In his thought-provoking book, The Mystery of Marriage, Mike Mason compares our spouse to a great tree “growing up in the center of one’s living room.” Mason goes on to say how beautiful and unique the tree is – how utterly rooted and unmovable. Standing in the middle of everything, my husband is so stubbornly inconvenient!
That image describes well my first year of marriage.
Bob, standing in the middle of everything, has eyes that see me all the time. For the first time, a husband’s eyes are on me full-time.
My deepest disappointment in singleness was the lack of one, consistent witness to my life. I wanted one someone to know how the holidays make me melancholy. How I don’t like my food to touch on the plate. How cleaning my car is somehow soul satisfying. I wanted the dignity of a daily witness: Yes, I once walked this earth and I was known and loved.
And I got a witness—and more! Bob’s eyes are attentive. For example, he wrote 26 post-it notes for our one-year anniversary. Scattered around the house were alphabetical and observant descriptions of me (adorable, beautiful, consistent). I’d holler, “Found another note!” like a giddy girl on an Easter egg hunt. I felt seen like never before. I drank it in with big gulps.
Other times, the constancy of his eyes feels less affirming. An innocent comment about dinner can send me to shame (“I am an awful cook. I should know how to do this better by now.”). A careless inspection and I escalate further down the slippery slope of self-contempt (“I’ll never live up to Bob’s expectations of a ‘good wife.’ I hate myself for trying.”).
And, when we get in a fight, my scrutiny can be like a chainsaw to his dignity. I try to chop Bob down by blaming. (“If you only stopped doing ______, [fill in the blank with some real or perceived failure], then I would be a better ________” [fill in the blank with something I should be better at]). It’s not pretty.
More often than not, Bob’s eyes of exposure collude with my inner critic and the lies of the enemy to form an unholy trinity. Even when his witness is neutral, I can turn it negatively inward–or as author Brene Brown would call a “shame trigger.”
Bob is now outnumbered by my shame added to the enemy’s accusations. The solution? Surrendering myself to a different tree.
On the Cross, Jesus colluded with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Their verdict is true: I am utterly flawed and broken. I am worse than I know and unable to change by myself. When I agree with their valuation, the enemy is tongue-tied. What else can he say? Busted.
I can’t make myself right in anyone’s eyes, not mine, not Bob’s. What’s left but to cry out to God to change me?
Humility draws me close to the Lord and to my new husband. When I confess my guilt to Bob, our common frailties help us give one another compassion, not judgment. When we remind one another that Jesus remedied the death of Eden’s first tree with His death on the second tree, then our eyes become more gentle. We accept our humanness. Dignity is restored. Under the branches of grace, change has a chance.
We have a long way to go, and Bob and I are just beginning to live under grace as husband and wife. But I pray that the inconvenient and unique tree in center of our living room will remind us of a better tree, a beautiful place of shade and rest for our marriage and for those we love.
[I wrote this a year ago, but thought I would share it here for the first time. We are still learning and growing. Grace upon grace!] For inspiration about experiencing God’s grace in marriage, take a look at Taylor’s story.
–Judy Nelson Lewis
When the apostles returned, they reported to Jesus what they had done. Then he took them with him and they withdrew by themselves to a town called Bethsaida, but the crowds learned about it and followed him. He welcomed them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed healing. – Luke 9:10-11 (NIV)
Every Friday I meet my friend Annie for a walk around her neighborhood. I bring my dog, and in between close calls with having my arm broken from the dog chasing squirrels, Annie and I talk about life and we laugh and sometimes cry (I usually cry) and pray together. On Saturday mornings I do the same thing with my friend Ann (no idea why all my friends have the same name) at Memorial Park.
What I’m saying is, the part where Jesus and his disciples withdrew by themselves, that’s easy part of this Christian life for me. I’m all over that stuff.
The part I have to keep an eye on is what Jesus and his disciples did after they withdrew by themselves for a bit – they poured into outsiders. Jesus had his tight group of guys that he did life with, but when the crowds came, Jesus welcomed, taught and healed those crowds. Jesus knew the importance of both types of relationships, and they overlapped. Sometimes, while I’m busy digging deep with my friends, I neglect the outsiders around me who need some of this spiritual food God has put on my plate.
I have a friend named Sarah who does this whole thing well. She’s deep and real with friends, but she also meets with a poor exchange student and even took her family to eat dinner at the student’s apartment. And when the student served all kind of crazy foreign food that was, I’m just going to say it, gross, she ate that crazy foreign food, because it’s over meals that you can pour into someone’s life. And then she told her friends about it, and her friends were able to pray for the student.
And that’s ministry people, and I want more of it.
