Beyond the Mystique: Domesticity and the Proverbs 31 Woman

She has dinner ready by six o’clock. The steam from roast chicken with carrots and mashed potatoes dances under the nostrils. Lamps and end tables are free of dust and clutter, kitchen countertops are shiny and slick, the sink is empty; not a hair is out of place on this woman’s head, and her lipstick perfectly kisses her wide smiling lips. She serves food to her husband and children, who are seated around the dining room table. Her children smile, laugh, and act affectionately towards each other and towards their parents. All is right in the perfect little world of this happy housewife, a scene akin to a family sitcom from the 1950s called Leave It to Beaver. June Cleaver was the iconic image of a 1950s housewife, and the show centered around her youngest son’s boyish mishaps and adventures.

The Cleavers were the quintessential post-war American family: the dad worked, while the mom stayed home and cooked and cleaned. They embodied traditional family values and stuck up for morality. For the most part, everybody in the household got along. If there were any familial or outside skirmishes, they were confronted with ease and perfectly resolved. Watching the show can feel like entering a time warp to a by-gone era. It is pure, innocent, and clean compared to some family sitcoms of today. I’ve known some Christians who wistfully look back on the show and decry the perceived corruption of our modern world. They would say our society is now less “Christian” than the 1950s. But was the show truly Christian? Was the portrayal of a happy housewife through June Cleaver something Christian women should strive to embody?

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The Hidden Ministry of Motherhood

In between “Mama, I want a snack” and baby squeals, with fists pounding on the high chair, I check my numbers online. How many views today on the blog? Did anyone comment on my Facebook post? Any new bloggers out there click the like button? Does anyone read this stuff besides my parents?

These thoughts seem innocent, but I know at times they come from a heart desiring notice and recognition for myself. I’m often baffled by this strong desire to be known and be seen. Maybe it’s because the role I play as a mom is a hidden one. My main ministry is confined to four walls. I don’t get a paycheck, time off, a promotion, or a raise like my husband. I don’t always get immediate results from my efforts, unless you want to count a shiny toilet and children clothed and fed as an accomplishment (trust me, it is).

This is not to say moms can’t work outside the home in various measures and get a paycheck somewhere, but the main role God calls us to as wives and mothers is our home and family. God made women to bear and nurture life and men to provide for and protect the lives of women and children. The heart disposition in these matters manifests itself in where our priorities lie.

The calling God places on women often seems like a hidden role compared to the men around us. And yet we are still equal before God in dignity and value…

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Helpers for Unfinished Husbands

My husband recently saw the spectacular Victoria Falls in Zambia. I said my husband because I was not there to witness the beauty and glory of such a sight, although he did text me a photo. I was grateful for the kind gesture, but it did nothing to keep me from longing to be there in person.

I could see sunrays beaming through the upper half of the falls, creating a rainbow in the watery mist. Yet I couldn’t hear the thunderous crashes of the water careening into the ocean below. I couldn’t experience the feelings that well up when our senses are bombarded with wonder like a massive waterfall. I saw a fraction of the majesty on my phone. I love that he sent me the photo, but it was a poor representation of the real thing.

In much the same way, my husband is called to represent the beauty and glory of Jesus Christ in our marriage. But I have to remember he’s just a photo — a representation, an image, a sketch of the real thing. Our husbands have a great and glorious calling to be like Christ for us.

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Give Your Suitor Some Grace

He wasn’t putting himself out there. His indirect attempts at prompting my admissions were not working. I stood firm and resolute. He kept prying.

It was our third date, he was putting the feelers out, and I wasn’t having it. No way would I be the first one to jump in the water. I expected him to directly broach the topic of our relationship with me. I wanted him to tell me his feelings first and initiate an official relationship. Yet we were at a stalemate. The awkward silence swallowed our fun evening as it came to a close.

When we parted ways, I became angry and began to doubt him. “Maybe he’s not the kind of guy I want?” “This isn’t going to work out.” “He’s not leading and initiating like he should.” My harsh judgments were growing like a hard shell around my heart, and I began rejecting him internally. I thought it would end before it had even begun….

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Is Marriage a Cage?

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Marriage? Nope. Not for me. I was the fish swimming against the current when all my girlfriends were swimming in a desperate frenzy for the destination. I was like the Apostle Paul, happy being single and wishing all the fish would realize singleness is a gift. I appreciated Paul’s enthusiasm for the single life, but I overlooked his encouragement for the gift of marriage. (1 Corinthians 7:7.) My upstream swim was due to a dark cloud of fear blocking my vision.

