Finding Freedom in the Mirror

Here is on one of my recent posts, featured last spring on the True Woman blog (a ministry of Revive Our Hearts). 

Early on in life, my relationship with food was closely tied to my relationship with the mirror. As a teen, I used to lock the bathroom door and stand on the toilet lid to get a full-length view of myself in the mirror. There were other full-length mirrors in our house, but I wanted to scrutinize myself in private. This exercise, as you can imagine, didn’t cultivate a deep sense of contentment and joy.

Reacting to the pressure to be thinner than I was, I tried to get away with not eating. When that didn’t work, I experimented with escaping consequences from overeating by purging (such a nice word for vomiting).

Obviously, I wasn’t an anomaly. Eating disorders are so common in America that one or two out of every hundred students will struggle with one. I remember, as a teen, actually being jealous of some missionary women in a picture who were draped in yards of fabric, wading in a stream. To me, that seemed so freeing! I’m sure it doesn’t seem that way to the women who must wear those full-length garments in the heat of summer. But it’s interesting that a girl who was free to wear a swimsuit to the beach if she wanted would think of a long summer robe as appealing.

I was a teen in the 80s, and we only had one television in the basement. If I felt a certain pressure to conform, I can only imagine the pressure that today’s teen girl experiences, given the number of screens she encounters in a day. Screens are everywhere, closing in from every direction. And it seems that every screen is flashing the same sort of image: a very beautiful, very thin woman. The type we’re all supposed to look like.

A New Problem

It’s been years since I stood on a toilet. But now I have a new problem. Instead of letting mirrors boss me around, I want to avoid them! I do have a full-length mirror in my bedroom, but I approach it with the greatest care. I know just how to angle myself to get the most complimentary view. Just a glance is all I need, then I’m off . . . to the kitchen, usually.

So as a teen, I let myself be controlled by the mirror, the scale, and opinions of others. Now, I have a deep desire for no control. I want to avoid the mirror and eat whatever I want. It seems like the path to freedom. But of course, it isn’t.

I wish I could tell you that God has delivered me into a life of complete balance, but no—I’m a work in progress. Just recently, I finished off a bag of pita chips as I watched TV before bed. The next morning, I thought, Why on earth did you do that? Eating junk food with no restraint before bed is not helping anything!

Being controlled by what others think and being out of control, with no restraint, are two types of the same thing: bondage. It’s bondage to be a slave to the mirror. And it’s bondage to live with no limits. Both types of bondage require God’s strong hand if freedom is ever to be had.

God wants for all of His daughters to live in freedom! But this freedom only comes through giving Him control, not trying to take it on our own. Let me suggest two responses, correlating to these two types of enslavement.

When You’re Bossed by the Mirror

To the woman who is bullied by the mirror and feels condemned by the unrealistic ideals displayed on screens, God says, “Why not step away from that mirror, and let Me determine your value and worth?” What a relief, right? Yet it’s harder than it sounds, especially if you’ve convinced yourself that taking control (eating less, burning more, driving yourself, etc.) is the way to deal with that bossy mirror. And it’s even more difficult to choose God’s voice over the mirror’s when you’re actually comfortable with what you see in the mirror.

“I’ve got this under control!” you say, glancing at your reflection. “Do you?” God asks.

Mirrors are sharply critical. They offer no rest. No hope. Only more assignments. Mirrors tell you to rely on yourself. But God wants you to rely on Him! He says that His power is made perfect, not in your own perfectionism, but in your weakness and dependence on Him (2 Cor. 11:9).

God loves you. He made you. He sacrificed His Son just to have you! He wants to be the One to steady your heart with security that a mirror never gives and to quiet you with His love (Zeph. 3:17). But you’re the one who decides whether any of this makes a difference to you. Will you let God be your God? Will you find your worth in His eyes instead of what is reflected on the bathroom wall?

Bossed by the Snack Aisle

To the the woman who is bullied by the junk food aisle or the cookies in the cupboard, God says, “Come, let Me have control. Live in My power. Find freedom within limits.” But again, this isn’t easy when you’ve grown accustomed to caving in to yourself; when you’ve made a habit of letting yourself rule instead of God.

“I’m not sure I can . . .” you say, glancing at the snack cupboard. “You can’t,” says God. “But I can!”

God stands at your kitchen door and knocks. He wants to be invited in—to collaborate on grocery shopping, menu options, and the snack choices. He wants to help with balance, exercise, and sleep patterns. If Jesus is in you, then you have all the power you need to find rest by living within the limits God has woven into daily life.

God loves you. He made you. He sacrificed His Son to have you! He wants to be the One to steady your heart with comfort that lattes never provide. He wants to quiet you with His love instead of a bag of Cheetos. But you’re the one who decides whether any of this makes a difference to you. Will you let God be your God? Will you surrender to Him, or will you continue caving in to yourself?

Sweet Surrender

Dear friend, we’ve proven that we can’t manage on our own, haven’t we? We either become obsessive and perfectionistic or excessive and out-of-control. Yet God wants us to be free! For some of us, surrendering to God will involve giving up excessive dieting and exercise; for others it will mean adding the right balance of these things in. Either way, freedom in the mirror is found by putting God—not ourselves—in control.

Do you feel condemned by the mirror or the scale? What is one way you can show God that you’re letting Him—not the mirror or other people—determine your worth?

Do you live with no restraint? Do you have a pattern of caving in to yourself? What is one limit, which God has woven into daily life, which you will embrace today?

In both of these ways, you’ll find freedom from surrendering to God—not other people or yourself.

Discussing “Control Girl” with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Hi friends! In case you missed it, I wanted to let you know about my 3-part interview on Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth. What an honor and privilege this was!!! I loved sharing the day with Nancy, meeting her husband Robert, and working with some of the behind-the-scenes experts who make Revive Our Hearts happen.

As I think you’ll see, Nancy is a fabulous host. She does such a great job of gently guiding the conversation and drawing out deeper truths.

I guess I was so enthralled with the experience, I never thought to even take a selfie in the recording studio with Nancy (bummer)! But I promise I was there! 🙂

I’d love for you to listen in on the broadcasts, and share them with your friends!

