By Jessica Ponder on Aug. 8, 2017
Most days of my life have been plagued with guilt—guilt that I’m not doing enough, not loving enough, not hoping enough, not including enough, not giving enough, not listening enough, not sweet enough, not dependable enough, and on my worst days just not enough at all.
Sometimes it seems the whole weight of it comes and sits on my chest. It’s hard to breathe, think, or eat without feeling my overwhelming sense of obligation eclipsed by my own inadequacy to love people the way they need to be loved.
I am, as my husband says, my own Oskar Schindler. If you’ve seen Schindler’s List, then you know that at the end of the movie, Schindler makes a very poignant statement. After a life of what most people would characterize as sacrificial and admirable, after he rescued hundreds of Jews at his own expense, he surveyed his remaining possessions—his car, his gold ring, his fine clothing—and he said “I could have done more.”
His Jewish friends tried to dissuade him. They remind him of all the good that he did. They point to the eleven hundred people who were saved by his efforts. But still he insists, “If I had made more money… If I’d just… This car—why did I keep the car? Ten people right there. Ten more people. This pin. Two people. It’s gold. Two more people, at least one. One more person for this. I could have gotten one more person… and I didn’t! I didn’t.”
In a way, Schindler was right.
There is always more to sacrifice: one less latte, one more hour spent cutting coupons, one more pair of jeans bought at Goodwill instead of JCREW, one more glass of water instead of wine, one less car, one less movie night, one less vacation, one less grocery trip, one less Chick-Fil-A run…one less of anything.
After a while, that “one less” realization turns into a sort of prison of guilt and fear. I’m deeply petrified that I won’t be able to do enough. And the truth is, I can’t. I never was meant to. In fact, it is precisely for this reason that I depend upon Christ’s righteousness daily, because I can never love enough or be good enough on my own.
Now, I’m not saying that I am not meant to sacrifice—naturally as Christians we are to do so joyfully—but never as a way of trying to prove something to myself, my family, or my God. Instead, I must remember that Christ has already loved everyone more marvelously than I ever could. He as proven himself more trustworthy than my well-intended promises; he has sacrificed his life to be more than “enough” for us.
I forget that those around me—my husband, my friends, my family, the homeless man on the corner of Broad Street, our neighbors upstairs, Liz at the market, Don down the street—all of them deeply need love. Of course, they all also have real physical needs that I can help to meet, but nothing aside from knowing Jesus will give them perfect fulfillment. Nothing else, including me, will ever be enough for them besides that.
The rub is this: Because God has already loved them enough, sacrificed enough, I am free to love them out of a desire to glorify God, not out of a sense of duty or of obligation. I am still working to live out in practice that I have been declared to be free from obligation, and instead seek after a desire, a joy that is the motivation for these things. C.S. Lewis wrote, “Duty is only a substitute for love (of God and of other people), like a crutch, which is a substitute for a leg. Most of us need the crutch at times; but of course it’s idiotic to use the crutch when our own legs (our own loves, tastes, habits, etc.) can do the journey on their own.”
I am praying that God strengthens my legs so that I might cast aside the crutch of duty and obligation and that He might work in me a joy to delight in Him and do His good work.
Jessica Ponder is a wife and mother to one (so far). She loves reading, singing, baking, and urban walking. In her dreams she is a piano player with time to practice, a gardener whose plants don’t die, and someone who could hang out with the entire world at the same time, all the time.
FREEDOM IN, BUT NOT FREEDOM FROM
By Jessica Ponder on Dec. 13, 2017
How I Found 'Freedom In, Not Freedom From'
It’s rare that you read poignant words on Facebook. My friend Lauren penned this in a status update: “Why is freedom so easily associated with ‘freedom from’ everything? To be truly free is ‘freedom in’.” That was three years ago, and I’m still thinking about that phrase freedom in, not freedom from.
Her words ring true, because our culture truly does celebrate “freedom from” virtually everything: We want freedom from authority and accountability, as our deep suspicion and distrust of people in power shows. We want freedom from work and responsibility, so we idolize rest, complain about our jobs, and 'live for the weekend.' We increasingly want freedom from the constraints of Christian community (that actually exist for our good)—which is why many are leaving the church in droves. The rise of deliberate childlessness among married couples, the reality of absentee dads, and the tragedy of broken families further show that we want freedom from consequences and freedom from commitment. In all these we look for an escape from things instead of seeking joy in things.
