Fantastic Fiction or Wicked Witchcraft? – A Critical View of Whether Christians Should Read Harry Potter

20160210_nerdistnews_harrypottercursedchild_1x1  In 1997, nearly 20 years ago, JK Rowling published her first of 7 novels in the Harry Potter series.  Rowling, a single mother from Leith (a suburb of Edinburgh) said the inspiration for her best-selling books just came to her as she was riding on a train to London.  When the concepts first started formulating in Rowling’s mind, she likely had no idea what a sensation would be produced.  Today Harry Potter has made a mark in the modern literary world in a way few other novels have rivaled.  Harry Potter merchandise, websites, video games, and fan clubs abound.  Virtually everyone under the age of 30 has read, watched, or otherwise been influenced by Potter and almost everyone under 50 has at least heard of who Harry Potter is.

At the core of the Potter series lies a deeply inspiring novel about a young boy who defeats various challenges that inadvertently find him.  Orphaned as an infant due to the wicked Lord Voldemort who murders both his parents and leaves Harry with a lightening shaped scar, Potter is forced to grow up with his unloving and unsupportive relatives, the Dursleys, who don’t believe in magic and are embarrassed by Potter’s involvement in it.  Soon, Potter unexpectedly receives a letter from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry inviting him to begin his training there.  Potter stays on for 7 years, taking various courses, playing quidditch (a mash-up between American football, soccer, and rugby played on flying broomsticks), and solving problems.  We learn of his adventures getting along well with certain professors and not so well with others, creating friends and enemies alike, and occasionally dodging the rules.  Throughout the novel, the struggle between good and evil becomes apparent as Potter often displays courage and conviction to do what is right even in the face of adversity.

There are many good aspects of the Harry Potter series, yet there is also much controversy amongst liberal and conservative Christians alike as to whether or not these books are suitable reading material for young (and older) children.  This blog will address some of these concerns as well as sharing my own experience of reading these novels ultimately leaving you with the opportunity to decide for yourselves whether or not this is something your kids and grandkids should be reading.

My Personal Journey With Harry Potter

I grew up in a fairly strict and conservative Christian family.  From a young age I was taught to revere the Bible as the literal Word of God.  This does not mean that in each and every case it is possible to take the Bible word for word, but rather that it is the inerrant instruction of the Father and it is not our place to tamper or proof-text verses to suit our own agendas.  I also had the privilege of attending a quite conservative Christian elementary school.  I remember being a young student and hearing about the Harry Potter phenomenon.  When I went shopping it became apparent that this was the latest up-and-coming thing.  I remember many of my friends going out to buy t-shirts or games and even hosting Harry Potter parties.  Yet I also distinctly remember not being able to read the books or watch the movies myself.  It wasn’t until I was in my final year of high school that my boyfriend (at the time) and I watched a Harry Potter movie together at my house along with his siblings.  I was 17 at the time, approximately 10 years after the first book was released.  I remember watching it almost with a sense of pride…doing something distinctly I knew my parents would be against.  But I also remember not necessarily thinking there was anything inadvertently wrong with what I was seeing on the screen.

Looking back to my childhood days and hearing many of my friends share with me how they grew up on Harry Potter, still does not make me feel like I missed out on anything special.  I recently read the Potter series for the first time in an attempt to formulate my own opinion on this religious phenomenon.  I am not really interested in novels and fantasy, oftentimes preferring to read non-fiction and deeply theological and religious tomes.  However, I must admit to an almost immediate liking to these books.  They held my interest in a way that few other novels ever have.  Although they might not be quite at the same level as some of the older classics, I still feel they are fairly well-written, fast-paced, suspenseful, and a delightful read.  I am sure that they must be even more special and eventful to read as a youngster, and I am happy (in a way) that they are at least increasing childhood literacy.  Nevertheless, I also see the wisdom in my parents not allowing me to read these books.  I remember emailing my mom when I finished the first book – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in the U.S.) and her telling me that she also enjoyed it.  I was surprised and emailed her back saying “I thought I wasn’t allowed to read it?” My mom responded that I wasn’t because the strict evangelical school I attended threatened to confiscate any Harry Potter books brought onto campus and even discipline children talking about these books during the school break.  Yet my mom had wisely decided to read them on her own accord in order to better understand the arguments the school presented.  My respect for her only increased when I learned this because it is so easy within conservative Christianity to become dogmatic on issues we know relatively nothing about.  And that is also the reason why I chose to read Harry Potter – because as a theologian I didn’t just want to slam my foot down on something I have never explored myself.

