruitful Homemaker Podcast This is hosted by Emily Drew, a young mom (and fellow Arkansan!) who interviews older women in the faith. I love that she’s seeking to bring the Titus 2 wisdom of truly older women forward for today’s younger women to hear! Some notable guests include Martha Peace, Nancy Wilson, and Abigail Dodds.
Women Encouraged Podcast, Good Theology: As Mothers – with Nana Dolce This particular episode came recommended by a sweet new mom at my church. It’s a great encouragement to think carefully about what we believe and how that affects the relationships in our home–especially our lives lived out before our kids.
Let Me Be a Woman by Elisabeth Elliot. This is an old classic–one I read in my early twenties and then lent to a friend…never to be seen again. I finally repurchased the book last year, and reading it the last month or so has been such a breath of fresh air in the midst the smoggy mess made by our culture’s current state of confusion.
Speaking of the current state of things, since finishing Let Me Be a Woman, I’ve begun listening to That Hideous Strength by C. S. Lewis. This third book of Lewis’ Space Trilogy confronts totalitarian scientism and many of the themes addressed in The Abolition of Man. It may seem like a strange addition to a list of “encouragement for moms,” but I’ve found it to be great food for thought. Elisabeth Elliot tells about being a woman. Lewis shows it. His character Jane wrestles through it, and Lewis, as the author, lets her be a woman. I’m not done with the book, but I’m finding it quite instructive and freeing, as I tend to have some of the same modern-woman hang-ups as Jane.
What encouragement have you found lately, mama? Not just to get through the long days of noise and messes, but what has been encouraging you to thrive in you role as a wife and mother? What resources help you lift up your eyes (Psalm 121)?
As I’ve considered how to write this series of posts on sin, guilt, and shame, I’ve come up against a bit of a problem, especially around the topic of sin. You see, I can’t write about sin as though it is something out there, separate from me.
It would be pretty easy (and would feel pretty good, wouldn’t it?) to point to the problems in others or in the world-at-large if I didn’t also suffer from the same malady. But the reality is that I do suffer from it. And as soon as I begin to wax eloquent on the topic through my writing, the Lord provides an opportunity to practice what I’m preaching.
You believe others ought to fight the sin that is within them. Have you noticed this particular area in your life that you’ve been ignoring? This particular instance of selfishness? Your latest indulgence? The pride that creeps in even as you write against sinful pride?
Sometimes such words are the gentle nudge of my loving heavenly Father, brimming with parental affection: Dear daughter, flee from these things. And look to My provision for you in Jesus.
Other times they are an attack of the accuser, laced with poison and deceit: You can’t write about sin. You’re filth yourself. A hypocrite. A self-righteous prig. A joke. Stop thinking you have any right to tell others what to do.
The Lord’s conviction compels me both to deal with my sin as the Spirit brings it to light and to not shrink back from speaking Truth, especially in the midst of a culture that glories in sin and shuns true righteousness. God’s desire is my repentance and joy in Christ, empowering me then to live in further obedience.
The accuser seeks to stop the work of God in me by keeping me weighed down with sin, continuing in despair rather than finding repentance, and using any opportunity to keep me from doing whatever it is that the Lord is calling me to do.
And so the task is laid before me: to be killing sin in me even as I write about it here to you.
The writing about it is, in fact, part of how the Lord is working on me. Perhaps that’s part of the reason that the going gets tough and the writing gets sparse. It’s uncomfortable. Submitting to the Lord’s discipline, the Spirit’s scrutinizing work on my heart, is hard. And I’m often tired. A little lazy. A bit too easily–or is it eagerly?–distracted.
Hebrews 4:13 reminds me: “…there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.” I may cringe at the invitation to to see what’s in my heart. But that doesn’t keep the Lord from seeing it. It’s all open before Him.
And as a Christian, as one who has trusted in Christ’s death and resurrection on my behalf, I have a great comfort and assurance in the verses that follow:
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
It would “be nice” if I could talk about sin from a position of real accomplishment, like I’m some kind of expert on the subject. Then I might feel qualified to write about it. But did you read the words from Hebrews? Jesus is the only One in that position, the only One truly qualified by virtue of the fact that He, being fully God and fully man, has been tempted in all things, yet without sin.
What you get here, my friends, is a fellow sinner attempting to relay the Truth handed down by the One whose words on the subject actually matter, actually carry weight, actually give life. As this series continues, keep that at the forefront of your minds.
Soon we’ll dive in to what sin is. But for now, as you may have guessed, I’m working up the courage both write about it and to submit myself to the Lord’s work on my heart through that process.
Thanks for joining me in this process. May the Lord be at work in us all for His glory. And may we not shrink from that work but instead draw near to the throne of grace with confidence, finding mercy and help in our need. As we move on to discuss sin more deeply, we’ll sure need it!
Don’t forget to share your thoughts in the comments below–I’d truly love to hear from you!
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I’ve posted a few articles in the past few months, but I haven’t posted a personal update of any kind in a long while. Life has been full, so it seems like a good time!
Back in August my husband broke his neck and my oldest son broke his arm (both by falling off of a backyard zipline). That began a new (unusually slow in some ways, unusually busy in others) season for us that lasted right up until Christmas, when Nathaniel was finally released from his neck brace. Woo-hoo!