Looking for an Escape
And this is not an abstract problem for other people “out there.” Our own hearts constantly look for an escape: Our social media activity, our complaints to friends, and our internal dialogue reveal that our hearts naturally seek “freedom from” responsibility rather than “freedom in” what God has given us.
“If I could just get away from my job for a few weeks, everything would be OK.”
“If I could just get one night of sleep alone away from my kids or spouse, I could be more patient with them.”
“If I could just have more ‘me time,’ then I would be OK.”
“If I could just get out of this city or this neighborhood… this house… this school… this situation… then I would be free to live a different life.”
“If I could have married a different person, then I wouldn’t be so unhappy.”
“If I could just have a little more money like _____, then I’d be more joyful.”
“If I could just go back to work for a little while, I’d feel like a woman instead of a mom.”
“If I could just be my own boss, then I wouldn’t hate my job.”
“If I could just hire a maid to clean my house…”
“If I could just stop having to pay bills…”
“If I could just be able to do whatever I want…”
“If I could run away from it all…”
This escapist “freedom from” and “grass is greener” mentality shows that we typically blame our situation and think that “freedom from” our circumstances is the solution to our problems and the path to a happy life. Of course, there certainly are challenging circumstances in life, and there is nothing wrong with seeking to be proactive about such things. However, when we spend all of our time longing for a different situation, or when we are discontent and bitter in the midst of these circumstances, then we all know there’s something sinister at work in our hearts.
But this restlessness in our hearts can never be cured by fewer children, a different job, a different spouse, fewer bills, endless luxury or even a fresh start. Contentment and joy cannot be found in a life of escape. The “freedom from” route never brings what it seems to promise, and the reason is because what we are running from, in most cases, is actually part of God’s good design.
The Goodness of God's Design
When you consider how God created the world, it’s clear that he invites us to a life of “freedom in” the callings and responsibilities he has given us, not “freedom from” them. When God placed us in the Garden of Eden, he placed us under his authority and his blessing, gave us work, gave us family, and gave us community. He also gave us a mission, and he said all this was “very good” (Gen. 1:31). Before Adam and Eve sinned, they experienced freedom in all of these things. God’s purpose and design for us was (and is) beautiful and good.
In a way, the very first of humanity’s many sins was seeking freedom from God’s design for life instead of finding freedom in living with the grain of creation. Adam and Eve sought freedom from God’s authority and tried to establish their own. They wanted freedom from God’s command, while (ironically) they were already free in every other respect! The rest of the Bible is filled with similar examples of people making selfish and destructive choices based in a desire to find freedom from the design and purposes of God.
Our sin hasn’t changed God’s design—what God calls good is still good—but sin has changed our ability to experience the goodness of what God’s creation and his callings in our lives. Left to ourselves, we would never find joy in this life no matter how much “freedom from” we might accrue.
But we haven’t been left to ourselves.
Jesus Came to Bring True Freedom
Jesus came to give us freedom in God’s design, not freedom from it. When Jesus said that he came to set the captives free (Luke 4:18), he was speaking about our slavery to sin (Rom. 6:20-22). In other words, he came to free us from wanting “freedom from” God’s wise design and his good purposes. We have been set free from sin that we might now be free to obey God from the heart (Rom. 6:17).
After all, the “abundant life” we shared with God before our fall into sin was a life filled with responsibility for the world, care for family members, involvement in community, and yes, even work! Jesus did not come to abolish these things, but to restore our joy in the midst of them all (John 15:11). And Jesus does so not by changing our circumstances, but by changing us. He gives us a new heart, new desires, and new perseverance through the Holy Spirit (Phil. 2:12-13).
As we trust Jesus, we begin to find joy in God’s wise design and beautiful plan for the world. We come to see that we have been given certain callings and commands both for God’s glory and for our good (Deut. 6:24). We do not experience joy in spite of such responsibilities, but through them. Jesus brings freedom in work, freedom in submission, freedom in lifelong marriage, freedom in parenthood during the toddler years and the teenage years, freedom in challenging work, freedom in community, and freedom in sacrifice. In all this Jesus leads us to find “freedom in” the goodness of God’s design, not freedom from it.
