I still remember riding the Dubai metro, almost 6 years ago, listening to a voice note from @kimransleben. Her words introduced a new concept for me that really changed the way I thought and helped me live in the hope of Christ. She said:
“You need to take sin lightly enough to take it seriously.”
I was intrigued by this idea. Christians, she said, often take sin seriously in all the wrong ways. They gasp at it, surprised by other Christian’s sins. But also, they hide, taken aback by their own sin. Believers that grew up in Christian homes especially are often shocked of what they are capable of feeling, thinking and doing.
As Christian parents we are susceptible to both of these things, both about ourselves and about our kids. We hear our harsh words, encounter our selfishness, envy of our kids and impatience and we are shocked. Or sometimes, we live in shame over all the standards we are failing to meet.
Likewise, we may gasp at our kids’ sin and either shame them for it or give into despair. We hear their disrespectful words, for example, and say something like, “I can’t believe you said x, y or z.” Or we may see their defiance and feel hopelessness. We sink at the thought: “how will they ever change?” We feel a weight that is not ours to carry about how to effect transformation in their hearts.
So if despair, shame, gasp & gossip, and hiding are some of the wrong ways we take sin seriously, how do we, abiding in the love of the Father, take sin lightly enough to take it seriously?
We need to know what happened to us and our sin:
Romans 6: 6-7: Your sin has been brought to nothing. You no longer have to obey it. You have been set free from sin.
Romans 6: 4: So you not only died, you were buried. And why did he do that to you? IN ORDER THAT you could be raised from that old self to a new one. You don’t walk in the old life, you walk in the new one.
Ephesians 2: 4-7: This one is really mind blowing: God is committed through all the ages of time to show the world how rich he is in grace and he’s going to do that by being kind to US because of our union with Jesus. You are seated with Christ, by and for a God who is committing himself to being kind to you forever.
Colossians 3: 2-3: You were crucified, buried, raised, seated…and now hidden with Christ right in the very center of God. The one thingAdam and Eve wanted to do is hide. The one thing we do in our sin is hide. Why? Because we don’t grasp the reality, the truth that we are already hidden. That’s the reality of your life if you belong to God. You are HIDDEN.
If this is all true, do you see why we can only take sin seriously if we first take it lightly? We can look at our sin and breathe a sigh of relief. Because it is not who we are! Sin is not our master anymore.
We are crucified, buried and raised with Christ! It doesn’t make sin fun to deal with but Christ made it possible for us to put it to death because HE ALREADY KILLED IT. Our job is to live like this is true – running away from temptation and from the things that lead us astray.
The more we grow in taking our sin lightly enough to take it seriously, we are better able to face our kids’ sin. We are faithful to their souls trusting the power of the gospel. We place them in front of the word rejoicing in the self-authenticating nature of God’s word. We speak the gospel knowing the Spirit works in his time and his ways. We don’t despair, nag or try to control our kids.
We see that the only solution to their struggle is the one we too needed: death and new life. We pray while breathing a little easier, because there is only one who is mighty to save…and praise God – that’s not us but the God who committed himself to being kind to us forever in Christ. So we trust him.
So dear mom or dad, take heart in your fight against your sin and your kids’. Take sin lightly enough…to actually take it seriously.
*I adapted a talk by Kim Ransleben to write this blog post for this series.
I praise you for letting me know you as Father – with life-giving authority and power, filled with self- sacrificial love, always working out of the overflow of the wealth of your wisdom
Father, you know me well. You know my story – both the sin AND suffering that have shaped my soul. You know my struggle to believe you do love me & are always for me in Christ.
It is hard for me to take joy in parenting because I think I live under your frown, disappointment and frustration for how slow I am to believe and change. Sometimes I think I deserve better.
When I sin against my kids regret fills my heart but I don’t turn to you. I just feel shame. Other times, I dig my heels in my self-righteousness and justify my harshness & pride.
It is hard for me to enjoy parenting because all I see when I look at my kids is demands on legs. I am terrified of failing & hurting them, especially when I keep sinning in the same way. I realize just how broken I am. I have well worn paths in how I respond to triggers & temptations.
