Sunday, April 27, 2008

Train Up a Child Now

The following clip could have inspired a thousand posts. I almost couldn't narrow it down to just one topic. While brainstorming for ideas on what to title this, a few fun and silly phrases came to mind:

Biblical Womanhood vs. Feminine Vermin
A Case for Homeschooling
The Constant Dripping: A Look at its Origins
Psychoanalytic Parenting: Making Progress in the Wrong Direction
Before They Were Nags
Rottenness in Everyone's Bones
Warning: Sugar N' Spice May Cause Cavities N' Heartburn
Is There Any More Room on the Roof?

See if you can come up with any of your own:

In spite of all the themes present, I think what strikes me most is that the annoying creature in this scene is a mere child. Many people believe that children are too young to understand the things of God. The Bible teaches the opposite:

1. Parents are commanded to instruct their children in the ways of the Lord: "You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise" (Deuteronomy 6:7 & 11:19).

2. There is an expectation for children to know the Scriptures: "And how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus" (2 Timothy 3:15).

3. Scripture speaks to children directly: "Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord" (Colossians 3:20). "Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you" (Exodus 20:12).

4. The Scripture also gives vivid commentaries on a child's character: "Even a child makes himself known by his acts, by whether his conduct is pure and upright" (Proverbs 20:11).

5. Finally, Scripture promises positive results when we discipline children from an early age: "Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him" (Proverbs 22:15). "Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die. If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from Sheol" (Proverbs 23:13-14). "Discipline your son, and he will give you rest; he will give delight to your heart" (Proverbs 29:17).

This is not an exhaustive study of the scriptures on this topic. There are many more verses like these which speak of the importance of training up a child in the way he should go. The important thing is to note that if a child is never too young to be disciplined, then he is never too young to understand the gospel. I find that all too often, children are marginalized in our evangelism efforts. If we do not properly explain to them who our Lord is and their identity in the grand scheme of God's creation as men and women, we will stunt the growth of their faith and character.

Consider the two children in this scene. Shirley (Temple) is a sweet, helpful, nurturing, encouraging and supportive little girl. But the other child, who ironically is called Joy, is the epitome of the kind of woman who will be a constant drain on a man in the future. The Bible gives us the confidence that children do understand much more than we give them credit for. The time to discipline, train, and evangelize them is now.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Confessions of a Would-Be Genius

Very early on in life, I showed signs of being intellectually gifted. I learned to read before I reached kindergarten. By first grade, I was separated from the rest of my class because I was already at a fourth-grade reading level. In high school, I was good at everything. School has always been easy for me. But I didn’t really grasp how intelligent I was until a few years ago. I took the MAT in January 2006 and scored 47 points higher than the minimum required score to be admitted to my doctoral program. Curious, I did some research to see if I could gain entrance into Mensa, the world’s leading community for people of superior intelligence. Unfortunately, my MAT scores were two percentile points lower than Mensa’s minimum. So I called my high school and had them look up every IQ test I have taken since first grade. Amazingly, I consistently scored just two or three points below Mensa’s minimum requirements on every single IQ test I’ve ever taken in my lifetime. So I’m not a genius after all. But almost!

A high IQ is a gift from God. But all too often, people abuse that gift and use it to become puffed up and arrogant. It is especially important for women who are very intelligent to use this gift with humility, always with the attitude that every gift and talent we have been given is to be used to glorify God and God alone. If intelligent women are not careful, their prideful displays of intellect can intimidate the men around them and come across as disrespect.

I cringe whenever I look back on my adolescence. I can’t help but wonder how my father must have felt when his sixteen-year-old daughter would systematically dismantle the thought process behind his every decision. My attitude toward my father spilled over into my relationships with other men. It was all about power and control, and making these men look as stupid as humanly possible, especially if they hurt me.He was so handsome. He was so popular. Every girl in school was practically throwing themselves at him. But somehow, a proud old woman who smelled of moth balls and cigarette smoke had managed to cut him to shreds. I never wanted to scoop a man into my arms more than I did at that moment and say, “I think you’re wonderful.” But I just sat there.

