“Time is like the sky. Wherever we look, there it is.” ~Zach Eswine
When asked: “What superpower would you most like to have?” more than a quarter of Americans said they would choose the ability to travel through time. They want to travel through time more than they want the ability to fly or become invisible.
Time unsettles us. It is always there, and yet it’s a commodity we never seem to have enough of. Maybe this is why we want to travel through time. We feel restricted by it and we worry about how to spend it. If “now is the time” what should I be doing now?
It’s a question women are asking a lot these days, so in between other topics here at girltalk, we want to look at the issue of a woman’s time.
The preacher of Ecclesiastes meets us in our frustration and fretfulness about time with a poem:
“For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven:”
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.”
This poem, and the verses that follow tell us “what God does with time and, in light of that, what we should do in time with God” (D.S. O’Donnell).
God Sets Our Times
What does God do with time? For one, he controls it: “There is a time for every season under heaven” (v. 1).
In case we didn’t catch his drift, the preacher spells it out a few verses later, sans poetry: “God has done it,” he says, bluntly, and “whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor taken away from it (v. 14-15).”
God orders time. Whatever is done, God has done it. Time is in his hands.
And God has stitched down our time in seasons: To everything there is a season, in other words, “a fixed time, a predetermined purpose” (C. Bridges). So there is a fixed time to laugh and also to cry, to embrace and to hold back, to be born and to die.
This pretty poem has fangs. For as much as we enjoy the times of laughter and embracing, we cannot escape the times of loneliness, pain, and tears. Harsh times will come as surely as the kind. There goes our time traveling fantasy.
“This chapter has disturbing implications,” writes Derek Kidner. “One of them is that we dance to a tune, or many tunes, not of our own making; a second is that nothing we pursue has any permanence”:
We throw ourselves into some absorbing activity which offers us fulfillment, but how freely did we choose it? How soon shall we be doing the exact opposite? Perhaps our choices are no freer than our responses to winter and summer, childhood and old age, dictated by the march of time and of unbidden change.
Looked at in this way, the repetition of a ‘time . . ., and a time . . .,’ begins to be oppressive. Whatever may be our skill and initiative, our real masters seem to be these inexorable seasons: not only those of the calendar, but that tide of events which moves us now to one kind of action, which seems fitting, now to another which puts it all into reverse. Obviously we have little to say in the situations.”
Our poem concludes with this almost bitter, rhetorical question: “What gain has the worker from his toil?” (v. 9). The answer seems lost in the wind.
The teacher brings us face to face with our life in this sin-stained world. Time is subject to sin and we are subject to time. There will be weeping and war. There will be silence, loss, and loneliness. And as we toil underneath these times, no absorbing or fulfilling activity we pursue has any permanence.
So what’s the point of this life lived under the thumb of time?
God Makes Our Times Beautiful
“I’ve got bad news and I’ve got good news,” says the preacher. “And I’ve just given you the bad news: You are subject to time, and all your efforts within that time are futile.”
Now for the good news: “God has made everything beautiful in his time” (v. 12).
“[The preacher] enables us to see perpetual change not as something unsettling but as an unfolding pattern, scintillating and God-given. The trouble for us is not that life refuses to keep still, but that we see only a fraction of its movement and of its subtle, intricate design. Instead of changelessness, there is something better: a dynamic, divine purpose, with its beginning and end. Instead of frozen perfection there is the kaleidoscopic movement of innumerable processes, each with its own character and its period of blossoming and ripening, beautiful in its time and contributing to the over-all masterpiece which is the work of one Creator.
This is what God does with time: He makes it beautiful. Time is God’s masterpiece. He orders our sorrow and joys, our casting away and our gathering. He orders all of our seasons as part of his beautiful plan. Most magnificently of all, “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son” (Gal. 4:4).
So what should we do with God in time? We must as one commentator puts it, “embrace the beauty of God’s sovereignty.” Instead of wishing we could travel through time, we must travel with God through time.
