Friday, February 29, 2008

Part of the whole: Knowing your role in the body of Christ

"Now the body is not made up of one part but of many... Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it." (I Corinthians 12:14 & 27)

We live in the age of empowerment. I am woman, hear me roar. Supermom. I can bring home the bacon and fry it up, too. We as women, and especially as moms, are encouraged to do it all!

At first glance, this is a great thing. Who doesn't tell their child, "You can be anything you want to be"? But there's a key word in there, don't you think? Anything. "You can be anything--not everything--you want to be."

It can feel a little oppressive at first to hear that we can't--and shouldn't--do it all. Most of us have talents in multiple areas, and we want to make use of them all. In the past year, I spent several months searching, begging for ministry opportunities. I would jump at everything that seemed to be a good fit for me, but God kept closing the doors. Then about a month ago, a door flew wide open... and then another... and then another... and then another...! Suddenly I had more opportunities than I did time. I'm not complaining--it was such a nice change! Still, I found myself sinking into the "Supermom" trap. I wanted to do it all and ask for more. Recently I was given the opportunity to put together a one-day retreat for women in my area, and I think my original thought was, "OK, I can plan this myself, make all of the brochures myself, make all of the contacts myself, run the event, lead the worship, and be a speaker." Yeah, right! Who am I kidding? This coming from a woman who can barely keep her children AND herself in clean clothes on a daily basis.

But here's the flipside of the coin: I don't have to do it all. It's so freeing! God has given me a unique set of talents and skills, and with them a unique role to fulfill in the body of Christ… but I can't and shouldn't try to fill the roles He has set out for others to do. "The eye cannot say to the hand, 'I don't need you!' And the head cannot say to the feet, 'I don't need you!'" (I Corinthians 12:21) By trying to do it all, we cheat ourselves and those around us. Each part is important and is designated to someone who can do it exactly as God intended.

What side of the fence are you on? Maybe you are searching for your role. What does God have for you to do? Where can you serve, find your sense of purpose? Rest assured that you are an integral part of the body, fulfilling a role that only you can do.

Or maybe you are trying to do it all. Do you ever feel stretched too thin? Or like a square peg in a round hole? Look for areas where you can ask for help, and for those who might be a good fit in those areas. Let go of things that you want to be able to do that maybe aren't a good fit.

I would encourage each of you to take a few minutes this week to read I Corinthians 12:14-27. This passage has been so meaningful in my life. It talks about everything I have written here, as well as encouraging each other and working together as the body of Christ. Read it over and think about your role, and how you can encourage others as well. Whether you are "Supermom" or "Searching Mom", God will reveal His purpose for you.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Freedom by Structure

“Mommy, will you play with me?” asked my two-year-old daughter. It was at least the tenth time that morning I’d heard her request. This time, though, I sighed in frustration.

“Gracie, I AM playing with you!” After nearly an hour of trying to fold a single load of laundry, I had given up and sat down in the midst of the toy pile in her room. What more does she want from me? I asked myself. I quit even TRYING to get anything done around here and sat here with her while she plays with… with… That’s when it hit me: I had no idea what she was playing. I had stopped working and sat next to her, but I wasn’t really playing with her. I was just sitting there, distracted, thinking of the work that wasn’t getting done while I was sitting there not playing.

Then I realized that I’d had one too many of those days. There has to be a better way, I thought. A balance must exist between the “let go of the housework and spend time with the kids” theory and making sure we had clean clothes to wear, clean dishes from which to eat, and a discernible path through the house.

That night Gracie didn’t want to go to bed, so I employed a technique that has become well-known in our house: the timer. “OK, Gracie,” I warned, “I’m going to set the timer. You can play for a few more minutes, but when the timer goes off it is time for a bath.” I call this “freedom in structure.” She can stop worrying about bedtime and focus on playing until the timer goes off; and she’s also prepared for what is coming next, so it cuts down on any hassle over going to bed.

Hmmmm... maybe there’s something to this theory for grown-ups, too, I thought. Maybe I would try setting a timer for myself. It seemed a little cheesy, but I was desperate to get out of the rut I’d been in for the past few weeks.

The next morning I decided to put my new method to the test. After breakfast I set the timer for 30 minutes. “Mommy is going to play with you until the timer goes off,” I explained, “and then I’m going to do some work.” For the next 30 minutes I was able to enjoy my children (Gracie and my then-infant son) without worrying about the dishes in the sink or the clothes in the laundry room, because I knew I would get to them. When the timer went off I set it again, for 15 minutes this time. “Now you need to play by yourself, and Mommy is going to work until the timer goes off again.” It worked like a dream!

