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Why are so many people so unhappy in so many different circumstances? Why are so many Christians, who supposedly have the joy, joy, joy, joy down in their hearts, so not joyful?

At first glance it would seem that circumstances are to blame. Can you blame a guy for being unhappy when he hasn’t had steady work for six months and he might lose his home? You wouldn’t think so, until you meet the six-figure Christian businessman who hates his job and is just hanging on until retirement. The twenty-something single woman doesn’t think she can be happy until she gets married and has children. But the thirty-something housewife with four kids can barely make it through the week without collapsing in a trembling heap of exhaustion. Circumstances aren’t to blame. There’s something more sinister at work.

That something is my sinful, discontented heart. Jesus spelled it out in Mark 7:21-23 when he said, “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” The problem is me. I am my own worst enemy. The raging, covetous, discontented desires come from within. They’re not the product of my circumstances, and the desires won’t be satisfied when circumstances change…

In 1 Timothy 6:6 Paul says of contentment, “Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment.”…If you follow Jesus, you will have every spiritual need met. Forgiveness, adoption, spiritual strength, everything. And if we have all our spiritual needs met and are content with what we have, that is great gain…We have everything we need for joy. Following a Jesus genie who gives us whatever we want is not great gain. Contentment is great gain.

~Stephen Altrogge in The Greener Grass Conspiracy

Photo: OBMonkey

Seeing Childlessness in Calvary’s Light

“To them I will give…a name better than that
of sons and daughters.”

Isaiah 56:5

“Where are your boys?” The unexpected question came from my 4-year old nephew as he and his 2-year old cousin bounced on the couch beside me yesterday afternoon.

“I don’t have any boys,” I responded matter-of-factly.

He stared at me as though my words weren’t quite sinking in. “You don’t have any boys?”

“No. Joseph is the only boy I have,” I smiled and patted my husband’s knee, making my nephew smile.

I’m not sure what prompted the question. Maybe because people had been talking about Mother’s Day, and the thought occurred to the little guy that his grandmother had boys, his mom had boys, and his other aunt had boys, so it would only make sense that I should have children too.

And there it was–in a child’s innocent question, the sudden reminder that on this day I remained different from most of the women around me. A fleeting moment of sadness accompanied the thought.  

Perhaps your Mother’s Day contained similar reminders. Judging from the number of times my post “Mother’s Day for the Childless” was shared this weekend, it seems clear that many women are searching for comfort in the midst of unfulfilled longings for children. If you’re one of those women, I hope the following thoughts from Elisabeth Elliot will strengthen your heart as you learn to see your childlessness in Calvary’s light…  

Children, God tells us, are a heritage from Him. Is the man or woman to whom he gives no children therefore disinherited? Surely not. The Lord gave portions of land to each tribe of Israel except one. “The tribe of Levi… received no holding; the Lord God of Israel is their portion, as he promised them” (Joshua 13:14, NEB). Withholding what He granted to the rest, He gave to Levi a higher privilege. May we not see childlessness in the same light? I believe there is a special gift for those to whom God does not give the gift of physical fatherhood or motherhood…

A woman of about fifty wrote, “Each Mother’s Day became a little harder for me as I realized another year had gone by and after many years of marriage I am still childless–the only woman in my Sunday School class who is not a mother. The morning service started… I could not see the pastor for the tears in my eyes. Almost at the end of the message he said, ‘I know there are some of you women here this morning who would like to be mothers, but for some reason God has chosen differently. Don’t question Him. He has a reason.’”

Childlessness, for those who deeply desire children, is real suffering. Seen in the light of Calvary and accepted in the name of Christ, it becomes a chance to share in His sufferings. Acceptance of the will of the Father took Him to the Cross. We find our peace as we identify with Him in His death and resurrection…

My correspondent says God has given her “several kids adopted in my heart to pray for, whose mothers say they haven’t time to pray.” Another girl asked her to be grandmother to her new baby. “Well, what a blessing and how this has changed my life!” she says. “If I had sat around and felt sorry for myself, look at the above blessings I would have missed. What a thrill on Mother’s Day this year to get a Grandmother card!”

And what of the young childless woman? Is she merely to mark time, hoping against hope that someday she will be given a child? There are always younger people who need a boost, some encouragement in their struggles against the pull of the world, a listening ear when they face hard decisions, someone who will simply take time out to pray with them, to walk with them the way of the cross with its tremendous demand–the difficult and powerful life of glad surrender and acceptance. As the branches of the wine pour out their sweetness, so young women may see their opportunity, as branches of the True Vine, to pour out their lives for the world.

