After taking more than a year-long break from Facebook and Instagram, I recently returned to Instagram. I was a little startled by how abruptly some strange habits and thought patterns returned. Whether to my benefit or detriment, Instagram causes some phenomena that don't happen naturally. I don't know if most people struggle with these, but---in case you are also re-evaluating your social media usage---I wanted to share some observations after going a year without, both positive and negative.
Suddenly I wanted to catch up on what my acquaintances have been up to. Have I seen them since middle school? Maybe once or twice. Will I see them again? Probably not. But now that I downloaded an app I'm almost urgently interested in their welfare! Stalking someone on social media is so alluring for the same reason that gossip is so alluring: we gain access to knowledge that doesn't naturally belong to us. We haven't invested in the friendship or necessarily disclosed anything about ourselves to this person, but now all of a sudden we can scroll far down the list and see what her college major was and how many boyfriends she had last year.
I became more body-conscious. Most people who post pictures of themselves on Instagram are photogenic and, well, thin. Looking in the mirror after spending a couple weeks back on Instagram, I felt less attractive than "everybody else" than I usually do; I'm typically content in that department. In the real world, most people around me also have muffin tops, meh clothing, and forgettable hair, and it really doesn't matter. Instagram shows us the most aesthetically pleasing pictures of the batch taken by image-conscious people in their most stylish clothes, on their best hair days, who get praised by the masses for the way they look. I'm not skinny-shaming or fat-shaming anyone here and I'm not even talking about Insta models (I don't follow those.) I was just a little bummed that my self-confidence in my appearance faded so quickly by comparing myself to a skewed sampling of the population.
I started caring, quantitatively, what other people think of me. Unless you're living in Black Mirror's Nosedive episode, people don't evaluate your worth quite so publicly. You don't have a number of followers to quantify how many people are interested in what you have to say. Your shared opinions aren't evaluated by likes. So, in the real world, I'm just trying to communicate with others in the best way I can. On social media, it's difficult not to bend my posts toward what's been well-received in the past. It's harder to be "myself" when I know what parts of "myself" people seem to like more than others.
My inner dialogue increased. I felt more self-aware, introspective, and special/interesting...all in unhealthy ways. It took about six months after quitting social media before I finally stopped crafting captions in my mind, but those habits had no trouble returning when I began posting on Instagram again. Something changes in the way I live when occasionally an experience will produce the thought, "That would be a good post!" And now, with Instagram Stories, there's the added complexity of "Is this worth an actual post or should this just be a lighthearted temporary thing?"
So those are the downsides. But I think I'm going to keep Instagram around. Here's why.
I love being connected with some of the people I don't naturally see often. There are some people (like Lana, Steph, and Rebecca) who I've met only once yet deeply longed to be best friends with, but most of them live in other states. And some people (like Diana, Lauren, and Alex) are dear friends who have moved far away, and though we've been texting pictures of our kids to each other, it's so great being able to see more frequent updates. That's a really beautiful thing about social media: we're able to maintain relationships with people we really do care about.
I am genuinely encouraged by some of the things I see on there. Joy is contagious, and there are some people that I am just seriously happy for. Instagram, unlike Facebook, is generally upbeat and positive. The comments are set up for giving compliments, not for debates. So seeing smile after smile of people that I love and respect, I am happy for them. I'm so grateful that my hard-working friend finally got her Master's or that my friend with photography skills landed a dream job in NYC. I'm so grateful that a woman I know who was struggling with infertility is now expecting her second child. I'm so grateful that another woman I know who was struggling with infertility is speaking openly about how she can still have joy in her pain. Some beautiful truths and stories are being documented on Instagram, and it's a great place where I can "rejoice with those who rejoice."
Instagram Stories are plain ol' fun. I don't think the feeling of walking side-by-side in life with someone via Stories is as dangerously artificial as I thought it would be; it's merely fueling my love for people I already love. (And if people annoy me with their posts, I just unfollow them! Easy.)