Theological Leanings and Harry Potter

When I first began theologizing Harry Potter I consulted a number of books and resources in order to formulate the best possible opinion on the matter.  Any academic theologian will inform you that the greatest asset of a scholar is someone who is able to look at both sides of an argument in a representationally equal way.  Thus I read two books in particular God, the Devil, and Harry Potter by a Church of Scotland minister John Killinger (self-described as “a defence in favour of the beloved novels”) and Harry Potter and the Bible by Richard Abanes (a conservative outlook on the craze).  I also referenced my previous seminary training especially courses I took on spiritual warfare and the occult (as well as my general theological training), a few online articles namely: Harry Potter, Jesus and Me (http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/julyweb-only/potterjesusme.html) and The Christian Message of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (http://www.dartmouthapologia.org/apologia/the-christian-message-of-harry-potter-and-the-deathly-hallows-part-1/) and also interviewed a number of my friends on both the conservative and the liberal sides including a number of other theologians (whether academic or lay), pastors, missionaries, parents,  and general church-goers.  So it is safe and fair to say that my research has encompassed a myriad of opinions and thoughts on the topic, further pointing to how controversial this issue truly is within the church.

Over-Heated Theological Garble

When asked if I would allow my children to read Harry Potter, my consistent response has been this, “yes, with reservations.” I do not disparage the fact that there are many areas of concern and alarm when it comes to these novels which I will discuss below.  Yet, I am also of the opinion that much of the controversy surrounding Harry Potter is a bit excessive on both sides.  There are differences of opinion regarding Rowling’s motivations and religious beliefs.  According to one website, Rowling is a member of the Church of Scotland and has never publicly denied the existence of God.  Killinger also mentions that during an interview, Rowling specifically mentioned a high regard for Christ.  Conversely scholars like Abanes mention that Rowling did specific research into the occult (perhaps even believing some of the materials herself).  I find it highly unlikely that Rowling herself is a witch or practices Wicca, but I also find it hard to believe that she is a conservative, evangelical Christian.  Having spent a year in Scotland I am well aware of the religious climate there.  Many people are baptized as infants, and will maintain that they belong to a certain denomination regardless of whether or not they attend services or even believe in the major doctrines of that church.  It would appear to me that Rowling is probably in this boat – someone who was perhaps baptized and confirmed in a specific church, but who likely does not believe core Scriptural doctrines.  That being said, only God knows her heart and her motives and it is not my place to unnecessarily judge where she stands before the Creator.    Given that I find it difficult to believe that Rowling is a Christian I believe any references in her novels towards Gospel themes are likely unintentional if not far-fetched.  The truth is that the struggle for good and evil is a universal reality.  Regardless of one’s religious and philosophical beliefs (or lack there-of) we almost entirely wish that the good guy will win.  Thus it is highly unfair for scholars to over spiritualize the morals and action plot in these books.  Though if it helps someone to see Christ in a greater way, than I suppose the means and methods don’t matter so much as the ultimate result.

Causes For Concern

For the most part, Harry Potter is a harmless, fun, and fantastic adventure written for both children and adults alike.  Nevertheless, there are certain areas that Christian parents must be aware of if they do decide to let their children read these novels.

As I previously mentioned, my first attempt at reading these books was when I was 25.  By this age I had already acquired 7 years of intense theological training at a conservative Bible college and seminary, had been a Christian for a number of years, and already knew where I stood on most issues of Christian life and practice.  With children, there is much more at stake by letting their young and impressionable minds be exposed to such materials.  Unlike adults, children often lack the full ability to reason and to differentiate reality from imagination.  This is especially true of children who over-exaggerate what they believe to be real or not.  We see this quite frequently, for example, in children who believe in the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus way past a suitable age.  We also see it in young children who talk to their dolls and teddy bears as if these objects were alive.  In a way, this is a generally healthy part of childhood.  If a child sees objects as concrete or is unable to perform make-belief scenarios it often can point to cognitive disorders and dysfunctions.  Nevertheless, when addressing a novel like Harry Potter we need to ensure that our children understand that creating their own magic, spells, and potions is not real and any magic that is real within this world has the potential to be gravely dangerous for believers.  Additionally, my research into spiritual warfare has shown a pattern that children are often more susceptible to attacks from the Evil One than adults are.  This may be in part due to their sensitive and trusting nature, but it is also the result of their inability to argue and counter Satan’s attack through Scriptures.  Reading Harry Potter may not necessarily affect each child in the same way, and in fact, many will be able to read it as entertainment and nothing more.  However, for a select few individuals, spiritual attacks and confusion may ensue.  This was especially pointed out to me in a spiritual warfare questionnaire that addressed the various doors for evil spirits to enter into.  One gateway being whether the person has read Harry Potter.  Spiritual Gateways to the Enemy should never be taken lightly.  It should not be assumed that Harry Potter in itself is evil – it is not.  Just like alcohol can be a gateway to addiction, but not everyone who drinks alcohol will become an alcoholic.  Nevertheless, some children may develop an unhealthy fascination with magic and the occult and this may lead them down a slippery slope later in life.

