Church,  Faith,  Family

Good Shepherds

My dear friends,

I can hardly believe a year has passed since I married…. and almost that long since I have written an update.  I hardly know where to start unpacking all that this year has held for me.  Though last week’s church service seems like a strange place to begin, a wooden pew is where I saw a slice of marriage as God intended it to be.

Many of you know, I’ve experienced church in a more grass-roots, relaxed style or even in a charismatic setting.  The “25-year-old Naomi” would never have imagined marrying a minister in a denomination that worships in a more formal, liturgical setting.  Such services seemed prescriptive, unemotional, or confining.  However, expression style has nothing to do with whether or not a people are coming together to worship in spirit and in truth.  I’m humbled to admit that I was so narrow-minded in my young and energetic, but inexperienced faith.

After a responsive reading that focused on Christ being a friend of sinners, our pastor called to the front, all of the elders and deacons of our congregation.   Rather than continuing to be led by our typical worship leader, Pastor Tom asked these men to lead us in singing “Jesus What a Friend for Sinners.”  Something about hearing the strong voices of 10-15 men, who have committed to shepherding and serving our church family, sing these words… brought tears to my eyes:

Jesus what a friend for sinners – Jesus lover of my soul

Friends may fail me foes assail me – He my Savior makes me whole

Jesus what a strength in weakness – let me hide myself in Him

Tempted tried and sometimes failing – He my strength my victory wins

Jesus what a help in sorrow – while the billows o-er me roll

Even when my heart is breaking – He my comfort helps my soul

Jesus I do now receive Him – more than all in Him I find

He hath grated me forgiveness – I am His and He is mine

These words embody humble dependence …. a quality not always valued among men. I looked at their faces as they sang – men from all walks of life, and a few who I know personally.  One man – a refugee who fled to our country for safety, while his wife continued to suffer, and whose young son died before being reunited in safety – beamed with a joyful smile while singing.  Another – who, together with his wife, is fighting for the precious life of little girl through the foster care system – sang with closed eyes and hand over heart. 

This is godly, manly leadership. Men with hearts dependent on Jesus for strength, wholeness, comfort, forgiveness, and friendship. In that moment, I was so grateful for a church that is able to honor godly leadership without diminishing the strength of women.  We are different.  We do have different roles.  Together, male and female, we demonstrate on earth a picture of Christ and the church.

But oh, how hard it is to grasp, accept, and believe in the midst of the nitty gritty day to day!  The first year of marriage has been both a beautiful picture of God’s unconditional, protective, redeeming love, and a reality check on how much I want to remain independent from leadership, continuing to want life on my own terms.  Just as I wanted church and worship style on my own terms in my 20s, I still want life to look the way I think it should be.  Thankfully, I have a wise and patient husband who reminds me of the richness of being unified. Just as I need the whole body of Christ, I need the strengths and skills of my husband.  He is such a good big-picture-thinker and problem-solver, whereas I am better with the details and managing the day by the minute. He is great at discipling the children’s hearts and I am good at providing structure and routine.  However, I didn’t see all that at first.  I felt slighted when he didn’t want to do things my way.  Isn’t it that way in church too?  We want the right to have it our way.  And usually, when I demand my way, I miss out on something better. 

As the elders’ and deacons’ voices filled the sanctuary with the next song, O Great God, these words washed over my heart:

… I was blinded by my sin – had no ears to hear your voice

Did not know your love within … Then your spirit gave me life – opened up your word to me

Through the gospel of Your Son – Gave me endless hope and peace

Help me now to live a life that’s dependent on Your grace…

O great God of highest heaven glorify Your Name through me

I’m so grateful for the marriage God has blessed me with.  Though I wanted it my way – newlyweds without children and not too much stress – God gave it to me His way – middle-aged, financially tight, college tuition forthcoming, blended parenting styles, four children to care for, and too much change all at once.  I can truly say, that His way is better.  It’s hard, but it keeps me dependent on HIS grace.

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