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.