[Keep a Quiet Heart, pp. 172-174]

Photo: Isaac Joo

Beauty Supplements

Your daily dose of true beauty advice…

Gratitude subverts greed. It’s an expulsive antidote to covetousness in the heart. Gratitude is not a feeling, and it isn’t based on present circumstances. It is recognition of our dependence on God and others–an act of humility that battles pride in our possessions. Grateful speech takes the attention off ourselves and places it on another, whether that’s the God of our salvation or the spouse who washes our clothes. Gratefulness is recognition that God is always good and always right in his dealings with us…

In times of plenty or need, the covetous heart says, “I want, I need, I will have.” The grateful heart simply says, “O bless the Lord,
my soul.”

~Dave Harvey in Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World

What things are you grateful for today?

Photo: OBMonkey

Single-Minded Holiness

“Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment…”

1 Timothy 6:6a

I’ve been married for 5 1/2 years now, but I have not yet forgotten what it was like to be a single woman. Both marriage and singleness have their own sets of joys, challenges, and heartaches. Learning to be content with the life that God has given can be tough, and it always helps to have some encouragement channeled your way as you press on toward the goal of Christlikeness. I hope that today’s post will provide some of that encouragement to all my single friends out there.  

First off, let’s have a little laugh or two, shall we?

Since we’re on the topic of single ladies, I thought this song was fitting. I have not yet heard if it’s up for any awards…  :)

Next up, Matt Chandler provides some humor as he teaches on the topics of singleness, contentment, and intentionality.

Finally, a more serious item:

Dr. Russell Moore, a pastor, author, and seminary professor, recently responded to a letter he received from a single woman who needed advice regarding the issues of dating and purity. She is in a relationship with a young man and had a serious question to ask Dr. Moore:

I am wondering what his sexual past looks like, in order to know what I’m getting into. Has he been with other women, sexually? If so, how many and in what way? Has he ever had a problem with pornography? With every week that goes by, I’m more and more in love with him, and I’m afraid to keep getting my hopes up only to have them dashed when we’re right at the point of marriage. 

This is a tough issue with which many single Christian women (and men) have had to wrestle in one way or another. I thought that Dr. Moore provided wise counsel that was well worth passing on to you. Read the entire letter and response here. I loved the fact that in his response, he emphasized the importance of purity and forgiveness. Praise the Lord that through Him we can have both!

Well, single friend, I hope that you have enjoyed today’s post. Now, go out there and show the world that you’re a holy lady!

Worshipping with Empty Arms (Part 4)

“I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.”

Philippians 4:11 

Christmas is the ideal time to reflect on the gifts God has given. If I would attempt to count my blessings and name them one by one (as the old song instructs), I’m confident that I would quickly discover the impossibility of such a task. God has truly showered me with gifts, all of them undeserved, and many of them unexpected. James 1:17 reminds us of the source of every good gift in life: “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights…” Many times, I’ve recognized the unexpected gifts God has given for what they are—good and perfect. But there have also been times when, for the life of me, I couldn’t see anything good about what God had provided.

Take my years of singleness, for instance. I was almost 27 by the time I got married. Looking back, those years of waiting don’t seem that long, but at the time, I watched the years pass me by with a growing dread that I was destined for spinsterhood. Singleness, they said, was a gift, but I often wished I could head to customer service to make a quick and convenient exchange. Now, as a very happily married woman, I can reflect on my single years and thank the Lord for each and every one. I wouldn’t trade the work He did in my heart during that time for any other gift. Sometimes we just need God to adjust our perspective before we can see how perfect His gifts truly are. 

Nearly 4 ½ years ago, God gave me another unexpected gift. Once again, it took me quite some time to recognize the goodness of God’s choice, but He has brought me to the place where I can honestly thank and praise Him for His wisdom. Childlessness was not the gift I asked for, but God knew it was exactly the gift that I needed. In recent posts, I’ve explained how the Lord has used the past few years of childlessness to teach me important lessons on submission and surrender. Today, I want to close out this series with two more lessons I’ve learned in the classroom of childlessness. 

