Here is the transcript of the audio I posted yesterday, for those of you who prefer to read. This speech was delivered at a women’s conference and was based on the catechism question:
“What is the chief end of man?”
“The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever”
When I graduated from college with my degree in Social Work. I cried. I cried because I had fully expected that by the time I got my degree I would also be married. In fact, if the truth be known, I would not have been broken hearted if I had gotten married and had had to quit going to school before I graduated. For you see, my one desire was to get married to “Mr. God’s Will For My Life”, and start a family. I wanted to be a wife and a mom. Instead, I found myself needing to find a job and be a single, career minded person. I got a job as a medical social worker, and while I enjoyed it, I always had a struggle at those yearly job evaluations where I was supposed to have some sort of professional goals for my life. Somehow, “to be a wife and a mother” didn’t really sound like something that was going to result in a raise.
During this time, I began to come to Heritage Baptist Church, and at that time it was quite small. I was the only single girl among many young families. Not long after I joined the church we had a guest speaker by the name of Walt Chantry, and he was given the Sunday School hour to speak to the women. Guess what his subject was? Being a godly wife and mother. As I listened, I became more frustrated with my lack of husband, and Chantry’s lack of addressing my singleness in the church, and when he asked for questions, my hand went up as if controlled by some force outside my body and I heard my shaky, angst filled voice saying, “But I am not married, what am I supposed to do?” while my head was screaming, “shut up, shut up, you’re about to cry!” But it was too late, because I was already crying, and I was so embarrassed and frustrated with my inability to quit crying that I really didn’t hear Dr. Chantry’s answer. I just knew that if God would give me a godly husband, then I would be able to be the perfect wife and my life as a Christian would be so much more effective, because I was pretty sure I would be the most submissive, godly wife ever found on the earth. But looking back, I realize that the point of my life at that moment was not to find a husband and live happily ever after. The point of my life right then, was to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever. The point of my life was to study the scriptures, sit under sound teaching, and do my best to live a life that was pleasing to God. As a working woman, that meant I needed to apply the words of Ephesians 6:5-8, working with a sincere heart as to Christ, not with eye service, not as men-pleasers, as to the Lord, not to men. It would mean remembering as stated in 1 Thess 4:3 that the will of God is my sanctification, and this means I should abstain from sexual immorality.
It was a time to learn! To soak up every bit of spiritual training availed to me by my elders in order to transform me into the image of my Savior.
It was a time to serve. Singleness gave me a freedom with my time that married women and mothers did not have. Sadly, I often used that freedom to indulge myself, when I could have been serving others in my church and community.
I needed at that time in my life to remember that while marriage and family are biblical concepts, they are not promises. What is promised to me in Philippians 1:6 is that He who has begun a good work in me will complete it. And I needed to pray as Paul did for the Philippians a few verses later that my love would abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, that I would approve the things that are excellent, that I would be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God.
Well, I did get married, finally. And “Mr. God’s Will For My Life”? He was a godly man. He was a godly, divorced man, with two young children, and an ex-wife, and a wounded heart. And being married was hard, and being submissive was hard, and trusting this man with my heart when he seemed to be doing everything wrong was hard. And I came face to face once again with the ugliness of my own heart. What happened to my Christian fairy tale? I had held up my end of the bargain. I had been a devoted Christian, I had sought out a godly man. I had even held out for a man with sound doctrine. We did premarital counseling, we read relationship books together, we prayed and read the scripture together. And it was still hard! And what I have come to realize is that having the perfect marriage was not the point of my life at that time. The point of my life at that time was to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. The point of my life was to study scripture, sit under sound teaching and do my best to live a life that was pleasing to God. As a wife, that would mean that I would try to reflect the relationship between Christ and His bride, the church. I needed to submit first to Christ, and then, trusting Him with my life and welfare, I needed to submit to the man with whom I had become one flesh.