Here are the links in order:

Also, Revive Our Hearts was kind enough to produce several video vignettes of me sharing some of my favorite Control Girl stories. Again, feel free to share these on social media or with a friend. That’s what they’re there for!

Here’s are Links to all Seven:

Friends, it’s such a joy to share this message that God has given me. I love hearing about the number of shares or sales, but what really fires me up is hearing about individual women who are being changed by the power of God, as they engage truth.

Speaking of which, I’d love to hear from YOU! Has God used the Control Girl message in your life, or your group? How have you put the “Control Girl to Jesus Girl” message in practice? Feel free to comment on the blog, social media, or using the private comment box below. I’d love to hear your story. Thanks for letting me share mine!

Warmly,

Why Control-Craving Hearts Get Angry

Here’s one of my recent posts, featured last May on the True Woman blog–a ministry of Revive Our Hearts. 

One day when my kids were preschoolers, we walked into our family room and found that a bat was stuck between our sliding glass door and the screen door with its wings expanded. Its evil-looking face was right up against the glass and looked like it was hissing curses at us.

Immediately, I shrieked for my husband to get rid of the thing and whisked the kids to the other room.

Peace to Turmoil

The following day, Ken and I were sitting out on our deck, drinking lemonade and watching the kids play in the backyard. It was a beautiful, peaceful moment. But then I asked, “Hey, what did you do with that bat?”

He said he had just scooped it off the door with a shovel, then tossed it out into the yard.

“And then, what did you do?” I asked—hoping to hear that he beat the thing to death and buried it six feet under. But no. He had not done anything else with the bat.

Just then my toddler leaned over to pick something up from the yard to put in his mouth.

It was too much.

I ran screeching into the yard like a crazy person and swooped up little Cole, hollering for the other kids to follow me inside, right that instant.

As I scrubbed the kids’ fingers and toes with soap at the kitchen sink, the thoughts swarming my mind were not kind. What sort of man sends his own children out into a bat-infested yard?! I went from incredulous to furious.

The kids were all wailing—especially little Cole, whose mouth I was washing out with soap—as my husband wandered back inside the house. I flew at him in a rage, ordering him to get back outside and find the bat he had flung into our yard.

“Shannon, that’s ridiculous,” he said, rolling his eyes. “That bat is long gone.”

“Did you see it fly away? Did you? Did you?” I was leaning forward with my eyes bulging, my finger jabbing the air. I’m sure I looked quite lovely.

Knowing things would only escalate from here, my husband went out and began pacing back and forth across our yard. It’s one of those ugly “Control Girl” memories I wish I could forget.

Craving Control

No bat ever turned up in our yard. What did turn up, however—with ever increasing intensity—was my anger, disrespect, and obsessive perfectionism.

During those years that the kids were little, I didn’t think of myself as controlling—mostly because I had such good intentions! I wasn’t trying to frustrate or exasperate my husband, or anyone else. I was trying to keep everyone safe and make everything turn out “right”! But as I lunged for control, trying to create my own version of perfect, I only made everyone (myself included) miserable.

I could take any sunny, lemonade-drinking afternoon and turn it into frenzied chaos—with kids howling, me ranting, and my husband responding in exasperation. I was trying to create safety, security, and peace, but instead I was producing just the opposite.

As the kids got bigger, my problem with control only got worse. Instead of keeping our small backyard safe and trying to control what they put in their mouths, now I wanted to control their school, sports, and driving environments, and I had more serious things—like alcohol and drugs—that I wanted to keep out of their mouths.

I wasn’t outgrowing this control problem. It was getting worse.

Anger Issues

Though I wouldn’t have called myself a “Control Girl” back then, I knew I had anger issues. I had memorized James 1:20, which says, “The anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God,” but I don’t think I truly believed it. My behavior indicated that I thought my anger could produce righteousness—or right living.

Whenever the kids shoved each other or didn’t obey, I got angry. Whenever my husband didn’t invest in conversation or didn’t help with the kids, I got angry. I used my anger to try to gain control. Rather than waiting for God to change hearts, I wanted to. But like the verse says, anger can’t produce righteousness. It only spreads more anger.

My Anger’s Root

About a decade ago, God started using my anger to reveal my control-craving heart. I started recognizing that my surface-level anger stemmed from an underlying desire for control. So to rid myself of anger, I’d have to rip out its root—control.

I learned to ask myself a root-exposing question. Whenever I felt the anger rising, I would say, “Okay, Shannon. What are you trying to control here?” Or “What do you feel like you’re losing control of?” More often than not, my anger resulted from wanting control.

Take the situation with the evil-looking bat, for instance. What was causing me to be so angry? If I’m honest, I wasn’t throwing a fit because of the actual threat of the bat. My kids had been playing outdoors all morning, and if they had come across a bat in the yard, I have no doubt that they would have run to me in alarm. What I was really reacting to was a husband I couldn’t control.

I wanted him to be the sort of dad who doesn’t put his kids at risk. So by stamping my foot and insisting that he pace back and forth in the yard, I was saying, “How dare you fail to be the protective daddy that I want for my children? That makes me feel insecure. It makes me worry that everything’s out of control. So to punish you and make sure this doesn’t happen again, I’m going to throw a disrespectful tantrum. I demand that you be the husband and father I want you to be!”

Oh how my anger falls short. It only causes my husband (and other people) to resist me. But here’s what I am learning: When I settle this matter of control, it soothes my hot temper. When I fill my heart and mind with the truth that God is in control and I am not, it allows me to lay down the burden of controlling others. By ripping out the root of control, I pull out the weeds of anger as well.

And ironically, when I trust God to take control rather than claiming that it’s all up to me, I actually have more influence for good! My husband listens to my input most when I am respectful. He hears far more in a soft, kind request than in an angry, jaw-clenching demand. And most importantly, he is far receptive to God’s gentle leading when his wife isn’t screaming in his ear.

Finding Peace and Security

When my frantic, inner Control Girl says, “You have to do something!” it tempts me to fly into a rage every time. My craving for control is what prompts me to run ahead of God, stamp my foot, and jab my finger in the air.

But when I listen to the voice of the Spirit, who reminds me that He is in control so I don’t have to be, I find the peace and security that control never brings.