When I was in the tenth grade, I studied geometry, my favorite area of mathematics. I was a year ahead of the other kids and my teacher, Mrs. Scott, made no effort to keep my mathematical ability a secret. She often would compare the other students to me, and she was absolutely ruthless about it. There were some very good looking boys in my math class whom she ridiculed on a regular basis, especially one boy in particular, “Sal.” One day, Sal gave a wrong answer to a homework problem. Mrs. Scott reacted by callously announcing to the class, “Not everyone will grow up to be great like Jennifer will. Sal will probably become a garbage man.” Then she winked at me. I looked at Sal, who simply stared into his textbook, his ears a deep shade of red. He was so handsome. He was so popular. Every girl in school was practically throwing themselves at him. But somehow, a proud old woman who smelled of moth balls and cigarette smoke had managed to cut him to shreds. I never wanted to scoop a man into my arms more than I did at that moment and say, “I think you’re wonderful.” But I just sat there.

At that time, I was developing a friendship with “Joey,” who had asked me to the junior prom. I happily accepted. But shortly after the “garbage man” incident, Joey suddenly stopped talking to me. It seems Sal and the other boys in class were teasing Joey for asking the “sophomore math whiz” to the junior prom. Joey did take me to the prom, (I think his mother forced him to) but he refused to speak to me the entire night. We never danced even once. A week after the prom was over, Joey said I was "annoying" and told me never to speak to him again. For the rest of the school year, Sal, Joey, and the entire Varsity Baseball Team laughed at me whenever I entered the room.

I was angry and hurt, and I missed Joey's company. At the end of the year, when it was time to take the New York State Regents Exam for Sequential II Mathematics, I deliberately chose a desk at the back of the gym. In less than half the time we were given to take the exam, I got up from my seat and walked through the sea of “average” students to turn in my exam. Mrs. Scott smiled and said, “Don’t you want to double-check your work?”

I arrogantly asserted, “No. I don’t have to.” Then I crumpled up my scratch paper and “accidentally” dropped it at Sal’s feet. “Oops!” I said. “Sal, could you get that for me?” Sal picked up the crumpled up piece of paper and tossed it into the garbage pail that was about five feet away. “You know, you're pretty good at that,” I said. With a toss of my head, I proudly and defiantly walked away. I had humiliated this boy in front of the entire Class of 1991, the wooden soles of my shoes ringing throughout the gymnasium as I made my grand exit. (I ended up getting a 97 on that exam, and was completely stunned and disappointed that I did not score a perfect grade of 100, which shows you where my heart was.)

Long after I graduated from high school and became a Christian, I heard through the grapevine that Sal had indeed become a sanitation worker in our hometown. Upon hearing this news, my heart sank and I hung my head in shame, remembering how I had disrespected this boy so many years ago. I wish I could take it back, but I can’t. Truly, there is nothing wrong with being a “garbage man.” Any man who works an honest living deserves to be heralded as a great man who fulfills his responsibilities of providing for himself and his family. The sin lies in the wickedness of cutting a man down so badly, he gives up on any idea of exploring his true potential.

We should never mock a man for the kind of work he does, or shame him for not aspiring to a higher position, especially since God is sovereign and calls each of us to various assignments in life. As women, we need to be supportive of men and express our gratitude for the way they protect us and provide for us and sacrifice for us. And we should never use our intelligence to puff ourselves up over anyone, especially a man. Not only is this sinful, but it is pointless because intelligence is a useless form of currency in the Kingdom of God. Death is the great equalizer. The Bible reminds us that the wise man and the fool both have the same fate (Ecclesiastes 2:15-17). No matter how smart you are or think you may be, your brains will rot in the grave, just like everyone else’s. God gives us our talents first to glorify Him and then to edify others. When we misuse our gifts for our own glory, it turns to ashes, as the Bible says that all things will pass away – that includes any great accomplishment of yours that was not done for the Lord. This is why we must live for Him. Because without God, there is nothing.