Jessica Ponder is a wife and mother to three. She loves reading, singing, baking, and urban walking. In her dreams she is a piano player with time to practice, a gardener whose plants don’t die, and someone who could hang out with the entire world at the same time, all the time. Follow her on Twitter @MrsJessPonder.
RUNNING THE RACE
By Jessica Ponder on Feb. 21, 2018
Running on Empty
“They’re wearing me down!” I said to my husband.
Except that “said” isn’t very accurate. It was more like “groaned with exasperation.” The ones wearing me down were our two boys, Ash (18 months) and Luke (3 months). I love them both, and I love being a mom. But motherhood is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.
I’m speaking from my limited experience, of course. Others have done much harder things than this, and I’m truly humbled by their faithfulness. Still, motherhood is the hardest—and most joyful—road that I have walked so far.
The Trials That Stretch Us
Before we had Lukas, I remember one night’s conversation with my husband about the future. I told Doug that that I knew life was going to get hard, and that having a new baby would inevitably expose whatever selfishness had been hiding under the surface. I knew that I was going to be stretched beyond what I thought my limits were. I knew all of that, but I was still scared. I felt like I was standing at the starting line of a race that I hadn’t trained for.
Since having Lukas, those things have proven true. My selfishness has been exposed and I’ve been stretched in numerous ways: my heart has stretched to love another completely; my body was stretched beyond what I thought I could handle (thanks to 24 hours in active labor); my emotions have been stretched to deal with the extreme exhaustion caring for a toddler and a newborn with little-to-no sleep; my spirit has been stretched by the realization that I am weak and in need of profound help and profound forgiveness.
But in all of this stretching I have been sustained by Jesus.
I know this is true because he tells us this in his word, and I know that it’s true because none of that stretching completely broke me. I am still here—and not because I’m a survivor or wonder woman or Incredi-Mom or anything like that. There are many times that I’ve wanted to quit. But God has kept me in the race. He has put my feet to the pavement. And when I didn’t think I could take another step, he’s kept me moving.
Two Kinds of Blessings
Honestly, most days I find myself praying that the “race” will get easier for me. I ask God for an easy day with more sleep for me and with less fussing, less messes, and less tantrums from the boys.
My husband tells me there’s nothing wrong with asking God for that kind of day. He reminds me that God delights to give us all sorts of things that we don’t deserve—all the way from the grace of forgiveness to the grace of days without diaper blowouts.
But sometimes, when wishing for easier days, I fail to notice how God is at work on the “bad” days too. I’m so busy wishing that God would make the race easier that I’m not thankful for how he is already blessing me. He’s right there, sustaining me, strengthening me, carrying me along, and helping me to run the race set before me.
Yet I know the life that God has placed before me is a good race. And I know that some blessings are automatic, while other blessings take work. One is simply received, but the other is cultivated. But both kinds of blessings are good.
It goes without saying, but children are the second kind. They are a weighty, wonderful blessing; they bring lots of joy, but they also take lots of work. God uses them to grow us and to show us something of himself and the world that he has made.
You Can't Take the Running Out of Running
I was reminded of all this while reading Fit to Burst by Rachel Jankovic (my favorite book on motherhood). She writes,
“I think it is common to have this mental ideal of what your days as a mother are supposed to be like. We think that if we were doing motherhood right, then it wouldn’t be this hard. Of course there are a lot of ways to improve what we do, to make things easier. But that’s like improving a runner’s form. You still have to run, and it won’t be easy. You can continue training to the point that you are no longer puking in the bushes and all red in the face by the end of the first block, but you aren’t ever going to take the running out of running.”
You can’t take the running out of running and similarly, you can’t take the hard work out of mothering. You’re not necessarily doing it wrong just because it’s difficult.
Yes, there are many ways you can improve this or that aspect of what you do. That’s why mothers of five kids are much more efficient and capable mothers than I am. They have improved their form; they aren’t puking in the bushes. But they are still running. You can’t take the running out of running.
The Grace That Sustains Us
My selfishness only wants to race to be easier, because I hate the hard work of “running.” We all do, if we’re honest enough to admit it. But God doesn’t take the race away, and he doesn’t always make the race easier. He knows that speed only comes through practice, that strength only comes through lifting, that patience only comes through testing, and so on.
That’s why he sustains us in the race instead of taking us out of the race. As James says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4).
