Mar 2

Abiding in Christ Through Suffering and Loss

2015 at 6:57 am   |   by Carolyn Mahaney Filed under Biblical Womanhood | Devotional Life | Suffering

~from my sister-in-law, Sharon Pyle

I was very happily married for nearly thirty-two years until my husband passed away from a cancerous brain tumor. We have five children and twelve grandchildren, with number thirteen on the way, a little boy due in early June.

To carry on without my husband, day after day, I must abide in Christ. I am not just surviving, not just existing; but I am abiding, resting in the arms of my Lord Jesus Christ, wondering and excited about the plans he has for me for the rest of my life. He is in charge of my future, a future that doesn’t at all look like what I thought it would, but one I can be sure that my sovereign Lord has under control.

As a widow, I have the perfect opportunity to show the world that my God is faithful and loving and merciful; my God walks beside me; He leads me and carries me; and He provides for my every need. Through me, because I am a widow, God can be glorified. I have been called to be a widow for now, just as I had been called to be a wife for almost thirty-two years. I am one hundred percent sure that none of you wants to join this club I belong to called widowhood. But I am also one hundred percent sure that no matter what the Lord calls you to do, He will be right there to guide and lead as you abide in Him, just as He is there for me.

That’s not to say that embracing widowhood was anything like becoming a wife. In fact, I prayed and begged and pleaded not to become a widow, and the Lord answered my prayers for healing for my husband with a “no.” He said “no.” That doesn’t mean He hasn’t cared about the pain and suffering I’ve endured. His comfort and care are constant. And He has collected all my tears in a bottle, a huge bottle, I might add. What it does mean is that I am privileged to give Him glory as I seek Him in my sorrow, as I am joyful even in my pain, and as I rest in Him and his love for me.

I guess I understand better than most people that life is short, not as short for me as for my husband, but nevertheless short. He’s been gone for more than eleven years, but sometimes I still can’t believe he’s not here to share my life. Everyone knows it is difficult to lose someone you love. But the truth is, the real difficulty lies in losing someone who loved you. We can direct love anywhere we choose, but to lose someone who actually chose to love us is devastatingly painful. My Bud chose to love me, and I have lost his love. But there is one who will always love me, my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. How completely undeserving I am of that love, and how very grateful I am for it. How can I not love Him and trust Him and seek Him wholeheartedly.

So when I became a widow I had a few choices. I could wallow in self-pity, and believe me I struggled with this. Or I could run to the Lord. I could embrace my fears—and I struggled here as well—or I could embrace my Lord. I am happy to say that by his grace, I chose to abide, to rest in Him. I came to Him weary, brokenhearted, and heavy-laden, helpless to do life on my own. And he showered me with love and mercy and comfort and strength to do things I never ever even thought I would have to do. All of a sudden I was a single mom. I raised a teenaged boy on my own. I put kids through high school and college and sat in front of young men asking for my daughters’ hands in marriage. But all the while I knew that apart from Christ, I could do nothing. Yes, I have been weary. But I haven’t had to muster up strength to pursue and know Jesus. He has provided all the strength and all the grace I have needed. By his grace, I have been able to abide with Him.

“I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the Lord.” ~Ps. 27:13-14

~You can read more about how my dear friend and sister-in-law Sharon has coped with grief at Christmastime and served through suffering here on our blog.

Feb 26

Q&A: “I Feel Desperate and Defeated as a Mom of Young Kids”

2015 at 9:38 am   |   by Nicole Whitacre Filed under Motherhood

Q: I am a mom of 3 little ones ages 4 1/2, 3, and 22 months with another little one on the way. Motherhood has surprised me and has been quite a journey. I never expected to be worn out continually, fighting depression and anger, living in a losing battle with housework and feeling like my children are never going to see Gods love because I often question it myself. I love my family so much and wouldn’t give them up for anything but I’m wondering what is wrong with me. I enjoy moments with my children but days, weeks, months, years? Yeah, that’s a battle. I’m continually told by well meaning, sometimes nostalgic, older women to enjoy these years because they are the best years of my life. Best years? I have good days, yes, but years? Is there someone I could talk to who would be willing to be an encouragement, not just another person saying how these are great years? I really really want to thrive and invest in my children and work with their unique personalities but I feel so defeated and desperate.

