The Sluggish Woman

I'll never forget meeting the pastor who married us, because when he heard my name, immediately he told me it meant "industrious".  First I thought, "woah, you know the meaning of my name?"  Then I thought, "what does industrious mean exactly?"  And finally, "if there is anything I'm NOT, it's industrious!"  For years after that I wondered, "Why did God name me, Emily if I'm not naturally a hard worker?"  But what was interesting, is that this very curiosity lead me to study what the bible said about being industrious, which in the end convicted me deeply about my love for sluggish living.  Six years after being informed about my namesake, I see God's work in my life, helping me become the woman he purposefully named me...Emily, the industrious.

My ears still perk up whenever I hear teaching about hard work versus lazy work.  Over the years I've read about and listened to many women whom I would consider to be industrious, and my heart has been taking notes.  Daily, I see obstacles to completing the tasks set before me with vigor and excellence, but I continually encounter stories of women who accomplish more than I can even imagine.  Why are the most God-fearing women seemingly also the highest-capcity, hard-working, and accomplished women?  Is this a coincidence or is there some connection between our sanctification, righteousness, and a desire to work hard?  I've come see that the more we believe our identity in Christ, the more we want to make the most of our time on this Earth, doing much work for God's glory instead of using our time for vanity and pleasure.

At first I wanted to rebuke our generation because when I look at women of history (or women around the world), without modern conveniences, health, and safety, I'm AMAZED at what they achieved on a daily basis.  We whine about the fact that it's hard to keep our children's 10,000 toys picked up or keep our dishwasher unloaded, when many children have had to learn to make toys from nature while their mothers sweat away at the dish bucket.  But before I jump on a soapbox with a rebuke I know I desperately need to hear, I'm going to pause and turn to scripture.  Because honestly, that's far more helpful (and far more correct) than using the lives of others as a measuring stick for holiness.

So, let's examine the sluggish woman...

What does the word "sluggard" mean?
The word sluggard is primarily found in the book of Proverbs.  It is the Hebrew word "'atsel" (sounds kinda like ought-sell) which literally means to lean idly or have slack.  Another translation uses the word "delay" to describe the actions of a sluggard.  Our commonly used modern-day term is "lazy" which literally means to do something slowly.  This term brings many pictures to mind, most of which we would like to believe do not pertain to us.  I mean, lazy people are couch potatoes (insert picture of an overweight man watching TV with greasy chip hands)...right???  But if you look at the biblical definition for the word and then examine without the mental picture of a couch potato, it becomes far more universal and convicting.

What might a "sluggish woman" look like?
This is my own application and interpretation of how the word picture of being sluggish (as presented in the book of proverbs) might apply to women today.  I have provided references if you find yourself wanting to dig deeper into the wisdom from these passages to better understand the context.

A sluggish woman:
  • Sleeps a lot more than is necessary or places an unhealthy value on her sleep (Prov 6:9, 26:14)
  • Does not complete the tasks she has been given to a high degree of efficiency or excellence, thereby cursing or letting down the task giver (Prov 10:26)
  • Covets the lives and accomplishments of others, although she gets nothing from it (Prov13:4)
  • Experiences hardship as a result of being slow to act (Prov 15:19)
  • Struggles to complete even the most mundane and simple daily tasks (Prov 19:24)
  • Doesn't do her work when she should or when the time is right (Prov 20:4)
  • Has desires that ultimately lead to death (Prov 21:5)
  • Overreacts to poential obstacles and / or makes excuses for her inactivity (Prov 22:13)
  • Eats more than she should (Prov 26:15)
  • Is not teachable and thinks she is justified in her delay to complete her work (Prov 26:16)
I don't know about you, but more than one of those things pertains to me on most days.  I see a different type of couch potato in that list.  I see a woman who has plenty of time to browse her blogs, catch up with Facebook, eat extra snacks, respond to emails, go to the park for a play-date and check her instagram all while complaining about her inability to get her other practical duties completed.

What are the implications of being a "sluggish woman"
A sluggish woman is sluggish in her heart more than her actions.  Her heart says, "How can I delay this work?  How can I get out of this work?  How can I do more of what I want and less of the stuff I don't really enjoy?"  Instead of diligently completing the tasks set before her with a high degree of excellence, knowing she is working unto the Lord, she sits and sits and sits, investing her time in breaks and leisure and "me time".  Or  maybe she does other good things, but is slow to do the tasks that really matter and take self-discipline.  I can't really say  how this reveals itself in each woman's life...because for some, they are really busy and check a lot of things off the list while in their hearts saying, "If I get this done as quickly as possible, then I can relax.  The goal is to get my work done so I can do whatever I want."  This attitude (while looking good on the outside) is just as poisonous as the woman who writes her to-do list and then forgets it the minute she walks away.

