Did PMS Make Me Do It (Sin)?

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I’m not a fan of PMS. Who is? As a precursor to the terrible cramps I get once a month, it sure feels like hell.

A recent article published at The Gospel Coalition also drew comparisons between PMS and the spiritual realm. Author Rachel Jones urged readers to fight sin at the battleground of hormonal mood swings. While I appreciate the heart behind the message – Christian women do need admonishment to die to sin and grow in Christ-likeness – I don’t think the article spent enough time addressing the physiological side of the equation.

Rather than fire off a Twitter thread, I want to pose a few questions to help move the conversation toward a better understanding of PMS. When we take an embodied approach to complex issues, we can find an instructive and edifying way to discuss these struggles. Because we don’t do female image bearers any favors by making implications that might lead them to hate their bodies more than they already do.

What’s the flesh?
In the article, Jones posits that hormones show how our sinful nature is part of us, but in Christ, doesn’t define us. She highlights Galatians 5:16-23, where Paul teaches Christ followers to walk by the Spirit instead of gratifying the flesh.

This begs a question: What does Paul mean by “flesh” in this passage? Consider John Piper’s definition:

The basic mark of the flesh is that it is unsubmissive. It does not want to submit to God’s absolute authority or rely on God’s absolute mercy. Flesh says, like the old TV commercial, ‘I’d rather do it myself.’

Based on Piper’s interpretation, “flesh” involves the body, but doesn’t implicate the body as evil in itself. Comparing the flesh to hormones makes the distinction fuzzy. If God tells us to fight the flesh, does that mean we must fight our hormones? If we can overcome the flesh by choosing obedience, does that mean we can overcome hormones? And what would that look like practically? Never feeling sad or cranky?

Making statements that pit hormones against the Spirit makes it sound as though biological processes that normally occur within a woman’s body are sinful in and of themselves. This casts confusion on what God declared to be “very good.” “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27).

God designed the female body to conceive and carry a baby. In this way, hormonal fluctuations should be seen as good and life-giving, not something to eschew as evil.

What’s the battle?
Of course, we know God’s good design was marred by the fall. We see and carry its effects, including the curse upon childbearing. Consider the physiological impact of PMS and related problems:

In lieu of this medical data, is PMS really a battle between flesh and Spirit? If we feel our moods swing wildly, does that mean we’re letting sin win?

Maybe, maybe not. It’s not cut and dry. A woman who feels negative emotions as part of PMS isn’t automatically disobeying God. She’s undergoing a biological process that can be disrupted or exacerbated by disease. While dealing with these hormonal fluctuations, she might feel greater temptation toward certain sins, such as exploding in anger. The question of whether or not she’s sinning comes down to her response to that temptation, if she refuses to take out her frustration on other people, or if she lets that frustration “give birth to sin” (James 1:15).

While PMS doesn’t give us a free pass to snap at our kids or coworkers, it can make it harder not to sin by weakening us. As our bodies wear thin under physical, mental, and emotional burdens, we might face temptations not only to indulge anger and self-pity, but also pride and self-sufficiency. We can try to white-knuckle our way through debilitating symptoms on our own, or admit we need physical relief outside ourselves. This gives us an opportunity to honor God by taking care of our bodies and boasting in his power made perfect in our weakness.

Why do I care?
I take anti-anxiety medication for PMDD. It took me many painful months to realize I needed it. I still cringe using the term “need.” Yet that realization was God’s grace to me.

That’s not why I’m writing this, though. My interest in the interplay of physical, emotional, and spiritual struggles extends beyond one article on PMS. I’m interested because I work closely with hurting women, and I know how disheartening it is for them to hear messages that equate physical issues with sin.

Women who have lost babies to miscarriage and/or suffer a gamut of hormonal problems causing infertility feel like their bodies are failing them. They wonder what sin they committed that brought this punishment upon them. As they cry out to the Lord and pray for healing or relief and it doesn’t come, they conclude that they’re at fault, that God is at fault, or both.

I know, this isn’t correct theology. God causes or allows suffering for his glory and our good. Many women know this truth too. It’s much harder to believe it when you keep losing babies or when the pregnancy tests keep turning up negative.

Despite good intentions, we do women (and men) a disservice when we reduce complex mind/body/spirit issues to sin struggles that can be overcome by prayer and determination. When talking with women who are facing these problems, it helps to approach the conversation fully exploring the both/and of our humanity and lives as Christians. We’re guilty of sin and damaged by sin. We’re called to fight the flesh and steward our bodies. We can admonish and encourage a woman experiencing PMS with all gentleness and patience, reminding her of the gospel that redeems her whole person.

Answering the question
So, does PMS make us sin? No. But it can make us suffer. In the midst of that suffering, the line where physical pain ends and sin begins isn’t easy to distinguish. Only the Lord knows the true condition of our hearts, whether we’re succumbing to selfish impulses, languishing under hormone-induced affliction, or both.