Father, I look to you. Who are you for me in Christ in my parenting? You are merciful and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love & faithfulness. When I repent, you lift up my head, because you – and not my performance -are my glory.
Thank you for killing me in Christ and with him giving me new life. I repent of walking by the flesh when you have given me the Spirit of your Son. I praise you for equipping me with his life and that well worn paths of anger and impatience became old.
You are my refuge, I trust you to grow me in all the ways I need – in your time and your way.
In the meantime, parenting is not one long opportunity to fail but one long season to see you redeeming my sin & leveraging my weaknesses for your glory and the joy of my people.
Fill me with faith so that out of my profound conviction of your abundant love, I love my kids. May I see parenting as the privilege to be served by you over and over again.
Oh Father. I see deep joy in your eyes when I look at you. THANK YOU for only giving me what Christ deserves. Your love, my only home.
My favorite scene in the movie Hitch is when Hitch is teaching Albert Brennaman how to dance. Albert tells him, “That’s the one thing I am not worried about.” He goes on to show Hitch all his dance moves. But Hitch is not impressed at all with his moves making pizza, throwing away a q-tip or starting a fire. As he models actual smooth moves, Hitch tells him, “This is where you live. Right here. This is home.”
In some ways that is what I want to do with this series. I want to be your personal cheerleader encouraging you to stay “right here.”
(Can you hear me chant: “His love is home! His love is home!”)
So how can we tell where we are abiding? Here are some diagnostic questions:
🌿What makes your soul happy in God?
🌿When you are discouraged and weary, what renews your hope?
🌿Where does your security come from? Is it from “right” theology? From how your walk with God is going?
🌿Do you sometimes find yourself listing all the things you are doing for God as a way of strengthening your confidence?
🌿Does confidence before God come from comparing yourself to others who don’t get it as right as you do?
🌿When you picture looking at the Father’s face, is he smiling at you? Or disappointed in you? What makes him smile at you?
🌿What motivates your desire to keep Christ’s words? To follow him & be fruitful?
🌿Where do you run to when shame tries to bully you? To the approval of others, to please them, to do more and try to be enough?
I am not trying to encourage unhealthy introspection with these questions (believe me, I was a pro at that). I am just hoping these will serve as markers to know when to redirect your gaze at the all sufficient work of Christ and to his complete rescue when we have wandered over to (or chosen) the life of the flesh.
Self reliance, pride, shame over not being enough or better; anxiety & fear – these are not marks of our real lasting life. These are all the old man, and Christ killed it.
Let’s count the old man dead and turn to our real & only life: Christ. Even when our hearts are prone to wander, his powerful union with us holds us fast.
Growing up in a world that emphasized robust theology, I used look down on those who emphasized God’s love too much. It seemed to be at the expense of right theology. Those who sang about God’s love & seemed to only talk about it, were too “wishy-washy” for me.
But, friends, a laser focus on the Father’s love for us through Christ, *is* right theology. That is the life of the Son in us. It was the Father’s unfailing love for the Son – and the Son’s faith in it – that carried Christ here on earth, all the way to the cross and beyond.
Listen to how much he talked & prayed about it (these are all Christ’s words):
The Father loves the Son and has given all things into His hand (John 3:35).
For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself is doing; and the Father will show Him greater works than these, so that you will marvel (John 5:20).
Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world (John 17:24).
For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again (John 10:17).
Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love (John 15:9).
I have made Your name known to them, and will make it known, so that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them (John 17:26).
I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me (John 17:23).
If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love (John 15:10).
Jesus *knew* His Father loved him. He delighted in it, it fueled his confidence and motivated his obedience. Our natural bent because of the flesh is to abide in performance and to focus on our own righteousness. But Christ’s life gives us a new normal, a new place to abide.
Friends – let’s ask the Father to increase our faith so that we live only through the Son.
It is the only way that redeeming love can be our theme now & always.