Will Smith's instagram is so funny! And he has dropped some major wisdom-bombs when he's being serious. He definitely makes positive contributions to society by his presence on social media. Which brings me to my last point:
The fact of the matter is, people my age live on social media, and I really care about being a blessing to people my age. I don't like how social media leads millennials to to think about marriage, parenting, and---most importantly---Jesus, so if I can paint a different, more attractive picture of those things by having a presence on social media, I certainly want to do that. I want to communicate to the world that I think for myself but I also believe the Bible is completely true. I want to exemplify that a fun-loving 25-year-old can also have four kids and a committed marriage. If a fellow free spirit finds it hard to believe that a life with limitations can be a happy one, I would like to show them with living proof!
Also, though re-entering instagram was initially addicting (I severely lack self-control), a life of scrolling on feeds has lost its charms. I'm pretty convinced that real-life experiences with real people are better. I know that wanderlust is empty and that traveling to cool-looking places isn't going to fulfill me. I know that, for the sake of my mental health and emotional stability, I need to be off the screen more, and I need to stop comparing myself to others. (After all, according to TIME magazine last year, Instagram is the worst social media for mental health.) So hopefully now I can enjoy and use all the beneficial aspects of social media without being ruled by them as I have in the past. And, if not, I can always delete the app for another year or so and try again later.
Hopefully that helps if you're navigating all this! :)
Whelp. My due date came and went. A week ago.
I can't even drive anymore. My belly protrudes so far outward that it touches the steering wheel unless I scoot back my seat...but then my feet can’t safely reach the pedals!
When strangers look at me, they say "Wow, you must be close to having this baby," and I respond, "Yeah, I was due last week." Then they nervously back up a little, as if my water is going to break right that instant and get all over them! Even my brother didn't want to go on a walk with me for fear of that very thing happening to him. That's fine. Fear me, people.
I'll sit in a squat to help my kids put their shoes on, then lose my balance and literally topple over, not unlike a tipped cow. My kids are pretty tired of my big belly, even though they haven't seemed to figure out that my lap doesn't have room for all of them right now. Every day they yell to the baby, "Come out!" and "Get born so you can play with me!", innocently forgetting that newborns can't really do anything and that they won't be able to carry her around on their bikes like they keep saying they will.
My "hobbies" seem to currently consist of drinking water and going to the bathroom. All. Day. Long. My poor bladder has, like, 2 oz capacity right now since my organs have such little room.
My hand-eye coordination has never been good, but nowadays I seem to drop something every day, and it feels like nothing in my cabinets even matches anymore because I've broken so many things.
The other day I found myself on Cheesecake Factory's website, opening up their digital menu, and looking at pictures of cake. Just sitting there at my computer, looking at dessert. I even printed out and laminated a card that contains pictures of Krispy Kreme's donut-making operation to help distract me from the pain while I'm in labor. "Trust the process," it says.
I've had insomnia for 1-4 hours nearly every single night for so many months that I don't even know what it's like to sleep through the night or function at full capacity anymore. Will I ever get my kids' names right on the first try? Has my mind always felt like a paper shredder? (And, of course, the reality of sleepless newborn life will not answer these questions for me anytime soon.)
I've eaten so many boxes of plain Cheerios to stave off nausea that I find them in my clothes when I'm going to bed.
I'm not one to obsess over my appearance or body image, but I'm at the point where I'm alarmed about the sheer quantity of skin I have right now...we're talking a square footage that I can't even comprehend. I've even dreamt about oceans and oceans of skin, my skin, nightmarishly piling on top of each other, limitless. Right now it seems that no amount of fabric can cover all of this stomach anymore, and I've gotten used to my belly peeking out of the bottom of my shirts every day. (I just can't bring myself to be that homeschool mom who always wears a dress.) Also, leggings count as pants right now. Sorry. They have to. I keep promising myself that after this pregnancy, I'm going to go vegan or something and work out for two hours a day. Maybe after I do that, my stretch marks will fade and my mid-section won't still look like I've been clawed by a bear?
