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.

 

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

12 Questions Concerning My Gift of God’s Varied Grace

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 4:10-11

In this context, Peter is addressing using God’s gifts of speaking (teaching) and serving.  As I read these verses, however, it occurred to me that these are not the only gifts God gives believers.  According to Paul, singleness and marriage are also gifts from God (1 Corinthians 7:7).  With that in mind, here are twelve questions I believe 1 Peter 4:10-11 begs me to ask of my singleness, one of my gifts of God’s varied grace.

1. Do I view my singleness as a gift of grace?

Singleness is not a lack-luster stage of existence, nor does it mean there is something about me that needs to be fixed.  It is a gift from my heavenly Father who knows how to give good gifts.  As a gift, then, singleness should be received with thanksgiving.

2. Am I using my singleness, or am I wasting it?

Singleness is valuable and should be used to help advance the Gospel.  It highlights the fact that God alone is enough to satisfy my soul.  It paints a picture of child-like trust and dependence on Him.  However, singleness can be squandered by fretting away the hours.  A single person consumed with worry or preoccupied with marriage will not be able to fully use their God-given singleness.

3. Am I using my singleness to serve others, or myself?

Singleness is more than fulfilling my whims: traveling where I want, buying what I want, keeping the hours I want. It is not a chance to complete a bucket list (although there is nothing wrong about trying new things and seeing new places).  Singleness is primarily a chance to “secure my undivided attention to the Lord” and serve with a freedom I may not have later in marriage (1 Cor. 7:32-35).

4. Do I desire marriage so that I may serve others, or serve myself?

If I desire the gift of marriage, I need to understand that I serve in that as well.  It is not so that I will have a husband to do the yard work or give me companionship or make me feel completed.

5. As a single woman, do I see myself as a steward of God’s varied grace, or as someone who is being deprived?

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) God has called me to himself and planned out my works that I should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)  If his power has given me all I need pertaining to life and godliness, I am a poor testimony to His goodness if I go through life as if he hadn’t. (2 Peter 1:3) As a steward, I am content with what my Master has given me, and aim to use it so that it will multiply dividends for his use.

6. Do I appreciate that marriage and singleness do not surpass the other as gifts of grace, but are simply varied expressions?

Pride wants self to feel that it has a harder time than others or that its service is better.  However, God has appointed to each person the events that will sanctify them in his service.  I am not made inferior or superior by my relationship status.

7. Do I treat my gift of singleness as seriously as Scripture says I should treat the gift of speaking?

Singleness should mean more than the ability to lounge in my yoga pants, eat ice cream, and binge-watch Netflix. It is also more than a prep-period for marriage. It is a time to practice putting on the full armor of God, to be ready to share the reason for the hope that is within me, and to fight the good fight of faith.

8. Am I living out my singleness in my own strength, or the strength that God supplies?

Whether married or single, each Christian must admit that the grace and strength that life requires comes through Christ alone. If I can’t even guarantee my own next breath, I cannot presume to walk through singleness on my own terms and in my own strength.

9. Am I using my singleness to glorify God, or myself and my freedoms?

My Instagram is a good indicator of whom I am glorifying.  Is it full of my accomplishments and adventures or wine nights out with the girls? Or, is it often silent because I am visiting shut-ins or tutoring inner city kids?

10. Do I desire marriage so that I may glorify God?

Desiring marriage is not wrong.  Like all desires, however, it must be examined.  If I want marriage because it will complete me, I set my marriage up for heartache.

11. Do I believe that all dominion belongs to Christ? Do I submit my desire and pursuit of marriage to that truth, or do I complain and strive against His gifts?

Christ is in control of all, even my singleness.  This should free me from worrying that I messed up my life because I blew my chance somewhere.  It frees me from scheming and trying to manipulate events so that I get my happily-ever-after.  Christ’s dominion enables me to find rest in him, even as I pray that I may someday be married.

12. Is my strongest “Amen” that Christ is over all and glorified over all?

The answer to this question reveals whether my priorities are in good order, so that my attention and devotion to him will be undivided.