I believe my fear stemmed from a few sources. The church I grew up in held strong views of biblical manhood and womanhood, especially the woman’s role of submission in marriage. I believed in these truths only as concepts, but as real life personal application it felt daunting.

I also think the subtle cultural grasp of feminism was grabbing at my heart and mind. I was in college at the time and many of my professors were influencing the classroom with their worldview. Though I was scared of applying biblical womanhood in my life, and my college professors had a strong feminist mindset, the fault did not lie with all of them, but with me.

Courtney Reissig, author of The Accidental Feminist: Restoring Our Delight in God’s Good Design, states fear as the root of feminism by saying,

“But what feminism tried to do was empower women to rise above their circumstances in their own strength, in many ways owing to these very fears of vulnerability…Feminism answered the fears that women faced by putting women in control of their own destiny, by making women the final authority in their lives. And it’s easy to do isn’t it? We feel like if we have some semblance of control than we can’t be hurt, we can’t be disappointed, or we can’t be given over to our fears.”

My heart was fearful, because I desired control of my life. A godly relationship and marriage was a threat to my happiness from my perceived control over my life and identity. Control was the root desire I craved, which resulted in fear. I wanted control over my heart too. I was overly guarded. I barricaded my heart from vulnerability, because I knew a relationship had the potential to hurt me. To me showing emotion was a sign of weakness, and I took pride in the lack of it.

Freedom and a Cage

I felt like singleness was freedom and marriage was a cage. I thought my future husband would squelch my gifts, and I would be resigned to a frilly apron in the kitchen baking chocolate chip cookies. Yet, today I am married. How did that happen? Only by the faithfulness of God slowly chiseling away at the rock of my stubborn heart.

He was my good Shepherd who disciplined me with his staff to protect me and kept me within his boundary lines. He guided me through the shadow of the valley of uncertainty. He did not leave my side. I could trust him. He was giving me a gift to bless me, and I was pushing it away. I thought marriage would trap me in a cage, but I was already caged in by my sinful fear. I finally realized Christ was the remedy for my fearful heart.

Throughout my dating relationship with my husband God continued to guide and discipline me. He had my best in mind and wanted me to see it as his best. He showed me that marriage is not a cage, it is a blessing; a gift he gives to make us more like him. The only cage is a heart trapped in bondage to sin.

Marriage is also a picture of Christ and his Church; a picture of submission and service. Christ led through service to a cross of sacrifice, and we as his Church respond in humility and appreciation for his service and sacrifice. God was calling me to live out this beautiful picture all through his sufficient grace.

My identity as a wife is cloaked in the ultimate identity I have in Christ. My gifts are not squelched, but they are being poured out in service for others in my home. My gifts are being used not only in my home life, but in my local church, and even through some of my writing. Other seasons will come for using more gifts as well. I don’t have to ‘break free’ from a family to experience the freedom I have in Christ. He’s broken the cage of my sin and set me free to live for him.

Can We Really Have It All?

Feminism tells us ‘we can have it all.’ Is this possible? Even if it is possible, should we have it all?

Feminism after World War Two told women to leave the home and have a career. Now it’s more of a relaxed approach where domestic arts are not frowned upon, and feminists believe in the importance of marriage and motherhood. It’s even trendy now to be domestic. Today it’s cute and desirable to be a woman who bakes bread, knits, and throws Pinterest-worthy birthday parties for her kids.

Now we see the post World War Two career woman married to the domestically cute wife and mother. We have to be both. Do it all and be it all. The social pressure is high to become a one woman juggling act and add one more ball.

We have to race to the top of the corporate ladder as fast as the men, be as successful outside the home as inside the home, still come home and cook healthy meals for our families, help with homework, do house chores, bake cookies, and still find time to be beautiful and skinny. Women keep pressuring women to do it all and be it all. In the feminist quest to be like (or even better) than men we’ve beat up our own sex.

The Juggling Act

Pick up the phone, women, reality is calling and she’s saying you can’t have it all. Well, you can, but something in your life will suffer. Your career might suffer, your marriage might fall apart, your children will not have your full attention, or your health might take a dive. When juggling so much it’s inevitable that something will be subpar. It’s time to stop believing the cultural lie forced on us in our fast-paced society. It’s time to lay down our pride and know we can’t do it all.

