When You Have to Say No

When my husband and I were first married, if someone in the church we attended asked me to participate in some ministry, I usually said no. I worked in the nursery and sang in the choir. But I felt intimidated and inadequate to do much of anything else.

The ladies’ group in this particular church was highly organized with officers over various areas of responsibility. One fall, the president explained nominees for the next year would be notified soon. She encouraged those nominees not to say an automatic no, but to pray about the opportunity.

I was a nominee for the first time that year. I had been on a committee that changed the main hall bulletin board once a month to focus on a couple of missionaries our church supported. Bulletin boards had been the bane of my college education major, and I wasn’t excited about overseeing the committee for them for a whole year. But I took to heart the admonition to pray about it. I didn’t feel I should say no.

I was elected. I did not have to participate in every bulletin board, but I assembled a committee of ladies to work on them, usually two a month. Another officer made up the list of which missionaries were featured each month. Sometimes I’d come up with the idea for the boards; sometimes the ladies would.

Even though I was a reluctant officer at first, I learned and grew through the year. I came to actually enjoy bulletin boards, and I learned principles that enabled me in other areas of responsibility.

But then I went to the other extreme of feeling like everything that anyone asked me to do in church was of the Lord. I was soon overrun and overburdened.

It doesn’t take long, in church or in life, to learn that you can’t say yes to everything. Yet it’s hard to say no. You don’t want to let people down or let a need go unmet.

But no one can do everything. Here are some truths I learned along the way when trying to decide what to take on or let go. Maybe they’ll be a help to you, too.

Pray for wisdom. Just as my former ladies’ group president advised me not to say no until I prayed over an opportunity, I also should not say yes until doing the same. I shouldn’t use “Let me pray about it first” as a cop-out or stall tactic. But, even if I feel pretty sure one way or the other, I need to take it to the Lord.

Evaluate your season of life. When I had young babies, I felt like I was barely keeping my head above water. The outside ministries I was involved in only added pressure, and I wish now I had stepped back from them. I finally learned to do so with my third child. Likewise when we cared for my mother-in-law in our home, my husband and I both had to lay other ministries aside. There just wasn’t time or energy or mental space for anything else.

Remember little things add up. In one church, I had one major responsibility plus a lesser one. Over time, I was asked to take on other small tasks. They didn’t involve a great amount of time, so I said yes. But the small things that weren’t too much on their own added more pressure all together. I had to hand off some of them to others.

Remember my no may be someone else’s yes. Once I felt particularly bad about saying no to an opportunity, even though I felt sure I should. The person who said yes was as reluctant as I was with my first office, but she did a wonderful job. I realized that if I had said yes, I would have been robbing her of that opportunity.

Don’t feel guilty. If this opportunity is of the Lord, He has someone in mind for it. If it’s not you, He’ll help bring the right person to it. Or it may be time to set certain ministries aside or reorganize them. This happened with a homeschool support group we were part of in GA. It had started out small: one mom got together with a few other moms, organized field trips and get-togethers, and began an informal newsletter. But the group grew exponentially. When the woman who started the group had her seventh baby, she had to drop everything involved with the group. For the next year, I think the only thing we did as a group was the monthly renting of the skating rink. But by the end of that year, different moms volunteered for different areas. The year off had shown us how much we wanted and needed the group plus helped us diversify responsibilities so everything wasn’t on one person. And that gave more people opportunity to learn and grow in their areas. In hindsight, it might have been better if the original mom had tried to transition things before having to drop it all. I don’t know if she just didn’t think of it or if she had planned to continue until she realized she couldn’t. She might not have had time to figure it all out. But it all worked out for the best.

And sometimes a lack of available personnel means it’s time for that particular ministry to come to an end. Greg McKeown suggests running a “reverse pilot” in his book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. This isn’t a Christian book, but it has lots of good common-sense principles. A pilot program is used by companies to help discern whether a certain product or service would be beneficial. A reverse pilot tries to discern what the effect would be of removing a certain product or service. Greg told of a senior executive in a new position who kept up with his predecessor’s detailed visual report for the other executives. This report was time-consuming for both him and his team and didn’t seem to serve any useful purpose. So he just stopped doing it to see what happened. No one seemed to miss it. As organizations, churches, and even our individual lives change over the years, some practices will no longer be needed.

Don’t say yes for the wrong reasons. As much as we don’t want to disappoint people, we can’t always do everything everyone else wants. We also shouldn’t say yes for fear of missing out. We have to guard against pride: sometimes being part of a certain committee or ministry might bring a measure of prestige or feelings of importance.

Consider the trade-offs. What will be the impact of this new responsibility mean to my schedule, my energy, my family, and other ministries and activities I am involved in? Can I handle something new, or will I need to let something go if I take this on? Is it worth the trade?

If you have to say no, be gracious. I’ve asked someone to participate in a particular ministry only to be met with wide eyes and the equivalent of “Are you kidding?” This was someone who, as far as I could tell, seemed to have extra time. But then another lady volunteered who I would never have asked because of everything else I knew she had on her plate. Of course, we don’t really know what people have going on in their lives. And the issue isn’t always one of time. But when you find you do need to say no, don’t make the other person feel bad for asking. Ultimately you both want the right person for the job or ministry or opportunity. When you pray about and feel you’re not that person for this situation, you might also pray about the best way to say no so that the asker isn’t discouraged. Maybe something like, “I’m sorry, I have all I can handle right now. But I’ll be praying God will lead you to the right person.” You might also suggest someone else that you feel would be a good fit (and it’s probably best to ask them first if they’d mind your suggesting their name).

Remember even Jesus said no to some requests. Jesus did not give a sign when people asked for one, because they had plenty of evidence to believe who He was. Once, after a full day of preaching, he went out alone the next morning to pray (Mark 1:38). People found Him and “would have kept him from leaving them, but he said to them, ‘I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose’” (Luke 4:42-43). Healing was part of His ministry, but not the main purpose. Every person He healed would eventually die. Every person He raised from the dead would face death again. He came to provide hope for life after death and kept that the main focus.

Even aside from ministry opportunities, we have to tell ourselves no sometimes to activities that are harmless in themselves but aren’t our main purpose. We have more activities available than ever before and need God’s wisdom and guidance to know what’s best.

How about you? What helps you decide whether to say yes or no to new opportunities?

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

Ministry in the Mundane

Ministry in the Mundane

“If only I didn’t have to [cook, do dishes, sweep, dust, do laundry, go to the grocery store, etc., etc. etc.], I could get something meaningful done.”