This summer my husband gave me 24 glorious hours by myself to rest. I was trying to recover from a very painful season in ministry. During my time away I read Scripture, listened to a sermon, took an epsom salt bath and prayed. I sat outside and journalled but still towards the end of my time away, I still felt this nagging anxiety trapped in my body. I decided to do a workout video. And would you believe it was as I stretched and listened to the instructor that it hit me?
She said something like, “are you feeling love?” I was about to roll my eyes at what felt touchy-feely….when the Spirit stopped me. “So, Aylin… are you?” He gently showed me how not once that day had I considered my Father’s love for me.
Rest had eluded me when I anxiously focused on rest. But as the Spirit enabled me to take hold of his love by faith, I felt my body finally relax.
This series is about teaching our kids to abide in love, more specifically in the Father’s love. It is as we keep believing in His unstoppable love that we are home, no matter where we are, or how difficult our circumstances.
But, friends – it will be hard for us to model our parenting after the Father’s, if we are not secure in his love. As my husband says, “the ministry he does in us is the one he wants to do through us.” Are you receiving the ministry of the Spirit assuring you of the Father’s love?
My problem that day hadn’t been the Word itself – as if it wasn’t enough or the wrong place to meet Christ. The issue was with the heart that approached the word. I had been abiding in performance, caring for myself as an orphan.
In Greek, to abide means to remain, to live, to stay, to continue. Abiding in Christ is so much more than reading Scriptures and praying. I had done both those things that day, but I hadn’t done them in faith – believing that I was one with Christ or that my Father was for me. I had given into thinking if I did the right things, peace would come. But peace didn’t come until the Spirit reminded me it wasn’t about what I did but what He did.
I was already home – dearly loved and dearly delighted in.
When we first moved overseas our oldest daughter really missed home. She longed for the normal she’d known and the permanence that had grounded her. She wanted nothing more than to return. But we had no plans of going back to the States (in fact we knew more moves lay ahead as part of our journey). My heart ached for her. I wanted her to find comfort & hope. This desire turned into what has become one of my most important ministries these last 6 years: teaching my kids -and celebrating with them- the truth that home is not just a place but a person.
The longer I am a mom, though, I realize that this ministry is not limited to the parent who lives overseas. In some way or another we are all longing for home, even if we have never moved.
Our kids are, like us, irreversibly and deeply human. And humans are made for home. We are always craving the stability, comfort, rest, protection and nourishment that home provides. And while we would want childhood to be a season of life where loss and grief stay mostly at bay…that is not often the case.
Real life happens. Our kids encounter loss. Death. Grief. A sibling with chronic pain or disability. Persistent health issues. Multiple moves. Marriage problems between parents. We protect them as much as we can but we can’t shield them from the hurt. They struggle with fear, anxiety, depression, anger & doubt.
Behind many of our kids’ behaviors and attitudes there are profound needs rooted in their design for being & feeling at home. What if we recognized that the ways our kids cope with a broken world is them looking for their true home? What if, aware of this, we realize that the entry gate to reach their hearts is their suffering, not just their sin? What if compassion fueled more how we parent them? What if we intentionally connected them to the Person – the Home – who alone is able to give them all the comfort, nurture and rest they crave?
Over the month of October I will be hosting a series here about teaching our kids to abide in love & to know their lasting home even as we are in motion here on Earth.
Would you join me as we explore together how we can recognize our kids’ deeper needs and the ways that celebrating together our at home-ness in God through Christ soothes and gives new life to their hearts?
El año pasado escribí este artículo sobre el Adviento y lo que significa. Este año simplemente quiero ofrecer algunas ideas que espero que te inspiren para celebrar con tu familia la primera venida de Cristo y anticipar la segunda. La idea no es añadir algo más en esta época complicada, sino más bien hacer un espacio diario para preparar tu corazón para celebrar a Cristo. No te cargues con querer hacer algo super fancy. La simplicidad muchas veces es nuestro mejor aliado para disfrutar este tipo de tradiciones. Toma una o dos de estas ideas, ajústalas a las circunstancias de tu familia este año y que tengan un tiempo dulce maravillándose juntos del milagro de la Encarnación y de la increíble esperanza que tenemos en Cristo Jesús.
