When my mom graduated from high school, she had a plan. She was going to Bible college. She resigned her job as a secretary for a Christian ministry, enrolled in school, and packed her bags. Then a few days before she was set to move, she met my dad. It was love at first sight.
Mom never made it to Bible college. She got her old job back and a few months later married my dad. On May 17 of this year, they celebrated forty years of marriage and they are more in love than ever. Needless to say, her life didn’t go as planned.
What are your plans after graduation? Whether you have a five and ten year plan or are a fog about the next step, there’s something about life you need to understand:
Life is unpredictable, and that’s on its best days.
If there’s one thing you can be certain of, it is that this is an uncertain world. Your life won’t go as planned. Sometimes the unexpected is exciting—like when my mom met my dad—but it can also be discouraging and bewildering at times.
We find a mini-commencement speech of sorts on this topic in Ecclesiastes chapter eleven. It contains valuable wisdom for graduates and everyone considering their future plans. Four times in six verses we find some variation on the phrase “you do not know.” Basically, there is a whole lot you don’t know about your life.
“You know not what disaster may happen on earth…” (v. 2) Only a few weeks ago we marked the anniversary of the Boston Marathon and witnessed the devastating earthquake in Nepal. You do not know what disaster, near or far, may change the course of your future.
“You do not know the work of God who makes everything…” (v. 5) You cannot explain God’s providence in your life so far, or predict what he may call you to do in the future.
“You do not know which [effort] will prosper…” (v. 6)The economy is unpredictable. People and trends are unpredictable. You cannot know for sure what path will lead to the most success.
Life will surprise you, and not always in a good way. It’s uncertain and unpredictable.
Not only that, the only thing we can predict in this uncertain world is that it will be hard: “So if a person lives many years…let him remember that the days of darkness will be many” (v. 8).
In other words graduating class of 2015, you don’t know what will happen with your life, but there’s one thing you can know one thing for sure: you will have many bad days.
Hardly the inspiring message you were hoping for, I know. But Ecclesiastes doesn’t just give us the bad news, it tells us how to live in an uncertain world. When we face up to the unsettling reality that life doesn’t go as planned, we learn from Ecclesiastes how to make new and better plans.
How do we make good decisions in uncertain times? Ecclesiastes gives us three ways.
1. Be an Entrepreneur
“In the morning sow your seed, and at evening withhold not your hand, for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good” (v. 6).
Young people often spend a lot of time worrying about their life. They hesitate to commit to one direction or another. They worry about finding the will of God. They flounder.
But Ecclesiastes would tell you that the surest way to succeed in an uncertain world is to get to work. Work as hard as you can at whatever work God has put right in front of you. And you never know, it just might work.
Instead of “thinking of may-be’s and might-have-beens…our business is to grapple with what actually is, and what lies within reach,” advises Derek Kidner: “Few great enterprises waited for ideal conditions; no more should we.”
Coming to grips with uncertainty frees us to take risks for Christ. These words from Phil Ryken make an outstanding mission statement:
“It may be true that, to paraphrase this passage, ‘you never know,’ but it is equally true that ‘you will never reap if you never sow.’ So work hard for the kingdom of God. Live boldly and creatively. Try something new! Be a spiritual entrepreneur. Even if you are not completely sure what will work, try everything you can to serve Christ in a world that desperately needs the gospel. Work hard from morning till night, making the most of your time by offering God a full day’s work. Then leave the results to him, knowing that he will use your work in whatever way he sees fit.”
Be a spiritual entrepreneur. Work hard from morning until night. Try everything to serve Christ in a world that desperately needs the gospel. In an uncertain world, this is the certain path to a useful life.
2. Give Your Life Away
“Give a portion to seven, or even to eight, for you know not what disaster may happen on earth” (v. 2).
Trying to control our lives or predict the future makes us stingy. We won’t spend time on a “hopeless case.” We won’t serve the ungrateful. We won’t stay in that small church. We won’t volunteer for children’s ministry or the cleaning crew. We won’t give our all to a boring job.
But the woman who understands life’s volatility gives generously, almost recklessly, of her time, her love, and her service to others. She seeks out the lowly and the outcast. She listens patiently to the troubled. She serves in secret, and has what Zach Eswine calls “the stamina to go unnoticed.” Because who knows what may happen tomorrow?
