the Stone and the Oak

A journey into bible education with the stronghold of the of the oak the accountability of the stone

In poem 28 of her “Nature” collection, Emily Dickinson writes this of autumn:

The morns are meeker than they were,

The nuts are getting brown;

The berry’s cheek is plumper,

The rose is out of town.

The maple wears a gayer scarf,

The field a scarlet gown.

Lest I be old fashioned,

I’ll put a trinket on.

I’ve always loved this poem. Perhaps I love it because Emily and I share one key thing here: a desire to delight in the bold colors of the autumn season by dressing in equally festive attire.

The temperatures are finally starting to drop here, and fall clothing lines are hitting the stores. While many probably don’t think much about clothing lines in autumnal colors, I have had to plan for this occasion so as to maintain the self-control Paul refers to in Galatians 5.23.

WHY CLOTHES?

Let me back up. For me, clothes have always served more than utility; for me, clothes are a creative expression.

While some people are strongly affected by musical sounds, and others by scent, I have always been incredibly color-driven.

Expressing myself through color sometimes takes the form of paint and brush, sometimes takes the form of decorating my window box, but most often, it takes the form of curating a wardrobe that reflects the colors that are speaking to me.

There is nothing inherently wrong with creative expression. We desire to create because we were made in the image of the One who created all things.

There is nothing inherently wrong with creative expression.

Where a love for clothing can go wrong, however, is in a few different ways:

  1. When certain brands of clothing are worn as an indication of wealth and status in hopes of inciting envy or jealousy
  2. When money that should be tithed or spent in a charitable way is used to purchase unnecessary clothing
  3. When clothing has become an idol in terms of sheer amount amassed
  4. When extended amounts of time that could be spent in communion with God is spent thinking about and desiring more clothing

Though I can’t say I struggle much with the first one, I have definitely had to take a hard look at my own love of clothing in terms of the other three.

So, over the years, I have put a few measures in place to keep my love of clothing in check.

PROBLEM: WHEN MONEY THAT SHOULD BE TITHED OR SPENT IN A CHARITABLE WAY IS USED TO PURCHASE UNNECESSARY CLOTHING

Budgeting is all about choosing how money is spent. If more money is spent on X, there is less for Y. Impulse buying is one of the fastest ways to upset a budget. If too much impulse buying occurs, and it’s time to give charitably to disaster relief—or buy a meal for someone struggling—these fruitful acts are sacrificed for the dress already hanging in the closet.

Making my fall wardrobe feel new can curb shopping for fun

I’ve noticed that I impulse-buy the most when seasons change. As I mentioned earlier, when the new fall line drops in all those autumnal colors, my will gets weak.

One strategy that helps is to segment my wardrobe into fall/winter and spring/summer. When the weather moves from one to the other, I take my out-of-season clothes and tuck them away underneath the bed in a rolling tub.

My fall tub— itching to see the light of day again!

Pulling out the clothes for the new season can be as exciting as a shopping trip which helps me substitute it as such.

Be sparing and mindful about “trendy” items

My rule-of-thumb when it comes to purchasing clothes is to spend very little on trendy pieces; instead, I try to invest in classic, well-made pieces that will last for many years.

But trends can be fun, so I don’t rule them out entirely. I just have to be judicious about trendy items.

This fall, I want to see if I can turn some pants I found secondhand into some trendy wide-leg crop pants (stay tuned).

And speaking of secondhand…

Shop secondhand so not to compromise the budget

The first 10% of my paycheck goes straight to God. He has given me everything I have, and it’s all His anyway.

Once the bills are paid, and we cover food and gas, there is not always a lot left in the checking account for clothes. But I have found that I can find great items when I buy secondhand.

This fall, I decided to invest in a pair of high-waist flare jeans as a staple for the fall and winter months (and, ideally, for years to come).

I did some casual looking online and found a pair of Anthropologie jeans on Poshmark for $40 (retail $128).

Poshmark is an online secondhand store that is individually based: anyone with an account can list an item of clothing for sale, and the buyer completes the transaction when the item arrives as described.