We thought we were jumping into “normal” again when January rolled around. No injuries! No extra doctor’s appointments! The medical bills are almost behind us!
We had a steady first two weeks, and then my Grandma was put on hospice. We traveled to see her before she passed. We made it to town in time, but not to the hospital. Still, I was thankful to be there with my family, my parents and my brother. It was good to say “good bye” to Grandma together.
The morning of the last day we planned to be there with family, Nathaniel woke up with a fever. A quick test confirmed he had that contagion that gets posts flagged on Facebook. We got out of dodge as quickly as we could, and thankfully my parents and brother stayed well. The boys and I, however, followed Nathaniel’s lead a few days later. Fevers and coughing and headaches, oh my.
We didn’t have as easy of a time as some, but we didn’t have a serious case, either–nor did we pass it to family. And for all of this, we are thankful for the Lord’s mercies.
We had a ski trip planned two weeks from the day we first came down with the C bug. Fatigue and cough still present, we played with canceling, but to no avail.
We went ahead with our trip, and had a great time–but with doctor’s orders restraining Nathaniel from literally risking his neck on the slopes (avoiding trees and jumps in particular), and with some of that lingering fatigue holding us (mostly me) back at altitude, we took it easier than we normally would.
We had two solid weeks of school after Christmas break before we took school with us to visit family around Grandma’s passing. Sickness knocked us out for a week. And we got back to it for a week before taking a week of vacation. We’re back at it now. It feels like a very interrupted start to the spring semester, but our daily routine is strong, even if the Monday after a vacation is still the Monday after a vacation. 😉
And the Monday after that is a Monday, as well.
The boys are working independently on their core school work (math, writing, reading living books for various subjects), and the things that I’m teaching/doing with them are things that I’m excited to be learning alongside them (Latin, logic, and history read alouds).
This may seem like a strange addition to the list, but the Scholé Sisters are doing a Spring Seminar called Excellent Marxmanship inside Sistership (the online network for Christian classical homeschool moms to discuss all-the-things–free to join, but this course is available at the paid Sophie level). Marxism, which is antithetical to Christianity, has influenced our modern world in many ways, and there’s no better way to see it for what it is than to get it from the source. I listened to The Communist Manifesto (available at librivox.org) back in 2020. That was a great first pass, and this Excellent Marxmanship seminar is giving me a chance to read it again and dig deeper–along with other ladies who are interested in Truth more than knee-jerk reactions. Along with Marx’s Manifesto, they’re reading two other books related to the subject. The background knowledge provided and discussion via comment threads and video chats makes this a high value course! It’s worth the cost of paid membership in Sistership, to be sure. Just make sure you can set aside some time for it.
Even if you can’t join this seminar, it’s valuable to read The Communist Manifesto for yourself. It’s sometimes hard to understand, sometimes (ok, often) infuriating, but well worth being aware of, especially if you are guiding your children through the ideological jungle of our world today.
A good book to pair with Marx would be C. S. Lewis’ The Abolition of Man. I’ve been thinking for a while that these two books, both short and a bit challenging, one diabolical and the other full of truth and insight, are so worth wrestling through in order to understand our world today. Let me know in the comments if you’ve read either of them or plan to!
Prepping food for my family has always been part of my day job, but there have been some seasons, like last fall, where I get into survival mode and I rely way too often on canned refried beans and tortillas to get a quick meal of bean burritos on the table. We still love our bean burritos, but I’m getting creative in the kitchen again. 🙂 It’s funny how when you put just a little extra thought into something, even something as every day as dinner, you can turn the mundane into something creative. And it makes the whole process more enjoyable.
Every year I appreciate the coming of spring. We encounter trials and dry seasons in life, but God graciously gives us signs of life even during the coldest time of year. The trees started budding as soon as the days started getting longer again (back in January!). We’ve seen a few daffodil blooms in the past two weeks. Sure, I live in the south, so your experience may vary, but the imagery of spring, whenever it does come, is a beautiful reminder of a God who can raise the dead. Of a Father who provides for His children. Of a Savior who died to give us life and who rose again for our justification and our hope. I love finding hints of the gospel of grace in the world that God has made. As we look forward to spring, may you find those traces of His grace around you, as well.
This article continues the discussion on how we deal with sin, guilt, and shame. Find the first part of this series here.
In our world today (and perhaps in humanity in general) we tend to confuse results with character. We tend to admire the folks who are “making it” and shake our heads at those who don’t. This mode of judgment turns inward on ourselves, too.
Am I failing at what I set out to do? Am I feeling not-awesome? “I’m bad.”
Am I achieving success? Are things going great? “I’m amazing.”
We carry guilt and shame (or else self-justification and pride) over these self-assessments, often ignoring an objective moral standard in favor of our own or society’s ideas about “success” and what we should be, do, or achieve.
This became shockingly evident to me when I read the results of a Barna poll from 2012. When Christian women were asked to choose what they struggle with the most, they rather staggeringly cited the modern “sins” of disorganization (50%) and inefficiency (42%), with traditional biblical sins like anger, selfishness, envy, and lust ranking much, much lower.