The Presence of the Occult and Dark Magic in Harry Potter

Regardless of whether you think Harry Potter is innocent or replete with occultic references, we cannot ignore the deeply spiritual aspects of dark/black magic in the series.

In her book To Loose the Chains author Sergine Snanoudi writes, “In the Bible there are 510 passages and 1,250 verses related to occult practices.  God guards His people against these since because they blind and hinder understanding of the Word and its being put into practice, even though it may be frequently heard.” (p.33)  Throughout Scripture in both the Old and the New Testaments we are warned of the consequences for someone who practices magic – and it is never positive.  We are told that followers of Christ are to reject these types of behaviours in favour of holiness and righteousness that belongs to God alone.  The problem with magic is that it suggests that we have the authority to take that power away from God.  In reality, God remains all-powerful and no one can counter His reign, but by allowing ourselves to gain control through means outside of ourselves and outside of the Scriptures we are declaring that there is a better way than the one God Himself gives us.

According to the Oxford Dictionary the meaning of the word “Sorcerer” is “the one who practices magic with the help of an evil spirit” whereas a “Philosopher” is “a thinker, theorizer, or theoretician.” This may be nothing more than a matter of mere semantics since the UK refers to the first book as the “Philosopher’s Stone” whereas the US refers to it as “the Sorcerer’s Stone” however the significance is not lost on me.  Whether the discipline is simply the result of magic (and moreso evil magic) as in the case of “sorcerer” or else is a more academic discipline (as in the case of “philosopher”) greatly impacts how we view the rest of the series.

Furthermore, we must recognize the myriad references the book uses to talk about magic: divination, herbology, witchcraft, fortune-telling, charms, potions, and astronomy are all portrayed in a positive light.  Contrast this with Biblical teaching that God alone knows the future and we should rely on Him and His Word rather than turning to crystal gazing or horoscopes.  Additionally, Professor Trelawney (Head of Divination) often speaks maledictions on her student’s destinies – whereas Christians are called to consult God in faith trusting His divine guidance and providence for their futures.

Another concern I have with the Potter series is the almost Halloween-like fascination with death.  In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Nearly Headless Nick hosts a Halloween party to celebrate his 500th death-day anniversary.  Harry, Ron, and Hermonie go as a favour to him and are introduced to an eerie other worldly fascination.  Fast forward to Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban in which death once more is displayed as something to be feared.  This is entirely contrary to the Christian message which promotes death as the gateway to eternal life and jubilation with Christ.  Christians are told not to mourn like those who have no hope, but to look forward for what awaits them: a world far better than anything this life could ever render (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1%20Thessalonians%204:13-18).  This is so different to C.S. Lewis’s The Last Battle where he pens, “The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.”  Lewis, as a devout Christian, recognized that this life is transitory and our hearts long for the next, whereas, Rowling makes it appear as if this world is all there is and the afterlife is a scary place.  Nevertheless, she did re-align her thoughts somewhat later on when Dumbledore dies but chooses not to become a ghost because for him it is a natural progression to move forward.  Nearly Headless Nick even mentions that he wished he would have chosen this life for himself rather than staying stuck only in what he knew and that this mentality was a mistake on his part.

Final Remarks: Harry Potter – Worth a Read?

There are many excellent books out there, but none have garnered as much attention and debate as the Potter series.  Some conservative Christians try to justify reading Narnia or Lord of the Rings (also which use magic) saying that the magic in these books is much different than that of Harry Potter because the former two were written by Christian authors.  I agree with this thought to an extent.  It is very easy to see the parallels between Narnia and Scripture precisely because of Lewis’s background and in the first two cases, magic is used quite sparingly with a clear distinction between the real and imaginary.  The problem with Harry Potter is that it blurs these lines which can often leave children confused (as was already pointed out above).

Nevertheless, I still maintain that there is nothing inherently wrong with permitting children to read these novels as long as a parent, pastor, or teacher is there to help guide them explaining that what they are reading is mere fantasy and fiction.  Christian children should be presented with Biblical truths, but also be given the opportunity to read and explore other types of literature.  If anything, this will increase their faith by allowing them to see how different the Christian faith is from what the world has to offer.  However, each parent is responsible for their own children and each parent knows what is right for their young one.  If you as a parent are uncomfortable reading about magic to your children or if you think you lack the ability to explain these concepts to them, then it would be in your best interest to veer away as much as possible from the Potter series.  Conversely, if your children demonstrate a good grasp of fact and fiction, this might be the perfect opportunity to allow them to enter into a superb adventurous tale.  My greatest encouragement to you would be that if you haven’t read these novels yet yourself, take the time and effort to become familiar with them.  Make sure that when you tell your children you are against something you have good reasons for it – reasons which they will understand and later come to appreciate.  When we do this we not only save our kid’s soul from potential damage and disillusionment, but we also practice training up a child in the way he should go so that he will not depart from it later in life.  This is the goal all Christian parents are called to, and I hope it is the ideal that you also will work towards reaching.