O, crea una guirnalda con los 25 nombres de Jesus y voltea cada un nuevo nombre.
Memoricen juntos Lucas 1: 46- 55 durante estas próximas 4 semanas
Escoge himnos de navidad para aprender juntos de memoria.
Crea un calendario con actos de bondad y servicio (algunas ideas pueden ser hornear galletitas para una persona anciana de la iglesia, ayudar a mami en la cocina, escribir una tarjeta de aprecio a tu profesora, hacer una lista de cosas por la que estás agradecida por tu abuela o por tus padres, etc).
Sigue el plan de lectura de adviento con la Biblia de Historias de Jesús por Sally Lloyd Jones. Aunque el plan de lectura no está traducido, la Biblia está en español. El plan de lectura es super sencillo y creo que fácil de deducir cual es el pasaje para leer cada día. Incluye hojas de colorear que los niños pueden usar mientras te escuchan leer.
Las cuatro semanas que llevan hasta la Navidad tienen cada una un tema. La primera semana es Esperanza, la segunda Preparación, la tercera Gozo y la cuarta Amor. Toma tiempo para hablar con tus hijos sobre cada tema una vez a la semana. Busca pasajes relacionados con cada tema, y canten canciones de Navidad o de adoración que los ayuden a meditar en esas ideas.
Pon velas en el centro de la mesa, y a la hora de cenar, cenen a la luz de las velas. Cada noche de Diciembre añadan una vela más para que mientras más se acerquen a la celebración de la llegada del Señor Jesús, esté cada vez más brillante.
Cenen a la luz de las velas solo los domingos en la noche. Preparen una cena sencilla (¿sopa y pan? O ¿pan y chocolate caliente?) y lean una profecía acerca de la primera venida de Cristo. Canten juntos y oren.
Creen una guirnalda de oración. Escriban 24 nombres de miembros de familia, amigos y relacionados y tomen tiempo para orar por ellos cada día de Diciembre.
Celebren el cumpleaños de Jesús. Esta idea me gusta especialmente para los más pequeños, ya que les da algo tangible que los ayuda a entender qué estamos celebrando. Preparen cupcakes, y lean la historia de su nacimiento. Canten una canción de adoración a Jesús.
Si quieres entender mejor porque es una buena idea celebrar adviento, te invito a leer este artículo en Coalición por el Evangelio.
I recently heard someone quip that 2020 will soon become an adjective synonym of unexpected or unprecedented. As in, “I feel 2020” or, “That was very 2020 of him.” Someone else said it might be better to use it is as a verb: “Can you 2020 that?”
At this point in the year most of us are utterly exhausted and to some extent we feel more on survival mode than anything else. The holiday season is here with its joys and temptations but in 2020 these might have a heightened intensity. If you are like me, you long for fruitfulness and faithfulness but you feel your weakness.
I have found myself over the last few months going back often to Ephesians 6 and meditating on the armor of God, thankful for the gift that it is for God’s people. What I love about this armor is that it is the one Christ wore first. Several passages in Isaiah describe the servant of the Lord and the messianic King donning this armor to bring salvation, and defeat death (Isaiah 52). Later in the New Testament we learn that Christ is that servant and king.
I am so grateful for the heart of Christ for us. He wore God’s armor and with it defeated the enemy of our souls. Now he hands it to us and guarantees with it our own victory against sin and the flesh. In Christ, we are actually really well equipped to glorify our Father in the middle of all the changes, challenges and maybe even devastation some of us have experienced this year.
With the whole armor of God, we are able to stand against the schemes of the devil. Our fight is not against our children, or against our spouse or our relative with different political convictions but against the cosmic powers over this present darkness. And yet we can stand in the presence of such darkness because we are in the Light. Literally. We live inside the one who is the Light (who also He lives in us).
Let’s consider briefly each piece of this armor that enables us to remain firm in the face of such kind of opposition.
Belt of truth
Isaiah 11: 5 talks about the Messiah wearing the belt of faithfulness around his loins. In Greek faithfulness is actually the same word as truth. So by wearing truth Christ was able to fasten his clothes around him and run towards the goal without the weight and sin that clings closely.
