Marriage Can’t. Jesus Can.

On Mondays at lunch, we fast and pray for men and women to be progressively more shaped into God’s image and for marriages to those who desire them. 

I wanted to be happy for him. I really did. But his smiling face with a fiancée and an engagement ring in the middle of my social media feed stirred up the worst crags of my heart. Him? Are you kidding me? After he’s been unable to find anyone good enough in the last fifteen years, he magically finds someone in six months? I know what this is…he just decided it was Time to Get Married (TTGM) and picked the next girl. I wish I could say I was appalled by my heart’s vitriol, but I too busy rationalizing my behavior and hiding him from my news feed.

Why was I so upset? Was it envy? Was it anger that he was winning the mental “marriage marathon” I unconsciously run with every ex-boyfriend? Was it judging God’s actions with the lens of my own experience? Was it unforgiveness and general irritation with his being shown mercy when I wanted to see him suffer the consequences of his previous behavior?

Unfortunately yes to all of the above. Confession had to happen but later, with some more time, I realized the anger was deeper than him. There were so many lies wrapped into my visceral reaction to his good news; I didn’t want him to get married first because it felt like he was somehow getting to the finish line first. So many lies have gotten wrapped into that false understanding of marriage and of my own identity:

  1. I was waiting for marriage to prove that I was worthy of being chosen and to close the door on years of bad or nonexistent dating
  2. I was waiting for marriage to define me — to define my arrival in adulthood, my relational sphere, my geographic home, my vocational direction, my financial outlook, my travel plans, my emergency contact person.
  3. In essence, I was waiting for marriage for me – for reasons that would make me feel good about my life, cement what I wanted to be true about myself and give me excuses to use social media to overshare my life milestones (ok, maybe that’s just me).

Of course marriage can’t really do these things — marriage can’t fix my identity problems. Marriage and a spouse can’t neatly package up my life’s definition or relationships or calling and tell me who I am.  And marriage can’t and won’t always make me feel good – especially in the midst of life’s storms. At those points, we need a deeper anchor than marriage. And scripture says marriage is bigger than the people in it. It’s about two sinners on a journey of imaging the selfless, other-centered love that Christ has for us as His church. Marriage is good, but it simply can’t live up to the mental demands I’d placed on it.

In contrast, Jesus can and already has. Jesus has already called us chosen. Almighty God has already set His love on us. At the cross, we have already been offered forgiveness and shown extravagant, ridiculous mercy in the face of much worse crimes than those of any ex-boyfriend. Jesus has defined the good life, our relational sphere, and our calling to love another as we have been loved in whatever circumstance we find ourselves.

I’m not trying to downplay the God-ordained good of marriage or the courage to unashamedly long for it and keep praying for it. I simply wonder if smaller expectations of marriage and greater expectations of Jesus are a good place to start this week. To pray boldly — asking Jesus to come into the crags where the lies have taken root — to expose our sin in order to heal us — a process that we need, no matter where our circumstances have us on this Monday at lunch.

Praying with you,

Amy

Posted in Author: Amy | 9 Comments

Choices, I have a few

On Mondays at lunch, we fast and pray – for men to become godly leaders at church and at home; for soft hearts that are responsive to the Lord; and for strong, Christ-centered marriages for those who desire them.

Ever go to the grocery store for a simple purchase and get lost in a sea of choices? I mean how many different kinds of toilet paper options does one need to choose from? Don’t get me wrong I’m thankful for 100 various flavors of ice cream to choose from and don’t even get me started on the bread options. Yum! I’m just struck lately with the myriad of choices available to me in ‘Merica.

You see to distract myself from my recent milestone birthday and more importantly, do something to impact the clean water crisis in the world, a friend and I decided to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro to raise funds for a well for a community in Tanzania without access to clean water. This trip was over a year in the making and involved a leap of faith on my part and God doing what He does best… making it all come together! It hasn’t even been a week since I’ve returned from this grand adventure and I’m still trying to wrap my head around all that we saw, tasted, and did. What an amazing team of people I got to experience this journey with, truly God orchestrated!

After the whole mountain climbing thing, we went to visit several of the communities with Compassion International centers and the site of the well project. It was considered an honor for several of the families from each of the centers we visited to invite us into their homes and share their life stories with us. For me, these visits were not only an honor, but humbling and eye-opening to the unique situation I find myself living as a single woman in the western world.