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Entry and Re-Entry: Missional Living at Home and Abroad

104956   The following scene is a quite common one amongst many evangelical churches.  The church sends a teenager or young adult out (perhaps as an individual or as a team) for a short term mission experience.  The young adult comes home so excited to share with everyone how their time was.  The church asks “so, how was your trip?” And the person doesn’t even know where to start.  Then two weeks later, life goes back to normal.  It’s almost as if the person was never abroad.  While church life goes on with the usual celebrations, rote, and rhythm, the young missionary is stuck in their own mind not sure exactly where to turn to process their thoughts and emotions.  They may be experiencing reverse culture-shock, they may have left the country with deep seated existential questions about the problem of evil or the cruelty of humanity, or they may be unsure how to re-adjust to daily life in their home country, but they don’t have an older and wiser adult to turn to for support.  Many older missionaries and missionary organizations claim that the first month or two that the young missionary is back are the most crucial for long-term success.  It almost goes without saying that those who experience a warm welcome, good strong support network and encouragement upon their return are more likely to go back out onto the field.  On the other hand, those who are pushed aside, ignored, or bombarded with prising questions are more likely to either never fully get over the transition or else to be a bit bitter when re-thinking going back out.

Personally, I do not think the responsibility only lies with the mission organization or the church.  I believe that a good church will have objectives in place to provide the safest transition both onto and out of the field and a good organization will provide ample opportunities to adjust in both cases.  However, some of the responsibility also lies with the missionaries themselves.  Unfortunately, many first time missionaries are quite young and lack the ability to articulate exactly what it is they need so others are not really aware how to help them in this process.  What I’d like to offer below are my own thoughts on the topic.  Fully recognizing that I do not represent every single missionary in the world and also realizing that I have not yet returned home to Canada after my latest stint, I’d like to offer you some practical advice for helping to make a smooth transition for other missionaries using both my short term and my year long experience.

Entry: Travelling Abroad

If this is your first missionary experience and you are going to a developing country, your church or mission organization should hopefully be able to walk you through some logistics.  These include things like flights, medications, vaccinations, safety issues, and packing.  Over time, these things will probably become second nature for you, but if you don’t have much experience with this sort of thing you might be surprised at what you won’t even consider factoring in until it’s too late.  Personally, I also find it helpful to set up a Facebook group and send out prayer letters explaining in detail what you will be getting up to and asking specific people to partner with you while abroad.  Probably many people will be praying for you while overseas, but having a core group of people who are just an email or Skype chat away when you are going through the initial difficult few months is invaluable.  Probably as time progresses and you feel more and more at home in your new country, you won’t need to rely on them as much – but it is at least good to know that you will always have that safety net in case you need it.

I have found that when moving abroad, one of the most important things is to find a local church connection.  At first it might be fun to check out various styles of churches (especially if the predominant denomination in your new country is different from your own), however the novelty will soon wear off.  Getting plugged into a caring church community where you can contribute is a great way to maintain your sanity.  I was particularly blessed with the opportunity to be part of a church with a vibrant International Fellowship.  This meant that I had ample times to rub shoulders with other missionaries and to make friends with people who were going through the same things as I was (such as homesickness, loneliness, and adjusting to a new culture).  It might be that your area doesn’t have a church with such a group, but even so, I’m sure that in many churches there are people who would be more than willing to take you under their wing and help you out.

Re-Entry

Coming back to your home country can often be a confusing experience.  On the one hand, you might feel really excited to be back with your family and friends.  You might be really looking forward to it and you might be imagining all the things you have missed while abroad.  On the other hand, you might almost be dreading it in a way.  This is completely normal.

It’s natural to feel all sorts of mixed emotions when re-entering your sending country.  You probably will be sad about leaving your new friends, a city that has come to have so much significance for you, and all the places you love to frequent.  You might even feel a bit guilty because you know that you should be excited to spend time with your family and closest friends, but yet you still feel a bit ambivalent.  Don’t be so hard on yourself.  Be gentle with your emotions.