I don’t know where Sal is today. But if I could tell him one thing, I’d want him to know that he is not a loser. He is created in the image of God, and that makes him a precious miracle and a mystery all wrapped up in one. I’d do everything in my power to demonstrate to him that he has my respect, regardless of whether or not he feels he deserves it. Sal, wherever you are, my heart goes out to you. Please forgive me. Please forgive me.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Will I Be Single and Childless for Life?

Last week I was speaking with an old friend of mine. "Sally" is one of my dearest friends whom I have known for twelve years. She is one of the most spiritually mature women I know, and highly sensitive to issues concerning motherhood. You see, Sally was adopted as an infant. If there is anyone I know who truly appreciates the beauty of parenting, it is my friend Sally. Yet Sally remains childless, as one by one, everyone around her is becoming pregnant.

I can identify with Sally. I came from a place of selfish feminist philosophy, thinking marriage was stupid. God changed me so radically, I not only understand the concept of marriage, but I have come to desire it. Last year, all of my friends started relationships. Then one by one, all of my friends' relationships successfully ended in either engagement or marriage. I am the only one who had a potential opportunity last year that ended, period.

Sally and I were surveying the people we knew and placing horrible judgments on them. We marveled over the immaturity of some of these individuals. Some were devastated to learn they were pregnant, complaining about how they were going to get "fat." Some were obviously not prepared for marriage, not wanting to give, but only expecting to receive. Together, Sally and I proudly asserted that if anyone desereves a child, it is Sally, and if anyone deserves for a relationship to work, it's me! I have done everything God has asked me to. I have studied all the scriptures and been more obedient than the rest. I did everything "by the book." I even followed God down roads I didn't want to in order to serve a man I wasn't attracted to at first, only for him change his mind, and that was that. What gives? How can God give a baby to these selfish, stuck up women, and a husband to these immature women who have no idea what they're in for, when Sally and I are prepared for and so well "deserving" of these gifts? Doesn't God trust us with these gifts? Haven't we rightfully earned them, moreso than these younger, foolish, less mature Christians? If you are a woman who has ever entertained these types of thoughts, allow me to point you to Luke 15, the story of the Prodigal Son.

In this story, the father represents God. The prodigal represents the immature, foolish Christian who has squandered his time with God in pursuit of worldly things. However, there is a third character in this story -- that of the elder son. Note that he is not just any son, but that he is the older of the two. Why is this important? Because in Biblical times, the older son always got the largest portion of his father's estate. In this story, the older son says, "Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends. But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him." (Luke 15:29-30). The father responds, "Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.” (Luke 15:30-31).

This message was preached at my church this morning, and as I sat there and listened, I began to survey my life. As I reviewed everything I have, I realize that God appears to have given me much more than He has given any of my friends. Yet here I am, complaining about not getting a goat, and stating my case that I am more deserving of a goat because I have always obeyed Him and followed Him more closely than my friends. Immediately I grew ashamed of my attitude. On one hand, it is unbiblical in the sense that I am viewing any gift from God as a "reward" for my good works, which is not a doctrinally sound way to view the God of the Bible. On the other hand, I am comparing myself to others and coming to some very self-righteous conclusions. God has not withheld anything from me and Sally. He does not love us any less than His other children. In fact if Sally and I look closely, we will see that much like the elder Son, God has bestowed upon us far more blessings than many of our friends.

How about you? What is God doing in your life? Is it possible He will call you to lifelong singleness? What if He never allows you to have a child? Will you be as the elder son in the story, refusing to rejoice with your friends because they have something that you don't?

It was Keith Green who wrote, "He's brought me here where things are clear and trials turn to gold." Only in God's Kingdom can trials turn to gold. You may never marry. You may never be a mother in the biological sense. But if you submit to God's will, those tears of disappointment will one day water and bring forth much fruit. God may give you the opportunity to nurture and help in ways that you never could imagine if you were a wife and mother in the earthly sense. If God has not yet given you your heart's desire, perhaps He is simply reminding you, "You have been with me always, and all that I have is yours."

Friday, April 11, 2008

Now Voyager

I have a passion for card games. I like traditional card games (Hearts is my absolute favorite) but I’m also a sucker for games with specialized decks, such as Uno and Skip-bo. As a child, I also enjoyed playing a game called Old Maid. The object of the game is to get rid of all the cards in one’s hand by eliminating pairs. The only card in the deck that does not have a matching partner is called the “Old Maid.” The player who is left holding the old maid at the end of the game is the loser.

