An answer to a restless spirit

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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.

Challenge in the waiting

Whether or not you know the name John Newton, you probably have heard or sung his song, "Amazing Grace." Ahhh...can you hear the tune playing softly in your head? "Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me..." Newton left a legacy, and his works are still witnessing to the work of Christ and ministering to people 200 years after his death!

But what is remarkable to me is that this same man who left such a legacy also had a lot of disappointments, failures and rejection in his pursuit of ministry. The first time Newton ever preached a sermon was at the invitation of John Edwards, and as Newton later described it, it was a disaster!

"My ideas forsook me; darkness and confusion filled up their place. I stood on a precipice and could not advance a step forward. I stared at the people and they at me. Not a word more could I speak but was forced to come down and leave the people, some smiling, some weeping. My pride and self-sufficiency were sorely mortified."

Also, the first time he sought ordination in the Church of England he was refused because he was too evangelical and too connected to the Methodists. I can only imagine how frustrated, sad and disappointed Newton might have felt. And, just maybe, at the time did not see how his call to ministry would flesh out.

Newton is just one example of many people who had setbacks, rejections and frustrations in their pursuit of God's call on their life. One of my college mentors who has a PhD and teaches at my alma mater was a stay-at-home mom until her youngest of three boys was a teenager -- then she went back to school. Another mentor in seminary worked at a department store for many years before his ministry of preaching and teaching really took off.

Some days, like today, I feel so lost in a world that seems overcrowded with laundry, cleaning, cooking, bills, being a mom and being a wife. I long for a ministry of teaching and speaking so that I can use my calling and my gifts to encourage Christ's church -- His Body, but I encounter rejection by publishers and by churches. I want to be out doing missions but because of certain circumstances I don't have the opportunity to serve like I would like to serve internationally and nationally at present. Do you have similar struggles?

If so, I am glad to know we are not alone as I know we definitely are not. But what does God's Word say to us to help us with these struggles?

1. He is Faithful; Be Faithful

One of my favorite verses is Psalm 138:8, "The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands." And 1 Thess. 5:24, "He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it." I don't need to worry about God's call on my life because He is faithful to see it through. Instead of measuring my worth and my call quantitatively or by someone else's standard, my call must be measured in faithfulness. In a parable Jesus said to his disciples he said, "One who is faithful in very little is also faithful in much" (Lk. 16:10). Instead of focusing on the have-nots, I believe Scripture teaches us to focus on being faithful in the present. Do well at being faithful to God and to Scripture in all areas of life and then you will see Him giving you the desires of your heart and fulfilling His purpose for you.

2. Be grateful and thankful

Isn't it our human nature to just want to be negative? I know it is for me! Instead of negativity, the Psalmist says, "Enter his gates with thanksgiving," and "Sing to the LORD with thanksgiving." 1 Thess. 5:16-18 says, "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." It is so tempting to want to compare our lives with those around us (and social media makes it all that much easier!). I've personally experienced when I constantly compare my life to others I diminish my value and worth and become ungrateful and jealous. Instead, replace the act of comparing with the act of thanksgiving and see how your outlook on life changes! It puts focus from self to God.

3. Don't count time.

I have noticed a certain mentality among my generation and younger that you must have it all by age 30: be married, have children, own a four-bedroom home and two new cars, and be independently wealthy. (Well I can say I did 1 1/2 of those things by the time I reached 30 but they are on the front end of the list! Ha!) Given that I am doing life in this culture means that often times I feel rushed to have the ministry I feel called to now or it won't happen at all. And, if I don't, I am a failure to God, unable to do what He has called me to do. Well that's absolutely ridiculous, but it's a lie that Satan likes to use constantly with me. But the truth is is that Time Is In God's Hands. This truth goes back to the truth that God is faithful. It is good to wait upon the Lord, David writes in the Psalms. Isaiah 40:31 says, "but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint." Whether it is waiting for the return of the Lord, for vindication, for healing, for provisions, for an answer or even for a calling to come to fruition, it is good to wait. God holds time in His hands; therefore, do not worry about the time you have. He has it under control.

Newton had to wait many years before he was finally ordained and given a pastorate. While he waited he wrote this letter to one of his spiritual mentors.

"I agree with you that my call has not been clear because I think no one's call is complete till the Lord has confirmed their desire by his providence and placed them in the work. But I believe I have in some degree that inward call -- that desire and preference to the service and a little measure of that experience and those whole gifts that would justify my embracing a proper invitation or opening whenever it should happen. Till then I shall wait."

And like Newton, I shall wait. I shall try to wait with grace, a grateful heart, faithfulness in the small, mundane things of life, and with trust in God that He is faithful to see through those plans He has for me. And you? What about you?

(My information about John Newton and quotes came from a book written by Jonathan Aitken called John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace.)

It's been an exciting month!

A few minutes ago I shared with you work that I did in the early Fall for The Alabama Baptist newspaper that was just published this week — a package of articles and resources on the issue of human trafficking. (See post below.) Also, this month, another work I did last year has finally been published. (It’s an exciting month for me!).

This summer I wrote my first Bible study for Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU)’s mymissionfulfilled. Mymissionfulfilled is a ministry of WMU focused on reaching young women. Its website is: www.mymissionfulfilled.com. You should check it out as the women in this ministry at WMU have done a fantastic job of reaching this age group.

The Bible study, called myStory: A Study on Our Relationship with God, is the second in a series of missional Bible studies. It’s a 15-month session study, which is broken down into three areas: an in depth Bible study, an activity focused on building community based on the study, and a mission project focused on applying the study.

Here's the link to the study: bit.ly/Vo1CTb Be sure to scroll down the page; myStory is listed secondly.

My prayer is that it would be helpful to young women in churches all across this nation in learning to tell their stories from God’s perspective as found in Scripture. And, of course, that it would bring glory to God.

I am grateful for the opportunity to write Bible studies and do what I sense God has called me to do.

I am also excited to announce that WMU’s mymissionfulfilled has asked me to write another study. I'll keep you posted on the second one as I know more.