Have you ever thought something like that? Or said it out loud?

Life is full of necessary but mundane tasks.

And whatever we do today likely has to be done again in a few days, if not tomorrow.

I was struck recently by how often I have to refill things: the salt shaker, the tea pitcher, the napkin holder, the toothpick holder, the paper towel and toilet paper holders, the pantry, the refrigerator, the dishwasher, the clothes washer and dryer, the toiletry closet.

When we want to write or participate in some kind of ministry, it’s hard to make time without leaving something else undone.

Yet when I look at the “virtuous woman” of Proverbs 31, most of her day revolved around what would have been everyday tasks of her time: sewing for herself, her family, and her home (no department stores or online ordering in those days), cooking, seeking food “from afar,” buying a field, planting, working “willingly with her hands” late at night and early in the morning, making items to sell to supplement her family’s income. “She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.” She fears the Lord. “She opens her hand to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy.” She does all of this with strength, kindness, faith, wisdom and dignity.

A couple of blog friends remind me of this lady. Sadly, they are no longer blogging. But they used to write about their everyday activities in their homes: house projects, gardening and canning, sewing, cooking, etc. They didn’t write devotionals or Bible lessons, but they shared observations in passing about God’s dealings with their lives. Their spirit shone through even in the “homey” activities. They brought a “sense of Him” in everything they did, not just the “spiritual” activities.

The one lady I count as my main mentor was the same way. We never studied through a book together. She never sat me across the table for a lesson. There is nothing wrong with those things. But she taught me plenty by how she managed her home (which she graciously invited me to) and conducted her life. She may have said a few things on purpose as a means of guidance or instruction, but if she did, they were so mild and gentle that I didn’t know I was being “taught.”

When my kids were younger, I regretted that I didn’t have more time for just playing with them. Oh, we played. We’d make Lego creations, read tons of books, go to the park, throw a blanket over the kitchen table and picnic underneath. But I felt guilty because it seemed like I never spent “enough” one-on-one time with them.

Then I thought about this Proverbs 31 lady, or Ma Ingalls from Little House on the Prairie. Laura Ingalls Wilder writes of times that her mother played with her children, and I am sure the Proverbs 31 lady played with hers as well. But they didn’t spend all day at it. They didn’t just play together: they worked together. And Mother passed on to children characteristics they would need not only by direct teaching, but by example.

1 Corinthians 10:31 says, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do”—ordinary, everyday activities—“do it all to the glory of God.”

Of course, we have to be careful not to be like Martha, so busy that we neglect what Jesus called the one needful thing of spending time with Him.

And It’s fine to seek ways to do our work as efficiently as possible so we do have time for other activities. If God opens the door for writing, speaking, organizing gatherings, or whatever, great!

But we can glorify God and minister to others in those everyday activities as well.
______

For those of you reading this on Mother’s Day, I hope you have a happy day honoring your Mom. If, like me, your mom is no longer living, I hope you have sweet memories.

For those who are moms, I hope your family gives you some relief from those everyday duties and pampers you today.

I realize that though this day is joyous for some, it’s painful for others—those who did not have a good relationship with their moms, who have lost children, who don’t have children but long to. My heart goes out to you, and I pray God will specially minister to your heart today.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

What We’re to Be Before We Teach

When Titus 2 is taught in any women’s gathering, we almost always hone in on what older women are instructed to teach the younger: “to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled” (verses 4-5).

But we either lightly touch or skip over what Titus 2 says older women are to be in the verses preceding these.

But before we get there, let’s zoom out a bit to see the context. Paul is writing to one of his coworkers, Titus, whom he had left in charge of the church in Crete. Paul had directed Titus to ordain elders in the churches from among those with certain godly characteristics in Titus 1. Paul sums up that instruction with verse 9: “He [an elder] must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.”

Then Paul describes those who contradict sound doctrine: “insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers . . . upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach . . . their minds and their consciences are defiled. They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work” (1:10-15).

Remember there are no chapter divisions in the original text. When we study chapters individually, we sometimes forget to connect them to what came before. The very next paragraph in Titus begins, “But as for you”—in contrast to the kind of people he was just talking about—“teach what accords with sound doctrine” (2:1). Then Paul gives specific instruction to older men, older women, younger men and women, servants.

So these instructions aren’t just nice thoughts or ways to have a happy church or for everyone to get along. These behaviors that Paul wants taught are “in accord with sound doctrine.” Our beliefs and our behavior should work hand in glove. Our actions shouldn’t contradict our doctrine.

So what are older women to be like?

Reverent in behavior.” Most of the non-paraphrased translations use the word “reverent.” The KJV says, “in behaviour as becometh holiness.” The commentary at the bottom of this page says, “The Greek word rendered ‘in behaviour,’ or ‘in demeanour,’ includes dress, appearance, conversation, manner; includes an outward deportment dependent on something more internal. The elder Christian woman in her whole bearing should exhibit a certain dignity of sacred demeanour; there should be something in her general appearance, in her dress, in her speech, in her every-day behaviour, which the younger and more thoughtless sister could respect and reverence–an ideal she might hope one day, if the Master spared her so long, herself to reach.”

Being reverent or dignified or holy doesn’t mean one never has fun, laughs, or tells jokes. Joy is part of the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Proverbs 17:22 tells us “A joyful [merry, KJV] heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” Richard Baxter said, “Keep company with the more cheerful sort of the godly; there is no mirth like the mirth of believers” (The Practical Works of Richard Baxter, p. 24). Henry Ward Beecher said, “A man without mirth is like a wagon without springs, in which everyone is caused disagreeably to jolt by every pebble over which it runs.”

There’s a joy and humor in keeping with reverence and holiness.

But a godly older woman knows the things of the Lord are serious. She takes care to honor God in her life and teaching, whether formal instruction or just sharing passing encouragement.

Not slanderers.” Some translations say “false accusers” or “gossips.” Obviously we shouldn’t spread anything that is untrue. Lying and slander are definitely not in keeping with a God of truth.

Gossip is a little harder to define. It’s not always wrong to talk about someone else’s wrongdoing. Paul mentions people by name in his epistles who have erred in various ways. Sometimes talking with another Christian is a way to process whether someone’s actions are right or wrong. As we’ve encountered problems in various churches we’ve attended (and there is no church without problems), we’ve discussed the issues with our family. But discretion is needed as to what is discussed with whom and how. There’s a difference between needful processing and just gossiping. Gossip seems to have malicious intent.

