Years ago, when I first embarked on my journey as a stay-at-home mom, I desperately desired a mentor. It was around this time that Sharon Marsalis came into my life, in a quiet and unassuming manner. Through prayer, truth, wisdom and hospitality she has embodied the biblical traits of the “Titus 2” woman (Titus 2:3-5) in my life. Her love for the Lord and her boldness to speak the truth in love are an inspiration, to me, in the ways of biblical womanhood. It is a pleasure to welcome Sharon as a guest blogger today.
A Guest Post by Sharon Marsalis
Long have I known and experienced Psalm 42 in my life.
“As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God”.
Since the age of 15, I have had an inordinate hunger and thirst for God. When I was twenty-seven I finally came to rest in Him but my hunger and thirst have never ceased.
Yet there is for me a challenging side to my hunger and thirst. This soul thirsting for the Living God has also given me a hunger to use my gifts and talents to speak for Him. Yet I am often cursed by my own self-accusing thoughts of failure and uselessness in serving Him. And sometimes I am cursed by an inexplicable seeking after the attention that comes from teaching and presenting God’s Word as I did for many years in the past. At the same time, I sincerely and passionately want to tell others about God’s Love – not for my self-aggrandizement but for His Glory and their best good. So why such self-accusatory thoughts and a need for affirmation?
(Lest there be misunderstanding I have been serving Him continually for 43 years. Just not in the last decades in my own self-approved way. I am also very well aware that if He wanted me to teach or speak wherever or however or to whomever then I would be.) While walking with Christ we are faced on the one hand with the way the Holy Spirit desires for us to go, and on the other hand with the wants and desires of our own selves.
Scripture makes it clear that we are tripartite beings or a trinity of body, soul and spirit. We have a material body created by God to live on this planet and in this world. Within the body, we each have a “living soul” as the Bible calls it. Our souls are where we find our abilities to interact and be sociable with others by use of our emotions, our intellects, and our wills and our consciences. All these aspects are said to form our individual personalities. The Bible considers this to be “self”. The self of our soul life is immaterial and will live on. Often confused though are spirit and soul. It is of paramount importance for a Christian to know that spirit and soul are separate. It is imperative for each of us to know that God has placed the spirit within each body of flesh but the spirit is separated (dead to) from God until the Holy Spirit works in each of us through the process of regeneration or being born again. After regeneration, we are no longer separated in our spirits from God’s Spirit. We belong to God. Our spirits then should regain their rightful ruling place in our lives.
Two places in the New Testament that make this trinity of body, soul and spirit very clear are:
1 Thessalonians 5:23
I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ
and Hebrews 4:12.
For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow (body), and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
Paul sometimes called the soul housed within the body – “the flesh”. He said,
“For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other so that you are not to do whatever you want.” (Galatians 5:17)
I have long known this to be truth. Yet knowing the truth does not always mean one remembers and acts upon that truth. To me the Living Bible translation of Romans 7:23 says it well:
“But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me”.
So often in the midst of my complaints and self-pitying cries to the Lord about the disappointing matter of not being used by Him in teaching or speaking as in the past, an annoying little thought has intruded that could not possibly apply to ME – “to whom much is given, much is required.” Well, yes, Lord I would say, that is exactly what I am telling You – You have given me this insatiable hunger. You have given me the gift of Faith and You have cleansed me and forgiven me and filled me with a tremendous amount of your Spirit. Though I am extremely far from perfect I do have a heart for You and yearn constantly to speak for You. I know You love me. I know You have filled me with “Joy indescribable and full of Glory”. My desire always has been to show others your Love. So why are You not REALLY using me?
Each time I would offer The Lord my ideas and each time I would praise Him for loving me and filling me with the Gift of The Spirit. So I would get over the depressive moment and persevere on until the next depressive moments. But the years rolled on and I was still not being used in accordance with my vision. In fact, it seemed to poor pitiful me that whatever I tried or wanted to do – whether in family, church or Bible Study – ended in no interest by others and the usual self-accusatory thoughts haunting my mind afterward.
My old feelings of rejection and failure and guilt would nag me at those depressive moments. Why, Lord? Why? I just don’t get it! The “why” to all my nagging depressive thoughts and questions though was about to be answered. Yes, I have been given much but God’s requirement is for me to grow less and Jesus more. The Lord revealed to me the source of my negative, self –accusatory thoughts and my need for affirmation. More importantly, God has also revealed to me how to teach or speak for Him by using what skill I have acquired in painting and drawing. As a very visual person, I am able to combine my gifts in art with my biblical understanding and interpretation of Scripture. I do this primarily through the use of varied symbols learned over the many years of studying and teaching.
Two summers ago I walked into the youth center of my church on my way through to a worship service and out of the blue knew, just knew, that the Lord wanted me to offer to teach Middle or High School. OH NO!! That was not my plan at all, and the farthest thing from my mind. Why me, Lord? But, I immediately sought out the Youth pastors and asked if they needed help. Why yes, there were 2 teachers who rotated with the Middle School but they needed a 3rd badly. So I began to teach a group of 6th, 7th and 8th graders that fall.