Lies keep us from running faithfully. These past few months, I have encountered many: “God does not see my needs.” “No one understands the specific circumstances of my life” “I am alone in this.” “I have to take care of myself because no else will.” “My strengths (or my weaknesses) determine the success of this long season.” “I know how this part of the story ends and it is not well.”
The truth is the Lord is for us in Christ. Being able to say with conviction to every one of the above statements: “This I know… He is for me,” helps us to lay aside every obstacle and run freely in the way of righteousness.
2. Breastplate of righteousness and helmet of salvation.
Christ saw the disobedience of the people of God, their great injustice and rebellion. He also saw there was no one to do anything about it. So he put on the righteousness of God and the helmet of salvation and went about the work of saving his people from the enemy of their souls (Isaiah 59: 16-17). Doing the Father’s will was the Son’s delight (Hebrews 10: 9). By faith we now possess His obedience and righteousness. In times of trouble this is our confidence: that Christ knows how to live in these polarized, grief-filled times in a way that honors our Father, and that he is able to do that in us and through us.
We need that confidence, because in this season, we may have a desire to see good results, but may seek those the wrong way. But friend, only one thing produces God’s righteousness: Christ’s righteousness. Not anger, not impatience, nor any other work of the flesh (James 1: 20). So hold fast to this: Christ has outfitted you with his righteousness and is able to produce obedience in you. Trust His ability to do just that for God’s glory.
3. Put the shoes on of the readiness given by the gospel of grace
Isaiah 52 talks about the beautiful feet of those who proclaim peace to Zion, who tell her the good news that the Lord reigns! And there are no more beautiful feet than the ones of our Savior. He was sent by the Spirit of the Lord to proclaim good news to the poor and liberty to the captives (Luke 4: 18).
Like us this year, he faced death, sickness, hateful people and tragedy. And the middle of that, it was his joy to continually talk about the good news of the kingdom (Luke 4: 43).
These days we often feel that we are barely surviving. But through his oneness with us, Christ readies us in survival seasons to not only fight against our sin, but also to share the news of Christ’s complete salvation. The gospel literally moves us towards those who need to hear. Paul says we are people that believe and therefore speak (2 Corinthians 4: 13).
Who around you needs to hear this month the good news that God reigns? It might be either a believer or an unbeliever. Go tell them the news of Christ’s victory over sin, and how he has delivered slaves.
4. Shield of faith
The flaming darts of the devil question his words. From the beginning he has been asking, “Did God really say?” When that happens, faith shields us by taking hold of the promises of God and making us run to Him for refuge (Iain Duguid’s thoughts on this were especially helpful). Faith takes God at his word and knows him to be trustworthy.
Christ took the Father at his word. He believed his Father’s deliverance. When others said, “There is no salvation for him in God,” He set his face toward Jerusalem and death because he knew his Father wouldn’t leave him in Sheol (Acts 2: 28). He entrusted his Spirit to the Father’s safe keeping. The Father was the Son’s shield and his great reward.
Dear friend, in this season marked by change, chaos, uncertainty and death we feel vulnerable. It is easy for us to feel afraid. So we are tempted to hide in many things. But the Scriptures tell us repeatedly who alone is our shield – God. “[God] is a shield to those who take refuge in him” (Prov. 30: 5).
We are those who have fled to Jesus for refuge. Let’s keep going there when everything around us feels unstable. Only through Christ, we are 100% safe.
5. Sword of the Spirit
Finally, the last weapon in this armor is what Paul calls the sword of the Spirit – the Word of God. And if you are like me, you immediately think of Christ wielding the sword when he was tempted (Matthew 4:1-11). One by one, he answered to the devil with Scriptures. It was the only weapon he needed.
With the life of Christ in us, we too wield the sword in the face of temptation, knowing it is the Spirit who defeats the devil and makes him flee. We take God at his Word and He fights for us. What a humbling gift!