Right now, motherhood is one of my greatest trials. I know that if keep turning to Jesus as I turn from sin, he will use all of this to stretch and mold and shape me into the person he wants me to be. And I know that he will do this in you too. God will sustain you in your race; he will see you through to the finish, by keeping your eyes fixed on Jesus and the race that he finished in your place (Heb. 12:1-2), and by filling you with his Spirit that gives you the desire and the ability to do what pleases him (Philippians 2:13). For God promises that “He who began a good work in you will carry it through to completion at the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6). And he will.
Jessica Ponder is a wife and mother to three. She loves reading, singing, baking, and urban walking. In her dreams she is a piano player with time to practice, a gardener whose plants don’t die, and someone who could hang out with the entire world at the same time, all the time. Follow her on Twitter @MrsJessPonder.
EVERYDAY IS SPIRITUAL
By Jessica Ponder on Feb. 28, 2018
Doing the Everyday, Every Day
Some days my life seems to be oozing with repetition and simplicity. It feels like there’s nothing special or unique about most of what I do. I rarely see the significance in cleaning the house, making zucchini bread, doing laundry, buying groceries, making phone calls, responding to e-mails, grading papers, changing diapers, and so on. It is even harder when I am repeating these tasks for the sixth time in one week.
A part of me has bought into the lie that small, everyday things don’t matter very much. You know, ordinary stuff. The “everyday” kind of things that you do every day. Instead I’m tempted to believe that what really counts are those monumental experiences with God that take your breath away—moments when you really “feel” like you are making a difference, or days when you have a “light bulb” epiphany and everything is brought into bright, wonderful clarity.
Don’t get me wrong. I love goosebump experiences, sacrificial service, and putting ideas together for the first time. These are all joyful occasions and they have their place in life, but if I’m honest, most days feel pretty normal, typical, even mundane.
I’ve always had a hard time reconciling everyday activities with a life of following Jesus. Doing laundry doesn’t feel spiritual, and neither does making dinner. And try teaching students who don’t want to learn. That doesn’t feel very spiritual either.
How Do We Honor God by Doing Everyday Things?
God calls us to honor him in all things, or to do all things for his glory (1 Cor. 10:31 and Col. 3:17). My husband consistently encourages me to do all things for the glory of God and to do my work as “unto the Lord.” It’s hard to disagree with him when he references the Scriptures, but honestly, I’ve never really understood how to do this or what it should look like on a day-to-day basis.
For example, several weeks ago, I had a really hard day. When I say “I had a hard day,” it wasn’t because I was sick, or that we were in a financial crisis, or that I just received bad news. In truth, we were just having people over (as we do every week), and I was having a hard time joyfully getting things ready while preparing to be a host. I found out that many of the people who usually come over were sick, out-of-town, or having other company over, so there would be significantly fewer people at our house than normal. For my own selfish reasons, the fewer people that were coming seemed to directly impact the difficulty of the work.
I asked Doug in desperation, “How do I serve people for the glory of God?” What I really meant was, “How can God make serving easier, so I can like it more?”
And I also meant, “Why does serving feel hard sometimes? Surely spiritual things are supposed to feel easy.” And I probably also meant, “How does me doing dishes for the third time today bless God in any way?”
Instead of complaining, what I needed to be reminded of was how Christ’s life is an example to me in all of this, how he shows me that genuine service often comes with great sacrifice.
Jesus lived for thirty years before he began his earthly ministry. He learned a trade (carpentry). He certainly did chores, and he helped his mother and brothers and sisters. He worked with his hands. He ate with people. He gave people food when they were hungry. (He even helped one couple with a wine shortage at their wedding!) He rested. And then, starting around the time of his thirtieth birthday, Jesus spent every day for three years with his followers, talking with them, walking with them, fishing with them, and, even washing their feet.
The fact is that Jesus did many awe-inspiring miracles, but most of his life was spent doing strikingly commonplace things. Often what Jesus did was so commonplace that some of his fellow Jews doubted that he could be a king at all. “Surely a carpenter, who hangs out with fisherman, rides a donkey and talks with people who seem so unlovely couldn’t be the one who will save the whole world,” they protested.
Looking Back and Waking Up
I feel the same way the Jews did. I am constantly protesting to God: “Surely a woman who washes clothes, cooks meals, and hangs out with her baby can’t have any real impact on the world. God, I want to do incredible things, real things, impactful things.”