[T]ime and chance can overturn our finest plans. If that can be a paralyzing thought, it can also be a spur to action: for if there are risks in everything, it is better to fail in launching out than in hugging one’s resources to oneself. We already catch a breath of the New Testament blowing through the first two verses, a hint of our Lord’s favourite paradox that ‘he who loves his life loses it’, and that ‘the measure you give will be the measure you get’. ~Derek Kidner
Give of yourself to others and don’t count the cost. Lose your life. Lose it now and you won’t worry so much about losing it later. You won’t have a mid life crisis or what I heard about the other day, a quarter life crisis (for real?). Don’t react to the uncertainty of life by hoarding your time and talents. You do not know what will happen tomorrow, so give your life away today.
3. Enjoy Today
“So if a person lives many years, let him rejoice in them all” (v. 8).
If it’s true that you will have many dark days—and it is true—then Ecclesiastes tells you to rejoice today.
Sure, you may have troubles today. You may have fears about the future, trepidation about your new job, despair about difficult circumstances, frustration that you are not yet where you had hoped to be yet. But don’t let the specter of the dark days of the future rob you of the joy of today.
Enjoy this moment, the grace of graduation, for it is an astounding grace! Be grateful for the privilege of learning, revel in the godly relationships you have forged, laugh over the memories. Relish every moment of the graduation experience with gratitude in your heart to God.
We lose so many of the good moments of our lives trying to prevent the bad ones. When we know that they will come, no matter how hard we try to avoid them, we are free to give God thanks for the evidences of his grace today.
When we enjoy each day, one day at a time, we will look back and realize that we had a happy life. There may be many sorrows, and many dark days, but when we deliberately rejoice in God every day, we will find we are a happy person in the end.
A Stimulating Call
Life is unpredictable. My mom could not have guessed how her life would radically change one summer day in 1974. And neither can you know what tomorrow holds. So how do we respond to life’s unpredictability?
Derek Kidner drives the lesson home:
“The true response to uncertainty is redoubling of effort…It is a stimulating call, with no thought of faltering, yet no trace of bravado or irresponsibility. The very smallness of our knowledge and control, the very likelihood of hard times so frequently impressed on us throughout the book, become the reasons to bestir ourselves and show some spirit.”
Class of 2015: May you not falter or boast, but armed with the knowledge of how little you know, may you rise up, show some spirit, and make the most of your life for the glory of our risen Savior.
2015 at 7:46 am | by Nicole Whitacre
Last Friday afternoon I was talking to my sister, Kristin, about parenting our boys. Four of them were competing in a soccer tournament the next day, and we were strategizing about how to help them grow in godly character—win or lose. (They lost, which provided a great chance to grow in humility. Thank you MahaneySports!) We had talked about some of these character issues the week before, and we’ll probably talk about them again next week too. Parenting is a job that is never done.
I like to finish things, check them off my list, close the file…you get the idea. So I find the never-finished nature of parenting work to be discouraging at times. I see progress, for sure, and many answered prayers and evidences of God’s grace. But the growth usually comes far slower than I would like, and some days I wonder if my training and teaching efforts are even hitting the mark.
The fact is, the never-finished nature of parenting work gives us one of our greatest opportunities to glorify God. That’s because parenting is what Charles Bridges calls “a work of faith.”
“As such,” he writes, “it can only be sustained by the active and persevering exercise of this principle. This is what makes it a means of grace to our own souls, as well as a grand medium of exalting our Divine Master.”
In other words, only faith in God can sustain us in the day in, day out, never-completed business of parenting, and this is how God has designed it to be: we’re forced to rely on him, and then he in turn uses that faith as a means of grace to our souls and glory for his name.
“It is faith that enlivens our work with perpetual cheerfulness. It commits every part of it to God, in the hope, that even mistakes shall be overruled for his glory; and thus relieves us from an oppressive anxiety, often attendant upon a deep sense of our responsibility. The shortest way to peace will be found in casting ourselves upon God for daily pardon of deficiencies and supplies of grace, without looking too eagerly for present fruit.”
Faith fills the gap between faithfulness and fruitfulness in parenting and infuses it with “perpetual cheerfulness.” When we look “too eagerly for present fruit” we may grow weary or feel like a failure; but when we look to Christ we find “daily pardon of deficiencies,” relief from “oppressive anxiety” and “hope that even mistakes shall be overruled for his glory.”
The work of parenting may never be done, but it cannot exceed the inexhaustible supplies of God’s grace.
One of the challenges of being a parent these days is the barrage of advice about what it means to be “a good parent.” It’s so easy to get so distracted by the ideals and methods of modern culture that we lose sight of the basics of biblical parenting.
This is why some of my favorite parenting books are by or about parents from over a hundred years ago—JC Ryle’s Duties of Parents and Shaping of a Christian Family by Elisabeth Elliot (about her parents’ parenting). Free from the clutter of today’s cultural commands, books like these help me focus more clearly on God’s parenting principles.
