Which of these Christian writers looks most like you?
Where are the Christian authors who look the way I think Jesus' disciples should look?
Where are the snaggle-toothed, gaunt-cheeked theologians with bags under their eyes? Where are the women whose thrift-store wardrobes that show they chose to give a handout rather than get a manicure? Where are the women who, upon reading Luke 14:33, took it seriously and did something about it?
I started thinking this way more frequently after a friend gifted me a book by a prominent inspirational women’s author. Months later, when she asked me how I enjoyed the book, I had to admit that I couldn’t make it through the first chapter, let alone the entire book. I had been irritated that the author used a cancelled hair appointment to illustrate how she learned to trust God. It wasn’t financial hardship, or heath problems or family disputes, but a hair appointment that taught her trust. How lucky, I thought, that she could endure so little and learn so much.
It was not just the content of the book I disliked, though. The writing itself was laced with clichés and “easy answers.” Again, my annoyance gave rise to words: How could she suggest that things like faith, love and obedience come easy? How could the publishers let this print without revisions? After I explained this to my friend, I realized that I didn’t merely dislike the book. I resented the author for writing about a Christian experience so unlike mine.
But that’s thing about resentment: it is often rooted in something toxic.
Sometimes my resentment takes root in pride. I look at an author or a peer, click my tongue and say, "She doesn't look like me. She doesn't live like me. She doesn’t write like me. She must be wrong." Other times, dislike takes root in anger. I’ll compare her and I, and I’ll say to myself, “Why does she get to enjoy the luxury of a publishing deal and financial security while I must empty my savings to pay my bills?” Or – and this is the worst one – I’ll get envious of an author’s success, assuming a jealousy James says is “earthly, unspiritual and demonic." In this way, my disapproval becomes the front for and a result of my envy.
Obviously these reactions are unhealthy and unbecoming of a Christian. I do wonder, though, if I can vocally disagree with what some authors promote as “the right way to be an American Christian woman” while rooting my criticisms in virtue rather than vice.
Objectively speaking, in my search for Christian women authors to read and emulate, and I’ve had little interest in the ones marketed to me. Their struggles and interests do not resonate with me, and their writing style does not hold my attention. And while this is no reason to be upset, I find that I am.
Hair appointments aside, I do have something in common with these women. They have accomplished something I dream of doing: they have written about life with God. They have signed publishing contracts and received advances. They have built empires and wield enormous influence. Because of what they wrote, someone else might be closer to knowing truth.
I want to write too. But not about lip gloss, Pinterest and the ease with which my faith has come to me (God knows that is a lie). As I get older, the temptation grows stronger: find a boy and settle down and set up a blog. Use all of the latest technologies to promote my writing. Resign myself to a slow, comfortable life, steadily accumulating a following eager to read about how I've organized my closet and what I cooked for dinner and how I dressed my children.
But when push comes to shove, I can't cop out. I am compelled to read and write about this terrifying, painful, tedious thing we call “life with God.”
I don’t want to be a part of a church where the only acceptable way to be a woman is to be a housewife and mother who writes certain “marketable” things and does certain “acceptable” things with her time and money. And I don’t want to be a part of an industry that insists the only way to write is like this one author, whose Bible studies are beautifully-packaged but rarely in depth or useful. Or like other authors who bold the most important sentences in their posts because they fear readers are too lazy to read the whole entry. (I think to myself: I will not cheapen my voice that way.)
At the same time, I need to acknowledge that I am not the barometer of right and wrong, and in judging them, I have set myself up to be judged in the same way. That thought alone frightens me.
I’m also frightened of what I will become if I succumb to the toxic jealousy that coats my mind and words and eyes and leads others to believe that it is okay to be this way. It's not okay. I don’t want to relegate my writing (which is my purpose, my first love, my raison d’etre) to the chokehold of comparison to others.