As an example, years ago a couple who had been members of our church went out as missionaries to another country. They seemed exemplary in every way, having a real fervor for the Lord. After some years of seemingly successful ministry, the husband was found in an adulterous relationship with another woman. Their mission board called them home. When the church leadership met with the man, he refused to repent, saying he loved his sin too much to give it up.

Of course, this situation sent shock waves through the community he left, his mission board, our church, and probably everyone at every level that he had ever dealt with. It wasn’t something that could be kept quiet. There was much discussion. How should we respond to him? How can we minister to his heartbroken wife? And most of all, how could this have happened?

We all needed to work through that kind of processing. But to talk about the situation just to talk would have been wrong.

I think we have to show restraint sometimes even in sharing good news that might not be ours to share. Once at a church committee meeting I attended, one newly-pregnant lady lamented that she didn’t even have a chance to tell her closest friends that she was expecting because word spread so quickly. That convicted me. There’s something delicious about being the one with news to share.

So if our motive for talking about situations is to feel important because we have news, or to feel superior because someone has done wrong, we’d better put the brakes on. We need much wisdom and Holy Spirit leading that our conversation would be edifying and not destructive.

Not slaves to much wine.” I think, in context, this phrase is not just saying older women shouldn’t be drunkards. This verse uses the word “likewise,” pointing back to what had been told to older men, that they should be “sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness” (v. 1). Self-control is also mentioned to the younger women (verse 5) and younger men (verse 6) with another “likewise.” So I think the larger picture is that she shouldn’t be enslaved to anything, that she should live a life of self-control (another part of the fruit of the Holy Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23).

To teach what is good.” To teach what is good, one has to know what is good. We can’t teach subjects we don’t know, can we? We need to spend much time in the Word of God not only so that we know what He wants to teach us, but also so that, as we have opportunities to share with others, we can direct them the right way.

To “train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled” (verses 4-5), we have to have enough experience walking with God to be able to share His truth in these areas.

That makes the whole thing scary. None of us has lived in this way in perfection. But God knows that. He doesn’t ask us to teach from our perfection, but from His. Sharing our own failures and stumbles helps other women to know that God gives grace. Pointing, not to ourselves, but to Him helps others to look to the only One who can enable them.

Older women have a reputation for being cranky, crochety, and critical of anything that’s not done like it was “back in my day.” Thank God, most of the older women I have known have not been like that. God has put some sweet, godly women of stellar character in my path over the years.

May we all seek His grace, whatever our ages, to please Him and to be a godly influence on those around us.

Some of my past posts related to these subjects:

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

With Jesus in the Kitchen

I don’t consider myself the best of cooks even under normal circumstances. But making meals for others can be a special cause of tension. We want to share our best when we cook for others, whether we’ve invited them into our home or we’re taking a meal to share.

I’ve learned the hard way not to get too ambitious under those circumstances. Experiments often go wrong the first time. So I usually make something simple, tried and true.

Several months ago, before the pandemic, I was getting ready for our church potluck dinner. I don’t even remember what I was making. But it was something I had made before for church. It should have come together easily. Yet it wasn’t, for some reason.

As I scrambled around trying to decide whether to fix it (and how) or come up with Plan B, the verse about Jesus being tempted in all points like we are crossed my mind. Irritably, I thought, “When did He ever have to make a potluck dinner?”

Then I remembered the feeding of the 5,000.

And I was pulled up short.

It wasn’t a potluck dinner, but it was one of the biggest crowds ever served, especially by one man.

Of course, Jesus could take care of a meal for such a crowd in ways that we can’t. The whole point of this incident was to show His deity by way of His supernatural ability. Jesus brought this occurrence up later in conversations with the disciples to remind them: don’t worry about your needs. I will take care of you.

One thing I notice about Jesus’s ministry is that He was never frazzled or flustered. Yes, He was God. He knew how things would turn out. But He walked in faith, knowing that His Father would meet His needs.

I’ve always empathized with Martha, “cumbered about much serving” (Luke 10:38-42). Other translations say “distracted,” a couple say “busy.” But I love the feel of that old word, cumbered. Martha complained to Jesus that Mary, who was listening to Jesus, needed to come and help her. Instead, Jesus pointed out that Martha was “careful and troubled.” (Other translations say “worried and upset.” One says “bothered.”) He told Martha, “Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”

Obviously, listening to Jesus is more important than fussing over dinner. But I’ve often wondered—what should Martha have done about dinner, then? Wait until Jesus was done teaching? Probably. Have something simple and quick like peanut butter sandwiches (or the first-century Israeli equivalent)? Maybe. But above all else, just don’t worry about it. Many times Jesus told His disciples not to worry about what they were going to eat or drink.

Does this mean it’s wrong to prepare an elaborate meal? No. Some people are gifted that way. We can enjoy their gifts without feeling we have to match them. Sometimes even those of us who aren’t as talented in the kitchen like to try to do something fancy.

But the point is to do whatever we do with a peaceful heart. I learned a long time ago that my husband would much rather have a simple meal than one that stresses me out to prepare.

On a practical level, these things help me:

  • Do as much ahead of time as possible.
  • If one dish takes a lot of time or labor, make the other dishes simple or store-bought.
  • Enlist help, either from the family or guests. People often ask if they can bring anything. Take them up on their offer.
  • If possible, don’t plan time-consuming or new meals during weeks when you have a lot of other things going on.
  • Keep a few recipes or meal ideas on file that consistently turn out well for potlucks or company.
  • Keep a few key ingredients for quick meals on hand for unexpected company or for a “Plan B’ when things don’t go well.

Here are some principles I’ve gleaned over the years:

Watch out for pride. It’s not wrong to want to make food other people will like. But sometimes I notice a subtle pride entering even preparation for a church potluck, a desire for my dish to be noticed, praised, and above all else, eaten. For many years I did not want to bring something store-bought to a church fellowship, until I realized that stemmed from pride. If my kitchen stress stems from wanting to protect my reputation, my emphasis is in the wrong place.

Keep first things first. As Jesus said, Mary chose the better part by listening to Him. Jesus said in another place, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). There have been times when I was so exhausted and stressed getting ready for guests that I just didn’t have anything left when they finally came. My priorities were out of kilter.

Serve God from worship, not in place of worship. The first pastor we had after we were married, Jesse Boyd, used to say:

Worship without service is a hollow farce.
Service without worship is a hectic fervor.
But worship which issues in service is a holy force.

When I am filled with “hectic fervor,” I need to do a heart check.