Lesson Three: Self Denial—There’s no party in a pity party

In my last post, I mentioned that trials provide us with new opportunities to see the true contents of our hearts. Although I hate to sully the pristine image of me that you may carry in your mind, I must tell you that when I don’t get what I want, I am capable of departing from my usual saintly behavior. ;) That’s putting it mildly, to say the least. Suffering provides a tremendous temptation to turn our attention inward and become entirely self-focused. The “Me Monster” that tends to stay somewhat satisfied during the good times, can become a raging beast when it’s deprived of something it really wants.

For a time, my monster would turn nearly every situation into a chance to howl and whine, “Look at me! Look at me!” When a friend would call with the good news that she was expecting a baby, the monster would ignore the Bible’s command to “rejoice with those who rejoice” and focus instead on how I didn’t have a baby. When a counselee at the pregnancy care center where I volunteer would tell me she didn’t want the baby she was carrying, the Me Monster would question God’s wisdom in bestowing fertility upon the ungrateful. And when other people would meddle and unwittingly allow their own Me Monsters to rub salt in the fresh wounds of my grieving heart, the monster would roar inside like an angry she-bear, and I had to fight to prevent my lips from vocalizing my thoughts. 

Ah, yes, the years of infertility provided me with ample opportunity to realize how truly wrapped up in myself I had become. I love a good party, and a pity party took place in my heart almost 24/7. The problem with a pity party, as you probably know, is that it isn’t much of a party at all. As comedian Mark Lowry used to say, “There are only two people who come to a pity party—you and Satan.” Yuck. Party with Satan? I’d rather not, thank you.

Throughout this nasty battle with my selfish self, God was overwhelmingly gracious, as always, comforting me during times of genuine sorrow and convicting me of frequent occurrences of sin. He helped me to go through the process described in Ephesians 4:20-24 of putting off the old self with all of its sinful desires and cravings, being renewed in the spirit of my mind, and putting on the new self in the likeness of God. Basically what that means is that in order to overcome my sinful responses to my God-ordained trials, I had to stop the sinful behavior (self-pity, anger, bitterness, complaining, etc.), learn to think rightly (God accomplished this through prayer and His Word), and start behaving in ways pleasing to Him (showing gratefulness, reaching out to others, being patient, etc.). This process of sanctification took time as God slowly peeled back one layer after another from my stinky, onion-like heart, revealing more patterns of sin in my life that I had previously failed to notice or confront. Although the Me Monster still rears his ugly head on occasion, I am grateful to say that at least in regard to the issue of childlessness, the Lord has worked wonders in taming the angry beast.

Lesson Four: Satisfaction—All He has given is all that I need

While driving home the other day, I saw a horse that had wiggled its head through an opening in the fence so he could munch on some grass located on the other side. I laughed out loud as I thought how silly it was that he thought the salad bar on the outside of his corral would be superior to the acres of greens available on the inside of his pen. I went on to think about how much we as humans are like that horse. We’re always looking for the next big thing, aren’t we? When we’re teenagers, we can’t wait for college. Once in college, we can’t wait to get out. After graduation, we can’t wait to get married, and once married, we soon set our hearts on starting a family. It’s all too easy to focus so much on what we want next that we fail to enjoy what God has already given.

The Lord has not yet given me the next big thing, but He has given me the best thing—more of Himself. Last week on Focus on the Family, I heard a pastor named Ken Hutcherson, who has battled cancer for eight years, make this astounding statement, “Every pain that I felt has been a blessing from the Lord.” Referencing Romans 8:28-29, he expressed his belief that “There is no bad circumstance in a Christian’s life.” Although he acknowledged that we may go through terrible situations that cause us great pain, he went on to explain, “If anything is going to mold me like Jesus, how can it be bad?”

Even though I have never experienced anything like the suffering that Pastor Hutcherson has endured, I think I understand what he means. If I had the chance to go back 4 ½ years and change my life’s events so that instead of experiencing childlessness I could have started a family on my own timetable, I wouldn’t do it. If life had gone according to my plans, I could have continued to believe that I was content in God alone, when in reality, I was only “content” because God had given me all that I wanted. Through this trial, He has caused me to love Him more, He’s torn down false idols in my heart, He’s molded me to look just a little bit more like Christ, and He has turned me into a more effective worshipper. I’ll admit that my story wouldn’t make for a good Christian movie script—I haven’t experienced what is often thought of as the “happy ending,” but I am happy and even more. I am content. The gift was unexpected, but it is good, and I praise the Lord for what He has done. 

What unexpected gifts has God used in your own life?