Sunday, January 20, 2008

Leading Voices: A Woman's Seasons

By Susan Hunt

FOR SEVERAL DECADES WOMEN HAVE HEARD THE MESSAGES OF RADICAL FEMINISM. We have breathed feminist air for so long, even Christian women have unknowingly absorbed it in our spiritual pores.

Our preoccupation with our rights and our roles reveals the problem. Selfism slithers into our thinking by masquerading as a desire for ,significant ministry, when too often it is simply a desire for self-fulfillment and self-actualization. I know. My sensibilities were almost warped by this kind of non-biblical thinking.

When I was 30, with three pre-schoolers, my perspective was blurred. I assumed that by the time I was through mothering, life would be over — or at least that my years for productive ministry would be over. The higher I go on the chronological ladder, the clearer my life-view becomes, and the more I realize that my chief end is not to actualize or fulfill myself. My purpose is God’s glory.

BC (before children), while my husband finished seminary, I worked in an inner-city church developing and implementing an outreach to neighborhood children and teens.

When Gene graduated, I made a quick transition to being a pastor’s wife in a rural community. In short order I was the mother of three children. My ministry passions were stifled. Diapers, dishes, and church duties left no time for what I considered real ministry. Frustration soared. I considered my frustration to be spiritual because the longing of my heart was to serve Jesus.

Then I met Mrs. Johnston. She was in her 70s when she joined our church. Her love for Jesus was contagious, and many of us were never the same after her arrival. When she was confined to a bed in a nursing home, I went there for spiritual transfusions. I would leave her room with a deeper love for Jesus, my husband, and our church.

Now I realize that for me the conversations were random, but for Mrs. Johnston they were intentional. She wisely detected my areas of discouragement, and she gently told me stories or shared insights that caused me to look at Jesus and not at my circumstance. This dear saint was not sidelined from serving Jesus and His people by her life season or circumstances.

My sensibilities were also being sanctified by time spent in God’s Word, the faithful preaching of my husband, and books by and talks with Christian women. Several things happened.

First, I began to understand that a biblical world-view does not separate the sacred and the secular. I learned that "whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God" (1 Cor. 10:31). All of life, including diapers and dishes, is sacred for the Christian.

Second, I gradually understood the importance God puts on the family. From the beginning God worked out His plan of redemption through families. "‘As for me, this is my covenant with them,’ says the Lord. ‘My Spirit, who is on you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will not depart from your mouth, or from the mouths of your children, or from the mouths of their descendants from this time on and forever,’ says the Lord" (Isa. 59:21).

Teaching our children God’s Word became a thrilling adventure. I memorized Scripture as I taught it to them. Reading Bible story books deepened my own knowledge of Scripture. My heart soared as I read children’s versions of classics such as Pilgrim’s Progress. My heart wept as I read stories for children that encouraged legalism instead of teaching children about God’s grace. So my desire was born to write grace-oriented materials for children.

Third, as I grew in understanding God’s love for His church, I grew in my love for His church. Gene and I wanted our children to understand their privileges and responsibilities as part of the church. I began to discover ways to blend mothering and ministry beyond our home as I taught our children the joy of serving King Jesus. We made cookies and took them to elderly members of our church family. We had the teens in our home for Bible studies, and they helped care for the children. We made cards to send to the sick.

Fourth, I began to understand that I could not do mothering under my own steam. What freedom it was to learn that God supplied His Word to teach me and His Spirit to empower me. Mothering caused me to cast myself on the sufficiency of His grace.

Then I blinked, and it was over.

The children were grown, and Gene and I entered the wonderful world of grandparenting. The astounding thing is that life was not over. In these post-children years, ministry privileges beyond hearth and home have exceeded anything I could have imagined. Yet now I see very clearly, too, that the things I am currently doing in vocational ministry pale in comparison to the high calling of being a mother. Maybe this is one reason Paul told the young preacher Titus to equip older women to teach younger women how to love their children (Titus 2:1, 3-5).

Do we have to be taught to love our children? I think so. We have to be taught the significance of this life-stage of child-rearing. I will never do anything for the Kingdom that will begin to approach the privilege that Gene and I had of training three children to have a biblical world-view.

Let’s revisit Titus 2. This mandate is electrifying! Titus was pastoring a church on Crete in a pluralistic, decadent culture. Of all the things Paul could have told Titus to tell the women to do to combat that decadence, he bore down on the importance of older women encouraging and equipping younger women to live godly lives.

In recent years I have observed a troubling phenomenon. Many women of my generation have relinquished this high calling of nurturing younger women. Every where I go I meet young women who long for spiritual mothers.

My generation has abandoned this calling for many reasons. Some think they have nothing to offer. Some are intimidated by the intelligence and giftedness of the younger women. And some have decided this is the season to indulge themselves. I plead with my peers not to squander this season of your life. You have a perspective on life to share. Your sensibilities have been tempered by time. Your faith has been stretched and strengthened by your life-experiences.

I plead with the church to equip women for this ministry. God is gifting His church with incredible young women. They are a sacred trust; we must be good stewards. Many of them are first-generation Christians. Many are separated from their families because of the mobility of our society. We must teach them the truths of biblical womanhood. We must teach them how to pass on the faith to the next generation. The consequences of our accepting or abandoning this calling will reverberate through several generations.

Your mind may be buzzing with questions: Am I an older woman or a younger woman? How do I find Titus 2 relationships? How do I learn to live for God’s glory in every season and circumstance of life?

Every woman is both a younger and an older woman. There is someone who needs your life-perspective, and there is someone with a life-view that you need. How do you connect? The easiest way is when churches craft women’s ministries that teach women God’s truth about womanhood and that help enable nurturing relationships.

A woman’s life is not about just enduring diapers and the terrible twos, or the empty-nest, or a room in a nursing home. It is about valuing each season of life as an opportunity to honor the King of kings. It is about drinking deeply of grace and then reflecting that grace to others.

Ultimately, it is not the life-season or circumstance that matters. It is not so much what I do as who I am. The question is not "What is my role?" but "What is my goal?" Am I becoming more and more conformed to the image of Christ? Am I being transformed by the renewing of my mind? Am I loving God with all of my heart, mind, and soul and loving my neighbor as myself? Am I encouraging and equipping younger people to live for God’s glory?

Such probing questions should cause us to cling to the Cross and plead for grace to live for God’s glory. It is only the power of the gospel that can effect such a radical change. It is only the gospel of grace that can sanctify our sensibilities so we radiate His glory in every season and circumstance.

Susan Hunt is a pastor’s wife, mother and grandmother, and director of Women’s Ministries for the Presbyterian Church in America. She is co-author with Peggy Hutcheson of Leadership for Women in the Church (Zondervan).

1 comment:

e-Mom said...

Amen, sister! It's a privilege to serve as a Titus 2 woman. In a blink, my own two children have grown up and flown the nest... but there's still so much to share with others.

I'm here by way of the Carnival of Christian Women. Nice to meet you. :~D


e-Mom @ Chrysalis