Not Consumed

“How was your week?”

I felt rather awkward making small talk after this past week.  I was pretty certain my answer to that question didn’t fall in the ‘small talk’ category.

I felt overwhelmed.

I was exhausted.

It seemed like the universe was against me getting any sleep.

As an indicator of how the week went, take Monday. After 11 hours at work, I came home, did laundry, cooked dinner and Tuesday’s lunch, washed dishes, and finished up lesson prep.  At 11:30 p.m., 5 1/2 short hours before my Tuesday morning alarm, I was trying to fish a broken measuring spoon out of the garbage disposal with a pair of chopsticks while holding a flashlight in my mouth so that maybe the disposal would work again.  The rotting fruits and vegetables couldn’t wait another 17 hours until the faculty meeting was over and I was off the clock again. I didn’t remember signing up for this.

I was grumpy.  I didn’t want to be a public school teacher anymore. I didn’t want to be a homeowner. I didn’t want to have to interact with any other people for the foreseeable future.

Did I mention I was tired?

I felt overwhelmed by things to do and beset by the temptation to be short tempered, complaining, impatient, and unkind.  In my discontentment, I didn’t feel like fighting the temptation.  After all, I felt justified.  And surely God wouldn’t expect me to keep fighting when I was obviously overwhelmed.

How was my week?

I felt consumed.

I felt consumed by work, by impatience, by inadequacy, by discouragement, by weariness.

But then, the Holy Spirit sent a timely reminder.

I am not consumed.

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,

for his compassions never fail.

They are new every morning;

great is your faithfulness.

Lamentations 3:22-23 NIV

My feelings were strong, but not stronger than the reality. If God’s great mercy means I am not consumed by his righteous wrath, how much less can the urgency and pressures of the world and my own heart consume me?

Meditating on that didn’t make getting the measuring spoon out of the sink any easier, or earn me extra hours to sleep.  It did, however, take away the tyranny of the discouragement and bitterness that threatened to seize my heart. What light was brought to my mind by the beauty and glory of that thought!

Trials may try to consume, but the Lord’s love is greater still. Struggles will eventually cease, but his compassions will never fail.  Discouragement and weariness may be great, but God’s faithfulness is greater still.

 

Prayers for My Home

A couple weeks ago I was going through some prayers a wonderful sister in Christ from my church wrote up for my house blessing when I bought my house.  They were good reminders of the purpose of my home and how it is to be used to glorify God and refresh both believers and unbelievers. As I thought of these Scriptures and prayers my friend wrote, I thought of more.  Hopefully, they are encouraging starter points for thinking about any single woman’s home, whether it’s a house, an apartment, or a dorm room.

Front Door: Leaving for Work. May she commit her plans and long hours to the LORD. May the strength of her work come from the LORD.

Commit your work to the LORD,
and your plans will be established. Prov. 16:3

Front Door: Pray that she will be a Gospel light in her neighborhood

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 2 Corinthians 4:6-7

Front Door: Pray that she would leave the house each day in assurance of the Lord’s Sovereignty in all things.

The lot is cast into the lap,
but its every decision is from the LORD. Prov. 16:33

Front Door: For God’s protection over the house and those that live there, that they would be kept from danger.

Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation. Isaiah 12:2

Living Room: For strength and wisdom as she exercises hospitality.

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.1 Peter 4:8-11

Living Room: That she would rest in the sufficiency of Christ to meet her guests’ needs — both spiritual and physical

Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. 2 Corinthians 3:5-6

Living Room: That it will be a place where others are encouraged and built up. Pray that she would be encouraged and edified through her company. Pray that God’s name would be glorified.

But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called today, that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.  For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. Hebrews 3:12-14

Put on then as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord as forgiven you, so you also must forgive.  And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. Colossians 3:12-14

Living Room: That it will be filled with joy and laughter.

A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones. Proverbs 17:22

Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.     James 5:13

Dining Room: For likeminded friends to share life

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Acts 2:42

…so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company. Romans 15:32

Dining Room: For this to be a place laughter and good company

This also, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? Ecclesiastes 2:25

Kitchen: To be a place of service and joy in the LORD

Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” Neh. 8:10

You have put more joy in my heart
than they have when their grain and wine abound. Psalm 4:7

Kitchen: For God’s provision of food

These all look to you, to give them their food in due season.  When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things. Psalm 104:27-28

Kitchen: To be a place of service strengthened with joy. That she would see the results of her labor and that those she serves will be blessed.

