I can't remember the exact specifics, but several years ago I read something Philip Yancy said to the effect that it takes a dozen or more good letters to overcome the impact of a single bad one.
My experience confirms Yancy wasn't blowing smoke. But I also find him wonderfully reassuring and often think of him. I know I'm not alone. Even the gentle Jerry Bridges, an author I admire and count as a personal friend, gets slammed from time to time, if you can believe that. Once he received a scathing letter about one of his books. It was days before he could talk about it.
Ok. So the criticisms come, and I have stretches when I can't talk either. I get that. Thankfully, encouragements come too.
But sometimes (and no doubt despite a critic's intentions) the negative emails and comments backfire. They have a way of reinforcing why I do what I do and stiffening my spine. The comment below is a perfect example. Posted recently under the bold name "anonymous," it is a belated response from a young single woman to the first blog I ever posted: The Return of the Ezer.
Mrs. James,Rather than let this commenter's words remain buried deep beneath several years of blog posts, I thought her comments warranted more attention. Having been single myself for several years post-college, I know the longings she describes. A lot of singles, widows, and divorcees can relate.
As a young woman in the church I look forward to marrying a godly man and submitting myself to him. As women, God has called all of us to be wives and mothers. Even if God does not bless us with a husband and children, we need to be spiritual mothers to the children of the church. We must not try to reinterpret the Word of God and by doing so, justify our disobedience and rebelliousness. When God said women are made to be man's helpers, He meant it. Yes, men need women. God created men and women equal, but He gave us both different roles. Husbands were made to protect, provide for, and rule over their wives. And wives were made to submit to and love their husbands. Stop denying this. Accept God's will for you and He will bless you with great peace.
I have been and will continue to pray for you, dear sister. Do not continue in your rebellion. Embrace the role God has given you.
I also once shared her assumptions about calling and marriage. But singleness and infertility forced me to ask deeper, harder questions of scripture. Is it possible that God would call his daughters to something that remains beyond the reach of some through no fault of their own or that we can lose or be cheated of God's purpose for us as women? Despite our natural longings does God mean to tell us that his design is that for all of us the fulfillment of our highest and first calling is to be found in marriage and motherhood, which inevitably means anything else is second best?
The narrative of the ezer's creation in Genesis 2 rescues us from this kind of limited, stalled thinking and brings God's purposes for his daughters into the active present regardless of how young or old we are or what season or circumstance we're in.
It saddens me when women don't see this.
The honest truth (which this commenter admits and reality confirms) is that God doesn't provide every woman with a husband and children. Even for some wives and mothers those callings can be tragically short-lived. I just heard the story of a woman who was widowed in her twenties and when she remarried several years later found she wouldn't be able to get pregnant. God doesn't give every woman the same calling, but we can be sure of the fact that he does give every woman a calling, and he is endlessly creative and free in distributing all sorts of callings to us—sometimes multiple callings all at once. And he reserves the right from time to time and without notice to bring one calling to a screeching halt and start up another.
I am currently witnessing the marvel of my mother's embrace of a new calling to the people she lives with in an assisted living retirement community. This follows 32 years of having at least one of her four kids at home and 69 years as my dad's ezer (that's how he described her to me). She isn't finished. God has more for her to do, and she is courageously following him into this new chapter, despite the daily grief of missing my dad.
As for submission ... I've written extensively about submission in The Gospel of Ruth as an attribute of Jesus that all of God's image bearers—yes, men too—are called to emulate. Submission is a call to something much deeper and sacred, much more demanding and thoughtful, and far more gospel than what we typically envision. Submission is not the abdication but the embrace of responsibility. It doesn't mean bringing less of ourselves into marriage, but our whole selves. We trivialize submission with the notion of a tie-breaker or the typical "Ok dear, we'll do it your way" brand of submission so often accompanied by the gritting of wifely teeth and the build up of resentment. Submission isn't so much about conflict resolution as it is a call to a bone-of-my-bones oneness in marriage that requires mutual sacrifice, putting the interests of another ahead of ourselves, and working together to make wise decisions. This is radical. This is how the gospel is lived out in marriage.
So keep those emails and comments coming. They make me think and rethink and more often than not inject fresh energy and resolve into my calling.