Okay folks, here’s what I need you, and what I need me, to do. Keep your people close and keep living and crying and praying and encouraging and laughing so hard you nearly pee yourselves. But look around you at the crowds. Who needs welcoming? Who needs teaching and healing? Now ask that person over for dinner, or to get manicures together, or whatever it is you want to do. And use what you get out of your beloved friendships to fuel your passion to pour into others.
Have any of you struggled with this like me? What are you going to do differently? And if not, if you’ve got this thing in the bag, give a sister some encouragement!
Sacred Story is honored to have Christina Ledbetter as a guest contributor this month. To hear more, visit Christina’s blog.
“And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” Ephesians 4:30
Have you ever had a bad roommate? What if you were stuck with them forever? Imagine endless years of dishes in the sink, laundry on the floor and unwanted guests. How long would you contend with their selfish existence before throwing them out? Do they have any idea what a strain they are on your life? Does anyone else exist in their universe? I would never treat someone like that.
In stark contrast, the best roommate on the planet is the Holy Spirit. When you confess that you can’t do this life alone and ask Jesus to forgive you of all your sins past, present and future, you receive a new best friend. Your life is sealed with the Holy Spirit of God. He takes up residency in your life and never leaves (John 14:16). When you die, he is your ticket into Heaven, and faithful Counselor of Truth until you get there. (2Cr 1:21-22)
The first time you meet, you know life will never be the same. You spend time with your new roommate and embrace the spiritual gifts (1 Cr 12), then life rolls on. The time-sensitive demands of life press in, and you revert back to old patterns. At first there may be remorse and reconciliation, but over time, taking time to consult with the “Counselor” fades. Before you know it, dirty towels are heaped over him, quenching the very source of light that rescued you from your former existence (1Th 5:19).
This is my story. I became the bad roommate and still wince at how I grieved the Spirit of my Holy God, over and over again. Why didn’t He leave me? I would have thrown me out.
Consider this Relationship Revelation: When I grieve the Holy Spirit, His grief is for me.
I thought that grieving the Holy Spirit meant that I hurt his feelings and He experienced pain and offense like I do. Instead, because He is One with our Heavenly Father, the Spirit’s remorse occurs when his children make poor choices and miss the great things he had in store (Heb 11:6). His pain is over what could have been.
When I realized that the very person I grieved the most, grieved not for His pain but for mine, I learned something about forgiveness. If I allow God to change my focus from my pain to the source of my offender’s pain, then I can forgive just like Christ forgave me. Remembering that “while we were still sinners Christ died for us” reminds me that I can forgive others even if they are unaware of their offenses (Rom 5:8).
Who has hurt you the most?
What could be hurting them?
Ask the faithful roommate in your heart to reveal offenses hidden there, and transfer your focus from the pain in your heart to the pain in theirs.
What healing words could you offer?
“Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.”
“Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear.” 1 John 4:18, (NLT)
I often find myself unsure of what to do when people hurt me. After the initial shock, I hang the “unavailable” sign over my heart for a while and I pull away. In the midst of my hurt and fear, I convince myself that I need space and healing. The path of solidarity looks promising for a bit, so I take a step back and close myself off from everyone.
The fear of confrontation loves to confuse me. It spins my mind into a frenzy and instead of letting God come into the picture of brokenness, I point fingers. The hurt within me soon evolves into anger. I talk to God, but it’s mostly about the other person. Then I wrestle with the question of whether I really need people in my life and I let God know, “I’m good with just You and me.”
Yet, I’m wrong—wrong to think that I don’t need people in my life. Here’s why:
- Relationships will always keep you on your knees. You will always need to run to God because without Him, you can’t love.
- Relationships provide God’s comfort. Only people can encourage you, care for you and support you. You need others to build you up and help you when life gets difficult. And whether you like it or not, God made you to have relationships with others.
- Relationships is in God’s plan. It’s how God made us—hardwired to need each other. God created all of us to be loved by Him and by other people.
- Relationships help us grow spiritually. Our feelings will always want to trick us into wanting the pleasurable and easy as opposed to the friction and the hard. Through the difficulties in our relationships, God works in our hearts, builds our character and blesses our lives through people.
- Relationships remind us we need the gospel every day! I forget that I have a God who loves to save and likes to heal the hurts within me. His business is in restoration, especially in relationships.
- Relationships make us strong and courageous. Because of our deep need to be loved, we do everything for protection against those who shows signs of not loving us. Through relationships we conquer those fears. We grow stronger and courageous both in how we love and how we let others love us.
- Relationships expand the Kingdom of God. Through them, we reach unbelievers and the unchurched. We get to show them God’s love.
Taking a step back to avoid relationships will only lead to bitterness especially if the hurt stays bottled up inside. Welcome the wrestling, the questioning and the gentle whispers of God when your relationships get difficult. Hope for the best, pray for reconciliation and listen to God’s Word, “For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them.” Matthew 18:28, (NIV).