And let us not grow weary in doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.  So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. Galatians 6:9-10

Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.  Hebrews 13:16

 

Renter’s Room: Mutual Encouragement

Gracious words are like a honeycomb,
sweetness to the soul and health to the body. Prov. 16:24

 

Master Bed Room: For her time in prayer and Scripture reading to refresh and strengthen her relationship with God

… my mouth will praise you with joyful lips, when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; for you have been my help… Psalm 63:5-6

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path. Psalm 119:105

 

Master Bed Room: For protection during sleep. That she would retire without anxiety.

Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. Psalm 121:4

Yours is the day, yours also the night… Psalm 74:16

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. Psalm56:3

 

Master Bed Room: That she would have rest and refreshment

Return, O my soul, to your rest, for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you. Psalm 116:7

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Matthew 11:28

He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake. Psalm 23:3

 

Master Bed Room: That she would wake in the morning with hope and strength.

She dresses herself with strength
and makes her arms strong. Prov. 31:17

Strength and dignity are her clothing,
and she laughs at the time to come. Prov. 31:25

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;

they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”

The LORD is good to those who wait for him,
to the soul who seeks him. Lamentations 3:22-25

 

Master Bed Room: As she gets ready each day to remember that God looks at the inward appearance. That she would remember that while beauty and youth are fleeting, that there is an imperishable beauty in a heart that trusts in the Lord.

But let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. 1 Peter 3:3

 

Office Area: As she works from home that she would do so with the right perspective

Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. Col. 3:22-24

Let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us,
and establish the work of our hands upon us;
yes, establish the work of our hands! Ps. 90:17

 

Office Area : Planning lessons, planning schedules, and making financial decisions.  That she would have wisdom and discernment for the choices she must make.

… but those who plan peace have joy. Proverbs 12:20

So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. Psalm 90:12

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise, but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Ephesians 5:15-16

Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness… Matthew 6:33

 

 Guest & Media Room: For her heart to be glad to accept guests

Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.  Romans 12:13

Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. Romans 15:7

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. Luke 10:38

 

Guest & Media Room: As she rests and relaxes, that the entertainment would be uplifting and encouraging to her heart and mind.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Philippians 4:8

The Heart of a Single Woman’s Home: Concluding Prayer (part 8 of 8)

As I’m wrapping up this blog series, I want to share some hope and prayers for myself and other single women. My homemaking has not turned out as I originally planned or dreamed, but it is good, and I am lacking for nothing because I have God Himself. Because God is faithful and because true hope and contentment are based in the hope of eternal life with Christ (not marriage), my life can test and prove that His power has indeed “given me all things pertaining to life and godliness” and that “the boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places”. My prayer for my life as a woman is based off 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12:  May God make me worthy of his calling. May God’s power fulfill my every resolve for good and every work of faith. May my life glorify the name of our Lord Jesus. May I never lose my hope of future glory with and in Christ. May I never forget that it is all because of the grace of God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

My hope for my home’s mission comes from an inscription in the Dohnavur Fellowship in India, “There they dwelt with the King for his work” (Dohnavur Fellowship was founded by Amy Carmichael and the inscription is based off 2 Chronicles 4:23).  May my home be filled with the presence of the Lord.  May my home be filled with my King’s work.  May I always see purpose in the work of my homemaking, even if it doesn’t follow the conventional pattern.  

As a believer, I need to accept that my life is hidden in Christ and is secure in Him.  My life is also not my own.  It was bought at a great price by a God who chose me to be the holy woman he loves.  By His grace, I am single, but never alone.  I may wish I had a man’s covenant promise of marriage, but I have God’s covenant promise of life eternal, which is the greatest blessing. Never, then, am I alone, forsaken, unloved, or forgotten.  I do not need the approval of others, nor need to be defensive when my singleness does not make sense to others, even those in the church, because God has numbered my days, written my life in His book, and given me the work that I am to walk in.  Maybe those works will include marriage and parenting, maybe they won’t.  Whatever blessings and sufferings come, I have the same promise that Paul had – God’s grace is sufficient for me.  Lydia Brownback beautifully expounds on this truth in her book “Fine China is for Single Woman, Too”:

