What about the Isaiah 54 Woman?


1 “Sing, O barren woman, you who never bore a child; burst into song, shout for joy, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband,” says the LORD. 2 “Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes. 3 For you will spread out to the right and to the left; your descendants will dispossess nations and settle in their desolate cities. 4 “Do not be afraid; you will not suffer shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated. You will forget the shame of your youth and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood. 5 For your Maker is your husband– the LORD Almighty is his name– the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth. ~Isaiah 54

Christmas Eve 2012 was about as perfect as a Christmas Eve could be.

I spent the morning doing homework at a coffeehouse I have frequented since high school.

I went to Go Fish and had a blast at work chatting with and wrapping for a host of delightful last minute holiday shoppers.

I attended the Christmas Eve service of Lessons and Carols at Covenant Presbyterian Church and was so proud of my dad as he participated in the service for the first time. I saw my high school basketball coach and his daughter, a precious former teammate and old friend, and met her husband and two little girls and marveled at how time has flown.

My parents and sisters and I continued our Christmas Eve tradition of fine dining at a local Waffle House. Nothing beats the conversation and the people watching at a Waffle House on Christmas Eve.

After hanging out with them for a while longer, Val and I went to Midnight Mass at St. Paul’s Episcopal downtown. For this Southern Baptist girl who grew up in a country church at which farmers often had to leave the service because their pigs had escaped and followed them to church, there is a richness and unity in the liturgical service that I am drawn to every year. I saw two more of my dearest old friends from high school and spent a few precious moments catching up with them.

When I arrived home around 1:30 Christmas morning, I had a full and worshipful heart. I had spent the evening singing praises and hymns of deep and rich theology (Have you ever actually read the words of most Christmas carols?), and I could not wait for the next morning, to hear my dad read the Christmas story from Luke 2, to watch my niece and nephew open their gifts and then to enjoy one my favorite Mason family traditions– the Christmas Seafood Feast.

I made an unscheduled stop at my grandmother’s house that morning, and while she couldn’t remember our names, she remembered that my cousin and I were her oldest and youngest “grands” and, according to my standards, that meant she was having a good enough day to get her out of the house, so, after a bit of protesting from her and convincing from us, we brought her to Christmas at our house

Things occurred just as expected, with the exception of my dad cutting lunch short so the grandkids could start opening presents. That was amusing.

Life was as Americana perfect as a Norman Rockwell painting. Until about 4:00 pm. That was when my brothers, their very pregnant wives, and their precocious precious toddlers left, headed out to other families and other activities.

And I was standing alone in my parents’ front yard.

And that’s when the dark cloud of mental assault hit me. What was I going to do the rest of the evening? Read? Research? Further my education and theological training? Rebel against looming due dates and go see a movie? Go home and continue the unexpected and rushed packing job I am doing?

I tried fighting the impending feeling of loneliness and loserness by throwing myself into Isaiah 54 mode. The Proverbs 31 women had left with their families, but the barren woman was going to sing for joy while I furthered the work of enlarging my tent and raising my spiritual children.

But there was no joyous song in my heart.

So many things have been written in the last couple of years about liberating women from the unrealistic expectation of being the Proverbs 31 woman, about releasing wives and moms everywhere from the unattainable standard of this perfect wife.

But as I stood in my parents’ yard, forcing a smile and silly waves and throwing and catching kisses with my babies, I was pitching a toddler sized fit in my head, with myself and with God. The grass is always greener on the other side, and at that moment, I would have traded my Isaiah 54 for some Proverbs 31 a thousand times over.

The deceptive, depressing thoughts came flooding:

“Must be nice to go with your own family to celebrate more. Too bad you’ll never have a family of your own.”

“Keep doing that research and earning those degrees and publishing your work. It’ll keep you busy, but it’ll never be anyone’s pride and joy like those grandbabies your brothers keep producing.”
I chided myself: “How dare you not be content in your singleness! Spiritual offspring is an eternal matter and counts much more than biological offspring. The love of Christ is better than the love of man. It’s better to be single and serve the Lord. Is being in the ideal position to do what you’ve been called to do not good enough for you?”

As I fought back tears and the physical feeling of being kicked in the stomach, I thought, “No, I don’t want to be the Isaiah 54 woman. Right now I want a husband to help and love and minister alongside, and I want kids to love and train and disciple. I don’t want to read 5,000 pages of school work or finish an overdue thesis proposal, or raise money to save families in Uganda, or prepare lesson plans for units coming up at school. I don’t want to ‘enlarge the place of my tent’ or ‘stretch my tent curtains wide.’ I’ve opened myself up to the vulnerability of ministry, and it’s a pain I don’t want anymore.