And then it hits me. When I think back on what has really shaped me as a person, the things that have most changed my life were everyday sorts of things. But that doesn’t make them any less incredible or impactful.
My mom is an amazing mother. I don’t remember the vacations or the Christmas gifts as much as I remember her being there, every day. I remember the detergent she used, and I remember how she got up early and stayed up late every day to keep our house in order. I remember her baking cookies each week for our lunches. I remember her battling with my thick, unruly hair every day. I remember her cooking meals and going to the grocery store with us. I remember her wearing clothes that weren’t new so that her family could have what we needed. I remember her praying with my dad every day for us. She and my dad even sang songs to us every night before they tucked us into bed.
My dad did incredible things as well. He worked driving a snowplow in the winter in addition to his full-time job so that he could provide for us. And then, after he had finished working all night, when I’m sure he was desperately tired, he came home and played with us in the snow. He took peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to work every day, even to restaurants with friends who wanted to meet for lunch—not because he preferred peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but because we couldn’t afford for him to eat out. My dad made my lunch every day. He mowed the grass at our house. He made sure that our needs were taken care of.
I’m pretty sure when my mom was getting up early to iron clothes for Picture Day at school, or when my dad was enduring snide comments from his co-workers about his peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, those acts probably didn’t feel very amazing; they probably didn’t feel very impactful. But together all of these things made me feel loved and secure. They changed my life, because they showed me what real, consistent, sacrifice was like.
The Heart of Real Sacrifice
I wonder if real sacrifice is not best displayed in one day of feeding the homeless, or preaching to thousands of people (although these are very important things), but in a life filled with everyday activities that point to Jesus: wiping noses every day when no one will thank you for doing so, cleaning your house every day so that you can invite others into your life, speaking the same word of grace to a friend that you have known for years, not complaining when you have to do laundry for the fifth time in one day, working a job that isn’t glamorous but doing it well because you are working for God and not for the praise of others.
Jesus is a great model for this kind of life. I believe he is honored by consistent, daily sacrifice, and although we may not feel that everyday things are spiritual, they are in fact some of our most spiritual acts of service. God is using these small, simple tasks to work a great perseverance, character, and long-term joy in our hearts (not to mention the hearts of those we share our lives with). As Paul the apostle wrote, "[Serve] with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man." (Ephesians 6:5-7)
Jessica Ponder is a wife and mother to three. She loves reading, singing, baking, and urban walking. In her dreams she is a piano player with time to practice, a gardener whose plants don’t die, and someone who could hang out with the entire world at the same time, all the time.
By Jessica Ponder on Sept. 19, 2018
This ain’t my first rodeo, but having a baby still scares the crap out of me! I have two toddlers with two very different personalities (and two very different pregnancies), and just last week I gave birth to my third little boy. Motherhood is wonderful, and pregnancy is awe-inspiring, but I was anything but “glowing” by the end of my third trimester. I just waddled around the house, chasing after my two-year-old, trying not to look like an overheated dog. I checked my pregnancy app daily, wincing as baby surpassed melon-sized status.
The period after pregnancy hasn’t been a cakewalk either. My postpartum experiences with each of my boys have been some of the most beautiful and the darkest times of my life. And I’ve talked with enough ladies to know that I’m not alone in this; the postpartum period (the so-called “fourth trimester”) is excruciatingly difficult for almost every woman.
My first time through the gauntlet caught me totally unprepared: sleepless nights, cluster feedings, regular pumping, lack of sleep, anxiety, postpartum hormones, and adjusting to a new person whose claimed your heart, house, and body all at the same time.
I think many times most moms think that if they feel like they have nothing left—no energy, no strength, no will power—that they must doing something wrong. I’ve been there! (I had such a romanticized view of what having a baby would be like, one that somehow didn’t include spit up, or explosive poop, or ugly-crying on my back porch loud enough for my neighbors to hear.) But the truth is, being a new mom is just difficult. It’s hard even when you’re doing a fine job with everything.
I mean, you just finished doing one of the hardest things in all of life. On top of that, you now have to learn the ways of a new person who can’t communicate (except by screaming) and who doesn’t give you time off. They demand your attention with a cry that doesn’t cease until they get what they need—and even then, sometimes, they still cry. So there is nothing easy or romantic about newborn life—it is beautiful, to be sure, but it’s also crazy hard and super messy and totally raw.