The good news for every woman is that Christ’s death and resurrection ensures an end to PMS on the other side of eternity. In the meantime, we can turn to him for new mercies every menstrual cycle. Through his grace, we can fight temptation any time of the month and rest assured that it is his righteousness that saves us, not our own acts of spiritual devotion. We can use the gifts of common grace he makes available to us through the body of Christ, counseling, support systems, and, if advised by a physician, appropriate medication.

Jesus is our hope amid hormonal changes and challenges. Let’s strive to present a clear image of him and the abundant grace he offers to women whom he has saved by his own issue of blood.

Photo courtesy engin akyurt on Unsplash

When Going Requires Letting Go

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Sometimes news is good. Sometimes it’s bad. Other times it’s good, but you’re scared to say it out loud.

After a year’s worth of prayer and conversations with trusted friends, I decided to stop holding monthly meetings for Graceful Wait. My ministry partner, Ashley, and I are still offering one-on-one support, and will maintain the Facebook page as a way for women to contact us.

I struggled making this decision all of 2019. It started last February, when I sensed a new nudge from the Lord, a kindling similar to the one he sparked more than a decade ago. That nudge pushed me in the direction to cofound the first Graceful Wait support group in Missouri.

The current nudge is less defined. I don’t know what the assignment is, per se. It’s pointing in a few directions, hovering between two of my passions: biblical literacy and adoption/foster care advocacy. While I’m not sure what I’ll do, when it’ll start, or how I’ll accomplish what needs to be done, I can’t deny the call to go.

To do that – whatever it is – as well as invest more time in writing projects, I knew I’d need to offload some responsibilities. Through different circumstances and a gradual heart shift, the Lord showed me that had to include the monthly support group.

If you know me and my story, you understand why it would be hard to walk away from this ministry – this baby that wasn’t a replacement for a baby, yet was something I’d still birthed and nurtured and watched grow. Giving up a group that I believe is crucial and needed, and that let me witness God perform amazing acts of connection and transformation, felt like intentionally dropping my wedding ring down the drain.

I didn’t want to quit, but I also didn’t want to continue. Filled with doubt, I unburdened my uneasiness before the Lord.

God, I know You asked me to trust You when I started this group. I was scared, but I believed. And look what happened. You took our collective tears over empty wombs and crushed dreams and babies who died before they could live, and You poured them into the most priceless jar of clay. You healed. You restored. You brought glory to Your name as the only Life Giver and Redeemer of Your daughters’ broken hearts.

Graceful Wait is Your beautiful creation. But now, unless I misheard You, You want me to stop hosting it. Why? Why let this space for grieving women wither and die? Why tell me to start something good, something needed, then ask me to let it go?

And so I wrestled. And, ironically, I had to wait. God didn’t answer my questions right away. By his wisdom, he let me stay uncomfortable in order to grow my faith. He stretched my belief in his sufficiency so I could lean harder on his strength.

But I needed help releasing my grip. He brought a friend into my life who has experience transitioning from one long-time ministry to another. When I asked her the same question I’d demanded of the Lord, she looked at me with empathetic eyes and spoke straight wisdom.

“God doesn’t always call us to serve in the same place forever.”

Ah, yes. Forever. What it felt like waiting for motherhood. What a strange place to be – feet dug in the ground, resisting the call to move forward, when for so long, all I’d wanted was to move on to the next stage.

Through my friend’s simple statement, God woke me up to reality. Going anywhere requires leaving something behind. As much as I’m passionate about helping women face infertility and loss, and as dearly as I hold it near my heart, I can’t serve in this way forever. Thank God, I don’t need to. It’s his ministry. It always has been. He hasn’t just ordered my steps; he has ordered the steps of every woman who showed up to our group desperate for hope and healing.

It’s funny, when I was talking with Ashley about whether we should continue Graceful Wait, she made a comment that echoed what my friend had said earlier.

“Maybe this group has served its purpose for now.” For now. Now vs. forever.

Graceful Wait isn’t forever. One day, there won’t be a need for it. No more barrenness, no more aching, no more losing beloved babies. I’m not forever, either, not on Earth. I’ll live out my days according to God’s plan for me. Then I’ll join my Savior in heaven – my Savior who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He holds all things together, including a small-town support group that held space for grief.

Though I came to accept the need to surrender, I delayed making the decision for a year. Then I delayed writing about the decision for several months. As I said at the beginning, I’ve been scared to write this post because I knew that once I did, it would finally feel real. I’m really done leading Graceful Wait.

While I shouldn’t need confirmation that it was a good decision to follow God’s lead, he blessed me with it, anyway. When I went to a coffee shop to write this post, I ran into a woman who had come to our group in the past. She lost her sweet baby girl a few years ago. As we chatted, she shared that she’s pregnant again. She’s excited and happy, worried and sad all at the same time.

Layers of emotion wrapped in gratitude. That’s the best way I can describe how it feels now, letting go of a treasured ministry so I can embrace the nudge toward a new ministry.

Walking alongside women facing infertility and infant loss is a sacred privilege, something I never would’ve asked for, but am deeply grateful God entrusted to me. I know I can hand over this beautiful gift and burden to Jesus because he’s worthy to carry it. It’s what he has done all along.

