You’re Really Not Alone, Mom

Over the past two days my daughter, Jaime, has shared how God has used motherhood to remind her of her desperate need for Him. I pray her experiences have encouraged you as mothering challenges are common — as is the grace to meet and grow from them!

Tomorrow and next week you will hear from three other moms whose stories will touch your heart.

Do you have a story of how God has used hard times as a mom to grow, strengthen and help you? If so, I would love to hear about it (see below). Because here’s the thing: we moms are tempted to think we’re alone in our struggles.

  • Battles with anger
  • Worries about our kids spiritual condition
  • Panic when signs of worldliness in them are exposed because we wonder where their temptations will lead
  • Fatigue
  • Tension in the marriage due to parenting demands
  • Financial strain
  • Unplanned — and perhaps unwanted — pregnancy
  • Guilt over feeling weak and needy
  • Envy of moms who seems to have it all together
  • Self-righteous pride when moms don’t have it all together — or at least lack self-discipline and falter when being a mom is just hard work, right?

The list goes on!

One of the primary reasons I started this blog over a year ago was to demonstrate and communicate that:

“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear….” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

We too often feel alone in our struggles, temptations and even our sins. Just last night at my Community Group a mom was sharing her battle with fear over losing her unborn baby; a pregnancy that followed quickly on the heels of a miscarriage. She was lamenting the fact that she wants to trust God and enjoy every day of the pregnancy, even if it ends prematurely. She referred to herself as “faithless.”  One by one everyone in the room assured her that her anxieties were understandable and common. It was heartwarming to watch the group warmly remind her that we, too, struggle with fear and that her eagerness to fight for trust in God during this hard time is both inspiring and God-pleasing.

“And please remember,” one man said, “Jesus fought for faith, too. In the garden He begged God for the cup of His impending death to pass. In His humanity He didn’t want to suffer and die. He wanted to avoid death and sweat blood over the agony of it. So your fear of losing another baby is perfectly understandable and we all understand.”

Peace came. Hope rose. Knowing we’re not alone in our struggles as people identify and empathize with us is comforting. But immeasurably more helpful is knowing Jesus Himself understands. Benny ended the meeting last night reading this passage:

“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God,let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:14-16).

Are you struggling as a mom today? As you read through the list above did something inside you think, “Yes, that’s me and I’m so glad someone understands enough to include my struggle in that list!”? Do you feel desperate for God’s help?

Jesus knows just what you are experiencing. Obviously He was never a mom. But He was tempted with fear, anger, worry, pride, envy. He had challenging relationships and battled weariness. He wasn’t stoic and happily willing to do everything God required of Him without question or temptation.

So run to the throne of God’s grace when you’re tempted. The same grace Jesus Christ received from His father is mine and yours to also receive from Him. God didn’t scorn His son for being tempted and He won’t turn us away either.

P.S. And if you’d like to see if your story will encourage and help others let me know. I would love to consider sharing it. Just leave a brief description of how God has met you in the comment section and I will be in touch.

My Baby Girl’s Ordeal

When Mom asked me to share my story about times when I’ve felt desperate as a mother, the memories came flooding back.  (You can read my Wyatt story from yesterday here.) I have four children, and two had serious but short term health issues as newborns. Recalling what I went through made me think about whether some of you may have much more serious concerns with your children. I’m sure my story doesn’t compare with those of other moms who deal with the daily challenges of chronic illness or special needs children. You are my heroes and I hope my experiences don’t sound whiny compared to what you have gone or are going through.

I wanted to let you know that today’s story includes some images you may find disturbing. When I found them for Mom the tears came all over again. Let me explain.

Partly because Annie, our third, was nearly born in the car on the way to the hospital, PJ and I decided to have our fourth at home. With Dad and a couple of siblings speeding home from a youth retreat to try and make the birth (they arrived just 10 minutes late) and Mom coaching me again through transition, Danae Jewel arrived. She was perfect except for a cyst in her left nostril. Thinking it was simply a blocked tear duct, a specialist assured us everything would be fine. However, after attempting to drain the tear duct through her nose an infection broke out, resulting in the area around her eye swelling to about the size of a golf ball.  A follow up visit to the specialist was scary, especially when he panicked and rushed us to the hospital with warnings of cancer, infection hitting the optic nerve causing blindness or death, or other possible horrible outcomes.

It was hard to look at my baby girl without crying.

It was hard to look at my baby girl without crying.