Anne-Marie Slaughter says it perfectly in her article, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,”

“All my life, I’d been on the other side of this exchange. I’d been the woman smiling the faintly superior smile while another woman told me she had decided to take some time out or pursue a less competitive career track so that she could spend more time with her family. I’d been the woman congratulating herself on her unswerving commitment to the feminist cause, chatting smugly with her dwindling number of college or law-school friends who had reached and maintained their place on the highest rungs of their profession. I’d been the one telling young women at my lectures that you can have it all and do it all, regardless of what field you are in. Which means I’d been part, albeit unwittingly, of making millions of women feel that they are to blame if they cannot manage to rise up the ladder as fast as men and also have a family and an active home life (and be thin and beautiful to boot).”

In his book, “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less,” Greg Mckeown says:

“The idea that we can have it all and do it all is not new. This myth has been peddled for so long, I believe virtually everyone alive is infected with it. It is sold in advertising. It is championed in corporations…What is new is how especially damaging this myth is today, in a time when choice and expectations have increased exponentially. It results in stressed people trying to cram yet more activities into their already over scheduled lives.”

He goes on to say:

“It’s not just the number of choices that has increased exponentially, it is also the strength and number of outside influences on our decisions that has increased….The larger issue is how our connectedness has increased the strength of social pressure. Today, technology has lowered the barrier for others to share their opinion about what we should be focusing on. It is not just information overload; it is opinion overload.”

The Weariness of it All

It’s time to stop the comparisons, judgements, and pressures among women and slow down. For Christians there is only one opinion that matters: God’s opinion. God views us through his Son, and thereby we are perfect in his sight.

God is also omnipresent (he is everywhere at once.) Just like Adam and Eve, we can still eat the forbidden fruit today and try to be like God. Yet, God knows we are not like him; he knows we are weak and limited. As such, he created sleep for us and commands us to rest.

Our God is the one who said, “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28-30.) There is only one who can do it all. Jesus Christ. He is the one who took our heavy burden of sin away, and exchanged it for his light burden and easy yoke. The good news is that Jesus has already done it all. It’s finished, and now we truly have it all.

Getting to the Root of True Beauty

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Facebook has now become a news stand. Every new and noteworthy article or video you should read (or not read) has probably made its way into your news feed. Some are newsworthy and some are just cute or inspiring. Here is a cute and inspiring one that has been circulating around: http://www.quickmeme.com/p/3vug8k

It is important to not be deceived by this cute little letter. There are statements in here that we as Christians can agree with, but there is nothing distinctly Christian in it; any religious or non-religious person can agree with this letter.

I wouldn’t uphold this letter to my future daughter, because though it does put down a negative cultural attitude, it also promotes a secular philosophy. The world solves the true beauty crisis by looking inward. They put their hope and promise in the truth of themselves. It’s about me. My strength, my heart, my center, my dreams. Look within yourself and believe in yourself.

The Philosophy Behind the Culture

This way of thinking is rampant in our culture. It’s a humanistic philosophy that should be rejected as much as the cultural beauty pressures women face. Humanism is basically a man-centered way of  thinking. Man is basically God and basically good, and we can find value in our human nature. This father isn’t solving the root issue, he’s just feeding the flame of self to his daughter. He doesn’t know the truth of the Gospel and the true beauty in Christ of dying to self. Self. That is the root issue. Self-obsession. Self-love. Self-hatred.

In every culture and generation there has always been varying ideas of what is and isn’t beautiful. The pressure women feel to be outwardly beautiful isn’t a new concept. (We just have it more in our face now with such an image driven culture.) The pressure has been on our external self, but the way to find freedom is not to look to our internal self. We need to get completely outside of ourselves to be free. Anything inside of us is just as ugly and flawed as anything we perceive about ourselves externally.  C.S. Lewis says this,

“Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.”

Our Biggest Enemy and our Role-Model

Our biggest enemy as women is not the makeup and fashion industry, but it is ourselves. We love ourselves too much, we think about ourselves too much, and when we do this we enslave ourselves. The letter I would write to my future
daughter would solve the true beauty crisis by encouraging her to look to Christ. He is the picture of true beauty.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”  -Philippians 2:5-11

Christ made himself ugly by entering our world. He sacrificed his heavenly radiance and clothed himself in sinful flesh. The one person who actually deserved to think well of himself and who was completely worthy, forgot himself completely. He lived this way and died this way. He became ugly to make us beautiful in Him. Once we believe this, with faith, then our worthiness and our beauty is found in Him.  We are perfectly flawless before God by the blood of Christ.