It was a time to learn. I needed to use this living example to learn more about the God who had created me, and called me out of darkness into his marvelous light. He gave me this marriage relationship as a simple picture of His character. Look, Christ says, as wonderful as a marriage relationship can be, its just a faded picture of the relationship I have with my chosen people. My forgiveness is deeper and more complete than the forgiveness you and your husband give each other. My sacrifice for you is greater than any sacrifice a man can make for his wife. My submission to the Father is done more cheerfully and more completely than you will ever submit to your husband.
It was a time to serve. I had opportunity to be used to heal the wounds of a broken home. I had opportunity to provide a safe haven for my family to come home to at the end of the day. I had opportunity to offer hospitality to those God put in my path. I needed in that time of my life to remember that while a healthy, Christian marriage is a biblical concept, it is not a promise. What is promised in John 14:5 is that He who abides in Christ, and Christ in him, bears much fruit.
About five minutes after we got married I started having children. Three of them, in rapid succession. And these were added to my two step children, who, by the way, were not my biggest fans. I am pretty sure I am not the only person who spent a lot of time before I had children observing other people’s children and thinking,”Mine will never do that!” “I would never allow that kind of behavior!” Well, It probably won’t surprise you to find out that I had to eat those words with just about every meal for the next 20 years. Let me give you some highlights. Once I got a call from a church member informing me that one of my children had gone behind the annex here to pee, and while he had his back to the other children, that meant he was facing the road. Once I sat at a ladies luncheon in front of a picture window on the other side of which was a trampoline, and my daughter was jumping on it, in a dress, with no underwear. I had to leave church no less than ten times in one service because a child did not want to sit in a particular location on the pew, and I wanted him to sit there! I had a child who insisted that he was not on God’s team. I was a virtual failure at potty training. I made my home schooled kids cry because I threatened to send them to public school. My step daughter asked me once did I even enjoy being a mother, because, obviously, it didn’t appear that I did. For you see, I was not as good at parenting as I had imagined. I had imagined that if I followed the books I had read, based on biblical principals, child raising would be as smooth as making chocolate chip cookies following the Toll House recipe on the back of the bag. But no matter how extensive the books were, how many examples they gave, I always felt like one or more of my kids fell through the cracks. And let’s face it. I was apparently not as mature and self controlled as those people writing the books. There were more than a few times that an appropriate scripture just wasn’t what came to mind in response to my child’s behavior.
Guess what. The point of my life at that time was not to have the perfect family with well behaved kids who were an example of all things good. The point of my life at that time was to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. The point of my life was to study scripture, sit under sound teaching, and do my best to lead a life that was pleasing to God. As a mother that meant doing my best to train up my children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. It meant working each day to teach them of God by my words and by my life. It meant teaching them to serve others by my example. It meant being in church with my children in tow, every time it was bodily possible. It meant asking their forgiveness when I failed, and getting up every day to try again.
It was a time to learn! This relationship I have with my children is just a faded picture of the relationship of the Eternal Father to His Eternal Son through the Eternal Spirit. And it is just a tainted rendering of the love that Father bestows upon us that we should be called His children (1 John 3:1). When I see my child brokenhearted over something I know they won’t even remember tomorrow, but even so my heart hurts for their temporary disappointment, I am reminded that this is in a small way how my Heavenly Father pities me (Ps. 103:13) He knows my frame, he remembers that I am dust. And his mercies are everlasting. When my child runs to me in fear or in need or in joy, I am reminded that I can run to my heavenly father in this way and cry out to him, Abba (Romans 8:15)! If I give my child a gift just to see the joy on her face, I am reminded that my Heavenly Father gives me better gifts (Matt. 7:11). I needed to remember that while having a perfect family with obedient children who all come to have a deep meaningful relationship with God is a biblical concept, it is not a promise. I know, your mind went immediately to Proverbs 22:6. “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” This is a very sound principle, and if we are faithful to train our children, we have reason to hope that they will continue in the right path. But it is not a guarantee. Sometimes they do depart, at least for a time. What is promised in Isaiah 40:11 is that He will feed HIs flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those who are with young.
