The proposal came in November. Marriage, the next June. Nearly 34 years ago, two young adults who were in love and wanted to spend the rest of their lives together, living the american dream, said “I do” on a beautiful, top 10 day in June. That was my husband and I, and my goodness, we were young! I had just turned 20 and Brent, my husband, was 21. We had dated for 3 years and Brent had finished college. I had chosen to go into the workforce and not attend college. So the next logical step, at least in our minds, was to get married. Two adults who were still, very much kids. In love? YES! Could we imagine our lives without the other one beside us? NEVER! We were a starry-eyed couple who were head over heals in love with each other and could not wait to be married. All you need is love, right?
Did we have a clue about what our love for each other would require of us? Did we have any idea how absolutely beautiful and brutally painful marriage and parenting and life would be? I can say without reserve, the answer to those questions, is absolutely not!
Never-the-less, on June 18, 1983 our journey was about to commence.
When we announced our engagement, there was much excitement and celebration going on. Everyone wanted to see the ring. Everyone was so happy for us. During our six month engagement, there was rarely a day that passed when I didn’t get a giddy “congratulations” from those in our social circles and acquaintances. That’s what we do, right? When someone gets engaged, we congratulate them. Excitement ignites excitement. Celebration and excitement were in full blaze because we had much to get done.
A date to pick. Invitations to be chosen and ordered. Addresses to gather. A party to plan. A suitable band to be booked (DJ’s weren’t really a thing back in the day). Meeting with the pastor. Bridal showers. Wedding dress shopping. Gift registries to complete. Flowers to pick out. Photographers to get lined up. Engagement pictures to be taken. Food to be arranged. Venue for the reception to be selected. Attendants to pick. Tuxes and bridesmaids dresses to be ordered. Songs to select. Rehearsal dinner to think about. Decorations to be made. A honeymoon to plan.
Between the proposal and the wedding much preparation was taking place. Every detail was thought through, organized, prepared for and checked off our list. Except for one. Our life together after the wedding.
Hindsight is always 20/20, right? You can see with crystal clarity, after the fact, what was perhaps visible before, but hindered, as we looked at the planning of a wedding through an impaired set of glasses. We were not followers of Christ yet. We were followers of self. But that hindsight shows me clearly that we would have been wise to spend more time preparing for the marriage and less time preparing for the wedding. Our pre-marriage counseling from our pastor at that time was minimal. I think we met with him a couple of times, mostly to pick out scripture, and talk about the ceremony. Here is what I wish he would have said to us.
“I am so happy that you two are in love and want to get married. I really am, it is truly fantastic! Love is created by and marriage is ordained by God and I am so happy for you, that you are willing to make this commitment to each other. There is no doubt that a wedding is a cause for celebration, and there will be a time for that. However, let’s sit down and talk about what comes after the wedding. Lets talk about the marriage. Let’s talk about raising children. Let’s talk about this journey called life that you are going to take together. Let’s talk about how incredibly beautiful and brutally hard all of it will be. Let’s talk about the compass you are going to need to navigate through some difficult terrain. Let’s think about setting aside the same about of time and effort to plan and prepare for the marriage, as will be required to plan and prepare for the wedding.
Because that didn’t happen, we began our journey with a non existent compass. In the ensuing years of marriage, parenting and all that life throws at us, we stood in the middle of a road full of navigational difficulties. There were places on the path of this journey where the pavement was broken. When boulders and buckled pavement lay before you, it makes the journey difficult to navigate. You can’t even see around the boulders, so the path isn’t even in sight. You have no idea how to continue. Broken pavement can be traveled across, but not without some difficulty. It’s a bumpy ride! Falling down is inevitable.
No matter what the situation was that was on our plate from time to time, without a compass, we found ourselves in one of two situations. We were either stranded and paralyzed, unable to move at all, or we took a wrong turn which just caused more confusion, heartache and hard days.