Paul did not achieve contentment of this depth by snuffing out his personal desires.  On the contrary, he pursued what he wanted wholeheartedly and received what he was after.  That’s because the thing Paul wanted most was Jesus Christ and his glory… Contentment was something God cultivated in Paul though the trials he faced; that is the same way God cultivates it in us… As for you and me, we might learn contentment through the experience of watching our friends get married one by one, through an awareness that our chances for motherhood diminish as the years sweep by, or through the pain of loneliness… When Paul was plagued by the thorn in his flesh, he asked the Lord on three separate occasions to remove the thorn.  What did Jesus answer? He said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness” (2Cor. 12:9).  And through this grace, Paul learned to be content in the knowledge that he could do all things through Christ who strengthened him (Phil. 4:13).  God had a reason for not removing Paul’s thorn: it was to keep Paul humble enough to be an effective ambassador for Christ… And if God has said no, it is only that you might learn that this grace is sufficient for you and to keep you able to serve him in the way he alone knows best… Yet whether or not you decide to acquire china, you already possess the best treasure for serving guests, and that is Christ himself… Offer your singleness to God. Ask him to use it in his redemptive plans in the place where he has set you.  Allow him to take your singleness and make it beautiful.  Let that be your finest china.”

In God’s perfect plan, there is no second best for a woman, regardless of her age or relationship status. The heart-beat of the single woman’s home is the love of God, the fear of God, the peace, joy, and hope of God.  It is God Himself indwelling the single woman, and filling the home with His presence, and consecrating them both to his service.  It is His perfect will assigning the work.  It is His all-sufficient grace making every good work possible and His strength fueling that service.  May we continue faithfully in that work and found abiding in Him until the day He returns.

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.  May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.  He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Colossians 1:9-14

The Heart of a Single Woman’s Home: Buying a House (part 7 of 8)

It was seven years ago and February had quickly rolled around again. Year one of graduate school was barely half over, but it was time to think of next year’s housing.  This was a university town, and rentals went quickly. One roommate was moving out and the leasing office was raising the rental prices. My remaining roommate and I had to sift through decisions: stay and find another roommate? Stay and downsize? Move somewhere cheaper? But where?

I’ve had nine roommates and nine different living spaces in the eight years since graduating from college. As I mentioned in the first post in this series, our housing situations changed rather more frequently those first few years than I had anticipated.  Every year my roommate(s) and I had to decide if we wanted to keep living together, if we should renew our lease, or if we should seek another rental.  There was always the desire to lessen the financial burden.  The apartments in the “safe” parts of town were quite expensive.  Another lack of permanency is the changefulness of roommates.  They may back out of commitments. They can sign a lease, and then decide to leave early.  They may get married, as four of mine did.  They may take jobs out of the area.  I believe many other single women (and men) also sense this lack of permanency inn housing situations.  When my living conditions are in a state of flux, I often feel that the rest of my life is, too.  At those times, marriage seems like the ideal solution.  If nothing else, at least the roommate would be permanent.

While housing can be an annual issue for singles, a single woman does have a lot of freedom when deciding where to live.  For example, there are no husbands or children to take into consideration.  Be that as it may, a single woman can feel the pressure of those around her when picking a place: “Why do you need a house, you’re just one person?” “So-and-so would be great roommate, you should ask her.” “Why do you want to live alone?” “Why don’t you live with your parents and save money?”

One of the scariest decisions I have made was the decision to buy a house.  I had always thought that I would buy a house, but I never meant to do it alone.  While I knew of a handful of single women who were homeowners, I didn’t think I had the courage to do it.  I was still encumbered with the philosophy that if a woman wanted to marry, she had to present herself as marriageable.  I was afraid that buying a house as a single woman in her late-20s would send one of two messages.  The first message I was afraid to send was that I was too strong to need a man or that I’d at least be difficult to lead.  The second message was that I had resigned to my singleness by giving up and buying a house. Buying a house seemed dauntingly permanent.  I was afraid that I would be cementing my singleness as well.  I was afraid of the stigma I might attract.  I was also afraid of this new change in plans that didn’t seem to lead to marriage.  Just like grad school was a change in my original plans for my life, buying a house while unmarried was another great change.

