[I risk losing my small pool of readers by using the word “textbook” in the title of this post. The dreaded word haunted me for
my entire life each and every school year until I finally donned the ol’ cap n’ gown in May. But I promise, this doesn’t have much to do with textbooks. I really just needed a word that began with ‘t’ to go with Tuesday. And because it’s a little later than I would prefer to get started, I am not feeling very imaginative. A new series I’m starting is going to be called “Textbook Tuesday” and will be a commentary, summary, explanation, or digestion of what I’ve been reading lately. As usual, readers are welcome to comment, suggest, critique, and otherwise engage in conversation.]
I’ve been doing a bit of reading lately. No, I still haven’t finished the Harry Potter series. And yes, I was reading two books before I started that. And yes, I’ve picked up three more since. And yes three books just came in the mail. Something that has been hard for me lately is setting aside time to read. I quickly forget how much I enjoy reading when I put my mind to it. That may be in part because I hated reading for as far back as I can remember, as long as it was a school-related thing. It’s like I have to say “Kaia, remember, you don’t hate this” every single time I think about reading.
Over the weekend I started the book Stronger Than You Think by Kim Gaines Eckert. (She lives in Chattanooga, which makes the book THAT much cooler to me.) Eckert begins to unveil the purpose of her book with this idea of wholeness. Specifically wholeness for women. The basic idea here is that women (men, too) have an oddly configured idea of what it means to be whole. There are cultural, social, and spiritual reasons for why this is. But the reason why we have become so disillusioned about our need to be whole and our need for fulfillment is because our expectations for wholeness are unattainable. Though many of us know (in theory) that we cannot experience true wholeness on this earth, we go every which way trying to prove ourselves “wrong.” As if we’re double-checking our rear-view mirrors, except in this case we’re double-checking what we already know to be true in Scripture. Go us, right? Brilliant.
Eckert shares what Henry Nouwen has to say about one specific area that folks get tied up in their minds with this unrealistic idea of wholeness:
“Many marriages are ruined because neither partner was able to fulfill the often hidden hope that the other would take his or her loneliness away.”
I’m not married, so obviously this is not a possible area of sin in my life, right? Uh….
Not a day goes by that I do not feel disappointment at some point or another. By someone. By something. By myself. And I am ashamed to admit this. I don’t think I realized now how embarrassing this is for me until typing that out just now. Oops! Have I become so unhappy and discontent? I have. It is such a massive area of sin for me that I don’t even know where to begin with it. (Everyone else is feeling hopeless, right?)
Like all personal issues, the first step to dealing with a problem is admitting you have one (thanks 12-step!). But I mean…I get that. I think my mind wanders next to this question. Though I know I am not seeking only God’s will and purpose to fulfill me, will I ever get to a place where I stop chasing after all of these fleeting avenues of wholeness? Like, will I ever stop having spats of spiritual ADD? When will I stop trying to be so sneaky by going around God to get what I can only have if I am resting in the palm of his hand? (Same hands, by the way, that created the world.) Seriously. Our God is not the God of reverse psychology. So I really need to cool my jets.
Point being…I don’t know that I’ll ever have clear answers to any of these questions, but I’ve realized that I need to move beyond those questions to at the very least begin to see the many ways in which this sin of (pretty much) idolatry has infiltrated my life. So that I can ask for forgiveness from God and from those I have already hurt. And ask for grace for when I mess up again. But those thoughts are more appropriate for my personal journal and less appropriate as a headline for this post.
Okay, so here are three biggies that I’ve taken away from the first four chapters of this text.
1. Being whole does not mean being perfect. Physically. Emotionally. Sexually. Spiritually. According to anyone’s standards – yours included. Wholeness is not something we are really equipped to gauge, let alone tell others to adhere to. The problem we face with this truth is that it is nearly impossible to hear this message, let alone let it soak into one’s mind, being, and belief system. Wholeness will not be achieved through a perfect marriage (oh, the one where both partners “waited,” the dad brings home $100,000 a year while the mother bears children all the livelong day). There are glimpses of these kinds of messages. Like the Dove campaign attempting to get women to cool it on how self-deprecating they can be. The only tried and true place to find this message is in Scripture. So how about let’s read it.
2. “Intimate relationships that reflect God’s character should preserve and protect our individuality and differences, not smother or ignore them.” To some extent this seems like a “duh” kind of statement. But at the same time, I think that this truthful statement should be of special reflection for those who are care-takers for everyone but themselves. (I’ve been there, and I still struggle with this.) The reality here is that relationships in which we find ourselves “doing all the dirty work” while others float along are not healthy, not appropriate, and ultimately are not honoring to God. Relationships (romantic or otherwise) ought to be give and take – both parties ought to allow Christ to capture their hearts before anything else. When that happens, the Holy Spirit moves in us and allows us to do Christ-like things for one another. Which ultimately creates a mild semblance between what we’re doing and what God ultimately will have us doing in eternity (at least as far as living in relationships goes).
3. Some self-help books got it right. Eckert begins Chapter Two with “You have amazing worth and value. You are special and unique. Does this sound like the introduction to one of those ‘feel good’ self help books…?” Eckert affirms the fundamental belief that these books begin to hit on – we are valuable because we are. Not because we get 4.0’s or because we only eat dessert once a week, or because we volunteer every week at our church. No, we are valuable because we were first and foremost created in God’s image.
In conclusion, Eckert is driving home a message that so many women I know need to hear. It is one of freedom and of liberation. One of just being as a child of God. And finally seeing that there is strength and wholeness in that alone.