Sister, I know these are hard months. The holidays will bring up grief, unresolved conflict with loved ones, and, temptation to self pity and entitlement. But let’s take heart! We are not left to our own resources. We have Christ’s strength, and because of Him we are strong and able to stand firm. So, take hold of all that Christ is in you and for you. Wear the armor with confidence- you really are perfectly fit for battle in Christ your Savior.
I don’t hear a lot of people talking often about the middle years: those years between the little years and the teens years.
I’ve heard about (and lived through!) the physical exhaustion of diapers, nighttime feedings, running behind a toddler. I’ve also heard about the emotional exhaustion of staying late talking with your teens, the constant driving them around to extracurriculars and the tension of figuring out how to, slowly but surely, move from commands to counsel, equipping them to leave the home. But somehow I missed what to expect for the middle years.
I have been surprised by the emotional exhaustion I have found in them. I thought that somehow there would be some respite between littles and teens.
But we went straight from physical exhaustion to the emotional kind. Is it that our kids have gone through a lot of transition and change? Is it that they are little expats, feeling the feels of Those-Who Are-Far-From-Home? Is it that they are working hard to learn a new language? Maybe it is facing their own health challenges, or living in a majority culture with religious beliefs different than our own. It is probably a combination of these things plus a million other variables.
Whatever “it” is, for several years now, we have been navigating late night conversations initiated by our deep thinkers and big feelers, learning how to manage their anxiety, and working through waves of grief that come and go.
Our children have voiced doubts about God, as they try to make sense of the suffering in the world, and in their own lives. They are also trying to understand how so many around us worship another god. “Is God real? Why is he not answering my prayers? How do we know we are worshipping the true God? Maybe the Bible is not true…”
These middle years are demanding a lot of time and energy from us. Counseling them; talking for hours; lots of snuggling; having regular date times one on one with the girls; praying often; talking together as their parents about how to best engage with them; reading and learning about how to parent through their struggles, questions and doubts; seeking counsel from TCK consultants and people who have walked this road before.
I thought I’d write what I am learning about these years and what practices I am finding helpful as I navigate this stage of motherhood.
1.Pay attention. I want to be slow to speak, and quick to listen. Sometimes listening means listening to what they are saying with their whole selves: with their words and also their body. I am figuring out the answer to these questions:
· What makes them really happy?
· What makes them really sad?
· What is their favorite kind of day? Why?
· What makes them thrive?
· What seems to sap energy from them?
· How do they learn best?
I recently started a new journal, just for motherhood stuff. I think best by writing. So by slowing down to write and process conversations with them and reactions and attitudes I am observing in them as we go through our day, I can pray and think through how to love them well in it all.
But, I not only need to pay attention. I also need to make sense of what I am seeing, which leads me to my next point. In this season I am also learning to…
2.Discern. Our children, just like us, are embodied souls. What happens to their bodies affects their souls and whatever happens in their souls affects their bodies. So I am learning to discern what is happening to them and to care for them as a whole person (body and soul).
So I am evaluating my kids’ attitudes and responses throughout the week and trying to figure out what they need. I am asking questions like:
· Is this a sinful response? Is there suffering at the root of this response? If so, how can I comfort them with the gospel while also training them in righteousness?
· Are there real physical and personality limitations at the core of this meltdown? How do I help my child deal with these limitations in a way that honors the Lord while at the same time not shame them for having those limitations?
· Are the kids’ nervous systems overloaded by input? Have they had enough time to recharge?
· Is this a form of grief?
· Have they had enough time in the sun and fresh air recently? How much physical activity have they had today?
· Have I given them long hugs today? Have we laughed together?
· Have they done things recently that bring them life?
· Is there a daily balance between the things that sap their energy and the things that help them destress?
· What is at the heart of this outburst of anger? Is it anxiety? Grief? What is triggering it?
3.Outsource my parenting.
One of the best pieces of advice from my husband has given me is to outsource my questions and inadequacy to the Lord. Every time I feel deeply my lack of wisdom, my need of grace, or my ignorance, he reminds me to outsource that to the Lord. My job is not to make myself a good mom – all sufficient and enough. My job is to let the Lord parent through me, and to parent by faith in his sufficiency.