Dear Defeated and Desperate,

My dad is always saying that moms with small children have the hardest job in the world. He’s absolutely right. You are, as G.K. Chesterton described mothers, “everything to someone”—and in your case three, soon to be four, precious someones.

The sweet, little, old ladies (forgive them if you will!) forget how hard it is, and perhaps, with forgetting, they only remember the happy moments. Be thankful that one day you will too.

For now, enjoy the good days when you have them and accept that you will probably have a lot more tough times than cuddly moments for a while. The wise man of Ecclesiastes tells it straight: “All things are full of weariness” (Ecc. 1:8). I think he must have had moms in mind. Life is hard and Scripture doesn’t try to sugar coat it. But it tells us how to live and thrive in the midst of hard.

  • First of all, try get some sleep if you can. Whenever my sisters or I get overwhelmed by motherhood and call our mom in tears, she encourages us to leave the dishes in the sink and go to bed early. God created our bodies to need sleep. Everything may not be better in the morning, but at least you have strength to tackle it afresh. Now, with little ones the ages of your children I’m guessing some of them might not sleep so well. But do what you can. Ask your husband to wake up with the kids so you can sleep in. Beg a young girl from church to babysit. Take naps when the kids are napping. Mom also encourages us to do something restful that replenishes your soul so that you can persevere in the tiring work of motherhood. This might mean a morning at a coffee shop or time with a friend. It’s amazing what a few hours of rest can do for a weary soul.
  • Second, feed your soul. Begin to collect verses, sermons, snippets from books, whatever encourages you in this difficult season and return to them again and again. You don’t need many, just a few really good ones. You may not be able to read your Bible for five minutes at a time without one kid crawling all over you and another one shaking milk drops out of his bottle all over the floor with glee, but get whatever nourishment you can, and hang onto it for dear life. For encouragement in this season, consider Feminine Appeal, Shaping of a Christian Family, Fit to Burst, Spurgeon’s Daily Readings, and especially the Psalms.
  • Third, simplify where you can. When I’m overwhelmed and exhausted, it’s usually because I’m trying to do too much. Paper plates and fewer playgroups give me time to focus on what’s most important: teaching my children to love God and obey their parents, and creating a (mostly!) peaceful and joyful home. When things get easier you can add in more stuff, but when you have four under four, you probably only have time for the biblical basics. That’s not something to feel guilty about. And strategize about trouble spots. Pick one at a time. What’s the craziest time of day or the biggest discipline issue with your children? What is one small thing you can do to minimize the effect of that one trouble spot?

Once you’ve simplified and strategized and slept, motherhood will still be hard. But remember that today’s mothering hardships come to you, as Elisabeth Elliot puts it, “through the hedge of [God’s] love.” He has called you to care for these precious children and he will give you strength as you look to him for help. He promises that, “as your days so shall your strength be” (Deut. 33:25); he is the God who “gives power to the faint” (Is. 40:29) and “daily bears us up” (Ps. 68:19).

God doesn’t command us to enjoy the challenges of motherhood, but he wants us to find joy in the midst of mothering. Our heavenly Father scatters his goodness and mercies throughout the most difficult of mothering days (Ps. 23:6). The toothless smile, the sticky hug, the bedtime snuggle are all blessings from God, reminders of his good and gracious character. Even if the only evidence of grace is that the day is over, we can thank God for sustaining mercies and a new day to come.

Moms of young kids have the hardest job in the world, but it is not a forever job. The little old ladies remind us of that. Before you know it, you’ll be the one staring wistfully at the mom with young kids. When you find strength and joy in God for these challenging days, one day you won’t remember the half of it.

“He will not so much remember the days of his life for God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart.” ~Ecc. 5:20

Feb 19

A Few More Thoughts on Forgiveness

2015 at 7:39 am   |   by Carolyn Mahaney Filed under Biblical Womanhood | Church Life | Friendship

Last week I began to share a few thoughts in response to a question from one of our readers: how do we deal with our emotions when another Christian sins against us and there is no reconciliation?