What are you frantic or angry about? Is there something you’re trying to control? Are you trying to produce in someone else what only God can produce? Today, what is one way you will surrender control back to God?

For more information on Shannon’s book, Control Girl: Lessons on Surrendering Your Burden of Control From Seven Women in the Bible, go to ControlGirl.com.

The Father Who Eliminates Shame

Here’s one of my recent posts, featured last June on the “True Woman” blog–a ministry of Revive Our Hearts. 

It was a rainy Saturday afternoon. I sent my college roommates to the dining hall without me because I wanted the dorm room to myself while I made a certain phone call. I dialed the number, heard the familiar voice. Then in a matter of moments, I severed a relationship that had been pulling me away from God for quite some time. I hung up the phone and had a good cry.

When God Seems Distant

It was obvious that God was working on my heart. I felt miserable about my sin, and I had a fresh desire to please Him. But God seemed so distant. I tried reading my Bible, but it said nothing to me. I tried praying, but my prayers seemed to bounce off the ceiling. So now I was trying this—the severing-a-relationship-thing. Though I knew it was the right choice, it didn’t change how alone and melancholy I felt. As I sat on my bed wondering what to do next, the phone rang. It was the campus pastor. He wondered if I could come down and receive a package being delivered to the back door of my dorm. Curious, I ran down to the lobby just in time to see a car pull up. A man got out and ran toward me in the rain. Squinting, I gasped and opened the door. “Daddy?” I exclaimed as he gathered me into a hug.

My parents lived in Michigan, which is twelve hours from Liberty University in Virginia. So my dad didn’t just “happen to be in the neighborhood.” He had dropped everything to fly down and see me. I think he sensed this was a pivotal time in my faith journey.

Exposed

A few weeks prior, when I was home on break, God had torn the lid off of some of my sin. I felt so exposed and ashamed. I had said to my mom, “Don’t tell Dad till after I’m back at school.” I didn’t want to think about him knowing. I wanted to pretend that he didn’t.

But my dad did know. And he flew all the way to Virginia to tell me that he still loved me.

“Mom bought you a new dress,” he said, handing me a package. “Go put it on, and I’ll take you out for a nice dinner.”

That night, after dinner, I sat in the car with my dad. He read some verses to me from Revelation 4 about the people from the church in Ephesus who had “lost their first love” for Jesus. Boy, did that describe me!

As a child I had been so passionate about Jesus—telling whomever would listen about sin and hell and how Jesus wanted to save us from it. As a middle schooler, I was involved in every single program our church had to offer. Yet somewhere along the line, I had drifted away. I had lost my first love for Jesus, just like the church described in Revelation 4.

My dad showed me the instructions given to the church of Ephesus: “Remember therefore, from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first” (Rev. 2:5). He said that these instructions were for me, too. I needed to remember where I had fallen from. I needed to begin doing the things I did when I was first in love with Jesus. This was the way to repent! I shouldn’t wait for emotions or swelling love to guide my actions. The emotions would trail behind my behavior.

A Loving Father

That weekend was a turning point for me. I had taken a big step of obedience to God with that phone call, and then the phone rang again. God was responding with a message of love and acceptance, not shame and condemnation. His messenger was my dad, who represented Him so well!

I don’t know what your dad is like. I’ve lived long enough to realize how fortunate I am to have a dad like mine, but I know not every father is like him. Yet even if your dad was the type to neglect, abuse, or abandon, you have a Father who wants to make up for his lack.

God, the perfect Father, says:

“I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you” (Jer. 31:3).

How has God faithfully shown His love? It started with a journey that cost Him far more than a weekend and airfare.

  • God loved you enough to send His Son as messenger from heaven to earth—not to condemn you for your sin, but to save you from it (John 3:16–17).
  • Jesus demonstrated God’s love in this way: while you were still a sinner, Christ died for you (Rom. 5:8).
  • Jesus bore your shame—despising it with every step toward the cross—all because He wanted to win for you a new dress to wear, a new, white, pure dress made of His own righteousness (Isa. 61:10).
  • And now, in response to His love, God invites you to behave like a bride, getting ready for her Bridegroom (Rev. 19:7).

Has God seen your sin? Yes, every bit of it. You might not want to think about that. You might want to pretend He doesn’t know. But the truth is that every hidden thing is laid open and exposed before your Father in heaven (Heb. 4:13).

So how is a good daughter to respond? Should she cower and hide and self-loathe? Never! Your Father invites you to conviction and sorrow over your sin, but not shame. Never shame. God is the one who has done everything to eliminate your shame! It’s His enemy who hurls condemnation (Rom. 8:1).

A Pursuing Father

God is the type of Father who never wants His daughter to doubt His love. He pursues you. He travels the distance between you. He assures you. He says that nothing can separate you from His love (Rom. 8:38–39).

As you approach Father’s Day this year, why not spend some time with the Father who has loved you with an everlasting love (Jer. 31:3)? Repent of your sin, and draw near to Him. Remind yourself of the ways His pursuing love has shaped your story.

Does God seem distant to you? Do you feel ashamed over exposed sin? Are you pretending that God can’t see your sin? Your Father loves you with an everlasting, faithful love. What truth about your Father will you embrace today?

When Your Illusion of Safety Shatters

Here’s one of my recent posts, featured last month on the “True Woman” blog–a ministry of Revive Our hearts. 

I was driving home one night with my two littles strapped into their car seats behind me. It was dark and rainy. I saw the orange cones lining the busy street that bordered our neighborhood, but I paid them no notice since they had been there for weeks. What hadn’t been there—even earlier that day—was the six-foot construction pit. Which I drove into.

I screamed in terror as the car lurched forward and my headlights shone into the pit. Then, with adrenaline pumping, I scrambled to open my door and get my babies—feeling the van tilt as I did so. Not knowing how precarious the situation was, I unbuckled my loves with panicky, trembling fingers and snatched them out of the van to safety.

So there we were, on a busy road huddled beside our tilting van, which was now blocking oncoming traffic. I crouched protectively over baby Cole’s car seat and clutched two-year-old Lindsay’s waist. On one side was the ditch. On the other, traffic whizzed by making it impossible to cross—at least not in the dark with two babies.