In all of my travels to the developing world, I have yet to meet a never-married woman over 30 years old. Widows – yes, never married – no. I’m sure there might be one or two that exist, as I haven’t talked with everyone in those countries, I’ve just never met anyone. What struck me as I’ve been reflecting on this… Choices!

I didn’t have to marry someone to leave my father’s house, because I had options. I can choose to remain single and still provide shelter, food, and clothing for myself. I also have the choice to be selective with whom I marry, again because I don’t need to be dependent on a man to survive outside of my father’s house. I would venture a guess that a woman from one of the Tanzanian communities I visited is not evaluating a relationship with a man with the same checklist I’m using, if she even has a checklist at all.

On one side of the world, we have more choices than we know what to do with, while on the other side, choices appear to be quite limited. Yet, if we believe Psalms 37:23, our steps are ordered by God no matter how many choices are available for us to make. So today I’m going to choose to be thankful…

- For being single and not living in my father’s house!

- For the ability be earn a living as a single female which affords me the opportunity to have food, shelter, clothing, and travel.

- For clean water.

- For choices.

- For ice cream, and all its many flavors!

- For knowing God, experiencing His grace, and for hope that the road ahead is in His hands and not mine!

So much to be grateful for these days!

Michelle

Posted in Author: Michelle | 16 Comments

The Sex Talk

On Mondays at lunch, we fast and pray – for men to become godly leaders at church and at home; for soft hearts that are responsive to the Lord; and for strong, Christ-centered marriages for those who desire them.

Shortly before I got married this past May, I got the “Sex Talk” from a few close friends and in a preparing-for-marriage class we took at our church.

One friend shared with me, “Emily, it’s not like in the movies. It doesn’t last all night.”

Another friend shared that her husband showers immediately after sex.

The older married ladies leading the girls-only time during our marriage class gave tips on avoiding infections and dealing with discomfort.

So why am I sharing this with you?

Because if you’re like me, you probably have some misconceptions about sex. Whether these misconceptions come from Hollywood where they edit out all the bloopers, or not learning/thinking/talking about sex and sexual desires because it’s easier and less shameful that way, or you grew up hearing that you will have the best sex of your life and be fulfilled sexually if you abstain until marriage, you are believing lies that the enemy is using to discourage you now and will use to discourage you in your marriage.

The world often presents a distorted view of the purpose for and the practice of sex. As Anna and Amy wrote earlier this year, the church doesn’t always promote a healthy view either. Growing up in a conservative church, I heard “don’t have sex until you’re married.” If anything, we were to be modest and asexual until marriage. I didn’t hear about married Christian couples struggling with their sex lives because “sex in its proper context [of marriage] is how God designed it.”

Several years ago, a friend and I had a conversation about how we secretly hoped Jesus wouldn’t return until we were married and could have sex with our husbands (isn’t that the highest good this world has to offer?). Such thinking illustrates misplaced hope and turning sex into the fantasy it’s not meant to be.

Lest I sound like I’m complaining or anti-sex, while sex can be awkward and complicated, it is wonderful to be with the man you love and trust and is key in developing and maintaining intimacy with your spouse (not to mention procreation). Sex does provide pleasure and an outlet for natural sexual desires, but sustaining healthy relationships requires commitment, hard work, vulnerability, and prayer. Something our culture often neglects to mention or model.

This week, let’s pray for discernment and protection from the lies about sex that lead to discouragement and discontent, both among singles and those who are married. Our sex life or lack of a sex life is not meant to define us – our faith and trust in a Heavenly Father and our identity as His children is where we find confidence and purpose.

Partnering in prayer with you,

Emily

P.S. Hundreds of churches from the D.C. area are gathering on Monday at the Lincoln Memorial to confess our sins and pray for our nation. Would you pray for protection for this time and for God to do a mighty work? And isn’t it cool/just-like-God that this prayer service corresponds with our fast.pray. time?

P.P.S. If you want to read more about a balanced view of sex while remaining celibate, here’s a link to an article another fast.pray-er shared with me that greatly helped re-frame my thinking about abstinence and sex.

