Dear Shepherdess: A few months ago some of us in the Washington, D.C., area attended a Seminar Workshop for Women taught by Verna Birkey. I was very impressed to see and hear the several hundred Christian women in attendance singing the hymns of the church, quoting Scripture, and praying earnestly for God to be the "blessed controller" of their lives, their homes, their families.
A large group of ministers' wives at tended this same workshop in Los Angeles in 1976. I asked Fern Calkins, the busy wife of the president of the Southern California Conference, to write a short summary from her class notes. Here it is:
"You asked how the ladies received the seminar.
"Several of the women in the Southern California Conference have spoken and written of the blessing and practical help they received from it, both for themselves and for those whom they counsel. One of our secretaries, who is raising a teen-ager alone (and with difficulty), shared how she went home and applied the insights she received in dealing with the strained relationship with her son. To her great joy, in two weeks he made a marked change and wanted to attend a series of evangelistic meetings. He was recently baptized, and is now experiencing a wonderful trans formation.
"One of our pastors' wives, who had a marriage problem in her home, and only reluctantly attended, said afterwards, Tm so glad you saw to it that I went to the seminar. It really straightened me out on women's lib. I went right home and told my husband that I saw I was wrong and asked his forgiveness.' "A wife of the pastor of one of our larger churches said, 'It was like a fresh breath of air.'"
This is truly continuing education—giving one new insights and helping in Christian growth. By reading and con versing we expand our horizons. I read of one minister's wife who thought, If Elder H. M. S. Richards can read the Bible through in a month, maybe I can, too. And she did, with a few days to spare. So let's set new goals for our selves and by God's grace achieve higher ground. With love, Kay.
DO YOU think that the average Christian finds the greatest satisfaction and happiness within his own family? Are the thoughts of your greatest happiness and love associated with your home?
God created every individual with basic needs—to love and to be loved, to feel a sense of worth to others and to himself. Home should be where you feel at ease and safe from the conflicts of the "world," where you are understood by others and are at one with them, where you feel you belong because people and things there belong to you. Excepting your personal relationship with God, nothing should give you more happiness than your family. What goes on in the confines of your home after friends are gone and the doors are closed is very important. None of us will ever be con tent and happy until our family life becomes more and more what God wants it to be.
We prepare for the professions of medicine, nursing, teaching, and business, but what preparation do we make for a home after God's design? We need to learn how to apply Bible principles to interpersonal relationships so that conflicts will be avoided and so that, instead of being fragmented, we can be whole persons—able to give ourselves wholly to God.
What is the greatest hindrance to two individuals living together in love as one? It is selfishness that is quick to take offense and insist on its right. "I want my way," each may say, and hang on, refusing to give up. Or one may say, "If you were to give up your selfish way, we could have harmony." If one will give in to the other, then there's a possibility, at least, that the two can go in the same direction.
God gives specific instructions in Ephesians 5: "Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands. . . . For the husband is the head of the wife" (verses 22, 23). "Let ... the wife see that she reverence [respect] her husband" (verse 33). A wife's voluntary giving of leadership rights (and responsibilities) to the husband meets man's basic need to be respected and looked up to. When the wife thus does her part, not only will God bless her for it, but her husband will love her for it. (This avoids conflict, whether he deserves this respect or not.) "If you treat a man as he is, he will stay as he is, but if you treat him as if he were what he ought to be, and could be, he will become that bigger and better man." —Goethe.
There is a cost: denying self. What is denying self? Is it to abstain from eating desserts in December, except for parties and when with company? Not really. To deny self is to give up my right to do things "my way" to give up priorities on "my rights." Sometimes we read Luke 9:23: "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross yearly, and follow me." (The text, of course, says "daily.") Someone has quipped that the three words a bride thinks of most on her wedding day are: aisle, altar, hymn. (Sometimes after the ceremony she may switch from altar to alter.) Her attempted alteration of her husband will never succeed in bringing happiness to her and certainly not to him. When one attempts to change an other person, one is actually saying, "I don't really like you 'as is,' but I would if you would become what I want you to." How important it is to accept each other "as is," without altering. Ephesians 1:6 says that we are "accepted in the beloved [no conditions attached]."
But what about "my rights"? Does "denying self" sound morbid and destructive of personality? Christ says, "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly" (John 10:10). Not just in the future, but now.
God gave specific directions to Noah for building the ark, and to Moses for constructing the sanctuary. He has also given directions for the building of the family. Consider applying these principles with your mate:
1. Honor and respect. "Let each es teem [the] other better than themselves" (Phil, 2:3), or, "Think more of each other than you do of yourselves" (verse 3, Phillips),* or practice treating "one an other as more important than himself" (verse 3, N.A.S.B.).t
2. Give support (but not advice!) with your sympathy and understanding during times of discouragement or failure. "Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted" (Eph. 4:32).
3. Have a forgiving attitude toward thoughtless actions or blunders, "for giving one another, as God in Christ forgave you" (verse 32, R.S.V.).
4. Take an interest in things that interest the other. Listen to each other with real attention—to the person the other one really is. Be geared to filling each other's needs. "None of you should think only of his own affairs, but consider other people's interests also" (Phil. 2:4, Phillips). "Stop looking after your own interests only but practice looking out for the interests of others too" (verse 4, Williams).+ These same principles are also effective with our children, our parents, and in other interpersonal relationships.
When we thoughtfully consider the alternatives, it will seem that the cost of denying ourselves is small because the reward is so great. Remember, it's never too late. No matter where we are in our pilgrimage, the mercy and grace of God can always change a situation.
* Prom The New Testament in Modem English, © J. B. Phillips 1972. Used by permission of The Macmillan Company.
+ From the New American Standard Bible. Copyright 1972 by The Lockman Foundation.
+ From The New Testament in the Language of the People by Charles B. Williams. Copyright 1966 by Edith S. Williams. Published by Moody Press, Moody Bible Institute of Chicago. Used by permission.