No matter what it looks like on the outside, we can see from the study of Proverbs that the sluggish woman is going to come up against great hardship, sorrow, and even death (apart from Jesus).  It's not that we should work hard just because God said so*, but because it's for our good and for our joy.  Proverbs 13:4 says that the soul of the diligent will be richly will fill up to overflowing!  I know when I choose leisure and laziness over diligence, I'm failing to believe this principle.  Instead, I believe that the instant gratification of putting off hard work will give me the rest and refill I need...but it never does.

As always, remember that conviction is different than worldly sorrow and condemnation.  Conviction leads to repentance, restoration and running back to God while condemnation leads to a greater feeling of guilt and separation.  God calls us to repentance, because he loves us.

So if we aren't supposed to be sluggish, what ARE we supposed to be?  I think the answer is industrious - believing the principle that our souls are deeply rewarded when we work hard.

*update:  Actually, we do need to do things "just because God said so" because the bible calls us to obedience even when we don't understand the reason behind it.  What I should have clarified is that God is not like a mean parent, just ordering us to do things for no good reason.  He has great, wonderful, and perfect reasons for us to do things - and in this case it's to bring us joy through diligent work.

This is what happens when I compare myself to other moms...

Two big pitfalls to comparison in motherhood

I'll just go ahead and admit that sometimes (a lot of times) I compare myself to other moms.
Oh, you too?
It makes me squirm to say it because I know it's poisonous, but it seems like a magnet that my mind is continuously drawn to.  When I revel in my comparative thoughts, I've noticed that I generally fall into one of two different directions, each with it's own set of lies.  Maybe you can relate...

1.  The pit of condemnation:
This is the obvious pit.  The one where I think, "Oh wow, she really does a good job of staying on top of her child's behavior.  I would have let that one slide.  Maybe I'm doing discipline wrong.  Maybe my child is going to be really messed up because of it.  Should I go find my child now and start implementing more strict rules?"  The heaviness overtakes me and I feel a little sick.  I know I shouldn't question myself because of comparison.  If the Lord needs to convict me of my passivity, he can do it though his word and though the loving call of the holy spirit.  It doesn't come disguised as deep guilt and constant questioning.  

This pit keeps us from becoming the moms we should be.  We might notice something that we can improve upon, and instead of running to God and asking what He thinks of such a thing, we just wallow.  Our backpack fills with parenting-fail bricks until we feel ugly and defeated.  This ultimately leads to bitterness and a lack of joy in our mothering.  Our identity isn't being found in Jesus, it's being found in our ability to do motherhood "right".  

2.  The pit of self-righteouness:
This is the less obvious pit, and the one I catch myself in with alarming frequency.  This is the one where I think, "Oh wow, she didn't follow through on that command and discipline her child when they disobeyed.  She really should have stepped in and put her foot down.  She is just enabling that child and loosing respect.  That's not biblical discipline.  I'm not going to do that."  My nose turns up so high, I can't see anything beneath it.  My pride is heaping out insults on others, disguised as head knowledge and right thinking.  I think I've found a magical parenting answer for not only my child, but everyone else's.  "Besides," I think, "Truth isn't relative."  

This pit keeps us trapped in sin and prevents us from loving our sisters and approaching the Lord with deep humility.  We might see something that is contrary to the bible, but instead of humbly admitting we are just as flawed and needy, realizing we are not all-knowing, we pat ourselves on the back for having it all together.  In a swift moment, we forget that grace is a gift and so is our wisdom.  Once again, in our pride we are finding our identity not in Jesus, but in our ability to do motherhood "right".

The roller-coaster of comparison says, "If you are worse than that mom, you should feel bad and if you are better than that mom, you should feel good."  