The rules of the game are reminiscent of the common stereotypes society places on older single women. The word spinster is used to convey not only the age and marital status of these women, but also certain negative connotations that go along with it. In addition to being old, “spinsters” are usually portrayed as being ugly, frumpy, somewhat depressed, and most of all, childless and unlikely to ever marry in their lifetime. Feminists have criticized the word as yet another example of sexist vocabulary, asking a very valid question: “Why are no such negative connotations attached to the word bachelor?” Well, there is a very valid answer. The reason is that a woman who is still single beyond the traditional age of marriage is – historically speaking – not single by choice. According to Genesis, men were created to be the spiritual leaders. They are, by God’s design, the initiators, and women are the responders. Today, if a woman chooses to exhibit biblical femininity in her life, she will not pursue, rather, she will allow herself to be pursued. If no man is pursuing, we can infer she is somehow unworthy of a man’s love, and therefore an object of pity in our society. The implication is that nobody wants her.

While there are many Christian women who buy into this lie, those who do not may still struggle under the duress of social pressure which reminds them that this is generally how they are viewed by the public. Many in the Christian community do not want to believe that a woman can be content in her single years. They will simply assume she is miserable. Ironically this assumption can prove to be very convincing. Unless she renews her mind, the single woman who does fall prey to this mentality will begin to think there is something wrong with her, and can grow very depressed if not careful.

A powerful example of a woman who fought to take her thoughts captive is Charlotte Vale, the heroine of the 1942 classic film Now Voyager. Charlotte, played by Bette Davis, is a woman who possesses a natural charm which is discouraged and eventually suffocated. The plot of the story reveals Charlotte’s quest to break free of the lies she has been fed her entire life that she is ugly and will never amount to anything.

The film was made during World War II, a time when so many women were temporarily without their husbands who were overseas. For this reason, most of the films at that time were geared toward a predominantly female audience. Although there are plenty of other films with a female heroine at the center of the story produced during this time (including one bearing the title, Old Maid, also starring Bette Davis), Now Voyager is absolutely bursting with biblically feminine themes. The characters are remarkably complex and the qualities of helper and nurturer are all present in this film through multiple roles such as mother, daughter, surrogate mother, sister, niece, and female companion. We see sin weaken the bonds of interpersonal relationships, and how a biblical response to sin enables one to rise above its consequences.

I must stress this is not a Christian film. It is a story straight out of Hollywood, and there are certain biblical criticisms we can apply to some of the dialogue. In spite of this, the viewer should still be able to discern just how relevant the characters and the story are to their own lives, and the lives of individuals within the church. Every woman has at some point in her life has felt she was an ugly duckling. It is important to note that even within a marriage, women can be criticized by family and friends, leaving them feeling unfulfilled, unwanted, and unfeminine. But through Christ, we are all a thing of beauty, having been given His righteousness.

The title, Now Voyager comes from Walt Whitman’s poem, “The Untold Want.” In context, the phrase reads:

The untold want by life and land ne'er granted,
Now voyager sail thou forth to seek and find.

Regardless of our age, gender, marital status, or physical appearance, true joy is only found on the journey of sanctification when we sail forth to seek the ultimate untold want of our hearts: Christ, our life. Charlotte Vale, although a fictitious character, is an unlikely role model because she learns to make the most of her life and her circumstances. She is a nurturer and helper, albeit a surrogate in both roles, but she fulfills these roles with finesse and confidence. It is her spunk and determination to embrace her blessings that makes her the ultimate "Spinsta." If you are looking for a good movie to rent this weekend, I highly recommend this film!

Monday, April 7, 2008

Don't Play With Matches!

Remember this scene from Love With the Proper Stranger? Natalie Wood holds nothing back in this performance which communicates that the "art" of matchmaking is not exactly glamorous from the single person's point of view:

That's Tom Bosley in his first movie role as Anthony. In this scene, Angie's anger is compounded by the discomfort poor Anthony feels in this situation. Apparently, a set up is not much fun for him, either. This scene is a great example of how playing with matches can result in all parties getting burned.

