Nurturing Hope: Christian Pastoral Care in the Twenty-First CenturyThe Power of ListeningJoy Together: Spiritual Practices for Your CongregationSabbath Keeping FastingPrayers of the Old TestamentPrayers of the New TestamentSabbathFriendingA Garden of Living Water: Stories of Self-Discovery and Spiritual GrowthA Renewed SpiritualityDeath in Dunedin: A NovelDead Sea: A NovelDeadly Murmurs: A NovelPersonality Type in CongregationsBeating Burnout in CongregationsReaching Out in a Networked WorldEmbracing MidlifeAdvent DevotionalDraw Near: Lenten Devotional by Lynne Baab, illustrated by Dave Baab

Lynne's Blog

Stories I ponder: A tale of two grandmothers

Friday September 8 2017

Stories I ponder: A tale of two grandmothers

Just over thirty years ago, when I was a part time seminary student and stay-at-home mom of a baby and a toddler, the editor of our church newsletter asked me to write an article about grace and truth in the Christian life. I wrote an article about my two grandmothers, and I called it “A Tale of Two Grandmothers.” The editor didn’t seem very pleased with it, but she printed it. I think she was looking for something theological rather than anecdotal.

I don’t have that article anymore, but I remember the gist of it. As I think about it now, I’m not sure that the differences between my grandmothers actually relate to grace and truth. See what you think.

My grandmothers had a few things in common. They were both born in the 1890s, got married in their early 20s and had kids and grandkids. They both attended church and talked to me about their faith. Apart from those facts, they were really different people.

My dad’s mother, who we called Nona, was short and plump. (Nona was the sister of Aunt Lynn from last week's post.) Grandma Katie, my mom’s mother, was tall and slender, and had been known for her beauty as a young woman. Nona was raised with servants, and while she had kids in the house, she had someone helping her with cooking and cleaning. Grandma Katie raised her children on a farm in poverty during the Depression. Her life consisted pretty much of endless work: gardening, canning, cooking, cleaning, sewing, and raising chickens.

Nona had a few favourite dishes she liked to cook, but she always seemed a bit tentative when she cooked. Grandma Katie taught me how to bake cakes and pies, and she also taught me how to crochet and knit.

The two women had a very different approach to their faith as well. Nona was one of the most peaceful and loving people I’ve ever known. She communicated unconditional love to me. Her sense of peace and love resonated when she talked about church. She enjoyed going to church, and I picked up the implication that she enjoyed being loved by God.

Grandma Katie strove for excellence in everything, even her faith. She read the Bible all the way through every year. During the Depression, she tithed on the small amount of money she earned from her chickens and eggs, even though my grandfather was not a churchgoer and probably resisted any commitment to tithing. She always wondered if she should have been a missionary.

Back in my thirties, I thought the difference between them had to do with grace and truth, that Nona lived by grace, and Grandma Katie was consumed by a drive for truth. I still think that’s partly true, but now I think the issue is more about rest versus striving. Both are major themes throughout the Bible.

Ponder this pair of verses: “For thus says the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel: In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength” (Isaiah 30:15). “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and lowly of heart, and you will find rest for your souls (Matthew 11:29).

Then contrast those two verses with these two: “I strive toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). “Let us run with endurance the race that is set is before us” (Hebrews 12:1).

It seems to me Nona embodied the first two verses and Grandma Katie embodied the second two. Resting in God and striving to obey are themes with pretty much equal focus in the Bible. Which one comes easier to you? Why? Do you want to change or do you like it that way?

Do you have people in your life who seem to represent different styles of being a Christian?

(Photo: Grandma Katie and Nona at Dave’s and my wedding in 1976. Like many in her generation, Grandma Katie never learned to smile when photos were taken. I think Dave and I were encouraging her to smile as we leaned toward her. Next week: My father-in-law and money. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column.)

Grace gifts versus guilt-inducing obligations

Monday November 17 2014

Grace gifts versus guilt-inducing obligations

I’ve been speaking and writing about the Sabbath for almost a decade, but I recently had an aha experience about Sabbath keeping in my life and its connection to other spiritual practices.

Much of my speaking and writing flows out of my own Sabbath observance, which is close to its 35 year anniversary. When we were young adults, my husband and I lived in Israel for 18 months. Our apartment was in a Jewish neighborhood in Tel Aviv, so everything was closed on the Sabbath day. Everything. We didn’t have a car, and the busses didn’t run, so it was a day with incredibly few options and a very slow pace.

For the first few months, we chafed at the sense of confinement, but later we relaxed into the rhythm of six days of activity and one day of vastly reduced options. When we returned to Seattle, we decided to adopt a Sabbath pattern of our own. Thirty-five years ago, Christians weren’t talking about the Sabbath at all, so some of our friends thought we were a bit weird.

Some people told us we were legalistic. We were stunned by their comments, because we had experienced the slow pace and reduced options of the Sabbath as a major gift that we wanted to keep on receiving. Sure, the fourth commandment calls for a Sabbath, but we never experienced it as an onerous command. We had learned to receive it as a gift, and we wanted to keep receiving that gift.

My recent aha moment came when I compared Sabbath keeping to having a daily quiet time. In my early years as a Christian, I was taught that a daily quiet time in the specific form of cognitive-based Bible study and intercessory prayer is a non-negotiable, something all Christians have to do. I have often tried to have a daily quiet time in that form, and I have succeeded only intermittently. I have felt a lot of guilt around my quiet time failures.

I think about my grandfather, who grew up in a family with a very rigid Sabbath practice. For his parents, a quiet Sunday Sabbath was non-negotiable, and little boys were forced to sit still for one whole day every week. My grandfather stopped attending church as a young man, and seldom darkened the door of a church for the rest of this life. Far from being a gift, for him the Sabbath was one of the factors that drove him from the church.

Encouragement to have a daily quiet time didn’t drive me from the church, but the guilt associated with my failure to measure up hasn’t done much to nurture my faith. Yet the Sabbath has taught me oceans about God’s grace and love for me. The Sabbath has been a factor in shaping me into a person who loves God, receives good gifts from God and tries to respond in faithful service. The Sabbath has helped me understand that my form of a daily quiet time needs to involve stillness and silence, not serious study of the Bible and not just intercessory prayer.

We call spiritual practices “disciplines” because they require an act of the will and persistent obedience. Yet it seems increasingly clear to me that the necessary discipline and persistence need to be rooted in receiving practices as gifts rather than as obligations.

My questions of the day: what Christian practices in your life feel like a gift? Do you perceive any ways they are shaping you?

(If you'd like to read some articles I've written on the sabbath, click here and scroll two-thirds of the way down the page. You'll find a half dozen articles about the sabbath. Here are links to my Sabbath book and my Sabbath Bible study guide. My book Joy Together has a chapter on communal Sabbath keeping. This post originally appeared on the Thoughtful Christian blog, Gathering Voices. If you'd like to receive an email when I post something on this blog, sign up in the right hand column under "subscribe.")