Tag Archives: freedom

1 Comment

We recently had someone ask us about the many things from which we are depriving our children.  He suggested that when they are grown, they will be filled with resentment and anger towards us.  Though it was written in a hurtful way, I think it is a true issue, but one we're not good at addressing within the church.  Really, it is two issues.  One is the issue of deprivation, the other is hurt and resentment.  And right now, I am focusing on the first.

As I think about deprivation, I remember a time in college when I was invited somewhere.  I didn't respond to the invitation because I was hoping to be invited somewhere else.  I don't remember the outcome, I just remember seeing clearly that accepting the first invitation would mean having to turn down any other invitation.  And in that way, deprivation is going to happen in my children's life.  No matter what choices my husband and I make, those choices are going to eliminate other possibilities.  One of the things I have had to learn over the years is what I call hanging up my hat.  I have to make a decision fully.  I can't keep my hat on my head in case a better option comes along.   A few years ago, as I was reading the Bible, I began to notice that the Bible speaks of unbelief and of doubt as two separate things.  I had always considered them as synonyms, but I felt God asking me what doubt was.  I had never thought about it, but I looked up the greek word and its definition.  In the New Testament, to doubt means to sit in the judge's seat listening to both sides of a case.  To doubt is not bad in and of itself, but it has a purpose.  That purpose is the ruling, the decision.  There was a reason God asked me about those words at that time.  I was at a point of indecision, of refusing to make a ruling, in a couple of areas of life.  I kept asking for more evidence.  One of those areas was whether God was really speaking to me.  Was I just imagining it all?  Was I really talking to myself?  Was I insane?  I had a picture at that time of me standing in the doorway listening to God urging me to come out and follow Him, but I was afraid to shut the door behind me and follow.

Interestingly, what God was calling me to was a life of less deprivation, of less self-sacrifice.  That was scary to me because the Bible talks so much about taking up your cross.  How could it be right to let God delight my heart?  Should I allow God to make me comfortable?  Surely that would negate the taking up of my cross.  Yet, I realized that though Christ took up His cross, he also rose.  He did not remain on the cross.  The Apostle Paul said he had learned to be content in all circumstances, in both need and abundance.  I was afraid of abundance, or even comfort.  Yet God did not want me to stay forever in a place of deprivation and sacrifice of everything that would give me comfort.  I could hear God calling me out of that place of deprivation, and I was scared to follow.  I am thankful I did, though.  Ecclesiastes says there is a time for everything.  I learned that there is a time for the cross, for dying to self, but there is also a time for resurrection, for life, and that in abundance.  Kenya has become home to me.  To be honest with you, I don't miss America.  I enjoy many things while I am there, but when I am here, there is so much blessing and so many friendships that I can't miss America.  There are hardships here, but there are hardships there as well.  And what I've gained from my interactions with my Kenyan friends is invaluable.  Those in the marketing or advertising business talk about branding.  Branding has to do with the image a company or organization presents to the world.  When people from the West see Africa, we tend to think of deprivation.  That is a branding issue, and it is a false image, because it isn't a full image.  It is as false as picturing America as inner-city life or as an ivy league college or as an ocean playground.  Kenya is made up of people, and they are as varied and intelligent and beautiful as people everywhere in the world.  Kenya is a place for living, for abundance — especially in relationships.

When I was struggling with whether to believe God, He said something to me.  He told me that Christ had completed the work of incarnation.  He told me that I don't have to become Maasai to be able to work with the Maasai.  I don't have to change my culture to work in Kenya.  He told me He had created me, and I was to give myself to others, as I am.  I recently taught a Sunday School class for 8-9 year-olds.  The lesson was about "You are the light of the world, a city on a hill that cannot be hidden."  The curriculum focused the message on all the things we need to do in order to be the light of the world, but it occurred to me that the passage isn't saying we need to do anything.  It just says that is who we are.  I started thinking and realized that a light doesn't light itself, and a city doesn't build itself.  The message of that passage isn't that we need to do anything; rather, it is that the one who lit us, the one who built us, thinks we are so incredible He doesn't want to hide us but put us on display!  Wow!  A few years ago, I asked my friend Wamzy, who is an amazing artist, to show me some of the jewelry she makes.  She was happy to show me.  As she did, she put one on me and asked me what I thought.  I was struggling to figure out a way to say it was beautiful but that I couldn't wear it, when another good friend, Nyamatha, said, “No, that's not our Ruth.”  She took it off me, putting it on herself instead, and it fit herself beautifully.  The Bible talks about Mary treasuring things in her heart; well, that has become one of the most precious treasures in my heart.  My friend saw me for who I am, and even though I am different, she valued me without any desire to change me.  In fact, she claimed me, with all my differences, as “ours.”  That is rare.  Even when I am in America, the expectation is that I should change myself and become like those around me.  It is a unique and special thing to valued for who you are.