Again I held a newborn baby in desperation.  She, unlike Wyatt, was not screaming. She was peaceful even in intense pain. She cried only when they put iv’s in her tiny head and then again right before she fell asleep before surgery. Once again I had a sick newborn that caused me to fall on my face because I felt so out of control and there was nothing else to do.

I cried out to God to protect my son from a life of disability and that we would make it just one more day. I prayed for myself – that my anger would not cause me to do something I would regret.  Then I sobbed in the hospital room looking at my baby girl covered in iv’s with her little face so swollen, yet giving me a big, dimpled smile.  I laid my hands on her many times a day praying, hoping she would not only fight the infection but also be spared from the scary side affects.

Things went from bad to worse. People looked away; I understood why.

Things went from bad to worse. People looked away; I understood why.

God used sick newborns to teach me something I didn’t learn from years of being raised in the church by godly parents: God’s grace is always sufficient even when I’m too tired to ask for it. God’s grace gave me strength to not only love my son, but to also form a bond with him that still grows to this day.  Because of his sickness, for six long months I was forced to hold and care for him when I was exhausted, and to spend what energy I had begging God for help. Then two years later that same grace was sufficient in the hospital room when dark thoughts came. When the enemy tempted me to believe that God would take my daughter as a test. When Mom left and I laid there holding my baby girl alone in the dark. When specialists couldn’t tell me exactly what would happen.

Danae third imageHis presence was there to comfort and to help me trust Him when my faith was weak.

Since Wyatt and Danae’s births more trials have come. Trials I would have never imagined I would face. The beautiful thing, though, is how God used the desperations I experienced as a mother to prepare me to rely on Him in some even darker times ahead.

God really does choose our trials. Health issues with my kids taught me to trust Him when life is out of control. I wish I could say I walked through the post newborn trials without faltering in my faith. I didn’t. In fact, I failed miserably at times. But when I read that “God causes all things to work together for good” now, I believe it as never before.

Such a happy baby. And now a happy little girl.

Such a happy baby. And now a happy little girl.

He could have chosen for Wyatt and Danae to have serious consequences from their newborn issues. Danae could have had cancer or died from the infection. I’m grateful that, as you can see below, they are healthy and just celebrated their 5th and 8th birthdays this past week. But I’m glad that He used them and their suffering to remind me that my only hope is in Jesus and that even when I’m weak and faithless He is strong and faithful.

That was worth it.

My princess at her princess birthday party last week.

My princess at her princess birthday party last week.

My little man. How I love him!

My little man. How I love him!

Desperate Fatigue

One of the mothering trials that can produce desperate mothers is health concerns with our children. Watching my oldest daughter, Jaime, walk through the fear and fatigue of watching her babies suffer was one of the hardest things I have endured as a mother.

Do you have a child with health challenges or know someone who does? Whether the trials you face with a child’s illness last weeks or months or years, I pray Jaime’s story will encourage your heart. I’ve asked her to open her heart and story to you today and tomorrow.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Wyatt newborn

He was a cute and healthy newborn. But things soon changed.

Desperation in a mother’s life can have many different faces.  I have seen many of them through various circumstances and challenges I have faced in nearly 12 years of motherhood. There are two times in those years, however, when desperation tested my faith and pushed me toward God like never before….

From the first days after my second born, Wyatt, was born I knew something wasn’t right. He didn’t nurse correctly and didn’t start gaining weight. He seemed to be alarmed by every little noise.  Hours after his birth Mom flew to Texas to witness the birth of my older brother’s first child just three days later; we shared many late night long distance conversations trying to “fix” the problems.

Wyatt spent the first six months of his life screaming. He literally didn’t stop crying, would sleep in only 30 to 45-minute spurts only to wake up to start screaming again. He was diagnosed with Sensory Integration Disorder, a neurological condition that prevents the brain from properly integrating certain information received from the body’s five basic sensory systems. These sensory systems are responsible for detecting sights, sounds, smell, tastes, temperatures, pain and the position and movements of the body.  For a newborn, this meant that ANY new stimulus would send him into a frenzy for days.  One week, for example, I decided to take a huge risk and go to Target.  Bad idea. Wyatt didn’t sleep for more than 10 minutes at a time for 72 hours after that trip.

He would be quiet for minutes at a time with a passy - we had lots of them.

He would be quiet for minutes at a time with a passy – we had lots of them.