Be prepared. In a passage about counting the cost of discipleship, Jesus speaks of a man planning to build a tower or a king planning to go to war (Luke 14:25-33). First they sit down, assess what they have, and make plans. Some of my most frustrating meal preparations have been when I didn’t plan well. I forgot a key ingredient or a step in the process or didn’t plan for the time needed for part of the process.

Trust His sufficiency. “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8). Sometimes I shorten that to “all grace, all sufficiency, all things, all times.” In another area of domestic need, I have sometimes prayed over buttonholes or difficult parts of sewing. When we’re getting ready for company, I pray for efficiency and peace of heart as I prepare.

Remember the point of fellowship and hospitality. “For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost” (Romans 14:17). Though providing food is important, the main purpose for a meal with others is to fellowship with them and minister to them, to meet their needs rather than show off my skills.

The last stanza of a poem “The Kitchen Prayer” expresses my heart and reminds me to do everything I do—even prepare meals for others—as unto Him.

Warm all the kitchen with Thy love
And light it with Thy peace;
Forgive me all my worrying,
And make all grumbling cease.
Thou who didst love to give men food,
In room or by the sea,
Accept this service that I do–
I do it unto Thee.

Klara C. Munkres

What are some of your tips for serving others?

(I often link up with some of these bloggers)

Trusting God for Our Children’s Safety

Except for the most abusive or negligent parents, we all want our children to be safe. When they are babies, we check their breathing at night. We buy outlet covers and baby gates in the early years, helmets and knee pads a few years later. We try to incorporate enough stranger danger warnings to make them alert without causing fear of everyone they don’t know. As much as we wish we could protect them from every physical harm, we wish we could bubble wrap their souls even more.

So I can understand the Israelites’ concern for their children in Numbers 13-14. After being miraculously led from Egypt, seeing God’s provision of food and water in the wilderness, receiving God’s law, and constructing the tabernacle, they were finally at the outskirts of the land long-promised to them by God.

But they didn’t want to go in.

A man from each tribe was sent to spy out the land. They came back with a mixed report. The land was good and fruitful. But the people in it were bigger, stronger, and more numerous than Israel.

Then the people “wept that night” and “grumbled against Moses and Aaron.” They feared they would be killed and their wives and children would become prey. Only Joshua and Caleb encouraged the people to go forward and trust God, who had already told them He’d given them the land. But the people responded by threatening to stone them.

God had enough. He is longsuffering and merciful. But these people had tried Him and refused to believe and obey Him ever since they left Egypt. God wanted to obliterate the people and start over with Moses.

Moses interceded for the people, and God pardoned them. But forgiveness doesn’t mean there won’t be consequences. All the generation that complained and would not enter the promised land would die in the wilderness over the next forty years. Only Joshua, Caleb, their families, and the children of the current generation would enter in. “Your children shall be shepherds in the wilderness forty years and shall suffer for your faithlessness.” But, ultimately, the children would be the recipients of the promise that the adults rejected.

In our church’s Bible study time in the passage last Sunday, my husband pointed out something I had never thought of. The population of Israel would have numbered over a million by this time—some say over two million. If you subtract an estimated number of children, that still leaves tens of thousands of people to die in the next forty years. Forty years of wilderness wandering, no promised land, just death and destruction ahead. How depressing! My husband commented that the weight of this may have fueled some of the rebellions that occurred in the next few chapters.

But rebellion would only make a bad situation worse. Suppose you’re a parent in this situation. You realize you failed big time in not believing God and obeying Him. But your children that you were so afraid for will go in. The best thing repentant parents could do would be to pour everything into the time they have left with their children, teach them God’s ways, and teach them how to some day get along without their parents.

In some ways, that’s what we all have to do, isn’t it? Pour our lives into our children, teach them God’s ways, teach them to be responsible adults and to stand on their own two feet without us.

In our early married days, I remember a woman sharing during prayer meeting a need for her children and how God answered. She commented, “It’s one thing to trust God for my needs—it’s another thing to trust Him for my children’s.” It’s true: we’d much rather struggle with a need or loss or illness ourselves than see our children do so. But it’s through such things that we all grow and learn dependence on God.

When Jonathan and Rosalind Goforth ministered as missionaries in China in the early twentieth century, the Chinese were intensely suspicious of what they called “foreign devils”—basically anyone who was not Chinese. Plus sanitation was nearly unknown and disease ran rampant. So when Jonathan proposed to Rosalind that they take their children on a ministry tour around the country, Rosalind refused. Four of her children had died already. She could maintain a level of cleanliness in her own home. But out there, not knowing where they would be staying or where they could get food from village to village? It was too risky, especially adding the possibility of persecution.

Jonathan begged Rosalind to reconsider:

Rose, I am so sure this plan is of God, that I fear for the children if you refuse to obey His call. The safest place for you and the children is the path of duty. You think you can keep your children safe in our comfortable home in Changte, but God may have to show you you cannot. But He can and will keep the children if you trust Him and step out in faith (Rosalind Goforth, Goforth of China, p. 157).

But she refused. So he left, alone.

The next day, their one-year-old baby became ill with dysentery, with no hope of recovery. She died a short while later.

Was God being vindictive? I don’t think so. In fact, Rosalind writes that as the baby was passing, Rosalind “seemed to apprehend in a strange and utterly new way the love of God—as a Father” (p. 159).

Humbled and softened, Rosalind determined to go with her husband. Years later, at a conference of women missionaries, some wives with similar fears to hers asked publicly if her children suffered as a result of their touring. She responded that none of them had picked up any infectious diseases or come to any harm while they toured. In fact, they’d had two more children during that time. She found she had more time to give them since she didn’t have her regular housework. “And, best of all, God has set His seal upon this plan of work by giving a harvest of souls everywhere we have gone” (Rosalind Goforth, Climbing, pp. 150-151).

Of course, we’re not guaranteed that our children won’t get sick or die while we’re following God. We all know of children who have died of cancer after years of prayer and treatment or teens who had died suddenly in car accidents or of unknown causes even though their parents were faithful followers. Sometimes God delivers by taking children on home to heaven. From our human perspective, that’s a loss. But from God’s viewpoint, He’s lovingly welcoming them home.

Missionary Timothy McKeown takes issue with the statement that the safest place is in God’s will:

After studying Scripture and ministering in this context for many years, I have felt compelled to modify this saying for my own use: “The most fulfilling, joyful, and peaceful place to be is in the center of God’s will.” But it is not necessarily the safest.

