Recently, on The Bible in a Year podcast, Father Mike Schmitz shared the story of a parishioner who was frustrated that he was bringing the same sins to confession week after week. The individual was ready to move past these sins once and for all. Rather than berating the confessor, Father Mike offered a different take: how wonderful that the man knew which areas of sin needed his attention, rather than having to deal with a whole different crop of sins each week!
I feel similarly about the learning I have been doing in recent months. I long for new revelations and original material. Instead, God keeps taking me back to things I thought I’d learned and apparently need to learn more fully. I am coming to see the beauty in this deepening of wells that had already been dug. As I transition from knowledge (the acquisition of facts) to wisdom (the application of that knowledge), my understanding in some areas has become so much richer and fuller that these expanding revelations feel almost new.
All of that is my long-winded way of saying that if these things I learned this fall seem familiar, it’s because many of them are. But each of them is so crucial to my own formation that they are worthy of learning once again.
About God and Faith, I Am Learning. . .
1. The end goal of faith is a loving relationship with God.
Our church is doing a sermon series on a spiritual formation book called Mansions of the Heart, and reading it has opened my eyes to something I’ve been getting VERY wrong in my approach to spiritual formation—namely, that I was desiring the wrong outcomes. The book’s author explains that some commonly pursued end-goals of spiritual formation are holiness, service, wholeness, evangelism, and enlightened understanding, and while these are worthy pursuits, they are subsequent to the primary goal of growing in a loving relationship with God. Love for God is not incidental to the spiritual journey or means to a greater goal; it is the very essence of my faith life and the ultimate goal. In seeking after the Lord and His heart in all things, I will naturally produce fruit of holiness, wholeness, service, and wisdom . . . but these secondary callings of following and serving God are dependent on the depth of my intimacy with Jesus, who calls us first and foremost into a personal relationship built on love.
2. Our actions are informed by our emotions, which are fed by what we think.
Spiritual warfare begins in the mind: the enemy of our souls is a master of deception, and his primary weapon against us is through the untruths he plants within our minds. A theme of renewing of the mind has been all around me this season, and various books, podcasts, and sermons are revealing the importance of having right-thinking around various issues if I want to produce healthy spiritual fruit. An understanding of how important it is for me to believe the right things—the TRUE things—has prompted my quest for truth in the past couple of months, and changing my thinking around a number of issues really has shifted my emotions and subsequently my own actions.
3. I have been believing a lot of lies.
That quest for truth has exposed so many lies that I was not even aware of (and also sin that I had no idea was present). In my writing and personal reflection I’ve uprooted lies I was believing about God and motherhood and entitlement and even the nature of truth itself. I’ve only skimmed the surface, and though this journey has not been easy, it is one I am thankful for.
About the Church and Community, I Am Learning . . .
4. Christian community is a tremendous gift.
As an introvert, I can often give in to the assumption that I don’t need people. I embraced that assumption after the twins’ birth and especially with COVID restrictions that made in-person connection difficult. In my current season, I am happily immersed once again in friendship and community and recognizing how the lack of connection over the past two years was deeply harmful to my soul. I am now experiencing life-giving encouragement, support, and wisdom through my participation in various Bible study groups and one-on-one friendships. I am noticing the ways God can speak and work through community that simply aren’t possible in my solitary relationship with the Lord. We humans were created for connection, and I am seeing the beauty of this so much more now than I ever have before.
5. As Christians, we can resist culture by looking different from culture.
Today’s church is experiencing levels of hostility and opposition from secular culture that few of us have experienced in our lifetimes. The most meaningful way to resist secularism isn’t by trying to look more like the rest of the world, or by fighting the world with hostility, but by standing distinct from culture in ways that reflect the heart of Christ. We are to be against evil, but we are also to be enthusiastically for good. This is true for us as individuals, but even more so as a community of believers; in fact, our very commitment to intentional community is a stark contrast to the secular world that prioritizes individualism and isolation.
6. We each have unique callings, convictions, and passions.
There is a lot of conflict within the western church right now, and I am realizing that many of our problems stem from differing approaches and different priorities. The hard-hitting truth-tellers are in conflict with those who desire a more gentle approach to unity; social justice warriors butt heads with communities focused more on personal spiritual formation; mega church philosophies are misaligned with the practices of smaller church gatherings. I’m sure there are some approaches or priorities that are more God-honoring than others, but I am starting to see how we need them all. There is a place for a broad spectrum of worship styles, teaching methods, and missions within the greater Church, and simply because another church is doing things differently from my own does not make it bad or wrong. This is true on an individual level as well: we can’t all be passionate about all the things, and rather than fighting over which issues need our attention (diversity, evangelism, refining doctrine, etc.), it is beneficial to God’s greater mission if we stop squandering our energy on tearing each other down and instead focus on supporting those who are doing things a little differently. (As I write this, I am realizing I have so much more to say on this topic . . . stay tuned for a full post!)
Through Life and Family, I Am Learning. . .
7. It’s okay to accept help.
I am really, really not great at asking for help from others, especially when it comes to parenting my kids. Not only am I not great at asking for it, but it’s hard for me to swallow my pride and accept it—even when it is offered, and when I need it desperately. Parenting twins has forced me to humble myself in this area, especially when they were newborns but even now in their terrible two stage. Last month, Kali and Sully had their first public double tantrum when we were at our gym. None of my usual tactics for calming them down were working, and I didn’t know how I would get two kicking and screaming toddlers to our car in one piece. When the gym babysitter came out to offer assistance, I started to decline but realized I really had no other options. We each picked up a twin, and the crying and screaming immediately stopped. We had a calm walk to the car, and my embarrassment subsided when the sitter expressed how happy she had been to serve us in this way. My accepting her help did not make me a failure of a mother, and saying yes to her simple act of service allowed her to be a blessing that benefitted ALL of us.
8. I need to start practicing what I preach around homeschooling.
Our list of reasons for homeschooling is long and always growing, but one of our original “why’s” for choosing to homeschool is that it gives us the flexibility to educate our kids in ways that suit their individual needs. But in the past few months, I began to see how my insistence on schooling Charleston in a certain way was not at all honoring of his educational needs. We have started to make some tweaks that have made learning easier and more fun for him: we now do school in shorter blocks of time throughout the day rather than all at once; we have added in some subjects and more hands-on projects that he is excited about; I’ve gotten okay with him doing his work on the floor instead of at a desk; and he is now allowed to listen to Adventures in Odyssey when he does copywork or drawing. These shifts might not be what I would have wanted for our schooling, but they are what he needs, and that must take priority if our deeper homeschooling goals are to be met.
9. I LOVE having our whole family together.
To end on a simple but very high note—the gathering of all of our parents at the twins’ birthday was one of the most joyful moments of the year. Having everyone we love in one place was an amazing gift that I do not take for granted. It was the first time we’ve all been together since the twins were born and I hope we can make it happen again sooner rather than later, for ALL of our sakes!
As you reflect back on this fall season, what is one thing you learned? Or something you RE-learned? I would be honored if you would share it with me. Drop a note in the comments or, if you are reading this via email, just hit respond—I read every one!