Big Black Pits

Thankfully, the police soon arrived and ushered the kids and I into the back of the police cruiser to get us out of the rain. From there the police headlights shone like a spotlight on our van. The front tires hung disturbingly over the pit’s edge, making it look very much like the van could have been swallowed completely.

Lindsay, who was two, clutched the police car caging from her perch on the back seat and looked on with wide eyes. I tried to point out how the police and the tow truck were helping and how we were safe now, but she kept saying, “Mommy, yook! My car fall down!”

For Lindsay, this scene held a new terror that she had never considered. Before this, she hadn’t known there were big black pits in the world. And she certainly had not realized people could drive into them. We were completely safe, but my poor girl felt more unsafe than ever before.

The Illusion of Safety

In the weeks and months that followed, Lindsay continued to talk about what happened. “My car fall down!” she would say with urgency to strangers in the store or friends at church. It was as if she wanted to warn everyone that there was danger out there!

I repeatedly tried to assure Lindsay that we were safe now; there was nothing to worry about. But I couldn’t erase the scene of our van tilting forward into darkness and danger from her little mind. “My car fall down,” she kept whispering. The illusion of safety had been snatched from her, and I couldn’t give it back.

One day, my mom was holding Lindsay on her hip while we made plans to go somewhere. With her chubby hands, Lindsay turned Mom’s face toward her and leaned in so that their noses almost touched. With earnestness, she whispered loudly, “Mamaw, how ‘bout you drive, ‘cause Mommy go fast and my car fall down!”

What? I couldn’t believe it! Was my two-year-old questioning my driving skills?

Now, there was no denying that I had driven us into a terrifying situation. But it struck me funny that my two-year-old felt qualified to critique my driving! Had I not been driving her in complete safety since before she was born? And had I not spent the past two years caring for her, constantly considering her safety, health, and wellbeing? Yet now with all the two-year-old logic she could muster, she was doubting my trustworthiness—enough to solicit another driver!

Becoming a Skeptic

This is such a good picture of us, at times. God has cared for us meticulously from before birth (Ps. 139:13). While our mothers slept, God knit together the intricate patterns of our eyes, ears, noses, mouths, and skin—so that we would enter the world with the capacity to receive and enjoy the sunshine, air, food, and warmth He provides. Before our minds were developed enough to understand, God was caring for us.

Yet in life there are moments when the illusion of safety is pulled back. Perhaps we experience something traumatic, see something that strikes fear, or experience the terrifying finality of death. In moments like these the world tilts off balance, and we wonder who—if anyone—is holding it all together.

With fresh doubt and fear, we turn our skepticism toward God. Where was He during that dark night of upheaval? What was He doing during the hour we cried out for rescue? Were His hands on the wheel when life took a nosedive into terror?

Perhaps we never gave much thought to God’s credibility before, but now we wonder! Can we know that He’s responsible, good, and strong? Can we count on Him to keep us safe?

Security Blanket

When we question God, a new temptation almost immediately follows. It’s the temptation to find a substitute. So we turn to people, houses, or careers—anything that makes us feel secure. Or we turn to bank accounts, medical care, or popularity to ward off threats. We’re like toddlers, clutching security blankets to feel safe.

Yet our two-year-old reasoning cannot hold up. For when we buckle ourselves in with new safety restraints or new promise for security, have we ultimately locked onto control? After we exhaust ourselves, trying to pad our lives with every thinkable layer of protection, have we truly safeguarded ourselves or the people we love from heartache?

Who’s in Control?

Often I have underdeveloped thinking on this matter of control. When fear floods my heart, I immediately convince myself that it’s all up to me. With panicky, trembling fingers, I try to snatch my loved ones away from pits. I map out plans to keep everyone from driving over cliffs. But depending on myself is just as foolish as depending on a house or money or person to keep me safe.

So God uses big, black pits to press me to recognize that I am not in control and my security blankets can’t shield me from danger.

God isn’t being harsh or cruel. He wants me to see that this burden of keeping everyone safe and avoiding all disaster is not something He placed on my shoulders. He didn’t ask me to take control. What God wants for me, and what He invites me to, is trust.

Trusting God

God doesn’t expect me to convince myself that the world is safe or that everything will turn out just as I’d hoped. But He does want me to trust that He is powerful and strong, even when He doesn’t prevent disaster. And He wants me to trust that He is good, even if I see nothing good in the pit. He wants me to trust that He is in control, even when the world seems randomly terrifying.

Just like I wanted my little girl to relax and trust me as her mom, God wants me to trust Him as my God. Settled peace comes from knowing that God holds every contingency of life’s roadmap in His hands. Security comes not from knowing what’s around the next bend, but knowing that God is there. Hope comes not from my own strength or wisdom, but from resting in His.

Friend, our world is full of pits. The whole earth is caving in under the pressure of sin’s curse, and none of us will escape its effects. So we have a choice. Will we apply two-year-old logic and become skeptical of the One who has been trustworthy and true? Will we call “substitute drivers” to give us an illusion of safety? Or will we trust God, who truly is in control and who is working all things—even the pits in life—together for our good?

How have you responded when your illusion of safety has been snatched away? If you’ve become skeptical of God or turned to “security blankets” instead of Him, talk honestly to Him about it. What does He want you to trust Him with? Read Psalm 30 aloud as a prayer to God.

Should You Join Women’s Bible Study?

Here’s my latest post, featured this week on the “True Woman” blog–a ministry of Revive Our Hearts. 

If it’s not in your church’s foyer yet, it will probably show up soon: the sign-up table for women’s Bible study. Will you glance over at it, wondering if you should sign up? Will you linger at the table, checking out the plan, wondering if this is what God wants for your year?

Perhaps you’re caring for a young family, with a to-do list that only gets longer if little hands try to help. Maybe you’re reluctant to fill the boxes on your calendar with extras, wanting to protect the fleeting years with little ones at home. Or perhaps it’s now your aging parents who need your attention, and you worry about balancing your schedule.

Or maybe it’s not your calendar that’s the obstacle; it’s your fear of being open and vulnerable. As your kids have grown, so have the personal and relationship challenges you face—and you have big kids now. It’s hard to be honest about the fear, devastation, and sorrow you face on a daily basis.

