September 24, 2012

The Extra Conscience

A friend emailed me a quote from L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables.

(In case you don’t remember: Anne is the story’s precocious young heroine, and Mrs. Allan is the local minister’s wife.)

Anne says: "’I refused to bet [on the horse race] because I wanted to tell Mrs. Allan about everything, and I felt sure it wouldn't do to tell her that. It's always wrong to do anything you can't tell the minister's wife. It's as good as an extra conscience to have a minister's wife for your friend.’"

After my first chuckle, I started to wonder. Is a pastor’s wife an Extra Conscience?

Yes. And I realize I’m a pretty reluctant candidate.

It's one reason I’m the world’s last Facebook holdout. I don’t want to hover over what people in my church are doing on Sundays and Wednesdays when they aren’t in church.

This is probably cowardly.

Another friend was telling me about her conversation with a young person. This teen questioned whether she’d ever been led by the Lord. Then, one day, the girl decided to do something sneaky she knew her parents wouldn’t like. Immediately, she felt sick, and changed her mind. My friend was able to explain: that icky feeling was the Lord’s leading. It was the Spirit.

But what about when the Spirit uses me to be somebody’s bad feeling?

When I ask a woman about her romantic relationship and get a “fine” and a subject change. When a teen comes to me seeking absolution---starting her story with “I know I shouldn’t _____, but. . .” When I make 10 phone calls and get the unanswered abyss of 10 voicemail boxes, giving me the impression I've been screened and rejected.

Sometimes when I simply walk into the room.

I am the stone in the pit of some stomachs. It’s not a glamorous place to be.

I remember my husband’s sermon about Elijah the dogged prophet and Ahab the hounded king. Elijah refused to allow Ahab to have peace in his sinfulness, my husband said. He wouldn’t let Ahab escape. In some ways, and although Ahab didn’t know it, Elijah was Ahab’s very best friend.

At home, I try to teach my kids to be thankful for the Spirit. If they startle when I walk into the room, I talk to them about the state of their hearts. I tell them the sinking, uh-oh-bad-idea feeling is the Spirit. And I encourage them: that bad feeling is actually God’s goodness.

Similarly, if our presence causes people to startle, it’s a sign that God is still going after their hearts. It’s good, whether they think so or not.

The second Elijah, the one Jesus called the greatest human in history (Matthew 11:11), was an extra conscience, too. And he was unpopular enough to get beheaded. His calling was clear, “[Christ] must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30)

Sometimes the yucky jobs are the ones that most glorify God.

I’ve got a sign-up sheet here if you want to be an extra conscience. All you have to do is show up. Any volunteers?


  1. Am I the only who feels uncomfortable during an especially convicting sermon when first-time visitors are present in the church? I am not condoning my actions, but I do worry that people might be scared away. I have it backwards.

  2. I don't know how many times I've been in conversation with women, commenting about a particular speaker they heard or book they read, who say something like, "That book or speaker was so convicting." Usually they mean, "It, or he, made me feel like an awful, worthless sinner."

    I know that feeling, but I'm learning ever-so-slowly that conviction is actually a good thing--evidence, as you said, that God loves me and continues to be at work in me.


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