Monday, March 21, 2016

Heart of Felt: The Little Lady with the Divine Calling

You meet some interesting people when you exhibit at Christian conferences. I've met people who think they're doing the Lord's work by firing t-shirts with Bible verses on them from a cannon, by printing Bible verses on frisbees and selling them in packs of five. I've been given a sewing kit by a woman who works at Dollywood. I've helped a fellow exhibitor take coins (with Bible verses printed on them, of course) out of one ziplock bag and put them in another.

Recently I met a woman who was in the midst of accepting a divine call on her life — the kind of woman who generally would rather be called a lady than a woman, but who will generally accept whatever you call her because, you know, boys will be boys. She was a little freaked out by this commissioning she was in the process of experiencing, to be honest. Her family had entered the orbit of a cottage industry of complementarity — resources designed to help men reclaim their God-ordained leadership role in the home. Her family was traveling up and down the coast, telling their story and selling their books. They had discerned together that the women benefiting from these newly actualized men — these women freshly relieved from the burden of leadership in their homes, only recently delivered to the promised land of making meals and deferring to daddy — needed their own resources to orient themselves to this brave new world. Her husband had given her the nod: she was to suit up and enter the fray. She was to write a book.

Normally I run from people who feel God has given them a book to write, and particularly when they feel God has given them a book to write about something with which I strongly disagree. Normally they're looking for an editor to write them a contract, pay them an advance, and suffer through the birthing pains of their divine mandate, and generally speaking, that doesn't interest me. But when you're hawking your own wares at a conference, there's nowhere to run. You're stuck with your neighbor, and as the Good Book says, you have to love your neighbor as yourself. Dang it.

TWEET THIS: You're stuck with your neighbor, and as the Good Book says, you have to love your neighbor as yourself. Dang it.

But in this case there was nothing to run from. This woman didn't have the wild eyes of the prophet seeking publication. She had the wide eyes of a deer in the headlights. She was just this side of panicked at the thought of writing this book.

After I wrote Deliver Us from Me-Ville, my missive against a culture of narcissism (bully for me!), a friend pointed out a problem he had with it (bully for him). His concern was this: A highly narcissistic culture notwithstanding, for many modern women, the besetting sin seeking to devour them isn't self-absorption but self-annihilation — actively suppressing their own desires, even their sense of vocation, even their voice, out of a sense of obligation to their relationships.

TWEET THIS: For many modern women, the besetting sin seeking to devour them isn't self-absorption but self-annihilation.

For such women, my friend told me (too late, I might add, for me to revise my manuscript accordingly), the accusation of narcissism reinforces their self-suppression, adding to their sense of guilt and responsibility to reduce themselves for the greater good. They suffer from that self-suppression, and because their voice and vocation and God-given desires are suppressed, so do the rest of us.

I don't know if that's what was going on in this woman's mind — writing a book is a pretty daunting undertaking in and of itself — but I found myself thinking about it as we talked. I found myself trying to give her courage, to affirm this sense of calling — ironically, cheering her on to accept this leadership role in helping women abdicate their leadership. She won me over in spite of my reluctance to engage weird writing projects, in spite of my strong disagreement with one of her core convictions. I wanted to reward her for believing in something, to encourage her to believe in herself.

You encounter shocking displays of earnestness when you hawk your wares at Christian conferences. You encounter a fair bit of cynicism too; you may mark me in the record as exhibit A. I imagine that if this woman were to write about our conversation, she'd express some degree of sadness for my soul. In that respect, despite my eager encouragement of her, I suspect I got the better end of the deal in our interaction: Earnestness is generally more edifying than cynicism, and certainly more endearing. (I did notice that a lot more people hugged her goodbye at the end of the conference than hugged me.)

TWEET THIS: Earnestness is generally more edifying than cynicism, and certainly more endearing.

I find myself increasingly, in the wake of such interactions, wondering why I'm not more earnest. Or, maybe more to the point, what I am (or could be) earnest about. As much as I disagree with some of this woman's views on things, she was undeniably heartfelt about it. And heartfelt is a truly lovely word. It evokes real, authentic feeling. It suggests a softness, a suppleness, a heart of felt that absorbs the shocks of circumstance and sustains a person through hardship, helping them keep their eyes in the prize. A soft heart is, in fact, a key aspect of the beatific vision: A day is coming when "I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh" says the Lord to the prophet Ezekiel, "and give them a heart of flesh.”

‭‭ I'm actually confident I'm annoyingly earnest about a few things. Even cynics have blind spots. Please feel free to call me on it when I'm overly earnest. But also please feel free to let me be soft and supple of heart. It costs you nothing, really, except a temporary suspension of cynicism.

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