Recently I added a new book to my list of parenting book favorites: Hints for Parents by Gardiner Spring. This short book is simple, convicting, and encouraging. In four sections, Spring lays out biblical priorities for parenting, methods to achieve those goals, motivations, and finally—what every parents needs most—“courage” to carry on.
“God means for us to renounce our self-confidence and feel our dependence on him” writes Spring:
“When we fail—as certainly we will to some extent—we will lie prostrate on our faces and carry our children to the God of all grace and power. The sooner, more earnestly, and more submissively we do this, the more reason we have to hope.
Parental tenderness is the most pure, the most faithful, and the most energetic, when prayer nourishes it. It is as God’s mercy seat that a parent’s love all flows out. And God reveals his mercy exactly as our children need it.”
This little book would make a valuable addition to your parenting library.
For a bunch of college girls, it was a shocking sight. Our friend, and the mother of twins, showed us her stretch marks and we, rather impolitely, stared back in dismay. Did pregnancy really carve such strange designs into a woman’s body?
“You will all look like this some day,” she warned, laughing at our expressions. “Of course, mine are worse, because I had twins, but if you get pregnant, you will get stretch marks.”
I’m glad I didn’t know then that in addition to stretch marks I would also have a c-section scar, plus two more long scars from emergency surgery following the delivery of my first child. My stomach now looks like a crudely drawn road map.
Pregnancy wreaks havoc on a woman’s body. Stretch marks and fat deposits, c-section scars and varicose veins…the list goes on. Then there is motherhood. Sleep deprivation digs dark pits underneath our eyes, bottle washing dries out our hands, our clothes don’t fit anymore and are dotted with spit-up. Our joints are stiff from hours of carpool and our muscles sore from carrying children and baby bags and pack and plays (and don’t forget the stroller!).
Whatever beauty we thought we had before we had children feels like a thing of the past. We worry about whether our husband will still find us attractive. We feel self-conscious and insecure about how we look to others.
But motherhood is not the end of beauty, it is an opportunity to become more beautiful. Moms may not get much time at the spa, but we have the chance to apply the godly woman’s beauty regimen every day, all day long.
What is this beauty regimen? Scripture says that the woman who applies trust in God (“a gentle and quiet spirit” 1 Pet. 3:3-5) with good works (1 Tim. 2:9-10) will not fail to become genuinely beautiful. And who, I ask you, has more opportunities to apply this beauty treatment, than a mother with young children?
Every day she must trust God with the physical safety, the emotional wellbeing, and the state of her children’s souls. Every day she must do endless, repetitive acts of service on behalf of her husband and for the sake of children. And every day, as moms, we have countless opportunities to take our eyes off of ourselves, to serve others, and to look to God for strength and help. This makes us truly beautiful.
So think of it this way: you can make yourself beautiful all day long! Not only when you shower and style your hair, but also when you clean up vomit and wipe dirty bottoms, when you encourage your husband and serve your family with gladness. You are trusting God and doing good works. This will make you beautiful in the eyes of your husband and your children, and precious in the sight of God.
Motherhood is not the end of beauty; instead it can be the beginning of a deeper, more profound beauty, that transforms us from the inside out. So instead of mourning the loss of a smooth, flat, stomach this Mother’s Day, let’s give thanks for the opportunity to pursue a beauty that will never fade (1 Pet. 3:3-5).
We wish we could meet every one of your beautiful mothers, but we had to pick two winners for our Mother’s Day Contest and they are…
She opens her hand to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy. Prov 31:20
My mom is a school nurse, often to children with severe chronic illnesses. She is full of love for them. It has always amazed me how she can communicate so much love to children who are unable to speak, walk or function without some kind of medical support. But they are delighted by her, which is seen in how their eyes shine when she enters the room. My mom instilled in my sisters and I a love for the outcast, disabled, poor and the needy. We always had a plethora of people in our small home, and attracted the people who are hard to love. She was never scared away by difficult personality, awkwardness, strange behaviour, etc. She loved unconditionally, and made everyone feel special. I am so thankful that she is able to see people through Christ’s eyes, and have such an open heart to minister to the needs of so many. She has shaped my outlook on life, and I’m incredibly thankful for her.
I’m 48 and my mom is 73. I was recently diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer. Though I always expected to take care of my mom as she ages, now she is taking care of me (and my husband, and my children . . .) She does my laundry, has us over for meals, and is the proverbial listening ear and shoulder to cry on. The night we found out how far the cancer had spread, she brought supper over with my dad, and I’ll never forget how she pleaded with God to not let any of us become bitter towards him over this hard providence. I pray my children will never forget that evening or her prayer request. She has showed me what a lifetime of faithfulness and fruitfulness looks like. That is true beauty!
