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.

Single Sexuality?

In today’s culture, sexuality is synonymous with sexual activity. The world teaches that we are sexual beings and should therefore act on any sexual desire we have. Scripture teaches that there is a difference between sexuality and sexual activity.

So if, as Christian singles, we choose to obey Christ and abstain from sexual activity, how do we express our God-given sexuality in God-glorifying ways? Some answers to that question can be found in this article by Ellen Dykas, the Women’s Ministry Coordinator for Harvest USA.

Singleness Wears Steel-Toed Boots

When I arrived in Raleigh Sunday night, it was after 20 hours of travel over 4,000 miles, an ocean, and two continents. Those who know me well understand that when I am tired I tend to revert to my toddler self: weepy temper tantrums are not rare when I am fatigued. So I was not surprised when I arrived in baggage claim and was suddenly overwhelmed with the desire to plop down on the floor, throw my backpack, and cry.

What did surprise me, however, was my physical, emotional, and spiritual response to seeing that the baggage claim was full of the wives, children, mothers and fathers of some of my team members. There was an instantaneous feeling like I had literally kicked in the stomach– the physical side effect of loneliness. My first, self-pitying thought was, “Singleness not only kicks you when you’re down, it wears steel-toed boots.” Aloneness is never more glaringly obvious than when you realize that you have no one to go home to.

When I lived in Chattanooga, homecomings from mission trips were a big deal. We would arrive from Honduras to a baggage claim full of friends and family. I’ve now come “home” to Wake Forest from two mission trips, and my immediate response has been the same both times– I’ve experienced the physical emptiness of being kicked by the army boot-wearing enemy, Alone. Being that I tend to be a people person to a fault, this never sits well with me. The last two years I have truly made peace with my singleness; I enjoy being able to serve the Lord however He sees fit to use me. But contentment does not always mean steady, unfailing joy in the situation. Paul may have been content in the Lord while in jail, but I’m certain that he still would have preferred his freedom.

But while I was standing at the baggage carousel waiting for my bags, I couldn’t shake the image of my singleness treading on me in steel-toed boots. I instantly shut down and isolated myself in my thoughts, desperately crying out to the Lord to perform a miracle and ensure that I not cry in front of all of these people. And in that moment of solitude amidst the chaos, the Lord gently expanded my understanding of those work boots I felt were walking all over me.

I thought about Emily, who spent a couple of days in tears because it was the first time she had been away from her son for more than a night. I remembered how much Jason missed his son while we were in Amsterdam. I thought of Rob and Nick and Mitch and Bill and Dr. James, who had all made comments about wanting to get back to their wives and families. And then I thought about how I hadn’t really missed anyone the 15 days we were out of the country. Living in Wake Forest is a discipline in missing my family; I didn’t miss them in Amsterdam any more or less than I would any other day.  And then I thought of the words of the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 7 when he addressed singleness and ministry: “But I say to the unmarried and the widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I…. Only, as the Lord has assigned to each one, as God has called each, in this manner let him walk….But I want you to be free from concern. One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord; but one who is married is concerned about the things of this world, how he may please his wife, and his interests are divided. The woman who is unmarried, and the virgin, is concerned about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit; but one who is married is concerned about the things of this world, how she may please her husband. This I say not for your own benefit; not to put a restraint upon you, but to promote what is appropriate and to secure undistracted devotion to the Lord” (1 Cor. 7: 8,17,32-35).

We are encouraged to serve the Lord in whatever circumstance we are in when He calls us into His service. For me, I was and, at the moment remain, single. That is how I am to serve Him, and when I am focused on Him, His kingdom, His glory, and not myself, I find no greater joy than giving Him my undivided attention. Even in my weary state, I recognized the still small voice of the Holy Spirit convicting me to a closer relationship with Himself, calling me away from me and back to Him and His all-sufficient grace and mercy.

I still think my singleness wears steel-toed boots. But now I think of them as the footwear essential for wearing the full armor of God at this time in my life. And the only time I am going to get kicked by them is when I get in the way of the work the Lord is doing in and through me.