Compare yourself to Jesus
There is only one person's opinion that matters when it comes to my mothering .  I try to remember this when I'm teetering on the edge, about to fall onto one side of the road or the other.  If I'm about to pat myself on the back, I have to stop and say, "What does Jesus say about my mothering".  If I'm about to condemn myself, I have to stop and say, "What does Jesus say about who I am in him."  Looking at Jesus is the answer to both wrongs.  In our self-righteouness he reminds us that we were so sinful and incapable of doing anything right that he had to die in our place.  Suddenly, we are taken down from our high horse and find ourselves saying, "Thank you, Jesus for your grace."  In our condemnation, he reminds us that God sees us as fully righteous before the throne.  He isn't surprised that we are failing in our motherhood, but he also isn't mad at us.  We can have freedom to run to him and say, "Forgive my inability, and give me wisdom to do what is right".  

Comparing thoughts will come.  They are a temptation that is extremely difficult for any woman to avoid completely.  But when they come, instead of entertaining those thoughts, quickly turn them to Jesus and ask Him to tell you the truth.  No temptation is foreign to him, and he has the power to overcome all sin.

Two big pitfalls to comparison in motherhood - From the Jensens Blog

Lies in Disguise - Shrinking down to less

Starbucks, Oprah, and Shrinking down to less

I had a Starbucks gift card burning a hole in my pocket, wanting to be spent on my way to my mother-in-law's for the afternoon.  When there is a drive-thru involved and two out of your three kids are sleeping, it's really a great time for an afternoon treat.  I ordered my traditional decaf soy latte, but was taken aback at the rather non-traditional sleeve on my coffee cup.  So naturally, needing to be on top of Starbucks' latest trend, I decided to read while pulling out of the parking lot.  At first glance, I saw an interesting inspirational quote that reminded me of blooming flowers and being who I really am.  But, when I noted the person quoted, I decided to read it again with a more discerning eye.

"You are here not to shrink down to less, but to blossom into more of who you really are."  - Oprah Winfrey

Why it sounds good:
There is a little voice inside all of us called our sinful flesh.  It loves itself.  It wants to be gratified and worshiped.  Anything it can grab ahold of to feed itself, it will take captive.  The idea of shrinking down or becoming less is highly offensive to one's sinful flesh.  I mean, we want to blossom, be seen, be known, become like a god in ourselves...don't we?  To a heart that wants to be something in this world, this quote seems rather helpful.  "Don't shrink back and think less of yourself.  Think more of yourself.  That's why you are here on this Earth, so that you could pursue your own goals, desires, and dreams and be fulfilled in yourself."  Right?

Why it's a lie:
Oprah's coffee cup inspiration is in stark opposition to what the bible tells us to do...

  • "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me." Luke 9:23
  • "I have been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me."  Galatians 2:20
  • "For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it."  Matthew 10:38

These are just a few of the refrences scripture makes to the very fact that we SHOULD shrink down to less.  In fact we need to do more than just shrink, we should symbolically "die" to ourselves.  The bible is clear that we can't become more of who we really are or should be, until we are willing to utterly give up our so-called "life" to gain a life with God through Jesus.

Why it matters:
Today, our culture subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) tells us over and over again that we should look out for ourselves.  That we should put ourselves first and get what we deserve.  That the path to happiness and true meaning means giving into our desires and longings.  Many Christians digest these truths daily (including myself) and we miss them.  People hear...
"I deserve to take a break, I've been with kids and working hard all day.  I am entitled to some "me" time."
"My husband isn't loving me the way I wanted him to.  I guess I just need to stop shrinking back.  I should go out and get the life I really want and leave him behind."
"I'm feeling down about my life and myself...I must not be taking enough time to do the things I like.  I should really focus more attention on me."
These are highly deceptive lies from the deceiver himself!  But how often do these things weave themselves in and out of our thoughts, disguised as really good things we should do for ourselves?  I am shocked at the number of times each day I catch myself feeling like I deserve something, or I'm entitled to something, or I justify something because I want to and I need the pick-me-up.

  • But the TRUTH is that our lives do not belong to us, they belong to our creator, God.
  • The TRUTH is that we were created to worship him and will only be satisfied when we turn our eyes to Jesus instead of looking at ourselves.
  • The TRUTH is that the more we try to blossom, the more we fail because we can't create any meaningful lasting change in our lives apart from God's transforming work through the cross.
  • The TRUTH is that we actually need to give up our lives to save them so that God can give us the will and the power to truly blossom fruitfully for his purposes.

Live for truth - the grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of the Lord stands forever.
Oprah, Starbucks, and Shrinking down to less

Lies in Disguise is a series geared towards identifying unbiblical teaching and thinking, subtly infused into our day-to-day lives.  The hope is to encourage others to filter and discern all things through the truth of the bible.

