The Beautiful Hidden Life

When I learned in fifth grade that Helen Keller had graduated from college summa cum laude, I made it my goal to do the same. As it happened, those little Latin words that mean “with the highest distinction” did actually end up being embossed on the white parchment of my degree, thereby setting me on a course of high expectations for the “distinction” that was somehow going to be my destiny.

It should come, then, as no surprise to anyone that I packed that philosophy of life into the diaper bag I traded my briefcase in for after our first child was born. (Am I the only one who was surprised to discover you can’t get a baby to adhere to a schedule by sheer force of will?) If only Unseen by Sara Hagerty had been written 24 years ago when I embarked upon the ordinary days of unremarkable tasks and (often) mind-numbing routine that go with motherhood.

I am thankful that, somewhere along the way, it became clear to me that there is an unseen and un-celebrated beauty to everyday acts of service, that productivity can not always be measured in the short run, and that there is a chasing after God that happens in the dim light of a rocking chair session with a fussy baby that is completely unavailable in the spotlight of recognition and acclaim.

Unseen is the product of Sara’s collision course with the beautiful “waste” of a poured out life that hides behind hardship, disappointment, challenging circumstances, or the simple routine of an obedient following. We will never know the comfort of God as our “refuge and strength” until we come to a place in our lives in which we need to take refuge.  It’s clear that “our hidden places aren’t signs of God’s displeasure or punishment,” but rather places in which God intends to teach our hearts to sing. (33)

There are innumerable lessons from Scripture presented in Unseen for living in the secret places with the God who sees, but I have teased out five of my favorite insights to carry forward into these mothering years:

1. Productivity is not a pre-requisite for God’s approval.

He values intimate conversation, faithfulness in the repetitive duties, and humility in performing the unappreciated tasks that maintain life.  Sara found that she had “a harder time trying to imagine what He might be thinking about[her] during the hours of the day when [she] wasn’t doing anything tangible for Him.” (19) The god news is, He’s already on your side, and there’s nothing you can do or produce that will make Him love you more –or less.

2.  We are made by God to be seen and celebrated.

He has called us by name, and we love the sound of approval, but there comes a dissonance  when a “misplaced desire” for recognition puts us on a path in which acclaim and acknowledgement become the focal point, rather than the glorious by-product of a relationship with God.

Note the intimacy of Psalm 139:1-3:

“O LORD, You have searched me and known me.
You know my sitting down and my rising up;
You understand my thought afar off.
You comprehend my path and my lying down,
And are acquainted with all my ways.”

3. When God hides us, His intention is that we will find Him in the hidden-ness.

Sara’s season of hidden-ness began with a twelve-year journey of infertility. She had never entertained the idea that her life would be anything but fruitful on every front. In her busy ministry years, she saw results with many lives impacted by the gospel. Finding herself in a dead end job with little human contact, she felt “sidetracked,” sidelined, and walked a completely unfamiliar path. As she stumbled along, she heard the voice of God whisper, “This is where you become great — on the inside.”

4.  Pain is a thin place where the glory of God shines through.

Sara’s pain drove her to a place of finding joy only in God. As she suffered and wondered, she lived her way into a deep belief that the love of God is real and valuable. Like the psalmist, she felt His nearness in her broken heart.

5.  What appears to be an absolute waste can translate into a beautiful, extravagant hidden gift to Jesus.

In Matthew 26, Mary of Bethany is criticized for her lavish love gift of scented oil, poured out on Jesus’ feet.

“Why this waste?” they asked, with judgment oozing from every pore.

Little did they know that Jesus was going to view this apparent “waste” as precious, pronouncing that her act would go down in history as the right choice at the right time.

Sara’s mothering heart has found its home with six children, four of whom were adopted from Africa — and two who came to her naturally! Learning to mother children with needs bigger than she can fathom has deepened Sara’s dependency upon God and heightened her realization that the real need of her heart will be met, not by greater discipline, but in friendship with God. She encourages her readers to cultivate a lifestyle of beautiful waste, poured out in love and chasing the only thing worth being concerned about: God’s deep and abiding pleasure in you.

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This book was provided by Zondervan through the BookLookBloggers program in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Additional resources

Read more of Sara’s journey at her website, where you will also find her blog and resources related to adoption and her books.

Jamie Ivey interviewed Sara on The Happy Hour podcast in which they chatted about the way God built Sara’s family and her fight to believe that God sees her, understands her, knows her, hasn’t forgotten her – and how that truth is better than being seen by anyone else.