I've already given my husband some fiery feminist rants about how it's not fair that he gets to go mountain biking whenever he wants, and that if I was freed up twelve hours a week to exercise after I have the baby, I would look like a body-builder supermodel too. I've told him that I am not going to go through another pregnancy during the summer in Florida, and next time he can join me if he wants but I am not staying here. I burst into tears and started sobbing about how he thinks everything is my fault when he merely told me he couldn't find his favorite jacket. Once, he started to eat an Oreo truffle I had been hiding in the fridge, and I attacked him with such a not-playful ferociousness that he offered to give it back. I saw genuine fear in his eyes in that moment. Later he asked my permission to eat another one, and I---this time in a much kinder frame of mind---welcomed him to do so, but he couldn't bring himself to eat it. I think he was still a little scared. He is one of the strongest and most assertive people I know (and I love that about him), but he has answered my craziness with patience consistently since he's learned a lot about his wife when she's like this.
And, going through this process four times in five years, I've learned a lot too.
I've learned that seasons exist. God built me with limitations, and He designed the season of pregnancy and newborn life to be a particularly limiting one. But this forced slowness of pace is one of the best things that could happen to me, and no amount of productivity could manufacture the beautiful ways He causes me to grow when I feel so constrained or useless. Let me explain.
As I wait for this baby, I have had to keep a very clear schedule. I look at the week on my planner and, aside from our weekly church gatherings and my midwife appointments, I have no plans. Right now I only have one more item on my to-do list...how often does any woman only have one thing left on her to-do list?
So I've had time to do things I don't normally do. I walked around a state park for a few hours and spent prolonged time sitting on a bench and looking at a river. Last weekend, the kids and I finished reading an amazing 1,477-page fantasy series, and we only started it two months ago. I watched a movie with my husband without trying to multi-task during it. I wrote letters to loved ones. In those middle-of-the-night bouts of insomnia, I've had time to sit with my Bible and journal, and pray and read and soak without feeling rushed. Though my mind currently feels a little sub-par when it comes to processing speed, I actually feel like I've had time to focus.
Being in a season of forced slowness has permitted me to see that so many things that I think are a waste of time are merely a submissive acknowledgement that I am a human being, dependent on God and full of all kinds of humbling limits. I think some of my favorite heroes from church history might've set a bad example in this way. It's quite possible that they spent themselves too much, to the detriment of their respective ministries. Even George Muller, Hudson Taylor, and Amy Carmichael---all of whom I so deeply respect---may have had gaps in their theology that led them to believe that God needed them to expend themselves more than they needed to take care of the bodies that He gave them. God, of course, has never needed anyone. I just read in the book of Numbers about a guy who was put to death because he picked up sticks on the Sabbath. The rules have changed since then, of course, but the underlying truth remains that God wants our lives to have a serious awareness of our frailty and need for times of rest.
I'm encouraged to look to the example of Jesus, who found it necessary to spend 30 years doing nothing particularly remarkable. He took the time to retreat from the crowds and pray even when they were demanding Him. He took a nap on a boat when the disciples wished He didn't. He cooked food and He ate. He didn't choose to invest all His time in the lives of crowds but primarily in twelve people, most closely only three. I certainly shouldn't deny my limitations any more than Christ did.
There's no doubt that the hour is urgent. I don't want to waste even one moment of my life. But I'm beginning to suspect that oftentimes, the very thing that causes our growth to be accelerated is when we slow down. It's that familiar backwardness of God's economy! A prime example was when Jesus highlighted that Martha's zipping around the house in service was so less pleasing to Him than her sister Mary's posture of sitting in lingering worship.
Yesterday morning I woke suddenly with a scripture replaying over and over in my head: "Blessed is everyone who fears the LORD, who walks in his ways!" I think God brought Psalm 128:1 to mind because I had gone to bed feeling restless, and I needed to wake up knowing that it's good to walk in His ways. Not zoom, not fly, but walk, slowly yet consistently, like His disciples literally walked with Him from town to town. There will be a time when my days are full of neighbors and soup kitchens and hospitality and going to bed exhausted from good and hard work. But right now it appears that God has brought me into a season full of naps and rest and quietness and a little bit more scarcity. Embracing those seasons can be more difficult than participating in the busier ones. But as I aim to "walk in His ways," I need to be aware of my weak humanity and the need to function at the kind of pace that God sets for me. The two great commandments---love God, love neighbor---don't have quantifiable expectations or time limits, at least not that I know of. The Bible seems to communicate that it's better to walk slowly with Christ than to run in circles for Christ.