Single and Barren

Author’s Note: (Before beginning this topic, I want to clarify my thoughts on two areas.  First, I can only experience barrenness as a single woman.  I don’t know what it is like to long for a child as a married woman.  I don’t know how it feels to try to conceive, have my hopes raised, and then have them crushed as I am faced once again with the realization that my husband and I cannot have children. Second, I have never known the life-altering pain of the loss of a child, whether through miscarriage or otherwise.  I grieve with those couples who must walk through the valley of the shadow of death with their children. I am thankful for the grace God has given to the mothers and fathers who have been called to those trials.  Through them I learn more of God’s sustaining mercy and love for his children.  What I desire is to share how God works in the barrenness of an unmarried woman to testify to God’s sustaining mercy and love through a different kind of childlessness.)

Meet the dreamer

How many kids do you want?” my friends and I often asked each other. Raised as a conservative, home-schooled girl, I was not shocked by large families or the idea of having a lot of kids. My family was average-sized, but some of our best friends came from a family of twelve.  As I grew up, I never really wondered if I would have children.  I started dreaming of my marriage while playing with my plastic bride happy meal toys at the age of 5.  Then there came the legions of dolls to name, clothe, feed, educate, and mother. “I don’t know… maybe somewhere between 4 and 6,” was my usual answer. “Less than 13,” was my joking answer. “As many as God wants to give me,” was my more ‘spiritual’ answer. I had unspoken conditions to that last answer, though. I would accept whatever number God gave me as long as I got married by 23 and started having kids by 26. What my 20-year-old self didn’t stop to consider is that God may choose to give me none and he would still be good and loving to me.

What’s a (single) girl to do?

I noticed my childlessness more and more as I grew older. I started doing mental math and comparing. The girl I sat next to at graduation already has four kids. So-and-so is only two years older and she has five. I bet people are wondering if I realize I’m running out of time. If I get married in the next couple years, maybe I can have a couple before menopause sets in. The pain also grew as the years passed. More than once I have run my hand over the couple boxes of favorite childhood toys I have saved to share with my daughters.  Was I foolish to save them? Will I get to share them with my children even still? When should I give up hope?

If I felt left out because my friends were getting married, I felt almost unwomanly because I had not given birth.  I felt guilty for not giving my parents grandchildren.  I felt only partially sanctified because I did not know the sacrifices of motherhood.  I felt incomplete because I did not know the love and joy of motherhood. Motherhood seemed the best, most wonderful station in life. And I had been excluded.

“You will make such a good mom.” “You’d be a great mom.” “You’ll feel differently when you’re a mother.” I was thankful for the heart behind those comments, but I still felt that I was missing something. I felt that the person behind the comment thought so, too. Conversations with other older single girl friends revealed that I was not alone in this feeling.

I might be able to have kids; I might not. For my good, God has commanded that I remain sexually pure until marriage, which means no kids. So, I’m barren because I don’t have kids, and I can’t.

The Scripture and Barrenness

On the surface level, it even seems hard to find the comfort for my barrenness in Scripture:

And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the LORD your God… Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb. Deuteronomy 28:2-4

And all the peoples of the earth shall see that you are called by the name of the LORD, and they shall be afraid of you. And the LORD will make you abound in prosperity, in the fruit of your womb and in the fruit of your livestock and in the fruit of your ground, within the land that the LORD swore to your fathers to give you. Deuteronomy 28:10-11

Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD,
the fruit of the womb a reward.

Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
are the children of one’s youth.

Blessed is the man
who fills his quiver with them!
He shall not be put to shame
when he speaks with his enemies in the gate. Psalm 127:3-5

Your wife will be like a fruitful vine
within your house;
your children will be like olive shoots
around your table.

Behold, thus shall the man be blessed
who fears the LORD.

The LORD bless you from Zion!
May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem
all the days of your life!