For the majority of respondents, it would seem their self-evaluations are guided more by extra-biblical categories than by scripture.
This focus on failures that undermine our personal success rather than sins as defined by God means our emotional heap of guilt and shame is often clouded, confused, false, or misplaced. And it means our confidence is on rocky ground, as well.
It’s no wonder women-focused memes often try to pick us up out of our pit of despair by telling us we’re beautiful and amazing and enough. That we can do it. Just follow this five step plan.
But these memes operate in the same muddied realm as our misguided guilt and shame.
To really be free from the disorienting weight we carry, we need clarity not congratulations, true relief not trite reassurance.
Heaping praise on ourselves usually just creates further shame and dissonance when we inevitably fail again.
Clarity comes when we look to a higher court of opinion than the flighty world around us or our fickle heart within us.
We feel weighed down with guilt, shame, and anxiety. Then someone tries to talk to us about our sin, our moral failings. What?! “I’m beating myself up enough already, thankyouverymuch.” In the moment, it feels better to talk about our struggles in non-moral/non-sinful terms. We assume that to go in that direction is an attack on our person, a hindrance to our well-being and self-esteem.
But what we don’t realize is that the world and our own hearts are harsh and inconsistent taskmasters. And our heavenly Father, who calls us to a higher standard, also grants us mercy and compassion. And in Jesus, we see that our God, who “will not break a bruised reed,” calls the weary to come to Him for rest and to find that His “yoke is easy and [His] burden is light.” (See Isaiah 42:3, Matthew 12:20, and Matthew 11:28-30.)
You see, our God is specific enough about actual sin, actual spiritual and moral failing, that we can know right from wrong–what pleases Him and what doesn’t. His commands have much more to do with love and faithfulness than with getting results or being productive. God’s call to righteousness is very different from the world’s call to awesomeness. The world focuses on outcomes, but God is most concerned with the substance of our daily living.
By submitting to what God’s word says is right, we can see real sin and guilt more accurately and deal with it promptly, freeing our conscience from a lot of weight and confusion–and freeing us to pursue faithfulness while trusting the outcomes to God.
If we allow our general feelings of success and failure to rule, either fearing others’ or our own scrutinizing judgment rather than fearing God, we will find an ever-present cycle of self-exaltation and self-condemnation. A crazy cycle that doesn’t bring the peace that God intends when He calls us to humble ourselves, confessing and turning from sin, and resting with confidence in the righteous Savior Jesus.
Ever felt weighed down with guilt and shame? Ever decided it was all your fault because you’re just the worst? Ever decided it was all a lie because you’re just too awesome to be down on yourself like that?
It’s easy to respond to the weight on our conscience with either total self-condemnation or total self-justification. But neither tends to help us see clearly. Both tend to muddy our vision. Both tend to miss the bigger picture.
I’m working on a project that confronts our tendencies around sin, guilt, and shame. As I share some of those thoughts on this blog, I’d love to hear what you think. Here’s your first opportunity.
Self-condemnation and self-justification are two very natural responses to our experience of guilt and shame. And the guilt and shame that we feel may or may not be in response to sin. If we’re Christians, we know we’re to fight sin. But we may get wounded in the battle. The lines may get hard to see. The truth may be hard to feel.
Our battle with guilt and shame and the fight against sin are actually two sides of the same coin. It’s been well-said that “we must be killing sin or it will be killing us.” Sin brings consequences–to our selves, to our relationships, and especially our relationship with our Creator.
But perhaps an overlooked way sin kills is that it can heap guilt and shame on us without remedy. The enemy of our souls loves for Christians to be weighed down with sin…or with guilt over things that aren’t sin, so that we are tempted to despair and also so that we are paying attention to a decoy instead of the real enemy. Let’s explore this for a bit.
I hope I don’t have to convince you that feeling guilty over doing wrong is right. Feeling shame over unfaithfulness to God and others whom we may have betrayed makes sense.
But feeling guilty over not measuring up to a vague or non-moral standard isn’t necessarily right, and it may actually be wrong, weighing us down when we are meant to have joy and be free.
Feeling shame over merely personally embarrassing and non-moral situations, or as a habit developed under an abuser, is not right–or at least it isn’t right to hold on to it. There is a kind of shame that we don’t have to carry.
In any of these last two cases, if we are concerned with our perceived and misplaced guilt and shame, we may be blind to our actual sin, or we may launch headlong into some sinful response as a way of coping or grasping for control. By falling for the decoy, we can’t see our sin very well because we’re looking in the wrong direction. By falling for the decoy, we may use our misguided feelings as justification for actual sin in the future.
Again, Our battle with guilt andshame and the fight against sin are two sides of the same coin.
But if we have guilt and shame over non-sinful things, how do we deal with them? We know that we’re to go to the cross with our sin. But what do we do with our misguided feelings and merely human frailty?