So, as I continue to wait on my body and not-yet-born baby to put me into labor---and both parties are frustratingly silent about their plans---I can take comfort knowing that ultimately, of course, it is God who has decided to slow my pace, and His timing is exactly what He intends for it to be. Yes, I'll drink the prune juice and eat the raw pineapple and get labor-inducing interventions as needed, but I can also embrace each day of not really having an agenda, trusting that the growth that comes from the inactivity is enough to prepare me for times when I'm able to do much more. As Jesus reminds us in John 15, I must abide in Him, because apart from Him I can do nothing. Hopefully this can encourage you as well!
And, yeah, please pray the baby is born ASAP. Feel free to ask that my stretch marks go away too 😉
I absolutely love going on walks, and at this point in pregnancy (39 weeks) it’s kind of the only exercise my majorly-protruding body can do. Since we moved to this house three years ago, I had to say farewell to my beloved strolls, as the nearest sidewalk is dangerously close to a busy road, and my walking buddies are three little people who are still learning to obey. I hate feeling limited like that. Earlier this week, I drove 20 minutes to my Mom’s house just so I could briskly walk around her subdivision. I loved seeing her, but the inefficiency of driving so I could walk was painful.
Then one evening, we were all playing in the yard and I was pouting about my lack of exercise, so my husband advised me to “walk around the house.” So I did many, many laps around the house. The next morning, with my husband gone and the kids needing supervision, I directed them to play near the (unlit) fire pit in our backyard, and I decided to walk around them. And I did. A lot. (I recorded it on strava and my tiny, tiny route looks hilarious. The kids and even the cat looked at me like I was a crazy person.)
And it felt great.
Why did it take me so long to figure out that I wasn’t helpless in my desires for exercise just because the typical options (gym/workout video/sidewalk) weren’t available to me right now?
It’s because I, like most people, am a glutton for needlessly placing limits on myself.
Feeling trapped is easier than finding solutions.
Just because I haven’t seen it done means I think it can’t be done.
And that’s a sad place to be.
My husband talks a lot about the difference between settlers and pioneers. (He has an crush on the 1800's.) Being a pioneer was terrifying and hard because, well, the trail wasn’t paved yet. There weren’t books available on what to expect. Parents and grandparents, in all their wisdom and value, couldn’t speak into the particular experience of making their homes in the mysterious western frontier. Instead, the pioneers had to be befriend and rely on people who didn't trust them or speak their language. (And, regrettably, our government and many of the pioneers dealt with the native Americans in terrible and inexcusable ways.)
There were so many unknowns, so many obstacles for which the pioneers could not prepare themselves, so much inevitable failure and pain. The settlers who came in after them were valuable to society too—they were society!—but were it not for the curiosity, boldness, and grit of the pioneers, it’s safe to say the East Coast would be a lot more crowded, and some of the planet’s most breathtaking natural wonders (and most useful natural resources) would remain unknown to the rest of the world.
My husband is of the pioneering sort. I remember feeling so limited when we considered his skills and applied for a ton of jobs, but we couldn’t find anything that fit him. However, with God’s gracious leading, he eventually took a big risk and started a business. He went door to door looking for customers. He sought counsel from other pressure washers and business owners, but there were a lot of solutions he had to figure out on his own...and now he’s the guy that other people are going to for advice. He's thriving in this role. Even a couple weeks ago, he showed me a chemical sprayer apparatus and told me that he completely improvised it. This contraption he made—that works brilliantly—is the only one out there...for now. He’s a pioneer.