As deeply as I felt these fears, I also knew that apartment living, even in “nice” apartments can still be rough and downright expensive.  I was tired of my upstairs neighbor who banged mercilessly on the wall when I practiced piano (with headphones) at an hour he deemed too early.  I was tired of throwing money into the rent vacuum.  I was tired of the apartment pool drama outside my window and my neighbors’ intoxicated/high shenanigans. I had also just “lost” my roommate to marriage (She is still a sweet friend and I don’t regret this ‘loss’ at all).  I was looking at a single rental, which, in a safe apartment complex would cost as much as a monthly mortgage payment on a small house. I planned to buy a few years later when I was in my 30s, but I had also been keeping my eye on the market to see what was available and the prices.  I found a home I liked on Zillow (it was the kitchen) and e-mailed a realtor who also “happened” to be our music deacon.   I’m not really in the market for house hunting, but I have just one I want to see and since I don’t know what I’m doing, would you show it to me, please?  I spent two hours looking through the house and several conversations with my realtor and my dad regarding the finances and logistics.  Logistically, the process was smooth and simple. I had a real estate agent I knew and trusted.  All the inspections and negotiations went quickly.  Emotionally, however, the process was more difficult.  I remember praying through the process.  Several times, I would panic and think, “I don’t have a clue what I’m doing.  What makes me think I can buy a house?” I would often remind God (as if he needed it) that I was going to buy a house since that seemed like a wise decision and an opportunity he was giving me.  If it wasn’t from him, I begged that he would take that opportunity away from me. Long story short, I wrote a really big check and bought the house.  Three years later, I still really like the kitchen.

There are many lost hopes that I could regret.  I could regret that I didn’t save, dream, and buy with a husband.  I could regret that when I walked through the house, I didn’t have a family of my own to envision living in these spaces.  I could regret that I didn’t have a husband to lean on for making the decisions.

As much as I could focus on regret and resent that my fairy-tale plans weren’t actualized, I have much more cause for thanksgiving. I had a wise real estate agent who was a trusted friend. His wife was a constant source of enthusiasm and encouragement through the buying process.  She even gathered several of my close friends to host a shower with other ladies from the church.  She lovingly planned and wrote prayers and scriptures to be prayed through my house by ladies in our church.  God gave me a wise father to walk through the house and be a sounding board for ideas.   God gave me a supportive and encouraging mother who never reproached my singleness or suggested that I was ruining my chances for marriage.  A close single girl-friend went through the house-buying process at the same time, which provided a listening ear that understood perfectly the emotions I felt through this process.  I also had a dear single friend who had owned her own home for a while who graciously shared her thoughts and prayers she had recorded from that experience.  God gave me everything I needed in the way that he knew was best.

I’m not saying that single girls have to buy their own houses, but that is what God planned for me.  He gave me the experience of making a major life decision that was “all on me”.  I could get advice, but in the end, it was my call.  God provided: the finances, the timing, the support I needed to get through the process and stay sane, and faith in the truth that He is sovereign.  And in that experience, he showed me that the decision was technically mine, but it was really on His authority that the door was opened or closed.

As a note to married friends of singles: One encouragement during the home-buying process – and I want to say a repeated thank you to the ladies at my church – was a first-house shower.  I still use the gifts I received with happiness, but the prayers of the ladies all as we walked through my home and their encouraging confirmation of my work in the home were the biggest blessings I could have asked for that evening. So, please encourage the single women (and men) in your acquaintance that their work in the home is important and glorifying to God.  Give encouragement and confirmation of their homemaking, and don’t dissuade them from taking the steps of obedience God has called them to.