It is almost inevitable that upon arriving home you will experience reverse culture-shock.  This is usually more pronounced when you have spent a year or more living in a country with a completely different language and with unique customs.  However, even if you spent a year in a Western or developed country, there will probably still be things that now puzzle and confuse you.  The best way to get over reverse culture-shock is to break yourself in gently.  Don’t over do it all at once.  Budget your time.  Start with seeing your closest friends (perhaps in small groups) and then branch out from there.  During this time, understand that your family and friends aren’t mind readers.  There is no way for them to know what is going on in your heart and mind.  Be gentle with them and do your best to articulate what you are experiencing and feeling, what is concerning or troubling you, and what you have questions about.  Also, be sensitive to jet lag.  If you end up falling asleep on your aunt’s couch, explain to her that you are tired because of the time difference.  Make sure you have some time just to veg and do nothing for a few days.

One of the best pieces of advice I can give you is to start praying about your transition even before you leave your new country.  I started praying about the transition a few months ago and I also have asked others to pray about this for me.  I then took a block of time (about 2 hours) to sit in a quiet place in nature, reading the Bible and praying. I asked God to reveal to me the answers to questions such as:

  • In what ways has my time in Edinburgh shaped me?
  • How have I seen God move and work here?
  • How have I grown personally and in my faith?
  • What do I hope to bring back to Canada from my experience here?

Figuring out the answers to these questions allows you to think a bit more about what’s coming up and to prepare yourself for going back to the familiar.

Advice to Parents, Churches, and Friends: I have spoken mainly to the missionaries themselves in this blog, but now I’d like to turn my attention to you.  If your son, daughter, friend, or parishioner is coming back from abroad here are some practical ways that you can help them make the smoothest transition possible:

  • Asking how someone’s trip was is a very broad statement. They might not even know where to start, so it might be better to ask more specific questions.  Questions like:

*What were you doing abroad?
* Did you get to see anything interesting?  Try some new dishes?  How’s your French, Spanish, Swahili coming along?  Can you teach me a phrase or two?
* What did you really love about being in Cambodia, Thailand, China?  What did you find especially challenging?                                                                                                                                     * Would you like to show me some pictures?  I’d love to see some!  (As an aside, if you’re a missionary think about making a scrapbook or photo album.  This can be a fun way to show your friends and family some key points of your time abroad – especially if they are rather low tech!  It’s also a great way to summarize – showing perhaps 30 or 40 pictures rather than 2000).

Here’s another great question to ask: How can I best help you to make this transition?  What do you need from me/us?

  • The person might be very keen to let you know all about their trip, but on the other hand, they might need time to process everything. Give them space and time.  Don’t pry them for too much information (especially on personally matters).  Let them share whatever it is they’d like to share with you and leave it at that.
  • Allow time for re-adjusting. If they don’t want to hang out with you in their first week, it’s not about you.  They’re probably just extremely jet lagged and tired.
  • Perhaps think about planning a trademark Canadian/American/British, ect. Activity for them. For example, I’m already thinking of how much I want Taco Bell, Wendy’s, Arby’s, Swiss Chalet, Tim Horton’s, and Café Demetries (no, not all in one day!)
  • Don’t tease them too much about not picking up the accent (though a little bit of teasing never hurt anyone)
  • If you are representing a church, perhaps think about giving the missionary an opportunity to speak from the pulpit or to a small group. This way they get to share their experience with everyone.  Also provide a few minutes afterwards for people to ask questions (or to find the person afterwards to ask questions in a one-to-one setting).  Also, think about asking the person to make a special cultural dish.

These are just a few of my thoughts.  Again I recognize that I don’t represent every missionary, but I hope that it at least gives you a bit of an idea on how to help someone transition.  In all things, remember that the real reason the person went out to the field is in order to serve Christ.  Try to preserve that same spirit of discipleship and obedience regardless of where the person now finds themselves.  After all, we need missionaries both at home and abroad.

P.S. Here’s a helpful link to visually show what cultural re-transitioning looks like (though I am only referring to the chart, not the actual blog): http://pcginger0911.blogspot.co.uk/2014/01/they-call-it-reverse-culture-shock.html

If you like this, check out: My Over-Sea’s Survival Guide: https://debdebbarak.wordpress.com/2015/12/31/the-overseas-survival-guide/

And https://debdebbarak.wordpress.com/2014/08/24/why-short-term-missions-trips-work-despite-what-you-might-have-heard/

 

3 Things Every Single Christian Woman Should Pray For

woman-praying-profile-featured-w740x493  If you grew up in the church, you have probably heard people tell you to pray for your future spouse.  You’ve probably grown up with the idea that if you pray long enough and hard enough the perfect mate is just going to drop from the sky and complete your life.  And you’ve probably even subconsciously convinced yourself that there is a person out there for you and that you are going to meet him very soon.

These prayers are all important and can be incredibly meaningful.  I believe it can be very powerful to pray for your future spouse, declaring his Godly attributes out loud and resting in full assurance that this aspect of your life is completely in God’s control.  However, we also must not be so naïve as to think that marriage is the only way to achieve intimacy (of the non-sexual kind).  Nor is marriage the be-all-end-all while celibacy remains a second best option.  In fact, whether or not you want to admit it, we cannot ignore the fact that in many Western countries there are still more single women in church than single men and not all of these singles are Godly (although they may claim to be religious).

