Sunday, March 18, 2012

grace in the flesh

{and how to act around people of the opposite gender}

When we were very young, Pa was the pastor to three churches spread out in the interior parts of Borneo. He was gentle and kind, and very, very loud -- but only when he was preaching, praying, and singing hymns. His voice cut through the hot and humid air of those tropical sanctuaries.

Ma was my Sunday school teacher, at all three churches. No books, no pictures, no handouts. Just Ma, and Bible stories. She was very good at using her hands. She was captivating.

They were the faces, the hands, and the voices of grace. They were God's grace to me, in the flesh.

I should have paid more attention, listened more carefully. Pa and Ma were right about many things. There was one thing that my parents often pleaded with me, again and again. The one thing that I absolutely hated hearing.

Your sisters are watching you.
They are imitating you.
Please set a good example.

How I loathed these words. Like a death sentence! In one sense, they were a death sentence. My parents were asking me to live for my sisters' sake and not my own. It was a death that I did not want to die. Or more precisely, a death that I could not die, apart from the work of Christ.

To each her own, that was my motto. I did not want to live for my sisters' sake. So what if they were watching me? I did not want to live for them; I wanted to live for me.

Thankfully, the Lord had mercy on me. And he taught me how to die; I am learning very slowly. Fourteen, I think, was when I started dying. The only reason I can recall this time is because my sister Jean told me that I was nice to her -- for the first time in her life.

I know, what a monster!
The poor little sisters!

My role as the wife of a youth minister is very much like my role as a big sister. The difference is that I don't yell or make threats as much anymore. Little sisters ask a lot of questions. Lately, I've been getting many questions about boys. Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries! I always prefer to give principles, not methods. But sometimes, damage control is necessary; it comes with the job.

About interactions with the opposite gender, I tell my girls this: think like a person already married. I usually get looks of confusion, shock, and disgust. All at once.

Let me explain.

1. The book of Proverbs commands us to make Wisdom our first love. The beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord. The father instructs his son to pursue Lady Wisdom, to love her and not forsake her. Likewise, daughters are to pursue Wisdom -- in the face and the words of Christ.

Single or married, the object of our affection must first and foremost be Christ himself.

2. Jen Wilkin, a mom of two teen-aged daughters, puts it this way:
Here's the reality I want my girls to understand: The world is full of men-who-are-not-my-husband, but the world was full of those men before I ever met my husband. I wish I had had the wisdom to recognize this, and to live like I was married even before I was married: to guard my time, my speech, my dress, my thoughts, my actions jealously for the husband-who-was-to-come.
3. Feelings should be proportional to commitment. Feelings with no commitment is like water without a container -- it goes down the drain. The kind of things you do and the amount of time spend together should follow, and not get ahead of, the kind of commitment you have. The kinds of commitment can be that of a friend, a person you are considering for marriage, or marriage.  Most guys are just friends.

4. Usually, by this stage, the shock has worn off a bit and the girls are just confused. They are not married, so they don't know how to act as though they are already married. Then comes the comical part.

I hear myself repeating my own death sentence to the girls: Imagine me, think of me. These girls have known Hans and me for almost six years now. They have been watching us. They know that I am crazy about Hans (and that we are crazy in general).

Think of me when you are confused about the specifics. Should I go out for dinner with non-Hans alone? Should I chat with non-Hans for a few hours every night? Should I have a "close friend" who is not Hans? Should I go swimming with non-Hans alone? Should I wear that dress to impress a bunch of non-Hanses?

What do you think I would do? If you are not sure, you may ask.

Paul gave Timothy, the Corinthians, the Philippians, and the Thessalonians the same instruction: "Imitate me." At first, it may sound like such a presumptuous thing to say. Who was Paul to tell people to imitate him?

But then, we think of Paul, who loved the churches with the most difficult kind of love. Who lived not for himself, but for the sake of others. Who was crucified with Christ. Who no longer lived, but Christ lived in him. Nothing presumptuous here, just a man joyfully dying for the sake of others. He was showing us how to die well: Watch me, imitate me.

For this purpose, God gave us one another. The Church is the Body of Christ. The Church is the faces, the hands, the voices of grace. We are to love one another as Christ first loved us. We are to flesh out Christ for one another.


Ruth@GraceLaced said...

I love the proportion to commitment principle. Young hearts can be so deceptive! (older ones as well!)...and so often we think we boundaries are restrictive...when the most restrictive and enslaving thing is when we've made an idol of something or someone who is not intended to be.Thankful that you and Hans are living out the Gospel through your marriage!

E! said...

crazy in general. XD

i will let you know how the season goes, for sure. coaching co-ed. hmm.

Kevin Chen said...

haha non-Hanses
but what a good perspective change
thanks for sharing Irene :D

Nelle said...

That is such great wisdom. Praise God you're around these girls to plant these thoughts in their minds and try to model these things. That faithfulness begins before marriage is a really novel thought for many (including me once).