On the other hand, ThredUp is a different model, but another great online secondhand shop that I have used for years. ThredUp takes mail-in bags of clothes from sellers and lists them, consignment-style, on the website. ThredUp does accept returns, and offer a rewards program for frequent shoppers. Buyers can even filter the search for “new with tags” in hopes to score some good deals (these items are probably retail overflow).

Keep in mind that money not spent on clothes may find a more fruitful avenue

In the parable of the rich young man in Matthew 19, Jesus tells him that in order to gain eternal life, he must keep the commandments. And when the young man presses further, Jesus adds that to be perfect, the man should sell all of his earthly items and give them to the poor and set out to follow Jesus. And though we don’t know what the young man in the parable ultimately chose (we infer that he doesn’t sell his riches because he goes away from Jesus sorrowfully), we can heed the message: rather than living in riches, we should use the equity of such to help those who have less than us.

  • Maybe it means through careful budgeting and purchasing, we ensure that the end of the month sees enough extra funds to financially support Convoy of Hope as they swoop in to help when disaster strikes.
  • Maybe that means donating the baby’s crib to a family in need instead of saving it for sentimental purposes.
  • Maybe that means asking for a smaller Christmas gift for oneself in order to sponsor a family who won’t have any Christmas gifts.

I’m likely preaching to myself more than to my readers, here, but I believe maintaining perspective with our money is a powerful, holy tool.

PROBLEM: WHEN CLOTHING HAS BECOME AN IDOL IN TERMS OF SHEER AMOUNTS AMASSED

Clothing is truly something we need, to a certain extent. Learning to parse out what we could use for the upcoming season versus what we are tempted to accumulate is an important practice.

Creating a purchase plan as a measure of self-control

Paul tells us that one of the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit is self-control: the ability to resist temptations and desires (Galatians 5.23, ESV).

If I go into the fall retail season without a plan, I can find myself not even realizing how much shopping I am doing—casually grabbing an item of clothing every time I go to Target, for instance.

A more mindful, self-controlled approach is to pull out my fall/winter items as the season is beginning, and write down a careful shopping list for the seasons.

Here is my shopping list for this fall:

  • High waisted flair jeans (purchased—the ones I snagged secondhand and mentioned earlier)
  • 1 hair scarf in fall colors
  • A belt bag or mules using my Madewell gift card from last Christmas (self control!)
  • Allowance for an inexpensive “fun” purchase

And here is what I am planning for winter:

  • Two plain long-sleeved tees
  • One hair scarf in Christmas plaid
  • Allowance for an inexpensive “fun” purchase

I like to add that last one to each list because, occasionally—albeit rarely—I will stumble upon an item I hadn’t planned for that seems tailor-made for me. I don’t want to be so legalistic that I don’t ever get to enjoy sound purchases.

But having a list and practicing self-control means I am buying wisely and making sure I am not using more of my family’s budget than allotted.

Do not store up; let unused items go

Jesus directs us explicitly in the matter of collecting fine things:

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, or where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven… For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also

Matthew 6.19-21, ESV

First off, right there in Jesus’ command is a logical reason against hoarding textiles: the most expensive, most coveted garment can be taken down by a single moth. Why place our value on something so easily destroyed? It makes no logical sense.

But more importantly, Jesus tells us that the state of our hearts is reflected in what we pour our attention and funds into.

PROBLEM: WHEN EXTENDED AMOUNTS OF TIME THAT COULD BE SPENT IN COMMUNION WITH GOD IS SPENT THINKING ABOUT AND DESIRING MORE CLOTHING

Though the tips I have mentioned definitely help curb impulse-buying and hoarding, there comes a point in which the time spent hunting for clothes should be considered.

Yes, I am a bargain-hunter, but at what point does the bargain-hunting take up too much time?

Time for a shopping fast?

For Lent this year, my friend Michelle (you may have caught her Sips & Scripts chat in July) and I decided to refrain from purchasing any items of clothing. For some of you, this all sounds silly— 40 days without purchasing clothes? Easy.