In dying for our sin, Jesus didn’t leave us alone or unaided in our experience of guilt and shame. He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. He bore not only our sin but our shame on the cross. Do you think this was only a transaction for sin? His death certainly was a sacrifice for sin, but consider what Jesus endured in that process:
The accusation of blasphemy by the Jews (false accusations of guilt)
The humiliation and mockery by the Romans (a shameful experience)
Being stripped naked in public (a shameful experience)
Becoming weak so that a man was asked to carry His cross for Him (physical weakness and inability)
The insults of the convicts (false accusations of likely both guilt and shame)
The disciples’ disappointment that Jesus, who they thought would become King, was now being crucified as a criminal (the shame of disappointing others, though Jesus knew exactly what He was doing)
Being abandoned by almost all of His followers…and then by God the Father (the shame of abandonment and loneliness)
Suffering crucifixion (brutal and lethal public shame meant to intimidate onlookers)
Jesus died for our actual sins. But He also identified with our weaknesses and experienced guilt and shame that was not rightly His own. To be sure, He experienced these things without being defiled or deterred by them, without giving in to them or being brought to despair. But He did experience agony in the garden in anticipation of all of these things. He sweat drops of blood. He knows anxiety, too.
Dear sisters, the cross calls us to deal with our sin. To lay it down. To turn from it. The kindness of God leads to repentance, and that kindness is most definitively shown in the love of God demonstrated at the cross. Repentance isn’t a word that ought to conjure up mental images of an angry preacher. It ought to bring to our mind the sweet wooing of a lover: “Turn from all those things that won’t satisfy you and come away with Me.”
But the cross and kindness of God calls us to turn away not just from obvious sin, but from all the weight we carry, whether for sin or not. Repentance means primarily “a change of mind” or a “turning”. If we are carrying false guilt and misguided shame, we can bring those to the Savior as well.
Turn from being your own judge on these things. Recognize that Jesus knows what it means to bear guilt and shame that doesn’t belong to you. All your feelings of failure, whether they are based on sin or not, or some mixed up experience of sin-and-not-sin that you can’t pick apart–bring all of it to Jesus. He’s a great high priest who can sympathize with our weaknesses. Not just our moral failures–our weaknesses, our humanness. He knows. He understands. And He calls us to come.
This whole big, beautiful Creation was subjected to futility after the fall in the garden of Eden. No wonder we may feel like we fail even in instances where there isn’t an obvious sin to point to (or at least when one’s not on our radar).
I think it’s important to recognize that some of our feelings of failure are just part of the fall in general.
He has set eternity in our hearts, but death cuts our lives short. And we feel it. We feel that we won’t have time to accomplish all that we desire. And so on a given day, especially in a modern world that so preaches and values productivity, we feel the pain of not getting things done. Interruptions and weakness and distraction rob us of our ability to be “awesome” and do what we set out to do. And we feel that failure in much the same way as we feel moral shame. And so, interestingly, women report on surveys that they see their biggest struggles with sin are in their lack of productivity or organization. (More on this in a later post.)
We often have a lot on our plates, and yes, we ought to manage things well. But let’s be clear about what is sin and what isn’t. Is it a sin to be lazy? Yes. But is it a sin to not get everything done that we imagined we would? No. Emphatic: NO.
Not getting all-the-things done or being as organized as a magazine cover may result from several things: maybe life is just hectic right now—you’re caring for a baby or aging parent or juggling some combination of work, school, or family that makes it inherently hard to keep up; maybe your expectations are unrealistic and you need to reevaluate what you’re capable of in this season; maybe your schedule is unrealistic and you need to cut some commitments and activities from your calendar; or maybe you have actuallybeenlazy, binge watching shows and socializing with friends instead of doing the dishes, your homework, or your taxes; maybe you’ve been scrolling social media instead of changing that nasty diaper that you first smelled an hour ago.
Sin may be (and likely is) a part of the equation. But our feelings tend to lump it all together into one big heap of guilt and shame over the result: “I’m so lazy/unproductive. Look at the mess! I can’t keep up with the house, I can’t figure out how to calm the baby. I’m a failure at everything.” This is what it looks like to heap on guilt and shame without biblical discernment and without remedy.
Instead, what if we recognize the situation for what it is: “Sigh…I really shouldn’t have zoned out on social media while the baby was crying. Lord Jesus, forgive me. That was wrong. And it didn’t help me get the house picked up either. Lord, please give me the strength to get up and make the best of this. The baby may not calm down quickly, and I can’t get the house perfect today, but I can decide to do the right thing right now and do what I can. Help me to be faithful.”
Part of my goal in this long-term project is to help us sort out the difference between actual sin and falseguilt and shame, to help us respond to the nitty-gritty struggle within us in a biblically appropriate way so that we live lives consistent with God’s truth, empowered by His Spirit.
That’s a big goal far beyond the reach of this first article, but here’s a takeaway for today: the remedy for our consciences, weighed down with guilt and shame, whether real or imaginary, is the same in either case. “Cast all your cares on Jesus, because He cares for you.”
I’m not all-knowing. I may not ever figure out where exactly the line is between my every actual sin and my mere failings and not-awesome shortcomings. And that’s ok. Jesus knows and He has dealt with it. Come to Him.
As noted above, this article is the tip of the iceberg. It’s nowhere near a comprehensive treatment of this subject! I hope you’ll follow along as I seek to define terms, develop ideas, and dig into the scriptures in future articles.