Christ is my wisdom (1 Cor. 1: 30). He is patient, He is kind. Through my oneness with Christ, he is able to parent my children through me with His wisdom, patience, and kindness.
He is mighty to save them, hold their faith, keep them hungry for Himself. And I cling to that. Because I can teach them that it is possible for faith and doubt to coexist, or that we are always living in the tension of joy and sorrow. I can teach them about God and everything He is for us in Christ. We can read the Scriptures and memorize them. But I can’t make them SEE unseen truth. I can’t make them discern spiritual realities. There is only One who can.
So my prayers are a combination of:
“Jesus, help me.”
“Speak through me.”
“Love through me.”
“Be patient through me.”
“Open their eyes so they can see your beauty and long to follow you.”
Outsourcing my parenting to Christ has brought me great joy. Recently he was so gracious to show me how quickly he answered my prayers for help, when I didn’t know what to say. He worked directly in my child, moving her to apologize and have great insight into her heart, before I spoke a single word.
So yes, I didn’t realize this season would be a lot of work, but it is also here that my Father is meeting me, and parenting me in my own middle years – teaching me dependence, growing my faith, and, fueling my joy. To be trained by a Good Dad is such a gift and mercy . So bring on more of these middle years and beyond, Father… we want to know you.
For half of our married life we have lived overseas. Recently as I reflected on our life together, I realized that learning to live in another country is like learning to live with your spouse. So here are some tips on marriage brought to you from our life as expats.
Become a fluent speaker and help your spouse become one, too.
Over the past two years I have dedicated many hours to learning Arabic. As I have done so, I have seen some similarities between the work of marriage and the work of language learning.
For starters, in both we have the goal of fluency. Just as we want to speak a new language clearly and gracefully, we also want to learn to speak fluently the language that communicates love and respect to our spouse. There are Biblical principles that apply to marriages everywhere, but there are also specific ways we love and honor our spouse that are unique to them.
To know those things about our spouse, we study them. We ask them lots of questions, we observe them, and we develop a delighted curiosity on what makes them, them. So, for the last 10 years since marrying my husband Ethan, I have been studying him to become fluent in Ethanese.
Another way marriage and language learning are similar is that just as we need native speakers to help us learn their language, we also need each other to achieve fluency in marriage. Not only do I need Ethan to teach me about himself, but *I* also need to teach *him* how to speak Aylinese fluently by communicating with him.
I have hesitated often to speak about preferences that mean a lot to me because I don’t want to be a nagging wife, nor an entitled one. But over the years that hasn’t really helped my husband in knowing important parts of who I am. He can’t learn to care for those treasured pieces of my heart if I don’t give them to him.
God’s purpose for marriage is for us to be unashamedly naked – in both body and soul (Genesis 2: 5). So growing in intimacy with my husband, I bare my heart to him.
Love communicates truthfully (Ephesians 4: 15). I give Ethan a good gift when kindly, humbly and gratefully I share openly what I love, what hurts me, what brings me joy and how he can better serve me and care for me. In doing that, I am not demanding rights, but being the helper God made me to be for him.
I know this can be really vulnerable. That is where we need to know how safe we are in Christ’s love for us. Even if it takes a long time for our spouse to learn to love well everything we are, there is rest in believing Christ’s love for us is firm, fierce, unstoppable…and completely enough.
In baring our hearts to our spouse, we also need to trust we are humbly entrusting ourselves ultimately to the Lord, and not them. We can’t make our husbands see. We can’t change them. But the Lord can. So we wait on the Lord to work, because no one that waits on him is ever put to shame (Psalm 25: 3).
That is why both the work of language learning and the work of marriage is a work of faith. By faith we study both language and spouse, trusting Christ is gracious to enable our fluency…and theirs.
So be patient in the process. Just as it takes years for you to learn a new language well, it will take time for you and your spouse to learn each other well. It might be tempting to feel discouraged, and to think you will never make the progress you want. But trust the Lord’s faithfulness to you. He is committed to your marriage. Celebrate his grace in both big and small victories and be confident in how sufficient he is for you both.
Become a cultural learner not a cultural critic.
