Awkward: a new way to cut grass and do life

“Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love…let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes.”

Ephesians 4:2, 23

Let me tell you a story about a missionary I recently got to visit with here in Papua New Guinea.

After years of living in the jungle, learning language and culture, and the excitement of presenting the Gospel in their heart language, he was preparing to teach the brand-new believers in his village through Ephesians chapters 4 and 5.  During lesson prep, he was considering God’s instructions for husbands and wives and how mind-boggling and challenging they would seem to these couples who have never, until now, even attempted to build a marriage based on Christ’s example of laying down every right for the sake of the other. He knew that trying this out was going to feel awkward for them; it would be totally different from the way things have always been. So he decided to use cutting the grass as an illustration.

This people group grows a lot of their own food, and they often prepare the ground for new gardens by clearing the grass. Except they have no lawnmowers.

They use a blade attached to a long handle. It’s shaped a little like a hockey stick, and in Tok Pisin, they call it a sarep. To use it, they walk back and forth, back and forth, forcefully swinging this tool to chop the grass right at the level of the dirt. It is hard, tiresome work, and there is definitely a technique to it.

The missionary asked this brand-new church: “What if you had been cutting grass with your right hand, year after year, your whole life, since you were a child?”

His lesson went something like this: What if, suddenly, you were told that you need to use your left hand instead? When it came time to cut the grass again, it would feel right to reach for your tool with your right hand. Every time you went to pick it up, you would have to fight that habit and remember to stop and reach with your left hand instead. It would take slow, awkward growth toward doing this work in a new way. That’s what it’s like to “throw off your old nature and your former way of life.” That’s what it’s like to “let the Spirit renew your thinking and attitude.” When you go to do the work of marriage, you are used to reaching for your own strength and understanding, and that’s what feels right. But you have to stop and choose to reach for something better. You have to let the Spirit teach you a new way to cut the grass.

This week, I was listening to a video teaching session on Colossians by Ruth Chou Simons, and I jotted down this quote, which I thought explained really well why we so badly need to switch hands:

“I thought it would be possible to have enough self-control to be the kind of wife I wanted to be…but I couldn’t make progress toward [it] because I was motivated by my own reputation, my own ideas of success, and my own ability to achieve. Love on the other hand is a greater motivator.”

I loved the insight that we often tackle good goals with weak motivations. Scripture calls us to be humble, gentle, and patient; to plan on each other screwing up, and to plan on making allowance for that. To look at our relationships, and budget for the forgiveness we will need to extend.

Why? To look good? To get my family to change by what a good job I do? To guarantee an outcome? To secure God’s help?

No. Because of His love.

As I become more and more like my Savior, and do the awkward work of yielding to His way of doing things, I start to speak and act in a way that is driven by love. Not by outcomes, not by lust for control or approval, but by a determined pursuit of what is best for someone else.

That is not my normal way of thinking. I am used to a different mentality and I slip easily into old thoughts and attitudes. So I need to throw them off again and again, to fight against old habits, reach with my left hand, and let Him renew my whole mindset.

“Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes.”

Ephesians 4:21-22

So here I am, learning right alongside these brand-new believers, the uncomfortable, humbling work of exchanging my weak motivations for the compelling love of Christ and my flagging determination for a source of strength that never grows weak or weary.

Oh Lord,

Please do this in me this morning. Humble my heart, draw me to the place where I behold your love and I’m awestruck by it. Let it flow through me so that in all my interactions, I am gentle, patient, and ready to extend grace. Change me more and more so that, because of you and your work in me, I cherish others.

As I decide how to respond to whatever this day before me holds, help me to lay aside the old way of thinking and my self-dependence, and to reach, however awkwardly, for you.

Hair vs. Care: steps toward becoming a motherly mother

“Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty of fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry,  or beautiful clothes. You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God.”

1 Peter 3:3-4

I have been wanting to try out this short-in-the-back, long-in-the-front, curly, sassy haircut for a while now. Last week I took the plunge and chopped mine. I have always loved short hair because it’s so low maintenance. But I made a critical error: I do not have curly hair.

On the days I can find 10 minutes to style it, I’m in love. But on the days I have to set aside how my hair looks to handle the less obvious but more important things, I’m kind of wishing I’d stuck with a haircut that lends itself to a ponytail.

This verse in 1 Peter echoes Colossians 3 with its advice to adjust my mindset to the unseen things. It is natural to be drawn to and elevate the importance of what I can see. But what matters most is not as obvious as a hairstyle or how I dress or what I earn or what I live in.

What matters most about me is hidden in Christ. What matters most to the Lord are the hidden qualities he is cultivating in the inner person; and they are precious, and they are beautiful, but they are not obvious. They do not call attention to themselves. They are praiseworthy, but they often go unpraised.

People have been asking me if I am loving being a mother. Don’t get me wrong, I love my son deeply and I’m thrilled with who he is and savoring the sweet moments with him, but do I love being a mom? The answer is no. I feel like a failure all the time. I feel unimportant and invisible. I don’t feel very motherly. There are sweet moments, but there are also a lot of moments where I just feel tired and annoyed and unfulfilled. 

So I took some time this week to iron out in my mind the concept of what “being motherly” is,  and it came down to two central qualities: unselfishness and humility.

A motherly person puts the needs of another at the top of her agenda, above her own plans and desires and passions and vision. Being motherly is saying “no” to myself so I can say “yes” to my baby over and over and over again all day long. It is humbling myself to lay aside all I would like to be, all I would like to excel at, in order to care for him. 

And I do not feel very motherly, because I am not unselfish. I grate against the calling of motherhood, because I am not humble.

But perhaps mothering is not just the raising of a child, perhaps it is the making of a mother.

Perhaps the process itself is a beautiful thing because it is movement toward humility and unselfishness, even though that is not where I start from. 

So, Lord,

I bring these costly, beautiful qualities before you and I confess that I need you to change me. I desperately want the hidden person within to be beautiful in these ways.

To be willing to be hidden, I must become humble. To mother kindly and fully and whole-heartedly, I must become unselfish. I must lay aside the need to have an identity totally independent of being a mom. This is a central part of who I am now and I cannot sacrifice it because I want to excel in some other domain.

I must remember that the character you desire for me is something worth all I must give to chase after it. To be gentle and meek is not a mark of failure. It is strength held in check by kindness and humility; it is power and ability willingly laid down at the feet of the One who is worthy to direct it. 

So Lord, move me toward humility. Let me love to be hidden in you. And help me see that it is a good thing you are doing in me, even here and now, where it doesn’t feel so good.

“May he equip you with all you need
    for doing his will.
May he produce in you,
    through the power of Jesus Christ,
every good thing that is pleasing to him…”

Hebrews 13:21