Shine Like Stars (and Fireflies)

My garden has a bunch of fireflies that hang out in my plants during the day, and then glitter up at night. Lots of them. It’s very magical, the more lights the better. Those little bugs always remind me of the section in Philippians about shining like stars, fireflies always have. It also reminds me how a group of us shining our lights together can be a beautiful thing. As Christian women, this can be us shining together.

Do we shine together, though? It’s tough. The mom lifestyle of our generation includes a healthy amount of online research to get a handle on all the latest data and theories about raising babies. Popular topics include car seats, sunscreen, diapers, food, screen time, education. The list goes on. We all do this reading because we love our kids and have the best of intentions. As Christians, we understand we should shine like stars. We understand we should be examples to the world around us. It is really easy, though, to take the wisdom of the world and infuse it into our Christian wisdom. It is really easy to decide that the decisions we make in our own families, in our Christian freedom (the areas God has not specifically spelled out), are the best decisions and if people are wise, they will do exactly the same. It is at this point we should really pause and think about what we are doing.

I found my dog's toy laying in yard one night, bug-eyed and squished on every side. I relate to this Mr. Pig toy most days. Don't most mamas?

I found my dog's toy laying in yard one night, bug-eyed and squished on every side. I relate to this Mr. Pig toy most days. Don't most mamas?

This is the point at which mom-shaming often enters the picture, even for Christian mothers. Mom-shaming is really any kind of condescending attitude towards other moms. It’s a bit of adult bullying, passive-aggressive comments, snarky posts on social media, posting pictures of our impossible-to-follow diet foods along with a pat-myself-on-the-back caption, sharing tons and tons of articles about all the ways to get the mom stuff down to perfection (implying we have implemented all these things personally). When we slip into the guilty pleasure of mom-shaming each other – our spiritual immaturity is showing. Isn’t it true that when we are putting others down it is because of insecurities of our own? Whether we are realizing it or not, we feel a little taller when we stomp down on others. Yet, this behavior doesn’t gain us respect with others and it has nothing to with shining like stars. It is a good way to dim our own lights and those of others. Let’s give each other a break.

Jesus spent his time befriending sinners, amazing grace behavior which he credits to our accounts. His friends never had it all together, many of them dealing with big issues. And yet, we turn around and cut each other down over small things like iPad time and gluten in the name of being good shining examples of motherhood. Love and acceptance can be elusive among moms, that shouldn’t be. We all stand in the same grace.

This is what fireflies do all day. They are pretty relaxed.

This is what fireflies do all day. They are pretty relaxed.

Holding each other to motherhood perfection is not what it means to be shining stars. That is, in reality, just a modern-day Pharisee game in new organic packaging. Just as the Pharisees of Jesus’ day loved their own longs lists of rules, we construct additional rules around motherhood, levels of perfection. Even though they may initially be well-intentioned actions aimed at health and goodness, our little ones watch us getting caught up in this self-righteous behavior and then Facebook boasting about it. So stressful, heavy, exhausting. Spiritually exhausting.

To be a shining star is something much more joyful. It is something lighter, happier, and really isn’t about our own shininess or perfection. To be a shining star is something that happens because you hold firmly to the word of life. It is to love the gospel. It is to spend so much time with your Jesus that all the noise of social media motherhood guidance fades away into the lesser priorities to be handled later, if necessary. It is to hold dear the wisdom given by God (not the internets) through his word for life. Real life. Forever life.

While shining like stars, holding to the word, we will begin to see each Christian woman for her beautiful spiritual gifts before her faults because we see her has a sister in Christ through eyes of faith. Words of encouragement in those gifts will come to mind before the sharp criticism - because that is what the Holy Spirit can work into our hearts through God’s Word. He smooths out our sharp edges and fills us with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and self-control. All of those things. To each of us, as a gift. Along with that gift, confidence in ourselves as unique, loved children of God.

…for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose…. Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life.

- Philippians 2:13,15

It is God who makes us into shining stars, everything we need for that is in his word. We will not find the ability to be a shining star within the collective mothering wisdom of our generation. We will not be stars by just being really good moms. We will not show our children how to be shining stars if we use any source of light other than the amazing sacrifice and love of Jesus. Fall in love with that gospel again and again and your light will shine. Your kids will see, other moms will see. The more lights, the better.

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.
Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain. But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.

