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Laura: Well, hey guys! Welcome to another episode of Risen Motherhood. I’m Laura, here with my sister-in-law, Emily.
Laura: Today we’re doing part two of our interview series on being living sacrifices. We had an interview last week where Emily interviewed me, and now I’m turning the tables and interviewing her. Ha!
Emily: Yeah, we were inspired by a couple of chapters we have in Risen Motherhood. One on self-care and another on service. As we dove into those, we felt there were so many angles we could talk about. If you missed it, Laura talked about going through a season of burnout, not recognizing limits and needing to establish patterns of Sabbath rest, taking care of herself, and resting in Christ. This week, we’re turning the tables on me to talk about service and how to cultivate a life of service—even if that doesn’t feel super natural or comfortable all the time.
Laura: That’s right! So if you haven’t had the chance to pick up our book yet, we encourage you to do so. Emily and I share a lot of stories we haven’t shared on the show. We’re not specifically talking book stuff today, but it has a lot more information on these topics and more. You can grab it anywhere books are sold. So, let’s get into our interview. [Laughter] Emily’s in the hot seat; I always love it when I don’t have to provide the content. [Laughter]
Emily: I feel like you also like to see me frazzled. [Laughter]
Laura: I do really love to see Emily squirm. [Laughter] Okay. So Emily, I’ve loved watching you over the last six or seven years that you’ve been a mom. I feel like this is a bit cheesy, but I’ve watched you blossom and grow. I know you’ve watched me change and grow in a lot of things, and one of those things is service. We’ve talked about it a lot, since we’re really different. Can you start by sharing with us how God has worked in your heart with service? What were you like when you were first married, and how have you changed?
Emily: Laura and I have talked about our personalities on the show in the past, but I’m wired to enjoy the fun, easy things of life. I don’t really like the same things over and over again. I always like change. I grew up going on nice vacations and eating good food. I loved when I could be served and wasn’t always looking for ways I could serve. When I got married, as a Christian person, I knew I should serve and I wanted to serve my husband. I wanted to love Jesus and show my love for Jesus in that way. But honestly, it didn’t come naturally to me. I think there are some personality types—even though we’re all in our sin and self-centeredness—that are more wired to be helpful.
Laura: Mine. [Laughter]
Emily: You know, like, “Oh I see that! Can I take care of that for you?” And I can be kind of oblivious to that unless I stop to think about that and be intentional. I used to be the kind of person to get up from the table and not think to clear my plate and drink away. I’m not thinking about that, and other people are more prone to think that way or to see how they could wipe the counter, sweep the floor, or help with that. So that was something I really had to grow in. Some of it was being engrossed in my own world, my own thought life. It’s harder to see things other people might need.
So at some point, I had to turn a corner. Having so many children so close together put this pressure on me, and my whole life became active service. There wasn’t time for breaks, and fun, and doing things I wanted to do with my time. I had to face this thing in my heart and fight it with the truth of the word. I’ve shared this on a past show, but I’ll share it again. The verse God used to change my heart was Proverbs 13:4: The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied. Somewhere in there as I studied that verse, it clicked for me. I realized that working hard and serving others like Christ wasn’t an obstacle to joy, fun, or freedom; it was the means to the most joyful, fun, and free life I could have. As somebody who likes to feel good, I realized it feels good to obey God. The soul is richly satisfied when we trust God and depend on him, and he shows up and helps us serve. That really started to click for me, and once it did, I think a life of service became easier for me—although I still struggle with it.
Laura: Well to go back to what you were saying towards the beginning, I think we like a life that’s easy and comfortable and about me. None of us are off the hook no matter how prone to service we are. Obviously, there are a lot of self-centered motivations for serving. There are a lot of ways service can feel good—for good or bad reasons. I love that you said it feels good to obey God. I think so often we think obeying God is hard and it’ll be the thing we don’t want to do. But it’s true that there is joy found in being a living sacrifice, dying to ourselves, and putting others first. I think it’s one of those things that, at first, is really hard and painful; but as you grow in it and grow in understanding of obedience, God is gracious to transfer our hearts and make it easier. So what are some of those key things that God revealed to you, Emily, to help you see service as a real valuable piece as something he designed for your life?
Emily: I think the first thing I recognized was my life belonged to God. The Heidelberg Catechism says, “What is your only comfort in life and death?” And it’s, “That I am not my own, but belong body and soul, and in life and death, to my Savior Jesus Christ.” I say that to myself a lot. In Romans 14, it talks about how whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. If my life is mine, then I get to determine how I can best use my time or resources, whether I feel like serving right now or not. I can choose to pursue recreation and pleasure at my own disposal, even if that only lasts the day. I can groan if people impose on me, because that’s my time and they’re taking it from me; I had a right to this but now they’re taking it against my will. And maybe there are times when I want to give it away, but that’s only if it benefits me. So if that’s our mindset, we’re going to be very self-centered. But if our mindset is our lives belong to God, we don’t get to determine how to spend my time, energy, resources, possessions. And people aren’t actually imposing on me; God is my master, and I’m his servant. So if he says I actually need to love my husband and my kids, care for my home he’s given me, and serve in the church and community; that’s what I need to do. I can do that joyfully, because no one is taking something from me that was mine; it was actually God’s to begin with.
