November 18, 2013

To Defy Expectations

Most Saturday nights of my childhood, my mom would shave my preacher-dad’s neck. With shaving cream and a razor, as he knelt on the bathroom floor in front of the sink, she’d week-by-week restore orderly perfection to his hairline.

It was a ritual as integral to our family as the yearly beach trip and Christmas-time candy-making. My dad would stand at the top of the stairs and call to my mom that he was ready. They’d both emerge in a few minutes, my brother and I pointing out the few stray puffs of shaving cream still clinging to my dad’s neck.

I suspect this ritual continues—though we third-party witnesses are grown and gone—and I think of it with regret on Sunday mornings when my own preacher-husband ascends the pulpit, scruffy-necked yet again.

There is no glory in wifely neck-shaving, of course. No one actually knows that you’ve done it. No one thanks you for it, apart from your husband. No one retweets it or likes it on social media. You don’t get a bumper sticker or a t-shirt. There’s no book to be written about it.

No glory at all.

Recently, in The Wall Street Journal, Chad Stafko wrote about the runner’s obsession with proclaiming his own running prowess. He says:

There is no more visible form of strenuous exercise than running. When runners are dashing down a street in the middle of town or through a subdivision, they know that every driver, every pedestrian, every leaf-raker and every person idly staring out a window can see them. These days, people want more than ever to be seen. This is the age of taking a photo selfie and posting it on Facebook with the announcement that you're bored—in the hope that someone will "like" that information. People want attention and crave appreciation. If you're actually doing something like running—covering ground, staying healthy, close to having fun—what better way to fulfill the look-at-me desire? The lone runner is a one-person parade. Yay.
I'm not a runner, and I have humble, godly friends who are, so I’m not talking against running as a legitimate use of time and body—but the ubiquitous recognition-seeking spirit Stafko describes goes far beyond the people with 26.2 stickers on their cars.

In the church, and in ministry families, the temptation is to do the things that look impressive. We can define ourselves—find our identity—by the things we do that other people might notice. Bible-study leader. Hostess. Writer. Speaker. Sunday school teacher. Greeter. Organizer.

The other day, some seminary wives were discussing their fear of the expectations their future congregations might have. They worried that they’d be asked to play the piano, to counsel people in difficult circumstances, to lead women’s groups or youth groups. To have the perfect home, kids, and hair. To make casseroles.

The expectations are from without and within. They are that subtle temptation to do things that are Instagrammable.

But Scripture doesn’t define us by what we do. Instead, God gives us an identity that defines who we are: “the saints [holy ones] who are faithful [believers] in Christ Jesus” says Paul in Ephesians 1:1.

The things that we do are merely out-workings of who we are. Never the other way around.

It’s an understanding of who we are that frees us from the tyranny of public applause. So, if you’re feeling pressured, if you wonder if your life’s actions would make good t-shirt copy, please know that it’s not about the noteworthy things you do. It’s about living before the face of an unseen God who calls you His beloved.

Not great for bumper-stickers, but priceless in eternity.


  1. This is a great article - something I've been thinking about for a while now. I've started posting less and thinking more about why I post something.
    For my sewing and such, I have to do some self-promotion so that I can make money for some needs for our family. When it comes to more personal things though, I try to examine my heart, especially as someone who has struggled for years with fearing people.

  2. Thanks for the encouragement. It is easy to get caught up in the "What's in in for me?" and the "How does this advance my cause?" mindset.


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