 

- Philippians 2:12-18

If You've Ever Counted Your Blessing and Still Felt Sad

In no particular order….

Jesus, husband, kids, coffee, art, work, my kids happily playing on swings, warm weather, sunshine, the scent of lavender, big tall trees, a home, a car, puppy dog, friends that love me even though they know I’m a big mess, gardening, music…

These are a few of my favorite things - my favorite blessings to count when times are tough. Some days, the loveliness warms my heart and the blues just lift away and I’m ok. God is good.

But seriously, this scenario has played out for me as well:

I feel sad, I count my blessings, I still feel sad, I determine I’m super broken because it didn’t work, I decide it would be better to just stay in bed.

Sometimes we stab ourselves and each other with this accounting of blessings. Times are tough? Count your blessings! Ouch…. Why was there guilt there? Has that happened to you? Wasn’t it confusing? Did you feel bad for how ungrateful you are, rather than joy? Did you think you are required to be happy happy joy joy 100% of the time, no matter how hard the struggle?

Instead of just enjoying the grace of God’s amazing blessings, we use this handy survival tool as a way to pile on more guilt.

In Philippians, we find this passage: 

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
— Philippians 4:8

This is solid advice, no doubt. Looking at whatever is lovely is a really good technique for seeing our life through the eyes of faith. It helps with perspective. As a designer I love love love to look for the lovely. I draw it, photograph it, paint it. Love it. Seeing good in life can be an important component of resilience. We see all the ways God has provided for us, so we know that we need not worry. God’s got this. It truly is solid wisdom for Christian living.

Like people tend to do, though, we make a royal mess of something lovely God has given us. Do we sometimes add up our blessings and rank ourselves against each other? Do we think that if we are really good at blessing accounting, sadness will go away and problems will disappear? Do we hope we have finally found the right behavioral formula to earthly joy? If someone is sad and wants to talk it out, do we assume they are weak in faith because they are struggling? That’s just not quite how it works.

At the very same time as we see all the beautiful things God has given us, we know this:

In this world you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world.
— John 16:33

If ever I’m tempted to think that I’m having trouble because I didn’t count my blessings, I remember this passage. Jesus promised trouble would happen, it isn’t a surprise or bad blessing accounting. This world is broken. Jesus overcame it, though. That’s where our joy is at. Joy and trouble coexist on earth. That’s why our feelings are a jumbled mess sometimes.

On a day when blessing counting is bringing me down, I turn to Romans 5. I can look at suffering and gifts in another way – and I just stand there rather than counting. I stand in grace. 

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
— Romans 5: 1-5

If a friend is suffering, it’s tempting to say, “Stop it!” Rather than assuming a shortfall in blessing counting, maybe we can look at Romans 5 together. Suffering – perseverance – character – hope. Standing in grace. I love that Romans 5 starts out with peace and standing in grace and then along side that goes through suffering and producing perseverance. Suffering is a HARD, and knowing we stand in grace while we go through it is real comfort.

Most of us suffer ugly. It isn’t such a lovely thing to look at on the outside. We’ve got the ugly cry going on and the dirty yoga pants and legos and cheerios everywhere. Hiding under the bed on a mama time-out, mascara all over our faces. Wiping our nose with toilet paper because Kleenex is an expensive luxury. Standing in grace, growing in character, having hope.

The world is broken, it hurts. Sometimes hurt is more complex than perspective alone can fix. Sometimes, healing takes time. Don’t feel bad about that. A good perspective from seeing blessings helps, but sometimes we need time to mourn. Other times, we may need to roll up our sleeves and fight battles. Or maybe we need to make peace through hard conversations, rather than keeping peace by pretending the storms aren’t real. Maybe we are just waiting and wondering if chronic pain will ever go away. Sometimes, it’s just complicated.

We wait for our Savior to heal our hearts and eventually bring us to our heavenly home – that’s the long term plan. Meanwhile, God’s pouring out his love in our hearts to get us through day to day. With all that perseverance and hope you’re gaining, you will have peace. You will wake up one day and realize God brought you through and it’s ok again. New seasons come.

I just want you to know, that if you have counted your blessings and still felt sad and struggled, you aren’t necessarily more broken than everyone else. Suffering isn’t a surprising thing. And in itself it is a blessing through which we gain hope. While you do it, you stand in grace – not contingent on your accounting skills. Grace is free – zero – easy math. 

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
— Philippians 4:7