Thursday, July 1, 2010

Lines in Pleasant Places

Today's lesson is about fear. Have I talked about this before? Maybe I have, but I'm going to talk about it again because I've found something new to be afraid of: Uselessness. It's not really a new fear; it's been weighing on my mind for years. But it's hitting a little closer to home these days.

More and more my thoughts turn to my own future as the kids get older and more independent. My joy in them knows no bounds. I'm so proud of each of them I'm obnoxious and have to be careful to keep my mouth shut. But this could be the last summer, really the last few weeks, that my oldest lives at home at all on any permanent basis. Hopefully he'll get an internship this winter semester which will continue on through next summer, so he'll continue to live at school. Then he'll be a senior and graduate, go on to full time work and get a place of his own.

My second-born is off to college in the fall. That leaves my precious younger two home, and they still keep me plenty busy for now. But the writing is on the wall. This wonderful chapter of my life is coming to a close.

What has been plaguing me the past few weeks is that I haven't made any plans for my own future. After all our planning and imagining, plotting and contriving, hoping and dreaming for the kids' futures, it's an odd concept: my own future. But really, I do hope to be around for awhile; there is a future for me even after kids.

T's hopes and dreams for my future are easy. Somehow manage to turn a few bucks, and be completely available for play after that. Bike rides, friends, vacations, boats, beaches, restaurants. Give him fun and he's happy. Give him a playmate to enjoy all that fun with and he's even happier.

But beyond fun, I'm not prepared for anything useful. For some people, fun is useful. (Enter T.) But the thought of endless diversion without usefulness fills me with anxiety and sadness. Certainly I'm not prepared to re-enter the workforce. That can be remedied with education maybe, but even work isn't useful if T is making enough money and doesn't really need my help. ("What?!!??? A little help would be just fine!" I can hear him saying. I just mean that God has provided for us amply without my help because that's the way He chose to do it. God doesn't need my help to provide for this family. If He chooses that I should go back to work when the kids are gone, I will happily go. I just don't want to work because I have nothing else to do to fill my time.) But even beyond employment, I can't bring myself to be able to care much about anything except what relates to my family right now.

Even regarding church involvement, I'm afraid I've become a little jaded. We attend a very large church, and there's always plenty going on, plenty of service opportunities. But the thought of jumping into all that depresses me. In truth, I don't believe in much of it, in its eternal profitability. It just strikes me as unnecessary busy work, work that serves mostly to make the people involved feel important somehow. And so much of it seems to distract from the message of the Gospel, from the love of Christ, rather than promote it. All these big "events," all the hoo-rah: decorating, promoting, organizing, setting up, budgeting, food, chit chat, chuckle-chuckle, forced smiles, happy, happy, all for Jesus! So much frantic effort, but it's for Jesus! I'm pushing 50 years old, have been a Christian for 25ish years, and have never, never been aware of anyone coming to know Christ in any meaningful way or growing in their walk with God through these types of events.

Even kids' Sunday school at our church is loud, frenetic, chaotic; there are sound systems and dancing, games and crafts, toys and prizes, matching t-shirts and bright colors, all high energy and fun, fun fun. Their motto is, "We're the best hour in a kid's week." Vacation Bible School, or in our church a week of day camp, is more of the same, just taken up yet another notch. Bible verses and stories are all a part of it, of course. But whatever kind of kid can be touched in his heart by the Word in that environment doesn't come from this family. Ouy!

All that is so much a part of the fabric of the American evangelical church, it's hard to imagine Christianity without it. Even with all my cynicism, if it weren't there, maybe I'd go looking for it or try to be a part of creating it. Somewhere, somehow, maybe it does serve some kind of purpose, fills some kind of gap. I just don't think it does as much evangelizing as they'd like to think it does.

Actually, come to think of it, for about 13 years we were a part of a small church that did not have the resources for all that whizz-bang. The pastor emphasized the importance of developing personal relationships for the purpose of sharing Christ. Of course. Yet there was definitely a lack of momentum there somehow.

So maybe at least a little whizz-bang has its place. I won't throw the baby out with the bath water.

But I'm getting off track here. What will become of moi when the kids are gone?

Well, I ran down that bunny trail because church involvement seems like a no-brainer when the demands of my family grow less. But I just can't get excited about it; the thought of it absolutely leaves me depressed. Is it because I just don't love God, only myself? Is it because I've made an idol of my children/family? Is it because I'm incorrigibly unsocial and selfish? Maybe. I need to consider those possibilities.

Or could it be that church involvement is simply not God's will for me right now? Certainly He would give me a desire, some smidgen of inclination, for what He would have me do, wouldn't He? And maybe it's a matter of timing. Whenever I've jumped into church involvement in past years, it has always involved my family making significant sacrifices for my effort. It's always ended up being stressful.