Lean on Grace
One of the most freeing things that my husband ever said to me was that I didn’t have to be excited about 2am feedings. In my photo-shopped newborn land, I felt I wasn’t a good mother if I wasn’t gleeful about the difficulty of newborn life. But that simply isn’t true. His comment freed me to sacrificially serve my babies without feeling guilty that I wasn’t thrilled about midnight cluster feedings or 5 am wake up calls or mastitis.
In short, my husband gave me the space to struggle, the freedom to get things wrong, and the encouragement to ask for help. And he did all this because he knows that God’s grace covers everything. God’s grace means we do not have to be “perfect” for our children; we just need to trust the One who is. So amidst all the sleeplessness and all the crying and all the joy, here is the one thing every mom should do: lean on God’s grace.
Leaning on God’s grace starts with relishing the fact that we are His children. For in the midst of the early years of motherhood, it is wonderfully comforting to know that I am Someone Else’s eternal child. God cradles and shepherds us in the weakest of times, much like we care for our newborns in a time when they are weakest. Lean on this: “My grace is sufficient for you, my power is made perfect in your weakness” (2 Cor 12:9).
I’ve felt the most desperate and intense need for Jesus after the birth of my babies. Praise God that we are His children and He longs to lavish us with grace and mercy every day, whether it starts at 1 am or 3 am or 8 am. God gives us the strength to keep going. He allows us to serve past our own capacity. I know because I’ve been there twice already—and I’m in the throes of it now—and I’ve also seen many women before me love and serve their children through this time. It really is a beautiful to see God’s supernatural power at work in our weakness. Lean on his grace!
Lean into Community
When it comes to raising children, people are fond of saying, “takes a village.” I think it’s true, and that village is the church. The people of God are wonderful, and I’ve been carried along in the faith on the shoulders of many close friends during my darkest times. After I’ve had a baby, when I'm still in the midst of the fog and emotionalism, I often lack the strength simply to remind myself of what’s true. It’s then that I’m so thankful for all the people in my life who remind me that God is good, that children are a gift, and that He has promised to carry and sustain us through difficult seasons.
Instead of letting the postpartum period isolate you, I encourage every new mom to lean into community. After all, one of the greatest gifts that God has given us is his body, the church. That means moms should reach out to others for help, ask questions of moms that have been there before, ask for prayer, talk with friends, spouses, or community group members on hard days, asking them to remind you of what is true. As Hebrews 3:13 says, we must “encourage one another daily.”
The real trick to leaning into community is putting yourself in the where community is found. I know going anywhere with kiddos is tough and schedules can complicate things; however, I also know that it’s totally worth the tears, the third outfit change after a blow-out, and the juggling act of getting toddlers into their car seats in order to be around the people of God. I’ve often been encouraged after a sleepless night by just listening to other moms tell their stories and enjoying their encouragement and company in the mother’s lounge on a Sunday than from taking a nap. Rest isn’t bad, of course—we need rest! But while rest can help our bodies heal, only the gospel can replenish our souls. It takes commitment to lean into community post-baby, but God’s gift to us is His people, and they are a blessing indeed.
Fight the Good Fight
Finally, I think every new mom needs to fight the good fight. After birth, I can’t trust my thoughts and feelings for several months. What I feel is true versus what is actually real are simply at odds for a long, long time. Fighting the fight doesn’t mean trying to eradicate all your feelings (which is impossible); it means standing on the promises of God. It means trusting that what He says about life, Himself, and ourselves is more reliable than how we feel or think in the moment.
God is constant even though I’m being tossed around a sea of emotional confusion. He is a perfect Father when we feel like struggling mothers. His grace is enough for us. His mercies are new every day. He will renew our strength. He is our anchor in trying storms. He is the giver of good gifts, including children. He has promised to never leave us or forsake us. He loves us with an everlasting love. He gathers all of our tears and cradles us in His embrace. He restores our soul. He orders our steps. He gives us new life through Jesus. He empowers us to live daily. He has given us victory over sin. He promises, enables and delivers a life full of joy—including the early months and years of motherhood. He intercedes for us. He is faithful. He is just. He is good.