But Michelle and I made that decision for a reason. Clothing has a draw and an appeal to me that I do find hard to resist. If I ever feel that draw starting to get out of control, it’s time to pull back and prove to God that I don’t need to strive for more earthly items. He is all I need.

I don’t need to strive for more earthly items. He is all I need.

Flex creativity in the styling, not in the purchasing.

There are so many ways to give an existing item of clothing a fresh look. I’m reminding myself to take some of my warm weather pieces and re-mix them for the cool weather:

If I hadn’t had a 6-year-old photographer for these pics, you might have been able to see my fall outfit with booties. But what can I say? He works for hugs and cookies.

When we keep our gaze off “new” and “more,” we find contentment in what we already have.

And perhaps the most important strategy of all:

Stay in the Word to keep the gaze on heaven, not on earth

As I round out Paul’s letters and move toward Hebrews, so many of his words speak to just this topic. Just this morning, I read these words:

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.

1 Timothy 6.6-7, ESV

We will leave the world with naked palms unfurled and empty. Our belongings will be sold at an estate sale, or perhaps passed on to those who will ultimately pass them on as well.

Let us use our earthly items with gratitude, but let us not grasp them tightly.

A tight grasp is intended for the right hand of God.

with His love,

Adelaide

When I was walking past my husband’s work-from-home station the other day, I noticed that he was reading my latest blog post. As a subscriber to my blog, he gets an automatic email when I post something new.

What I didn’t realize about this automated program is that all of my colors and formatting is lost through this service.

A bit of the spirit of the blog was lost in translation, so to speak.

So, after talking to another very helpful blogger friend (Sarah Butterfield!), I decided to start an email service that would allow me to connect more with those who want to engage with the blog.

I’m now signed up with Mailchimp for email communication, and if you would like to continue to get notifications of a new blog (some of the subscribers will already be connected with the new system, but not those via WordPress), enter your email address here:

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

As an extra incentive, if you subscribe, you will be given five entries into the One Thousand Gifts giveaway to win this bundle of goodies:

The giveaway remains open until Thursday, September 3rd at noon (PST). I will announce the winner within 24 hours of giveaway closing (more details can be found by clicking on the image).

I would be honored if you choose to follow the work I believe God is leading me to accomplish.

with His love,

Adelaide

This is Hilary.

Her drink is an iced caramel macchiato.

And it bears mentioning that it was 102 degrees when I snapped this picture. That’s true friendship— sitting in 102 degree heat to share your heart with your friend.

And there’s more.

The night of our Sips & Scripts chat was Hilary’s last day in California as she set out with her family of six to move to Knoxville, Tennessee.

THERE ARE NO COINCIDENCES

Hilary and I have a friendship truly forged by God. On my first day of work as a professor at Tallahassee Community College, I prayed for God to bring me a best friend. I was certain that my best friend was going to be the other full-time hire in the English Department, who I had heard was female. After my first day, I didn’t feel a special connection with that hire and drove home in tears wondering why God didn’t answer my prayer. My new life in Tallahassee felt daunting.

But, I didn’t pay attention to something significant that day: I wasn’t seated next to the new hire in my department. I was seated next to Hilary.

A few days later, I got the keys to my office. There was overflow from the English building, so I was put into a neighboring building in a hallway with two offices. One office was mine, and one was Hilary’s.

I cannot adequately express in words what it was like to have someone to mentor me right across the hall. Sparing no grace, Hilary guided me through every new hurdle in my role as a professor. But more than that, when I became pregnant with my first (earlier than when I thought I would become a mom) Hilary helped me traverse the difficulties of pregnancy, prepare me for labor and delivery, and equip myself with the best resources for being a good mom.

I REPEAT: THERE ARE NO COINCIDENCES

The spring of 2014 both Hilary and I gave birth— she to her third child and me to my second. And that summer both her husband and my husband would start new careers… in California.

Though we were two hours away from each other, and not directly across the hall, we were still able to use our friendship as a support beam for the new lives we were building in an unfamiliar place.

And now Hilary finds herself with a brave new change: a move to Tennessee. The move became the subject of our Sips & Scripts conversation.