Or perhaps this is the first year you’ve even considered Bible study. Maybe it wasn’t an option or you couldn’t commit. You feel nervous and uncomfortable about joining—worried you’ll say the wrong thing or not know as much as the others. You wonder if you missed your chance years ago.

Weighing the Options

Whatever your life stage or situation, considering women’s Bible study is always an exercise in weighing your priorities. Even when you long for spiritual growth, sometimes you wonder if participating in women’s Bible study at church is the best way to cultivate that growth. You wonder if it might be better to just study the Bible at home. In your jammies. Maybe you could join an online study group or something.

As you weigh your options, I’d like to offer three things to consider, along with some personal experiences:

1. The days are long, but the years are short.

Psalm 90:12 says, “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” There’s something about looking forward to the end and then thinking backward that helps keep things in perspective. What kind of wife, mom, sister, worker, or friend do I want to be at the end of this year? How about the end of this decade? What will help me get there?

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been involved in some sort of women’s Bible study group. I’ve helped with leadership in various ways: leading worship, leading a small group, and large group teaching. If I were to compile all of the hours I have devoted to connecting with other women around God’s Word, it would be an enormous chunk of my life.

It definitely crowded out other activities. For example, I never signed my preschoolers up for sports or music programs. Instead, they enjoyed the childcare program at Bible study. And I was never part of a “girls’ night out” group or a bunco club.

Some might criticize the way I arranged our calendar—prioritizing my own growth over activities for my kids and opting out of community-building opportunities. But all of us have to choose what we’ll add to the weekly rhythm of life. I chose Bible study. And if all of those hours spent studying God’s Word with other women were retracted from my life, I believe I would be a completely different person. And I also believe that the change in my life as a result of participating in various studies had a direct impact on my family.

So as you and I look at the coming year, let’s think about who we want to become. Let’s consider whether joining a women’s Bible study can help us get there.

2. Wisdom is formed in groups.

Proverbs 13:20 says, “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.” The people you “walk with” on a regular basis change you. They shape your perspective on life. Your Bible is filled with wisdom, but God designed for that wisdom to be three-dimensional, displayed in the lives of others. Now, I can’t promise you that everyone in your Bible study group will be wise, but if you’re looking for wise women, a Bible study is a great place to start.

Back in January, a local bookstore in my town hosted a launch party for the release of my new book. I was secretly worried that no one would come, and I’d need to apologize to the bookstore. To my great delight, the room was filled! As I introduced my various friends to each other that night, I noticed myself saying something repeatedly. “This is Michelle. We first met in Bible study.” Or “This is Kim. She’s part of my summer Bible study group.”

Many of these women who were supporting and cheering me on had been doing so since before my book had a title. In fact, the wisdom and truth I got to share in the book was partly shaped by the stories, conversations, and insights offered to me by these friends. They were there, celebrating what God had done, because they are part of my life.

Who will show up at your next celebration? Who is part of your life? Do you have wise friends who look to God’s Word for help, guidance, and hope? If not, Bible study is a great way to cultivate friendships like these.

3. The Church isn’t meant to be virtual.

I know, I know. The Church isn’t a building. And now, with the new multi-site churches forming, even the local church often isn’t contained in one building. In addition, we can often “connect online” with our church service or various Bible study groups. Video no longer feels “virtual” to us. It feels like we’re in the room.

But are we? I have a friend who says he would far prefer to travel and present to clients in the same room. He relies so heavily on body language and the relational aspects of communication to assess how clients are receiving the message and how he can better serve them.

If this is true in business, perhaps we should prioritize screen-less relationship building in the church. I’m not saying online Bible studies are bad or wrong. They are meeting a great need for many! But for those of us who can physically meet together, I think we should do so.

Hebrews 10:24–25 says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

It’s not that we can’t encourage and stir up one another for love and good works from behind a screen. Hopefully, that’s what I’m doing right now! It’s just harder to connect personally. For instance, after you read this post, you might forget my name, where I’m from, and what I look like—which won’t offend me. But if that happened the day after we had coffee together, I would struggle to not take it personally.

Signing up for a Bible study is the equivalent of having coffee rather than reading a blog post. It’s more personal and a bigger commitment. It will cost you more time and relational energy.

But success in the Christian life is achieved as a group, not just as individuals. On my own, I quickly become discouraged, deceived, and distracted. But when my group gathers to refresh each other’s faith, remind ourselves of truth, and pray together over struggles, it’s like a weekly reorientation. I walk out thinking, Oh, yeah! This is why God gave me life! And this is how I’m supposed to live it.

Obviously, you and the Lord need to sort out your calendar. But if the Lord makes a way for you to tether yourselves to other women who want to follow Jesus and link arms with women who help you keep your eyes on Christ, I can’t think of a more worthy commitment.

From our Revive Our Hearts team: In case you haven’t heard . . . Revive Our Hearts and Moody Publishers are offering a special Livestream event on just this topic—living out the gospel together! You could gather your Bible study group and make a weekend of it! To learn more about Revive ’17 LIVE or register your group, head to Revive17.com/livestream.

Sacred Mundane: God’s way of Transforming You

Kari Patterson and I are both first time authors, published by Kregel. Since she lives in Oregon, we haven’t officially met, but we’ve become fast friends. I highly recommend Kari’s new book, Sacred Mundane. See details below on how to win a FREE copy!  

You know the Bible story of Naaman, right? Naaman was a commander of the Syrian army. He had favor with his king and success in battle because God had given him victory. However, Naaman had a problem.

He was a mighty man of valor, but he was a leper. – I Kings 5:1 (emphasis mine)

In her brand new book, Sacred MundaneKari Patterson writes,

“We all have a but, and it’s a problem. (If you read that out loud it sounds terrible. I’m sorry; there was no other way.) Because you are created in the image of God, knit perfectly and wonderfully in your mother’s womb and cherished by him, you have value and worth and honor. You are dazzling and delightful. You are dearly loved. You have gifts, talents, and innumerable things going for you. You have strengths and skills, power and potential.