Please comment with your thoughts, questions, challenges, and suggestions. 🙂 Your feedback will help as I develop this project going forward. I’d really love to hear from you! How do you grapple with guilt and shame? When it’s justified? When it isn’t? When you can’t tell the difference?
I’ve got a pre-release e-copy of The Convivial Homeschool and it is excellent! I highly recommend this, my friends! Mystie has been a huge blessing to me over the past [nearly] six years, in both homeschooling and homemaking. She has a knack for bringing gospel truth to bear on everyday, ordinary [and sometimes crazy!] life–offering both encouragement in Christ and godly motivation to take the next right steps. Her book is slated to release this week, and you can get a sample of the first chapter by getting on the wait list here.
Another amazing book that you can snag for FREE on Kindle: You Who? by Rachel Jankovic.
In You Who? Rachel Jankovic offers a breath of fresh air to those of us struggling to sift through the worldly ideologies that so dominate our culture and our newsfeeds. We desperately need to know who we are and Whose we are. I highly recommend this book as a helpful tool for both personal discernment and discipleship, encouraging us as Christian women to find our identity in our Creator and to live lives of purpose rooted in Christ. How exciting that it’s available for FREE on Kindle now through November 28!
Compass Classroom has so many great courses to enrich your homeschool journey. My family has LOVED WordUp! the Vocab Show and Visual Latin. I’ve taken one of Jonathan Rogers’ Creative Writing courses myself and found it quite valuable. As the kids get older, we plan to explore more offerings from Compass Classroom. Their courses are high quality and a lot of fun!
I’m coaching my oldest son as he writes an entry for his first-ever essay contest. The process is a struggle for him. His knowledge of the subject isn’t deep, he struggles to organize his thoughts, and he doesn’t know how to develop an idea once he has one. And this all makes him a bit reluctant to keep at it.
This is normal. He’s twelve.
I’ve coached him on how to brainstorm with a mind map, and then I’ve told him to simply sit at the computer to start typing his thoughts in sentences and paragraphs. He’ll start, and then pretty quickly he’ll get stuck and discouraged.
“Mama, I don’t know what to write next. I don’t know how to start my next thought.”
“Don’t worry about starting it. Jump in the middle if you need to. Just write down the ideas you do have. You can go back over it and add transitions, expand your ideas, or cut things out later. For now, just write.”
When the words came out of my mouth, I realized that I needed to hear them myself.
How often am I the twelve-year-old who kinda wants to but kinda doesn’t want to sit down and do the work? I think I have some ideas worth sharing, but when I try to organize or articulate them it’s hard. I don’t know where to start or jump in, so I feel stuck. And I’d much rather go do something else than apply myself to my current writing project–whether it’s a small essay-type-post or a long-form writing goal.
Being a writer means, of course, that you actually write. But how often do I run from the process? Just like my son would do if he didn’t have Mom around to structure his day and coach him through the rough spots.
My son would rather write a silly poem about animals. Or play legos.
I might rather read other people’s articles and comment on other people’s posts–anything that is easier and makes me feel productive while ignoring the real work to be done.
The struggle with temptation to do something else haunts my housework, too, but that is a topic for another day.
…Or is it?
Perhaps I shouldn’t view my writing or my housework as two distinct and separate categories. Both are things I feel called to do for the glory of God. So if I see a similar preference for distraction pop up when I ought to be folding laundry to edify my household, just like when I ought to be working on a writing project to edify my readers, maybe I ought to tug on that common thread for a bit. Figure out where it leads.
It seems to me the common thread is faithfulness (or a lack of it). Am I willing to do the right thing at the right time? And to continue to do so through all of the mundane moments and ups and downs of my feelings and performance?
Writing and laundry both reveal our character, don’t they? Whether we’re a seasoned 36 year-old or a budding 12.
>Intermission: Got to go make breakfast and enjoy it with my family. Writing is right when kept in its right place. But wrong if it becomes the distraction from the right thing at the right time.<
Aaaannnd we’re back.
Sometimes I need to tell myself, “Just write. Don’t worry about whether or not it sounds great now. Do the work, even if you have to severely edit it later.”
Or, “Just fold the clothes for crying out loud. Don’t fret over the the fact that it will just be undone a day later. Do the work, even if you have to do it again next week. (Because you will.)”
When I read well-established writers commenting on the writing process, they invariably say the same thing. It’s hard. Show up anyway. Do the work. Just write.
When coaching my son, the advice is the same, albeit gentler and with a much heftier helping of sympathy for the hardness of it.
I used to imagine that writing would get easier with age, that somehow I’d find my stride and the words would flow. But it’s still work. It’s still intimidating. And nothing gets easier without a lot of practice.
And feedback, if you can manage to get some.
That’s why I’m writing this post today. It’s admittedly a bit more stream-of-consciousness, but that’s partly the point. It’s good to just write. And I hope to start doing a lot more of it.
Above I alluded to a long-form writing project I’m supposed to be working on. I’ve come a long way on it, but I have a long way to go. I’ve held most of my work on the subject in reserve, not really sharing it anywhere–not even on my blog.
But it turns out this process is big and hard and intimidating, and I need to break it down into smaller chunks.
And I need feedback.
