I saw the radiance of Jesus in Mattie the first time we met. God intertwined our hearts and we’d met for coffee. Then she surprised me by turning up at my door, waving apologetically through the window as I ran to let her in. She had Abby in one arm, sleepy-eyed and precious in a furry white hooded coat.
“Hey, Mattie! Oh, sweet Abby.” I held out my arms, itching to hold her. “Come on in!”
“No, no — I don’t want to interrupt, and if I don’t get Abby home she’ll fall asleep and think that’s her nap!” I smiled, remembering. “I just wanted to give you this.” She handed me a book. I looked at its flowery cover — it was about being a great Christian wife and mom. I looked up at my young friend to see distress in her eyes.
We’re doing it at the women’s group at church — and…” she faltered, emotion rising.
I nodded. “I’ll look at it and we’ll have coffee.”
Tears welled up, a quick embrace, and a silent parting look of love. I watched her go, and then turned to her book. I suspected it would make me sad and mad and it did.
We met at the Panera on Englewood, seizing a corner booth. I started the conversation. “It’s so confusing — because I know, Mattie, you want to be the wife and mother God has called you to be. And this book is filled with examples of women who led sacrificial lives and seemed to experience so much satisfaction in their exemplary Christian families.”
“So what’s wrong with me? Am I rebelling? I can’t figure it out because I do — I want a strong Christian family — but when I’m in that group, I just want to run. Most of the women are SO enthusiastic, telling story after story of how they are loving and honoring their husbands.”
“Do you think there are any other women who are uncomfortable?”
“Maybe. A few are really quiet like me.”
“It’s so subtle,” I said, “just like the enemy. He mixes truth with lies, but his purpose is to get us off course, diverting us from the gospel. Let me tell you a story about when I was a young mom and a new Christian. The book I read was less dreary than yours, but the same drum-beat. I didn’t have the discernment you have, Mattie, and I, and more than five million other women, were really excited about it. We thought we’d found the answer.
Total Woman burst on the scene as a Christian backlash to the budding feminist movement of the seventies. She even made the cover of Time Magazine. Marabel defined a “Total Woman,” as a woman who made her husband the center of her world and catered to his special quirks “whether in salads, sex, or sports.” She advised you to have the table set elegantly for dinner and then take a bubble bath at 4:00 P.M. ready to greet him when he arrived home. These methods had revived her own faltering marriage. The book was filled with strong scriptural admonitions about being a submissive wife, about not nagging, and about respecting your husband. All true. My friend Lee and I drove across the state to Mansfield, Ohio to see bubbly, beautiful, and sun-tanned Marabel in person. We wanted to be “Total Women.” We thought, This is it. This is God’s calling for our lives. This is our identity. And this is the secret the women in the world are missing. And to be fair to Marabel — the book had some great ideas about being unselfish and caring for your man in a time when women were being told to hate men. But the book also had hidden dangers. I didn’t see them — I just thought it was great — the way a lot of women will think this book you are doing is great. I even recommended Total Woman to our book club, which was made up of other medical residents’ wives, many of whom were not Christians and were struggling with having their husbands gone so much and bearing all the load of raising the children alone.”
Mattie grimaced. “Fireworks?”
“Huge fireworks. But I simply thought they didn’t get it. Blind, clueless. But I was the blind and clueless one, the Pharisee looking down in pity on those who didn’t have it all together like me.”
Mattie smiled. “So, what happened?”
“An older Christian woman whom I respected tried to talk to me. I still remember, though it has been decades, how gently she confronted me. She told me there were wonderful ideas for unselfishness in Marabel’s book — and there were! This is not an attack on Marabel or the authors of books like this — but on the focus that emphasizes “Do, do, do,” instead of continual repentance and faith. (And honestly, as a Christian author, this danger has only become clear to me in the last fifteen years.) Our only hope of power is not in ourselves but in the gospel. She tried to help me understand — but as Tim Keller says — it takes a while for “the penny to drop.” She told me I should not make my identity in being ‘a total woman’ but as a sinful woman who was loved and rescued daily by Christ. She was basically talking to me about gospel transformation, but I didn’t get it. She also warned me of the danger of making my husband or anyone or anything other than Christ the center of my life, for he might not always be there for me. (I couldn’t imagine that!) She managed to dampen my enthusiasm but not put it out. I still thought “Total Woman” was pretty great. It’s taken me years to see what she tried to tell me and I’m still figuring it out. I remember when I saw Fried Green Tomatoes. There’s a great scene parodying Total Woman. Kathy Bates plays a woman in a desperate marriage who is at a class designed to put “the spark back in your marriage.” She dreams of trying Marabel’s suggestion of fixing an elegant dinner and then greeting her husband clothed only in saran wrap.” Mattie smiled, shaking her head.