In the two months plus interim from my first Middle School teaching session to the next my old familiar inner dread at having to fulfill a promised commitment began to resurface. My negative feelings of “failure to communicate” and mental accusations that they don’t really like me, I am boring, I am too old, they don’t see Christ in me etc., etc., etc., began festering in my mind, stealing my joy in teaching and making me very self-conscious. Of course, it is very easy to say that God’s enemy was planting those thoughts and feelings but I knew better. I knew they were coming from myself, my own mind, and deep down I knew God was testing me. I know that I must not speak to please men but to please God who tests our hearts. (1 Thess. 2:4b) I also know that we must renew our minds and consider our old selves dead. So what was my problem?
One particular Sunday I had started a new session and the lesson went ok. Nothing major happened except for one boy who kept giving smart aleck answers to every question I asked concerning a parable. The lesson went rapidly and I rapidly dismissed them with no prayer the whole time. I immediately felt guilty about that and berated myself for being such a lousy example of a supposedly mature Christian.
Now just before I dismissed them that day an old memory had weirdly flashed thru my mind. Then after the class, my daughter who was in town for the weekend asked me why I chose to teach the Middle School and I replied without hesitation “because God told me too.”
My answer was an arrow straight into my heart and mind. Who had been the teacher that morning – Jesus or I? Truth be told neither. I had allowed myself to be intimidated by my own negative thoughts that morning and thus had not shown Jesus to the class or even invited Him in.
Later the same memory from long ago that had flashed in my mind that very Sunday during class time came back again. The vivid memory was of a little skinny malnourished girl, very small for her age of 7 to 8 or so. She had applied a dark red purplish lipstick and put on an adult woman’s oversized nightgown and was standing behind the screen door of her grandmother’s rural house. She was staring longingly at men paving the dirt road a few yards away. However, she was not just staring at what they were doing but hoping, wishing desperately for one of them to see her and acknowledge her with attention. To love her. Of course, mercifully and thankfully none of the men did acknowledge her in any way.
(Today psychologists would say the little girl had lacked proper, stable relationship bonding or attachment in her early development. So her inner child had been forever damaged.)
Through that flash of long buried memory the Lord began revealing to me the source of my uncommon need for self-approval along with a need for affirmation and to make everything and every occasion “perfect”.
The love-starved little girl desperately seeking attachment or bonds and boundaries of love was certainly myself. She is the little girl that I had been in my early childhood. She still lives buried within my subconscious. She and other potentially painful, hurtful old memories are part of my soul life. They are hidden aspects of a very dysfunctional and undisciplined early beginning in this journey of life. I know though that I do not have to fall into the trap of guilt or self-condemnation for God has healed me and delivered me from all of that. I am now able to view my old self with an impersonal detachment. The psychologist may say that one’s “inner child is forever damaged” but God does not say that. The Word and the Spirit tell us quite the opposite. I know because not only have I experienced God’s forgiveness, cleansing and healing in my soul but I claim the Promise: “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he/she is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” My spirit should rule me now because I am alive to God’s Spirit, which is a way of saying that I am filled with His Spirit.
Of course knowing this and always acting like it is a life long challenge. The first action I took was prayer. I asked God to heal the little girl that I had been and fill her with His Love because I knew He was with me even back then.
I, myself, will always be my greatest enemy if I allow certain thoughts and emotions into my mind. By listening to my own introspective nagging thoughts about being a Middle School teacher I was allowing myself to be intimidated. By seeking affirmation from others I was trying to win their approval, their love, and not God’s. As Romans 12:2 tells us we must not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of our mind, that by testing we may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. To put the matter simply – I was allowing my soul to overrule my spirit.
Psalm 42: verse 5 gets to the heart of this matter as well:
“Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me”
David is saying: “Self, why are you depressed? Why are you so upset with me?
In the same way, I should be BOLDLY addressing myself and saying: Self, listen to me, I consider you dead to me in this matter. I will remember who I am in Christ: His Love fills me, heals me and completes me. I rest in His Peace.
Then with the Psalmist I can finish the verse in praise:
“I will put my hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.”
As for doing it my way I will remember that each of us is God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ep. 2:10). It is my sincere desire to share God’s Love whether in teaching and speaking or my art because I have experienced the transformation of my own heart and know God in Christ Jesus. I earnestly and sincerely desire for others (children and adults) to believe in Him and be filled with His inexpressible and glorious Joy.
Therefore Sunday, March 15, 2014 was the day “I” stopped trying to be the 4th member of the Trinity. I can tell you sincerely and with confidence that for the first time in years I am at peace at how God is using me – or not. I no longer am striving in my mind and listening to myself. I am at rest because most of all, I will remember that to become like Jesus I must humbly submit to his sanctification process and do the works He has prepared for me.
“It is well with my soul”