That’s where you come in, dear reader. Behind my writing, even behind what you might read as a confident voice, is a very human, very just-like-my-12-year-old author: me.
I want to put aside my perfectionistic hang ups and just write. And I hope to do so more often.
But I don’t have a mom to organize my days or coach me through the ups and downs. That’s on me.
My husband is a great sounding board and a great encouragement, but I still need feedback from those who actually receive my work.
I need to know when my ideas fall flat. I need to know when they resonate.
I need to know when something excites you, challenges you, or confuses you.
So please, let me know.
And especially as I churn out more articles for women like me who are walking with Jesus, dealing with sins and messes and hang ups, and seeking to live joyful, obedient, God-honoring lives…please, tell me what you’re thinking. Ask me your questions. Add your insights and experiences. It would be a great blessing to me.
I’m not just saying “I’d love to hear from you.” I really would. You can be a part of my process and spur me on to create something that will, I hope, be a blessing to you and many others.
I’ll try to just write. Would you please write back?
I’ve been on a bit of a minimalist kick lately, decluttering my house, my closet, my recipes, my priorities, you name it. While I don’t necessarily hold to minimalism as a whole-life philosophy, I find that it does offer some necessary push-back to our modern tendencies to be “ever expanding,” whether that be in our possessions, resources, opportunities, or social connections.
On that last item, social connections, I recently read an article explaining the theory of what’s called the Dunbar Number. A British anthropologist named Robin Dunbar posited (after some research on primates and combing through human records) that the greatest number of meaningful connections any one person can hold at a given time is about 150.
I have to admit I had quite the confirmation bias response to this article, because not too long ago I was explaining to my husband that I have social limits, and I simply cannot keep up with all-the-people, and I certainly don’t have energy for continually adding to the number of all-the-people to whom I feel some measure of social obligation.
With interest and perhaps some of that confirmation bias running through my veins, I decided I’d see where my current number of connections stood. I pulled out my brain dump notebook and began to write down all of the people with whom I have some meaningful or working connection. I started with family. That easily reached over 30 people. Then it was long-standing friends. You know, the people you may or may not see each year but whom you are committed in some way to maintaining for the long haul: again, over 30. Neighbors came to about 20. Homeschool connections almost 30. Church connections (which is small right now because we’re still new at our local church): about 15. And then I listed those who are a bit more distant but still qualify under this idea of meaningful connection: 60 or more. If you just add up the rounded numbers I’ve listed, that makes 185, more than the Dunbar Number (150). No wonder I feel a bit overwhelmed and like I can’t add any more.
But guess what kinds of people I didn’t add to any of those lists of contacts? For the most part, I didn’t include online-only relationships. There are seven ladies who make the cut because they are part of an online stand-up/accountability group. Other than those ladies, every other person on the list has some real-life, meaningful or workable connection (or has had in the past and therefore they are on the list).
What this little exercise demonstrated for me was twofold: One, there isn’t really any room for me to build or even maintain relationships on social media or other online platforms. No wonder I feel a little overwhelmed trying to keep up. Two, even these connections that I wrote down are pushing the limit, and I need to prioritize.
Now, Dunbar’s theory itself has prioritization built in. He suggests that any one person can have only about 5 people in their inner circle—these are loved ones, your most trusted and closest kind of friends (large families can adjust this number accordingly, IMO). Next up are “good friends,” of which you can maintain about 15 (or just ten more than the 5 closest friends we already mentioned). There are about 50 that can be called “friends” in a meaningful way before our own capacity is stretched enough to make the term “friend” less meaningful (I’m looking at you, Facebook). And then the next jump is up to that limit of 150 meaningful contacts. Beyond that, the study claims we could have face-recognition of up to 1500 people–but not meaningful relationships. I can’t say I’ve taken the time to test the limits on that last one.
Now, all of this should be taken with a grain of salt. The Dunbar Number is a theory, not gospel nor scientific law. But it is interesting, isn’t it?
I’ve titled this article “Titus 2 and the Dunbar Number,” so it’s about time I brought this back around. As Christians, we know that the greatest commandments are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves. And while Jesus insisted that anyone who we find in need of our help can be considered our neighbor (see the parable of the good Samaritan), in today’s times, we tend to be over-exposed to people and needs via the internet and social media, skewing our sense of responsibility away from our nearest neighbors and toward those far from us.
The impact here is both quantitative in that we’re compelled to give emotional energy toward more people than we have capacity for and qualitative in that we’re tempted to prioritize (at least in the moment) people far away from us, for whom we are not most responsible. The issue here isn’t that caring for people far away is bad (it’s good to be concerned for people in different places than we are), it’s just unnatural to have a constant reminder of them and to be pulled away from the people literally right in front of us or across the street. The combination of those quantitative and qualitative elements makes for a rather big challenge, especially if we take seriously the call to “love our neighbor.” We’re left asking Jesus for clarification, “Who is my neighbor?”
This is where Titus 2 comes in. Some people hate this passage because they see it as limiting women to the home, keeping them barefoot and pregnant, etc. But I think we can see it in a different light. Here it is for your consideration:
Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored.