“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)
Relationships can be painful. Living in a fallen world where we do not always love perfectly but wound instead is a reality that all of us face. My husband and I experienced wounds growing up. I grew up in an emotionally, verbally and physically abusive home. My husband experienced the wound of a father who abandoned his family for another woman. Our families never repented- admitted their wrongs and asked for forgiveness- over the wounds they inflicted. Rather, they responded with justification and manipulation that further deepened the wounds.
I never thought that I would experience peace without my parents repenting. However, today, by God’s grace we are experiencing peaceful relationships with our families. To get to this place of peace, we had to walk through the process of forgiveness which seemed daunting at times – especially when there is no repentance from the wounder. So what does forgiveness look like towards an unrepentant wounder?
1. Acknowledge the wound in your heart. Forgiveness does not ignore the sin that was committed against you. Psalmists were honest with God over the pain they experienced. (Ps. 3, 4, 5, 7, 9-10)
2. Give your anger over to God. God sees and knows the sin that was committed against you. God is a just God (2 Thess. 1:6). He will deal with the sinner. Resist taking vengeance into your own hands.
3. Pray for your enemies. I know. This is a hard one. But it is what is commanded of us and though our flesh may war against this, obedience to God will bring freedom. This also takes mega spirit-filled humility. Our ability to pray for our enemies comes from remembering that God has forgiven us of our sins. Therefore, we are “to forgive each other just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” (Eph. 4:32) It is through prayer that God will begin to soften your heart and you will begin to experience freedom.
4. Pursue reconciliation ‘so far as it depends on you’. This step can be difficult and requires discernment from the Spirit and godly counsel. Romans 12:18 states, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” We are called to take every step possible to make matters right with our enemies and to be at peace with them. However, when a person who wronged us does not repent with contrition, confession and change, he cuts off the full work of forgiveness. We can desire good for them and we can hand over our anger to God but full reconciliation or intimacy may not be restored. In short, pursue reconciliation, but you may have to live with the pain if it does not succeed. In other words, you are not responsible to make reconciliation happen.
5. Be at peace with God. As my husband and I sought the Lord over our response to our family, we asked ourselves repeatedly, “What will bless the Lord? How can we respond in the light of the Gospel?” We felt convicted to pursue reconciliation with our family while letting go of any expectations of repentance. We do grieve over the compromised intimacy in our relationships with them due to their lack of repentance but we feel ‘as far as it depends on us’ we have pursued peace with them.
I understand that this can be a sensitive subject and your circumstance and response may be different from mine. God will enter into your deepest wound and bring peace in your heart if you let Him. Is there someone you would like to forgive?
“I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my imprisonment. Grace be with you.” Colossians 4:18
It’s a new year. A new chapter for our stories. A renewed opportunity to be with and enjoy people. I recently studied the book of Colossians. At the end of the letter, the apostle Paul signs off by giving personal messages to multiple people he encountered throughout his ministry. Normally I blow by this part of a letter because I tend to think it doesn’t relate as much since the people are no longer alive. Not to mention the names are a tongue twister!
As I gathered information about the people Paul mentions, I realized his concluding thoughts reveal a ton of insight about relationships. Sister, digest these reminders.
People are a primary source of encouragement. Paul, who was imprisoned at the time, ends his letter by speaking of a beloved brother named Tychicus who is bringing word to the Colossians to encourage their hearts. Tychicus sacrificed time and personal comfort to bring a word of encouragement.
Be willing to learn from and serve those who are in positions of authority. Obviously, Tychicus has spent time with Paul who considered him teachable and reliable as a messenger.
Remember that it’s never too late for a person to change. Paul refers to Onesimus as a faithful and beloved brother. Upon researching, I found out that Onesimus served as a slave who stole from his Christian master and ran away. He became a believer through Paul’s preaching and began a new life.
Extend forgiveness when offended and help restore those who are genuinely willing to change. Paul mentions Mark as among those with him in Rome. In the book of Acts, Paul disagreed with Barnabas about Mark’s previous failure and parted ways with Barnabas. Paul’s gesture provides evidence the friendship was restored.
Seek out and appreciate those whose backgrounds are similar to yours. Paul shares the names of a couple of brothers in Christ who are from a Jewish upbringing as great encouragement because he is also a Jewish believer. Whether similarities in family dynamics, addiction, religious upbringing, or other connections, it’s important to know some people who can relate.
Ask God to give confidence to fellow believers of His will so that they may follow it fully. In verse 12, Paul explains that Epaphras is praying this request for them.
Don’t be surprised by disappointment. Paul sends greetings from a brother in Christ named Demas. Later in his ministry, Paul shared that Demas deserted him. Because of sin, there will be people in our lives who disappoint us. We will also disappoint ourselves and others. As a side note, I am really touched by Jordan’s story where she shares walking through a family member’s betrayal.