I spent six months of my life at home: shades closed, praying and playing soft music (yes, I spent some serious time on the internet looking for any possible help.) I begged God to heal him and to help me to love this fussy, demanding little boy. My frantic internet searches resulted in panic a few times when I read what his problems may have been.  I feared for his future as a man. What if he NEVER left the house!  A lot of this was somewhat irrational due to sleep deprivation, but it felt real. It was certainly real when I called my mom over and over to assure me he was okay, but mostly to sit up with him so I could get some sleep. Again.

Those months were some of the darkest of my life. First time motherhood had been a comparative breeze to the exhaustion and fear of having a sick newborn. Would he be okay? Would I give in to resentment toward God and my little son for my maternal dream of life with my daughter and son remaining a nightmare instead? And how self-pitying could I be for having to care for a sick baby when others faced much more serious situations with their children that I was walking through?

Wyatt burping

Dad was a master burper and spent many hours over the months pacing with his grandson. Such a good Papa.

Exhaustion, guilt, questioning God, and fear were stalking me daily. Night after night I tried to sleep and just when my eyes got heavy he would start to cry…again. Then the next morning 4-year-old Kayla would wake up happy and ready for a new day. I’m glad she can’t remember those long days with an anxious, weary mommy.

Wyatt slowly improved. Once we learned his frenulum (the skin attaching the tongue to the backside of the gum line) was tight, we had it clipped. Before long the gassiness subsided and he became an adorable, happy and chubby little boy.

Dad and Mom stopped having to come over to pace with him on Sunday nights. Mom stopped getting as many S.O.S. calls and didn’t have to come as often to scrub toilets or stay with the kids so I could get a short break. For a few weeks I was sleeping for several hours in a row each night before feeding Wyatt and then watching him fall peacefully to sleep again. I was finally starting to normal.

I finally had a chubby, happy little boy!

I finally had a chubby, happy little boy!

Until the day when he was just eight months old when I called Mom in tears. Maybe she would convince me that the positive pregnancy test I just did was wrong.

Wyatt was finally getting better and I had hope that I wouldn’t be exhausted forever. How was I going to face morning sickness, pregnancy fatigue and agonizing anxiety about how I would cope with two children in 15 months on the heels of some of the hardest months of my life?

What if the next baby was like Wyatt? There was no way I could go through that again.

She wasn’t. Annie was a pretty easy newborn but God chooses our trials and our blessings. You’ll probably laugh (just like Mom nervously did on my next shocking phone call). When Annie was just nine months old I was pregnant again.

And this time there were different trials that I couldn’t anticipate and would have never chosen.

Three children in three years. And two of them were sick newborns.

I’ll share the rest of the story tomorrow.

When Friends Fall Asleep

One of the first signs of genuine desperation is the cry for help.

If you’re a regular reader you may remember the story of the near drowning of my husband and daughter. That day was one I will never forget. But it would have been much harder if they had drowned because Benny didn’t cry out for help.

Truly desperate people instinctively and unashamedly scream for help. Benny wasn’t too proud or embarrassed to admit he couldn’t handle the situation on his own. The ocean was threatening his and our daughter’s lives and he knew he wouldn’t make it without assistance…fast.

How many moms do you know that regularly yell for help?

The excuses are many and common:

  • Everyone is so busy with their own lives and kids. I don’t want to bother them.
  • This will pass. I’m just having a rough day…week…month…year.
  • I’m probably over-reacting and need to get it together. After all, moms deal with this kind of stuff all the time.
  • I just can’t let people know about my anger. And my mom was angry a lot and I turned out okay. The kids will be fine, I’m sure.
  • I love being a mom; it’s just that sometimes I have really mean thoughts about my kids that I know other moms don’t have. Talking about it won’t help anyway.

One afternoon a few years back I was struggling with fear and heartache over a situation involving one of my kids. Honestly, I didn’t want to disclose my struggles with anyone. There was a strange sort of comfort in keeping the pain inside because in the past my admissions of weakness and struggle hadn’t resulted in the kind of response for which I had hoped. I was afraid to risk being vulnerable again.

Then I remembered Jesus. In His time of desperation He asked the disciples to pray for Him, then retreated in the garden to pour out His heart to His father. He returned to find his friends sleeping. How could they have fallen asleep when the One they had loved and followed for years needed them most? And this happened not just once, but twice!

What did Jesus do? He understood. “The spirit is willing,” He said. “But the flesh is weak.” Rather than react angrily or in self-pity to his friends (which is certainly what I would have done!) He acknowledged their weakness.

What if Benny had cried for help on the beach that day but no one had responded? At least he would have died screaming.