It seems to me that the Bible is full of examples of God’s people often—not occasionally—being placed in unsafe, uncomfortable, and dangerous situations. . . .

Most prayers in Scripture focus not on the personal safety and benefit of believers but on the power, majesty, testimony, and victory of God over his—and, of course, our—enemies. . . .

I do not advocate foolish and irresponsible “risk taking.” . . . However, biblical reality dictates that there are, indeed, times in which God will lead us into the valley of the shadow of death, where our prayer needs to be for faithfulness as reflections of his light and saltiness in this needy world.

I want to urge my fellow Christians to use extreme caution in allowing the infectious and deadly “health, wealth, prosperity, and personal comfort gospel” to become our motivator in seeking his will for our earthly lives. The Lord calls us to obedience in spite of the “costs”—not to personal comfort and safety! Oh, how I pray for the Lord of the Harvest to raise up more laborers to go into his fields no matter what the personal costs might be (Peace, If Not Safety).

Missionaries from one of our former church’s were once accused of child abuse for raising their kids in a primitive jungle setting. I loved their oldest daughter’s response here. “A mud hut does not an abusive environment make. . . . Yes, we missed out on many of the materialistic things this world has to offer. And for that we thank God often.”

God doesn’t promote recklessness. Parents and grandparents are supposed to try to keep children safe. But we have to admit that we are limited. We can’t lock them away in a tower for protection. We can’t raise them to be fearful of going forward. We can’t avoid God’s will due to possible risks. We have to do for our children as we do for ourselves: trust and obey. He has determined how long each person’s race will be. What matters most is not the length, but hearing His “Well done” at the end.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers)

Have mercy on your pastor this Mother’s Day

When the COVID pandemic first began, I saw a lot of blog posts and articles pleading with people to be compassionate towards their pastor because he had likely never shepherded people through such an occasion before. It would take time to discern the best course of action in response to ever-changing information, and he had people on opposite sides of every fence involved.

Pastors face a similar dilemma on Mother’s Day, no matter whether this is their first pastoral Mother’s Day or their 50th. They will likely have people in all these circumstances in their congregations:

  • women who desperately want to have children, but God has not granted them yet
  • women who love their children but are tired and discouraged
  • women who are in despair over their parenting failures and need guidance
  • women who have no desire to be mothers
  • women who are single by choice or by circumstance
  • women whose children are wayward and breaking their hearts
  • women whose children have died
  • people whose mothers were not honorable
  • people who are estranged from their mothers
  • people whose mothers have died
  • people who don’t even know they need a Savior

Anna Jarvis probably had no idea she was creating such a minefield when she sought a simple way to honor her mother.

I’ve seen posts on Facebook already indicating that Mother’s Day shouldn’t be observed in church because it’s not a national holiday. Prophets and preachers in the Bible spoke about current events, and honoring parents is a biblical teaching. So it’s not wrong to observe the day. But whether that observation should be just a passing acknowledgment, or the whole service should be built around it, is up to each pastor’s leading of his particular congregation.

Whether pastors let the holiday go by unobserved and carry on with whatever book or series they are preaching through, or they choose to honor mothers in some way, someone is going to be offended.

Can I urge us as Christian women to be mature in response to whatever path the pastor chooses to take? To remember that love “does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful” (1 Corinthians 13:5). To understand that there are different needs among the congregation? No one sermon will meet them all except as it points us back to the only Savior who can help and heal and provide grace.

“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable” (II Timothy 3:16-17). Whatever God lays on the pastor’s heart to preach this Sunday, if it is based on the Word of God, it will be profitable for us.

Let’s pray for our pastors to preach the message God wants him to preach that day. Let’s pray for grace for our particular triggers, seek to get from the message what God has for us, and seek to encourage others rather than focusing on self.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers)

The Dreaded Proverbs 31 Woman

The Dreaded Proverbs 31 Woman

“Oh, her.” Eye-roll.

That might be the reaction you get if you mention the Proverbs 31 woman these days.

I had not grown up with a lot of Biblical teaching. So when I read Proverbs 31 some time after becoming a Christian, I aspired to be like the woman described there. I never felt I’d “made it.” But I thought she was a worthy role model

I hear a lot of women expressing dismay or discouragement over this ideal woman. They feel they can never live up to her, and every reading or sermon on this passage only shows up their shortcomings all the more.

Well, she is an ideal woman. In context, a mother is advising her son about a virtuous woman (according to the KJV and NKJV. Many translations describe her as “excellent”; the NIV and CSB call her “a wife of noble character.”)

But this passage is more than just a mother’s high ideals for her son. Since “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16-17), this passage is God speaking through this mother to us through the ages. And I don’t think He meant the passage as a discouragement or a stick to beat over our heads.

If you think about it, there is someone even higher that we’re supposed to be like.

You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48)

Now, that can be discouraging! But this passage and others like it point out how far we fall short in order to alert us to our need for Christ’s righteousness and grace. We know we’re not perfect on our own and never can be. As the hymn says, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” Jesus lived a perfect life, keeping all God’s law, and then died on the cross for our sins, was buried, and then rose again (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). When we believe on Jesus as Savior and Lord, His righteousness is attributed to us (imputed is the theological term). “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). So when we stand before God some day, He is not going to check off all the boxes of Proverbs 31. He’s going to look for the righteousness of Christ, which can only be received by faith.

When we believe on Christ, we’re changed. As we read His Word and grow in Him, we become more like Him (2 Corinthians 3:18). We might think of Proverbs 31 as what the righteousness of Christ would look like lived out in the home. Many of these traits are repeated for both men and women in the New Testament.

The Proverbs 31 woman didn’t do everything in this passage in a day. The picture is of her lifetime. Just like we’ll never be completely like Christ until we get to heaven, but we should be growing more like Him day by day, so we can grow more like this woman.

We have to remember, too, the context of the times in which this was written. A 21st-century virtuous woman’s activities will look different from a woman of King Solomon’s time.

There are scores (maybe hundreds) of books, messages, studies, etc. on this passage. So we won’t exhaust it here. But here are a few principles drawn from the life of this lady:

She loves and reverences God. “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised” (verse 30). Though this aspect is mentioned last, it permeates the rest of the passage.

She is trustworthy. “The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life” (verses 11-12). She doesn’t hide things from him or present a false front.

She’s industrious. “She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness” (verse 27). She “works with willing hands” (verse 13b). She’s active about the household and diligent in providing food and clothing for the family (verses 13-15, 18-19, 21-22, 24).

She’s kind. “The teaching of kindness is on her tongue” (verse 26b).