As I nurture my children, I want them to see the incredible beauty of the earth and the people God has created.  I want them to focus on the things God wants to display.  I point out to them their own and others’ uniquenesses, even though seeing others’ uniquenesses means seeing something you lack.  I want them to be able to enjoy the gifts and opportunities others have been given, without regretting that they themselves have been given different gifts and opportunities.  Once, when I was asking God’s direction about a decision where I felt tradition would dictate certain things, God replied, “I don’t want all the flowers in my garden to look alike.”  Then He told me that He had created me with different desires than others and asked me what I wanted.  I was shocked.  Frankly, I hadn’t a clue what I wanted.  I had spent all my life trying to live up to others’ expectations, and here was God setting me free.  To be honest, the freedom was scary.  Couldn’t I just stay in the cage, painful and constricting as it was?  I told God I would rather Him just tell me what to do.  Though I still struggle, I am starting to enjoy the freedom, and that is what I want for my children.  I don’t want them live in a cage or even long for a cage, and I’m not saying American life would be a cage.  I am saying a deprivation view is a cage, a thought that we have to be like everyone else is a cage.  I want them to live the light of the world, the city on a hill that cannot be hidden, the incredible and unique person set on display by our awesome Creator.

1 Comment

Sibling rivalry.  Sharing.  As soon as child number two is on the way, these are the issues parents begin to ponder.  How will baby number one deal with baby number two?  Mom and Dad work hard to make sure both children feel loved, to make sure baby number one doesn't feel pushed aside by baby number two.  Then comes baby number three, four, five.  Each family with a different number.

Two children is fairly simple in theory.  One for each side of mom when reading a story.  One for each parent when on an outing.  After two, things are less simple.  You have to be creative at storytime.  Someone drapes along the top of the couch, someone sits on your lap, and you have to peer around a head to read the book.  You change seats in the middle of storytime.  On outings the youngest children hold your hands, the older children walk in front where you can see them.  Family dynamics shift with each new member.  Big families seem overwhelming.  How do they do it?

You also have the issue of sibling friendships.  Who favors whom?  Who plays with whom, and who doesn't get along with whom?  The dynamics can shift from day to day, but they can also be fairly consistent.  My husband and I enjoy watching the interplay of siblings as the context shifts.

Peter and Andrew and John and James loved their big brother Jesus.  They wanted to be his favorites.   Say you love me best.  Say I can sit next to you in Heaven.  Of course, Jesus gets to sit next to God in Heaven, so he really only has one side left, but the two sets of brothers are thinking of Jesus' two sides and wanting those seats for themselves.  They quarrel over this issue frequently.  And as frequently, Jesus reprimands them.

I, being a younger sibling, got to watch this from afar, from Scripture reading.  And I learned from it.  Don't want to be close to God.  That is selfish.  Be happy to be far away from Him.  Be happy because at least you are part of the family.  So you're not someone special!   If you were close to God, someone else would have to be far away.  Know your place.  It's to be nothing special, but at least you're still family.

It wasn't just the disciples with Jesus.  I saw it in the Israelites.  Judah gets to be near the temple.  Reuben and the others across the Jordan chose to be far away, so maybe that's okay.  But what about the others, like Ephraim?  And the new Israel prophesied seemed worse.  It's not going to be a patchwork anymore.  It's going to be nice and equitable, except for proximity to Jerusalem and the temple.  Two are close.  The rest get farther and farther away.  I saw the priests with their special closeness to God, then the Levites, then the rest of the Israelites, then us.