This is what I want my future daughter to believe in — not herself. The woman who dies to self daily increases in beauty daily. She is a lovely scented perfume to God and to those around her. Christ makes us beautiful inside, and that is our hope.

“C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity makes a brilliant observation about gospel-humility at the very end of his chapter on pride. If we were to meet a truly humble person, Lewis says, we would never come away from meeting them thinking they were humble. They would not be always telling us they were a nobody (because a person who keeps saying they are a nobody is actually a self-obsessed person). The thing we would remember from meeting a truly gospel-humble person is how much they seemed to be totally interested in us. Because the essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less.

Excerpt from Tim Keller’s book, The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness: The Path to True Christian Joy

Housewife Theologian Book Review

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Today housewife has become a dirty word. In Christian circles it has sometimes become a shameful thing. We can be embarrassed to admit our occupation to others. Our culture doesn’t see much value and meaning in being a housewife in comparison with working outside the home. A housewife is second rate; uneducated and imprisoned.

In her book, Housewife Theologian: How the Gospel Interrupts the Ordinary, Aimee Byrd attempts to redeem the word housewife and transform it into something glorious; and something deeper than we make it. Byrd encourages us to think. Our days are not just about laundry and dishes, but should be rich in theology. What we know about God should be apart of the ordinary in our lives; what we know and believe should affect how we live. Byrd describes it this way:

“Truly Christian thinking involves an eternal perspective on our daily matters and contemplation of how they fit into the dogma of the drama in which God has cast us.”

Byrd explains how our femininity, beauty, identity, sexuality, self-image, sin, and attitudes are all out workings of our theological thoughts. This is so important in this day and age as we are surrounded by false teaching that impedes the calling the Lord has given us as women. Byrd teaches us how to not be ‘gullible housewives,’ who believe anything that sounds nice, but to be sharpened in our pursuit of Christian thinking.

Self-Image and Identity

Some of my favorite portions in the book cover self-image and identity. These two issues are typically areas of deception for women. A lot of the lies our culture promotes about these two topics sound pretty truthful. Today you can hear people talking about finding themselves. Feeling lost, like they have no purpose; trying to figure out who they are. It’s not just non-Christians that feel this way, but many Christians.
My only question about these feelings are: Where are you right now?

One of my heroes, Jim Elliot, says this,

“Wherever you are, be all there. Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.”

Wherever God has you right now, whatever place, position, or season, is exactly God’s will for you. If we examine our doctrine and truly believe God is sovereign, then we know where we are and what we are doing now is God’s will for us. We don’t have to travel the world or take a pottery class to find ourselves. If we are in the Word of God, we know who we are and who we belong to.

I love the quote from C.S. Lewis in Byrd’s book. It truly summarizes this issue in our culture of finding self:

“The principle runs through all life from top to bottom. Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life, and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favorite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end . . . and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will really be yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.”

Identity and Idolatry

When it comes to our identity as women, idolatry is not far behind. It’s easy for us to make ultimate things out of good things, as Byrd describes it. It’s also easy for us to find something to attach ourselves to; something that identifies us. Then we end up looking to that thing as our source of happiness. When it’s taken away we respond in sin.

If we are studying and thinking through God’s Word and taking part in Church fellowship we will be setting ourselves up for idol exposing and killing. What are those things that are not Christ that we are looking to fulfill us? To make us happy? To give us purpose? Maybe it’s having a successful career? Getting rich? Maybe being a good housewife? Maybe it’s having a job outside of the home or not having a job outside the home? Maybe it’s looks?

Maybe we need to look for Christ to identify us. We do that when we are faithful housewife theologians who study the Word of God with rigorous discipline and humble prayers for grace. We are true to ourselves (as our culture calls it) when we immerse ourselves in Christ. We follow our dreams (again a modern cultural saying) when we discover the ultimate dream that is Christ himself.

He is our treasure and pearl of great price. Christ defines us as women and shows us that true value, worth, and meaning is found in losing ourselves and finding Him.