She ministers to those in need. “She opens her hand to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy” (verse 20).

She’s wise. “She opens her mouth with wisdom” (verse 26a).

She’s savvy. She can buy a field, she knows how to discern if merchandise is good (verses 16, 18, 24). In David Copperfield, his first wife is a sweet, pretty thing named Dora. But she couldn’t manage a household. She called herself a “child-wife.” I don’t know if I could buy a field—it’s a bit more complicated than it was in Old Testament times. We’ve bought and sold property—or rather, my husband has, and I have cosigned. I’ve been so thankful he understood all the paperwork. But whether I could buy a field or not, I don’t have to be a child-wife.

She plans ahead. “She is not afraid of snow for her household, for all her household are clothed in scarlet” (verse 21). The ESV note says “scarlet” could be translated as “in double thickness.”

She’s strong. “She dresses herself with strength and makes her arms strong. . . . Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come” (verses 17, 25). I wrote more on being a strong woman here.

She cares about her appearance. “Her clothing is fine linen and purple” (verse 22b). Purple was not a common clothing color in those days. In my younger years, I wondered if it was wrong to want to look attractive. This verse helped my thinking, as did the fact that God made the world beauitful when He could have made it just functional. Of course, we can go too far in this area. Peter reminds us that it’s “the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious,” rather than “external adorning” (1 Peter 3:3-4). We have to be balanced. But at least the Proverbs 31 women isn’t slovenly in her home or clothing.

She’s respected. Her children call her blessed and her husband praises her (verses 28-29). OK, maybe not every day. Remember this is a summation of her whole life. Moms and children have their bad days. But over the course of life, her behavior and attitudes are such that her family should be able to see her value and respect her. Her husband sitting in the gates with the elders (verse 23) indicates a position of respect and leadership for that time as well. Her activities and demeanor help him rather than detract from his position.

Remember, this woman is a personification of the ideal. No real woman has everything together all the time. We can give ourselves grace even as we seek God’s help and strength to grow in these traits. Elisabeth Elliot said, “The fact that I am a woman does not make me a different kind of Christian, but the fact that I am a Christian makes me a different kind of woman.” I hope that, instead of dreading or disliking or fearing the Proverbs 31 woman, you’ll look on her as a friend, a picture of what a “different kind of woman” looks like.

Proverbs 31:30

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Finding Ways to Minister

How to find ways to ministerWe’ve attended large, active churches with multiple ministries happening at any given time. And we’ve attended very small churches with few official church ministries. Neither is right or wrong. Each church has its own personality.

On the plus side, participation in some aspect of church ministry is usually where I got to know people and began to feel part of the church. It’s hard to get to know others in just a few minutes before or after a service. Working side by side provides opportunities for further fellowship.

Church ministry also helps with organization, so the new mom doesn’t receive five casseroles on one day.

Church ministry is a good outlet for service. When I first started attending church, I didn’t really know what my niche was. After trying several things over the years, now I know where I feel my particular skill set fits best.

However, what God calls us to do doesn’t always fit with our skills. When Moses told God he was slow of speech, God didn’t contradict him. He just promised, “I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak” (Exodus 4:10-12). God called Gideon to lead His army when Gideon was hiding away—not a promising beginning, humanly speaking. I’m not gifted in caregiving, but I was called to it for five years. Sometimes God calls us to do what we don’t feel naturally gifted to do to show “that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us” (2 Corinthians 4:7).

Church ministry has some drawbacks. People tend to compartmentalize their service. When they participate in whatever church ministries they’re involved in, they think their ministry is done for the week.

Witnessing? Yes, I attended church visitation. Check.

At one church we visited, the only time anyone spoke to us or even looked at us was during the visitor greeting time of the service. It was like they crammed all their interaction with visitors into those few minutes instead of being alert to visitors and welcoming before and after the service.

Ministry isn’t something we turn off and on. We’re always on, in a sense. Yes, we need time to rest. But if a need comes up, we don’t say, “Sorry, I already put in my time this week” or “We only do that at the scheduled time.” Opportunities to minister don’t always come in convenient, pre-planned situations.

Then, too, we can be so busy in church ministry that we don’t have time to just slow down and interact with people. I can remember hoping someone else would greet the nearby visitor because I had to catch five different people before they left church for the day.

Some new church members’ first meeting with a pastor is almost like a job interview, as he considers where he can “plug you in.”

My son and daughter-in-law’s church has no organized ministries except for a few small Bible studies. That’s partly because they don’t have their own building yet. But it’s mostly church philosophy. They want people to be free to exercise hospitality and to minister to one another’s needs as they arise.

Our own church currently doesn’t have any organized ministries, either, partly because we don’t have our own building, partly because we’re very small. And I have found it so restful. Sometimes I look back at how busy I used to be, and I can’t believe I used to do all that. I was younger then: I’m sure that makes a big difference.

But people in both these churches do minister in other ways.

God has something for everyone to do. He has distributed to everyone spiritual gifts. But the ministry He wants you to partake in may or may not be through an organized church ministry.

Here’s what you can do if you’re searching for a way to minister:

Pray for God’s guidance and leading.

Minister from an overflow of your relationship with the Lord. There are times we do what we have to do, no matter how we feel. But God often works on our being inwardly before our doing outwardly. I love what Sue Donaldson says here:

Ministry is spillage. We have something worth spilling out to another—whether it’s our little ones, our mother-in-law, or a work colleague—when we are filled up to all the fullness of God. As Paul wrote in Ephesians 3:19 . . .  and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.” I want to start and end my day with God and His Word, otherwise I don’t get filled up. And if I’m not filled up with Him, I can’t spill out for Him.

What’s on your heart? Some years ago, a lady in our church came to me occasionally to urge the ladies’ group to form some kind of ministry to the elderly ladies of our church. We did a couple of things, but I was too swamped to start any kind of regular ministry. I did wonder, though, if perhaps this lady needed a little nudge or encouragement to start something. If this was on her heart, probably God wanted her to do something about it.

Be willing to step out of your comfort zone. One ladies’ group leader used to say, “You can’t say no until you pray about it.” We all know we can’t say yes to every opportunity: we’d be quickly weighed down. But neither should we say no automatically. The times I’ve grown the most have been times I didn’t feel up to the job, but I didn’t feel the liberty to say no, either.

Consider timing. Our families are our first ministry. Though God has something for all of us to do at any time, that big idea on our heart may have to be put on a back burner if we have little ones or a full-time job or an elderly member in need of caregiving.