I don’t know anyone my age with this many kids and I don’t hear any of my friends talking about how they walk in circles in their backyard to get exercise. But that doesn’t mean that I’m wrong, or that everybody else is wrong. Every person on the planet regular encounters issues of varying significance that no one has taught us how to deal with. This is the first time being a human for all of us. The curtain went up, we were pushed onstage, the show has started, and our lives are being lived, whether we've ever felt ready for it or not. We can choose to despair at our cluelessness or lack of ideal environment. Or we can choose to be excited that we've been thrown onto a Conestoga wagon that’s headed west, and we will need to figure out how to do things that we haven’t seen done before.
If you read this and feel inspired to "find your inner strength" and take on a Me Versus The World mentality, that's not what I'm trying to advocate here. I'm not saying all conventional ideas are bad. I'm not saying the world has nothing to show us. Instead, I'm saying that in humility we can look at our situations and think "I can't handle this on my own. I do not yet know how I am equipped to deal with this. But, for my own sake and those who come after me, I will try." We can acknowledge how stupid it is to not seek God for wisdom (given that, well, He knows and controls all things) and we can find the Sacagaweas in our lives who can show us the way.
You don't need to become a conspiracy theorist to question cultural norms on a big or small scale. Whether you're choosing an alternative method of education, inviting homeless people to your wedding, or eating a cupcake more efficiently, you're looking at your current situation and saying "Status quo won't work here. I need to find the better way." Remember, limitations can be the very tools that help us discover and create beauty.
Now, if you'll excuse me, it's a new day, and I need to walk some more miles around my fire pit.
Approaching the birth of my fourth child, I am certainly excited, but I'm definitely feeling nervous, even a bit panicky. This happens every time I'm about to welcome a new child to the family and hit the "reset" button on my stability once again. I thought I would've been more prepared for it, that I would have my act together a little more. But no, I'm being given a huge privilege and responsibility, and I'm still a hot mess. You can probably relate. Maybe you're about to enter a scary new job or you've been given the care of an elderly person when your plate is already full. Maybe you have no idea how you're going to make it through this upcoming season of life.
When we're thinking this way, here's something we can tell ourselves:
An Open Letter to My Despairing Self
Thank you for taking the time to make that list of all the ways that you're ill-equipped for the job you're about to undertake. I don't disagree with it, and I'm sure there are hardships and weaknesses that you've forgotten or haven't thought of yet. It's true that you don't have enough time, that you don't have enough hands, and that you aren't enough. It's quite possible that you'll always feel tired, needy, and maybe a little helpless.
But there are some major things you have failed to remember.
One is that you're getting stronger. Think about the other times you've been overwhelmed by your lot. With each new responsibility you've been given, you felt like you couldn't handle it, but now look! If even one of those is relieved for a time, it feels like you can do anything! Is it because your responsibilities are getting easier? No! It's because you, dear Self, are getting stronger!
Difficulty is not the worst thing that can happen to you, Self! Neediness and insufficiency are not the most destructive feelings you can have. In fact, biblically and historically speaking, pride is the worst thing that can happen to you. The very very worst.
Being faced with your weakness, over and over again, with every instance of short-fused blast of frustration or every poorly-timed breakdown into tears, you are being reminded of your humanity. Yet every new day, every tiny speck of progress that you don't even notice, you are being reminded that you are being held. That you are growing. That you are investing. That you are becoming.
Look at your journals; remember your past. Cries of fear and despair have been spewing from your mind and mouth for years. In fact, cries of fear and despair have been rising up to God since, what, Adam and Eve? But from the very beginning, He has covered His people's nakedness and cared for them. God's faithfulness continues from generation to generation, for thousands and thousands of years. The tender love and mercy that flavor the histories of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is flavoring your story as well.
Self, you will survive this next season. The God who kept Gladys Aylward going as she led a hundred young orphans on a 27-day journey to safety through the China mountains is going to keep you going as well. The God who gave otherworldly confidence to Perpetua as she was torn by beasts then killed by sword as crowds watched and cheered will certainly help you too. The God who strengthened Richard Wurmbrand as he suffered in prison for many years---three of which were in solitary confinement---will be your strength too. They were sustained through their fears, and you will be too.