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Join the Women of Easter

Some were mentioned by name.
Others were never identified, but throughout the life of Jesus, we learn that there were “certain women” who traveled with Jesus, who welcomed Him when he needed a meal or a place to stay, who “provided for Him out of their means.”  It is significant that there is no record in Scripture of any of these women flagging in their loyalty, denying Jesus, or abandoning Him when the chips were down.  A group of them were present at the cross, and then, without even realizing the significance of their actions at the time, certain women showed up at the tomb and bore witness to the resurrected Christ.

It was clear that God had chosen them to be there.

Liz Curtis Higgs honors The Women of Easter with her carefully constructed re-telling of the final weeks of Jesus’ life.  Liz focuses on Mary of Bethany, Mary of Nazareth, and Mary Magdalene, but also shares the stories of other women as they meander across history’s stage.  Rather than lifting her protagonists out of the story one by one with three distinct bios, she considers them in context as they interact with each other, with Jesus, and with other major players within the narrative arc of Scripture.

With her characteristic humor, insight, and thorough research, Liz shares powerful wisdom from the lives of first-century women that (if we let it!) will impact the way we follow Christ in the 21st century, because, the truth is that you can spot a Woman of Easter by the way she lives:

 Women of Easter are transformed by seeking what is “needful.”  

Mary of Bethany understood that there is a time for bustling around and being productive — and there is a time for quietly listening.  Big Sister Martha must have eventually absorbed some of that lesson along the way, because when their brother Lazarus died, “she who served the food also dished out the truth: “It is for Your coming, [Jesus,] that the world has waited.”  God had chosen one of His faithful women to make the bold proclamation that Jesus’ decisive “I am” was a revelation of His identity.   Martha’s response was a resounding, “Yes, I see that YOU ARE!”

Women of Easter recognize that Jesus endured the cross because we were “the joy set before Him.”

Mary of Bethany understood that when she anointed Jesus’ feet with valuable oil, she was performing an act of worship.  John 12 informs us that “Martha served” that day, and so together, the sisters showed up and met a need in preparation for Jesus’ future act of redemption which, at the time, they could have only dimly understood.

All our worship and all our acts of righteousness flow from the cross.  Just as Jesus took joy in the small gift of a widow, He sees our small gifts, and He rejoices, calling them “good.”

Women of Easter know when to stand back and watch Jesus at work.

Mary of Nazareth (Jesus’ mother) shows up in quiet maturity at the Wedding in Cana, and she set the stage for her Son to perform the first of many signs “through which He revealed His glory; and His disciples believed in Him.”  Scripture does not record Jesus saying, “Thanks, mum!” but actions speak louder than words, for while He was hanging on the cross in agony, He made provision for her future by asking John to take her into his home.

While four soldiers cast lots for Jesus’ clothing, four women stood with Him in quiet support:  Mary, Mary’s sister (possibly Salome?), Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.  These women were standing on a risky piece of real estate, for the Romans were not above inflicting the same terrible punishment upon families of an enemy of the state who was being crucified.  With Jesus’ feet only about a yard above the ground, these women were witnessing His suffering close by — and even so, Jesus was utterly alone in His anguish.  It could not have been an easy vigil for these brave women, but they kept watch while Jesus shook hell’s gates.

Women of Easter stay close to Jesus even when hope seems gone.

While there is no Scriptural evidence that Mary Magdalene was actually a harlot, the Bible does inform us that Jesus cast seven demons out of her.  Her background is . . . challenging, perhaps; nonetheless, she “is mentioned by name fourteen times across all four gospel accounts.”  Loyal, fearless, and willing to do whatever she needed to do to support her beloved Teacher, Mary Magdalene showed up at the garden tomb, not really sure how she was going to achieve her goal of rolling away a huge stone in order to attend to Jesus’ body.  My take-away from this is that when we show up for the impossible, we might be surprised at how God takes care of the details.

Women of Easter realize that it’s all about relationship.

Our first-century sisters didn’t realize that they were going to be eye-witnesses to the most important event in history.  They came to the tomb to attend to the dead body of a much-loved friend/relative and found a living, breathing Savior!  Then, having been commissioned by the risen Christ to share the good news, Mary Magdalene trumpeted the truth that changes everything:  “I have seen the Lord!

Liz shares the encouraging truth that even the very first Easter was not a picture perfect affair.  No.  It was “full of disbelief, fear, and confusion” as even Jesus’ closest disciples struggled to absorb the truth.

Likewise, with our Easter bonnets askew and our Resurrection Sunday dinner menus still up in the air, we are invited to come, by faith, to the empty tomb.  We are invited to rejoice, and we have been charged with the privilege of sharing the good news. By faith, we, too, are The Women of Easter.

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This book was provided by the publisher through Blogging for Books in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.