Lynette and Michelle, you will each receive two copies of True Beauty—one for you and one for your mom. Let each of us tell our moms why they are truly beautiful this Mother’s Day!
2015 at 6:22 am | by Carolyn Mahaney
When it comes to raising children, God has set one task above all others: teaching our children the Scriptures:
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” Deuteronomy 6:4-7
These verses describe a home-life set to the soundtrack of Scripture. Every day, throughout the day—as we drive to soccer practice, dish up spaghetti, or tuck our children into bed—we are to talk to our children about who God is, what he has done, and what he requires. We are to single-mindedly, whole-heartedly love the Savior, and then pour out that love in a constant stream of communication to our children.
At times, though, we can grow weary of all the talking. We wonder: Is anything getting through? Will my child ever show any interest in the gospel?
Hope and encouragement to persevere are close at hand. A few verses later in Deuteronomy 6:20 we glimpse the first green shoots of gospel conversation:
“When your son asks you in time to come, ‘What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the Lord our God has commanded you?’”
Though it is not a promise, there is much encouragement we can draw from this verse. We can look forward to “a time to come” when we won’t be doing all the talking, when our children will ask questions and want to understand the meaning of God’s Words, and the reason for our faith.
That “time to come” will be different for every child, but let us pray for and eagerly anticipate that time, and let us faithfully sow gospel seeds in our conversation today. In due season we will reap, if we do not give up (Galatians 6:9).
2015 at 6:17 am | by Carolyn Mahaney
As I watch my daughters care for their children, I am freshly amazed by the demands of motherhood. Mothers must daily sacrifice their own comforts and pleasures in order to devote themselves to menial, repetitive, and (appearances might say), futile tasks.
So we should not be surprised that our mommy-emotions are so easily depleted, as if someone pulled the plug on our happiness and all we hear is the gurgling noise as the last of it goes down the drain.
Christopher Ash once said that “it is not suffering that destroys a person but suffering without a purpose.” The same can be said about motherhood: It is not motherhood that destroys your happiness but motherhood without a purpose.
You know what it’s like. When you have a clear sense of purpose, when you believe that God has called you to a task, that it glorifies him, that he is at work, then you have the stamina to endure hardship, the strength to overcome obstacles, joy and peace even when the going gets tough.
But if we’ve become resentful of the demands of motherhood, discouraged and depressed in our routine, irritated and impatient with our children, chances are, we’ve lost sight of our God-given purpose as a mother.
Few things are easier to forget than a biblical conviction of the importance of motherhood. All it takes is a prick of doubt: What’s the point of all this? Why don’t I feel fulfilled? Why work so hard to train my children if I don’t seem to make any progress? What’s the use of repenting if I’m only going to sin again? Is it fake to put on a happy face when I feel so miserable inside?
So many of these questions flow out of the selfish cesspool of our culture, which tries to measure success in motherhood by personal fulfillment. We must be wise and alert to the unbiblical thinking that breeds unhappy questions such as these.
When we allow these questions to fester, without applying truth from God’s Word, we will inevitably lose the joy, contentment, and strength that flow from a firm biblical conviction of the significance of our mothering task.
For me, when I was struggling with my emotions as a mother, it was often because I had lost sight of my purpose. That is why, in the early years of mothering, I read every good, biblical book on mothering that I could get my hands on. I needed constant infusions of truth in order to survive emotionally.
“We are naturally prone to keep slipping into not knowing what we know,” adds Christopher Ash, which is why we must constantly, daily, hourly remind ourselves of what we do know to be true about motherhood.
We know that children are a blessing and a heritage from the Lord, an undeserved gift from God to increase our delight in him (Ps. 127:3).
We know that God has called mothers to train up their children in the way they should go, to discipline and instruct them, to love them tenderly (Prov. 22:6, Eph. 6:4, Tit. 2:4).
We know that those who sow in tears will reap with joy, that those who are faithful to do good will see God act on their behalf, that those who water and tend will see fruit that God gives (Ps. 126:5, Ps. 37:3).
We know that whatever we do for the least of these, we do for him. Motherhood is for him. Motherhood has dignity and glory because of the dignity and glory of the One for whom we mother. When we care for our children, we do it for our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ (Matt 10:43).
These are the truths we must not slip into not knowing. When we remind ourselves every day, in every way we can, of God’s purpose for our mothering, we’ll find the empty tub of our mothering emotions filling up and overflowing with joy.