May you see your children’s children!
Peace be upon Israel!   Psalm 128:3-6

Throughout the Old Testament, God blesses Israel’s obedience with offspring (Psalm 113:9, Proverbs 17:6, Isaiah 65:23). Death of children and barrenness are a sign of judgement (Gen. 20:3-18, Deuteronomy 28:18, Hosea 9:14, Psalm 109:13, Isaiah 49:20). Scripture also makes it clear that the Lord gives children and the Lord closes the womb (Genesis 49:25, 30:22).

What am I missing? Am I less blessed because I don’t have children? Am I under judgment? Is God not pleased with me?

God used a Bible study through Isaiah to help me understand the role of barrenness and blessing.  More understanding came again in my pastor’s exposition of barrenness in the lineage of Christ. In these I began to realize the key for my hope and learned more of God’s nature.

Barren Women of the Bible

Sarah was barren, yet God made a covenant with her husband that in him all the families of the Earth shall be blessed (Genesis 12).  “Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac.  I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him” (Genesis 17:19).  At ninety years of age, the barren woman gave birth to Isaac.

Isaac’s wife could not have children, but Isaac prayed and “God opened her womb” (Genesis 25: 21).  She gave birth to twins, one of whom was Jacob, the father of the twelve tribes of Israel.  God continued his covenant with Jacob.

One of Jacob’s wives, Rachel, was barren, but Jacob prayed and Rachel gave birth to Joseph (Genesis 29:31).  Joseph later saved his family of promise from famine. And the family grew to become the nation of Israel.

Later, when the nation of Israel was oppressed by an enemy, God gave a barren woman a son, Samson, to deliver his people.

God raised up another leader for Israel – Samuel – from a heartbroken, barren Hannah.

From the Biblical account, it seems that Ruth lived sometime with her husband without having any children before he died. She moved to Israel, a childless foreigner with her widowed, childless, mother-in-law. God gave Boaz as the kinsman redeemer to keep the line from ending. Through them came David. God made a covenant that through David’s descendants would come a King who would reign forever.

God used broken, barren women to continue his covenant to Abraham and David.  To an aged, barren Elizabeth was born the last prophet to tell of the coming Messiah. The Messiah, Christ, came through a woman who was an unwed, childless, virgin.  Christ was the fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham.  Through Christ comes forgiveness of sins and salvation from God’s wrath.  Through Him are all the families of the earth blessed.

Through these stories, God shows that he is a God who listens.  Jacob prayed, Isaac prayed, Hannah prayed… and God opened the womb. That brings me comfort.  God did not reprimand the men and women who prayed for children.  They knew God had closed the womb and they knew he had the power to open it. The God of the Bible is a God who listens to the ones outcast or mocked by society.  And in their cases, he granted their prayers.  This means that nothing can thwart God’s plans and promises, not even barrenness.  Not even my barrenness.  If God wills that I have children, at some point he will give them to me.

However, I would be selling myself – and God – short if my take-away was “Keep praying and God will give you kids, cue happy ending, and roll credits.” In the Bible stories, prayers were not answered and then all things were fine. Samson was seduced by a Philistine woman and died as a blind, shamed captive.  Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery. Hannah’s grandsons through Samuel were killed by God because of their sins. Elizabeth’s son was beheaded for his testimony. Christ’s mother watched her first-born die on a cross. The point is not that these women were made complete by becoming mothers. The point is that God came with a promise of salvation to Abraham.  The theme of barrenness makes clear that it was the will and power of God bringing about His plan, there is no other explanation.  The Messiah was born from a virgin to show that he is the promised One of God.  The point is Christ Jesus, the son of a woman who was beyond barren.

“I and the children God has given me.”

Of Christ, the prophet Isaiah wrote that he was “cut off from the land of the living” without descendants. An Old Testament hearer would have understood that being ‘cut off’ was a sign of being cursed by God because of faithlessness.

How could the promised One of God be cursed by God? Because “upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace” and “the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:5, 6).  He was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people… although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth (Isaiah 53:8, 9).  The Messiah took the condemnation, so the sinner could have peace.  Through him are all the families of the earth blessed.