We must turn to God for wisdom and comfort in this difficult situation, and we must obey his Word in our attitude and actions, no matter the pain or complexity of the situation.

Much more needs to be said about applying the gospel, God’s sovereignty, the doctrine of sin, personal holiness, forgiveness, and reconciliation etc. to conflict between Christians. For further study I recommend starting with Charity and its Fruits by Jonathan Edwards.

I want to wrap up by touching on a few practical issues related to forgiveness: issues that are seldom addressed and yet are troublesome to our emotions.

Christians can be pretty fuzzy about forgiveness, which makes this point from John Piper particularly important:

“[F]orgiveness of an unrepentant person doesn’t look the same as forgiveness of a repentant person. In fact I am not sure that in the Bible the term forgiveness is ever applied to an unrepentant person. So there’s a sense in which full forgiveness is only possible in response to repentance.”

What do we do when there is no repentance to respond to? Or how do we respond when someone talks and acts as if they have not sinned against us? Do expressions of affection from someone who has betrayed us mean we should all go back to the way things were? In this post I’m considering these questions in light of sins by another Christian such as slander, hostility, cheating, stealing, lying, or deceit.

Given our fuzziness on forgiveness, we need to press in and better understand what Scripture says about forgiveness and friendship, and also what it does not say.

If we are to live at peace with all men so far as it depends on us (Rom. 12:18), we have to understand exactly how far it depends on us. Our question must not be: What do other people expect from me? Rather, we must ask: What does God require of me?

Answering this question brings clarity. It helps us to move forward with a clear conscience, even if we are swimming against a current of expectations from others; and it clears up a lot of the confusion that follows in the wake of broken relationships.

1. Forgiveness doesn’t mean we must agree.

Nowhere does Scripture require us to agree in order to resolve a conflict with another Christian. We are to love them. We are to refrain from retaliation. We are to pray for them. But we are not required to agree with them.

In fact, we must not agree if agreeing means violating a biblical conviction. To hold your ground on a moral or ethical issue is not unkind, unforgiving, or stubborn, but right. It is not un-Christian, but uniquely Christian.

Even if well-meaning people encourage us to agree for the sake of unity, we must graciously resist that pressure when biblical issues are at stake.

Charles Spurgeon humorously put it this way: “I have known good men with whom I shall never be thoroughly at home until we meet in heaven: at least, we shall agree best on earth when they go their way and I go mine.”

2. Forgiveness doesn’t mean we must trust.

“You can actually look someone in the face and say: I forgive you, but I don’t trust you” insists John Piper. This is not rude or unforgiving. It is wise.

If a person has betrayed you and shown a disregard for the truth or for your reputation, you are not obligated to trust them again, even if they ask for your forgiveness.

Sometimes as Christians we experience false guilt on this point. When someone asks for our forgiveness, or acts like nothing has happened, we may feel like we are withholding forgiveness by not trusting them again. One insightful pastor explains:

There is confusion between forgiveness and restoration….To explain: If a friend seriously betrays me, I am mandated as a Christian to forgive him if he asks for it. But I think I would be foolish to restore him to a position of trust. I often drew the analogy with babysitting—if someone babysat my kids but neglected them, I should forgive them if they repent; but it would be delinquent to let them babysit again.

It would be unwise to trust an individual who, through lying or slander, has violated our trust. We must be cautious and careful in how we relate to that person in the future.

If someone has betrayed our trust, they must re-earn it, proving over time the genuineness of their sorrow and the fruit of repentance in the form of godly character. This is possible, by the grace of God, and I have witnessed, as you may have as well, the sweet restoration of trust that can flow from repentance.

But a glossing over of the issue, a half-hearted apology, or an expectation of immediate restoration does not obligate us to trust someone, unless or until they have proven themselves trustworthy.

3. Forgiveness doesn’t mean we must remain close.

Sentimentality muddies the waters of forgiveness. A longing for “the way things were” is not a reliable guide for friendships. A close friendship in the past does not obligate us to remain close.