If we are to love God and love people, the first place that we ought to practice that God-honoring people-love is within our own households. What Titus 2 (and a few other passages) implies to me is that this temptation to concern and even distract ourselves with people “out there” isn’t something only modern social media mavens have experienced. Even women in the first century needed the reminder that a love that isn’t fulfilling its duty at home first is a hypocritical love that can lead to the gospel being blasphemed, the good news being spoken of as if it’s bad.
Now before anyone throws stones because they think I’m promoting “the patriarchy,” let me be the first to say that this principle holds true for men as well. It’s why elders are supposed to be good managers of their own households before they are recognized as leaders in the church (1 Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-9). It’s why a man that doesn’t provide for his own is called “worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8). The call to prioritize the people right in front of us is universal. This responsibility to one’s own household is why singleness is, for some, an effective state to be in for the sake of ministry to others: because the man or woman who isn’t tied down has more time and energy to devote to the Lord, which may include serving others beyond the home in a way that the married person simply can’t (1 Corinthians 7:32-35). But that’s more the exception than the norm for believers. Most of us are called to marry and build families to the glory of God.
So the reminder in Titus 2 to love your husband and love your children and focus on the work that must be done to keep the home running well isn’t slavish or limiting. It’s a sane call to put first things first. The calling toward home and family doesn’t necessarily preclude other callings, but it does take precedence over them.
And, if you think about it, all of this makes sense in light of Dunbar’s thoughts on human social capacity. We each may vary in terms of our social capacity, and some of us may need to cut back while others may need to stretch themselves. But at the end of the day, we all have limits. And we all have to choose how we will use the limited resources we’ve been given.
How about you? Do you feel our modern connected world pulls your attention away from the folks that matter most to you?
We may not need to dump online community and resources altogether, but might it be helpful to imagine what our priorities would look like if those things didn’t exist. Join me for a thought experiment?
If the internet didn’t exist, what would you want your family life to look like? How might you prioritize your husband? Your children? If you are in a different stage of life: your roommate, parents or siblings, or extended family?
If the internet didn’t exist, what would you do to get to know your neighbors? To be a blessing to them?
If the internet didn’t exist, what would you do to get to know the people at your church better? How might you reach out to discover needs and meet them? In your church and your local community?
If the internet didn’t exist to make long distance relationships many-and-easy, who would you 100% want to keep in touch with–even if it meant more effort?
It’s garden-planting time where I live. And that means I’m spending more time outside in the cool air and warm sunshine with my hands in the dirt. Time outside often gives me space to think, and time in the garden gives me a lot to think about–including the attitudes that I bring with me.
I can be a bit of a perfectionist. Wanting to get things just right. Spending way too much time researching a subject until I know it thoroughly enough to not mess it up (as if that were somehow possible). Perfectionism is a kind of obsession over performance and results. While it focuses on improvement and promises fulfillment, it actually tends to get in the way of both.
When I walk out into the garden and away from my other chores and plans and projects, I’m confronted by something very outside of myself. It’s easy to assume that my home and my work and my plans are all somehow a kind of extension–or at least a reflection–of who I am. But when I walk outside, I encounter something obviously other. There’s a wild beauty to things that grow. And in the presence of this wild beauty, I’m less tempted to delusions of control over it. Instead I’m drawn into wonder.
By the time I’m out planting our first seeds, the snow has just melted and revealed that under a thick blanket of frozen white, our daffodils have not only been surviving but actually growing–green and tall. And I didn’t do a thing to make this happen. I’m in awe of their happy refusal to stay dormant in our recent and unseasonable cold snap. Arguably not the perfect conditions. Yet they respond to the call to perk up–a call that doesn’t come from me or my plans.
Stepping outside of the four walls of my home usually gets me out of the four walls of my perfectionistic, all-or-nothing head. You could say that going outside prepares the soil of my heart to receive seeds of truth. To that soil, the garden adds images, active reminders of those seeds, of that truth.
As I plant and marvel at seeds in the dirt, my Father sows and tends seeds in my heart.
Here are a few of them:
Not every seed will sprout. When you have an all-or-nothing mentality, it can be discouraging to know that if I plant just one seed it may not work out. Planting more seeds than the number of plants I intend to grow feels potentially wasteful. I don’t ultimately control germination. I can help it along, but I mostly have to sit and wait and see. And be generous enough with my seeds to see something come to life. If I’m seeking perfect outcomes and efficiency, I might be upset that I won’t get a return on every little bit of my investment. But that’s just reality. God calls me to generously plant seeds anyway.
But somehow seeds DO sprout. We’ve been at this gardening thing for at least six years and yet it never fails to amaze me when tiny bits of green pop out of the ground where we planted seeds a few days or weeks before. God is good. He made this beautiful process and I get to take part in it. How much more delightful when God is at work in human hearts and invites me to participate and marvel at His work?
Frost may come and kill. Sun may scorch and burn. Those precious little seedlings that do sprout are up against the elements. I do what I can to protect and provide for them, but I cannot shield them from everything. In fact, a measured exposure to the elements is actually part of the process for these little plant babies to grow strong and learn to stand up on their own. Oh, how this speaks to me as a mama!