THE MOVE IS AN ANSWERED PRAYER

“There is a verse in Philippians that has been helping me as we prepare to uproot our family and transplant in new soil:

do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and mind in Christ Jesus

Philippians 4.6-7, ESV

We have been praying to move to Tennessee for years, and so the Lord is answering that prayer, but a move like this still can come with a lot of anxiety.

But I haven’t really had that much anxiety like in past moves. I just have this sense of peace about it— the peace that surpasses understanding.

He has us going there for a purpose and a reason, and trusting in that brings peace.”

MOVING FORWARD WITH UNCERTAINTY

“When my husband went to do the housing search, he was there for a week. Our goal was to have a home ready and waiting for us when we pulled into Knoxville.

You see, when we moved to California, we had not locked in a house and had to spend ten days in a hotel while we house-hunted. It was an unsettling way to start a new life chapter.

We vowed that we would never do that again. And when we made that vow, God laughed. Not a cruel laugh—but He is always in control, so when we try to assume that control, it must elicit a parental I-know-better-than-you chuckle.

I heard Him saying— you think you are going to control this housing situation, but I need you turn this over to Me. Wait on Me. Do not be anxious.

So while my husband was there, he searched but found nothing that felt like our new home; he went back to the hotel and was really struggling with frustration.”

OUR TRIALS FOR THEIR FAITH

“He called me, with my 11-year-old listening in, and described how long he had been on his knees praying for a house with nothing to show for it.

My 11-year-old interjected and said she wanted to pray for us.

It was the most beautiful prayer: she thanked God for my husband and me; she thanked Him for the move; she asked Him to help us find a house.

And I knew immediately— this is why He is having us wait.

It’s not to test my faith. It’s for the faith of my children.

A lot of times, we think our trials are just about us—but often, it is about our kids watching us.

She was able to hear her daddy say he fell to his knees and prayed for an hour when he was feeling discouraged.

She witnessed me and my husband fast for a day as we offered up our prayer to the Lord.

And when we do found a house—our home—she will be affirmed again that He is always faithful.”

LISTENING TO HIM; FOLLOWING HIS PACE

“We did get accepted into one rental house that asked for a deposit sight-unseen. But after praying a bit, both my husband and I heard: this is not the one for you. Keep waiting.

I heard Him loud and clear: I have a place for you. Release the control of the search. Stop going on Zillow 5x a day as a semblance of control.

Rest in me.

That’s what He is teaching me right now— wait and rest in Him, like in the passage in Isaiah:

Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint

Isaiah 40.31, ESV

Funnily enough, after passing on that house, I learned some not-so-great things about that particular property management company. I don’t think we would want to sign with a company like that. I know that His “no” was protecting us from a sub-par property company, and maybe much more. He always knows what is best for us.

A FINAL VERSE TO BRING PEACE ABOUT THE MOVE

“One last verse that really helps me understand God’s plan for us is this one:

And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him.

Acts 17.26, ESV

He determines our dwelling place.

He has chosen this time, even through COVID, and he has chosen the place (first California, and now Tennessee) for my family to live. He has created our kids for this time and place.

Our kids have strong wills, and I thank God for those strong wills because of what they will be up against in this current world of ours. And He will give us the strength to live in these situations.

I take comfort that He has a good plan.”

PEACE THAT SURPASSES UNDERSTANDING

“My husband seems to be anxious for a house on my behalf— I will be the one in the hotel with the kids while we wait on a house.

I reassured him that God is faithful in everything, and that a house is coming for us.

My response elicited peace in my husband. Peace begets peace.

I want to use this new home to bless others. As my kids get older, and they want to bring friends home, I want to have the space for that. But we still were able to host dinners in our tiny California house, and so the size of the house truly doesn’t matter. I just want it to bless others.”

Adelaide’s note: It makes me laugh to listen back to the recording at this part of the conversation where I went off on a tangent about the falls in Tennessee, and how I insisted she send me any and all fall foliage pictures.

WHAT WAITING IN HIM TEACHES US

“In our self-gratifying culture, it is very easy to fall into a view of God as a genie in a bottle. And it’s not always instant like that.