After I remembered Jesus that day I got out my computer and typed a cry for help to a few close friends. I didn’t have the strength or desire to talk — I just wanted someone to pray. I was blessed to get heartfelt responses from each person saying they would pray for me. I’m sure they did.

But like I’ve done to others, they “fell asleep” on my issue. Since then I don’t recall anyone asking about it. But that’s not the point. I know they love me and have expressed that in countless ways over many years.

What’s my point? That reaching out for help doesn’t often get the desired response. When we are hurting, lonely, worried or consumed with sorrow over mothering challenges (or any hurdles in our lives) our trials are right in front of our faces every day. And no one but God is watching and caring and helping us 24/7. Friends have their own struggles. People are busy. Life happens. And, yes, people fall asleep.

One of the reasons why I think moms don’t call for help more often is because we’re afraid how people will respond. But even if no one had responded to Benny’s cries for help or their attempts to help had been unsuccessful, at least he tried!

More on that next week.

Begging for an Epidural

“Okay, I’m done. I can’t do this.”

It was my third time in labor but my first completely unmedicated delivery. I was exhausted after several hours of painful back labor. Even the honesty of my Lamaze childbirth instructor hadn’t prepared me for this kind of pain. During the pregnancy I had decided I really wanted to avoid medication, especially since my first two experiences with epidurals had been less than successful.

“No matter what I say, remind me that I decided not to get an epidural,” I told Benny on several occasions late in the pregnancy. Gratefully, minutes after my declaration that I could not and would not give birth, the nurse discovered Jesse was coming…soon.

In those desperate moments when the pain was nearly unbearable I wanted only one thing: relief. My prayerful, thoughtful and calculated childbirth plan – made over several months and with counsel from others – was tested and everything in me wanted it all to just stop.

Have you ever felt this as a mother? Have there been times when the heartaches and fears that commonly accompany motherhood crash in and all you wanted was relief? If you’re like me, you’ve probably come to realize that the suffering of childbirth compares little with the fatigue of caring for children or the sorrow of watching your kids make unwise choices. The memory of childbirth pain diminishes over time and many moms look forward to another baby. But how many mothers forget the weariness of sibling fighting; tears over a serious health diagnosis; anguish of seeing a formerly compliant child turn into a moody, argumentative teen; or the disorienting heartache of watching a child walk away from God into moral compromise.

Mary, the mother of Jesus, was a desperate mother. When a prophet spoke of the mission to which her son was called, he mentioned that her very own soul would be pierced by a sword (Luke 2:34-35).  She knew the heartaches, disappointing surprises and pain of motherhood. Surely she felt a sword had pierced through her heart when she saw Him hanging naked, beaten beyond recognition and mocked on the cross at Calvary.

Desperate mothers struggle and suffer. But please hear me: we have a loving and faithful God. Mary didn’t know what we know on this side of the cross. We look back and see the “joy that set before” Jesus. We are that joy! Each and every one of us as blood washed believers are the fruit of His agony and death. If Mary could have known what lied ahead, she would have still wept at her Son’s suffering. But imagine how comforting it would have been to know that His perplexing death would mean so much to so many. What a difference it could have made if she had known that you and I who are Christians would be declared not guilty for our sins because her Son took our place (and hers!) on the cross, securing for us a place of eternal worship of Him by her side!

Every desperate moment or lengthy season in my nearly 35 years of motherhood has vindicated the goodness and wisdom of God. Like Mary and every mother before and after her, God has been faithful to turn every hard and painful trial I’ve faced — every time when a sword has pierced my heart and left me gasping for breath — into good that I see and don’t yet see.

Before this series goes another day I want to assure every mother and mother-to-be, every father and father-to-be, that there is no heartbreak or sin or failure on your part or that of your children that will not be redeemed by God. Any swords that pierce your heart will create wounds that God Himself will heal.

Desperation is the stuff of life for every person in every season of life, sometimes we just feel it more acutely. That moment when I wanted the childbirth pain to stop I thought I wanted relief. What I wanted was my son! I wanted to hold my baby boy. I wanted to finally see his little face and kiss his tiny head. I wanted to tell him Mommy loved him and cuddle him close to my heart.

In the moment I thought I wanted everything to stop and the pain to go away. But, no. I wanted the fruit of my suffering and pain. I wanted a little blonde who would grow into a tall man with a beautiful wife and three little boys of his own. I wanted a son who would learn to play the piano and become a passionate worshiper of God. I wanted the answer to my prayers and another Philips boy to pass his father’s name and legacy to a new generation.