I am a firm believer that if you do your work diligently when your children are young you will have an easier time of it when they become older. Amazingly enough, much to the credit of my husband, our children did appear to be pretty good young adults. They were active in serving their church family, they were kind to younger children. They were hospitable. They were hard workers. They had strong friendships with each other. I started to relax a little. I started thinking that all the hard stuff was done, and it would be smooth sailing from here on out. Whew! I was wrong. Nothing teaches you about the sovereignty of God, and your total inability to control anything than having young adult children. They were driving, which meant they were often gone from home without me. They could tell me where they were, but short of hiding in the trunk of their car (which would have been taking my life in my hands in so many ways), I wouldn’t always know if they were being truthful. They began to be interested in the opposite sex. I found myself having to learn the fine art of remaining outwardly calm as i tried to advise them on what the scripture teaches about how we conduct ourselves in relationships, while not becoming so preachy that they would stop talking to me about their friends. Social media has opened up all sorts of new avenues of embarrassment and humiliation on such a wider scale from your children. It makes their mistakes so much more public. They thought they knew so much, and they thought I didn’t know much at all. When did that happen? On top of that, I had home schooled, not so successfully. I was not producing merit scholars. I had failed to instill in them a love for learning. Because of one child’s chronic illness, there had been a few years in there when all the schooling they got was what they managed to teach themselves (which included a lot of cooking, since I wasn’t providing many meals). And I had to face the fact that the point of my life right then was not to present the world with completely mature functioning adults who were a pinnacle of godly living. The point of my life was to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. The point of my life was to study the scriptures, sit under sound teaching, and do my best to live a life pleasing to God. That meant letting go of my stranglehold on my children and giving them a chance to make mistakes while still under my protection. It meant trusting them to the Sovereign God who had numbered their days and ordained a path for them that may or may not be what I would choose for them.
It was a time to learn. I learned to pray instead of worry. I learned that there comes a time when their behavior is no longer a reflection of me, but of them: their choices are their choices, and even if I don’t know what they are doing, God does, and He will yank em back in when He is pleased to do so. I learned how to speak the truth and then let go. I was constantly reminded that I am unable to change a person’s heart, no matter what tactic I might use to try – manipulation doesn’t work, badgering doesn’t work, begging doesn’t work, bargaining doesn’t work (believe me, I tried them all). At the end of the day, the Spirit moves where He will.
It was a time to serve. I served by praying, giving advice, picking up the slack during exam week or end of term performances. Listening, listening, listening – early in the morning, at lunch, late at night. And I learned that while raising functioning adults who stay faithful to all the values you have taught them is a biblical concept, it is not a promise. What is promised is that His sheep hear His voice and He knows them and they follow him and they shall never perish and neither shall anyone snatch them out of his hand.(John 10:27).
Well, the time came when I was down to two children at home, and it looked like they might actually become functioning members of society, and my husband and I were starting to look towards his retirement and what our life might become post children. But before we were quite ready, my husband was offered an early retirement package that he couldn’t refuse. No, really, he couldn’t . So I started a part-time job, and my husband started spending more time on a blog he had been maintaining for a few years. And we took dance lessons and played tennis together. And life seemed pretty good, although there were some adjustments to be made. And then he had a stroke. And my life changed drastically. I spent the first month in the hospital with Sherman, never leaving his bedside. My children did not lose one parent. For all practical purposes they lost both parents. Most of the time I didn’t even know where they were. The two that were still at home didn’t want to be there alone, so they went and lived at other people’s houses. So when I finally came home it was to an empty house. My family had splintered. You know those movies where there is a crisis and the family puts all their differences aside and rallies together? Yeah. Not so much. We were all reeling from this shock. None of us had anything to offer the other and it was all we could do to be civil to each other some days. I had lost my best friend, and the children whom I had abandoned. I had lost my pretty little life. And I had to face up to the fact that the point of my life right then was not to have a lovely retirement of travel and entertainment with my husband. It was not to smoothly launch my children into their successful lives. The point of my life was to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. It was to call to mind all the scripture I had studied over the years, remember the sound teaching I had been privileged to sit under for so many days and do my best to live a life that was pleasing to God. At that point in my life, what that meant for the most part was just making myself get up every morning and face whatever horrible decision had to be made that day. It meant loving a man who was hardly recognizable as the man I married. In sickness and health. When we make that vow, we never really believe the “in sickness” part will come. At least not before we are both old and wrinkledy. And if we do, we imagine it much more romantically than it is. Can I just tell you how very grateful I am for the years of preparation I had for this time? I was often not able to be sitting under sound teaching. I was not often able to read the scriptures with any real comprehension. I was exhausted, and so overwhelmed with grief. But all that I had learned through the time of waiting for a husband, and working on my marriage, and raising my children: all the years of sitting under sound teaching and learning to apply it, those things came back to me when I needed them most. And the years I had spent working to love the people of this congregation? These people were the ones who sustained me.
