A couple of years into our dating relationship, Shannon and I were about halfway through college and were starting to get more serious. As we grew more committed to one another, and marriage started becoming a real possibility for us, I reached a point of crisis. Shannon, who was raised in a tradition that affirmed the leadership of women in the church, had expressed a call to ministry ever since she was in seventh grade, but since I had been raised in Southern Baptist churches, her call was incompatible with my view of how God used people in ministry.
I had known all along that she’d had this call, of course, but our relationship had, to this point, been casual enough that I didn’t have to worry about it. But now, if the two of us were going to be developing a long-term, covenantal relationship, I needed to reconcile what God was telling her and what God was telling me, or else we needed to end our relationship.
I remember vividly one day when this tension came to a head for me, and I knew this was the day I had to decide whether to continue investing in our relationship or to end it. I was sitting on my bed, alone and with the weight of the world on my shoulders, tears streaming from my eyes. I was coming to the conclusion that I needed to be true to my convictions because the Bible was clear and I had to follow the directions of God. But I couldn’t bear the thought of a life without Shannon in it.
My mom came in, saw my tears, and sat next to me, asking what was wrong. So I opened up to her – something I don’t do well – and shared why my heart was tearing.
Her words to me changed my life. I think about them often, and even when I’m not consciously thinking about them, they impact the way I hear God speaking to me.
She told me that if God was calling me to Shannon, then God was big enough to overcome this difference in how we were hearing God speak. She said that if I felt God was calling me to Shannon, then that call took precedence over my interpretation of what the Bible said about women in ministry. If Shannon and I were each following God’s leadership, God would eventually draw either me or Shannon – or both of us – into alignment with God’s will.
What she was really telling me was that I could trust the Spirit of God to lead me. This was a startling message for me. I did not hear things like this from the other teachers in my life, because the focus had always been on reading the words of Scripture (it was not uncommon for me to literally open the pages of the Bible and skim that page looking for specific guidance from God) and following the rules I found there.
Shannon and I continued dating, and a couple of years later got married. Even at our wedding, I still had not resolved my understanding of women in ministry – it really wasn’t until three or four years into our marriage that I truly opened myself to the movement of the Holy Spirit in my own life and in our marriage and, as a result, was able to whole-heartedly support my wife’s call. (I should add that all those in-between years were filled with open and honest conversation between the two of us – we were not hiding our convictions from each other, and we were doing the labor of working through this tension.)
Without the words and example of my mother in that moment of crisis, my life would look a world different than it does today. My mom told me – and showed me – I could trust in God’s word speaking into my heart and my life, and that God cared more about people than about rules. Today, more than ten years and a Master’s degree in theology later, I look back on her words as one of the first articulations of the gospel I ever really heard and understood.
My mom showed me what it looks like to trust God rather than my own understanding, and that has made all the difference.