I think of the people in Scripture who let jealousy devour them. Michal watched David dance before God and "despised him in her heart” – and was barren from that day onward. Miriam envied Moses’ authority among the Israelites and his intimacy with God. She opposed Moses publicly, incurred God’s wrath, and provoked him to curse her with a temporary leprosy. Saul became a slave to his jealousy of David, instead of experiencing the freedom of obedience and submission to God. Saul’s sons (including the lovely and upstanding Jonathan) paid with their lives for their father’s envy. Saul’s troops, his right-hand man Abner, and his countrymen – no one went untouched by the consequences of Saul’s envy. These stories taught me that God hates jealousy and so should I.
I should be cautious not to despise Christian authors for their success. They have obeyed and honored God, worked hard at their craft and made sacrifices to publish their works. If I disagree with the particulars, I will disagree sharply but civilly as Paul and Barnabas did before parting. But I should not let indignation or self-importance dictate my thoughts, defile my actions or encumber my prayers.
The specifics of how I repent will be a private matter between God and I, but I have chosen to share my thought process thus far in hopes that it could profit someone else.
13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.
17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.
2 Samuel 6
16 As the ark of the Lord was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart.
17 They brought the ark of the Lord and set it in its place inside the tent that David had pitched for it, and David sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings before the Lord. 18 After he had finished sacrificing the burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord Almighty. 19 Then he gave a loaf of bread, a cake of dates and a cake of raisins to each person in the whole crowd of Israelites, both men and women. And all the people went to their homes.
20 When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said, “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, going around half-naked in full view of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!”
21 David said to Michal, “It was before the Lord, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the Lord’s people Israel—I will celebrate before the Lord. 22 I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor.”
23 And Michal daughter of Saul had no children to the day of her death.
Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite. 2 “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses?” they asked. “Hasn’t he also spoken through us?” And the Lord heard this.
3 (Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.)
4 At once the Lord said to Moses, Aaron and Miriam, “Come out to the tent of meeting, all three of you.” So the three of them went out. 5 Then the Lord came down in a pillar of cloud; he stood at the entrance to the tent and summoned Aaron and Miriam. When the two of them stepped forward, 6 he said, “Listen to my words:
“When there is a prophet among you,
I, the Lord, reveal myself to them in visions,
I speak to them in dreams.
7 But this is not true of my servant Moses;
he is faithful in all my house.
8 With him I speak face to face,
clearly and not in riddles;
he sees the form of the Lord.
Why then were you not afraid
to speak against my servant Moses?”
9 The anger of the Lord burned against them, and he left them.
10 When the cloud lifted from above the tent, Miriam’s skin was leprous—it became as white as snow. Aaron turned toward her and saw that she had a defiling skin disease, 11 and he said to Moses, “Please, my lord, I ask you not to hold against us the sin we have so foolishly committed. 12 Do not let her be like a stillborn infant coming from its mother’s womb with its flesh half eaten away.”
13 So Moses cried out to the Lord, “Please, God, heal her!”
14 The Lord replied to Moses, “If her father had spit in her face, would she not have been in disgrace for seven days? Confine her outside the camp for seven days; after that she can be brought back.” 15 So Miriam was confined outside the camp for seven days, and the people did not move on till she was brought back.
1 Samuel 31
Now the Philistines fought against Israel; the Israelites fled before them, and many fell dead on Mount Gilboa. 2 The Philistines were in hot pursuit of Saul and his sons, and they killed his sons Jonathan, Abinadab and Malki-Shua. 3 The fighting grew fierce around Saul, and when the archers overtook him, they wounded him critically.
4 Saul said to his armor-bearer, “Draw your sword and run me through, or these uncircumcised fellows will come and run me through and abuse me.”
But his armor-bearer was terrified and would not do it; so Saul took his own sword and fell on it. 5 When the armor-bearer saw that Saul was dead, he too fell on his sword and died with him. 6 So Saul and his three sons and his armor-bearer and all his men died together that same day.
7 When the Israelites along the valley and those across the Jordan saw that the Israelite army had fled and that Saul and his sons had died, they abandoned their towns and fled. And the Philistines came and occupied them.
36 Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” 37 Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, 38 but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. 39 They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, 40 but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord. 41 He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.