What’s in front of you? We may be thinking about ministry as something big and grand. Too often we overlook the small opportunities right in front of us to say a kind word of encouragement or to help someone in some small way. I can tell you, after visiting several new churches due to moves with our family, the warm, heartfelt, spontaneous greeting from church members means more than the loud welcome of the official church greeter.

I’ve mentioned this lady before, but I was encouraged and instructed by the example of an older woman I knew in one of our former churches. She had taught school for decades, but had to retire early. She could have been bitter and disgruntled due to the situation. Instead, she just quietly looked for other ways to serve. She greeted visitors who were sitting alone and invited them to sit with her. She invited a couple of ladies at a time over for lunch—not for any agenda, but just to fellowship. She began a couple of ladies’ Bible studies.  Another older lady I knew would stay with new moms for a couple of days if their own moms couldn’t be with them. Another sweet lady used to apologize for not being able to participate in our ladies’ group very much. But she took care of her adult special needs son, helped her widowed mother, was the on-call babysitter for her extended family. Her whole life was a ministry, even though she couldn’t participate in “official” church ministries as much as she would have liked.

One of our former pastors preached a message from 1 Timothy 5 about the kinds of things women were to be honored for. The context is determining how the church should minister to widows who had no one else to help them. After telling Pastor Timothy to “Honor widows who are truly widows” (verse 3), Paul lists everyday, ordinary characteristics: This woman has taken care of her family, is not self-indulgent, prayed, “shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work” (verses 5, 10). No mention there of a worldwide TV ministry or writing a best-selling book or leading a conference of thousands of women. There’s nothing wrong with those things, if God has called someone to them. But most of our ministry will be in small efforts.

I’ve benefited from official church ministry and from someone’s behind-the-scenes thoughtfulness.

God has something for everyone to do. If you can find a ministry outlet within your church, that’s great. If not, seek Him about ways you can minister, and then be alert for ways you can help people. Maybe you can assist someone in their ministry. Maybe God will use you to start a ministry. Maybe not. Maybe, like George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life, all those small acts that you don’t think much about will make big differences in others’ lives.

Minister with the ability God givesSee also:

Myths and Maxims of Ministry

The Ministry of the Mundane

Faithful in Obscurity

Rethinking Spiritual Gifts

Manufactured Spirituality

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Global Blogging, Hearth and Home,
Senior Salon, Purposeful Faith, Tell His Story, InstaEncouragement,
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Organic Mentoring

What does mentoring mean to someone desiring to be mentored? Sometimes women have a specific area where they feel they need help. Some just want to have an older go-to person to ask questions.

Dictionary.com defines mentor as “a wise and trusted counselor or teacher; an influential senior sponsor or supporter.” But how do people work mentoring out into real life? Classes? Regular meetings? Shadowing?

The word “mentor” is not in the Bible—at least, not in the KJV or ESV. Probably the closest the Bible comes to the concept is discipling. The classic passage for women disciplining women is Titus 2: 3-5:

Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.

It’s always important to look at the context of a Bible passage, and the context here is teaching and relating life to sound doctrine (verse 1). Then the character of a teacher or mentor is addressed. Several translations describe this older woman as reverent; others use the word holy. She’s trustworthy: she doesn’t spread gossip. Your secrets are safe with her. And she’s self-controlled, not given to excess.

I’ve written before about different ways to mentor. And I shared that mentoring is more than affirmation and suggested thoughts for both mentor and mentee.

What I’d like to suggest now is that mentoring doesn’t have to be a formal arrangement. You may have one person that you go to with every question and concern. That’s fine if you have such a person. But I have found that God has sent different women across my path with just a word in season that I needed at the moment. I’d like to tell you about a few of them.

Mr. and Mrs. B. were the pastor and wife we were under in our college days and then our first few married years. They were an older couple. Mrs. B. was kind, warm, wise. But she also laid things on the line. When I was struggling with some issue and finally ready to do whatever it took to deal with it, Mrs. B. was the person I would go to. I knew she would give it to me straight, yet kindly.

Mrs. C. was a lady whose family came to our church while I was away at college. When I came home for the summer, the family invited me over for dinner several times. They soon became a second family to me. I don’t remember Mrs. C. ever specifically trying to teach me anything, but I learned so much from her example, her character, her response to her husband, her homemaking.

These two relationships were long-term, but sometimes God had an older friend say something helpful in passing. For instance, once while working in the church nursery, another lady mentioned that she had hit the highest emotional highs and the lowest lows in the context of mothering. That stopped me in my tracks, because I had thought something similar, but hadn’t quite put it into words. I don’t think we discussed it any further, but her comment let me know that my feelings were normal. Another time, I was putting up a church bulletin board with a lady who had teenagers while my children were younger. She gave me some off-the-cuff advice not to dread the teen years. She said teens don’t all go through rebellious phases, and if the relationship has been good all along, there’s no reason it can’t continue to be good. That lifted a weight and gave me a healthy perspective of my children’s upcoming teen years, and I’ll be forever grateful.

Once I was doing something in the church building while the group who ministered to the seniors at church were setting up a banquet for them. That kind of preparation can get hectic. The wife of the couple involved, a very sweet woman, came into the kitchen to look for something. While she stood there a moment, gathering her thoughts and looking at cabinets, her husband came in behind her with an urgent question. He couldn’t see her face, but I saw her close her eyes a moment and then give him a calm answer. Whether she was thinking through the answer to his question or changing gears from her own pursuit, I don’t know. But my impression was that in a moment of being overwhelmed, she took just a beat or two to gain control and answer kindly when she might have wanted to be left alone to finish her own task.

Another older lady had to retire from her loved job due to what some considered unfair circumstances. I know this woman was hurt, but I never once heard her badmouth her employers. I watched as she sought out several different new ways of ministering until she found her new niche, and her efforts continued to make a different in other people’s lives.

The one factor all of these examples have in common is that they arose naturally, in the normal course of life and ministry.

There’s nothing wrong with setting up classes and seminars. I have learned boatloads from many great and mostly unknown women teachers. I’ve sought specific counsel from older women at times.

There’s nothing wrong with a formal one-on-one relationship specifically for the purpose of mentoring.

But a mentor does not have to be a formal teacher and may not have that kind of relationship with anyone. Even if she does, we’re all called to the kind of walk where our example teaches and where we’re so yielded to and in tune with the Holy Spirit that He can work though us in the course of everyday life. I think of this as organic, natural mentoring. I don’t remember in any of these cases praying for God to send an older, godly woman my way. But He did, because He knew I needed them.