My 11-year-old had to pray and wait and pray and wait for friends to come along when we moved to California. And they did. She made such incredible friends, but it didn’t happen instantly.

It happened to me, as well. I would meet a new friend, and that friend would move. I had some friendship deserts during our time in California.

But upon leaving this week, there were friends I hugged goodbye through tears. Friends I know I will get to see in eternity, which is a message of His faithfulness.

There is always grief in losing things, in closing chapters. There will be things I will need to grieve. We didn’t want to move into that small house in California, and today, as walked through the house, we are mourning the loss of the space that held so many beautiful memories. Even my youngest child was born in that small house.

But we know the Lord has great plans for us in our new town.

Through digging online, we already found a church in Knoxville that we are really excited for, they are reading through the Bible chronologically as a church!

So as I embark on this move I say ‘Send me, Lord. Use me, here. I am going to open up my hands, fully letting go, and be here in your peace.’”

IT’S NEVER GOODBYE

Our closing prayer saw tears streaming down both of our faces. We recognize that we will not be able to see each other regularly like we have been doing for eleven years.

But our friendship is strong enough to withstand distance.

And as Hilary reminded me, it’s never goodbye for believers because we have eternity to be together.

with His love,

Adelaide

As I work my way through the New Testament, I am sometimes struck by a pattern or motif in the writing; I’m thinking back to when I discovered the link between faith and healing.

At other times, God focuses my attention on an overarching theme like the blindness that Paul sat with and then shed to be given a new outlook.

But strangely, this time, it wasn’t a theme or motif but a tiny phrase that lodged itself into my mind. For a writer, a curious or memorable string of words is often a signal to lean into that phrase.

ROOTED AND GROUNDED IN LOVE: THE TINY PHRASE THAT SPEAKS VOLUMES

The phrase that God pointed my attention to is a little clause in the middle of a prayer that Paul is offering to the people of Ephesus:

“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you being rooted and grounded in love, may have the strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with the fullness of God.

Ephesians 3.14-19, ESV

Yes, that was one sentence.

Paul is not known for being economical with his language.

So let’s first break down the sentence to its backbone— not because the prepositional phrases aren’t important— but just to first grasp the core of what Paul is praying. I’ll pull apart this verse, and do a little re-organizing to ensure that we are understanding his earnest (albeit lengthy) prayer.

I bow my knees before the Father

that he may grant you [people of Ephesus] to be strengthened with power

through his Spirit

so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith

that you may have the strength

[that comes from] being rooted and grounded in love

to know the breadth and length and height and depth of that love

a love that surpasses (human) knowledge

so that you may be filled with the fullness of God.

NARROWING IN ON THE PHRASE ABOUT TAKING ROOT

So according to Paul, when Christ dwells in our hearts and we have faith, we are being rooted in love.

I looked up the Greek word in this passage, rhiza, which translates to to cause to take root.

This definition implies that the rootedness in love did not exist until a catalyst— in this case, Christ dwelling in our hearts— causes the rooting to occur.

Put another way, when we turn our hearts over to faith in Christ, we are not just growing the roots deeper into our existing soil; rather, we are being transplanted into new soil where our roots will then affix us.

And not just any soil— the soil of His love.

We are being transplanted into new soil where our roots will then affix us.

And not just any soil— the soil of His love.

THE IMPORTANCE OF THE SOIL WE ROOT IN

Soil is the lifeblood to the plants: “The right soil composition allows roots to perform their function properly. Roots capture water, nutrients, and minerals as well as anchors plants to the ground. Whenever the health of roots in compromised, plants are weakened, and without fertile soil, roots cannot grow” (Bayer Cropscience).

Soil surrounds, holds, and feeds the plant.

The quality of the soil determines the quality of the plant.

And if we are not rooted in the soil of love, then what are we planting ourselves in? What are we allowing to feed and sustain us?

Am I rooted in busyness, productivity, and worldly achievement?

Sadly, this is the first answer that comes to mind for me. I am task-driven, and on some level, I mistakenly believe that my value is wrapped up in what I produce.

