11.07.2011

Love and Waiting

On most Mondays I have a Bible study going with a couple of ladies from the young adults group I attend. We're going through Mom's material, so we're going through the Bible chronologically, looking at God's character and, primarily, how He deals with women. Last week we discussed Rachel and Leah and how women seek validation. Both ladies looked for validation in their relationship with Jacob (which was more insecure because there is no way for husband and wife truly to be "one flesh" in a polygamous situation, but I digress), and both inflicted their needs on their children, on Jacob, and on each other.

All women struggle with seeking validation, whether we're pretty, like Rachel, or "weak-eyed," like Leah. We look for validation out of our relationships, out of our accomplishments, and out of our stuff. We seek to feel secure because of who we know or who we're attached to, what we have to show for ourselves, and what we have to go home to at the end of the day. It's idolatry. I'm eaten up with it.

Yesterday I read I Corinthians 13, and it spoke to me in a new way. I don't really have a good transition point, so, without further ado:

If I speak in the languages of men and of angels, but I do not have love, I have become a clanging gong and a clashing cymbal. And if I have a gift of prophecy and I know all the mysteries and all the knowledge, and if I have all faith so that I can remove mountains, but I do not have love, I am nothing. And if I will give away all I have and if I might give up my body that I might be burned, but I do not have love, I have achieved nothing (1-3).
The Corinthian church needed to hear about love. They had everything--education, sophistication, high philosophy, ability to debate and differentiate fine doctrinal and ethical points--but they did not have love. They met together, but their unity was superficial at best. Each person always had his own thing to say, and they had disorder in their worship times and drunkenness at the Lord's Supper. They tolerated sexual immorality and refused to submit to leadership. They took pride in their own learning and used it to put others down.

I think the first part of I Cor. 13 deals with seeking validation. Each achievement listed--speaking every language under heaven and even in heaven, prophesying grandly, offering hidden knowledge sagely, discoursing wisely, renouncing earthly pleasures and even life itself--leads to personal glory and honor, even presented behind a humble facade. Each achievement is my achievement, something I've accomplished through my power to make me bigger than I am--when I do not have love. If I do not have His love pouring into me and then pouring out from within me for others, I do everything just to fill my emptiness. Without love all my beautiful words are just blang blang blang blang. Without love my prophecy and knowledge are meaningless. Without love my sacrifices are utterly empty.

A world of difference exists between serving to receive validation and serving out of love. Speaking as a missionary and a former youth director and Sunday school teacher (and therefore something of an authority on the subject), I know that a major motive in entering ministry can be needing to be needed. I struggle with this a great deal--seeking validation by being that centerpiece, by being that listening ear, by being that person in a position of trust. I struggle with whether I have been called to do this by God or I have pursued this out of my own insecurity. I struggle often with feeling like I'm not accomplishing anything, like I don't have anything to show, like I'm not doing enough. I compare myself to people who have "successful" ministries, even to people who have "real" jobs.

I don't have the answers for all of that. I got to have a conversation, though, with one of my friends who was feeling like she really didn't have much by way of earthly success either, and I offered this thought: one day, we're going to stand in front of God, and everything is going to be judged according to His economy. Jesus said the two most important things in this life are that we love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and that we love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Houses and decorations and cars and money will all pass away, but love won't.

Love waits patiently, love is genuinely kind, not jealous, does not boast, is not puffed up, does not behave shamelessly, does not seek its own things, does not burn with anger, does not take a bad deed into account, does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. It endures all things, believes all things, hopes all things, bears up under all things (4-7).
This is the "more extraordinary way" that Paul speaks of at the end of I Cor. 12. I think this is what God is building in each of us as believers through our lives as we learn to trust that He really loves us. These are the character traits that make people who are not polyglots or prophets twice as extraordinary and beautiful to learn from as their flashier brothers and sisters. I know some humble people who have genuine patience and kindness and who truly seek good things for others, and they floor me every day. These people are rarely in front, but they have a true calling from God to minister to other people, and they just do it faithfully. This love is shaped in them; there seems to be a marvelous lack of personal striving--striving in their own power--to love.

Love never falls. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where languages, they will be stopped; where knowledge, it will cease. For we know partly and we prophesy partly, but when what is complete comes, what is in part will cease. When I was a child, I was speaking as a child, thinking as a child, taking things into account as a child, but when I had become a man, I got rid of childish things. For now we see through a mirror in an obscure image, but then face to face. Now I know partly, but then I will know even as I am known. But now remain faith, hope, love, these three things; but the greatest of these is love (8-13).
Behind striving for accomplishment is a feeling that the accomplishment will last--that it will bestow some form of immortality. Accomplishment does not cheat death, provides no security in this ephemeral world. All that we do, we do as broken images of the Creator. All our knowledge is imperfect; all of it passes away. Children tend to want to make things last forever, so that the fun will never stop. To embrace the passing is a mark of maturity, so long as we also embrace that which never leaves. One of Paul's most powerful statements comes in 13:12, "For now we see through a mirror in an obscure image, but then face to face. Now I know partly, but then I will know even as I am known." I think this is what keeps love going. This is what speaks directly to the desire for validation.

Several months ago our young adults leader spoke about Jesus' life in terms of delayed gratification. He endured the cross for the glory to come. One of the marks of maturity is the ability to delay gratification. Paul offers us a challenge, in I Cor. 13--to wait to see, to wait to know. Ultimately as Christians we must wait to see Him face to face, to know Him even as He knows us. This will satisfy us as nothing else has or can. This is the unending love all of us seek for all of our lives, but we have to trust Him in order to wait.

I, with Rachel and Leah, want to feel loved now, want to have success and recognition and validation now. I have spoken to some of my friends of a yawning chasm inside that could swallow the whole world and still feel empty. This drives much of what I do. But I seek a more extraordinary way.

Praises
  • God has allowed me to run into a couple of people in interesting ways and has given me favor with a girl from Taiwan. Please pray that He would open her heart to the gospel.
  • God has sent some good connections to the Centre to allow us to help people more effectively.
Prayer requests
  • Pray that I would be genuinely filled with God's love. Pray that God's love would cascade into me, fill me up, and pour out of me into the lives of others. 
  • Pray that I would seek the honor that comes from the only God (John 5:44).
  • Pray for divine appointments with ladies and for boldness and wisdom to speak the Truth in love.
  • Pray for clarity in my role here and wisdom in how to prioritize my time and the things I need to learn and work on. Pray for a godly balance between work and rest.

Thank you so much for reading and for praying for me,
-Jennifer

2 comments:

CB said...

Wow, this is phenomenal. It speaks to so much of what I'm struggling with right now, and I really appreciate you being open and sharing it! I appreciate you and will continue to pray for you. Love you and miss you much!!

CB

Mrs. Pankhurst said...

Thank you! I miss you too. Are you available to talk sometime?