Here’s that clip:
Fried Green Tomatoes caught the truth that methods that promise results can lead to enormous disappointment. For you can be an amazing wife, missionary, or mother and still see things end badly. We have to be doing what we do for God — and not for results. One of our own bloggers, whom I will quote during the study, said that these kind of books made her feel more broken than beloved — for it was so hard to live up to the standard. I appreciate how gospel-centered teaching is careful never to say “Be like David. Be like Ruth.” They know we cannot. As Keller says — that crushes us. What we need to see is the greater David — the ultimate Ruth — so that our hearts are melted. I see how many churches study book after book like this one on the woman’s role, but neglect gospel-centered teaching.
I pushed Mattie’s book across the table to her. “I actually liked Total Woman better than this one. Marabel was very humble in admitting what a nag she had been. This book reeks of pride, like wearing a t-shirt or a bumper sticker announcing our character. No wonder you are uncomfortable, Mattie.”
“What should I do?”
“I don’t know. They may not hear you any better than I heard my older friend. Their lives may need to fall apart before they see their faulty foundation. But you can pray and ask the Lord to help you be salt. Maybe you could suggest a study on gospel transformation for next time? Or maybe Keller’s Prodigal God?” Then I paused and shook my head. “You know, I must not tell you how to do it. But I think the Lord may have you there for a reason. We all need to get the gospel better than we do. This book is not without merit, but its methodology, not gospel transformation. And there’s definitely the kind of legalism that we see Paul warning about in Galatians. But I’d keep going, listening, loving, and praying. Mattie, it may be that He brought you there for such a time as this.”
She sipped her coffee pensively, imagining how they might respond if she spoke up. Then a sigh. “And if I perish, I perish.”
We both laughed. (But please pray with me for her!)
This is so relevant to us. Our identity must be in Christ, and we must be wary of books that tell us to “Do, do, do,” instead of allowing the gospel to transform us into the people He longs for us to be.
SUNDAY: ICEBREAKER (Everyone share!)
1. What stood out to you from the above and why?
2. Do you agree or disagree that our identity should not be in being a good Christian wife/mom? Explain your stand.
MONDAY-WEDNESDAY: BIBLE STUDY
O FOOLISH GALATIANS! WHO HAS BEWITCHED YOU?
In his prologue to the Galatians in The Message, Eugene Peterson says: “When men and women get their hands on religion, one of the first things they often do it turn it into an instrument for controlling others.” Our hearts are bent toward moving away from gospel freedom.
Please hear me. There are true principles for women in the Scripture that we must embrace. Our own Elizabeth wrote that studies on a woman’s role made her feel “more broken than beloved.” I asked her to elaborate, and she said:
So many women’s books seem to focus on the outside. “Create a respite for your husband to come home to, greet him warmly…” and then they attach a Bible verse to strengthen the point.
All I ended up with is a list of things to do to better myself, my décor, my cooking, my sewing skills…all centered on my behavior, all about ME. The motivation seemed to be to please my husband, make him happy. My confidence would come not from the Lord, but in my success. Homemaking-righteousness! I never knew why those books irked me. But as I would read a book
specifically for women—whether homemaking, marriage, parenting—I just felt burdened with pressure to perform, fear that I would likely fail, and guilt for not really wanting to try.
(And for those who are interested — Elizabeth gave this link to a fascinating discussion: http://www.theologyforwomen.
Do you see? Continually our default mode is works righteousness. We have the same problem the Galatians had. They thought they needed Jesus plus something else to feel accepted, beautiful, and cleansed. They actually thought they needed Jesus plus circumcision in order to be justified. We can’t identify with that — but we can identify with wanting Jesus plus our ministry to do well; Jesus plus our parents to love us; Jesus plus the people in our church to think we’re Proverbs 31 women. And this default mode makes us easy prey for teachers telling us that a real Christian woman does such and such.