If I get everything done on my weekly to-do list, I pat myself of the back for running a household well. If I don’t get some things done, I start shaming myself: you only work part-time, why isn’t all of this completed? You are letting your family down.

And that’s not what Jesus wants for me. There is no prize in heaven for “accomplished most household tasks” or “had it all together” or “very responsible.”

If I am feverishly climbing the rungs of the to-do list like a ladder, to where will I ascend? I won’t. It’s a trick ladder, you see. There are always more rungs ahead. It doesn’t end.

I’m not saying I should shirk my responsibilities, of course. God has entrusted me to be a wife and to raise three little boys to be men of Faith.

But the busyness I am referring to almost never describes my core purpose; it’s simply an exercise in the mundane. It ultimately doesn’t matter if I price-check dog food or get birthday gifts mailed out in time.

Being rooted in His love means letting go of striving to produce and achieve, and remembering to rest in Him. To talk to Him. To listen to Him.

Am I rooted in other people’s opinions or worldly praise?

If we are saturated in the desire to please or impress people, we make every decision with that desire feeding us.

  • Perhaps we buy trendy or designer clothes rather than tithing.
  • Perhaps we stifle the truth of our hearts so not to offend anyone.
  • Perhaps we mask our identity in Him to be cooler or more popular in the eyes of man.
  • Perhaps we work and work to see the numbers of our “likes” and followers go up without once asking God if he likes what we have been doing.

Ironically, it is all futile. We can do everything perfectly by the world’s standards and people will still find ways to criticize us.

But if we stretch our roots deep into the soil of the love of Christ, we will strive to be perfect in His eyes and the result is eternal prosperity.

Am I rooted in comfort and the desires of the flesh?

If you have internet connection and a device on which to read this, it is safe to say you are living comfortably. In fact, have you ever considered that the majority Americans can avoid temperature discomfort at all times?

Think about it, you emerge from your blanketed bed and step into a shower with instant warm water. You get into your temperature-controlled car and drive to your place of work that likely has central heat and air.

One can go an entire day in perfect bodily comfort, and many of us do.

Now, of course there are exceptions, and of course I am not suggesting we risk hyper- or hypo-thermia in order to make a point.

What I am suggesting is that we often are driven by what will satisfy the flesh and not the Spirit.

I am entirely guilty of this.

  • I get antsy if it’s been too long between meals.
  • If I have a stacked day of work and adulting, I believe I deserve a fancy drink from a coffee shop.
  • If the water heater doesn’t warm my shower in time, I get impatient and irritated.

A significant portion of first-world inhabitants, myself included, are not conditioned to deal well with discomfort.

But then what of our spiritual condition? What message am I sending when I am guilty of the above? That the desires of my flesh should be met at all costs?

Paul’s letter to the Galatians indicates the exact opposite:

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other

Galatians 5.16-17

Again, am I saying we discard the comforts of modern life? I am not.

What I am saying is that being rooted in the soil of love means we serve the Spirit above the flesh and strive to produce its fruits: love, joy, peace patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 22).

That last one— self-control—means I can ask the Spirit to help me engage in moderation with bodily comforts. I can turn over desires and impulses to him— particularly ones that would prove damaging to the bearing of fruit.

WHAT IS THE SOIL OF LOVE LIKE?

When we accept Christ into our hearts and become transplanted into the soil of love, we are experiencing a complex, multifaceted love.

We are rooted in unconditional love

We do not have to earn God’s love— and even if we mess up, we still have it: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5.8, ESV).

We are rooted in everlasting love

His love does not end; it is eternal: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3.16).

We are rooted in love so valuable, it was worth the life of Jesus

If you are a parent, you will be able to grasp the magnitude of this sacrifice: This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4.9-11).

FINAL THOUGHTS

Do our roots sometimes stray into other soil— the soil of chronic busyness, the soil of pleasing others, the soil of bodily comfort? Sure, we are human.

But when we remain rooted in earthly matters, we are in a soil that doesn’t feed us well. We don’t grow, we don’t blossom, we don’t bear fruit.