It was a time to learn. I learned that God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble (PS 46:1). I learned that weeping in the night turns to joy in the morning (Ps.30:5) I learned that our Great Shepherd gently carries us when we have sick and wounded, too! I learned to let go of the things of this world in which I was placing my hope, and trust in The One who has dominion over all.
It was a time to serve. Boy! was it a time to serve! It was a time to sacrifice my sleep, my comfort, my desires to help this flesh of my flesh man regain his life. It was a time to try to help my children cope with the changes in their father. It was a time to rebuild those relationships with my children and grandchildren. It was a time to accept help from others while I educated them on how to help.
And I realized, that retiring and having time and money to travel and do fun things together, to live a life of leisure – let’s face it – that isn’t even a biblical concept, and it certainly isn’t promised.
What is promised is that He will never leave me nor forsake me (Hebrews 13:5), and that He is my refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble (Ps 46:1), that my strength shall equal my days (Deuteronomy33:25).
I don’t mean to say that we should not seek to be married – it is a good thing. God has told us that it is not good for us to be alone. (Genesis 2:18) I don’t mean to say that we should not hope for a good marriage to a godly man. It is a reflection of Christ and his Church. I do not mean that we should not strive to raise our children to be godly people. It is our duty as parents. What I am saying is that these things are all just the means God uses for His real work – our sanctification and the furtherance of His Kingdom. They are not ends in themselves, they are tools. When they become the ultimate goal for our lives then we are bound for disappointment. The ultimate goal is to face whatever comes to us in each day, and do our best to respond to it in a way that brings glory to our Creator.
Obviously I have emphasized the difficult times of my life and left out many good and wonderful times that I also experienced. Even so, as a younger woman you may be sitting there thinking, “Is this all I have to look forward to? Is going from one difficult thing to the next all there is to the Christian life? Can I only expect difficulty, struggle, disappointment and sickness?” You might consider this and wonder, “What is the point?!” …. The point, dear sister, the point of your life is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. The point of your life is to study the scriptures, sit under sound teaching, and do your best to live a life that is pleasing to God. We need to stop trying to find the happily ever after fairy tale ending to our lives in this broken world. It doesn’t exist. We will have moments here. We will have glimpses of a better life. But we must never forget that this is not our home. We are aliens traveling through a world that has already begun to crumble under the weight of sin. We need to stop seeking fulfillment in the temporary pleasures this life has to offer us. Its all going to burn. And when we lay aside the things of this world that encumber us, then we begin to understand what it is that gives us true joy: While we were still sinning, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). And because of the work of Christ on our behalf, all of His promises are yes, and amen(2 Corinthians 1:20). And whatever sufferings we have now are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to come (Romans 8:18). And that, my friends is our happily ever after. All the fairy tales, all the efforts of this world to find ultimate satisfaction and success are really just a small tainted picture of the Kingdom of God that has come, is coming and will come. So let us live our lives here in this foreign land with patience, doing our best to serve our King, with the hope of His coming in the final days to gather His people to himself to dwell with him in that place were there will be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. (Rev 21:4