The same prophet, Isaiah, also writes that the Messiah will see his offspring.  But Christ had no children. The New Testament writer of Hebrews references Christ with another verse from Isaiah “Behold, I and the children God has given me.” This is a sign of blessing.  The children are children of promise through faith.  The Old Testament family-nation of Israel was a representation of the true family of God: a family comprised of believers from every tribe, tongue, and nation.

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone. Ephesians 2: 19-20

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, than an heir through God.  Galatians 4:4-7

The Creation Mandate and the Single Woman

When Christ came, he echoed the language of the Genesis 1:28.  Instead of telling the man and woman to be fruitful and multiply, Christ told his followers to bear fruit in keeping with repentance. He told many parables about trees producing good fruit and those producing bad fruit. The former were pruned to bear more, the latter were cut down and destroyed in judgement. In Galatians, Paul writes that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. In Colossians, Paul urges his readers to walk as ones fully pleasing to God, bearing fruit.

I may be childless, but I am by no means cursed by barrenness.  Rather, I am the barren woman singing aloud in Isaiah 54 because my shame – not my shame of childlessness, but my shame of my own sin – was taken away.  Christ did not give me a command to be fruitful and then withhold from me the ability to walk in obedience.

Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. John 15: 5

 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.  If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.  These things I have spoken to you that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. John 15:9-11

A single, childless woman abiding in Christ’s love with fullness of joy is a far cry from one who needs to hide her face in shame.  Married or unmarried, childless women are called to participate in the kingdom of God, to share in his sufferings, to bear fruit of repentance, to abide in him, to have fullness of joy.

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide… John 15:16

The dreamer lives on

At one point in my late twenties, I began to be desperate that my parents become grandparents. It didn’t have to be me… it could be my brother or sister.  I’d settle for being aunt if mom and dad could be grandma and grandpa.  I usually got desperate like this around mother’s day, father’s day, and my parents’ birthdays (and Christmas, but who’s counting?).  One particular time I remember was before my dad’s birthday.  At that time, I had a close friendship with a couple from church with four young boys.  I felt almost like an adopted aunt and visited their house weekly.  One visit I told the boys I had to leave early because it was my dad’s birthday.  The boys quickly got to work making cards for my dad – one with an airplane and air traffic control tower and one with a Robin Hood book decorating the cover.  I was overcome with happiness at the little construction paper cards made perfectly for my dad.  The boys hadn’t known that my dad had worked in an air traffic control tower most his life or that Robin Hood was his favorite book as a kid.  But still, they just “happened” to make them. God used these providentially coincidental cards to whisper reminders to my heart that he sees my desires.  Even if my way seems unanswered, it is not unnoticed and it is going perfectly according to God’s plan. The next year, one of my 5th graders made a card that read “From Ms. Watson’s kid, Luis.” I am blessed with children.  I am not their mother, but I am their teacher.  I cannot raise them, but I can love them and help train them.  This is God’s good plan, not second best.  And with his good, pleasing, and perfect will, all will go as it should.

Are baby showers still going to be painful? Sure.  Will my desire for children ever cease? Probably not. Will there still be awkward moments and comments because “my biological clock” is ticking away with no children on the horizon? I count on it and embrace it.

Life comes with thorns.  For many good and different reasons, God can choose not to take all our thorns away, at least not right away.  They teach us to hope and to be patient in prayer. They teach a watching world that the hope and joy found in Christ is greater than the hope and joy found in earthly blessings – even husbands and children. Even while I may sometimes grieve the thorn of childlessness and pray for God to take it away, my faith is not grounded in that he will, but that his grace is sufficient and that his power is shown to be perfect in my weakness.

Even more than praying for biological children, my hope is that I – and other single women – will pray for spiritual children.  Pray for the opportunities to witness, for God to bring salvation, for other young women and children to encourage and help train in truth.  I pray that I and other childless women – married or single – will not abide in the shame of barrenness, because it has been taken away.  I pray we will abide in the love of Christ.  We are not barren; in him our fruit will abide.

Those who look to Him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame. Psalm 34:5

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.