So you can take quite seriously God's command to not fear. Maybe one day God will call you to that kind of extreme situation, and you will have to trust that He will give you grace in that moment too. But till then, take heart that He is building faith in you. You might envision yourself to be much more self-sufficient ten years from now, but that is a faulty goal. Assuming you continue to grow in wisdom and strength, you will only become more and more aware of your weakness and neediness.
But that awareness, Lord willing, will cause your self-estimation to shrink, and your view of God---and thus your joy, lightheartedness, and yes, confidence---to expand and define you.
Dear Self, as you enter this season---or any season---you must remember Who is holding you, Who has held you, and Who has held every single one of His people for thousands and thousands of years without ever breaking His promise to one of them. Trust Him. Look upward.
And enjoy your new season. Receive it as a gift.
"If you are sufficient for your task, it's too small." -John Piper
There are some aspects of the Christian life—biggies such as caring for the poor and praying—that I read about in scripture, then see modeled by friends or illustrated through biographies, and I feel absolutely clueless. I want to be doing those things, but I’m so far from it. However, lately I've been learning that owning up to my failures in this way is absolutely freeing and actually exciting.
I recently admitted to one of my pastors that “praying has never been one of my strengths,” or some other mild way of phrasing “I don’t really pray.” He recommended I read the book With Christ in the School of Prayer by Andrew Murray, so I downloaded the audiobook for free via Hoopla. After listening to a few chapters while I did the dishes, I was getting ready for bed and I truly felt more excited than if I was packing for a trip to Europe.
Why? I just realized that there’s a huge privilege to being a Christian that I haven’t even begun to tap into. I already have a lot of joy in God, but there’s a joy that is promised from spending time spilling my heart before my Father, casting my burdens on Him, worshipping Him in spirit and in truth, and seeing answered prayer, and I haven’t even begun to experience happiness that stems from those things.
Those feelings of discontentment that I harbor so often are indeed because I’m lacking something, but the solution isn’t “get more stuff from Target” or “move to Colorado.” The solution is to figure out exactly what we’ve been given as people who have been “seated in the heavenly places." If the privileges given to a believer feel like they’re overstated in the Bible—and I’ll admit it, sometimes I feel like scripture is exaggerating because I don't feel like I've been given "all things"---I need to realize that the problem is with ME and not with God.
Of course my first response is guilt over my lack, but that’s a self-righteous talking. It's as if any of the ways that I’m doing an “ok” job in the Christian life were as a result of my hard work and not God’s grace. A humble heart would instead have the self-dialogue, “Ok, I’m failing at this, but I would fail at absolutely everything if it wasn’t for God’s help. So, God, help me with this too."
The many, many, many invitations from God---seen also through His commands---to live life the way He designed us to live it are invitations to joy, because God cares about our happiness more than we do. When we see a command in scripture, we can remind ourselves, “This is an invitation to happiness.” God knows the happiest way to live, and Jesus actually experienced that as the Happiest Person to Walk the Earth, so He is so kind to invite me to follow that path. (In fact, He is the Way.) Remember that this was a path that led to being abandoned by friends and crucified on the cross. But it was the happiest path, and Jesus did it “for the joy set before him.” Happiness drove Jesus and it should drive me too.
So, when we see the ways we are failing in our Christian lives—maybe for you that looks like Bible reading, sharing the gospel, involvement in your local church family, etc.—we shouldn’t feel guilty but thrilled and invited. We should feel like we’re missing out on happiness. And we should be all the more encouraged to press on!
As you enter the New Year, desirous of growing in your walk with Jesus, don't be discouraged by all the times you've failed in the past. Be thrilled that there are whole mountains and rivers and caverns of joy that you haven't even discovered yet! And ask God that He will help you find them!
As New Years approaches, I plan on posting several articles on how to grow specifically in the area of Bible reading. Bible literacy is truly my greatest passion, and even more than I hope to encourage others in their motherhood, marriages, or cloth napkin usage, I want to encourage them in this.
Here are some things I've already written on the topic:
Christians, Let's Study the Bible for Ourselves!