Friendship is a significant category in Scripture, and we must hold it in high regard. If we pretend that certain sins don’t have a devastating effect on a relationship, we deny what Scripture says about the meaning of friendship: trust, loyalty, honor, truthfulness, constancy, and sacrificial love.

True closeness is only possible under these conditions.

If someone betrays us, but fails to acknowledge that sin or make restitution, then to relate to them as if nothing has happened would be to undermine the meaning of biblical friendship.

But if a person realizes their sin, asks your forgiveness, and proves their trustworthiness, your relationship may be restored; you may even be closer than ever before. However, we are under no biblical obligation to be close again. We have not fallen short of forgiveness, or failed to honor God, if we graciously go our separate ways.

It may be that we now find ourselves in a different place or situation than before. God, who brings good out of every trial, may have used this broken relationship to move us into new areas of service and caused new, godly, friendships to blossom.

We must recognize these as blessings from God and move forward to serve him in the new ways to which he has called us. God does not expect us to maintain the same level of closeness with every Christian for the rest of our lives.

4. Forgiveness does mean we trust God.

Finally, as we try to carefully pick our way through the rubble of a broken relationship, we must leave the remaining confusion and questions in the hands of our loving, heavenly Father. Take this wise counsel from Dr. Cotton Mather:

It may not be amiss for you to have two heaps: a heap of Unintelligibles, and a heap of Incurables. Every now and then you will meet with something or other that may pretty much distress your thoughts, but the shortest way with the vexations will be, to throw them into the heap they belong to, and be no more distressed about them.

You will meet with some unaccountable and incomprehensible things, particularly in the conduct of many people. Throw them into your heap of Unintelligibles; leave them there. Trouble your mind no further; hope the best or think no more about them.

You will meet with some [unpersuadable] people; no counsel, no reason will do anything upon the obstinates: Throw them into the heap of Incurables. Leave them there. And go on to do as well as you can, what you have to do. Let not the crooked things that can’t be made straight encumber you.

And remember, above all, that God is good and wise as he rules over every aspect of your situation. I leave you with these encouraging words from John Piper:

God is not just showing up after the trouble and cleaning it up. He is plotting the course and managing the troubles with far-reaching purposes for our good and for the glory of Jesus Christ.

“The salvation of the righteous is from the Lord; he is their stronghold in the time of trouble.” Ps. 37:39

Previous Posts:

What Do We Do When Former Friends Do What They Do?

Q&A: How Do I Handle the Pain of Broken Relationships?

Feb 17

What Do We Do When Former Friends Do What They Do?

2015 at 6:28 am   |   by Carolyn Mahaney Filed under Biblical Womanhood | Church Life | Friendship

A broken relationship with another Christian leaves all manner of pain and disillusionment in its wake. But as we talked about last week, God’s character and closeness give us comfort in the pain of un-reconciled relationships.

He also gives us clear guidance as we navigate the confusing emotions and difficult realities of a broken friendship. First of all, Scripture spells out what is required of us when we are sinned against. John Piper expands on Thomas Watson’s definition of forgiveness, which includes:

  • resisting revenge,

“Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.” (Rom. 12:19)

  • not returning evil for evil,

“See that no one repays another with evil for evil.” (1 Thess. 5:15)

  • wishing them well,

“Bless those who curse you.” (Luke 6:28)

  • grieving at their calamities,

“Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles.” (Prov. 24:17)

  • praying for their welfare,

“But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matt. 5:44)

  • seeking reconciliation so far as it depends on you,

“If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” (Rom. 12:18)

  • and coming to their aid in distress.

“If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey wandering away, you shall surely return it to him.” (Ex. 23:4)

Ask yourself: Do these verses represent my attitude and actions toward those who have wronged me? If so, then you can walk through even the most painful and messy situation with a clear conscience.

But if we are resistant or hesitant to treat those who have hurt us in the way that God requires, we must ask him to help us repent from any remaining bitterness in our hearts.

Prayer makes all the difference here. It is very difficult—impossible really—to pray for someone and persist in bitterness simultaneously. One crowds out the other.

