Talking on the phone and learning to be needy

My friend called me this week and when I first saw her name on the caller ID, I admit my first thought was that she was calling with bad news. She lives out of town and we rarely talk, like with our voices, so for her to call, while welcome, was also disconcerting.

It wasn’t bad news but rather the best sort of happy news and we chatted and laughed and talked, like with our voices, for quite some time. It was great.

I once talked on the phone all the time. Way back when my babies were just that, I had friends with whom I would talk on the phone about everything and anything. For instance, I had one particular friend that either she or I would call the other right at 9 am nearly and we would proceed to talk for an hour, sometimes more. Every day.

This is crazy, particularly in comparison to my current phone talking habits which are nearly nonexistent. I’m not (exactly) a hermit; I do converse with people but with the more narrow medium of text messaging.

And I love it. Text messaging, as I’ve asserted often, is an introvert’s dream. Short, direct conversations which can be easily avoided or abandoned, what’s not to love?

Years ago I was on the phone with a friend, conversing like with our voices, me bemoaning the general state of my life. I can’t remember my specific circumstances but I do know that the laundry wasn’t done and the dishes were piled in the sink and I sighed and whined and complained about both and probably a wealth of other things besides.

About fifteen minutes after I hung up with my friend, my doorbell rang. It was my friend and she walked straight through my front door to my kitchen sink and began to wash the dishes. THE NERVE. Not only that but she refused to leave without taking a few loads of laundry with her to wash. I allowed her the boys’ laundry and some towels but not my or my husband’s dirties. My dignity, what was left of it, compelled me to draw the line somewhere.

I was mortified. And embarrassed. And utterly humiliated.

Evidently I reserved the right to complain but not the right to accept help. And there was no quid pro quo here. Her kids were grown and out of the house and she had all the time in the world for a friend’s need as well as her dishes and laundry. In the end I could only receive her help and I hated it.

In Sunday School I am teaching through the book Side By Side: Walking with Others in Wisdom and Love. Author Ed Welch asserts that in any healthy community, the members both give and receive help. This process of walking with another begins with each of us realizing we are needy.

I am needy and that truth rankles, as was so obvious when my friend administered very real, very practical help to me all those years ago. I don’t think I’m alone in my dislike of my helplessness. We all would rather appear strong and like we have “it” all together, whatever “it” may be.

Admitting our need feels risky. We conceal our neediness, or we revel in it, like some kind of weird misery contest, but in reality, we are embarrassed by our weakness, we are afraid of what others may think, and we fight to appear competent.

Welch states the obvious: in order to receive help I must admit my neediness. But there’s a less obvious dynamic at work: in order to effectively give help, I must also admit my neediness. In fact, my honest admission of my weakness, according to Welch, is one of the greatest gifts I can give the church. Wait. What?

Honestly assessing who I am and living in that honesty make me a better helper. Self sufficiency, on the other hand, may really be arrogance. Our community will grow together in love and humility as we each of us understand our weakness and our need for each other. This is the grace of the gospel, is it not, that I am so weak and flawed I needed rescuing and the Lord did just that. It is humbling and humiliating to be so weak and so needy but it is also beautiful.

Help is given and I only receive. I cannot earn it and I cannot repay it. My friend taught me as much all those years ago and I am grateful for her example of friendship and of gospel grace.

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It takes a village

As many of you know, we had a wedding in our family last summer. In fact, my son and his sweet bride celebrate six months (!) of wedded bliss today. 

The wedding didn’t get much coverage here on the blog but, hey, nothing’s getting much coverage on the blog. However, today as I was poking around on my laptop and uncovered a few draft posts in a word document, I found the following unpublished post and thought I’d share. I’m so very thankful for those who bless me as stewards of God’s varied grace and I honor them today.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about weddings in general and my gig as mother of the groom, it’s this: weddings take a village.

The responsibility as mother of the groom is, admittedly, far less involved than that of the mother of the bride but I have to tell you, even with the lesser load I could not have pulled it off without a little help from my friends.

My main duty as mother of the groom included planning and hosting the rehearsal dinner. One friend lent me her beautiful tablecloths and toppers; another friend catered the desserts; yet another friend helped with setting up and arranging the room. My neighbor gave me free reign to cut some of her gorgeous hydrangeas for the table arrangements.