Posted in Author: Emily | 8 Comments

Staples

On Mondays, we pray and fast for God to soften our hearts as women, to raise up men, and to give the gift of marriage to those who desire it. This week we have a guest post from a gal named Kate. Our hope is that you will be blessed by her writing as you pray and fast.

This summer was marked by two very important, heavenly ordained encounters where I learned The News.

Memorial Day weekend I encountered a friend of a friend who knows my ex. Through the course of catching up (it had been years since I saw her; same amount of time since talking to my ex), she causally brought him up in the course of our meandering conversation. And then she dropped The News – “You know he’s married now, right? And, expecting a child.”

Now, I’ve never played ice hockey. I have a niece who’s a freshman in college, living her dream, playing NCAA hockey. I’ve spent countless hours watching that kid zoom around the ice in chilly rinks along the East Coast. I can tell you, upon hearing the news about my ex on that warm Memorial Day with our feet dangling in a sparkling pool, I felt like I had just been checked hard by an NHL hockey player skating 40 mph, drilling me into the glass. I felt shaken to my core.

Here was the voice that played inside my head that moment and in the hours and days following: “HIM? You’ve got to be kidding me, God. He doesn’t even like you, let alone know you! Why him and not me?”

The “why him and not me” refrain followed me. Everywhere. I said it when I brushed my teeth and when I walked the dog; when I accepted a meeting invite at work and sat at a red light: Why him and not me?

Flash forward several weeks to my second heavenly ordained encountered this summer. I’m at the gym, working out with my trainer. An acquaintance who knows, through professional circles, my most recent ex is beside me lifting weights. She asks me if I’ve heard The News. “Bob got engaged, did you know that?!” Why, of course not. Why would I know that? Is what I wanted to scream at the gym.

This is the second proverbial NHL check into the glass. And my reaction is the exact same. Same voice, same recriminations: yelling at God, doubting His plans, believing He has withheld something great from me that I deserve more (the gift of marriage). Oh, so much more.

In the wake of getting emotionally drilled after hearing The News (twice) over the course of one month I go through a dark period this summer. There are lots of tears and sleepless nights. Sadness moves in and sets down a chair to make itself at home. The refrain becomes: “Why them and not me?” Why, God, why? And I befriend this refrain for several weeks; it plays on a loop in my head.

But then, God moves in. He speaks and begins to work this out in my heart. I liken the whole process to the following story: At the tender of age of 38, I am the unlucky recipient of two lower back surgeries six years apart. Thankfully, both were a success.   But for the second surgery, they had to close the incision with staples.   Believe me when I tell you – the removal of those staples was worse than the back pain that lead to the surgeries; worse than both of the post-op recoveries. I gripped the table and gritted my teeth when the kind nurse removed those staples. One, by one, by one, the staples rattled as they were dropped into the metal dish.

They had to come out because it was only after the staples were removed that my back could truly, completely heal.

I liken this summer to the removal of staples, but this time, in my heart. Emotional staples that I didn’t even know existed. God very tenderly and lovingly told me, “It’s time to remove these staples, Kate. You think you’re ready for marriage, but we need to remove these staples in your heart so you can truly heal.” He orchestrated those events so I could hear The News and He could begin His work. I captured this truth in my June 19th journal entry: “This is all about cleaning house, the house of my heart. This is needed. It’s useful. It’s painful. We’re removing staples. The first staple represents the one I loved. The second staple represents the one I haven’t been able to forgive. Unworthy love and unforgiveness (for and towards my ex’s) have been souring my heart. There’s hardly any room for The One to come in when such sadness, blame, pining and unforgiveness reside. There has been no room and no way healing can take place. This is the start of something great. This must be where and how you start to make all things new. ‘I make all things new,’ is what you said (Rev. 21:5). So then, do it. Keep pulling out the staples. Make me new.”

I share this story, the Summer of Receiving The News, because it’s illustrative of so many things as we wait patiently for God to reveal His will. This waiting period is not a time to presume we’re perfect and ready (like I pretty much thought I was), so let’s just get on with the show already, God. This is a precious sliver of time to ask God for His help in honestly assessing our hearts. Are we ready for marriage? Really ready for what God has planned for us? Is there anything hindering the process of healing and restoration? Is there anything preventing us from being emotionally whole, healthy and ready for His ultimate good and perfect gift?