When I was a young mother, I could so easily find my identity in the Christian character of my children. Today I can find it in how well my last book is doing. Or what I weigh. Or how affirmed I am on the blog.
Oh wretched woman that I am. Who can deliver me? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ my Lord.
SUGGESTED ACTION ASSIGNMENT: CHOOSE A HYMN OR SONG THAT EXALTS THE LOVE OR GRACE OF JESUS AND LEARN IT THIS WEEK. (I remember when I got teased after telling you to tape it up in your shower and ink was running everywhere — so I won’t tell you how to accomplish this!) Let us know if you do it and what you chose and how it is impacting you.
I recommend The Message as well as whatever your regular translation is for reading in Galatians. In his prologue Peterson talks about how legalistic and judgmental Paul was before Christ encountered him and set him free. He was overjoyed to see the Galatians set free. But now! False teachers have filtered in and told them what a real Christian should look like. He should love Jesus plus be circumcised!
3. Read Galatians 1:1-5
A. Paul is quickly going to confront the Galatians for departing from the gospel. How does he clearly and immediately establish his credentials?
B. How is the gospel described in verse 4, and what is the fruit of the gospel according to verse 3?
4. Read Galatians 1:6-9
A. Describe his emotion and his tone. Support your answer from the text.
B. The Message says: “This is not a minor violation, you know, it is completely other…” Why?
C. Notice how he includes himself — if we or an angel from heaven… What does this tell you about your responsibility on how you listen to sermons?
5. Read Galatians 1:10
A. What do you learn about the danger of trying to please men?
B. As a Christian woman, do you feel you are set free from trying to please those who have a certain image of what a Christian woman should be? Do you feel you can simply ask the Lord to show you — or are you feeling in bondage?
I am appreciating Tullian Tchividjian, Pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Ft. Lauderdale, Fl. I listened to his sermon on this passage in Galatians (his sermons are available for free) and he humbly confessed that he, in the past, had taught verse 10 incorrectly. He said:
Let me tell you how I used to preach through this [Galatians 2:10] I went back and looked at my notes because I had the sneaking suspicion that I was an idiot …and my deepest fears were realized… I said, “You don’t need to do anything to get man’s approval – live to get God’s approval. I don’t care about man’s approval, all I care about is God’s approval.”
Terrible way to preach! Paul warns against living to gain the approval of others – but the deeper slavery – of living to gain the approval of God. This is the basis of this whole letter.
I loved that humility — and can you not identify? It is so hard to believe that we can do NOTHING to gain God’s approval. I loved how our poetic Mellany stood in awe of this when she wrote:
That I already have favor with God.
If God is for me who can be against me?
No one not even myself.
Thank you again precious Holy Spirit ( my Comforter and Counselor) unpaid I might add.
All these long years He has been with me.
He never leaves me nor forsakes me.
I am stunned, quiet and trying to absorb this revelation.
“The Gospel,” Keller says, “is the solution to every problem.” I’m beginning to see it. My real problem is that I don’t believe the gospel. I don’t really believe I’m loved the way the gospel proves I am. And so I bow my knee before the Father and pray that I — and you — would comprehend the breadth and length and height and depth of God’s love for us.
6. Comment on verse 10, on Tullian, or on Mellany or on Keller. Are you grasping the gospel better?
A FAILING LENT
Many of you have used this phrase from Ann Voskamp. We fail, but it leads us to the cross. And many of us have discovered anew that the law incites temptation. Melissa, who is giving up internet during the day, said, “I want to go there more than ever!” And Cyndi got so frustrated that she finally fell before the Lord and He told her, “Just go fill yourself up on me.” We want to keep in mind that our purpose is intimacy and transformation — do what works. When you fail, go back to the cross and hear from Him.
7. What thoughts do you have on the above? What is the truth to which we must cling?
Free overview sermon on Galatians by Keller: Link
I also heartily recommend: The Fellowship of the Gospel: (It is 2.50) Click here:
8. What are you notes?
9. What is your take-a-way and why?