Free from opinions
Freedom from worldly views also means that you should not be curtailed by the opinion of fellow sisters in the church. I stress the word "opinion" because there's a difference between the biblical norms and commands of God on the one hand, which are upheld by the church and rightfully expected of everyone, also the sisters. We do need to watch over each other and gently be our sister's keeper, holding each other accountable to God's Word. But on the other hand, over time and with the development of customs and practices and ways of doing things, strong expectations can take shape that are not based on Christ's commands but on human opinion. And when people are not allowed to deviate from those human expectations, then that's a form of oppression we must take our stand against as well.
Compassion, not competition
You'll know it's a form of oppression because inside you feel afraid of it. You'll have a great desire to conform so that you will find acceptance and favour and maybe even commendation from your fellow sisters in Christ. But sisters, Christ has come to cast out fear of punishment, to fill our hearts with peace and contentment. He did not shed his blood so that I could be yoked under a new form of fear, so that I have to imagine what those 200 sets of eyes see when they look at me and what their opinion is of my looks, my kids, my husband, my family. He did not put us together in the church so that we would compete with each other for the perfect-wife-of-the-year award, the best-mom-of-the-congregation badge, or the most-together, helpful and good-looking sister-in-the church prize! He put us together so that we could serve one another as each of us strives to serve Christ. So that we could love each other out of a tireless love for our Saviour. He put us here not to ramp up pressure on each other but to be part of community of contentment, a society of solace, a people of peace.
We must be deliberate and conscious about this in order to over-come it, because it is so subtle. Ask yourself before you go to church Sunday morning: what does my Lord and Saviour ask of me on this day? What does he want from me as a woman? As a wife and mother? What does he want from my children? Why am I putting on this dress and why do I want my kids looking like this - is it to impress my church friends or is it to honour my Lord?
Ever notice how much tension is in the air in our homes when we are rushing the kids and ourselves to get dressed up? We have to herd them along like cattle and not one hair can be out of place ... and by the time we get to the van the parents are frazzled and the kids are grumpy.
That is not freedom. And the Jubilee woman may say: I will not bow down to the idol of vanity. Also on Sunday mornings, I will take up my cross and stand under the yoke of Jesus Christ. I am free to prepare my family for a joyful day of worshipping our Saviour. I'll do my best to prepare their hearts and their bodies so that they come ready to sing God's praises and listen to his Word. I'll concentrate on reducing the tensions at home and increasing the wondrous expectation of meeting with our covenant God. I'll give more time to have breakfast, play some CDs of David's psalms or church hymns, and speak about what's coming in church that day. I'll be sure to have them looking respectable for the Lord's sake but most of all I will model and teach them to anticipate the Lord's Day and church worship with eagerness! That is the freedom for which Christ has set us free!
Before you volunteer or sign-on to every church or school or community committee, consider what priorities the Lord Jesus places upon you. Are you able to look after the needs of your husband, children, and family in general? Are you able to make time to meditate on God's Word and pray? Christ gives us rest, remember — spiritual rest, to be sure, but that includes also sufficient physical rest in life. He calls no one to a frenetic life. Of course, we should be living members in the church and active citizens in our communities, but it must be in balance with being faithful wives and mothers at home while finding time to commune with our Saviour as his daughter.
And as for keeping up with the Jones in order to fit in and belong, let's remember that we already belong — to Christ and to his church! Our identity does not hinge on whether we are up to date with the latest sit-coms, movies, books, iPods, iPhones, or Wii games; or whether we frequent acceptable restaurants and go south for vacations - we already have pre-paid access to paradise through the precious blood of the Lamb of God!
Again, none of these things in themselves is ungodly, but it's what's driving us to get these things that's often the problem. We need to slow down and consider why we're buying what we're buying, and why we're going where we're going, and do not let ourselves be bullied by what others are doing. Their choices are — habits your master — Christ is! Sharing in their cultural habits does not give you acceptance — the cross of Jesus alone does! Being thought well of by your peers — even your church peers — does not make you belong or define your identity in the only place that it counts — in God's kingdom. Christ has established your identity there and even given you a new name: Jubilee woman! So be what you are! Become her more and more!
Guilty or not?
There's another burden I see among church ladies that may not be obvious at first and that's the burden of false guilt. It is its own kind of pressure but with a moral side to it. We often mistake false guilt for true guilt which is why it is a sneaky and difficult form of oppression. But the two can be told apart. True guilt occurs when we have violated one of God's commands — when we have sinned against the Lord. By contrast, false guilt occurs when we have violated some merely human precept or expectation. The difficulty is that they can feel the same. It doesn't take much to berate ourselves for doing something wrong before God when in fact all we have done is let down another human's expectation. And living with false guilt is oppressive.