I don’t want to be the Isaiah 54 woman right now.”

As I pitched my hissy fit, I decided to go for a run to clear my head and adjust my attitude, to keep my body busy while my heart and mind had it out with God.

While I was running, three Scriptures were impressed upon my heart: one was a prayer for an old friend, but two were for me. The first was the “dare” God first placed in my heart when I completely surrendered my life to Him:

Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him. Psalm 34:8

It’s a passage God brings to mind every time I doubt His direction or ask myself what in the world I am doing with my life. He reminds me, “Just try me. Trust me again and I will not fail you again.”

The third passage has become a life verse of sorts for me. When God dared me to try Him and I did, this verse became my response to His faithfulness.

Because your love is better than life, my lips will praise you. Psalm 63:3

I have tasted the world, and it was bitter.

I have tasted the Lord and His way is better. Better than life. Better than anything in this life.

I had forgotten, ever so briefly, those two truths: God offers Himself to us fully, because He knows there’s nothing in this world that will satisfy us like Him.

So what of the Isaiah 54 woman?

Does she need to be liberated?

Only from the deception that we are to be the dutiful Stepford wife of Christ.

I share this not as a pitch for sympathy or encouragement (because the thoughts were taken captive, made obedient and the moment has passed), but because I know I can’t the only single girl out that there that sometimes has this moment and just needs to know it’s ok to have those times when you’re not ok with being single.

Be like the Psalmists; cry out in desperation. Express your frustrations and your selfish desires. Have a spiritual hissy fit.

But keep being like the Psalmist and renew your mind with the Truth of his Word and faithfulness.

Being an Isaiah 54 woman is reason to sing for joy, and sing I will, even on the days my heart deceives me, even for a moment, into thinking there is anything, at least in this season of my life, that is better for me in this life.

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How Do We Establish Healthy Boundaries in Relationships?


Boundaries define who you are and who you are not.

Boundaries often provide unhealthy individuals guidelines for change.

So how do we evaluate progress in setting boundaries?

Here are 17 questions you can ask yourself. In some of these areas you may find you are strong, and in some areas you may need to work toward developing and strengthening for protecting your physical, emotional and spiritual health.

  1. Am I able to say no to an unhealthy request?
  2. Am I able to understand that my happiness does not depend on other people?
  3. Do I find myself continually involved with people who end up hurting me?
  4. Can I choose individuals whom I can trust?
  5. Do I consider my opinion to be as important as others?
  6. Do people take or use things of mine without my permission?
  7. Can I ask other people for what I want or need, or do I fear making these request?
  8. Do I go along with other individuals, rather than voicing my desires?
  9. Do I feel proud of being an individual with unique qualities?
  10. Do I really believe I was created in God’s image?
  11. Have I found the balance between helping others and meeting my own needs?
  12. Am I able to determine what I think and what I believe?
  13. Am I able to make effective decisions?
  14. Am I able to get out of a relationship that continues to hurt me?
  15. Am I able to stay out of other people’s problems?
  16. Can I separate my own feelings and thoughts from others?
  17. Do I grasp that I am not responsible for other people’s behaviors and feelings?

Developing healthy boundaries may be a new venture for you and is likely to be a challenge. The checklist we just covered hopefully will help you become aware of some areas in your life in which you need to establish or strengthen boundaries that are needed in your life.

Don’t become discouraged–you can develop skills that will help you honor and protect what belongs to God. Developing these skills will have a huge impact on your physical, emotional, and spiritual health.

So I say to each of you, God bless you as you continue toward improving your physical, emotional, and spiritual health. Scripture offers safety –you are safe in the cleft of the rock which is God.

The Psalmist uses the imagery of protection in the word rock, in fact it is referred to 24 times.

The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliver: My God is my rock, in whom I take refuge—He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” Psalm 18:2, MSG

References

Cloud, H. &  Townsend, J. (1995). Safe People: How to find relationship that are good for you
    and avoid those that aren’t. Michigan: Zondervan.
Hawkins, D.,(2007). Dealing with the crazy makers in your life; Setting boundaries on unhealthy relationships. Oregon:  Harvest House Publishers.
Holman Christian Standard Bible. Nashville: Holman Bible Publisher, 2004. Print
The Message. Colorado: NavPress, 2006. Print

Why Establish Healthy Boundaries in Relationships?


Why do we need healthy boundaries?