To love those who have rejected or betrayed us is not easy, especially when we used to feel close to them and trust them. The temptation to simmer in our resentment, retaliate, or secretly rejoice in their pain may be strong. It may take longer than we expect for truth to come to light. But we are called to obey. It’s that simple.

We are following our Savior after all, the one who made us, his enemies, to be his friends.

The One who calls us to do good to those who hate us first loved us, even when we hated him.

The One who says “I will repay” paid the penalty for our sin (and the sin of our Christian friends who betray us).

The One who tells us to bless those who curse us was made a curse for us.

The One who urges us to “be at peace with all men” has made peace with God on our behalf.

How can we look our Savior in the eyes and hold bitterness behind our backs?

To forgive is to be free. It is to be free from those sins of anger and resentment that dishonor our Savior and make us miserable. It is to be free to love our faithful friends who remain, to enjoy the many blessings God has given us, to live a fruitful life for his glory.

But how do we relate to former friends who are unrepentant for their actions toward us? And how do we respond to shallow apologies? What do you do when someone has sinned against you and wants to pretend as if nothing has happened?

Some final thoughts to come.


Previous Post:

Q&A: How Do I Handle the Pain of Broken Relationships?

Feb 12

Valentine’s Day Hopes

2015 at 9:01 am   |   by Carolyn Mahaney Filed under Marriage

Purveyors of chocolate, makers of plush teddies and tacky pajamas, and restaurateurs everywhere are enjoying the week leading up to Valentine’s Day, but this yearly celebration of romantic love sometimes produces more disappointments than diamond sales.

The holiday can be a painful reminder of unfulfilled hope for women who are single. For women in difficult marriages Valentine’s Day brings to the surface disappointed hopes. Even in a strong, happy marriage, women can experience deflated hope on Valentine’s Day.

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick” (Prov. 13:12).

Valentine’s day buckles under the weight of high hopes, just as marriage does. It will never satisfy all our desires and longings, because God created marriage, not as a hope-fulfiller, but as a picture of Christ and the church (Eph. 5:31-32).

Our disappointed hopes reveal that our hope has been misplaced. And God ordains our disappointments—big and small—in order that we may replace our hope on the one person who will never disappoint. Like the “holy women” of the past we are to hope in God (1 Pet. 3:5).

Hopes deferred aren’t a dead end, but a gracious redirect. They are a pointer to the “living hope:” our Savior, Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 1:3). Hope in God enables us to joyfully face the future, whether or not we get married, whether or not we have a happy marriage, whether or not this holiday is all we hoped for.

If Valentine’s Day magnifies our misplaced hopes, we must put our hope in God (1 Pet. 3:5). We do this by focusing on all that God promises to be for us in Jesus Christ.

Our difficulties will be “unbearable” writes Martin Luther, “if you are uncertain that God is for you and with you.”

God is for you. He is working for your good on this Valentine’s Day.

Once he was against you. The full fury of his wrath was set against your sin. But he sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to bear the justifiable “against-ness” of God. Through the cross we have not only received forgiveness but all the “for-ness” of God in Christ Jesus.

Our hope in pain:

You have kept count of my tossings;

put my tears in your bottle.

Are they not in your book?

Then my enemies will turn back

in the day when I call.

This I know, that God is for me.

(Psalm 56:8-9)

No uncertainty here. This I know. God is for me.

And God is with you.

“[F]or he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’” (Heb. 13:5-6)

He is not watching your pain from a distance, just out of sight. He is “near” (Ps. 34;18). He is near to comfort, near to encourage, near to strengthen, near to bless.

John Piper writes: “When you think he is farthest from you, or has even turned against you, the truth is that as you cling to him, he is laying foundation stones of greater happiness in your life.”

What may seem like a difficult holiday is really another “foundation stone of greater happiness,” lovingly laid by the Savior.

God is with us. He is for us. He is our hope this Valentine’s Day.

Underneath the cheap red cellophane of a hope-less Valentine’s Day lies a glorious opportunity: a chance to put our hope in God.

Feb 10

Q&A: How Do I Handle the Pain of Broken Relationships?

