It seems as if there is a common theme these days among Christian women: the desire for something more. There is a restlessness, a longing for something more than being defined by being a mom, a homemaker or a single female. In response to this, there have been many blog posts in recent days about finding fulfillment by using your spiritual gifts and talents as an outlet or an answer to this restless desire. I'm hearing the phrase frequently, "finding your voice."
There is truth to this. It is encouraging to hear other women encourage others to use their gifts, and sometimes some of us need a good kick-you-in-the-pants speech to get us moving. However, I want to submit to you that this is not the final solution. The answer I think Scripture gives is this: you and I will not find rest, contentment and fulfillment in anything or anyone other than Jesus Christ.
Let me give you my story.
I am prone to restlessness. I am the lyrics of the great hymn, "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing" that sings, "Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love." I am prone to look for fulfillment in the next best thing. In the next phase of life. I sought this as a young, single woman who longed to find companionship and love. I wanted a husband and thought how much better my life would be once that part was settled. I married, and I love my husband with my whole heart. He has been one of the greatest blessings to me. However, he did not answer my heart's needs for rest and contentment.
During our marriage when I was on staff at The Alabama Baptist writing news and feature stories, laying out pages, meeting with important Baptist people for interviews, I was physically tired because the job required a lot and didn't allow for pursuing personal ministry goals. I always dreamed of being able to stay at home one day and to not have to depend on me having a salary. I wanted the freedom to wake up late and be home (I love being home!) when I wanted. This is what I dreamed life would be as a stay-at-home mom. I was looking for contentment in the next phase of life.
When we found out we were pregnant with our son, I was relieved to know that my American dream of having a family would come to fruition. Plus I would really now be content because then I could focus on writing what I wanted to write, blogging, and perhaps even writing for Christian publishers! I wouldn't have the stress of a job; I could roam around my town instead of sitting behind a desk while looking outside the window as other people enjoyed the day. But once my son came and I became a stay-at-home mom, I continued to be restless.
Now, I resented not having a place to go because it meant I never dressed up anymore and I didn't necessarily have to shower (other than for the sake of my husband!). I was covered in spit-up, poop, pee in the beginning. The next year I couldn't leave my son alone for one second because he was into everything and was a danger to himself if left alone! The next year as he learned to talk, I lived day to day hearing "Mommy. Mommy. Mommy. Mommy." This past year I have spent my days disciplining, correcting and enduring all those temper tantrums.
I was restless. I thought I would find contentment in the next stage of life. The next person. The next job. But I didn't. I still haven't found contentment in those things. Nowadays, if you were to ask me what I am restless for or am hoping to quench my restless thirst with, it would be having a full-time writing and speaking career using my gifts, passions and seminary training for the Lord. Surely that's what is needed because, of course, unlike those other things mentioned this is for the Lord! It is what I believe He has called me to do!
But lately I have begun asking myself the question, "Will I find contentment and rest even in using these gifts and passions how I want to use them?" Am I waiting to find contentment until the day I have a teaching ministry? Will I feel at peace and fulfillment when I publish my first book?
The answer I have come to is "No." No I won't. If I can't find rest, contentment, joy, peace and fulfillment in the Lord now, then I will never find it in these other things or people. Even if they are good things. Even if they are rendered to the Lord. So often we try to find fulfillment and joy in our service to the Lord apart from the Lord. We are too busy doing things for God that we don't have time to spend with God. We want to serve the Master without knowing the Master. Then before long we believe we are carrying out the will of God when really we no longer know what His will is -- it's been compromised with our own will.
So this is what God has been teaching me lately and which I am still trying to learn and put into practice: I will find true contentment, joy, peace and rest in whatever stage I am in my life if I find it first and foremost in Christ. I must learn to base my own identity and to measure my worth by who I am in Christ rather than what I am doing or by how much I am doing.
Lately I have been asking myself, "Kristen, are you too busy working and looking toward the future that you are missing out on being faithful with the few tasks God has given you now?" How am I using my spiritual gifts at home with my son? Am I missing out on opportunities to teach him God's Word and the gospel because I'm too concerned with teaching adults? Is my calling as a mom not as important as my calling as a writer? (If my answer is yes it is not as important, then shame on me!) Am I not paying attention to the needs of my husband and failing to serve him and his needs because I want to take care of others' needs first? We -- I -- forget that our neighbor (in reference to the second greatest commandment) includes my husband and son! It includes those closest to me.
I must be found faithful doing the things that God has called me to now, today, or else I won't know how to be faithful with those things in the future. Yes, by all means I am to use my gifts for God's glory in the church and in the community now (who says you can't do both?) but not at the cost of not using them at home or at the cost of not spending time with God. My gifts will only be as effective as my walk with the Lord. If I am not spending time in Scripture, prayer, gratitude, reflection and mediation on His Word, then my gifts will no longer be reflecting the glory of God but of me.
If you think about it, we in the United States are very narcissistic. We are obsessed with self, and because of that we get really depressed when we aren't accomplishing something or getting recognized for our achievements. Two years ago The Huffington Post published some research about the nations with the highest clinical depression. United States came in second at a rate of 19.2%. That is really astonishing given the fact that we are one of the wealthiest nations. We don't have to worry about being invaded or wars (too much, as they are often thousands of miles away). We don't have to worry about major disease epidemics, religious persecution, drug lords coming into our homes and decapitating us, famine, or drought. Yet we are depressed.