You cannot break free from unhealthy individuals while standing in their presence. You will need healthy boundaries, because without healthy boundaries it will almost be impossible to maintain your physical, emotional and spiritual health. It is very important to stay alert, to develop a heightened sense of awareness, similar to Homeland Security. Your homeland is your body, your mind, and your spiritual health. The number one tactic of the enemy, using unhealthy people, is to catch you off guard– to catch you unaware.

If you become fascinated or intrigued by the unhealthy aggressive and manipulative behavior, you are vulnerable.  Breaking free from these attractions will require you to become more observant, to listen, not just hearing, but listening to what the unhealthy are saying. It will require discernment, prayer, educating yourself through God’s word and accountability to an individual who is spiritually grounded in the Word.

Paul has much to say about mind control and the devastation that occurs when we live according to the desires of the flesh. He must have known something about unhealthy and unsafe people.

But that’s no life for you. You learned Christ! My assumption is that you have paid careful attention to him, been well instructed in the truth precisely as we have it in Jesus. Since, then, we do not have the excuse of ignorance, everything—and I do mean everything—connected with that old way of life has to go. It is rotten through and through. Get rid of it!  And then take on an entirely new way of life—–a God-fashioned life, a life renewed from the inside and working itself into your conduct as God accurately reproduced His character in you. What this adds up to, then, is this: no more lies, no more pretenses. Tell your neighbor the truth. In Christ’s body we are connected to each other, after all. When you lie to others, you are lying to yourself. Ephesians 4: 20-25, MSG

Believe it or not, you can set boundaries and still be a loving individual. In fact, setting boundaries is a loving act. Imagine what it would be like if we had no boundaries.

What if we said yes to every request that came along?

There are legitimate boundaries. Legitimate boundaries are those we have for protection. We have the responsibility to protect our emotions, for controlling our behavior, our attitudes and our Christian beliefs.

Individuals who are relentless and persistent, those unhealthy individuals who have a hard time understanding the word “no,” will often be upset with our boundaries. Boundaries protect your time, your love, your energy, your emotional, spiritual, and physical health. Remember there is only so much of you to go around, and you alone are responsible for how you disperse each of these areas of your time, your love and your energy.

I love what John Bradshaw said in his book titled, Homecoming. It is never too late to have a healthy childhood. By that he means that, through new healthier boundaries, we can care for the child within us—raising him or her in healthier ways, to mature into the man or woman God created us to be. Boundaries help us learn and maintain our identity in Christ and keep us from placing others in the position of idols in our lives.

So how do we maintain our own identity in Christ and still serve and love one another well? We will look at some hard questions to ask ourselves in our last post.

Identifying Goats, Part Three


8. “Goats” have a negative versus positive attitude. Their glass is half empty.

From the old TV program Hee Haw:
Gloom despair and agony on me deep dark depression excessive misery. If weren’t for bad luck I would have no luck at all.

Gloom despair and agony on me.  The theme song for some people’s lives. They have allowed this tape to play over and over again in their head until it’s all they see or believe.  They desperately need you to manage their lives, to make them happy, to fix their problems, to be miserable when they are miserable—-they need you, without qualification or reservation—- over and over again. Sensing their need and not wanting them to be miserable, we rush to their side. We cannot fail to be influenced, whether for better or worse, by the people we choose to be a part of our lives. If constant drama and trauma and pain are a part of a friend’s life, and they expect you to experience each one with them without seeking a way to break the pattern, you will become exhausted and your own attitude and spiritual well-being will be affected.
Good company builds up our hearts.

Good company encourages us to step outside the box.

Good company is not threatened by our success.

In reality, healthy individuals help us to progress toward Christlikeness.

As you spend time with individuals, deciding whether or not the relationship will be good for you, you have to remember it takes time, objectiveness, seeking counsel from your friends who are spiritually grounded, to determine the health of a relationship. Sometimes it even means you may lose the relationship.

Take inventory of your relationships:

  1. Am I more loving since entering into this relationship or becoming more detached from family and friends?
  2. Am I more honest, or am I becoming compliant?
  3. Am I more forgiving or more idealistic, overlooking faults and concerns?
  4. Am I maturing or regressing?
  5. Whose needs are being met?

9. Unsafe people gossip instead of protecting your confidentiality.

There is nothing more painful or hurtful than having our most trusted information betrayed by someone to whom we had entrusted ourselves. In my counseling practice I have seen individuals who are incredibly wounded because someone violated their confidentiality or trust. The wounds are deep, often leaving permanent scars.