The Real Reason We Don't Read Our Bibles
10 Years in the Word: How the Bible Shaped Me
The Ugly Trend of "Bible Journaling"
The One Thing I'd Remember If I Lost My Mind
By the way, that beautiful and stylin' man in the image above is my Pappaw! He stays up till the wee hours of the morning reading the Bible sometimes. I love him so much.
The other day I was making ornaments and trying to figure out slightly-meaningful phrases to put on them. "Merry & Bright", "Joy", and "Let It Snow" weren't doing it for me. As I painted the words "Peace on Earth," I immediately recoiled, realizing that this was a concept so misunderstood that it has become hollow, even cheap.
"Peace on Earth" is used so broadly in holiday art and festive greeting that we haven't stopped to evaluate what it means. Is Christmas a time for mankind to come together and, despite their differences, have peace with one another? Did the birth of Jesus prove that miracles can happen and maybe our planet-dwellers can all get along someday? Was Jesus an inspiring pacifist who never intended to stir up any trouble? I'm guessing these are the cultural assumptions behind the popularity of the phrase "peace on earth", so I'd like to debunk them because, like I said, they're cheap. A general sense of "peace on earth" gives Christmas about as much depth and fortitude as a potato chip.
Also, just because the King James Version translated the angels' announcement to the shepherds in Luke 2:14 as "peace on earth, goodwill toward men" doesn't mean that it's the best translation of what the biblical author intended.
Now listen. I’m an uneducated 25-year-old, not a scholar. I will not attempt to "go into the Greek" on this one. Though I think studying ancient languages can be helpful for people who are able to properly do so, I don't think we need extrabiblical information to understand the Bible. But I also don't think we as a culture understand this extremely popular phrase. So, using the Bible, I would like to offer normal-person-level reasons why a) Jesus's birth didn't bring peace on earth, b) Jesus's birth did bring peace on earth, and c) Jesus's birth will bring peace on earth.
A) Jesus's birth didn't bring peace on earth.
To use His own words from Matthew 10, "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword." This isn't a verse that people like to mention when they are trying to make Jesus look good. But Jesus said it, and I believe He is true and good, so let's wrestle with it.
We get clarity about what Jesus meant about "bring[ing] a sword" by the obvious context and also by further “contradiction”: other places in scripture make it clear that Jesus did not come to actually bring war physically. Remember when He was being arrested and He rebuked Peter for slashing a guy's ear? He said "For all who take the sword will perish by the sword" (Matthew 26:52) and in John 18:36, Jesus said "My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world."
So what was Jesus talking about in Matthew 10 if fighting isn't His strategy? The surrounding verses tells us that He used sword imagery to illustrate that He is divisive. He's not pretending to be some ecumenical religious figure. He made it clear that His father is God and He is God. Elsewhere you'll find Him saying things like "whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him." That doesn't give people warm fuzzies, and it certainly would never award Him a Nobel Peace Prize.
Jesus didn't come to the earth with the good news that everyone can stay the way they are and that peace will come and all will be well and all people can have hope. Jesus came with the bad news that anyone who doesn't follow Him will suffer forever. That is the kind of divisiveness He is talking about in Matthew 10. The message of Jesus is disruptive, offensive, and so hard to accept that not even His brothers believed in Him (John 7:5.) The message of Jesus is what drove people to hate him so viciously that they screamed for a notorious criminal and murderer to go free so that a homeless, miracle-worker could be crucified.
B) Jesus's birth did bring peace on earth.
So the general idea of Jesus bringing "peace on earth, goodwill to men" seems to be, biblically and from personal experience, bogus. The earth certainly doesn't have peace now and it never ever has. My preschool-age children and I learned this very quickly as we studied world history. There have always been greedy men with bloodthirsty followers, the oppressed often become the oppressors, and every culture has its own vile practices. Peace on earth has never happened, and we've never been on a trajectory where it looks likely. There isn't exactly a reason to have hope that the world will someday figure out how to vastly improve.