To single women, don’t be afraid to live the life God has called you to, whether in an apartment or your own house.  You have the Creator of the Universe who delights in you and fulfills your request for wisdom (James 1:5).  You may not be planning with a husband, but you can seek the will of and plan with the the one true, sovereign God.  During our walk though, my realtor asked if I was afraid buying a house would mean I’d always be single. “Because it doesn’t,” he added, without waiting for my answer.  Don’t make decisions based on whether or not it hurts your chance for marriage later.  Keep your focus on God himself.  He, not marriage, is your only hope and the only ultimate goal.  The Proverbs 31 woman considered a field (discernment) and bought it (strength).  Don’t shy away from practicing discernment and making business choices because you might appear too strong.  Do not be afraid to exercise strength and discernment that is completely dependent on God.  However, do be afraid of worldly, self-empowered wisdom and arrogant, independent strength. Walk in faith remembering that the days of your life are written in his book, even before one of them came to be (Psalm 139:16).

In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths. Proverbs 3:6

The Heart of the Single Woman’s Home: Fear and Safety (blog series part 6/8)

Psalm 4:8, “In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.”

Proverbs 29:35 The fear of man lays a snare,
                         but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe.

A godly woman is called to be fearless.  A quiet heart, which in God’s sight is very precious, is not in a tither of worry (1 Peter 3:4). Married women are called to fearless submission to their husbands.  Should not a single woman submit fearlessly to her Creator? The call to “do good and do not fear anything that is frightening” (1 Peter 3:6) is a call to every woman, because her hope is in her God (1 Peter 3:5).

Physical Safety and Fear

As a single woman living and working on my own, safety can feel like a constant burden.  I am often tempted to worry about safety… and I often give in.  If I want to justify my worry, I can draw up a long list from headlines around the world and from personal experiences of my friends, family, and myself.  For example, one night, my roommate and I came home at 11 p.m. to find someone had broken into our apartment.  While nothing came of it, the invasion of privacy, of knowing someone was in my home and I didn’t know what they had done, gave me a sense of violation that I hadn’t felt before.  There was the fear that it was actually a neighbor. Or maybe it was a former resident who had kept a copy of the key. Would they come back? Had they left hidden cameras?  Had they done terrible things to my toothbrush? We threw away all our open bottles and asked the apartment office to transfer apartments. This was the year we started using a home security system.

Maybe that’s what comes of single girls being too independent and moving away.  Maybe I’m supposed to wait until I get married. Was I being too independent? My thoughts started sounding like some circles of thought that depend more on the teaching of tradition, and not Scripture. Living with parents or away from them is only a sin if discontentment, rebellion, fear, or hate fuels those decisions. While my roommate and I prayerfully took the next steps, and lived with my parents for another month before a new apartment was available, the mercies and graces of the situation became more apparent to us. We had not been hurt.  Our loved ones were not hurt.  An unknown someone(s) had sinned against us.  We didn’t know how or why this had happened or even all that had happened.  But God knew. And He provided our safety.  We only had to keep trusting and He kept providing.

For me, I can fuel my discontent in singleness by dwelling on the perceived protection a husband could provide.  While I do take more precautions now, I realize that precautions will not keep me safe.  A locked door is not omnipotent, neither is a husband.  My safety doesn’t depend on the quality of my security system.  God wants me to trust Him to give protection.

My help comes from the LORD,
who made heaven and earth. Psalm 121:2

When I am strong in this dependence, I can find myself feeling rather haughty against my married friends who confess that they are afraid when their husband isn’t home for the evening because they aren’t used to being alone.  I think I appear to listen patiently, however my thoughts are in a darker place. ‘Welcome to my world,’ I think smugly, ‘how would you like this to be your whole life?’ This pride is every bit as dangerous to my soul as my fear – perhaps even more so. My perceived strength in my perceived dependence on God is no refuge at all. Far from it, a haughty spirit comes before a fall. My ability to trust is a result of faith, which is a gift of God.  If my hope is in anything, it is not that I know I will be fine, but that God is good to me and that everything that comes to me can only come because He allows – even sends – it. My hope is in God Himself.

For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,

For my hope is from him.

He only is my rock and my salvation,

My fortress; I shall not be shaken.

On God rests my salvation and my glory;

My might rock, my refuge is God.