Before this summer, I would have told you, “game on, I’m ready.” And, yes, my heart is in mint condition, thank you very much! But after this summer, I can tell you I am humbled and ever so grateful for God’s gentleness and patience. For the way He communicates and reveals. For the way He lets me have my temper tantrums and the loving kindness He bestows in reaction. He knows every square inch of my heart, each crevice and patch. And the most beautiful take-away from this summer is this: He doesn’t wince or look away from the icky staples. Instead, He offered to hold my hand and help me remove them. It’s breathtaking, the magnitude of His love. The good He intends for me. The protection He provides. The peace that is mine because I am His.

What an intimate and loving Father we have who works with us as we prepare ourselves for His ultimate design.

 

 

Kate lives in northern Virginia where she has a heart for rescue dogs, singing in church, strong coffee and those moments where God reveals so much. 

 

Posted in Guest Writer: Kate | 20 Comments

M.A.S.H.

On Mondays, we pray and fast–asking God to come and meet us. We ask Him to soften our hearts as women, to raise up men, and to give the gift of marriage to those who desire it.

M.A.S.H. Mansion. Apartment. Shack. House. Yes, you just stepped out of a time-machine. There are teenage girls squealing all around you because Channing Tatum is going to be your future husband. If you aren’t sure what I’m referring to, you are incredibly lucky.

M.A.S.H. is a game that helps you to predict your future life. You get to select 4 possible future husbands, cars, jobs, residences, salaries, and cities. All of this is decided by random chance. You could end up with in a shack with no money and married to the awkward seventh grade boy who sits behind you in Math class. Or, you could end up being an art critic, living in a mansion, driving a jeep, and married to Hugh Grant.

In all of these scenarios, I ended up married. Maybe not with the man of my dreams, Jonathan Taylor Thomas, but to somebody, anybody. My middle school self had no idea that decades later I would be still a nervous nelly anxiously figuring out what to wear to a Saturday afternoon service project because, who knows, there may be a cute boy there. Really, Anna? Worrying about what to wear to pack a bunch of meals for a food bank? Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.

Because no matter how much I write, talk, or internally muse about how being single has been a paradigm-altering, foundation-shaking, heart-shaping experience for God’s glory and my good. I don’t believe that second part. I actually believe that being single is God setting me up for failure for the random amusement of the universe. See look, that guy across the way wants to talk to that girl because she has an excellent waist-to-hip ratio. She’s got that “it factor” which is why he’s talking to my friend. And, there’s Anna standing between them awkward, intruding, and alone.

None of this is fair to God. He’s not a 7th grader. He doesn’t sit there drawing concentric spirals to assign me a random life. He’s not sitting a slumber party laughing with the other members of the Trinity saying, “Oh! Look! Anna got trash collector as a career!” Regardless of whether or not I believe it, He is not playing a game. He’s writing a story. I can’t see the character development, the story arc, the meta-narrative. I can’t tell when new faces will appear in the story–if one will be a man who becomes an integral character. My lack of railway-switchboard type knowledge doesn’t mean that my life is random.

The God of the Bible is the God who is so ordered and structured that even the hairs on my head are numbered, my tears are counted and recorded, every day has meaning and is assigned a purpose, and He even has a new name already picked out–intentionally–just for me. He’s building me a place to live. I don’t know why He has ordered and planned for my life to be unattached up to this point, but He has. The question is whether or not I can trust Him with the seeming randomness of my (lack of) dating life. I want a sign that it will work out in the way that I want it to. I’d almost prefer to be able to pick a number and a name out of a hat rather than trust whatever storyboard God has planned out.

It turns out that I’m not really that unique after all. Just after Jesus had fed the five thousand, people followed him around asking for a sign. They ate the bread and the fish, but they wanted more info on whether or not this Jesus guy was legit. They knew God had worked in the past with Moses and their ancestors, but they wanted another sign. That bread miracle could’ve just been random.

Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?”

Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”

So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”

Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life…”  John 6:28-35

I want a sign that God isn’t playing M.A.S.H with the universe. Jesus is that sign. Jesus is the sign pointing to the fact that from the beginning of the universe and from the beginning of your life–God had a plan. He has a plan. And, what’s our part? To believe Him.

Blessings on you as you pray and fast this week.
Anna

Posted in Author: Anna | 4 Comments

On Grace and Listening (and Toddlers)

During lunch on Mondays, we fast and pray for God to raise up men to lead His church and families, for women’s hearts to soften and for marriages to be given to those who desire them. 