A gadabout gossip cannot be trusted with a secret, but someone of integrity will not violate a confidence.” Proverbs 11:13, MSG
Mean people spread mean gossip, their words smart and burn.” Proverbs 16:28, MSG

10.Unhealthy people are highly self-centered and self-obsessed.

They have an “ I versus We” perspective on life.

They see or hear no one else.

They are bad listeners and give little no consideration to what others have to say.

They are inconsiderate and have little compassion.

They will cut off conversations and bring the focus back on themselves.

It becomes their earnest desire to be seen and heard more than anyone else, making them oblivious to the opinions, suggestions, and advice of others.

Any conversation they participate in either pertains to them or eventually turns back to them.

They view others as a means to get what they want.

They have a tunnel vision which starts from and leads back to them.

They are driven by the fear of losing control.

Last, they tend to be moody and unpredictable.

They may be nice one minute and the next minute explosive.

The ten characteristics described in the previous posts are just a few of the unhealthy types of people we encounter on a daily basis. Whether or not we choose to enter into, or continue in, relationships with people who live within these patterns is a determining factor in our own mental, spiritual, and even physical health. In our next post, we will look at why healthy boundaries in relationships are so important to our own health.

Identifying Goats, Part Two


Here are four more characteristics of identifying the “Goats” in our lives.

4. Unhealthy and Unsafe people have no problem with lying versus telling the truth.

Have you met someone who you thought “you knew,” only to find out that person was not even close to the person you thought they were? Deception is a strong tool Satan uses to manipulate and to destroy us. Deception can destroy and weakened us spiritually and emotionally.  These individuals are selfish and self-centered. They use lying as a deceptive strategy to cling to and manage lives and relationships for their own personal gain. If one person in a relationship is a liar, the relationship will not grow or prosper.

But no one who traffics in lies gets a job with me; I have no patience with liars.” Psalm 101:7, MSG

5. Unhealthy and Unsafe people will demand your trust instead of earning your trust.

“Goats” feel they are entitled to your trust.

You will often hear statements like these:

“You just do not trust me.”

“Why are you questioning me about where I was or who I was with?”

“You do not believe me.”

“I really don’t need this, this is your problem not mine.”

And the more you try to put the pieces of the puzzle together, the more defensive the individual gets. They have a superiority of being above any question or explanation you ask. If you really want to upset them, ask them to prove their trustworthiness.

The only Being in the universe we can wholeheartedly trust is God Himself. People can earn trust in our lives by proving themselves to be trustworthy and Christ-seeking.

Trust God from the bottom of your heart, don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; He is the one who will keep you on track.” Proverbs 3:5-6, The MSG
6. Unhealthy and Unsafe people are self-righteousness instead of humble.

They are charming and delightful– as long as things are going their way.

Unsafe people rarely identify with fellow sinners and their struggles. Why? Because they see themselves as somehow above all of that, almost to the point they project  an “I am better than you” attitude. It will be very difficult for you to be on even ground with these individuals.  Sadly, some individuals who proclaim their Christianity have this type of mentality about sin in general.  They talk about other people “in the world” as if they are somehow not able to identify with them and their struggle with sin.

7. Unhealthy and Unsafe individuals will not be consistent in their behavior; they may appear stable for short periods of time, but they have longer periods of instability.

How does it make you feel when you try to help someone, only to find that all your efforts have been in vain?

What happens when what you do is never enough? Regardless of how many solutions you offer, none quite fits their needs. No solutions will lift them out of their misery. Look in the mirror and realize, “You cannot heal this person. Only God can heal and only individuals can choose to change.” Do not feel guilty about his or her dysfunction.
Important Note: There are legitimate burdens, overwhelming circumstances in which people genuinely need help.  Who we are and how we act are very closely related.  There are unhealthy characteristics in all of us that may be hidden for a period of time, but not for a life time. They will eventually leak out of each of us.

We should all be open to a little character audit, especially from the people we care about. Accountability is needed for personal spiritual, mental and physical health. It improves who we are and creates healthier relationships.  

Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness.  Let the Word of Christ – the Message- have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room  in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing; sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives, words, actions, whatever, be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way. Colossians 3:15-17, MSG

Identifying Goats, Part One


So what does a Goat look like?

Here are three of the characteristics Paul gives in 2 Timothy 3.

1. Individuals who think “they have it all together.”

These individuals will never admit any weakness. We know that relationships and friendships are built on confessing our weakness and vulnerabilities. Individuals who think they have it all together often will leave you feeling disconnected, weak, giving you the feeling you are beneath them.