During the meal itself I had friends who filled cups with ice, refilled the tea dispensers, replenished the food in the serving bowls, and kept the cheese dip from burning. The evening was all the more beautiful thanks to the efforts of my sister who can take pebbles, candles, and succulents, as well as a stack of black chargers, and make a memorable evening stunningly gorgeous.

A friend made chicken salad for our house party to have here for lunch as well as sausage balls and cinnamon rolls for breakfast. Another friend dropped by with a plate of deli sandwiches.

Hear me when I say I could not have survived the weekend, certainly not as well fed or with as little stress, without the care and support of others.

When my husband wrecked his bicycle a few years ago and was in a wheelchair for eight weeks, we were the humble recipients of a similar outpouring of help. Naturally the circumstances could not have been more different but both remind me of how critically we need each other and how beautiful it is when the church serves one another as stewards of God’s varied grace.

Some of us have tablecloths to share and in our generosity we can minister to others. Some of us make chicken salad and sausage balls and so exercise hospitality. Others of us devote their culinary skills to bless others, with chocolate for example, yes and amen, and thus make the world a happier place. Some of us like my sister leave beauty in their wake and bring joy and happiness to the rest of us, especially those among us who can’t even.

A friend remarked on the success of the dinner and I could only give credit where credit was due: the caterers, my friends, my sister. If it were up to me, I admitted, we would have still enjoyed the delicious meal but I would have probably just stacked some paper plates at the end of the buffet line and considered my duty done. Not that I don’t appreciate beautiful décor, sometimes I just would rather not fool with it.

I am grateful for those who do. I know that the more “prominent” gifts-teaching and preaching and the like-are sometimes assumed to have more worth and those of us who exercise them may seem the more spiritual. This is baloney and I say that as one who teaches.

Generosity, hospitality, service, these too are important and critical in the life of the church and in the proclamation of the kingdom. I esteem those of you who exercise these gifts with grace and generosity in the joyous service of our Savior. Thank you.

Surprised but grateful

There is a hospital bed in my living room and a wheelchair in the corner. A bottle of prescription pain relievers sits on the kitchen counter with a scribbled list of dosing times attached via post it note.

My husband wrecked on his bicycle Wednesday, breaking his collarbone and his hip, injuries that, while terribly painful, are also fixable, glory to God. It could be worse, far worse.

I can’t help but think of those for whom a hospital bed and wheelchair are far more than aids to recovery but a fact of life for months, even years. I think of the medical supply truck that I would see unloading box after box at a home here in my neighborhood. That house now stands empty and a for sale sign is posted in the front yard. Our current circumstances require only time to heal; some do not have that hope.

I got the call about the wreck around 1:30 Wednesday afternoon and left quickly to meet the ambulance at the ER. I texted my pastor on my way and within the hour he and two other elders from my church and one of their wives were there, standing with me by the gurney. Over the course of the evening and over these past couple of days church members, coworkers, friends, family, fellow cyclists, all have been kind enough to call, to stop by, to pray, even to build a wheelchair ramp at my back door.

“If we can do anything let us know” I’ve been told time and time again. From my husband’s peloton of fellow riders to our church family, everyone who has told me so has meant it and I know it and I am grateful for it. My phone nearly blew up with all the care and concern and I am thankful for each text message and phone call. We are loved and loved well. It is as humbling as it is encouraging.

In Sunday school at my church we are discussing the book Surprised by Suffering by R.C. Sproul. The coincidence is surely providential because, really, we certainly didn’t expect this. Who does? My husband suffers, the pain is, well, painful, and the frustration real, but we know the Lord is faithful and the body will heal. We believe Him.

So if you would, pray for my husband as he recovers, that the Lord’s would be gracious to grant a quick healing of bone and body and for patience as we wait on Him to do so. Thank you, friends. Your care, concern, and intercession on our behalf are blessings we do not take for granted. We appreciate you all so much!

