by Scarlet Hiltibidal
I was twenty-something. My husband had recently become an ordained pastor. It felt fast and scary and wrong to me. We were babies. We were supposed to be wild and free. We were supposed to go to church or sleep too late and miss church, not be IN CHARGE of a church. As an act of semi-rebellion I, with my husband’s approval, got two tattoos (both Bible verses) within one week of him being ordained. Okay, I guess that’s not very rebellious, but kind of it was.
I was a bit of a mess those years early years of church ministry. During a few of them, I was a closeted bulimic. During a few of them, I was an uninvolved hider. During some months in there, I suffered a miscarriage and turned away from God — telling Him I did not have anything to say to Him. I did a lot of things wrong during those first years.
But, I never left the faith. I was held together by the body of Christ, who prayed FOR me when I wouldn’t, who discipled me when I was more immature and foolish than I am today.
And I can think back to one particular discipleship group I was in when I was some season of my twenty-something messiness, that extraordinarily changed my life.
Because we were part of a large, multi-site church, there was a ministry specifically for the pastor’s wives there. One weekend, our group was scheduled to stay in a borrowed beach house in the Florida Keys for a “Pastor’s Wives Retreat.”
After eating crab cakes and settling in our rooms in the big house, we all congregated in the living room area. One of the older women said she thought it would be a good idea for each more seasoned mother to share their best advice with the younger mothers in the group.
I was trying so hard to have it together at that point in my life. I had a BABY. I wanted to be the perfect wife and mother. I wanted to make up for all my ministry mistakes and failures. I wanted God to approve of me and I always felt like He didn’t.
So, I listened. I listened so intently as each woman shared her sleep training tips and disciplinary strategies. It all felt overwhelming until it got to Elizabeth.
Elizabeth was the newest pastor’s wife. I didn’t know her. She was really pretty and really blonde and seemed confident and relaxed. She said something like, “My goal in my home isn’t to have perfect children or to be a perfect mother. That’s not even possible anyway… My goal is to live the gospel out in my home.”
She went on to explain that she failed her family all the time, but when she did, she apologized and asked for forgiveness. She said he prayed, out loud, prayers of repentance with her children. She said her goal was to live a life that displayed her need for Jesus and Jesus’ sufficiency in her, and if she was able to give that to her kids, then she’d consider her parenting a success.
She wasn’t saying, “do,” she was saying, “done.” She wasn’t saying, “you,” she was saying “Jesus.” And it’s not like I’d never heard His name before, but it had never sounded so sweet. His work had never sounded so complete.
That moment in that group with Elizabeth changed my life. It changed my family. It grew my faith and gave me hope for ministry, as I began to base my approved status on Jesus’ perfection, not my own attempts to be good enough.
Whatever your group is — whether it’s a sermon-based group or a book-study group or a group for Christian musicians or an outreach for preschool moms — if the gospel is lifted up, if the already done, amazing work of Jesus is made central and beautiful, hearts and lives will change.
Preach the gospel in your group. Be repetitive and ask your people to preach it back to you. We are rebels and hiders and bulimics. We are scared and tired and in over our heads. But Jesus has already died and risen and won. He forgives and saves and leads us out of hiding and fear and self-imposed exhaustion. Our hearts need to be reminded that we are loved and safe and free because of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Discipleship groups that highlight that are the ones that will change the world, one broken heart at a time.
“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” — Jesus, Matthew 28:19-20
Scarlet Hiltibidal is the author of Afraid of All the Things and He Numbered the Pores on My Face. She also writes a regular column for ParentLife Magazine and enjoys speaking to women around the country about the freedom and rest available in Jesus. Scarlet lives in Middle Tennessee, where she loves sign language with her daughters, nachos by herself, writing for her friends, and learning how to raise ducks with her husband for no reason other than cuteness.