Therefore, this blog is not about to pinpoint exact ways to pray for your future husband, though I would encourage you to keep praying and seeking God’s will about this aspect of your life.  Rather, I’d like to give you three areas that all Christian woman are called to pray about whether in a committed relationship (or marriage) or not.

  • Contentment: One of the most important keys to living a Godly life is to find contentment in the place you currently find yourself in. It is important to note that contentment doesn’t mean apathy or a sense of waiting around while doing nothing.  Contentment also doesn’t mean that the situation you find yourself in is your ideal.  But it does mean finding positive aspects and trusting God to reveal a deeper meaning to you than what you currently see on the surface.  Contentment means being moldable and trusting that there is a purpose and reason for what you are experiencing and that you can find gratitude in that.  This all may sound very lofty… almost “too” Christian; however, your contentment and your joy must come from God (not from being in a relationship, having a family, or having a stable career).  We see ample evidences of this type of attitude from Scriptures.  The Apostle Paul knew what it was like to go through rocky times, but he still had the boldness to proclaim that in any circumstance he could rejoice (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Philippians+4%3A12&version=ESV).  We also read that the joy of the Lord should be our strength (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Nehemiah+8%3A10&version=ESV).  It might not always be so easy to trust that God is going to work all things out for good (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+8%3A28&version=ESV) when your heart is longing for a relationship and yet you find yourself painfully single.  It might not come naturally for you to rejoice when your friends are all getting married and having babies and yet you haven’t been asked out by a reasonable man in years.  However, it is still important to try to practice contentment even when your heart is screaming different directions to your brain.

What do I mean by this on a more practical level?  Well, I can allow you to enter into a bit of my own personal journey.  I have been in three relationships, each three years apart (18, 21, and 24).  None of these relationships were with the right man and none even made it to the one year anniversary.  On the one hand, I have seen almost all of my friends with boyfriends, fiances, or husbands.  A discontented view would be to blame myself raising the question of what is wrong with me or why I am being overlooked.  Or I could start with self-pity or justifying myself (perhaps even to the extent of putting others down: “well, I am prettier than her” or “I am smarter than her” or “I have better job prospects than her”).  Additionally, I could choose to make all sorts of sacrifices and compromises (perhaps by dating a non-Christian or settling for any random guy even if we don’t have things in common and are not compatible with each other).  This is what a sad view of the dating realm looks like.

On the other hand, I can choose to be content.  I am deeply looking forward to the day when God will bless me with a husband and children.  Until that happens, I try to enjoy every waking moment of my single life.  I think of all the opportunities I have had so far because I didn’t get married at 18 or 21.  For example, I have been able to travel the world, even spending a year abroad.  I have been able to live in an intentional community and hang out with my friends at whim.  Of course, if you find yourself married with children at a young age, I am sure that is also wonderful.  I’m sure being married provides you with many great opportunities and is a lovely adventure.  But if that’s not the position you currently find yourself in, simply use it as a way to work on your own self, to focus in on your own hobbies, passions and interests, and to make friends (of the non-romantic kind).  Use this time to think about who you are and what you like.  Don’t wait for a man to complete the picture – if you want to do something, just jump in and do it.

  • Security: When the majority of people hear the word “security” they begin thinking about having a stable job, steady income, loving family, or being able to walk freely about at nighttime in a quiet residential area.  These are all important areas of security, however, as Christians we can take it even further.  Security also means having peace with God’s decisions over your life knowing that you are in the best care and that there is no possible way to be separated from His immense knowledge of you.  The Bible tells us that God sees every sparrow and has numbered the hairs on our head (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+6%3A25-34).  If God knows these small and seemingly insignificant details of our lives, we can be completely assured that He is very concerned with the big aspects as well including future relationships (and possibly marriage).  We can have full confidence if we faithfully rest and abide in Him.

 

What does this look like on a practical level?  Someone who is insecure may think that they are being humble, but in reality they (generally speaking) are self-absorbed.  I am not saying everyone who struggles with insecurity is this way, but speaking from my own personal experience I know I am.  I know that being insecure means that I spend a great deal of my day thinking about myself – how to get more people to like me, how to be more popular, how to attract more attention to myself (including from men at church).  This is normal to an extent, but it becomes unhealthy when you find yourself preoccupied or even addicted with trying to improve yourself simply for the sake of others rather than for the sake of Christ.