And relief wasn’t gonna get me that. Pain that made me feel like I couldn’t take any more was the only way that baby was coming and I just had to endure it.

Do you want relief from the challenges and weariness and hard work of motherhood? No, I don’t think so. You wouldn’t be frequenting this blog if you wanted the easy way or the wide road. You want godliness and fruit. You want to glorify God and see your life and your kids (or future kids) lives to count for Him.

Other moms and I will share more about the desperation of godly motherhood as this series continues. But we moms must remind ourselves regularly that fruit can’t be hurried. No amount of talking to your fruit tree or tomato plant or rose bushes is going to make them produce.

By God’s grace, though, the fruit will come. Why? Because He is faithful. Even when we are unfaithful, He remains faithful. Through every desperate moment or lengthy season. When delays test our faith and it seems like nothing will ever grow. Through joyous times when all is well and hopeless seasons when the ground beneath us trembles and it seems even God has lost control. The One who has no beginning and will have no end will be faithful.

When the pain and disappointment and temptations to anger crescendo till your heart begs for relief, fruit may be closer than you know.

So remind yourself that relief won’t satisfy…but fruit will.

P.S.  Happy Anniversary, Jaime and PJ.  For those who know your story and those who don’t, the fruit is delicious.


Motherhood: A Desperate Life

I’ve become accustomed to hearing one side of weighty phone calls. Being married to a pastor means having to wait while curiosity and dread build.  Last week was no different.

“Oh, no. That’s just awful. How in the world are they doing?” Benny responded. “I just can’t imagine….Thanks for calling; we’ll be sure to reach out to them soon.”

None of the scenarios I could have considered would have landed on what I heard when Benny ended his phone call. Just hours earlier, a dear and precious young couple with three little boys had given birth to a lifeless baby girl. Later that day I visited her in the hospital. It was one of the hardest visits I have ever made.

I saw the desperation of motherhood like I have rarely seen.

Over the coming days I want to talk about desperate motherhood. I’ll share from my own heart and life, and also from the lives of others. I also want to invite a couple of mothers to communicate their desperate moments, too.

Why? Because all mothers live desperate lives. You may have never lost a child, but if anyone calls you Mom you’ve likely experienced dark nights of your soul when you wondered if they would be okay. If you were doing a good enough job. If their symptoms meant something serious was going on. If hard things that mothers with older kids are walking through would come to your family. If you’ll hear from them when they’re older that your anger or selfish demands or irritability was harder on them that it now seems.

As you read this, you may be thinking whatever challenges you’re facing as a mom pale in comparison to losing a child. While the suffering of others can help us to more wisely manage our own comparatively light trials, please don’t minimize the impact of your own motherly challenges. Perhaps you have a special needs child who requires more of you that you could have ever imagined. Maybe the fatigue of working and trying to be a good mom leaves you wondering if your child is getting enough of you each day. Do you sometimes miss the toddler-turned-teen that keeps you awake at night churning over their lack of heart for God? Or are there times when you think you just can’t take the bickering and selfishness between your kids and feel trapped by unfulfilled dreams about what Christian family life is supposed to look like?

Desperate mothers aren’t just those who have endured tragedy beyond comprehension. While such moms are certainly objects of the tender compassion of God reserved for the sorrowing and broken hearted, your struggles are hard, too.

I’ve never held a dead baby and I can only pray I would have responded with half the trust in God that my friend has. But I’ve cried many tears over tantrum-throwing toddlers; spiritually wayward kids; sinful choices made that tempted me to fear; tension between Benny and me due to differences in how to handle things with young adults; fretful nights when the only thing that brought sleep was listening to worship music; and gut wrenching pleas to the only One who could “cause all things to work together for good.”

The desperation of motherhood comes in many colors. But each of us have something amazing in common: we serve a powerful and sovereign God. No fear or sin or grief or heartache is beyond His strength, compassion and grace. Nothing that has happened or will happen to you or your children can separate you from His love (Romans 8:28).

Whether you are expecting your first baby or are watching your children now give birth to their own, the sacrifices of motherhood last a lifetime.

But so does grace.

A Message That Could Change Your Marriage

Yesterday’s post (you can find it below) resulted in a more than typical response from my readers. One of the blessings of blogging is that you can always change your plans at the last minute. So today I want to share just one more post on the gossip verses honesty thread.

Several years ago I was meeting with a group of wives of small group leaders at our former church. The topic that morning was on fulfilling our helper design as wives. When God said it wasn’t good for man to be alone He was talking about mankind in general, not just men. But any married woman or mother of sons can certainly see why it’s definitely not good for MEN to be alone!