People love to feel like they're helping others. This is especially true of women. We are natural born helpers. Helping makes us so happy at times we will offer our help when our assistance is not welcome. This becomes especially obvious when women (especially married women) take on the role of “matchmaker” for their single friends. While I have heard stories of how these arrangements sometimes do work out, more often than not, when a woman tries to “help” a single person to find a mate, the gesture is resented by the single party. If you do find that your single friend is somewhat resentful instead of grateful for your efforts to help, you may want to examine your motives. Rather than serving your single friend, the gesture may be an effort to serve you (and fulfill your desire to help someone). Here are some examples of how unwanted matchmaking efforts are often viewed by singles:

“I just want to see you happy.”

This is probably the worst thing you could say to a single person. It implies that her singleness is a pitiful state of existence, one in which she cannot possibly be happy. By making such a statement, you have defined happiness for your friend as you see fit. It also indicates a complete disregard for the fact that your friend’s singleness is a holy assignment from God. He has ordained this season of her life, yet you are doing everything possible to hurry this process along. Notice, too, the first word in this sentence is “I”. Seeing your friend “happy” as you have defined it is more about serving you than it is about serving her.

“I just think you two would be perfect together.”

Probably the most arrogant thing a matchmaker can say, because it assumes she is in control of her friend’s life instead of letting God ultimately do the matchmaking. (Rarely have I ever heard of women praying about a set up first -- they often will just go ahead and set two people up because they think it is a good idea.) Some women who like to assert two people are "perfect for each other" also have an unholy tendency to take the credit away from God if the match does work out, and proudly boast: “I brought them together.” If we're not careful, our tendency to help others can become an exercise in self-service because it makes us look like we did our good deed for the day.

“But you’re such a beautiful/talented/godly (etc.) woman.”

A statement like this implies that a single woman’s good qualities are being wasted if they’re not being spent on a man. If you want to compliment your single friends, do so. But don’t make them feel as though they are misusing their gifts and talents by remaining single. Again, this becomes about what you think your friend should be doing with her life, not what God has ordained for her.

“I hate to see you so lonely.”

There is a difference between loneliness and grief. For example, my friend “Gina” is not in the least bit lonely. Gina has lots of friends, a wonderful church, and lives a very full life. But she is still processing some grief over losing “Steve,” a man she adores who does not feel the same way about her. If your friend is grieving over losing someone she cares about, she is feeling the pain of the loss, but she is not necessarily lonely. A matchmaker has to then ask herself, "Am I trying to alleviate my own pain because I don’t want to see my friend grieving?" Forcing another man at a single friend does not serve that grieving friend. In fact, you may be creating loneliness by doing so. Ask anyone in a bad marriage – they’ll confirm that having a partner who doesn’t understand you will only escalate the feeling of loneliness.

“But you can at least give him a chance!”

If your single friend does not like the individual that you have in mind, drop any notions of getting them together right then and there. Your friend deserves to marry someone she is absolutely crazy about, because no matter who she marries, he will be a sinner. Marriage is hard enough having to handle conflict with someone you cherish, let alone someone you feel you have to “tolerate”. Do not pressure your friend this way. What you think should happen between two people may not be what God has in mind.

Matchmaking, in the opinion of this writer, is ultimately God's job. Only God knows what is best for your single friend. If you truly want to help your single friend, listen to her and respect her wishes. This is what constitutes true “helping.” When we help others, we are supposed to be assisting them, not taking control of their situations for them. If we examine ourselves closely, we may see that our motives for helping are more about fulfilling our own desires to help rather than truly assessing the needs of others. (Although this is not always the case. Sometimes it really is a genuine effort to help.) We can evaluate these needs by talking with our friends and asking them what would and would not serve them. We can also pray for them. Prayer is our most powerful tool in helping our loved ones. It also ensures that our desire to help is lined up with the will of God, and not just with our own desires. When we put the object of our help as our first priority, the effort will be genuine. Your friends will thank you for your support instead of resenting it!