A Birthday Reflection

Last year around this time, I left the River Rock Retreat feeling rested and refreshed.  I'd spent a weekend with God, thinking over my plans, my ideas about the future, and my direction.  It seemed like this easy, calm season was ahead of me.  I'd made it through 9 months with my first child, and I was looking forward to getting back to some new normal with our family...maybe even starting ministry opportunities or relationships.  Little did I know, that while I was drinking my coffee in the crisp spring air, God was knitting together something wonderful in my womb.  Two babies that would change all of those plans for the next year, and put 12 months of my to-do lists on hold.

"The heart of a man plans his steps, but the Lord establishes his path."  Proverbs 16:9

If you count by worldly standards, 27 was the year of my life that I got nothing done.  This past weekend I was back at the River Rock Retreat again, and it seemed like not much had changed (but everything changed).  My "plans" were put on hold while I endured a very exhausting and nauseating first trimester, followed by an over-sized second trimester, followed by a physically limiting and risky third trimester, followed by a NICU stay, months of sleep loss, lots of baby bouncing and I am again.  That was a whole year of my life?

It's tempting to feel like that was lost time.  In my 27th year, I didn't make it out of the house much, I didn't do a lot of cooking, I had a tough time cleaning my house, I wasn't very involved in church ministry or my bible study.  I didn't travel as much as I wanted, or keep in touch with my friends very well.  I did gain a lot of weight (and I didn't lose it all).  I did lose a lot of sleep and care for children hour after hour.  I did see the inside of our four walls 6 out of 7 days a week.  What does this add up to?

When I look back on this year (one of the most challenging of my life to date) I'm amazed at what God did through my limitations.
Limited by exhaustion, I was free to trust God for strength.
Limited by physical weight, I was free to give God my spiritual burdens.
Limited by bed rest, I was free to see how God would use me when I had low mobility.
Limited by my fears, I was free to rest in God's grace for the moment that gives peace.
Limited by sleep loss, I was free to run to God who provides all I need.

He taught me that my perceived limitations and weaknesses are really just giant opportunities to display his power and grace.
He taught me that my plans are just thoughts I have, but I shouldn't count on them because my future is in his hands.
He taught me that his strength is a vast and deep well, giving me the ability to face challenges I never dreamed of.
He taught me (as he pulled me away from the comfort of my relationships) that being obedient to his calling on my life is what matters, not impressing or gaining approval from others.
He taught me that I'm at my best when I'm totally poured out and unable to rest on my own good works, when I need him desperately.

At last year's retreat I stood on the bank overlooking the river with fears and hopes about the woman I wanted to become.  I wasn't really committed to using my gifts and passions for the Lord just yet...but I wanted to have the courage to do it.  I wasn't really committed to his call for our family yet....but I wanted to be fully open to his plans (even if it meant sacrificing a lot).  I wasn't really committed to taking precious time daily and hourly to spend learning and pouring over God's word...but I wanted to leave my agenda behind with reckless abandon, having a bold heart for truth.

When I stood there again on Saturday, my eyes welled with tears, realizing that while it might appear that I didn't get much done last year, God got a lot of work done in my heart.  Each and every one of those things I hoped and prayed for, he answered abundantly.  I thought he might do it by some spiritual magic - like I would wake up one morning and suddenly be this woman who has reverence for the Lord.  But he wanted to do it through trials, struggle, hard circumstances, and sacrifice.  I wanted to get there without any work, but he wanted to get me there through the work.

I still have ideas about what my 28th year will look like, but I'm hesitant to dwell on them too much.  Just like the year before, I am guessing that between now and next spring's retreat, many things will happen that I didn't predict or plan for.  Isn't it kind of exciting?  That when we give our lives fully to God he does bigger and better things than we would have laid out for ourselves?  If it were up to me, my life would be pretty safe and happy, but God keeps bringing me risky and scary challenges that I can only face with his power.  Looking forward to another year and more of God's amazing plan for my life, even when it's challenging.