Trust in him at all times, O people;

Pour out your heart before him;

God is a refuge for us.   Psalm 62: 5-8

Like all other sins, however, fear is persistent and keeps creeping back in. It comes whispering during the lonely nights my roommate is out of town.  When a possum rattles my window in the early hours of the morning, I am afraid. When I turn on the alarm and turn off the lights, I feel fear creep in behind me. Perhaps it is our cultural association with evil and darkness, but when the night hours roll in, evil seems more real to me than it does during the day.  Perhaps this very fear is a grace to help me remember that as real as fears may be, God is more real. As strong as they are, He is stronger.  Plans made for evil, God uses for good.  In the dark hours, I realize that my hope is not in a fairy tale ending, but in the Creator of the Universe Himself. His promises and plan endure whatever evil there is in the world.  He cannot be thwarted.  And He uses the whispers of fear to make me cling to his promises in his word.

One of my favorite verses is Psalm 56, which was written by David when the Philistines had captured him in Gath:

When I am afraid,

            I put my trust in you.

In God, whose word I praise,

            In God I trust; I shall not be afraid.

            What can flesh do to me? 56:3-4

David was in a dangerous place.  The man after God’s own heart was afraid. Notice the grace revealed through David’s admission: when I am afraid. God graciously works in his child to remove fear.  He commands us to fear not. And yet, He does not listen because I am fearless, but listens to my pleas when I am afraid.

Spiritual Fear

I often forget that the spirit world is every bit as real as the physical world.  In other countries Christians witness first hand demonic possession in people and even in places. In the USA, that is usually brushed aside and only entertained in horror films.  As real as spiritual terrors are, however, God is greater still. The Jesus who commanded the legion in Mark 5 still delivers from the legions oppressing his people.

In my first couple years of teaching, I had times of experiencing demonic nightmares. One particularly bad month, I cried almost every night before bed. I was exhausted, but I dreaded going to sleep. The images in my dreams were vivid and filled with a terribly dark and oppressive evil. The nightmares were keeping me from getting rested because I would wake every hour or two in a panic.  The only difference between the dreams and being awake was that I could no longer see the evil that terrified me when I awoke.  I could, however, still feel it near me in the dark, quiet room. This troubled me more than the dreams. After about an hour of crying and praying, I would fall back asleep.  Many nights, this process repeated itself as many as three times during the night.

When I was little, I remember calling out to my dad and mom after a bad dream.  The comfort of their loving arms and their prayers helped me go back to sleep.  As a grown single woman, I often wished that when I woke up from one of these nightmares that I could roll over, wake up a stronger person (i.e. my husband), and ask them to hold me until the fear went away. I may not have my parents or a husband in my house to calm me, but I have something even more beautiful and comforting. The God of all comfort did not need to be awakened, because he had never stopped his watch over me. I could pray scripture – His very words to me, put there be his spirit – until I fell asleep again.  I learned to trust deeply in the truths of Psalm 56:

You have kept count of my tossings;

            Put my tears in your bottle.

            Are they not in your book?

Then my enemies will turn back

            In the day when I call.

            This I know, that God is for me.

In God, whose word I praise,

            In the LORD, whose word I praise,

In God I trust; I shall not be afraid…

For you have delivered my soul from death,

            Yes, my feet from falling,

That I may walk before God

In the light of life.  Psalm 56: 8-11a, 13

 About a year after these occurrences, I didn’t have dreams, but the sound of footsteps and the presence of someone who wasn’t there consistently woke me up every morning about 2 am.  One of my roommates at the time wisely led us in prayer for God to protect the house so that no evil spirit could enter and that I would stop having nightmares and hearing noises.  The 2 am occurrence and nightmares never happened again.

Since then, it became a tradition on the first night in a new home, either alone or with my roommate, to walk through the home and pray over every room, specifically that the presence of God would fill the home, so that all human and spiritual powers could know that it belonged to Him alone.  I also started doing this with my classroom.  Through these experiences, God showed that my trust should not rest in a security system or a husband – although there is nothing wrong with those – but that the heart of my home should rest in His protecting presence.

Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.” Isaiah 12:2

The Heart of a Single Woman’s Home: Hospitality Outside the Home (part 5 of 8)

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. 1 Peter 4:8-11

The last post in this series touched on lessons God has taught me as a single woman hosting company in her home – whether a dorm room, apartment, or house. Seasons come and go.  Sometimes my home is not available for hosting people.  This school year has been one such season.  Work has been so much more demanding that the time and where-with-all to have people over is not available as much as I would like. Instead of wishing and wallowing in self-pity that my home is going to waste (although, there has been some of that…), God reminds me that He has given me other venues of practicing the Christian art of hospitality: my car, my workplace, my church.