Let me give an example. As a mother you wish to provide well for your children, to train them and equip them to live as God's children in the midst of an ungodly world. You want them to be successful in life, to be well-rounded, solid Christian men and women when they grow up. So you send them to the Christian school and you sign them up for piano lessons. And then you hear about taekwondo being offered and your son is interested but he'd also like to play hockey. And your daughter wouldn't mind to take figure skating this winter and an art class every second Saturday.
And as your family expands, these interests and expectations expand with them but you remain only one mother with only so much time and so much money and you begin to feel guilty that you can't do for your kids all that you should be doing. You see your friend has her kids enrolled in more of these things and that makes you feel more uptight about it. Maybe your own kids start to rub it in by mentioning that their friends do this and they have this at their house (while they go without) — the implication being you're not being a good mom. And so you stew over it and worry and wonder whether you're just a selfish person who is holding back on her children.
False guilt at home
All of that, dear sisters, is false guilt. Jesus Christ does not ask you to give your child every opportunity or even most extra-curricular things, nor does he demand that you spread yourself so thin you have nothing left to give your husband or the church. He brought Israel up out of Egypt to give them rest from their enemies in the land of Canaan, remember? Running yourself ragged is like going back to Egypt. And even for the children who, in their immaturity, think it will be good for them, having so much of their time spent in organized learning environments can become an oppression too. Down-time, alone-time, meditation-time are necessary and beneficial for children too.
Instead, the LORD asks you to raise your kids in a God-fearing way, to teach them about their covenant God, his salvation, his promises, his obligations. They don't need so-called every opportunity to expand their potential but what they need from you is every consideration to ground their thinking, their attitude and their world-view in the covenant of God's love.
They need to understand the Jubilee for themselves, to see what a God-directed, balanced and restful life looks like and feels like. If you run around like a headless chicken now, you'll only teach them to do the same later.
False guilt elsewhere
False guilt can come also from siblings or parents or even adult children who place upon you their own expectations and make you feel bad if you don't live up to them. Quite often they are pre-occupied with their own situations — maybe they've had some misfortune in life and look to you for some relief or comfort. They can be consumed by their own circumstances to the point where they are almost blind to your circumstances and particularly your calling from God as a wife and mother or sister in the congregation.
And so the pressure mounts, for example, from aging parents who would like more visits or from siblings who want you to call more than you do. Or from an adult child with health or life problems who expects you to be around doing things all the time. Loneliness or perhaps a feeling of helplessness might compel them to seek your companionship often and when you don't meet their expectation then little comments are made or the tone of voice or change of facial expression makes it clear that they are hurt and disappointed. And so you go home or hang up the phone racked with guilt and wondering whether you're being selfish but not knowing how to give more because you have a family of your own to maintain or you just don't have more to give. You might even get a little angry and bitter because they don't seem to understand your needs and your other responsibilities.
Christ is judge
This is often a difficult and sensitive matter and yet it is possible to distinguish right from wrong when you remember that your judge is not your family member but your Saviour in heaven is! You must do right in his eyes and to do that you must keep in mind his calling and his commands. Certainly you have an obligation to aging parents and needy siblings but if you are married, your first obligation lies with your husband and children. Christ redeemed marriage so that it can function as intended at creation, as a new family unit under God. And if you are single, then you also have the obligation to provide for yourself, commune with your God and serve in the church, all of which takes time and energy.
So you have to ask yourself: am I treating my parent, my sibling, my friend (even) in a way that pleases God? Am I doing right in the eyes of the Lord? Your loved one may be disappointed in you but is God disappointed in you? If you are trying to be a faithful daughter of your heavenly Father then chances are you do visit your Mom or Dad or sibling regularly, you do think of them and phone them periodically, you do remember to pray for them. Sometimes in their trying circumstances they give you the feeling that it is never enough and, without realizing it, they add to your burden. But the truth is, they may be asking more of you than the Lord does, and it's that oppression from false guilt from which the Lord sets us free. Be honest before God, manage all your callings according to the priority he assigns, and live free from judgments based on human opinion.
By now, dear sisters, you have begun to see the Jubilee woman. She is free — from the inside out. She knows peace in her heart, a freedom from the true guilt of her sins in Christ Jesus. And so she won't be sucked into the mud of false guilt or the vortex of communal pressure brought on by mere human expectations. She knows who she is: a simple child of the Lord, loved by her Father in heaven for the sake of the Son. Not precious in herself but precious in Christ.
She has a calmness about her and knows times of tranquility on a daily basis. Each morning she swings her legs out of bed and realizes that she lives ultimately for an audience of One — her Lord in heaven! It's his opinion that concerns her most and she will always inquire: what does my Lord ask of me? And she will daily pray: Father, preserve me in the freedom for which your Son has bought me!
In her freedom she refuses to become caught up in the rat-race of this world. If she's received the gift of marriage and children then she makes choices together with her husband — to keep herself and her family in the peace of Christ as much as possible. Happily productive as a housewife, mother, and sister in the church, she finds room to breathe and rest, spiritually and physically, knowing that it is for freedom that Christ has set her free!