The Gospel (for Moms)

There is something I'm noticing in myself and in moms around me...a heaviness, and a need for burdens to be lifted.  A need for there to be less on our plates, less on our minds, and less on our hearts.  If moms hear one more thing that they aren't doing right, it seems that we will all collectively hit our knees in mourning and despair.  There are enough hard things, and it is so easy to just stay there, stuck like glue to our bitter heart.  We cope in a myriad of ways, we joke, we eye roll, we let our kids go un-trained and un-disciplined, we escape, we eat, we exercise, we work, we do whatever we can to get out from underneath the weight of our calling.  We go everywhere except the one place that not only lifts our burdens, but replaces them with giant helium balloons.

Moms need refreshing truth to be repeated over and over and over.  In every moment when we think are doing good enough job and when we think we are the worst mom on the planet.  It's the style...and here's how it goes...

In the beginning, a holy and perfect and righteous God created everything.  He created you.  He knit you together in your mother's womb, and he knew how many hairs you would have on your head.  He loved you and pursued you and put you in the path to hear truth.  He is wonderful, is he not?  The creator of gorgeous sunsets, full nights of sleep, and our babies.  Oh yes, God created them too.  He picked them especially for you, to hold, kiss, and love.  God is perfect and sovereign over all things, including our motherhood.  He made no mistakes when he gave you those little ones.

But while he doesn't make mistakes, we make loads of them.  Our motherhood is depraved to the core. Even our best attempts to love and care for and train up our children are flawed and miss the mark.  The soothing whisper of our voice isn't enough to stop the cries of our newborn.  The soft touch of our hands are not enough to heal their fever.  The attempts to correct, to discipline, and to guide are fueled by mixed motives as we sometimes long to create little well behaved robots that look just like us.  We strive and fail every moment of every day.  We have failed our children, and failed to steward the rich little blessings he chose for us.  There are not enough Pinterest activities, homeschool lessons, organic foods, sleep training skills, verse memorization strategies, or chore charts to help us measure up.  No matter what program we follow, no matter how much our children behave correctly or how hard we try, we will fail as mothers compared to what God requires of us.

If we stop here, we wind up right back where we've been...heavy, burdened, despairing.  This is where the multitudes of well-meaning blog posts, sometimes used as a tool in Satan's box, become deadly.  Because there is truth in it, we have failed to measure up in our motherhood.  But, what Satan doesn't want you to remember is that you shouldn't stay here.

Jesus came.  He was a baby and a boy and an adolescent and a grown man.  He always obeyed his parents and respected those around him.  He did all of his chores and honored his siblings.  Even though he was never a biological father, he deeply cared for children.  He drew them near, loved them deeply, blessed them, taught them correctly, and healed them.  Jesus shepherded his sheep, not loosing one.  He was perfect in every way.  Never losing his temper over inconveniences or seeking to escape his difficult circumstances.  When his times got tough, he prayed to the father and sought strength.  He submitted to his father's will, and resisted temptation until death.  Even though he did nothing wrong, he bore the full weight of our inability to be good moms.  Our failures deserve punishment and wrath, and we feel that weight.  He took it for all of us.  Every extra TV show because we don't want to engage our children again.  Every excuse we made because we are tired of training and teaching self-control.  Every eye roll and sarcastic remark we make to our mom friends about our children instead of building them up.  He - paid - it -all.

And it means everything to us as moms.  Because if we believe that, and trust it, and know that it's not our doing but his doing that makes us holy, then we are free.  No longer do we have to hang our heads in shame or replay our failures in our head over and over.  No longer are we trapped by thoughts like, "this is all my fault" or "if only I did a better job".  We are doing a poor job sometimes, but we are not defined by it.  In fact, we are free from it.  Jesus paid for that, we are not condemned because of our failures.  We no longer need to live as a slave to condemnation!

Instead, we are free to be fully satisfied in Jesus.  We admit our faults, and we seek God's wisdom and strength to correct them.  We move on.  We have hope.  We laugh with our children and at ourselves.  We don't see ourselves as moms only, defined by whether or not we succeed or fail, but we see ourselves as daughters of God, wives, friends, church members, and sisters.  There is more to us.  We can die to our sinful longings and pursue holiness.  We can seek to understand what makes a godly mom without deep despair when we miss the mark.  Praise be to God.

So I urge us today, fellow mothers, to hear the gospel in the context of our calling and embrace it.  Don't sink deeper and deeper into condemnation, but instead, thank Jesus for his sacrifice and then go and sin no more.  Listen to him, because only as we live in Jesus do we have the power to be the moms we long to be.  He can work in and through us to leave a beautiful legacy.  But only if we choose him...only if we live in joy...only if we refuse to get stuck looking at our sin.

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