And another thing: clearly, as a wife my role is to follow the lead of my husband, and T has never been a church-y kind of fellow, at least since we've been married. (Hello! I married him under the auspices that he was very church-y! We got to know each other as we were neck deep in campus evangelism and fellowship.) Is it okay to just relax and trust that God's will for me is found in the leading of my husband? Is it God's plan to produce fruit from the relationships T has been fostering all these years? And as my time is freed up, I have the privilege of being a part of it. Do I just relax and go with it?

These relationships are not overtly evangelical. In fact, they're quite worldly. Yet T is a believer, and, while he would never fit into a Baptist circle (smile) -- he allows himself way more latitude than most believers are comfortable with...even more than a lot of unbelievers -- he does trust God and he honors Him in some very important ways. He prays, trusts God more and more with his work, has always honored God with his finances, has taken on the colossal task of supporting this large and expensive family alone all because he wanted his children raised in the fear and admonition of the Lord through homeschooling. In addition, he's been faithful to me and the kids, and he honors his mother, both relationally and materially.

Sometimes the image comes to mind of us out in a vast sea on a large, sturdy ship. I stand against the rail with my legs braced and my arms quaking with effort as I grip a fishing pole. T is attached to the end of the fishing line, acting as bait. Sometimes he's out far, and sometimes he's closer, but he's attached to the ship because I hold on and keep my feet firmly planted on board. Do you get it? The ship is God and His truth; the ocean is the world. T is a part of the ship, attached by the fishing line, but he's out there in the world attracting others.

Well, he's attractive, there's no doubt about that. He's fun and funny, the life of the party and everyone wants to be around him. The question is, is there, or will there ever be, any spiritual fruit? Will others jump on board because of him? Or do I cling to this image out of desperate, daffy optimism, because I have no control in the matter anyway?

And that's the crux of the matter: I have no control anyway. I can relax, or I can tighten up in fear and consternation, but I have no choice but to go with it. As the kids grow older the image has to change a little. They were my excuse to stay on board. Without them, that fishing line will more often have to be secured to the rail somehow, and I'm going to have to jump onto the end of the line with him, out into the vast, worldly ocean, social bunny that I am. (Eye-roll, please.)

But hold on. Back up. Who says I have no control? Who says I can't forge a new path, blaze a new trail? Choose a new career, conquer a new world, make a name for myself, prove my worthiness, put the unmined treasures of my soul on display for all the world's benefit? Well, to begin with, I'm pretty sure there are no unmined treasures in my soul. Somewhere along the line, life has purged me of that particular fantasy.

But besides that, while no exact Scripture references pop to mind immediately, I've always operated under the idea that that's a pretty un-Godly perspective. God is my commander-in-chief, and I want to go where He directs, and no where else. Well, here you go, how about John 10: to paraphrase very roughly, "My sheep hear My voice and follow Me. They do not know the voice of strangers, and will flee from them." This dumb sheep does not want to wander off on her own; she wants to follow only the voice of her Shepherd, thank you very much.

Now that should be the end of the discussion, shouldn't it? But no. Heaven forbid I should just be content with that! And the good Shepherd has been kind enough to give me more words of encouragement than just that too.

Last week I was encouraged by 2 Peter 1:5-8, which says: "For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ."

In the end, that's all I want, isn't it? To be effective and fruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. As long as I make every effort to supplement my faith with virtue, virtue with knowledge, knowledge with self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection and love, God promises I will not fail to be effective and fruitful. Amen! I will rest in that promise!

And this morning I was reading Psalm 16:

"I say to the Lord, 'You are my Lord; I have no good apart from You.' ...

The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply;
Their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names on my lips.

The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup;
You hold my lot.
The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.

I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me.
I have set the Lord always before me;
Because He is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.

Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure.
For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.

You make known to me the path of life;
In Your presence there is fullness of joy;
At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore."

That about says it all, doesn't it? The lines have indeed fallen for me in pleasant places. The Lord is the one who gives me counsel, even in the night; He will instruct me in the way I should go. He is at my right hand, therefore I will not be shaken. He will not abandon me. So my heart is glad, my whole being rejoices and I dwell securely. He has made known to me the path of life and I will be joyful as I live in His presence.

He will not abandon me.

And most importantly, the sorrows of those who run after other gods shall be multiplied. Unless it is God who leads me to start a new business, or throw myself into some worthy ministry, or go back to school, or pursue any other of the myriad of options that taunt me, aren't I just running after a false god, looking for false fulfillment?

He hasn't abandoned me yet. Up until now He has always been there to show me which way to go. What reason would I have to suppose He would leave me unguided and bored and useless once the kids leave?

(Shhh, don't tell, but it's maybe because I suspect that I really am useless and have nothing to offer the world or the Kingdom. Well, for being useless, He's kept me pretty darn busy for 20+ years. I guess He can still find something useful for this useless servant to do. His hands aren't tied because the kids have left home. But now we've come full circle...see 2 Peter and Psalm 16.)

I do manage to get bent out of shape and complicate things, don't I?

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