2015 at 9:04 am   |   by Carolyn Mahaney Filed under Biblical Womanhood | Church Life | Friendship

Q. I’d be grateful if you could talk about emotions in response to when we are hurt by other Christians, particularly when there has been no reconciliation.

Few things dredge up so much emotional pain and confusion as broken relationships with other Christians. In poetic, haunting language the Psalmist describes the acute nature of this pain:

“For it is not an enemy who taunts me—

then I could bear it;

it is not an adversary who deals insolently with me—

then I could hide from him.

But it is you, a man, my equal,

my companion, my familiar friend.

We used to take sweet counsel together;

Within God’s house we walked in the throng.

~Psalm 55:12-14

“It is not an enemy” that causes me pain, writes David. I know what to do about him. I can handle his attacks just fine.

I could hide”

“I could bear it.”

So for us, it is not the enemies of the Christian faith, the insulters of the godly everywhere, whose words and actions pain us most.

But it is you,” says David. My companion. My familiar friend. My sweet co-counselor. My fellow worshipper. It is your betrayal that hurts the most.

The friends we welcomed into our home and into our lives, the friends we confessed sin to and worshipped with and shared the gospel alongside—these broken relationships are painful in direct proportion to how sweet they once were.

In other words: give me a vicious enemy, any day, over a false friend.

Many of you know the pain of a broken friendship:

~You’ve been through a church split and lost half of your friends.

~A close friend has rejected you and the Christian faith.

~Your former friend still sits in the same pew at church but refuses to speak to you.

~You’ve had to leave a church because of the slander or persecution from other church members.

How do we handle the jagged edges of un-reconciled relationships? How do we process the grief, guilt, regret, hurt, anxiety, confusion, and even the loss of faith?

Before we do anything else, we must bring our grief to God. The answer is right here in Psalm 55. The Psalmist cries out in unbearable pain over this broken relationship, and then he turns to God.

“But I call to God,

and the Lord will save me” (v. 16).

We must not allow our disillusionment over another Christian’s actions lead us away from God. Rather, in our pain, we must turn to Christ.

For it was never other Christians in whom we were called to put our faith. It is not other Christians who save us. It is God who has rescued us from the power of sin and hell and only he can save us from the pain of these broken relationships.

We must call to God. We must pour out our heart to him. We must ask for his mercy on this relationship. We must pray for forgiveness for our own sin and a spirit of forgiveness toward others. We must bring our questions, our confusion, our hurt, our pain, our guilt, and our indecision over what to do next to the God who saves.

Who after all, knows more intimately the pain of false friends than our Savior, Jesus Christ? Who knows the rejection of sinful humanity whom he has created and blessed? In the moment when we feel rejection and pain, we must remember that we first rejected him. But he has reconciled us to himself. He is the great reconciler.

He is also the great comforter. And you are not the first saint he has comforted in this situation. Let these words from Charles Spurgeon encourage your soul:

Has it fallen to thy lot, my brother, to be forsaken of friends?... [H]as it come to this now, that you are forgotten as a dead man out of mind? In your greatest trials do you find your fewest friends? Have those who once loved and respected you, fallen asleep in Jesus? And have others turned out to be hypocritical and untrue?

What are you to do now? You are to remember this case of the apostle; it is put here for your comfort. He had to pass through as deep waters as any that you are called to ford, and yet remember, he says, “Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me.”

So now, when man deserts you, God will be your friend. This God is our God for ever and ever—not in sunshiny weather only, but for ever and ever. This God is our God in dark nights as well as in bright days. Go to him, spread your complaint before him. Murmur not.

If Paul had to suffer desertion, you must not expect better usage. Let not your faith fail you, as though some new thing had happened to you. This is common to the saints. David had his Ahithophel, Christ his Judas, Paul his Demas, and can you expect to fare better than they?

Be of good courage, and wait on the Lord, for he shall strengthen thy heart. “Wait, I say, on the Lord.”

“When man deserts you, God will be your friend.” And there is no greater, no truer friend we could ask for. Therefore, in the pain of broken relationships, call to God.

More thoughts to come…