Look for people who can help you discover and use your gifts for the kingdom. At the end of his letter, Paul challenges Archippus to fulfill the ministry he has received. We need people to come alongside us and vice versa.
Express your needs. Upon closing his letter, Paul asks the Colossians to remember his imprisonment. We can’t expect people to read our minds so it’s necessary to let them know what’s important to us.
Sister, I’m eager to hear how these reminders make a difference in your relationships. Laura
“Contribute to the needs of the saints, practice hospitality.” (Romans 12:13)
When I think of hospitality, the first image that comes to mind is Martha Stewart, clothes and hair perfectly in place, setting a table with beautiful crafts and food that are too eloquent to touch or eat. If Martha Stewart is my model, the closest I will ever come to this style of hospitality is looking through her magazines while envying the beautiful crafts and foods.
Growing up, the model of hospitality that I had is quite the contrary of Ms. Stewart. My parents are immigrants of China, and they lived simple lives. Our home looked like it belonged in the ‘60’s. For the holidays, our table was marked by dollar store decorations and disposable china. Chinese family members and friends would arrive with simple clothes and someone would manage to burp loudly throughout the dinner making us children snicker uncontrollably. Loud slurps and chatter filled the room as guests voraciously ate their food and talked over each other. Unrefined and chaotic with every table manner broken describe my family gatherings.
Therefore, growing up in both the American and Chinese culture, hospitality was confusing for me. On one hand I had an image of total perfection and on the other hand I had an image of total imperfection. To add to the confusion, my Christian culture taught me that hospitality was a spiritual gift that only some had. I would never score high on the gift of hospitality so I just assumed that hospitality was not for me.
One season, I was challenged by a book called Table Life by Joanna Thompson. In it she writes, “Our tendency is to categorize hospitality into two groups of people, those who naturally love to entertain and those who say, ‘That’s not my thing’. Both perspectives may be devoid of faith.” She continues to write, “Sharing your table isn’t fueled by faith in your magnificent entertaining skills or gregarious personality. It’s believing that God will satisfy hearts as well as appetites when you share your table in Jesus name.” (Thompson, p. 10)
I discovered that numerous scriptures in the Bible call all believers to hospitality (Lev. 19:34, Heb. 13:2, I Peter 4:9, Titus 1:8). We are called to be a lover of strangers, embracing into your family someone who does not know or share your identity, life and values. We are to be persistent in our pursuit of inviting people into our lives and our home with glad welcome expecting nothing in return. Why do we do this? Because God in His infinite love lavishly welcomed us sinners into His eternal home. We are no longer strangers or sojourners. Everyone who trusts in Jesus finds a home in God.
Understanding biblical hospitality has freed me to pursue hospitality. I am learning that it is not about having a perfect home, decorations or food. Looking back at my family’s hospitality, I cannot deny the spirit of generosity, love and selflessness behind the chaos. I am learning hospitality is not about me. It is about joyfully and selflessly drawing people into a deep experience of God’s hospitality by the use of my home or church home. How is God calling you to pursue hospitality? ~ Edna
“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 4:9-11
“Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.” 2 Cor. 1:21-22 NIV
‘Tis the season to host many visitors. Most of them planned, and some are unplanned. The perfect hostess is prepared for everything. She can muster up hospitality under any circumstance. Guestroom linens are pressed, meals are prepared and gifts are beautifully wrapped under the tree.
Are you feeling the pressure?
If the gift of hospitality is at the top of your Christmas list, there is one person that can deliver like no other, the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God, the third person of the triune God, coequal, coeternal with the Father and the Son. In creation he was the very presence of God that accomplished every command spoken by God. He is present everywhere. He is sovereign and he is the very breath of life for all creation. He is the “holiday spirit” that the world seeks to invite into their homes this time of year.
When Jesus said “The Father will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever” (John 14:16), he did not send the Holy Spirit as a temporary visitor. He sent him to take up residency in your life and empower you for life beyond your own strength. “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit” says the LORD Almighty.
Even at your hospitable best, hosting through the holidays in your own strength will leave you exhausted. If you lean on the Holy Spirit to empower you to welcome and comfort your guests, you will also enJOY them. He will surprise you with special moments you would have otherwise hosted right through.
Do visitors to your home know where your laundry room is? Probably not, but a resident does. If you want to experience the full power of God’s strength in your life, invite him into every room in your heart. If you are a believer in Christ Jesus, the Holy Spirit is already a resident in your heart. So, let him do some laundry.
First, ask the Holy Spirit to prepare your heart in advance to love your guests as God loves them. Then, in the middle of all the action, ask him what is on his heart. He might nudge you to hug the person that is silently grieving from a loss, or equip you to ask a question that unlocks treasures. This special assistance will transform you from hospitality queen to heavenly host.
Which doors of your heart do you need to open to God this Christmas?
How will you host differently this year?