As our conversation continued that morning, I mentioned that one of the way a godly wife is a “suitable helper” to her husband is by lovingly confronting his sin and involving others if he is unresponsive. It was one of the more vibrant meetings we had together. I was somewhat surprised by how intrigued most of the wives were by my comments. Two of them playfully asked if Benny planned to talk with their husbands about this topic at their next men’s meeting.

“If I go home and tell my husband that Sheree said I need to start confronting his sin…well…I just think it would be better for him to hear that from Benny!” (It wasn’t about what I was saying but about God’s instructions to believers to speak the truth — both positive and negative — in love to one another.)

“Seriously? Do you mean Benny invites and values your correction? Doesn’t he think you’re being disrespectful? And how do you do that without being critical and snooty?” (Benny doesn’t always eagerly welcome my correction or solicit my thoughts. But even when he doesn’t, am I off the hook from loving him enough to share them?)

The questions continued long past the ending time of our meeting — and spilled out into the parking lot afterwards.

The Bible commands the godly wife to respect and submit to her husband, as the church does to Christ. But when did “respect” equal leaving it to guy friends, co-workers or bosses to point out our husband’s flaws, sins or weaknesses? Who knows our husbands better than we do? And who loves them most?

Wifely respect and submission isn’t in competition with honesty. We all need people in our lives who know and love us enough to courageously call us out when we mess up. Sadly, too many marriages lack the depth, grace and mutual trust to do so.

But that can change, with God’s help!

What does loving rebuke or correction look look like in a Christian marriage? When do we overlook sin in our husband’s life; leave the discussion just between the two of us; or bring it up to a wise and trusted friend or pastor? How does the godly wife provide respectful biblical correction to her husband? What can happen when we wrongly interpret God’s word and either refuse to correct our husbands…or do so with self-righteous disrespect?

Author and speaker Carolyn Mahaney provides wise counsel and practical application for us in her excellent message Watch Your Man. This message may change your life and your marriage. You can download it for free here.

When I mentioned to Benny after that meeting that the wives hoped he would discuss this topic with the small group leaders, he actually encouraged the guys to listen to this, too. In fact, it may have been the first time my husband sent a message by a pastor’s wife out to other men as a listening assignment!

Please listen all the way through the message to the personal testimonies at the end. You won’t want to miss the humility, candor and practical insights you will hear from two godly wives who share their weaknesses in watching their men.

I promise we’ll move on to the Desperate Motherhood series.  Thanks for your patience!  And please consider reading the comments on yesterday’s post — and make your own! I honestly value your feedback either here on the blog or on the Faith Rising facebook page.

Honesty Without Gossip?

One of the biggest lessons we can learn from Deb and Shelly is the final post in this series: genuine biblical fellowship and friendship comes from “walking in the light” with one another (1 John 1:7). Walking in the light means we live open lives that resist the common temptation to hide.

Gossip, which we learned from Ken Sande last week, is sinful and tears others down. It shows immaturity and is ungodly. However, sometimes we have to graciously disclose the weaknesses or sins of others when those failures affect our lives. Can we do that without gossiping?

Some years back I spoke with a wife who was struggling in her marriage. Her understanding of gossip verses humility resulted in putting all the focus on her own contributions to the problems in the marriage. She was eager to acknowledge patterns of anger and disrespect toward her husband that were making things tense between them. Any questions I asked about their struggles resulted in mild defenses of her husband — his work load, fatigue and pressures he felt from his family. I had no intention of allowing our interactions to become gossip sessions about her husband, but her conscience disallowed her from admitting to any ways in which her husband was adding to their problems.

Years later she became desperate enough to be honest. She admitted his consistent verbal attacks and unfounded jealous rages. He regularly belittled and criticized her in front of the children. It had been years since he showed her affection or said he loved her.

This wife was a godly woman. She was so afraid of tarnishing her husband’s reputation in the church and succumbing to gossip that she wasn’t fulfilling her helper design. Rather than lovingly calling her husband to account for his sin and following biblical teaching to invite others into their marriage when he didn’t listen to her, she allowed his manipulative and sinful patterns to continue with her silence. Once things got bad enough for concerns about the effects of everything on their children, she opened up.

And when she did, regret over her silence poured out with tears.

When relational conflict, disappointment or sin occur what can we do?

