I did not intend for this blog to become a spiritual inventory of my kitchen appliances, but after last week’s post on my crock pot, my thoughts have turned to the refrigerator. (And for the record, I’m in good company discerning spiritual truths from domestic machinery. You can read my favorite example here).
When I moved into my first, and then my second, apartment, I did not intentionally consecrate the front of my fridge as a place of honor. However, after spending time in the kitchens of friends and acquaintances, I realize that the items on my fridge are typical among other church-going young adults. Almost all the items fall into one of three categories:
1) save-the-date cards and/or wedding announcements
2) birth announcements
3) prayer cards for women (or, less often, families) who serve as missionaries
I put these things on my refrigerator because they represent decisions worth celebrating, blessing, and sustaining. When I see Jenn and Grant’s save-the-date card, or Casey and Caitlin’s wedding invitation, I remember that a holy choice--the choice to make one from two--can renew our tired language about love. When I see Jordan’s baby boy smiling above my grocery list, I catch my breath, amazed that my friends have produced this entirely new person. And the beautiful woman with the rich brown eyes? She has just left the US to begin her career as a Bible translator. Even in a secular context, these decisions and events (especially the first two) would be deemed worth celebrating, but they all have deep, beautiful roots in the faith of Jenn, Grant, Casey, Caitlin, Jordan, and all the rest who smile from my fridge door. Most of the time, churches do a very good job of supporting people as the enter new seasons of marriage, parenthood, and ministry.
At the same time, my fridge sometimes makes me sigh a little. Having no wedding to announce, baby to boast, or foreign mission to claim, it would seem I have not yet made any decision worthy of the refrigerator door. I don’t really mope much about my lack of spouse or child; I would very much like to have both one day, but for now I am content knit and sew for other people’s babies. Nor do I think I missed my calling by not following Lottie Moon to a distant land.
Instead, I have begun to reflect on the way Christians celebrate (or fail to celebrate) the decisions and events other than marriage, children, or traditional ministry that shape our lives.
Whether or not you have followed the recent debates about the changing milestones (or lack thereof) among young adults, you have probably noticed that many adults--young or otherwise--have built lives that look rather different from their parents’ lives. Maybe they have married later, or not at all. Maybe they have stepped into careers which, though “secular,” they see as vocations in which we can love mercy, do justice, and walk humbly with our God. Maybe they have chosen or have been unable to bear children, and exercise their love in a thousand daily, hidden ways.
Unfortunately, Christian communities often fail to bless, celebrate, and sustain these seasons and choices if they do not fall into a few traditional categories.
This is a failure of imagination, and it endangers the life of the church.
When I visited my home church after a semester of graduate school and half a year of living on my own, I felt this failure keenly. I was one of three young people who came home that Christmas--in fact, the three of us had once constituted our church’s entire youth group--and I was thrilled to talk to these friends, as one looked forward to the birth of her first child, and the other to his upcoming marriage. Then, during a church-wide meal (which, in my home church, meant a gathering of fifty or so people), the three of us sat next to each other as men and women shared things they were thankful for. One woman, who had known all three of us since our cradles, stood and said,
“I just give thanks to see our young people back with us at Christmas. We’ve known them since they were babies, and now they’re all about to start such exciting new times of their lives: I mean, just look--she is going to have a baby, and he is getting married!”
Then she sat down.
I was stricken. Her silence confirmed exactly what I feared: that all my work, all my anxiety, all my hopes about vocation were in vain. So what if, in the privacy of my heart, I had dedicated to God my decision to become a professor?
Clearly, it wasn’t worth putting up on the fridge.
Admittedly, this failure was largely my fault. I was still so mopey and miserable after that first semester that I didn’t do much to explain why I saw my decision to pursue teaching as so important, so sacred. I didn’t try to help them understand why that year of school felt so different from every other school year. A few difficult months had shaken my confidence, and I didn’t have the energy to convince anyone else that I had made a wise decision.
A few weeks later, however, when a complete stranger asked me what I did, and, hearing my answer, exclaimed, “What a beautiful thing to do! God’s kingdom needs scholars and teachers,” I nearly kissed him. My church's silence had made me think, "Well, my fears were right. My choice wasn't holy--school is simply something I'm doing because I'm not starting a family." This stranger's words, however, infused me with some fiery tonic of hope and indignation.
I want to be, like that kind man, the sort of person who can celebrate any decision a person makes for the sake of that Kingdom.
Now, despite my pitiful story, it would disingenuous to suggest I’m really starving for affirmation. Especially in my current church and social circles, my choices have been respected and encouraged. And at the end of it, I will at least earn some fancy robes and a funny hat. But as I write this, I have to ask myself, do I have enough imagination to see even less obvious times and seasons to bless and celebrate? Am I brave enough to stand up in church and say, “Bless this man as he goes to his office each day, honoring God in his integrity as a janitor”? Or, “Thank you, God, for this woman who has returned to live with and care for her aging parents. Sustain this beautiful, difficult, joyful service she has begun in your name.”
I am not arguing that we should celebrate the weddings and babies and missionaries any less. In fact, I would be in favor of celebrating them even more jubilantly (three-day-long wedding feasts! fireworks after the baby dedications!). I challenge you, however, to think in very practical terms about when and how a church can bless, celebrate, and sustain other seasons and decisions. What about a young man beginning his career as an attorney? What about the woman who has just purchased her first house? What about the childless couple that has decided to become foster parents? If these decisions--like marriage or the mission field--can be offered to God, I believe they deserve a place of public consecration during worship. I believe they deserve prayer and solemn words of commission, songs and testimonies and at least one bold “Amen!”
And a party. I would love to see the day when these new seasons carry their own traditions:
“Oh, is tomorrow the day for Katie’s home-dedication?”
“Yes! I’m giving the blessing. And I’m so excited about the sparkling cider and pear tart! I haven’t had any since Andy set up his household….”
“Do you know the address?”
“Sure. The announcement is right here on my fridge.”
In my next post, I will finish my survey of the Frigidaire, offering some hopeful signs and suggestions about imagining new reasons to celebrate. In the meantime, tell me what seasons of life and/or decisions you have seen or would like to see your church bless, celebrate, and sustain. What do or would these celebrations entail?