I could go on for pages about this, but I don’t need to, because other people already have: in the Scriptures, in other good books, in devotional apps, in hymns. Right now I have a few books and Scripture-reading plans in a personal “truth arsenal” for my postpartum period. I plan to read when I feel like quitting or when I feel especially confused. Whatever you have to do to keep God’s promises in the forefront of your mind, do it! We are not helpless in this fight, dear sisters. God has given us what we need to fight against postpartum depression, the "baby blues," or whatever you want to call the crazy hardships of a new mom's life. We have a perfect Father who loves us, the good news about what Jesus has done for us, the Holy Spirit inside us, and the people of God all around us. And there’s no combination more powerful than that! (But a little chocolate never hurt things, either.)
ALL THE FEELS
By Jessica Ponder on May 2, 2019
All the Feels in All the World
Long before the emergence of the hashtag #allthefeels, there was me. I have always been a “feeler.” I’ve cried about scones, I’ve cried about orphans, I’ve cried at Johnson and Johnson’s baby commercials, and I’ve cried about hurt feelings. I’ve cried with joy at salvation and I’ve cried in sinful frustration. I said, “I love you”, on the fourth date to the man who’s now my husband—and meant it. I’ve rejoiced loudly about new babies and new marriages and I’ve grieved loudly about death. I feel deeply. And I’m not alone in this.
“All You Need is Love,” the Beatles preached. Pharrell makes us dance with “Happy,” and even declares that “happiness is the truth.” At the old age of 27, Adele is already dripping with nostalgia in “When We Were Young.” Marvin Gaye celebrates a good woman and her sexiness with “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing.” Sam Smith feels remorse and grief for a lost love in “Lay Me Down.”
When Good Feelings Go Bad
No matter which emotions we’re talking about, it’s clear that feeling is part of being human. We laugh and cry. We feel worried, ashamed or fearful. We long to feel love and to have others feel our love, too. We search for happiness (and even consider it a right). We rejoice at new life and we grieve over death.
Feelings are such a big part of life because God purposefully created us with the capacity for emotion—and he declared this “very good” (Gen. 1:31). So feelings are a gift. Like all gifts, however, feelings have been affected by our fall into sin. The first humans enjoyed an unbroken communion with God and with each other. They were completely and perfectly and incandescently happy (even more than Lizzy Bennet). And they never felt depressed or ashamed or afraid… until they sinned.
Sin is more than “breaking God’s rules.” Sin is also a power, a force at work within us that continually messes up the way things are supposed to be: it messes up our relationship with God, with each other, and even with ourselves. Sin perverts and twists; it darkens and distorts. It grabs hold of our minds and hearts and wills, polluting our thoughts and desires and decisions, and yes, our emotions, too.
So we are made to feel, and that capacity for emotion is good. But where are we now that our feelings have been affected by sin? Well, sin has not destroyed our ability to feel anymore than it destroyed our ability to think. What sin has done, however, is introduce sinful feelings alongside good ones. In other words, we now can experience good and godly feelings as well as sinful and wrong feelings.
Reining Them In
One of my favorite authors tells her daughters: “Feelings are like horses—beautiful spirited horses. But they [the daughters] are the riders. We tell them that God gave them this horse when they were born and they will ride it their whole life. God also set us on a path on the top of a mountain together and told us to follow it… This is how we ‘walk in the light as He is in the light and have fellowship with one another’ (I Jn. 1:7). When our emotions act up, it is like the horse trying to jump the fence and run down into a yucky place full of spiders to get lost in the dark. A good rider knows what to do when the horse tries to bolt—you pull the reins! Turn the horse’s head! Get back on the path!” (Rachel Jankovic, Loving the Little Years, 99).
Although Rachel first addressed those words to her young daughters, we are all spirited riders, and we all must learn how to ‘keep the horse on the path.’ We do this mainly by avoiding the ditches and deep valleys on either side of the road. If we know Scripture, it is not so difficult to determine the path of life from the valleys of death.
The key to determining the path from the valley is avoiding emotionalism. Emotions are good, but emotionalism is a prison. The –ism part of emotionalism refers not just to having feelings but to living by them. Instead of remembering the road, we let our horse roam free. This drags the rider wherever the wants to go. This is a sure way to get stuck in the muddy valleys.