It pays to be firmly rooted. That exposure to the elements can benefit the plant only if it has a good root system–both for taking in water and nutrients from the soil and for keeping the plant sturdy enough not to topple over. When we transplant tomato seedlings, we burry about three quarters of the plant! It feels like a setback. Like we’ve now put ourselves behind in terms of growing a nice, big plant. But that apparent setback results in greater health and fruitfulness.
Bugs may devour. Vigilance is required. Whether it’s squash bugs or tomato hornworms or aphids, we’re always on guard. This is not a once-and-done thing, as though picking all of the bugs off in one day would keep us from having problems the rest of the season. A perfect sprint doesn’t work here, but rather faithful watchfulness. And even still, we will lose some fruit and some leaves to pests. That’s how we know they are there.
Pruning is hard. Cutting off potentialities doesn’t feel good. But we don’t have infinite space in the garden (nor does each plant have infinite resources). Despite aiming for high-intensity growing methods, there are still, by nature, limits within which we must work. Refusing to stay within the limitations of nature results in stunted growth and disease. That perfectionistic tendency to push for more-and-better often ignores the reality of limitation. If we don’t cull the excess seedlings, if we don’t prune the lower and non-productive branches, we aren’t helping our plants. I, like my plants, am finite. I, like my plants, have limitations. Culling and pruning are necessary and good.
Results will vary. With all these variables of seed conditions and weather and pests, it should be obvious that I can’t perfectly predict the outcome. I can’t guarantee the results. Sure, I plan carefully and consider quantities needed in advance. But the results simply aren’t that much in my control. We may get a lot, we may get a little. Our harvest may be beautiful or riddled with holes. Related to this fact…
Imperfect fruit still eats. In the store, when I’m putting down money for fruits and veggies, I inspect every piece, making sure I get the most perfect and untainted produce possible for my dollar. But when I’m harvesting out of the garden, a tomato that is only half-eaten by a worm is still good for half a tomato. A couple of these “bad tomatoes” can dress a salad or tacos. A bunch of them can make a batch of salsa or a tomato pie. It requires more work to make the most of the imperfect gifts from the garden, but they are gifts nonetheless. It’s an opportunity to grow in both thankfulness and resourcefulness–two things that I might miss if I continued to always insist on “perfect” produce.
God causes the growth. This is the real “capital T” truth. And it’s the truth that runs through the rest of these bullet points. I’m not in control, God is. I’m not on the throne, He is. I may plant the seeds and provide what I can, but God causes the growth. The reason gardening is so powerfully instructive, so beautifully corrective of my perfectionistic tendencies, is because it visually, tangibly illustrates the truth that God is the Creator and Sustainer of all things, and that He simply invites me to participate with Him in His beautiful work.
We read in the scriptures truth about God, truth about the world, and truth about ourselves. We know we are to respond to it properly. But sometimes the truth takes time to sink in. And sometimes it takes living the metaphor.
When God created Adam and Eve, He placed them in a garden. He told them to “cultivate it and keep it.” The Hebrew words in this phrase from Genesis 2 mean something along the lines of “work or serve it and guardor attend to it.” Working in a garden was part of the original earthly paradise. And I think it’s interesting to note that God’s calling here is not to make things grow–that was His job. His children were simply to work and guard, to serve and attend. Basically, to show up and care for it.
It’s the same for me, whether in the garden or in life. My responsibilities, beyond staying firmly rooted in Christ and His Word, come down to these:
Every time I wander out into the garden, it’s an invitation to enter into the metaphor, to contemplate the truth beautifully woven into the fabric of Creation.
Here are a few of the scriptures that bring my garden time to life:
And He was saying, “The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil;and he goes to bed at night and gets up daily, and the seed sprouts and grows—how, he himself does not know. The soil produces crops by itself; first the stalk, then the head, then the mature grain in the head. Now when the crop permits, he immediately puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” Mark 4:26-29
“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Remain in Me, and I in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit of itself but must remain in the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; the one who remains in Me, and I in him bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. John 15:1-5
I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. 1 Corinthians 3:6-7
I’ll sign off with a quote my husband found in a gardening article some time back. He shared it with me, and I’ve made a point of hanging on to it.
The principle value of the garden . . . is to teach . . . patience and philosophy, and the higher virtue – hope deferred, and expectations blighted, leading directly to resignation, and sometimes to alienation. The garden thus becomes a moral agent, a test of character, as it was in the beginning.
Post script: The day I started writing this article, I realized that our refrigerator went out. Nothing was cold. All the ice had completely melted. My day was not my own. We had to change gears, adjust, adapt. Within 30 minutes of wiping up the floor, I managed to drop a quart jar half full of coffee as I was attempting to put it in a cooler. Coffee splashed all over the floor, the fridge, and the cooler, requiring me to wipe up everywhere-again-and-then-some. I found myself saying, “Well! This is the day!” And then I laughed. And started singing, “This is the day that the Lord has made…We will rejoice and be glad in it,” inviting my kids to smile and laugh along with me. Yes, my friends, God is good. He graciously allows us many imperfections–and uses them to capture our hearts…if we but recognize the invitation.
Gardening is just one way God reminds us we’re not in control, that seeking to be perfect in ourselves is a fool’s errand. How else do you feel His gentle nudge?