2015 at 7:18 am | by Nicole Whitacre
~from the archives, August 2007: the truth of these words from John Piper encourage me as much today as they did eight years ago
These days you’ll find me at home changing diapers, picking up toys, helping Jack make pb&j’s (I do the peanut butter and he does the jelly), wiping spit-up off my clothes, and—here’s where it really gets exciting—going to Wal Mart to purchase more diapers.
My home is a long way from the community college campus where I used to serve as a ministry intern on behalf of my church, sharing the gospel and discipling girls every day. It’s a long way from the church office where I organized women’s meetings and retreats for hundreds. It’s a very long way from Hungary and India where I traveled on short-term mission trips.
I love my life now, even if it doesn’t always seem as “exciting” or “significant” as what I used to do. Maybe that’s why this thought from John Piper’s book The Roots of Endurance resonated with me:
“I have just preached to my people several messages in which I pleaded with them to be ‘coronary Christians,’ not ‘adrenal Christians.’ Not that adrenaline is bad, I said; it gets me through lots of Sundays. But it lets you down on Mondays.
The heart is another kind of friend. It just keeps on serving—very quietly, through good days and bad days, happy and sad, high and low, appreciated and unappreciated. It never says, ‘I don’t like your attitude, Piper, I’m taking a day off.’ It just keeps humbly lub-dubbing along. It endures the way adrenaline doesn’t.
Coronary Christians are like the heart in the causes they serve. Adrenal Christians are like adrenaline—a spurt of energy and then fatigue.
What we need in the cause of… [motherhood] is not spurts of energy, but people who endure for the long haul. Marathoners, not sprinters.”
Being a wife and mother—or doing any other long-term kingdom work—requires us to be “coronary Christians.” It requires faithfulness even when we don’t see fruit. It requires joy in the mundane, unglamorous tasks. It calls for confidence that God will bless our gospel-motivated labors.
So if you are weary, discouraged, or even bored with the work God is calling you to today, join me in asking for God’s grace to be a “coronary Christian.”
“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do notgive up.” ~Galatians 6:9
Recently, at the end of a conference session where CJ and I fielded questions, a woman approached me with a query of her own: “So what do you do on the side?” she inquired.
“On the side?” I echoed, not fully comprehending her question.
“What do you do for personal fulfillment?” she sought to clarify. “You see I’m happy my husband has his ministry because that provides him with personal fulfillment. But I pursue my own hobbies because they provide personal fulfillment for me. So,” she repeated again, “What do you do?”
I was unprepared for her question. And I’m sure my answer was insufficient. (How often I have an eloquent answer after the conversation is over!) If I had it to do over again, I’d tell her about Dorothy.
Dorothy was a woman who knew the secret of true “personal fulfillment.” A single mom whose husband left her with a son to raise, Dorothy didn’t spend time worrying about herself. Instead, she was always serving and caring for others. I knew her because she was my Sunday School teacher. And Dorothy was one of the most joyful women I knew.
At my bridal shower everyone wrote down a piece of advice on a slip of paper. I only remember one, and it was Dorothy’s. Her secret to a fulfilled life? “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39). Our culture is constantly telling us to find our life; that we’re the center of our world, and as such, we need to take care of “me” first.
But when I’m the center of my world, my world becomes very small—because I’m the only person in it. When I try to find fulfillment in anything besides loving Christ and serving Him, I will only end up more frustrated and completely unfulfilled.
Now, don’t misunderstand. I think we as women should express our creativity, and even more importantly get sufficient rest. But the purpose of creativity should be to glorify God with our gifts, not to find “personal fulfillment,” and the goal of rest should be to strengthen us for service.
If we want “personal fulfillment” as women, we must not follow our culture’s prescription. Rather, we must lose our life for Christ’s sake. Then, amazingly, we’ll find that our world expands. We’ll know the thrill of seeing the fruit of our sacrificial service in the lives of those around us. So for true “personal fulfillment,” let’s follow Dorothy’s example as she followed Christ.
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
2015 at 9:38 am | by Nicole Whitacre
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
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
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:
“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 representmy 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?