Thanks to some writing opportunities I’ve had on some highly-trafficked sites, I’ve been the recipient of the occasional encouraging email. And, more often than not, these emails include something along the lines of, “please keep faithfully writing.”
I love receiving these. I am a self-proclaimed Words of Affirmation lover and I can run on one of these emails for several months. They spur me on to creativity and inspire me to just keep writing.
Lately, however, our family has undergone some changes. I’m halfway through my fourth pregnancy and we have a child needing a lot more from us emotionally, and that just requires a lot of time and a lot of declining commitments.
There have been several moments over the last couple of months that I’ve looked at my circumstances resentfully. How can I keep faithfully writing and serving the Body if my family requires so much? My disgruntled “servant heart” shifts to a stage of martyrdom… Lord, why would you give me these gifts and these opportunities but not the space to faithfully use them? This has been a regular cry of my heart. Until, that is, one day when I felt three small words creep into my spirit.
Who defines faithfulness?
This stopped me cold.
Do the women sending emails define faithfulness? Does my husband? What about the sites for which I write? Are they the authors of what faithfulness looks like in my life?
That’s easy to answer. No.
The Pain of Pruning
Early in my walk with the Lord the pruning (John 15:2), while painful, was obvious and necessary. Giving up bad habits, unhealthy relationships, and idols was a natural part of sanctification I was willing to endure, knowing that it would be best… eventually.
But lately, this pruning has morphed into something I never imagined.
Parenting is an area where my dreams and the faithful call God has placed on my life have collided with the most damage. From early in my first pregnancy, I “faithfully” pored over parenting books, doing my best to seep up all the words from all the experts. I wanted to know that my faithfulness would produce Christian missionaries who attended Harvard and started nonprofits in third-world countries where my husband and I could go live with them. (Too much?)
Once my writing began to receive a little more momentum, I “faithfully” attempted to do everything I could to capitalize on each and every opportunity. A more active social media presence. Contributing to multiple sites. Publishing regularly on my blog. This felt faithful. I was writing about the Lord and, it seemed, to be blessed. But then, we entered a particularly hard season of parenting right around when I found out I was pregnant… right around when we experienced tragedy with another family member. And faithfulness became a little blurry. I didn’t feel I could continue to produce what was needed in order to be faithful to everyone.
I was desperate for reassurance that the big picture would work out. Which is our response when the Lord prunes good things… we want to negotiate, asking for a sign that this will work, when really all we need to do is take the next small step of obedience. Change the diaper. Clean the table. Pray for the neighbor. Serve the Church. Trust God with the big picture and believe He is still good. Lay down the gift you so desperately wanted to keep. And step away in obedience.
So often, it is when we forget the good Giver of the gift, be it a beautiful home, a talent, a job that so perfectly utilizes the strengths the Creator gave us, and start to view it as a possession, that we stop walking in obedience. I imagine myself looking less like Christ and more like Gollum, bent over in darkness clutching tightly to the good thing, incensed at the Lord who would take it away, the Lord who promises to work all things together for my good (Romans 8:28).
But Lord, this is MY ministry opportunity. This is for YOU.
I once had a friend tell me he really struggled with the concept of laying our crowns at Jesus’ feet in heaven.
“I worked for those,” he pouted. “I should get to keep them.”
My friend wasn’t looking to the Almighty Giver of the crowns, but to himself as the “Almighty Earner” of the crowns. Once we stand before Jesus Christ in His glory, men and women of unclean lips, our pithy crowns will become meaningless metal accolades. What could we possibly give to this great God but all we have? This giving, this laying down of gifts, this sacrifice is the only act of obedience that seems reasonable. The Lord of the Universe has deigned to give us, mere humans, a crown for our filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6) of works. Who are we not to collapse at His feet and thrust forward those crowns as a tiny offering of gratitude?
And this is not painless. Walking away from the job we love to serve thanklessly at home as a mother can feel unjust. Laying down the ministry opportunity that seemed so right, is a sacrifice worth grieving. But, when we rightly look to the Giver in His glory, when we maintain our right view of a God high and lifted up, we can obediently and gratefully lay down these gifts and lift our open hands in praise, trusting that this pruning is for our good and His glory. And, what else could we possibly offer but these small acts of obedience, these crowns?