“But – there’s something in the way. Something that limits our freedom, confuses our purpose, steals our joy. No matter what great things we have going for us this thing constantly lurks on the fringe of our attention, subtly inhibiting, hindering, holding us back. For Naaman it was leprosy; for some it’s crippling fear; for some it’s anger or unforgiveness; for some it’s a desperate need for approval; for some it’s an issue or habit that’s hung around so long it has become an accepted part of life. Hangups have a way of hijacking our identity.

“Now, Naaman couldn’t have carried on as a commander with this issue out in the open; he had to hide it as long as he possibly could. We do the same. We wear long sleeves, so to speak. We know how to compensate for that weakness we’ve had with us for such a long time. We can still cope and manage life pretty well. Perhaps “it’s no big deal,” so we just shrug our shoulders and pretend it doesn’t bother us. That much. But deep down we know that there is something not quite right, something that subtly robs our peace and joy, something that clings to us and keeps us bound. Something we just can’t kick.

“And like leprosy, it spreads. Left alone, our hidden heartsickness always spreads. We think we’re find (we look fine!), sailing along in our long sleeves, but then that one thing – that person, that comment, that one hormonal moment – yanks off our protective layer, and we realize the problem is still there. It had been there all along, underneath. We resolve to deal with it. How? Add a turtleneck. Maybe some gloves. Don’t get close to any situation where baring our skin or our souls is required. We become careful, cautious, learning to control our environment so our lack is less apparent.

“But this isn’t life. This isn’t freedom. And we know it. Somewhere deep down, we know: this isn’t the me I was created to be. This isn’t the life I was meant to live.” (Sacred Mundane, p. 12-13)

Can you relate to what Kari writes, here? She uses the story of Naaman as a powerful example of what God wants to do for all of us to make us clean and whole. Are you ready? Here it is: Like Naaman, God invites us to dip down into the muddy waters of daily life that are right before us.

Muddy Waters

Wait, what? That’s not what we wanted to hear, right!? We wanted some dramatic healing. Some man of God to put his hands on our shoulders and pray over this insecurity or fear or anger or bitterness or addiction so that – whoosh – it’s gone! We’re transformed!

That’s what Naaman wanted, too. He wanted Elijah to come and wave his hand over him to cure the leprosy (I Kings 5:11). But instead Elijah sent word that he was to dip into the muddy, smelly, daily waters of the Jordan.

Kari writes,

“How often we balk at God’s bidding when he tells us to simply go and dip down deep into what is right in front of us, the waters we most despise, because that is where true healing is found. How we wish for a prophet to wave his hands over us and miractulously make us mature, make us well, make us new. How we wish we could just walk through the doors of church and have the “godly dust” sprinkle on us and make us whole. Can’t we just get a spiritual spray-tan?

“Truth: you are made new by dipping into the dirty, dusty dailiness of life. By letting your days transform your life. It is the mundane, overlooked, ordinary stuff lof life that changes us from the inside out. That heals us. That transforms us.” (Sacred Mundane, p. 15)

The Next Five Minutes

In my new book, Control GirlI wrote about how the “small arrow” moments of the day transform us. It’s not just the big, life-changing moments of surrender, spaced out by decades which turn us from Control Girls into Jesus Girls; it’s our choice to surrender something to God in the next five minutes. And then it’s repeating that choice to surrender the same thing to God, 57 more times in the same evening. That’s what changes us. Kari expands this idea into a whole book!

Becoming Clean

Think of it. God wants to change us! To heal us! But like Naaman, we foolishly object to the way God wants to make us clean. This husband? These kids? This noisy, messy, sticky life? Really? This is what God plans to use to change me? Like Naaman, we’re ready to storm off.

But Kari Patterson taps us on the shoulder with Sacred Mundane, just like Naaman’s servant. She asks us to take another look at those muddy waters of daily life, and then causes them to actually seem inviting. She shows us that as we dip ourselves repeatedly into the things we wish we could change or escape or skip, these sacred, mundane things are the waters that God uses to make us clean and whole.

Kari Patterson is a great writer with a passionate message. I highly recommend this book, either for yourself or your small group (men and women). Also, don’t miss the nine week Bible study, included in the back. 

For a chance to win a FREE copy of Sacred Mundane, leave a comment either on the blog or social media. Winner announced August 21. (UPDATE: I’m extending just a bit… Winner announced Wed., Aug. 23). 


Kari Patterson reaches thousands of women worldwide through speaking events and her popular blog, Sacred Mundane. She’s a pastor’s wife, homeschool mom, Bible teacher, mentor, and passionate seeker of truth. 

Sacred Mundane was released in July, 2017 by Kregel Publications (my publisher!). All royalties from the sale of this book will benefit World Vision’s work with women and children in need.

How did you do on the 5 C {Freedom} Challenge?

Sorry guys. I meant to get this post up on Monday–the last day of the 5 C Challenge–but this week’s sand has slipped through the hourglass!

So…. HOW DID YOU DO?

On July 4, many of us took on the following challenge:

Words are like rudders. They can turn us in a new direction. For those of us striving to go from Control Girls to Jesus Girls, words are a great place to start.

So how did you do? I’d LOVE to hear what you learned about yourself, and what the results were.

Here are some things I learned:

  • I have so far to go. Gracious, you would think after writing a book about this, I’d have more staying power. I guess it’s encouraging to hear what James says: “For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle his whole body.” (James 3: 2) I failed regularly in each of these categories. But the first step of repentance is admitting sin. What did you learn about your own weakness with words? 
  • My words really do set direction! When I invited you to this challenge, I kept saying, “Let’s turn this ship around!” Participating in the challenged gave me clarity and direction for the other areas of life I need to give up control.  During this month’s focus on words, I decided that I needed to also go on a diet and so I joined Weight Watchers. I really think focusing on my words helped me to see the other areas in my life that were un-surrendered to the Lord. Like in the verse I just quoted, there is a correlation between our words and the direction of our hearts. Words are trend setting! How did the challenge show you other areas that you need to surrender control to God? 
  • “Complaining” needs to be one of the 5. My friend Hilma is the one who first introduced me to this challenge, and she originally had “complain” as one of the five. But since I wanted to focus on “control”, and how surrendering our words sets a new direction, I dropped the word “complain”. I shouldn’t have! Complaining is one of my most negative tendencies. I saw that over and over. And I realized that when I complain, I’m trying to get control. So next time, “complain” stays on deck! Is complaining one of your struggles also? 
  • The need for focus. So many times I just forgot that I was on the challenge! I would be in the middle of saying something through gritted teeth and thing, “Well, shoot. I just blew it again.” Stopping in the middle is better than not stopping at all, but I need to focus on my words before I speak. (By the way, if I host this challenge again, I’ll do a better job of staying in touch–and have some sort of ‘sign up’ method so you can get more regular posts and encouragement. Thanks for letting me learn along with you!) How did you do, this month, with staying focused on the goal? 
  • Meditation is key. I realized that I couldn’t wait till there was a need to bridle my tongue. I needed to bridle my heart first. I needed to begin the day by meditating on truth, and surrendering the situations that were sure to arise in the day before they happened. Here are some of the Meditation Cards that go with my book, Control Girl, which were helpful to me:

 


Did you use meditation to help you with the 5 C Challenge? What difference did it make? 

Thanks to everyone who stuck with the challenge! I hope that participating set new direction to your life. Words truly are like rudders, aren’t they? They are direction setting.

I’d love to hear about your progress, if you’d like to respond to one of the questions below, or let me know what the challenge meant to you! You can use the comment form below, or leave a comment!

Also… are you interested in receiving a FREE sampler pack of Meditation Cards or a FREE Reflections on Surrender coloring book in the mail? I’ll be telling my subscribers how to win this next week. If you don’t receive my once-in-a-while emails, Sign up here!






Blessings to you, friend. Control Girl to Jesus Girl… Let’s go!!

Send me a comment here: 

 

5 C Challenge: {Don’t Condemn}

“Do you feel like I condemn you all the time?” I searched his face, and as he started to say, “No…” I knew the answer was yes.

“What do I do that makes you feel condemned?” I asked gently, hoping for an honest response.

“Well, you just always ask these questions,” he said slowly. “Like you come to the top of the stairs and say, ‘What are you doing down there?’ Or when I’m on my laptop, you come up behind me and say, ‘What are you looking at?’ 

“I just like you always think I’m doing something wrong, and you’re just waiting to catch me.”

This conversation was really convicting to me. I realized that it’s so very true.

So many of my questions are laced with condemnation. So often my tone has traces of judgment and disapproval. I have to admit that I am often waiting to catch the people I love doing something wrong. Is this my job as a wife, mom, friend, and sister in the Lord? Or am I overstepping?

Why We Condemn

I think we tend to shower the people we love with condemnation, because we’re putting the burden of control back up on our shoulders. We control because we care. We even condemn because we care. (Really, we do!)

We want our loved ones to live sin-free, happy lives, and we think it’s all up to us to make that happen. But as we’ll inevitably learn, this isn’t possible. We can’t force our kids to be industrious, hard-working, and honest. We can’t make our husbands live lives marked by selfless integrity. We really have no control over how anyone else lives their life. The only control we have is over ourselves.

Ministry of Condemnation?

A few years ago, I remember reading in II Corinthians 3:7-11 about the “ministry of condemnation”, (which referred to the Ten Commandments) and thinking, “That’s me! I’m trying to have a ministry of condemnation in the lives of my loved ones!”

But I realized that it would be wise for me to think about this “ministry” of mine, and where it was leading. What was the effect of the Ten Commandments? What has been the result of this “ministry of condemnation”? Did it cause us to live good and holy lives?

No, the law only made a way for us to become conscious of our sin (Rom. 3:20). God gave us the Ten Commandments (along with other stories and laws) to show us just how incapable we are of living up to God’s standards. The law was meant to show us our need for Jesus. HE is our only hope of living sin-free, happy lives.

Jesus’ Condemnation-Free Ministry

When Jesus came, He did not make it His ministry to walk around pointing out sin in people. Now, to be sure, He was willing to point out pride and self-righteousness–especially of the religious leaders. But to anyone who was repentant or sorrowful about their sin, Jesus showed grace.

Once, the religious leaders brought a woman caught in adultery to Jesus (John 8:1-11), wanting Him to condemn her. But even though the law would have supported stoning her (vs. 5), Jesus refused to condemn her.

Instead, Jesus turned the tables. Rather than raining down condemnation on the woman who was obviously ashamed of her sin, Jesus put the focus on these condemning leaders. He said that the one without sin should throw the first stone. And rather than standing with his arms crossed and glaring at them, Jesus leaned down and drew in the dirt as one by one, the leaders slipped away.

Jesus had grace for everyone involved, and refused to be pulled into a dispute about who was the greater sinner. All of them had sinned. Only one had a correct posture about her sin. Jesus wanted them to see that their condemnation was equally condemnable.

Gracious, what a lesson for me this is! How often am I the one dragging someone forward over something far less significant than adultery, and wanting them to be condemned by Jesus? I point angrily and cast blame with my questions. I use Bible verses and shame.

But look what Jesus does instead:

When just the woman was left, he said,

“Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”

“No, Lord,” she said.

And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.” (John 8:10)

Following Jesus

Picture of Jesus lavishing grace upon a woman caught in adultery, and me raining condemnation upon a thirteen-year-old caught wasting time, or glaring at a grown husband who lost his ziplock containers.  The contrast is staggering. It makes me wonder two things:

Just who do I think I am? And just what do I think I can accomplish with my condemnation?

John 3:17 says that God did not send Jesus to condemn the world, but to save the world! If I am to represent Jesus and be His messenger–both throughout the world and in my own kitchen, I am to have a ministry of grace, not condemnation.

Condemnation or Grace?

How do people naturally respond to condemnation? They become angry and defensive. They try to prove that the one condemning them is equally wrong. They withdraw. I have to admit that this is often how my family members respond to me, and it’s because they sense condemnation in my words, my tone, or my underlying message.

But how do people respond to grace? Defenses lower. Hearts become tender. They are drawn to the person who has shown grace. They become more willing to own their sin. This is what I want for my loved ones. How about you?