  • Realize that God is near.
  • Remember that sin is common. Every marriage is a relationship between sinners and anyone who thinks or communicates otherwise is possibly protecting someone’s reputation, too.
  • Honestly can happen without gossip.
  • If necessary, you don’t have to use names but can keep the conversation anonymous.
  • Choose your confidant/counselor wisely. Consider the maturity level of the person in whom you’re confiding and select someone that will be both compassionate and discerning enough to not assume your perspective on the situation is 100% accurate. After all, all of us are prone to interpreting and communicating things through out own eyes.
  • Sometimes the most loving thing to do is gain counsel and wisdom (first from the scriptures and then from godly friends, pastors or counselors) so you can humbly confront their sin.
  • God will let you know if you engage in sinful speech. Don’t fear gossip; resist it then trust God to convict you if it happens.

I wish I could say the marriage I described above turned out well. Honestly, I don’t know what happened. I lost track of the wife and can only hope she is well. If you are struggling in a relationship with a spouse, child, family member, friend or boss please get help. Ask the Lord to give you strength to resist the temptation to use your words to punish this person through gossip, but don’t be dishonest. If you choose a wise and godly confidant, he or she will help you to see anything amiss in your own heart — hopefully only after you have been compassionately heard and comforted.

I pray you have that person or two in your life. Whether you do or don’t, there’s a throne of grace you can run to for mercy and help. And the Person sitting there is eager to help you.

More Lessons from Shelly and Deb

Yesterday I introduced you to Shelly and Deb; longtime friends whose relationship was challenged by differences in how they approached being well known by one another. Both were godly women who cherished one another and wanted to enjoy a growing friendship. You can read more about them here.

One of the things Shelly struggled with was assuming anything she shared about her challenges with her husband, Ben, was okay. After all, surely Deb knew Shelly loved Ben, and she certainly needed a friend in whom she could confide, right?

Deb, however, needed to learn that only saying positive, kind things about someone (in her case, her unfaithful ex-husband) isn’t an automatic anecdote to gossip. How could she receive genuine help and benefit from the compassion and counsel of others if she was unwilling to honestly disclose the pain and temptations to anger that his adultery produced? Could others, including Shelly, enter in to her single motherhood world when she refused to share her worries, frustrations and loneliness?

Ken Sande, author of The Peacmaker, defines gossip as, “To betray a confidence or to discuss unfavorable personal facts about another person with someone who is not part of the problem or its solution. Even if the information you discuss is true, gossip is always sinful and a sign of spiritual immaturity.”

Shelly began to understand that her unbridled comments about Ben were too often motivated by a sinful desire to gain sympathy and a desire to vent her marital frustrations. The Lord surprised her with the self-knowledge that she had rarely invited Deb to be a part of the solution to the problems between she and Ben; therefore, Deb was merely a sounding board, not a solution provider.

But were Shelly’s comments always gossip? God used Deb to assure her friend that while she could see roots of bitterness and gossip in Shelly’s heart, there were times when compassionate affection for Ben came through. She reminded Shelly of times her tears were over the state of Ben’s soul, not just his lack of care for their family.

God is always concerned most about our hearts, and not just our words. The fact is Deb started seeing that her unwillingness to talk about her ex-husband was often motivated by embarrassment (“People will think I’m foolish for falling in love with someone like him“), self-protection (“Talking about this will be too painful so I just need to keep this to myself”), or shame (“It’s probably my fault that he cheated because I wasn’t a good enough wife”). These quiet heart issues could be just as personally destructive as Shelly’s bitterness, sinful anger and complaining. Deb’s heart issues were neatly tucked away. Shelly’s were loud and clear. But both women needed God’s help.

Navigating these kinds of waters requires wisdom that can only come from above. While the Bible is clear that gossip is sin (see ), it isn’t clear on whether a person is gossiping in every situation where concerns or perceptions about someone are shared that reflect negatively on him or her.

Here are some questions I’ve found helpful to ask myself:

  • Would the person I about whom I am about to speak/have spoken be hurt by my words?
  • Do I desire help to work through the difficulties with this person? Or am I simply looking for sympathy?
  • Am I as eager to see the way(s) I have contributed to this breakdown as I am for him/her to see their responsibility?
  • Does the person I am talking to/planning to talk to have the Christian maturity to understand there are two sides to this issue?  Am I willing for my friend to go to the person I’m discussing to ask for their perspective after hearing mine? (Even if talking to the other person is impossible or unwise for any reason, what would I think if it was possible?)
  • Is my motive for talking about this person redemptive?