While recently serving in the church nursery, I met one of the other helpers and, while getting to know one another, she asked me, “So where are you in life?” I was caught off guard by the question — what did she mean?? What was I supposed to say that wasn’t awkward? Does she see that I’m not wearing rings and is drawing conclusions? Do I have to try to explain my confusing life to a stranger?

I still have no idea what she meant, but since she followed it up by asking if I was in college (bless her), I decided to let it go. She then proceeded to spend the rest of the nursery time chatting with the other helper about their respective children’s “progress” in life, recounting their mutual friends’ wedding details from 20 years ago, and swapping details on the moms’ ministry that meets weekly to pray for schools.

Hear me: all of these things are good things. I would have gladly participated in the conversation if I knew how to. Let’s just say I have never been so grateful for toddlers in my life. I could have hugged all of their dear little Cheerio-covered selves for providing an excuse to get away from what felt like the weirdest nursery duty experience ever.

[Afterwards, the snarky part of me wished I had answered her question by saying "Oh, yes. I'm in the ADULT part of life." The part where you have to pay bills and go to work and cook dinner and do the laundry and get the raccoon off the back porch. But I digress.]

The story is not about my snark. The story is more about the fact that I quietly told Jesus how terrible this whole thing was feeling. How much shame I was feeling for things that really shouldn’t cause shame. How I felt so utterly out of the cool kids (and moms) club.

A few minutes later, another mom/church staff member came to check on our classroom. She asked me questions about my life. I asked her questions about her life. I shared good things and hard things about being single, having all my siblings married, and exploring new vocational possibilities. She shared good and hard things about being a mom of young adults, of having a child with chronic health issues, and of managing a growing children’s ministry at church. We were able to laugh and be compassionate with one another. I felt completely different at the end of my conversation with her. My heart was lighter. And then I thought of my earlier silent prayer and smiled. I thanked the Lord for His kindness and care.

When I thought about the situation later, I realized how much I want to be like the second woman. How much I want to extend kindness to people whose lives aren’t making sense to them, much less to someone they just met. How much I want to be able to laugh and/or cry with people whose circumstances are very different from mine. How I want to be willing to show genuine interest in people, even when I’m not sure where to start. And even when that other person is my awkward nursery coworker.

I’ve definitely got a long way to go on this journey. Ironically, I think it is partly the experience of unintentional singleness that has softened my heart to want to be more thoughtful at all. This week, I want to be more gracious and kind as I interact with folks whose stories are very different from my own. And be a bit more grateful that God is shaping and teaching and caring for us, no matter “where” we are in life.

9 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. [Romans 12:9-12]

By His Grace,

Amy

Posted in Author: Amy | 4 Comments

Self-proclaimed Perfection

On Mondays at lunch, we fast and pray – for men to become godly leaders at church and at home; for soft hearts that are responsive to the Lord; and for strong, Christ-centered marriages for those who desire them.

Sometimes when I hear that a couple has broken up or a marriage has ended, there is a little, tiny part of me that feels vindicated. Smug.

“I could have told them it would never work out.”

“They got married too young.”

“I would never let it get to the point in MY marriage where we would call it quits.”

But lately, that’s not been my response. I wish I could say that it is all the work of God in me, revealing my pride and putting compassion in its place. Instead, it has been the startling increase of divorce among my Christian friends, including one couple I had long admired as a model for my marriage.

My new response to breakups has been to mourn a loss and a humbled heart reminding me that my self-proclaimed perfection will only lead to a fall (1 Corinthians 10:12 &  Proverbs 16: 18). And, there is a loss of hope that I must lay at the foot of Jesus, a reminder that my true hope must be in Him.

We’ve talked before about the “Great Divide” that often exists between marrieds and singles in the church, and one important area where we can rally together is in our prayer for marriage.

The struggle of singles is to find a like-minded, godly spouse. The struggle of those who are married is to find (and be) a like-minded, godly spouse.

Hmm…that doesn’t sound so different.

This week, let’s pray for compassion for those who are hurting – in marriages or in singleness – thankful that He hears our prayers and is the God of all comfort and the source of our hope and salvation.

Love to you today,

Emily

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

Posted in Author: Emily | 8 Comments