One of my biggest material blessings from God is my car.  Eleven years, 98,000+ miles, a new roof, new fender, and new windshield later, and we’re still going strong. Now, I can tend to take a more utilitarian view of my car. The car is meant to transport people and things.  I don’t often think of keeping it as clean as my home, or decorated like my home.  So, I’m usually more mindful of the readiness of the house than the state of my car. (OK, who am I kidding?  I’m always more mindful about the cleanliness of the house.  The only time I think about the cleanliness of my car is a brief twinge of guilt whenever I happen to look in the back seat… which isn’t that often). I don’t think about it needing the same kind of peaceful atmosphere for hospitality that my home does.  That is, until I suddenly need to give someone a ride. If I have half empty water bottles, a Kleenex box, items to be returned, and dishes (I know, right?) scattered around the inside of my car, I have a feeling that my car will speak of stress much louder than my cheerfulness will speak of peace.  Granted, I’m not going to decorate or invest as much time in my car as my house, but now I ask myself: Is the car clean?  Does it smell good?  Am I a safe and courteous driver?  Do I tend to let the gas needle get dangerously close to empty? What purposeful conversation and music happens during the drive? Do I give people rides begrudgingly? Am I giving rides out of Christ’s love in my heart? It’s not unreasonable take a few minutes to make sure my car is as hospitable as my home.

I have the blessing of a classroom in which I can practice hospitality to students, parents, and co-workers every day.  I have the freedom to pick out the decorations, set the behavior rules, arrange supplies, and decorate to a certain extent.  I keep notecards, gum, and chocolate in my desk for teacher friends that may need them. But, as I mentioned in “Hospitality in the Home”, that is not enough to make a place hospitable.  Do I welcome students or co-workers when they interrupt the other work I have at that moment? Do I greet others with a smile — a genuine, glad-to-see-you smile? Does my desk speak chaos or peace? Do my ears listen for the well-being of those who come by or are my lips quick to encourage gossip? Hospitality is possible whether I have a classroom or a cubicle.

Another place to practice hospitality that may get overlooked is the local church.  All who enter need to be welcomed, visitors and long-time members.  Is there someone habitually sitting alone?  Is there a new visiting mom who needs someone to help get her kids to Sunday school? Is there someone who needs to be cheered? Hugged? Encouraged? How can I contribute to the needs of the saints on Sunday mornings?

God has given the means and the grace for me to practice what He commands.  Hospitality in the home is so important, but, praise God, my ability to practice hospitality is not limited to the home.

The Heart of a Single Woman’s Home: Hospitality in the Home (blog series part 4 of 8)

Houses filled with love have elastic walls.

Practicing hospitality can be a daunting task.  One of my biggest temptations in practicing hospitality is to focus on the ideal and pursue that.  The food should be of this variety and arranged a certain way.  The house should be clean, mopped, dusted, and vacuumed.  The trap set for me is to make it look perfect, so that I gain my guests’ approval, without looking like I’m trying too hard.  I believe this temptation is the strongest when I believe the lie that, as a single woman, my homemaking is a pretense of the “real” housekeeping (including hospitality) of wives and mothers.  When that lie is fueled by my pride and self-focus, instead of love for others, I’m open up myself for the attacks of worry, impatience, and a spirit of striving and complaining that I’m just one person. Then I miss out on having a joyful spirit at rest in contentment in the Providence that gave singleness and the ministry of hospitality.

Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Romans 12:13

My parents were the first to help teach me hospitality.  As an older child, my responsibility beforehand was to help prepare, which usually meant vacuuming and cleaning the bathrooms.   The purpose, I was reminded, was that the guests would feel comfortable using a bathroom that was clean and prepared just for them.  It wasn’t so they would think, ‘They are really good at cleaning the bathrooms!’ When church members arrived for Bible study, my job was to greet them and ask if they would like something to drink.  This was a task that turned my vision away from my shyness to the needs and faces of the people in our home. As I grew up in my parents’ house, I watched as they served others by hosting overnight guests, large groups, individuals, and couples, all for different reasons. Sometimes hospitality was simply for brief visits.  Other times it was for people needing a place to live for a while. It all looked different, but it was all service.