Put Them to the Test
How do we avoid the ditch of emotionalism? How do we rein in our feelings if they are out of control? We must put them to the test, which we can do with a simple question: Do your feelings line up with what God says about the world, others, and you?
Are you feeling ugly and unloved? You and your horse are in the ditch. Jesus says that he loves you and has adopted you into his family. You are not just a ‘little bit loved.’ You have literally been loved to death. Jesus wanted to give his life for you so that you could find life in him. There is no greater love than this!
Are you feeling downtrodden and hopeless? You’re probably in the ditch. Jesus says in Isaiah 40:30-31 “Even youth grow tired and weary and young men stumble and fall, but those who trust in the Lord will renew their strength.” The Lord is able to renew their strength not with more emotions, which come and go so quickly, but with the immovable promises of his victory. No matter what happens, there is hope in Jesus.
Are you feeling isolated? Did you wake up feeling friendless? You’re probably in the ditch again. You do have friends, especially if you are part of a church that understands the eternal bond we have together in Christ. More than this, Jesus himself is your friend. (If it seems strange to say this, it may be because you don’t what a true friend looks like!)
Are you feeling afraid or anxious? Hello, ditch. The most frequently repeated command in all the Bible is, “Do not be afraid.” God says “'Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand” (Isa. 41:1). Indeed, our anxiety is usually a sign of our failure to trust God and to take him at his Word.
But what if you are grieving the death of a person or a relationship? Then you are not in a ditch. In fact, Jesus is grieving with you. He wept bitterly over the death of his friend. But amazingly, Jesus could be angry and sad at the reality of death (and the sin that causes death) without being mad at himself as God. This is the way to grieve with hope: hate death and the sin that causes it, but rejoice in the One who has conquered them both.
Are you feeling angry about the sin and injustice in the world? You are not in a ditch. Jesus was angry at the injustice being done against his people. He is perfect justice and at the cross dealt with all of our unjust ways so that we could experience life-giving flourishing and peace.
Are you feeling moved to tears or compassion for those who may be suffering? You are not in a ditch. Over and over, the Gospels tells us that Jesus had compassion on the crowds: “Seeing the people, Jesus felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt. 9:36). This feeling is good, and it’s meant to drive us into action. In fact, if we don’t feel compassion for others, then something is dangerously wrong with us.
Are you feeling joy and happiness? You are not in a ditch. Jesus rejoices with you! More than this, Jesus himself is the ultimate cause for rejoicing. As the psalmist says of God, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Ps. 16:11). Jesus is the author of all true goodness and joy.
Follow the Light
We are humans affected by sin, so the feelings that we feel are a constant source of both joy and temptation. Only light of gospel can illuminate the path that leads away from emotional ditches (John 8:12). That is why the first and last step in avoiding emotionalism is to remember the gospel and to remind others of it daily.
Of course, the gospel is more than the warning to avoid the ditch. The gospel also tells us not to beat ourselves up when we find ourselves there (for Jesus has already taken our punishment). Instead, if we find ourselves in the ditch we should trust the Lord, and ask him to help us pull on the reigns and get back to the path. We do this by believing what God says about us and the world is true regardless of how we feel at that time. Facts trump feelings. So we must test our feelings against Scripture to remind ourselves of the truth.
But we don’t have to do this alone. If we are even too deep in the muck to understand the ditch from the path, we can ask for help and rely on others to help point us back to the truth. Rachel Jankovick also says, “We also tell our girls that God told us if we see one of them with her horse down in a mud puddle spitting at people who walk by, it is our job to haul them up, back to the path” (Loving the Little Years, 29). God says something similar in Hebrews 3:12-13: “Take care, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that leads you to fall away from the living God. But encourage one another daily… so that no one of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”
Sin is deceitful, and so are the feelings that come from sin. We will be tempted to doubt what God says, to “feel like” something is not true when God says it’s true and so on, but the good news is that God’s grace is in the business of redeeming whole people—including their feelings. That is why the Scriptures tell us this good news: “God is greater than our hearts” (1 John 3:20). Or as it says in another translation of that verse, “God is greater than our feelings.”
Jessica Ponder is a wife and mother to four. She loves reading, singing, baking, and urban walking. In her dreams she is a piano player with time to practice, a gardener whose plants don’t die, and someone who could hang out with the entire world at the same time, all the time. Follow her on Twitter @MrsJessPonder.