There is often an implied superiority in the one who seems to have no need for other individuals. There is an imbalance in the relationship, and you often take the weaker role because this person will not allow you to be strong. You become dependent on the “strong one” because the weaker individual is attracted to the stronger one.

James 5:16 says, ”Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed (HCSB).” There is to be an equality in Christ-centered friendships that allows us room for give and take as we bear one another burdens and work together through the daily joys and sorrows of life. When one person dominates a relationship, that is a warning sign that there is an unhealthy imbalance in the relationship.
2. Individuals who are religious instead of spiritual.

Religious individuals are dedicated to God, Biblical knowledge, appearing strong and having it all together.

The question is: do they really know God?

Do they allow themselves to open up about their struggles, their sinfulness and imperfections?

Are they truly relational individuals?

There is a difference between people who are religious and people who are spiritual. Spiritually healthy individuals draw us closer to being the people God intended us to be. These individuals demonstrate character traits that are good enough that their very presence on our lives is positive.  These individuals are accepting and honest and are very much present in our lives. They help us bear good fruit in our lives.

We are intended to be in relationships, healthy relationships. God designed us first to be in a relationship with Him. Proverbs 13:20: ”Become wise by walking with the wise, hang out with fools and watch your life fall to pieces (MSG).”

Proverbs 14:7: “Escape quickly from the company of fools, they are a waste of your time, a waste of your words.”

Proverbs 14:12-13: “There is a way of life that looks harmless enough, look again- it leads straight to hell. Sure these people appear to be having a good time but all the laughter will end in heartbreak.

Galatians 5: 25-26: “Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implication in every detail of our lives. That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original.

Goats often push those around them to become more religious, to follow more rules or to become more like them.

Sheep walk with us, mutually encouraging one another to become more like Christ.

3. Individuals who have no problem saying “I am sorry” but never change their behavior

These individuals avoid working on their problems. Instead of dealing with the issues in their life, they shut off any awareness of their own problems and of the God who has the power to transform.

You will often notice:

  • Statements like, “I don’t have a problem, I can change.”
  • These individuals often avoid complete submission to God or His will
  • They refuse to own their imperfections
  • A refusal to forgive others
  • A lack of a hunger and thirst for righteousness
  • A lack empathy
  • They blame others

True confession and repentance involves simply accepting responsibility and then committing to a change in behavior. Those who apologize but always explain or justify their behavior are not interested in glorifying God, but glorifying themselves.

Goats talk a good talk, but don’t change.

Sheep continually allow the Holy Spirit to make them more like Jesus by admitting shortcomings and allowing them to be strengthened in Christ.

Do You Have Goats in Your Life?


Have you ever asked yourself these questions:

  • Why do I keep being attracted to the same friends?
  • Why do I choose people who let me down?
  • Why is my boss so critical, what have I done?
  • Why do I attract irresponsible people?
  • Why am I drawn to the wrong types of people, what is it about me that attracts them, what do I have written across my forehead?  Why? Why?

Some of the reasons may be:

  • Fear. We act on the need to reach out for a relationship; we are afraid to say “no,” afraid to set boundaries from fear of rejection.
  • We are stressed, need companionship, someone to listen to our problems– and even our joys and successes.
  • We see an individual who appears to have wisdom, understanding, and empathy, and they often appear to offer guidance and soft place to fall.
  • We lack the ability to say “no” to our destructive impulses.
  • We do not like to hear other people tell us no, even if it is in our best interest.
  • We seek instant gratification.
  • We are “fixers.” We can make them better. “They need me,” we tell ourselves.
  • We are easily manipulated and controlled.
  • We want intimacy and closeness, and do not consider the cost failing of to ask ourselves, “Whose needs are being met?”
  • We fear of abandonment.
  • We do not like confrontation and we lack the skills for resolving conflict.
  • We choose to be a victim, consciously or subconsciously, instead of choosing a purposely, passionate, Christlikeness that exercises self-control.
  • We battle addictions and compulsiveness ourselves.
  • Our life is disorganized with a lack of commitment to God.

Proverbs 14:15 says, ”The gullible believe anything they are told. The prudent lift and weigh every word.”
Proverbs 14:30 says, ”A sound mind makes for a robust body, but runaway emotions corrode the bones.

Often our desire for companionship, or our own unhealthy past experiences, cloud our judgment and prevent us from making godly choices in relationships. But by studying God’s Word concerning people and relationships, we can learn to be wise, sound minded, and in control of our emotions as we build godly relationships.

So what does a Goat look like? From 1Timothy we identified 19 characteristics of unhealthy individuals. In the coming days we will look at 10 of those characteristics.