Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Who I Am

Let's just say it.  I'm anal.  I am.  Some may see me as uptight but I think my ways just make good sense.

For example, I own scissors for fabric, scissors for food, and scissors for paper.  My kids know which pair to use for cutting open popsicles and which to use for homework projects.  And which ones to never touch.

I want my fabric scissors to stay sharp enough to cut through fabric well.  I want the food scissors to always be clean.  But I also don't want my kids to grow up afraid of choosing the wrong scissors.  So I work on tempering my black-and-whiteness with grace.

But I think it's pretty clear that I'm a girl who loves rules and boundaries.  I like to know what's expected and how I'm doing.

Believe it or not, this can lead to problems in the Christian life.  It leads to a little something called legalism, where I worship the rules instead of God.

Today I finished reading For the Love by Jen Hatmaker.  I highly recommend it, by the way.  It's filled with humor and sarcasm and truth, all things I enjoy.  I love her chapter where she writes one letter to Church Leaders and one to Church People.  I want to photocopy it and distribute it.

In her chapter entitled "Dear Christians, Please Stop Being Lame," she writes the following:

I obviously related to this passage.  I do want boundaries.  I do want to stand before God having gotten it right.  I do want to be assured of my insider status.  And I have asked all the same questions Jen Hatmaker mentioned here in her book.

Can I just be really really honest with you for a minute?  Even if it's not pretty?  I did fight for my insider status within the church.  Let me say, without hesitation, that I genuinely loved the people I served, legitimately wanted to further God's kingdom, sincerely sought the guidance of the Holy Spirit as I lived out my many roles within the church.  But part of me also grew to love being so rooted in the church.  I liked belonging.  I liked being useful and serving a purpose.  And I liked feeling approved.

Somewhere along the way "who I am" got tangled up with "what I do at church."  My world is so small.  I'm a stay-at-home mom to three kids and I babysit two more kiddos.  My world consists of my house, two schools, church, and Walmart.  Some days I just have this inner voice that asks the question, "Is there more to me than being a mom?"  It's the best job in the whole wide world, but I also know that if I am to survive these chickadees flying from my nest, then I need to have my identity be based on more than motherhood.  Since I'm not looking for Walmart to define me, church became my identity-giver.

And really it makes sense to find my identity at church.  My relationship with God is the most important thing in my life.  I just didn't realize that all this time I have been building an identity based on who I am in the body of Christ, rather than who I am to God.  Do you see the difference?  One is who others perceive me to be and the other is who God knows me to be.

There's another passage in For the Love that fits our current discussion.  In Hatmaker's letter to Church Leaders, she describes what happens when "ministry" is defined solely by church activities.
"When you tell your people, 'Come Sunday for worship, Tuesday morning for Bible study, Wednesday night for Community Group, Thursday night for Awana, Friday night for a service project, and Saturday afternoon for leadership training,' it is defeating.  Intentionally or not, it develops a culture in which discipleship is measured by attendance."
I became so highly aware of this once my attendance became less than perfect.  I felt (honest:  feel) scolded for not being the good Church Woman I'd groomed myself to be.  I've heard so many people in our church say something like, "We are in church every time the doors are open!"  I internalized that as a requirement for holiness.  So now that I'm not at church every time there's a service or event, I feel like a Less Than.

Oh, hear it.  Hear me say that I love my church.  I highly value specialized ministries offered at my church.  I would have shriveled into spiritual oblivion without my Bible study ladies.  Before my son's endless headache that rocked our world, I was super involved at my church.  I taught an adult Sunday school class (my very favorite role!), participated fully in women's Bible studies, planned and hosted baby and bridal showers (with two other women), served on a Sunday School & Discipleship Ministries Board, planned on a decorating committee when our church built a giant addition, planned and decorated for various gatherings such as our annual Women's Retreat, typed devotions for couples in our church, interviewed potential volunteers for our children's department, and taught a class about healthy sexuality for married women.  I was a busy woman.  Sometimes I felt like I was going to lose my mind.  But I wasn't about to say no to anything because I really do love people and want to serve God by serving people.

Once The Headache descended upon us and this whole medical crisis blew up in the middle of our ordinary life, everything had to change.  Most of it against my will.  One by one, God gently removed each precariously balanced role from my hands and said, "Honey, I'll take this."  When I looked at each thing individually, I loved each one.  But all piled up, I was simply carrying too much.  I'm guessing I probably would never have given up most of these precious roles if I hadn't been forced to by the extremely overwhelming task of caring for a chronically ill child.

The hardest crown for me to lay down, by far, was that of Sunday School Teacher.  I just flat out LOVE those people, and I'm afraid no one will love them as fiercely as I do.  Sound crazy?  I can't help it.  Even with being exhausted and--quite honestly--burned out, I just couldn't give it up.  So God pulled it from my kung-fu grip and patted me on the head.

So here I am.  I am not a teacher.  I am not a church decorator.  I am not a party planner.  I am not a decision-maker or a cupcake-baker.  I no longer have perfect attendance.  I'm wandering in uncharted territory where the boundaries aren't as clearly marked.

Jen Hatmaker says living the gospel life was simple according to Jesus:  love God and love people (see Matthew 22:36-40).  So I'm gonna work on these.  Each day I basically say, "God, what in the world does trusting You look like today?"  I'm learning what it means to love Him when He doesn't do what I wish He would do, when I am empty, when I don't understand, when we have a good day, when I get sleep, when I'm too tired for anything.  Oh, I love Him.  I'm practicing living out that love.

And the second most important commandment is to love people.  Sometimes that might look like church-organized events or ministries.  But sometimes that looks like taking my daughter to a birthday party and seeking out the one mom who doesn't know anybody else and drawing her into the conversation very deliberately so she knows she's welcome in our circle of friends.  That used to look like my family going to church on Wednesday nights so Jared and I could spend quality time praying for the people of our church while our kids participated in a Christian scouting program.  I love the Wednesday night crowd.  But now loving people looks like staying in on Wednesday nights so my kids can get a little time with their parents instead of being asked to listen and perform after a long day of school.  It's baking banana bread with my daughter while my boys play a game together.  It's getting my kids to bed at a decent time so we can all be more lovely on Thursday mornings.

We are slooooowwwly figuring out what our "new normal" is.  I'm still not a huge fan but I'm learning how to deal with it.  I still feel like I have dirty secrets (like not attending Wednesday night church) and like I wear some mark of shame for no longer being who I was.  However, I'm also discovering that the time I used to invest in my weekly lessons can be spent reading books like For the Love or even--gasp--fiction books!  I'm not as busy with school volunteer work, so I can get to work lifting up other moms at the school.  I'm focusing more on my family.  I'm listening to people rather than trying to earn their approval.

I'm learning who I am in Christ.  It's His approval that matters (ugh, will I ever learn this??).  He sees what my life looks like right now.  I don't have to explain to Him exactly what is so difficult about a kid with a headache.  He gets me.  Apparently He still has plans for me and they do not line up with my plans to wear pajamas all day, eat pure crap, and wait for life to change.  He is changing my course in order to shape me and use me.  He wants me to know that I am loved.  I am chosen.  I am redeemed.  I am clothed in righteousness.  I am His.  Every uptight part of me.


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