So we ask for grace and forgiveness, and for our roots to find their way back to the soil of His love where we produce the good fruit.

with His love,

Adelaide

The human brain contains what is called the comparative frontoparietal network which allows us to take in stimuli and compare, contrast, and categorize as part of our biological makeup. Making quick decisions based on comparison must have been important in agrarian life: pick the clean fruit; leave the bug-ravaged fruit.

In their article “The culture of social comparison,” Baldwin and Mussweiler posit that “comparative thinking can be observed in humans even as early as infanthood. This evidence suggests that comparison is one of the most basic building blocks of human cognition.”

So the mechanism to compare is a key part of being human, and it has a couple of avenues: evaluation or judgment.

Aren’t those the same thing?

There is a slight difference here: evaluation means to assess objectively, whereas “judgments are emotional in nature and often suggest a moral, self-righteous approach” (Jameson).

And in James, amongst other books, it is clear that judgment should be left to God alone: “There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?” (James 4.12, ESV).

But in Paul’s second letter, he experiences both comparison and judgment by those to whom he is addressing the letter—the followers of Christ in Corinth.

In chapter 10, he references one of their criticisms against him:

His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech is of no account

2 Corinthians 10.10, ESV

In this criticism, the Corinthians are suggesting that Paul is not strong enough to lead them, and there is the additional insinuation that he falsely represents himself in his letters.

Ouch. This is quite a harsh judgment upon Paul, who has devoted himself to this population.

HOW DOES PAUL RESPOND TO UNFAIR JUDGMENT?

Paul acknowledges his faults but defends his character

He begins his defense in this way: “Even if I am unskilled in speaking, I am not so in knowledge.” And he goes on to indicate that he never suggested otherwise: “in every way we have made this plain to you in all things” (11.6-7, ESV).

Paul warns the Corinthians of the “apostles” to which they are comparing him

Paul even refers to these other leaders as as “super-apostles” which makes me think he is offering a tone of sarcasm. He insists “such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles for Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” (11.13-14, ESV).

Paul implores his audience to indulge him in a little hypothetical comparison scenario

Paul responds to the comparisons the Corinthians initiated. He is saying, ok, pretend I were someone who boasted, let’s see how I stack up:

Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea [he continues to list the dangers he encountered]… in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on my of my anxiety for all the churches

PAUL ENGAGES IN THE COMPARISON, BUT JESUS HAS A BETTER WAY

Paul continues to make his case for why he is a worthy apostle: “l must go on boasting. Though there is nothing to be gained by it, I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord” (12.1, ESV).

Did you note in this excerpt that Paul acknowledges that boasting gains nothing? If he knew that, why did he do it?

Perhaps he feels so strongly about aiding the population of Corinth that he wants to try and win their trust back in any way possible. Or—and this is not mutually exclusive—perhaps Paul fell victim to the human response to harsh judgment: defense. We spring to defend ourselves in the face of unfair judgment.

But Paul writes of his growing conceit, and how he was humbled:

Three times I pleaded with the Lord about (the thorn of the flesh harassing him and checking his conceit), that that it should leave me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 9-10, ESV

So from verses 9-10 Paul determines:

  • God’s grace is of so much more value than the opinions of others.
  • Why would we need Him if we were without faults and flaws?
  • We should not boast of our strengths but of our shortcomings because then God is glorified all the more.
  • Weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, calamities— we accept all for the sake of Christ.

WHERE DOES COMPARISON AND JUDGEMENT OCCUR FOR US?

On Social Media

We take the curated, exterior lives of others and compare them to our messy interiors. It’s an exercise in disappointment every time.

I understand that none of us want to highlight the low points and messiness— but at what point does what we put forth present a false version of ourselves? I don’t know about you, but my favorite accounts are the ones with a balance of the beautiful curation paired with the real and the messy.

When I started this account, it was a hard decision for me to go filter-free when I film my face on stories, but I decided that people deserve to see the real me, for better or worse. Don’t get me wrong, I still cringe every time I watch my own stories; vulnerability is not always pleasant.