I think another thing is looking at the way Jesus served. One of my favorite verses in Philippians 2 talks about how Jesus emptied himself and took the form of the servant. He humbled himself, and he was obedient to God even to the point of death—giving himself over to the will of the Father for me. If Jesus was a servant even to his death, and he’s who I follow, the frontrunner I’m going after; what choice do I have but to serve?
Another one is seeing that reward: noticing when I serve and God uses me in that way, I get to see others flourish and grow, and I get to see the kingdom expand! I think that was one thing I had to process in my work with Risen Motherhood. There’s a lot of time that goes into producing podcasts and other work. At times, that’s been hard for me to open my hands and let go of that. But then it’s been a huge joy to see how God uses that to expand his kingdom and to see the service of other Christians. I love to see others serving well; sometimes I’ll see that and think it’s so beautiful and awesome that it spurs me on.
And as a final thing, I’ll say I’ve had to realize I really can trust God with how I serve him and spend my time. For me, one of the barriers to service is that I feel like I’m going to be stretched a little too thin. I don’t want to break any promises or commitments; I don’t want to go too long without a break. So I think I better guard, hoard, and protect my time so I don’t get into that position. But I’ve learned more and more that I really can trust and submit things to God. I might feel stretched beyond what I want, but he’s going to give me grace in that moment.
Laura: That’s good stuff. I think I’m coming at this from a different perspective, as someone who says yes to most opportunities that come my way, but I’m also resonating with the stuff you’re saying: you can trust God with your service. Busyness is a barrier, and we can get very off track by turning our wheels. I’m resonating with seeing the beautiful service of other Christians and the gift of service. So again, no matter what side of the fence you might land on, I think there are a lot of shared commonalities in this. In the book, in the service chapter, I talk about how moms can lean one way or another. Some are more in the home, like they’re going to stay confined to the four walls of their home. Sometimes a mom can run from their at-home work to see how many mini accomplishments they can get in the world that makes them feel a little bit better. They’re both serving, but potentially for the wrong reasons, in ways that aren’t healthy, or not in the way God’s called us. So how do you process how you spend your time and what kind of things to be involved in?
Emily: As I think about this, I’m hesitant to put a hierarchy on it. I think at one time I did. I thought, “Here are my realms. And there’s a little target in the middle and then they go out from there. Once I’ve served enough in my home, then I’ll go to realm two, then to realm three.” I think when we begin to think that way, what happens is I’ve never served enough in my home. There’s always that back corner of my basement with an unorganized shelf that probably ought to be organized. There’s always a junk drawer and one more snack cabinet I could refill. I’ve stopped thinking about the order I’m serving in, and instead, looking holistically at my life and the Bible. I believe God has called me to serve and nourish well in my home, and be a life-giver and serve my husband; but I also believe he’s called me to love my church body and community, and asked me to use my gifts in these ways. Instead of trying to think about it in a box or systematic way, my husband and I try to reevaluate every three to six months for areas of life that are providing diminishing returns. What are the things for us that are essential for us to do in our home life and family life? The thing in the back basement can probably wait. I can say, “Yes,” to serving in women’s ministry instead of organizing that thing.
Some practical principles my husband and I use to evaluate are:
We don’t say yes to stuff right away. It probably annoys people at times, but we’ve trained ourselves to think about it, talk to each other, and then get back to the person.
My husband and I try to count the real cost and make sure both of us are on board with what it’ll take. We want to be able to do it all the way to the end with excellence and joy. Of course, God is going to supply that. But if I go serve somewhere else, it’s going to require my husband to help more around the house, so we try to talk through those things.
I mentioned joy. God loves a cheerful giver in a lot of different ways. So yes, sometimes we say, “Yes,” as a duty. But it’s good to think if this opportunity is something I can do by offering myself joyfully.
We like to have an “out date,” where we can change our minds if it isn’t a good thing for us. A lot of times, that’s a year. We don’t commit to most things for the rest of our lives, but in this season, we’ll say, “Yes.”
Finally, we see it as loving to say, “No,” if we don’t think we can do it. We trust God that he will provide another way or another person for it. We don’t have to personally feel guilty or like it was our responsibility.
A lot of those different things help us evaluate the different opportunities to serve and be proactive about how we want to serve as a family in the ways we want to serve, and how to make time and space for those things God is really calling us to so we can do it with joy.
Laura: Those are really good tips. I think it’s clear, no matter where you land, to take time to schedule, plan for, and think critically about how you’re spending your time. We can’t go through life willy nilly or reactionary. To live a life that’s sustainable, it’s more about being proactive. You have to consider how saying yes to this means you can’t do that, or building margin to make quick “yeses” as well. I think that’s the hardest part for me: slowing down, writing it down on paper to think through how I’m spending my time and if this is the best way for the season of life I’m in. So Emily, you’ve talked a little bit about loving fun and comfort. As moms, we’re all faced with boring, mundane work—that’s not special or unique to any mom. What do you do when you feel like you can’t get out of it? You’re feeling bitter or trapped or even resentful when the work is monotonous and you want a break?