I want you to really think about this for a moment. Plan to set out on a journey from Washington, DC to Los Angeles, CA, with no directional assistance. You are going to have to travel on some roads to get there. You have no map, no compass, no GPS, no smart phone, MapQuest, or Google Maps. You just have to try and figure it out ON YOUR OWN. Paralyzing. Wrong turns will make the journey longer. Harder. Agonizing. With out some help, you will likely never get to where you wanted to go. Or maybe worse yet, someone hands you a map that takes you to Texas but you don’t find out until you get there that the directions were wrong and Texas isn’t where you wanted to end up.
And so it is with life. ALL OF LIFE. Not just marriage and parenting. Maybe you will never get married. Maybe you will never have children. Your life and journey may look vastly different than mine. That doesn’t matter. Every age, stage and circumstance, the best days of your life and the worst days of your life will require a map, and a compass. But make no mistake, just as you would need a specific set of maps and navigational tools to get from Washington, DC to California, your life will require the same.
In life, there is only one set of navigational tools and one Navigator that will give you good directions. YOU may have to recalculate from time to time but that isn’t because the directions were wrong, it’s because you were not paying attention or chose to take a short cut and tried to travel down the road of life your own way. I speak from experience, not theory. I have tried to navigate life through many of the maps and compasses handed to me from the world (which, by the way change from decade to decade) and they all lead me to the same exact place. A DEAD END.
So, who is this One Navigator and what does His road map and compass look like? If you have read my blogs before or know me at all, you probably already know what I’m going to tell you.
God the Father. God the Son. God the Holy Spirit.
And while the Trinity and the roles that each of them play in our lives are fully and utterly sufficient to put our feet on the right road, God lavished upon us some additional, incredible navigational tools.
Gods Holy Word. Prayer. A community of other believers.
While all of these are unquestionably essential in life’s navigational toolbox, for this blog, I want to concentrate on Christian community, and I’m talking about something different than Sunday morning – during church – community. Don’t misunderstand me, Sunday morning church is vitally important. Not because you earn any favor from God or you get to check it off your list and put a hashmark on the list of “good” things you did. Nope, not at all. God knew that His people would greatly benefit from regularly meeting together. To encourage each other, holding fast to the hope of Jesus. To stir one another to love and good works. (see Hebrews 10:23-25) Church is good because, with the right attitude, it is an act of worship. If you are among the lucky ones who has a pastor dedicated to unapologetically teaching and preaching the full counsel of God’s word, then you are fed life sustaining Truth, and our souls need that because the other 6 days of the week, the world does a fine job at sucking the life right out of us.
In my humble opinion, Sunday morning – during church – community is what I define as a more broad community. It is a step towards connecting with a smaller group of people, from within this broad community, who will walk closely beside each other and do life together. REAL. AUTHENTIC. LIFE. Think you don’t need this? You are wrong! Not because I say so, because God says so.
In Acts 2:42-47, God again tells us that believers coming together is for our good and His glory. They were devoted to biblical teaching, fellowship and prayer. (Remember those three incredible navigational tools I listed above? Gods Holy Word, Prayer and Community) They didn’t just do this in the temple. They met together in homes. They shared meals as well as each others joys and burdens. They did life TOGETHER!
It wasn’t exactly popular to be a follower of Christ back then. Jesus had just been killed. His followers knew they would need encouragement from each other to hold tight to what they believed. Being a follower of Jesus isn’t very popular right now either, and if we believe what God’s word tells us, its going to get less and less popular.
So, here’s my questions for you. Who do you do life with? Who is coming alongside you, encouraging you to be devoted to studying and applying God’s Word? Who do you pray with? Who are the people you hang around with on a regular basis who are fellow heirs of the inheritance we have in Christ? We MUST make this a priority. I wish you could hear the passion in my voice and the concern I have for you. I so want to spare you from the agony of trying to manage life on your own little island with no community around you.
As a young believer, a baby Christian, I did that for quite a few years. Trying to use my new navigational tools (God’s Word and prayer) on my own island. But these tools were new to me and I didn’t exactly know how to use them. Even though my heart longed for authentic christian community, for a fellow sister (or sisters) in Christ to come alongside me and speak Truth into my life, about LIFE, I didn’t have it. And here is why.
My enemy didn’t want me to have it.