In the Workplace

Are you in a position working alongside other people in similar positions? I am. Situations like these naturally lend themselves to comparison.

Though we are all made to have certain strengths and weaknesses, when we place two or more things (or people) next to one another, our human brains take note of what distinguishes one from the other.

I am struggling, for instance, with feeling like I have much to offer in the online capacity. As an educator, I have always felt more comfortable with in-person teaching situations, and here I am navigating the tech world as best I can and still feel like I am coming up short at times.

In Family Roles

Do you have a sister or brother to whom you were compared? Or perhaps you compare yourself to a sibling without any exterior influence. Did you marry in to a family and feel compared to the members within? Were you adopted and compare yourself to the biological children of the family?

Though I want to believe that all families were good about reserving comparisons like mine was, I know that just is not true. Many of you probably felt the sting of comparison and judgment just by being who you were designed flawlessly to be.

In Parenting

I remember hearing someone once say: “everyone is an expert in parenting… and then they have children.”

If you are not yet a parent, you do not yet know the world of scrutiny and judgment in which we parents currently exist: people watch how I parent at the grocery store, at a playground, at school drop-off, you name it.

This hyper-scrutiny of parents is relatively new, historically speaking.

Time was, if citizens heard about a child getting injured in an unusual way— falling from the top of a hay bale stack, let’s say—the response was usually sympathetic. “Poor child, poor parents,” was the general response; “I hope they are all ok.”

No longer. Perhaps it is our brazen online culture that seems to enhance unfriendly comments with the security of the screen to mask the commenter— but the reaction to the same situation is to find who to blame and blame them loudly: “Someone should call CPS! Some people should never be allowed to have children!”

Judgments like these take no account for human error—no account for the imperfection that occurs in all of us.

And those of us in the role of parent know that there is no harder or holier work on this earth— parents need grace upon grace upon grace.

And those of us in the role of parent know that there is no harder or holier work on this earth— parents need grace upon grace upon grace.

Speaking for myself and other parents with whom I interact, we do the very best we can with the children given to us and with the resources at hand. And it still isn’t enough. His grace has to take over. And thank goodness “his power is made perfect in weakness.”

LET’S APPLY WHAT PAUL LEARNED TO OURSELVES

His grace is of so much more value than the opinions of others. In the end, it really does not matter what other people think; I can do everything “right” and people will still form their own opinions of me. It is only what God thinks of me that matters.

Why would we need Him if we were without faults and flaws? If we were perfect, we would have no need for God. We are flawed beings—yes, even that seemingly perfect influencer on Instagram is flawed— and God delights in supplicating our needs.

We should not boast of our strengths but of our shortcomings because then God is glorified all the more. How many of us truly boast of— or even reveal—our shortcomings? We seem to think that if we share our weaknesses, we will not be accepted. And yet, the opposite is true.

Brené Brown, in her second Ted Talk, Listening to Shame, asked the audience if they thought the vulnerability they saw on stage at TED was weakness or pure courage? The audience indicated the latter.

But we as humans, and believers, don’t tend to boast of our shortcomings. God is pushing me deeper into this. He called me to share my struggles with anxiety this last March, and I felt as vulnerable and weak as you might imagine. But the response was lovely. Still accepted by my friends, I was able to boast of how God helped me out when I could not help myself.

Those of you who have been with the blog since the beginning probably remember Alexis talking about this very verse in our Sips&Scripts chat. She is a go-getter, and wisely reflected that achievement can often go hand-in-hand with chasing the approval of man and not God.

God cares not for our worldly achievement; he wants us to achieve total reliance on Him.

Weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, calamities— we accept all for the sake of Christ.

All four of Paul’s conclusions are easier said than done—that I recognize. But isn’t Christ worth it? Isn’t he worth enduring all of the above? Isn’t heaven worth it?

It is human to hide weakness, recoil from insults, actively try to avoid hardships, persecutions, and calamities.

But that is why God’s kingdom is upside-down from the impulses of the flesh.


Comparison can be unfair. Judgment can sting. But we are His beloved, no matter what the world might try to say otherwise.

with His love,

Adelaide