Conversely, someone who has their security in Christ is self-assured.  They don’t need constant reminders or the affirmations of others.  Of course, it can still be nice to hear an encouraging word or a compliment from time to time, but they are not obsessed with constant praise.  When your security is in Christ and not in yourself, other people can notice it as well.  They see that you can completely be yourself – that you aren’t always changing your viewpoints because you are worried about the perceptions of others and that you have confidence to make decisions and even have healthy, honest discussions without constantly thinking of how it will affect the other person’s mindset about you.

 

P.S. If you struggle with Constant and Chronic Comparison Syndrome you’re not alone.  Many women do.  I wrote a blog addressing this issue that I hope might help: https://debdebbarak.wordpress.com/2016/04/25/confessions-of-a-chronic-comparer/

 

  • Steadfastness in Ministry: Recently, I met with a prayer partner and shared with her about my desire to begin raising a family soon. She mentioned that as Christian women we need to prepare ourselves for both possibilities.  Since then I have decided to ask myself how I can best serve God.  Can I have a greater evangelistic impact as a married woman (perhaps serving with my husband in a ministry/missionary capacity, raising up future leaders through homeschooling my children, or just being a Godly witness to the world that the union of marriage should still be treasured and valued)?  OR could I serve God best as a single woman (many famous missionaries have been used by God even though they remained single.  I have had the privilege to meet a few and I have seen how in a way because of their personalities and their “go-getter” type of mentality, marriage and family life may have actually slowed down their witness or else added complexities on issues like safety).

    What does this look like in practical terms?  God can use strong family units and He can use singles to spread His Gospel message.  Both are equally vital, valid, necessary, and needed.  If you are married or about to get married, God may use you and your spouse to further His Kingdom in ways you could never imagine.  Your responsibility now lies in being a caring and supportive wife and in being diligent about raising your children in a way that pleases the Lord.  You also have the duty of praying for your spouse and children daily and for nurturing their needs.    If, on the other hand, you find yourself single, you can ask God not only what He wants to teach you, but how He wants you to serve during this stage of your life. Consider whether God may be calling you to up-root and begin life in a different province, state, or country.  Ask God how you can be a positive role model to other single women that it is possible to be content in every circumstance.  Praise God for your singleness and the unique gifts and challenges this season of your life will bring to you.  NOTE:  It’s important to still respect your time as many churches think that singles have much more leisurely time to dedicate to ministry.  Sometimes this leads to being overworked.  It’s important that even if you don’t have the responsibility of taking care of a husband and children that you still take care of yourself, making time for your friends, and engaging in other interests outside of your ministry.

Being single can bring much joy and blessing with it, but it can also bring burden and fear.  Rather than giving into temptations or allowing your emotions to cripple you, try to find contentment and security solely in Christ.  Rather than looking at your unique situation as a burden, trust that God is using it not only to prepare the way for a future ministry but to enable you to minister right now.  I guarantee that when you place your trust in Him and when you allow your mindset and attitude to be adjusted according to His will that you will experience a deep sense of peace that no longing for a relationship has ever fulfilled before.  May God guide and direct you as you seek to journey closer to Him.

 

Stages of Identity and Acceptance: Recognizing Our False Perceptions of People with Developmental Disabilities and Working Towards Inclusion

identity_crisis-291x300  When you hear the word “disability” what images come to mind?  When you see someone who has trouble walking, speaking, dressing, or even feeding themselves, how do you chose to relate to the person?  What, if anything, is your church doing to address the specific needs of someone with a learning disability?

Over my three years working in the developmental disability field, I have begun to see a variety of ways people respond to those who are less able-bodied than they are.  After much thought, I have decided to compile a list which I hope will enable you to begin thinking about where you personally would align yourself.  It is important to note that identifying ourselves on the continuum is not a “be-all-end-all” result.  In fact, my hope would be that as you gain more experience, you might begin to progress through the stages.  I also acknowledge that due to our own limitations and the false perceptions society places on us, we can quite easily regress at times.  It should be understood that you might not always relate in the way you wish you could, but at other times you might surprise yourself.  Ultimately, however, it is my sincere hope that by creating this continuum we at least can begin a conversation within ourselves and with those around us as we seek to become more inclusive of all we meet regardless of their perceived abilities.

