Kevin Williamson at National Review is one of my favorite writers. The Atlantic hired him away from National Review last year but got cold feet at the last minute when some readers complained about his “extreme” views on abortion. Too bad for The Atlantic because Williamson is one of the most knowledgeable — and one of the best, if not the best — writers on current affairs, be they political, economical, or cultural. His columns are generally always well-written and thought-provoking.
But where he truly excels is in the columns he writes at Christmas and Easter. I’m surprised it’s not those columns that caused the ruckus when The Atlantic hired him. Williamson reminds me of Johnny Hart, the cartoonist who drew the B.C. comic strip. After he became a Christian until his death, Hart drew special cartoons for Easter and Christmas that often got him into hot water. But Hart didn’t let that keep him from drawing those very special cartoons.
Williamson isn’t likely to get into hot water with the readership of National Review over his faith-based columns, but I’m still impressed that he would make it a regular practice to write them. And, somehow, I don’t think Williamson would do it any differently if he were writing for The Atlantic instead.
Williamson and I don’t share the same theology, his being a Catholic and my being an evangelical, but we do share the same Savior. And Williamson’s column, “They Fled from the Tomb,” at National Review today is a beautiful Easter meditation well worth any Christian’s reading. If you haven’t already, take a few minutes and read it. You’ll be glad you did.
Pretty much all of us have expectations about how life will turn out – at least those of us who live in the West and who grew up in reasonably normal homes. The interesting thing is, we may not even realize we harbor these expectations until they’re upended or threatened in some way.
My hairdresser and her family have been enduring a nightmare that has gone on for over five years. Totally out of the blue, her husband fell victim to an exceedingly rare autoimmune disease that causes all the muscles in the body to cramp, producing excruciating pain. It took years to even get a diagnosis – and there isn’t a whole lot that can be done for it. Whether they had ever articulated them or not, like all of us, this couple had expectations about their life together that didn’t include a chronic, totally debilitating – not to mention expensive – illness. They may have had “for better or worse” in their wedding vows, but I doubt this was the “worse” they envisioned.
Close friends of ours saved their money diligently in the expectation that they would be able to travel and spend time with their grandchildren once they retired. Then the husband developed a rare form of dementia and the wife spent seven exhausting years caring for him and watching him deteriorate until God mercifully took him home a month after his 69th birthday. A month after that, their only child and her family moved nearly 700 miles away, leaving our grieving friend missing not only her beloved husband but also her beloved daughter and grandchildren.
A young woman who used to work for me – a talented artist with all her life ahead of her – was hit with postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS) and various other neurological issues that have made it almost impossible for her to function in any normal way. Yet she’s continued her education online and is close to graduating from college. She works on her art when she can. Her life had been hard even before her diagnoses, but her illnesses have short-circuited any expectations she might have had of the kind of life most people her age take for granted.
In my own household, my husband has been fighting cancer and living with the devastating consequences of the treatments that have kept the cancer at bay. A rare cancer in the mouth inflicted on a man who has never smoked.
The one thing all of us in these situations – and I could name multiple more – almost certainly have in common is that whatever expectations we had about how life would turn out, none of us expected it would turn out quite this way.
The apostle Paul never expected his life would turn out the way it did either. Paul called himself a “Hebrew of Hebrews” and a “as to the Law, a Pharisee.” He was a fanatical persecutor of the Jewish Christians. He stood by at Stephen’s stoning and even sought permission from the high priest to go to Damascus and bind and drag any Jewish followers of Jesus he found there back to Jerusalem. Then he met Jesus, and his life was never the same. Instead of being the persecutor, he became the persecuted, one who was reviled, jailed, beaten, and ultimately executed for his faith.
Yet in Philippians 4:11, Paul says that he had learned to be content in whatever circumstances he found himself. We may think being content in such difficult circumstances is a lot to ask, but in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, Paul goes beyond contentment and exhorts us to be grateful in whatever circumstances we find ourselves. Some interpret 1 Thessalonians 5:18 to mean that we should give thanks for everything that comes our way because it’s God’s will for us – and perhaps it does mean that. But what I believe Paul is saying is that it’s the spirit of gratitude in the circumstance – not necessarily the circumstance, itself – that’s God’s will for us.
Either way, these are hard sayings when the circumstances of our lives differ so radically from our expectations. Giving up on those cherished expectations is tough enough. Developing a spirit of contentment and gratitude while relinquishing them can seem a bridge too far. But Paul has a word for us there, as well.
“Indeed,” Paul says, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil. 3:8, ESV) For Paul, the circumstance that makes all other circumstances bearable is the priceless treasure of knowing Christ Jesus his Lord. And the great expectation that overrides all others is the expectation of spending eternity with Him in heaven. Whatever our life circumstances, if we put our trust in Jesus, that’s an expectation that’s available to all of us. And that great expectation can make the circumstances we never expected easier to bear.
It’s the beginning of a new year, and I’ve established many, uh, aspirations, I’ll call them. Not resolutions, because then I’d have to admit I’ve already broken most of them. Not goals, because I’d have to make them “S.M.A.R.T” — so all the productivity experts say, anyway — with plans and steps and deadlines for achieving them. Not happening. So I’ll just call them aspirations.