I listened to whispers he blew into my ear that kept me from pursuing it. Here are some of the things he whispered to me. Has he whispered any of these to you?
You are a new Christian and know nothing about the Bible. If you join a small group Bible study, you are going to feel stupid because everyone else has been studying the Bible for a long time. They will be talking over your head and you’ll be too intimated to ask questions, so why bother.
On Sunday mornings, he would be sure that I saw all the families who were walking into church with big smiles on their faces, husband and wife hand in hand with a happy-go-lucky spring in their step. They had children in toe that acted like they were absolutely delighted to be coming to church. Then came his whispers…. and just who do you think you are going to connect with here? Who would you reach out to anyway? It’s obvious that their marriages are fantastic and they are doing everything right with their children. You really think they are going to relate to your struggles?
The people around you have been following Christ for years and they have their life together. They have forgotten what it is like to be an infant Christian and they will be shocked by the sin you have in your life. Really, you’re going to tell someone that you need help with THAT sin?
So, you think you might ask some of these people for help and guidance in raising rebellious teenagers? You might want to rethink that. After all, a lot of these people home school their children. Their kids have flown through their Awana books like nobodies business. Their children WANT to attend youth group and their kids spend their free time helping at Christian camps and going on mission trips. They are not going to be able to help you with rebellious children.
You thinking about going to that women’s Bible study that starts in a couple of weeks? Hum, do you think you will know anyone there? You are an introvert, and going someplace where you might not know anyone makes you really uncomfortable. Lets not forget that.
There are more things he whispered to me to keep me from connecting with other women but I think you get the picture. Thankfully by God’s lavish love for me and the continual prompting of the Holy Spirit, along with being fed Truth every Sunday, satan lost this battle. (Can I get an AMEN?) About 7 years after I became a Christian, I took a deep breath and attended my first small group Bible study. I was 43. Was I scared? Yes. Did I feel intimated? Yes. Did I worry I wouldn’t really know anyone and I would feel awkward? You bet. Was I exhausted after a long day at work and just wanted to stay home? Yes. Did I worry that I would fumble looking through my Bible to find a certain book? Yes. Was I afraid I would have to read out loud or pray out load? Yes. Did I understand everything? Nope. I still don’t. Did I always get my homework done? No. Did I get there every week? Nope.
Did I keep going? YES, YES, YES. By the grace of God, YES! And community happened.
I sit here today with tears in my eyes because of the community of women who have walked beside me in the past, currently walk beside me now, and the new women who will walk beside me in the future. They have taken me by the hand and showed me how to use those new navigational tools, to take me from where I was on my map to where I wanted to go. And this process continues, because until we are called from this home to our eternal home, we have not arrived at our destination. They have laughed with me, cried with me, prayed with me and wrestled over God’s Word with me. Proverbs 27:17 tells us that as iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. I have been sharpened. And guess what else? ALL of satan’s whispers have been revealed for what they are…..LIES! When women who are in community together, choose to be transparent and authentic with each other, some marvelous things happen. We realize that nobody, and I mean nobody, has life all figured out. Their marriages are not perfect, their children are not perfect, they struggle with the SAME EXACT THINGS THAT I STRUGGLE WITH. Their life contains broken pavement and huge boulders, just like mine. BUT, WE NAVIGATE THEM TOGETHER! In doing so, our hearts are woven together with some common pieces of gorgeous thread. God the Father, God the Son, God the Spirit, God’s Holy Word, Prayer, Christian community. The tapestry these threads create is breathtakingly beautiful. Human words fall short in describing it. God knew it would be so.
Don’t put this off, don’t believe the lies of your enemy. If you are not yet comfortable joining a small group Bible study, do it anyway. One on one mentorships often flow out of small groups. Or just ask someone to mentor you, one on one! If they say no, ask someone else. If you don’t know who to ask, talk to your pastor, he will have resources for you or he will help find you someone.
Take a step off your island…………………… because it’s lonely there.
In closing, I will leave you with this. I believe that Christian community fosters our hearts to experience Ephesians 3:16-21, which says,
that according to His riches in glory, He may grant you to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts, through faith. That you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we could ask or imagine according to the power at work within us. To Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.