Unless, of course, the angels really did mean that peace would come to the earth, and the prophets meant it hundreds of years before Jesus was born when they said He would be a "Prince of Peace." To explain:
The inhabitants of the earth have, since the beginning, been warring with God whether we realized it or not. Adam and Eve's choice to disobey God in the garden was mutiny, an attempted dethroning, and an act of spiritual war. Everyone since has spent their lives attempting the same, whether we're loathed criminals or beloved clergy. We constantly consider ourselves to be the supreme authority of our lives, so we disregard our Maker's ways and establish ourselves as god. God is not okay with this. His bow of wrath is aimed toward us for this (see Psalm 7:12.)
But the fact that Jesus came gives specific hope for specific people. This savior is for the whole world, yes—scripture drips with God’s global love for every single culture; I literally weep for joy at the thought of this. But He came specifically for those who would believe. If you don’t have any interest in God but you've been told that you're His child and He loves you just as much as He loves everyone else, no wonder He's so unappealing! My husband certainly doesn't live all kids as much as He loves our kids. And I would be appalled if my husband claimed to love all women as much as he loves me. Having a special affection for the people who are your own is not unfair; it's love.
The coming of Jesus, which began His perfect life, His subbing-for-our-sin death, and His resurrection, was indeed "good news of great joy" that is available to all people.
Other Bible translations interpret the second half of Luke 2:14 like this:
"...on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (ESV)
"...on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests." (NIV)
"...peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased." (NLT)
The specificity of who receives peace with God makes it rich. If you think your default position with God is "peace" and that you're already a child of God, then there is nothing left to do about all those feelings you have of guilt, shame, fear, and confusion. But if you believe that peace with God is possible through Jesus, then you have every reason to throw yourself into Jesus's arms and have true hope (see Romans 5.)
Jesus made it clear that He has come to bring peace, but not as the world gives it (John 14:27.) He introduces a whole different kind of peace, not merely the absence of conflict (which all of us would be content to have!) but the presence of blessing. Peace with God doesn't merely mean that He isn't mad at us, but it means He actively loves us, delights in us, and works for our good. This peace extends even now to believers; since we have peace with God, we can have peace with each other. And, even beyond that, we can have peace with all people—even people who wrong us or have nothing in common with us—because all our needs have been met by the “peace with God” factor, and we are free to live peaceably with others to the best of our ability (Romans 12:18.)
C) Jesus's birth will bring peace on earth.
Here's the part where we get to dream. It's thrilling to imagine a world that not only lacks the stuff we all despise (injustice, death, pain, sorrow) but is full of the stuff our hearts have always longed for (peace, justice, joy, unity, diversity.) We can't rightly enjoy anything unless we enjoy it how the Maker intended. We don’t even know what justice or righteousness is unless we look to the One of whom it is said in Psalm 97, “righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne.”
Take a minute to read Revelation 21 and 22 and be thrilled at the great hope for eternity, Heaven, aka the New Earth, aka the Resurrection, aka The World We’ve All Been Longing For. This hope is for those who believe in Christ, anyway. The whole reason our planet is such a mess is because of the people in it, self included. But after Jesus died, he began a new kind of resurrection life that will happen to all whose sins went with Him to the grave, were buried, and are now gone (see Romans 6:4.) The resurrected life of the Christian is another one of those already/not yet situations that is both confusing and thrilling: we already have new life in Him once we believe in Him, but one day we will really experience new life in Him, perfectly and completely. And on this day when “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14), there will be peace. Glorious, perfect peace not messed up by sin anymore.
So, next time you see the phrase “Peace on Earth” or hear Linus telling the Christmas story, remember the richness of that idea. If you think you’ve experienced “peace on earth” to the full extent the angels were describing, you could certainly afford to dream and hope about something much, much better than what you see now…if you believe in the peace-disrupting Prince of Peace. :)
Receive new posts via email here! :)
My name is Hope.
I'm 25, married to a former skater dude, and raising little people ages 5, 3, 1, and not-yet-born. I like lime green and sarsaparilla, and I wear my Crocs until they melt. (Florida problems.)
Quick links to some of my posts:
Articles I've Written on Other Sites:
Youth Ministry's Family Blindspot - Christianity Today