Language and culture are often very closely tied together. You learn language as you learn culture and you learn culture as you learn language. In the same way, a big way you learn your spouse is by understanding and learning the culture he comes from. Not only the country he comes from (if you are in a cross cultural marriage, like me), but his family’s culture and even his personality’s culture.
If you think about it, each person has a culture of their own; a strong set of values; a preference in how they do things; an idea of what life in community looks like; a definition for rest; a love or hate of risk, etc.
That is why my husband and I love to say that in a very real sense each marriage is cross cultural. But something really important in the process of learning your spouse’s culture is that you are really a learner, not a critic.
When we are learning a new culture that is different than ours, it is very easy to see all the ways that culture is not as good as ours. We see their flaws, their blind spots and want somehow to fix them.
The best expats I know are the ones that have learned to see beauty in the culture they live in. They truly learn from the people around them and see how their culture is strong in areas they are weak in. They are not filled with cynicism. They are grace-hunters – looking for and finding evidences of grace and goodness around them.
We need that spirit in marriage. The Lord has fit us for our spouse – not so that we can fix them, but so that we can learn from them and grow with them. Our spouse is God’s image and we will discover more of God’s glory as we enjoy the ways our spouse displays God’s beauty in the world and in our home.
Learn to live in paradox.
On this side of Eternity it serves us well to accept the paradox that a good thing can have hard things about it. When you don’t know how to do that, the hard things sometimes make you want to quit it, because you don’t have eyes for the good things.
Life overseas is filled with paradox. There are some really wonderful things about it and some really hard things. Marriage is like that. Even in the best of marriages.
You really do lose your life to gain another one.There may be the loss of dreams, the loss of yours or your spouse’s health, and the loss of relationships.
Circumstances are not the ones you expected when you married. There are patterns that are deeply ingrained that never seem to change. Your life is stressful and it feels like all the differences between you both contribute to the struggle.
In the day to day of life, it might be easy to lose sight of the joys and only see the hard. When that happens it is good for us to list God’s provisions and kindnesses to us, and all the gifts that have come with marriage.
But even as we do that, we also need to be honest and name the hard things – both to ourselves and to Christ. Doing that is not necessarily ungratefulness or discontent. It is learning to live in paradox – recognizing the joys and sorrows in your life.
There is a grieving that is appropriate in marriage. We can lament our sin, our spouses’ sin, any loss that has come. Sometimes we grieve the sin and trauma in our extended families and its impact on our own. Maybe our children have a chronic illness or disability and we are ships passing in the night as we care for them.
Lament postures our hearts toward God. We grieve with Him, and remember who He is in our grief. Lamenting really is the way to hope and joy in times of suffering.*
I think that is why we have the most hope in our marriages when we allow our hearts to feel both the gains and the losses that have come with them. Only then we can truly taste Christ’s sufficiency for us. He alone is our Savior and Redeemer.
Laughing keeps you sane when you live overseas. You learn to find the humor in your speaking mistakes, in the ridiculous expectations you had, in the unexpected situations you find yourself in. You smile at the beauty you never knew existed. You treasure the memories you made in the middle of hard things. You even laugh at things your passport culture doesn’t think it’s funny.
And oh man, laughing is quite the gift in marriage too. You learn to laugh at things that are hilarious to just the two of you. You find delight in your differences. You cherish the joy that your kids are. You look back on hilarious moments and somehow, laughing together makes you look forward with hope to what’s ahead.
Marriage is a beautiful shadow of something precious to come. Just as life overseas feeds our longing for our permanent Home, marriage sets our sights on the day when Christ will return and all things will be made new. Then, we will experience a glorious and satisfying consummation when we are wed to Christ.
So, friend, as you wait for that day, embrace the home you are to your spouse and the one he is to you. Through the life of Christ in you, hope in God fiercely, love steadfastly, and, with a trusted heart before the Lord – laugh! Laugh with your spouse, laugh at yourself, and laugh at the days to come.
*Read these Psalms to discover the pattern of lamenting, remembering, trusting: Psalms 13, 22, 44, 77.