  • Disgust: It is a sad fact, but many people simply do not know how to relate to someone with a developmental disability. These individuals may respond by intentionally distancing themselves or avoiding contact with someone different than them.  In rare occasions, they may even insult or use language that tears someone down.  They might choose to only speak to the carer or the parent rather than the person with a disability themselves.  They may even polarize the situation with an “us” versus “them” mentality or fear that the person with a disability may become violent or aggressive and thus restrain their children from coming too close.  At first glance, this may appear to be completely absurd behaviour, yet sadly, this is where I have found the majority of people who have no experience with adults with learning disabilities would find they align themselves.
  • Pity: I sometimes hear people saying “I don’t know how you can work with people LIKE THAT (disgust). I just get so sad even thinking about them.”  These people often have no concept of what it is like to work with someone who has a disability and they live in an ablestic mindset believing that the only people who can truly enjoy a good quality of life are those who are just like them.  Pity might appear in the form of sad looks, words of consolation and comfort (even when not called for), and a general uncomfortableness or awkwardness.  This is most prevalently found when a parent gives birth to a child with a disability.  People may encourage the parent to try again or express a sense of disbelief or sadness rather than allowing the parent to embrace the unique joy and challenges this child will bring into his or her life.  This can also come in the form of extreme patronization.  This is a fairly frequent response as many people will use phrases such as “aww… that person is so cute” (even when the person is a full-fledged adult), or else the person’s voice might chance to resemble how you might speak to a baby or a toddler.
  • Curiosity: This is the stage that I have found a number of my friends in. Although they may not want to live and work alongside adults with developmental disabilities themselves, they might be curious to at least hear more or visit such a person.  Many of my friends have expressed interest in coming to L’Arche because they want to see how we function as a community although they personally have no vested interest in the field (which is totally fine – God has called us each to different tasks!!).  Curiosity might mean a timid question to a person with a disability here or there, interest in learning more from a theoretical or practical viewpoint, or a desire to begin questioning their own prejudices and past misunderstandings.
  • Toleration: Toleration is the first real stage in making life accessible to people with learning disabilities. In this stage, church leadership might acknowledge the presence of people with disabilities within their congregation and might even casually ask how to make the church more accessible.  Others might turn a blind eye to disruptive noise, repeated questions or phrases, and incontinence issues.  However, although this is an initial step, it does not go further.  It does not actually take into consideration how to fully include a person with a disability into the life of the church or organization or how to form an intimate friendship with him or her.
  • Butlership: This is the type of relationship which sees itself as constantly DOING something for the other person. It can appear genuine, as a form of service, however, if taken to the extreme it creates an unnecessary and unhealthy form of co-dependency and burn-out.  It is the type of attitude that still feels superior and that believes people without disabilities can still contribute more to church life than those who do.
  • Acceptance: Acceptance is the stage in which people with a developmental disability are finally beginning to be understood and appreciated. In this stage, people are affirmed, spoken to as equals, and embraced into church life, perhaps even asked to help out in various way.
  • Inclusion: Inclusion means allowing the person to give their input and opinion on various subjects. It involves permitting people with disabilities to serve on all levels of leadership (as much as they are able), and creating programs where all are invited to participate rather than where segregation occurs.
  • Friendship: This is the stage that many who are part of L’Arche often find themselves in. It is a place where you begin to see that it is entirely possible to form friendships with people who are different than yourself.  In some cases, these friendships can be long standing and unique to the point of you realizing you cannot function and exist without them.  At this stage, you include the person in your conversations, you invite them to your birthday party (and really mean it!) and you think about their preferences and needs.  If you see something that connects to their hobby, you get it for them.  You may even introduce this person as “my friend” rather than “my client” or “my service user” (it is important to note that although friendships can and do happen within L’Arche or any other organization, they should not be forced.  Friendships with people with learning disabilities should happen normally and naturally – just like with any other friendship.  You should not claim to be friends with someone just to look good or because you feel an obligation.  It is important to give the friendship time and space to develop and see what ends up enfolding rather than try to smother and force anything).
  • Co-Labouring: In this relationship, we begin to work alongside adults with developmental disabilities. We affirm each other’s unique gifts, skills, and abilities.  We do not allow ourselves to do everything for the person, but rather we find ways to include and incorporate him or her into all aspects of what we are doing.  We plant a garden, cook a meal, go grocery shopping, or take out the trash together.  We work on projects together.  It becomes less about DOING things for one another and more about simply BEING in the presence of one another.
  • Mutual Sharing, Growth, and Leadership: This is the level to which we all aspire, but few have obtained. It is a constant learning process and you definitely cannot arrive here over night.  This level believes that there are things to learn from one another.  Although there may be days when your patience is wearing thin, you also recognize your own limitations and that the other person also has to be patient with you.  You stop trying to teach the other person, and begin the process of wanting to be taught.  You see how you can be moulded by a person with a disability and you submit to the possibility that he or she has a secret knowledge you may know absolutely nothing about.  You help lead each other.  You participate together in the breaking of bread and prayers and you wait to see how God is moving in each one’s life.

 

We all have blind spots and it is impossible for us to respond the way we would like all the time.  However, I hope that this brief overview has enabled you to begin thinking of what you are doing correctly and what could be better in your interactions with those who have developmental disabilities.  May God bless you as you journey into a closer communion with Him and with our brothers and sisters who have different abilities than we do.