The Beauty of Hidden Ministry

I count the signs in my folder: two, four, six, eight. Good. That’s all of them. Eight signs with little arrows pointing left, right, left.

I whip out the Scotch tape and stick them on the white-walled hallways of the warehouse-sized church. If I don’t put these up, people will get lost trying to find the room at the far end of the building where the support group meets.

The ministry I lead for women facing infertility and infant loss is hidden in more ways than one. While my church has been kind and supportive, many people in the community don’t know what we do, let alone that our group exists.

Like the room where we gather to talk, cry, and pray, our small assembly is tucked away in the back corner of Church. While I trust the Lord is working in the lives of the women who attend, sharing space with dust bunnies can make it hard to believe our ministry matters.

Read full article at Gospel-Centered Discipleship.

Handle Wisdom with Care

God’s Word nourishes our hearts like nothing else can. Its pages declare the good news that Christ redeemed us from sin, gave us new life through the Spirit, and renamed us as God’s beloved children. When we’re feeling discouraged or overwhelmed, we reach out and grasp our Bibles, feasting on the promises that He has kept and will fulfill.

Though we know where to find hope, we don’t always know how to use Scripture, especially when trying to comfort someone who’s suffering. Craving easy and immediate answers, we cherry-pick verses that appear to resolve the problem. As much as this approach seems helpful, it actually reaps trouble. When we pluck verses from their context and plaster them like Band-Aids over difficult situations, we risk mishandling Scripture and further injuring a wounded soul.

Read full article at Revive Our Hearts.

The Happiest Place on Earth

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Earlier this summer, our family made a pilgrimage to the ultimate summer vacation destination, Disneyland. As we navigated the crowds, I noticed a common trait among our fellow mouse-eared tourists. With the exception of a few overstimulated toddlers and stressed-out parents, everyone around us was smiling and laughing. The strangers we met waiting in line, the families schlepping around snacks and sunscreen, the teens, newlyweds, and retirees – most people appeared to be reveling in the magic of their surroundings.

Before we left on our trip, I had decided to memorize Psalm 84. Halfway through our vacation, I realized how fitting it was to meditate on the happiest place in Israel while visiting the “happiest place on Earth.” Strolling through a joy-sparking atmosphere helped me imagine what it might have felt like stepping foot inside the tabernacle courts, except surrounded by songs of praise rather than reprises of “It’s a Small World.”

What made the tabernacle such a happy place? It didn’t boast fun rides, huggable characters, or photo opps galore. No, the greatest draw for the Israelites to visit the tabernacle was to be with the One who lived there.

Read full article at Unlocking the Bible.

Ponder the Mystery of I AND

The siren song of mystery stories came calling in grade school. Once I learned how to read, I gravitated toward the whodunit shelves at the library, lured by the prospect of completing a puzzle. I matched wits with Encyclopedia Brown and Nancy Drew, Hercule Poirot and Richard Jury, tracking clues on the streets of London, at the racetrack, and in cozy little tea shops steeped with intrigue.

To some extent, I think we’re all mystery junkies. The unknown beckons us, promising the thrill of suspense. But it can also scare us. Uncertainty is intolerable; we demand answers to hard questions like, “Why does God allow suffering?” Especially in an age where information reigns and misinformation abounds, it’s easy falling prey to the sin that tripped Adam and Eve: We want to be like God, perfectly knowing everything.

In “Surprised by Paradox: The Promise of And in an Either-Or World,” author Jen Pollock Michel calls readers to behold the mystery of our faith as testament of our God. Like Moses drawn to the burning-yet-not-burned bush, Michel urges us to pause, scratch our chins, and explore the “promise in a little bit of wondering.”

Read full book review at Morning by Morning.

3 Myths That Fuel Burnout

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A strong work ethic has always been my calling card. During college and my early career, I packed my schedule from the wee hours of the morning until my head hit the pillow late at night. Though my responsibilities have shifted since then, I still take on too many to-dos, then feel stressed when I struggle to cross them off. In these moments, I hear echoes of my mom’s warning back in my college days: “Honey, don’t burn the candle at both ends.”

Many adults with driven personalities feel compelled to work nonstop. Whether we work at the office or at home, we resist clocking out from tasks or allocating time for breaks. Email inboxes demand our constant attention; school and sports activities consume our weekly schedules. This compulsion even extends to ministry. We realize the harvest is plentiful and the workers are few, so we say yes to commitment after commitment without considering if we can do the work well on top of our current obligations. Wanting to glorify God in all we do leads us to strain our arms with impossibly heavy burdens.

Like the apostle Paul—who suffered fatigue, hunger, and pain as he poured out his life to advance God’s kingdom—we can expect to grow weary at times in our vocations and ministry work. But routinely overextending ourselves carries greater risk than merely making us tired. It can jeopardize our health and ability to serve, hinder others from stepping into roles where they can use their gifts, and captivate our hearts with working for Christ rather than with Christ himself.

Read full article at The Gospel Coalition.

[Photo courtesy Ross Sneddon on Unsplash]