Please know that there are times when these considerations don’t need to be at the forefront. Abuse, for example, requires open disclosure of another’s sin to a wise and compassionate friend or counselor without concern about putting someone in a bad light. What this week is about is not those situations. Rather, I’m talking about the normal every day stuff of doing life with people who are just as flawed as you and I.

Recently, I talked to a friend who was hurting over a young adult child’s rebellious attitudes and actions. She honestly communicated her frustrations, fears and concerns. She disclosed some painful decisions her child had made and was clearly anxious about what the future may hold. Yet her intense love for her child came through loud and clear. We cried together, then prayed. Did she share some unfavorable things? Yes. Was I aware that her child would likely have a different perspective to share? Yes. Was God’s word dishonored by my friend’s speech? I don’t think so. Her love, care for and eagerness to acknowledge her child’s gifts and strengths came through, too.

Having a hard time figuring all this out? Wishing there was a list of do’s and don’ts you could follow to know when honesty has bled into gossip?

Me, too.

But this good news is this. The Holy Spirit lives inside us and will govern our temptations or convict us of sin. He is faithful and His sheep know His voice. Unless our conscience is seared and we’ve hardened our hearts to the gift of conviction, He will let us know when bitterness or fear of anger bubbles up from out hearts and out of our mouths.

And hopefully we’re well known enough by others to get help along the way. After all, being well known includes our sins.

Meet Shelly and Deb

Shelly and Deborah had been friends for years. Shelly’s marriage to Ben wasn’t without the normal challenges married couples face: communication differences, financial stress and Ben’s seeming commitment to advancing his career over time with the family. Deborah, a divorced single mom in her late 30’s, enjoyed spending time with Shelly’s family and was called “Aunt Deb” by the kids.

Over time, this friendship hit a hard spot. The root cause was the difference in how Shelly and Deb communicated about relational stuff in their lives. Shelly was quick to speak openly about issues between her and Ben while Deb kept concerns about her ex-husband, Rick, primarily to herself. Deb became wearied by what she felt were sarcastic complaints about Ben while Shelly’s frustrations with Deb’s tight lipped seeming denial of Rick’s failures grew.

Shelly believed she was being open; Deb thought she too often put Ben in a bad light through gossip. Deb was trying to protect the already tarnished reputation of her daughter’s father who left home for a co-worker; Shelly felt her silence trivialized the pain she and her daughter were experiencing and shut Shelly out of her life.

Two women, both Christians, had completely different perspectives on the part speech should play in the relationship. Both wanted to be well known but they were going about it very differently. Their friendship, like many, came to a crossroads. Would Deb start opening up more, letting Shelly into her struggles, pain and disappointment so their relationship could deepen? Was Shelly gossiping about Ben or just being the kind of transparent friend she hoped Deb could become? What needed to happen for this friendship to continue and thrive?

Resolving this would determine whether a prized friendship would grow…or slowly become distant.

As in most cases, both ladies had things to learn.

  • Shelly learned to more wisely investigate her motives for talking to Deb about Ben. With God’s help, she started to learn the difference between transparency and sinful complaining. Some longstanding bitterness toward her husband for his lack of care and leadership were discovered that she saw had been affecting her attitudes and speech. She also saw that complaining about her flawed but faithful husband to her divorced friend was sometimes insensitive and thoughtless.
  • Deb grew to understand that withholding common struggles and pain over the adultery and divorce was unhelpful to both her and her daughter. While she thought she was trying to avoid the gossip she felt Shelly regularly gave in to, she realized that genuine openness about heart struggles was needed for her own benefit and to learn to enjoy deeper biblical fellowship with others. She also realized that honesty doesn’t always equal gossip.

Being well known requires opening our hearts and lives to others. But that’s when it gets messy. When is openness nothing but sinful whining and complaining to gain sympathy or vent bitterness? Can we be known without ever exposing the flaws and weaknesses of others? Is it always wrong to be honest about the sins of people in our lives with friends, pastors or co-workers — especially when we’re being negatively affected?

Is it always wrong to air someone else’s dirty laundry?

Our lives are entwined with others. When you meet me, you meet Benny and our seven children and our grandchildren; my parents who are both with the Lord; and dozens of people who have left their signature on my life over decades. You also unknowingly come face to face with both painful and joyous relationships I’ve encountered over the years — circumstances and people that will now affect how I now relate to you.

So if we become friends, how much of all of that do I share with you and when is my sharing sinful or redemptive speech?

More on Shelly and Deb’s lessons tomorrow.