On Bible study, part 3

A couple of weeks ago I began a series of posts outlining four primary objectives we seek to emphasize in our particular Bible study group. Having a clear vision of what we want to be about and what will motivate our study of God’s Word provides focus and helps us keep the main thing the main thing. As I’ve told you in the previous two posts in this series, I’ve borrowed from Susan Hunt’s list of foundational principles of ministry to women as described in Women’s Ministry in the Local Church. I’ve adapted her list somewhat and I’m grateful for her commitment to Scripture and to the local church.

The first three foundations were the Gospel, Truth, and Sound Doctrine (all linked to the previous posts in this series). All three are rooted in the authority of Scripture, as is the fourth motivation I will discuss today. In fact, we could say that ultimately we have one primary objective: to know and study God’s Word, period. From God’s Word we marvel in the glory of the Gospel; through Scripture we understand the truth and learn sound doctrine. In other words, all four of the motivations I am listing are borne out of and sustained by the diligent and careful study of Scripture.

You may think that an obvious point. I mean, hello? we are a Bible study group; what else would we be about? Perhaps I am being too careful here but the fact is I am both saddened and terrified by the subtle tendency I observe in our current Christian culture–with its plethora of Bible studies and tools and numerous other resources–to find ourselves studying the study rather than studying the Bible. Or, worse yet, being enamored with the Bible teacher over and above the Word he/she teaches, which seems to be particularly tempting given the many video studies currently available, what with their professional production quality and gifted communicators. Do not hear me say it is the fault of the authors, the production team or the video teacher. It is within us, in our flesh, to exchange the truth of God’s word for the lesser. And it is precisely because of this tendency within me that I am so careful.

So, as I facilitate our study, I will do all I can to point us to the study of God’s Word. I will read and apply myself to the wise instruction of the author of whatever workbook or study guide we are using but even as I do so I will hold it up to the Truth of Scripture. I will seek after the one thing of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord as I study. I will ask the Lord to grant me a greater hunger for His Word, that it will become as necessary to me as food and water and more precious to me than thousands of pieces of gold and silver (Ps. 119:72). May He open our eyes so we may see wonderful things in His Word!

So, that being said, let us turn to our fourth foundation:

FOUNDATIONS FOR BIBLE STUDY

1. The Gospel

2. Truth

3. Sound Doctrine

4. Community

Our group is a diverse one, comprised of ladies from two different churches and a variety of ages, backgrounds and stages of life. I love it (love it!) but because we are so eclectic, I try to be intentional about developing a sense of community. In our first meeting together, as we went around the room to introduce ourselves, we also told one good thing and one bad thing that had happened to us the week before. Each week we do some similar exercise, be it sharing something we learned or a list of favorite things. It’s no doubt silly but I think it also important. I like knowing which Bible study member’s daughter got engaged at the top of Sears tower; we also learn about our individual struggles and joys, the sorts of things we might not ordinarily share with a group of ladies we don’t know very well.

Why is this important enough to be included alongside the seemingly weightier elements like doctrine and truth? Because sound doctrine on its own, apart from relationships that reflect that doctrine, becomes academic. In that case, knowledge for knowledge’s sake would become primary. As we asserted before, sound doctrine is critical; so is the formation of relationships that reflect the application of that doctrine in real, ordinary, often messy, lives. It’s a balance, to be sure. We could easily fall into the trap of making all we do under the guise of Bible study purely relational; then of course we have not truly had Bible study at all.

In Titus 2, Paul instructs the older women to “teach what is good, and so train the younger women…” (v. 3-4). As we said before, our intent is not to debate who among us is older nor to be offended at Paul’s use of the term; rather, we see that it is the Lord’s plan that women engage with other women, teaching what is good. And what is good? Sound doctrine (Titus 2:1). How is it taught? In the context of relationships. We seek a similar framework in our little group: women discipling and encouraging other women by sharing their hearts and lives. We love the Lord Jesus; we rejoice in the glorious gospel of grace; we desire the glory of God in all things; we seek the knowledge of the Lord through the study of His Word; we want His Word to radically transform our real, ordinary lives. The application of these truths is what we seek to share as we develop a sense of community. It’s discipleship and as such it’s an important element of our study group.

I’d love to know what you think. By no means do we consider our list exhaustive or even the best possible summary of what ladies’ Bible study can and ought to be about. Do you have a similar vision? What principles guide and motivate your group?