As long as you don’t turn them into resolutions or goals, aspirations don’t place a lot of demands on a person. But mine do seem to be making me more attune to things that would bring me closer to becoming the person I aspire to be. Case in point, this week I read an excerpt from James Clear’s Atomic Habits that got me thinking about how I think about my life.
According to Clear, we could all be happier if we changed just one word in the self-talk running through our minds all day. Clear says that instead of going through our days telling ourselves we “have” to do this or we “have” do that, we should say we “get” to do this or that. It doesn’t sound like a big deal; you may have even heard this before. But it got my attention because I do, in fact, often bemoan — in my mind, at least — all the things I think I have to do.
Such a little thing — changing that one word — but it works because there’s an element of gratitude implicit in approaching the daily tasks of life as things we “get” to do rather than things we “have” to do. It’s the gratitude — not the “get to” — that really makes the difference in our happiness. It would make an even greater difference if we added, “God gave me” — as in, I get to do these things because God gave me the strength or the ability or the opportunity — and recognized that we owe our gratitude to Him.
I seldom listen to music when I’m in my car. A podcast is more my style. But on a recent errand-running day, I pulled out an old Oak Ridge Boys CD and slipped it into my car’s CD player. As I drove from stop to stop, I had a great time singing along to the old hits, but one in particular – “Everyday” – stayed in my head.
“Everyday” has a catchy tune, so it’s no surprise it was a hit when it was released back in the ’80s. But it was the song’s message that grabbed my attention on my errand day. The second stanza begins, “A kind word never goes unheard, but too often goes unsaid. On the tongues of the old and the young, it’s swallowed up in pride instead.” So true. Whether out of pride, apathy, or just plain self-absorption we too often neglect to say the kind, encouraging word that could make a difference in someone’s day.
When Paul enjoined the Thessalonians to “encourage one another and build each other up,” his message was meant for future Christians, too. “With all the trouble and sorrow in the world,” as the song goes on to say, no one escapes heartache and pain. And everyone of us can use a kind, encouraging word “everyday.”
As this new year begins, let’s challenge ourselves to follow Paul’s instruction and the song’s plea to “take a kind word into the street and share it with everybody [we] meet.” Instead of letting pride and apathy keep us silent, let’s make the effort to make someone’s day with kindness and encouragement. After all, to quote the song one more time, for Christians, “it seems like the least we can do.”
Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh. – Genesis 2:24
Douglas Mainwaring, whose same-sex attraction broke up his marriage nearly twenty years ago, has a poignant essay in Public Discourse about the powerful witness of a faithful marriage. In his essay, Mainwaring describes how the marriage and family life of one of his son’s friends helped lead him to reconciliation with his wife and the recovery of his own marriage.
When his son would come home from visiting this friend, “All I had to do was look into Chris’s eyes,” Mainwaring writes, “to see that he wished he had a family like theirs—a family with a gregarious, big-hearted, and affectionate Mom and Dad who clearly loved each other. I knew that this was precisely what I had deprived Chris and his brother of.”
“It was this very loving marriage,” Mainwaring goes on to say, “that first caused me to wonder if I had made a huge mistake in divorcing my wife and breaking our family apart.” Ultimately, the influence of this marriage and this family on his son caused Mainwaring to decide that he “had no choice but to find a way to bring our family back together.”
Mainwaring’s essay is entitled, “Your Marriage: You Have No Idea of the Good You Are Doing,” and this is the point of his essay. The parents of his son’s friend had no idea that simply by faithfully living out their marriage, they were having such a profound impact on Mainwaring and his son. By recounting this story, Mainwaring wants his readers to understand that their own faithful marriages can also affect the lives of others in profound ways they could never imagine.
Take a few minutes to read Mainwaring’s entire essay, and you’ll gain a new appreciation for the power of an ordinary marriage.
I exhort, therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. – 1 Timothy 2:1-2
Three weeks into the new year, and I’m just now writing a blog post. That after promising myself – we won’t call it a resolution – that I would get back to writing in my blog this year. I’ve never posted to this blog as consistently as I’d like – though I keep paying the annual fee to keep the domain name – but 2016 was a bad year for writer’s block. Between my husband’s continuing battle with cancer and the state of our nation, motivation to write has been hard to come by.
But just this week, someone new started following my blog, so if for no other reason, I figure I owe it to that kind soul to post something. But where to start?
We have a new president. Not my choice, though he did get my vote. I was a never-Trumper until the very last minute, when I finally decided that I couldn’t contribute in any way to Hillary’s becoming president, nor could I in good conscience abstain from voting. And I have to confess to enjoying a certain amount of unChristian-like schadenfreude at seeing liberals and progressives so flummoxed by Trump’s victory.
But I can’t shake the feeling that we’ve bought a pig in a poke, as the saying goes. And my schadenfreude may soon turn into a bad case of buyer’s remorse.
Still, as we well know, God is in control. Trump’s victory didn’t take him by surprise. And while I don’t buy the idea – as some seem to – that Trump has undergone some sort of religious conversion, I do know God can work through the ungodly as well as the godly. Our role now, whether we voted for him or not, is to pray that God will work in and through President Trump to bring about good for this nation and the world.