Since that morning I have put the timer to use many times over. The increments vary depending on the day—sometimes my play segments are longer than my work segments, sometimes the other way, and sometimes I set a timer for “Mommy time” (where we ALL play by ourselves for a while, Mommy included). At first glance it seems very constraining, like I’m tied to the clock. On the contrary, though, I find it quite freeing. When I’m playing with the kids I can focus on them and enjoy them; when I’m working I don’t feel guilty about putting off their requests for “Mommy play.” Of course, the work time isn’t fail-proof—there are times when I need to help get a toy out or referee a fight or do any number of little things to help my children. That’s just life with preschoolers. Overall, though, it works well, and even helps my kids to know that they will have my undivided attention when I am playing with them.

My house is far from spotless, but it is nice to have a method that provides me the balance between being with my family and taking care of my family. Freedom in structure—such a simple concept, yet it works wonders for toddlers and grown-ups alike!

Saturday, February 9, 2008

"Even if..." Faith: Trusting God no matter the outcome

A few years ago I went to a Women’s Retreat that changed my faith. The topic of the weekend was “Trust”, an issue that I didn’t feel would be too hard for me. Little did I know what God had in store.

A few months prior to the retreat, my husband and I had started trying to get pregnant. The morning of the retreat I called my best friend, who was going with me for the weekend, and said, “I think I’m pregnant! I haven’t taken a test, but here are my symptoms…” She had two children (which of course made her the pregnancy expert in my mind) and quickly agreed that I must be feeling the twinges of the first trimester. That evening at the retreat, my period started. How disappointing. Still, it had only been a couple of months. No big deal—maybe next month.

And then wouldn’t you know, the next morning our focus was on Hannah. Hannah, who begged God for a son. Hannah, who remained barren year after year. Hannah, who was sometimes so depressed she couldn’t eat. But then Hannah had Samuel, and her prayers were answered. The idea that stuck with me from this discussion was that God didn’t give Samuel to Hannah because she “struck a deal” with Him. Samuel was in God’s plan all along—but she had to wait for God’s timing. “OK, God,” I thought, “whenever you want me to get pregnant is fine with me. I’ll trust in your timing.” This retreat was all about trust, after all. Maybe it wouldn’t be next month, but I’d trust Him for the timing, whenever it was.

A little while later we had our third and final session, this time on Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—“The Three Musketeers”, our speaker called them. Of course, most of us know the basic story: King Nebuchadnezzar had a large statue made and ordered everyone to worship it. These three men refused and were thrown into a fiery furnace. Even though the furnace was so hot that the soldiers who had thrown them in were killed by the heat, the men were unharmed—they didn’t even smell like smoke when they came out. What an amazing story of God’s power. But the focus of our retreat, remember, was on trust—not on what God did, but on what the men were willing to let Him do in their lives. You see, they didn’t have faith because God saved them from the fire… they had faith regardless of what He would choose to do. “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” (Daniel 3:17&18, emphasis added) “Even if…” They knew what God could do, but they were going to trust Him to do what He willed.

“Even if…” After our speaker was finished, we had time to go over some questions she had given us and journal for a while. That’s when God really spoke to me. “You’ve been willing to trust Me with when you have a baby, but are you willing to trust Me with if?” Wow, I hadn’t really thought about that one. “Even if he does not…” Was I ready to make that statement? Was I ready to trust Him even if I didn’t know I’d get the outcome I felt I “deserved” as a reward for my trust? Then again, if I knew the outcome, there wasn’t much trust involved, was there?
It was then that I knew that I wouldn’t get pregnant that month, or the next, or the next. In fact, it took nearly two years—and a minor surgery—before we were blessed with our first pregnancy, our beautiful Grace. I’m not saying it was easy, but I look back on that time and see the richness of the things God taught me through those months. And even if Grace had never come, even if I were writing this article with a different ending to a different group, God would still be God, and I would still trust Him.

How often do we trust God to work when He wants, as long as He does it how we want Him to? “God, if you heal me I will have such an amazing testimony!” “God, let us come out of this financial hardship successful so that others can see how good You are!” “God, if you give me what I want, I will give You something in return.” God doesn’t want our deals, He wants our trust. If we trust Him, He will use us in His time and in His way.

Are you ready? Can you say, “I trust Him, even if…”?