Let all that you do be done in love. 1 Corinthians 16:14

I’m convinced that the heart of hospitality is extending the love of God to those who enter the home and serving them cheerfully, no matter the living situation.  I have experienced that God blesses that.  One of the ways God has provided is by giving me 14 roommates over the years – almost all of whom have shared a heart for opening up our home for others, whether it was a dorm, an apartment, or a house.  In practicing hospitality, God has given seasons of late-night Bible studies, study sessions in college and grad school, pancake nights, hymn sings, baby showers, small wedding receptions, and girls’ nights. Sometimes they were over-crowed; sometimes I wasn’t able to do all I wanted; sometimes I strove to do more than I needed; sometimes I was exhausted and overwhelmed by so much to do; rarely (if ever) did it turn out perfectly.  Every time, however, God blessed the efforts. One roommate and I found that, when push comes to shove, it is possible to stack all the living room furniture in the corner and use a line of card tables to have an Easter dinner for 12 people in a 900-square foot apartment, so long as you know your guests are amenable to that as well.

Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.

Luke 6:28

Hospitality doesn’t require a husband to partner with you, because you have a generous God who is capable of using your home for more good than you can imagine. Hospitality doesn’t have to be Pinterest perfect, or look like an edition of Better Homes and Gardens. Hospitality is generously sharing what God has given, serving with the strength that God provides to meet the needs of those who enter the home.

God is not limited.  I am often surprised at what He can do when given unlimited access to my limited means, but he will accomplish what He purposes.  I’ve had a guest book for the last 8 years (and 10 living spaces).  I love looking through it and remembering the people who came through my home(s) and what we did and what we talked about.  It is a good reminder that God is at work in my home and will continue to work, if I submit its use completely to Him. So pray for God to show you how to show hospitality in your home. Pray for God to bless your efforts and your desire to do good.  Pray for God to fill your heart with love for Him and your guests.  Serve with the strength and leadership of His Holy Spirit. Allow difficult acts of hospitality to conform you more to His likeness and thank Him for His sanctification.  Remember that you will reap a harvest, if you do not give up.

Here are some practical ways to set up a home with a goal of implementing hospitality:

  1. Keep a guest book to help remember the story of your home(s). You can have any kind that fits your personality.  Mine is a little book with lined pages for guests to write or draw whatever they want.
  2. If you live in a space that allows candles, keep a couple good-smelling (even cheap) candles on hand.
  3. Don’t feel convinced that you have to do it all yourself. Have a friend come over to help you clean or prepare food.
  4. Keep a cleaning schedule. The more you are accustomed to keeping the space clean, the less frantic cleaning you’ll need to do later.
  5. On a related note, if you put pans in the oven to hide them, make sure to communicate this to your roommates.
  6. Communication with the people you are living with is vital. Do not use hospitality as an excuse to disregard the people who share the home with you.
  7. Keep some baked goodies in the freezer or microwave popcorn and lemonade mix in the pantry for unannounced company.
  8. One lady from my church suggested a drink basket. I keep the sugar bowl, creamers, and hot drink packets/coffee in this small basket that can be set out with the hot water kettle for guests.  It keeps me organized and cuts down on time getting ready.
  9. When picking out an apartment or a home, ask how accommodating it would be for having people over. Does the apartment have parking passes you have to purchase for guests? (True story) Is there parking available on the street? Is there an open space for serving food and sitting?
  10. Don’t let small spaces be a deterrent, but keep it in mind when setting up a guest list.
  11. Consider keeping a box or two of toys and coloring books for kids that come over. I’m in my 30s, so that means when I invite college friends over, kiddos are going to be coming as well. By pulling together a collection of toys and puzzles from my childhood, Dollar Tree, Goodwill, etc., I have a little stash that keeps kids occupied while their parents and I can visit. Now when the kids come over, they just go right away to the shelf with the toys and start playing.

“Your house/apartment feels so welcoming” are words every host and hostess want to hear. No matter how welcoming and put together the space may be, however, the hostess’ attitude is what makes it welcoming.  A hostess focused on her presentation of her home will not have her heart free to be content in her Maker His promises, and enjoy her guests.

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. 1 Peter 4:8-11