Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Mud soaked in grace

Here is my answer to another favorite question from my single friends: "How do I know whether this person is the one for me?"

First, stop asking the question.
Because this question is fundamentally selfish.

Or perhaps you are dating and already thinking, "I have found the perfect one for me!" Watch out, you are also in for a rude awakening.

You are making your tastes, your needs, your values, your personalities as the central, deciding factors. So really, you are loving you, not the other person. And marrying a person because you love you is generally a bad idea.

While Adam was sleeping, God made Eve. Adam was awakened to the dawn of nuptial love. God did not throw Eve somewhere in the Garden and tell Adam "go find her!" No, God brought her to Adam. In the twilight, they walked in the Garden while the earth was still young. No other husband and wife knew joy so great, though their time was brief.

Therefore, the first thing to say about marriage is that it is a work of grace.

Marriage is God's work of grace in the lives of his children. Grace of the most profound sort. Grace we do not deserve. We were given, entrusted with the life of another human being. For this reason, marriage is suitable a picture of the Gospel. A picture of how the God-man Jesus Christ gave his life for his Bride.

So, do not ask "Who is the one for me?" Rather, we should be asking, am I standing in the way of grace? Do I have the right disposition to receive grace? Grace that I do not deserve.

What is this way of grace?
The way of grace is given to us by the entire counsel of Scripture.

We are not left with our ever-changing, unreliable feelings, and random, subjective experiences (Thanks be to God!). We have been given the counsel of God's Word, which remains true forever. He has revealed his will to us, including whom we are to marry. And we have been commanded to seek after, not husbands or wives, but the kingdom of God.

Our understanding of marriage, however, must not rely merely on the "marriage passages" or the "love passages." We need know the whole story in order to understand the specific passages about love and marriage. We need to know who God is, who we are, our struggles with sin, how God rescues us from our sin, and how we are to live in relationships with one another.

Emeth, who is four, has long started asking me about "his queen." And my answer to him is always the same: he must first learn to love Lady Wisdom. In this way, he will know how to love his queen. He must first learn to walk in the way of wisdom, by fearing God and keeping his commandments. Here, he will learn to stand in the way of grace.

With much fear and trembling (and a teeny bit of reluctance), I pray that my three sons would love wise women. In order to win wise women, however, they must first be wise young men. I don't want them to be exquisite vases looking for other exquisite vases. I want them to be good mud finding good mud. Mud soaked in grace. I pray that they would become suitable clay— broken and yielding—in order that they might be useful vessels for the glory of God.

So, how would you characterize someone who is wise? Here are just a few traits gleaned from the book of Proverbs. The wise person fears the Lord. Unlike fools, the wise person is aware of their foolishness and loves correction and discipline. The wise person prays, trusts in the Lord, bears much fruit, is hard-working, resourceful, kind, and knows how to reign over their tongues. Fools manipulate and take advantage of others; they are flirtatious, proud, dishonest, provocative, and lazy. They have no self-control especially over their tongues and their temper.

A few more words.

Not only have we been given the entire counsel of God's Word, we have also been given a cloud of witnesses. You should not be making this decision alone. Seek the counsel of God-fearing people who love you and who would watch out for you. And listen. Wisdom is discernible by others. In fact, your own vision might be a little (or more than a little) compromised by your feelings.

No matter how well we think we know the person we marry, we always marry people who are somewhat of a stranger to us. Because dates are not the same as real life. Because people change. And believe it or not, that's a very good thing. The knowledge that we are able to change is the very hope of marriage.

Part of me died at the altar on my wedding day. I died, in more ways than I understood. And I promised to be a new person, in more ways than I knew possible, with the one singing beside me. The amazing thing was that he promised to do the same. That he would die for me, to be with me, to be me.

The way of grace is narrow.
But its narrowness
is the narrowness of a birth canal.
There is an entire universe waiting on the other side.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Make me a butterfly

Hans, and my Mama. Nobody can set me straight the way they can, and do. They see through my excuses, self-pity, and self justifications. Call me out. And even tell me to change. They say some of the most furious, painful things. Render me speechless.

Because they are usually right.
And because they love me.

I prefer my grace to come sugar-coated, please. Nope, not from them. They demonstrate grace to me in all its wholesome glory—by laying bare the depth and ugliness of my self-deception, and offer a way out.

These days, the wisdom they give can be summed up with this:
Stop chasing after what I would like to do. Instead, learn to love what must be done.*
This is hard stuff.

To stop wishing that my circumstances were different, or that people were different, or that I was different.

To love what must be done.

To love doing dishes. To love wiping up spilled milk for the third time today. To love repeating myself for the fifth time within the past five minutes. To love going to bed early. To love paying bills and filling out forms. To love holding my thoughts captive, and keeping my tongue hostage. To love being pregnant (yes, my mom actually said this. Isn't she awesome?).

Because I get to do these things for the ones I love. Because in serving them, I am worshiping the God who saved me and gave himself for me. He saves me still, from myself.

To love His will and His way. To see my duties as my delight. To not think of them as chores, but as summons from the King. To believe that his commands are not oppressive. Instead, they are his grace to me, that he would use these hands to help, these feet to run (or, more like waddle), these lips to teach and kiss, this body to bear life.

My allegiance and my affection is again called into question. What do I love? Whom do I worship?

To to love dying to self requires nothing short of a miracle. In my self-loving soul, to love God and others is like telling a larva in the cocoon to fly. This is where I fall into despair.

I am learning to pray as Augustine prayed centuries ago: "Command what you will, and grant what you command — Make me a butterfly, O my God!" For I am incapable of such metamorphosis on my own.

This transformation, however, is not the passive, unconscious kind of a larva in a cocoon. Rather, it requires striving of the most rigorous and desperate kind. It requires persuasion of the mind and a change of the will. It requires faith, through the hearing and careful consideration of the his Word. It requires divine intervention and enabling in order that I might love truly and rightly.

One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much.

The saints and martyrs throughout church history did not live merely for the one to two events where they marked history. Instead, God was molding them in ten thousand mundane, everyday ways to make them who they became.

Therefore, do not be downcast, my dear friend. Be persuaded by the truth and beauty of his Word. Be convinced that he is faithful to finish the work he has begun. Smell the blossoms, taste the nectar, desire the Garden.

Command what you will,
Grant what you command.
Teach me to love your narrow way.
Undo me in order that I might do what must be done.
Make me a butterfly.

*Goethe said it so well. This is a modification of his words that I first saw over at Gracelaced.