Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door
for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains.
One of my favorite things about studying the book of Colossians with a group of awesome sisters in Christ is seeing how God highlights different words for us in the same passage. Learning to study scripture for myself has taught me how the Spirit really does speak to us through God's word. It isn't in new revelations like the prophets of old, but in a deeper understanding of how the Word we have already been given applies to our life at this very moment. Thankfully, He doesn't just teach us once and then move on to the next lesson. Our Heavenly Father is willing to repeat Himself over and over to get His point across... just like I find myself doing with my toddler on a daily basis. As it turns out, I am every bit as stubborn as a two-year-old sometimes.
As I read yesterday's passage, the words that I kept coming back to were "in chains". Throughout this book of the Bible, God has used the fact that Paul wrote it from prison to really speak to my heart about this season of my life. When I was in high school, at a meeting of our godparents group like the one Matt and I now lead, I felt a very definite calling to be a missionary. At that time I assumed it meant a professional missionary, and for a while that was my plan. Over time, though, plans change. Sometimes we change them, sometimes life changes them for us. I have often wondered if I missed my chance to follow this plan I feel God has for me, but as I get older (and perhaps a bit wiser) I finally realize that God's timing is rarely the same as our own.
Instead of going off to a different continent, I have been given opportunities to serve in my local area over the years. Sometimes I have embraced these opportunities, sometimes I have missed them. The ones I missed were usually the ones that didn't seem "important" enough. Yep, I said it. I have definitely struggled with humility over the years. I have tried to overcompensate for what I felt were my failures (like not going straight through college) by seeking out only the opportunities that would make me look important. I often learned big lessons through the roles I took, and slowly God started working on that whole humility thing. It was a slow process, though... because like I mentioned I am quite stubborn.
Then I became a mother. Okay, there was a lot that happened in between there, but I love how the start of every big revelation these days starts with the line "then I became a mother..." It is true, motherhood has taught me amazing things. I learn from the love I have for my son, the joy he brings me every day, the way I see both my strengths and weaknesses in him. I learn about myself as I dream about who I want him to be, and even more when God reminds me who He wants my son to be. However some of my biggest lessons were learned through the hardest parts of becoming a mother. The isolation, the frustration, the helpless feeling when everything seems to be too much. There were times that I felt that I was in chains. I may not have been in prison physically, but I was in a place where I had no choice but to slow down and cry out for help... I learned to listen. Well, sometimes.
As I think about how God was able to use Paul from prison, it really teaches me two big lessons. The first is that God is never hindered by our earthly circumstances. He can always use us for His work if we let Him. I see proof of this in the relationships I was able to build during that time when I felt I was so isolated. I see it in the emails I treasure about how my words here encouraged women who were going through the same thing. Even when I was struggling and felt like I couldn't do anything right, God was using me to serve Him.
The other big lesson I learn is that I need to slow down. Really slow down. It was so much easier to listen when I was broken and begging for help. Yet as soon as God restores me, I run off on my own and start letting busyness take over again. Fortunately, God is patient with me as I make this same mistake over and over. I do see the progress being made, but I also see how far I have to go. When I stop to think about it I am overwhelmed with thankfulness. I am thankful for the grace of God that covers me when I mess up... over and over. I am thankful for the lessons I am learning, and the fact that slowly but surely God is helping me become the woman of faith I want to be. I am also very thankful for the wisdom that comes with age. I can see now that God loves me just as I am in this very moment, and accepts me without any need for change. I am learning to also accept myself. I still want to be better, but the person I want to be looks very different than who I wanted to be when I was younger.
I am definitely glad that I am not literally in chains, like Paul was, but learning to recognize my limitations and look for opportunities to serve right where I am is such a powerful lesson for me. I am reminded often that right now my main mission field is right here in my home. My husband and my son are to be my priorities right now, and my role as wife and mother is as important in God's eyes as any other. I may still get to experience professional missionary work someday... who knows what God has in store for me. All I know for sure is that each day I have a chance to do God's work no matter where I am. My prayer is that I continue to learn to slow down and seek those opportunities with a glad heart. I want to live the words found in Colossians: "devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful" and also remember to pray for those who are indeed out in the mission field in distant lands. We are all doing our part to further God's kingdom here on earth, and each worker is important in the eyes of God!