Let’s be women who share a ministry of grace (not condemnation) with the people we love. Let’s use language like:

  • “I’m sorry that I….”
  • “How can I help you with this?”
  • “I struggle with this, too. Would you like me to pray for us both?”

We need grace just as much as our loved ones! Thankfully, to all who repent and make Jesus their Lord, He offers grace upon grace. (John 1:16) And we should, too.

________________________________________________

Join the Challenge

Do you try to control the people you love? Join us for the 5 C {Freedom} Challenge! From now till the end of July, we’re abstaining from using words that criticize, compare, condemn, correct, and control. Words are like rudders. Let’s turn this ship around!

To join, just leave a comment or “like” on social media. But you might want to share the post also, and let somebody know. (When you’re the only one who knows about your commitment, it usually doesn’t go so well, right?) Plus, invite some friends to join you! Read more about it here.


Control-Free Parenting??

Are you struggling with how this all relates to parenting? Here’s a post I wrote about when it’s good to take control as parents, and when it’s not.

5 C Challenge: {Don’t Compare}

The other day, I was driving home and saw two brothers doing yard work together. It wasn’t their yard; it was an elderly neighbor’s. I quickly concluded that these brothers had been hired to do weekly yard work, and perhaps had even gone into “business” together.

How nice…  I mused. Two young men working hard, rather than being idle and lazy seemed quite admirable to me. But what struck me even more was the idea of brothers working together in peace and harmony. This seemed like heavenly bliss!

As I pulled into the driveway, I schemed about what I would say at dinner that night. How could I draw attention to how (AWESOME, FABULOUS AND AMAZING!!!) great it was to see siblings working together nicely, without seeming overtly manipulative? But before I had unbuckled my seatbelt, I remembered.

No comparing. 

The Power of Comparison

Comparing is one of those tactics that packs an extra punch when you’re trying to control the people you love. When you point over on that other side of the line at the people doing what you’d like them to do, your loved one feels the pressure like a shock wave. They can’t not feel it.

It hurts to be compared. It’s annoying. It’s frustrating. But is it motivating?

Perhaps for a short time. But ultimately comparison usually creates wedges and distance between people. Just think about somebody who uses comparison to make you feel badly. Are you drawn to that person? Or do you want to withdraw?

Sibling Rivalry

The Bible is filled with examples of siblings who were strikingly dissimilar:

  • Cain and Abel had completely different occupations and skills.
  • Jacob and Esau looked different and had different interests.
  • Rachel was beautiful and Leah was ugly.
  • Mary valued time with Jesus’ feet but Martha valued time serving Him.

In each instance, there was family tension because of comparison.

Notice that these siblings were different because God made them that way. It’s true in our families as well–and not just of siblings. Some of us are talkative. Others are quiet. Some like music. Others like sports. Some are book smart. Others’ have intuitive people skills.

Think of the natural differences in your family. Do you think God had something in mind when he put you all  together?

The people in my home couldn’t be more different. None of us are just alike. We each have a unique blend of personality, talents, interests, or traits. And though we have similar features, we all look different a well. But you know what? I think this is all by God’s design.

I Corinthians 12: 4-7 says:

“4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” (emphasis, mine)

These verses are talking about differences in the Church. Notice the repeated use of variety/same. As individuals, we are packaged in a variety of ways, but here is what is the same: God gave each of us unique gifts which he wants us to use for the common good.

This is true in the Church. What if it was also true within families?

What if God designed my husband and kids to be unique and different from the other husbands and other kids who live on our block? And within our family, what if God made us each different from the others by design? What if God strategically gave each of us strengths that the rest of us need? What if our differences could serve as fasteners rather than wedges?

When I critically compare the people I love either with each other, or with others outside our family, is it not helpful for building them up. Instead, my comparison tears them down. (Prov. 14:1)

Words that Divide

I wish I could tell you that I abstained from telling my kids about the lawn-mowing brothers, but no. I caved in, at a particular moment during dinner when sibling rivalry once ahead reared its ugly head. (Boy, this 5 C Challenge is tough, isn’t it?) I told my lawn-care story and finished with a manipulative jab, saying, “I wish you guys could be like that…”

As you can probably guess, this only caused more resentment and frustration.  Tempers flared and we had to dismiss one family member from the table.

There, sitting at the table with one of us missing, I felt deeply repentant. These days with all of us gathered around the table are fleeting. Why had I ruined it? My comparing words hadn’t directly caused the conflict, but they had certainly added to it. (Note to self: Comparing never works in my favor, the way I think it will!)

Healing Words

Later that night when we gathered for Bible time, I apologized to my kids with all sincerity. Then I tried to balance things out by recounting an event which showcased my kids’ strengths. Only a few days prior, we had hosted a group, and they had done an excellent job of making everyone feel welcome, comfortable, and included. My kids truly are gifted in this way, and when they work together they make quite a team.

It’s amazing the way these words of affirmation brought quick healing and peace to our family. It made me wonder why I don’t use them more often. Comparison divides. It causes us all to withdraw. But noticing, appreciating, and celebrating differences brings unity. It causes us all to relax and lean in.  

Let’s be women who stop comparing and tearing apart, and start building up instead. Are you ready to begin? Start by considering these questions:

  • How are the people you love uniquely gifted?
  • What are their strengths?
  • How can you encourage each person in your family to use his/her gifts for the “common good” of your family?
  • How can you celebrate their God-given differences?
  • Do you need to apologize for using comparison to leverage something?

Ladies, our words are like rudders. Let’s turn this ship around! Rather than trying to control with words, let’s surrender our loved ones to Jesus. Let’s use our words to celebrate their differences, which were designed by their Creator!


Join the Challenge

Do you try to control the people you love? Join us for the 5 C {Freedom} Challenge! From now till the end of July, we’re abstaining from using words that criticize, compare, condemn, correct, and control. Words are like rudders. Let’s turn this ship around!

To join, just leave a comment or “like” on social media. But you might want to share the post also, and let somebody know. (When you’re the only one who knows about your commitment, it usually doesn’t go so well, right?) Plus, invite some friends to join you! Read more about it here.


Control-Free Parenting??

Are you struggling with how this all relates to parenting? Here’s a post I wrote about when it’s good to take control as parents, and when it’s not.