It’s fine to pray for a mentor, to work through a book or Bible study together, to have a list of questions to discuss. Sue Donaldson has some great ones here. But I also saw a list of 100 questions to ask of a mentor. Honestly, that sounds exhausting. No one wants to feel grilled interrogated. If you want to approach someone with questions, I wouldn’t bring that many. And I’d suggest questions from your own heart rather than a list, things you would like to ask an older, experienced lady about living the Christian life in a way that honors the Lord.

But beyond questions, we can learn much just by spending time with these women and observing their walk and demeanor. I know I have probably asked older women specific questions, but I don’t remember most of those conversations. For some reason, I’ve remembered these instances I shared here for years. Many of them were foundational or transitional to my thinking. And the women in question probably didn’t even know they had said something that affected me. I don’t think I knew it myself at the moment. It probably took time to process their advice, comments, or example. A guest preacher at our church years ago once said that often, when the Holy Spirit uses us, we’re unaware of it.

That’s the kind of godly, older-ish woman I want to be: one who walks closely with the Lord, filled with His Spirit and His Word and a love for others, available for His use in everyday life and conversation.

Have you had such a mentor in your life—someone who wasn’t officially a teacher, yet taught you by word or example? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Global Blogging, Senior Salon, Literary Musing Monday, Hearth and Soul, Happy Now, InstaEncouragement, Anchored Abode,
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“Just Wait: It Gets Harder”

A young mom friend shared that she gets the above response whenever she mentions that life can be hard with several little children at once.

Why do we women do that to each other?

I’m so thankful that when I was a young mom, a special older lady told me that each stage of our children’s lives has it’s high and low points, and we shouldn’t dread any stage. I think at the time my oldest was about to turn two, thus I was cringing at the thought of the “terrible twos.” Her words helped me not to view that season of life negatively, and the “twos” were not all that terrible.

Though baby- and toddlerhood hold some cute, sweet, fun, and incredibly precious  moments, small people depending on you for every little thing can be exhausting. I loved my babies and little ones, but this stage of life was hardest for me. When they can feed themselves, go to the bathroom by themselves, dress themselves, etc., life gets a lot easier.

Perhaps for some moms, what I call the “taxi years” are the most taxing, when you’re chauffeuring kids to sports practice, music lessons, church activities, birthday parties, school activities, etc., etc. That season does have its challenges. We tried hard to strike the right balance by offering our kids a number of opportunities without the whole household revolving around children’s schedules. It’s not easy. But one perk was that one of our children opened up much more in the car than if I tried to draw him out across the table.

Probably most who warn about harder years of parenting are referring to the teen years. Once, when my children were still young, an older mom and I were working on a bulletin board together at church. As she shared something about her teenage daughter, she said something like, “Don’t dread the teen years. If you keep the relationship good, keep communication open, and train them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, the teen years don’t have to be a trial for either of you.” And she was right, just like my mom friend who told me not to dread the “terrible twos.” The world has bought into this idea that rebellion is a teenage rite of passage, but it doesn’t have to be. They do ask hard questions, but we should welcome them and help them seek answers. They should be coming to a point where their beliefs are becoming their own rather than just rotely following what they’ve always been told. There might be a few bumps in the road towards independence, but it doesn’t have to be an all-out war.

And then we come to parenting adults. In some ways, it’s a relief that all their decisions are their own responsibility now. Yet we have to let them make their own mistakes. We only offer advice when asked, and then carefully. We have to let go, but we can pray.

Each stage of development is a necessary part of growing up. Each has its hardships and its blessings. We need to encourage each other all along the way.

Imagine you’re hiking up a mountain trail. The way is rough, you’re hot, and you’ve still got a long way to go. Way up ahead you see another hiker. You call out to her and ask how the trail is between you. She says, “You think it’s bad now; you think you’re tired now; just wait. It only gets harder the further you go.”

How encouraged would you be? Not at all.

How much better if those ahead on the path called back, “Yes, it’s tough. But God gives grace. You can do it. Keep up the good work!” Or, even better, we can share how we found verses like 2 Corinthians 9:8 true in relation to motherhood: “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.”

Motherhood has been one of the hardest aspects of my life. Not much else (besides caregiving) showed me how selfish I was and how much I needed God’s grace. But watching and learning from other moms was a great encouragement.

Much has been said in recent years about mentoring, but we don’t need to set up formal mentoring relationships in order to encourage others. So often, I’ve received the most encouragement from off-the-cuff, seemingly random conversations in passing. But looking back, I know they weren’t random. I know God placed those people in my path for  my encouragement.

I’ve shared before this poem from an unknown author that was quoted in Rosalind Goforth‘s autobiography, Climbing (one of my favorites). I had always thought of it in relation to life in general, Christian life in particular. I had mostly thought of it in relation to missionary and other Christian biographies. Even though it’s not specifically about motherhood, much of it can apply. We don’t need to demean or “one-up” others. Older moms, let’s call back encouragement to younger moms. Older women, let’s support younger women whether they are mothers or not, married or not.

Call Back!

If you have gone a little way ahead of me, call back-
It will cheer my heart and help my feet along the stony track;
And if, perchance, Faith’s light is dim, because the oil is low,
Your call will guide my lagging course as wearily I go.

Call back, and tell me that He went with you into the storm;
Call back, and say He kept you when forest’s roots were torn;
That when the heavens thunder and the earthquake shook the hill.
He bore you up and held where the very air was still.

O friend, call back, and tell me, for I cannot see your face;
They say it glows with triumph, and your feet bound in the race;
But there are mists between us and my spirit eyes are dim,
And I cannot see the glory, though I long for word of Him.

But if you’ll say He heard you when your prayer was but a cry,
And if you’ll say He saw you through the night’s sin-darkened sky-
If you have gone a little way ahead, O friend, call back-
It will cheer my heart and help my feet along the stony track.

Has someone “called back” in a way that encouraged you? I’ve love to hear about it in the comments.

(I’ve read several posts about encouragement this week. This must be a
message God wants emphasized at this particular time.
I love how Kelly expanded this truth to all scenarios here.)

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Global Blogging, Literary Musing Monday,
Hearth and Home, Purposeful Faith, Tea and Word, Tell His Story,
Happy Now, InstaEncouragement, Anchored Abode,
Let’s Have Coffee, Recharge Wednesday, Share a Link Wednesday,
Wise Woman, Worth Beyond Rubies, HeartEncouragement,
Grace and Truth, Faith ‘n Friends)