To be honest with you, I wanted to be close to God.  I was selfish.  I felt resentful of my place of distance from Him.  But, desiring to be good, I wrestled with those feelings.  I tried to reason with myself and get rid of my selfish feelings.  For years, I wrestled.  But it didn't work.  I still felt resentful, and I still wished I could be one of the ones close to God.

One day, three years ago, as I was sitting on my bed wrestling again with my selfishness, God leaned over me, and with a smile, He whispered something in my ear, "I am not two-sided."  I knew instantly what He meant.  He has a side just for me.  I am one of those chosen to be close to Him.  I remembered Paul saying that God's wisdom is many sided, like a diamond, and I understood.

I understood something else.  I understood that I might be wrong in my definitions of right and wrong.  I heard God again, "If you are trying to remove something from your heart, and it won't move, it may just be because I put it there.  You can't remove what I put in your heart."  I needed to reconsider my definitions of righteousness.  I needed to ask God for His definition.  There might be other areas where I am wrong.  That is surprisingly very freeing.

Leave a reply

There is a phrase, "There are none so blind as those who will not see." Well, there are none so enslaved as those who think they deserve slavery.  I thought I was only fit to be a slave, so I saw the Gospel message as a list of assignments.  Jesus said, "if you love me you will keep my commands."  I didn't realize that Jesus was telling us to focus on getting to know Him and learning to love Him.  I thought He was focusing on behavior.  I searched Scripture to discern what behaviors God liked and pushed myself to do them: thankfulness, worship, service, evangelism, prayer, Bible reading, meditation, discipline, accountability, compassion, confession, giving, tithing, .... My duties expanded, and the weight of my shackles had me plodding more and more slowly.

I was troubled because I could see that my good actions were not coming from my heart. They were coming from obligation, not love.  Phillis Wheatley, the poet who lived much of her life as a slave, wrote, "In every human Breast, God has implanted a Principle which we call Love of Freedom; it is impatient of Oppression, and pants for Deliverance."  I could see this longing in my heart, but I tried to tell myself I was already free. My heart knew the truth. I was making myself a slave.

Three years ago, my husband and I were reading The Jesus Storybook Bible with the children.  Wonderful book! In the chapter called "The Singer," Sally Lloyd Jones said that Jesus had come to teach us a song we were made to sing:  "God made us.  He loves us.  He is very pleased with us."  Shortly after we read it, I was talking with one of my daughters.  At five years old, her eyes were already haunted with the failure I felt, and it bothered me.  I remembered the song, and I told my daughter, "God is pleased with you."  She answered in a voice of disbelief, "How can that be true?"  Her voice and words were a knife in my heart, but I struggled to answer her, because I didn't believe that God was pleased with me.

(As a side note, at that time, God gave us another name for that daughter – Anastasia, which means resurrection.  He also gave me a new verse to sing her about His love for her.  It has been wonderful to watch her eyes lose their haunted look as God has been healing me.  As I am healed, I am able to be part of God's healing of my children.)

Since them, God has been pouring the thought of His pleasure into my heart.  I don't know how many times He has breathed those words into my heart.  I do remember clearly the last time I heard them vividly.  It was a few months ago.  I was walking with a friend whom I dearly love and rarely see.  We were taking our children to the park.  It was a beautiful spring day.  Everything was glorious except one thing, my heart would not rejoice.

I tried to make my heart rejoice.  I tried to praise God.  I knew when you are discouraged, you are supposed to find something good and praise God for it, yet here I was surrounded by wonder and glory, and my heart would not let me praise.  The harder I tried to praise God for the wonder I could clearly see around me, the more my heart revolted.  I despaired.  My heart just wouldn't cooperate.  If I couldn't make myself praise God about things which were wonderful, there was no hope.  What would I do in hard times?  I was still failing God.

It was at that moment that I heard clearly, "I am pleased with you."  There was a smile in that voice.  I could hear God's pleasure in His tone, and my pressured heart sank into God's embrace.  It wasn't rebellious anymore.  It was dancing!  I could praise God when it came from my heart, and that was enough!  I didn't have to manufacture praise!  Since then, though my heart still rebels at times, I have found praise flowing from my heart more and more.