Emily: Yeah, acknowledging what’s going on in my heart and not trying to run from it or stuff that down is the first thing. Sometimes I can get into a dutiful mindset where I’m doing it—you can see me washing the dishes—but on the inside, I’m not doing it with a heart that longs to serve God; I’m grumbling inside. So it’s been really important for me to have times of Sabbath rest. Just like what Laura said on the last show: we have a time on Sunday that is a lighter day of work for the whole family, even though, yes, I still have to wash some dishes. I can sit and read a book if I want to. I know there are other patterns or times of the day that we have intentionally built so I can read the word, go on a walk, exercise. So in the moment, I don’t have to react to that feeling of being stressed out from serving too much or feel like I need to get out of here. [Laughter] I can know that in wisdom, with my husband, we have set up these things so I don’t have to react to this. That’s the practical side.
I’d say the spiritual side is to trust God for today. A lot of times when I’m feeling that way, I’m thinking about the next thousand days that are ahead of me—when I’ll be doing the dishes again and again and again. That can feel very overwhelming. I think looking at what he’s given me to do right now and asking for grace, help, and strength to accomplish what’s in front of me is the most helpful—and practical—thing I do. I told Laura sometimes I see a shoe on the floor and think, “Okay Lord, I need to pick up that shoe and put it on the shelf. Okay, next thing. I see a stuffed animal on the floor. Pick up that stuffed animal. I can serve and put that over there. Okay.” And it sounds ridiculous! But sometimes, when I’m overwhelmed with service, it’s that I need to press through. For me, sometimes the answer to not wanting to serve isn’t sitting on the couch, it’s actually depending on God more in service and see him show up with grace and strength in my weakness. Then I get to look back on that time later in the day and think of how I was feeling worn out and couldn’t do one more thing, but God helped me do that. It’s a soul-satisfying thing.
Laura: That’s awesome. I know my mom used to say to me, “I just move left to right. Just left to right.” She’d start on the left side of the kitchen and clean it as she moved to the right. That’s something like your shoe thing. I see this need. I see this need. I see this need. I’ve shared this quote before, but my mom also used to say, “See needs and meet them.” It just means having an eye for what needs need met and going ahead and meeting them. I’ll tell you what; I get so overwhelmed sometimes, that’s all I can do. Left to right. See needs and meet them. I’ll just do one thing at a time. It’s a good way to coach yourself through moments when it’s hard to serve. Emily, what’s a final encouragement you’d give to a mom who’s worn out with serving right now and feels discouraged, stuck, or trapped, but she wants to be better at serving? She knows it’s a call from the Lord, and she wants to be a living sacrifice to her family?
Emily: I feel that. I’ve been in that spot. I’ve even felt that way a little bit today, so I think it’s a normal feeling. What I’ve learned is thankfulness is rewarding. I don’t think I’m going to look back down the road five years from now or two decades from now, and feel I over-served or over-loved them. But I think I might look back and regret if I gave up before God led me to. One of the verses that really helps me stay the course is Galatians 6:9: Let us not grow weary in doing good for in due season, we will reap if we do not give up. I sometimes want to give up, and I get tired of doing good stuff. I’d rather do something that I determine is good. A friend reminded recently that it’s God who determines what’s good. He determines us good in Christ, and then he gives us good works for us to do. So we can trust him in that, that he’ll produce fruit. Also, remember God is strengthening your muscles for obedience. I’ve been exercising lately, which means I’m sore and hurting. I was on the treadmill this morning thinking, “Why am I here? This doesn’t feel good. I’m tired.” But after I was three-quarters of the way through the exercise, I was thinking, “I’m so glad I did this. This is so great. I’m so glad I’m here.” I think that’s true about our muscles of obedience. It’s not always easy. It’s not always fun. But you can’t run a marathon by skipping your workouts and staying in bed every time you don’t feel like doing it. We learn from the Bible that Jesus learned obedience through suffering. So, he learned obedience to the Father too, and he did it perfectly. We have to follow in his footsteps and experience some pain and discomfort as we learn obedience to the Father in serving others. I want to encourage you that God can give strength for that. I think our soul—just like it says in Proverbs 13—is going to be rewarded and satisfied on the other end when we see how God helped us persevere in service.
Laura: That’s a good word to end on. Thanks, Emily, for sharing your story and encouragement to so many moms. If you want to check out the show notes, the links, or the scripture Emily mentioned today, we’ll have all of that on our show notes at risenmotherhood.com. Of course you can follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter @risenmotherhood to stay up-to-date on what’s going on at Risen Motherhood. As we mentioned, this isn’t exactly what we talk about in the book, but we do talk about things like this in our book. We’d encourage you to pick up a copy or order it anywhere books are sold. Go to risenmotherhood.com/book to find the links for purchase or where you’ll find it in stores. Thanks so much for joining us today, guys!