Why? I really think it comes down to our obsession with self. We think by making self the most important thing we will satisfy these needs of contentment, fulfillment and joy, but the irony is that by elevating self we are destroying ourselves. We can't give ourselves what only Christ can give us. We can't find what we're searching for in sinful human beings. It's like eating chocolate to satisfy a hunger. Sure it tastes awfully good and feels good at first, but too much of it can make you downright sick and yet if you just eat one piece it makes you lust for more.
We also are depressed because we find fulfillment and identity in what we do. This is probably why Purpose Driven Life sold so well! We want to make sure we are living with purpose. But God has been bringing to my mind repeatedly that Jesus spent 30 years growing, praying, spending time in the synagogues, and preparing before having a public ministry that only lasted 3 years! "All those years wasted!" a good American might say. We cannot fathom doing "nothing" for that long. We don't value waiting, listening, learning, preparing, and praying; in fact we consider those things as "nothing" or as accomplishing nothing. In a give-me-now culture where we basically can have everything we want with the swipe of a credit card, the opening of an app, or the tapping of a tweet, it is against our very nature to sit still and wait. To exercise patience.
But this narcissism, obsession with self, has crept into the churches and Christian communities. As E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O'Brien wrote in Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes, "When the 'me generation' became Christians, we baptized this egocentrism" (p. 194). Just pay careful attention to sermons and blog posts. Ask yourself, "Who is the subject of this sermon or post or article?" You can find this out easily by counting the number of pronouns/names used. How often is Jesus or God mentioned in comparison to "you"? You can also figure this out by looking at the goal -- is the goal to become a better more impassioned you or for God to be glorified.
So often what I am being fed is a form of existentialism. A short definition of existentialism is "a philosophical theory or approach that emphasizes the existence of the individual person as a free and responsible agent determining their own development through acts of the will." As Christians we have baptized our obsession with self and this existential philosophy and have put a Christian spin on it. Here's the Christian spin. You are still the subject and your happiness is the goal, but God is introduced as a supporting actor to help you accomplish your life's goal and purpose. Whereas when you read the Bible, God is the main subject and we are recipients of his saving work. Here's another great quote from Misreading Scripture:
"The idea that we are only a part of God's redemptive plan is hard to swallow for Christians raised to believe that if I had been the only sinner ever born, Jesus would still have gone to the cross for me. When we realize that each passage of Scripture is not about me, we begin gradually to see that the true subject matter of the Bible, what the book is really about, is God's redeeming work in Christ. God is restoring all of creation (including me), but I am not the center of God's kingdom work. This is a much greater thing to be absorbed with than ourselves."
It seems so counterintuitive doesn't it? If we want to find true self-fulfillment and joy in this world then we must "deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow Him?" (cf. Luke 9:23) Isn't it against everything my culture is telling me and pulling on me to say that Jesus is the main actor in my story, not me? I am the supporting actor in my life. Let me tell you, I didn't come to Jesus so that he could help me find my voice or make me a happier person. I came to him so that he would save me from my rottenness, my sin, and transform this dirty vessel into something more like him.
Yes, I still believe God is calling me to a speaking and writing ministry. I look forward to doing what I love the most full-time -- one day. In fact I am doing some of it even now, even though it is in small doses. But I must not let my hope for the future blind me from the present. Although it's difficult to see, what I am doing now does count. It is part of God's greater calling for my life. I will have to answer to Him about how I treated my roles as wife and mother. Did I honor God and love God in those roles and love my husband and son like myself? Using my gifts in the church without getting paid for them does count. It does matter.
I will find contentment and joy in these things despite them because I am doing it for the Lord. My rest and joy come only from the Lord and He gives me joy for all things, mundane, dirty and not-so-fun things. My prayer is that when God is ready to use me in other ways and for other things and to move me into a new stage that I won't regret mishandling the past and that I will do these things out of an already fulfilled, content place where God is receiving all the glory.
And if I can't learn the lesson of contentment now, then how will I ever learn it? It's funny that we quote "I can do all things through him who strengthens me," (Phil. 4:13) to refer to anything and everything we want to do. I think we like this verse because it seems that the emphasis is on me and doing all things. It appeals to our American senses. Yet, read in its context we read that just a few verses prior Paul says, "...for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content." We must learn like Paul not to find contentment in circumstances because they so easily change; sometimes they are good and sometimes bad. But Paul is content through good and bad because God strengthens him! It is God who enabled Paul to find contentment, for Paul's source for contentment came from the Lord.
As we learn contentment and how to find that in Christ alone, let us adopt the words of the psalmist who praises God at all times for who He is. Circumstances might not be great, life ebbs and flows, but still he praises God. "Shout for joy in the LORD, O you righteous! Praise befits the upright. Give thanks to the LORD with the lyre; make melody to him with the harp of ten strings! Sing to him a new song; play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts!" (Psalm 33:1-3)
I find that a heart filled with gratitude and praise helps me on those days when I am feeling restless, when I am forgetting that it is Christ who gives me contentment, when I want to rush through these days that one day I will look back on wanting to return. So in these days I am finding my voice in my praises to God.
So this is my story. What is yours? What are you feeling restless about? Yes, by all means, find those things you love and do them. Use your spiritual gifts, talents and passions to glorify God. Just know that even those things won't bring you complete contentment and joy, for that only comes from the Lord Jesus.
And how does the hymnist of Come Thou Fount answer this proclivity to wander and to be restless? He writes, "Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, Seal it for Thy courts above."
Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount, I’m fixed upon it,
Mount of Thy redeeming love.