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

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.

How I Learned to Stop Loathing the Platform

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There’s this viral Simpsons meme that perfectly captures my feelings about the word “platform.” The image shows a newspaper with a photo of Grandpa Simpson shaking his fist at the sky under the headline “OLD MAN YELLS AT CLOUD.” People post it to mock those who are resistant to change, typically older folks who refuse to accept the new-fangled technologies young kids are using these days.

I can sympathize with Grandpa Simpson’s defiance. Since starting to explore the book publishing market, I’ve mentally shaken my fist at the Publishing Powers That Be for requiring writers to build a platform. While I understand that authors need to find their audience and that book sellers need to sell books, I bristle at the objectives to “gain followers” and “grow a brand,” activities that strike me as absurd and terrifying. Why would anyone want or need to follow me? I’m just a girl, sitting at her laptop, trying to eke out coherent strings of words to spread hope.

The both-and of vocation
Angst over platform is a dilemma even seasoned authors face. Shortly after releasing her third book, “Surprised by Paradox,” Jen Pollock Michel posed a question to herself and fellow writers: “How do we write without losing our soul?” After praying and receiving confirmation from the Lord that she should continue, Michel kept unraveling this turmoil that ties writers’ stomachs in knots.

“On the one hand, you know the sick and self-preoccupied pleasure you take out of the likes and the retweets and the shares of your posts. On the other, you feel the pleasure of God when you spin words, and, by unexpected grace, they sometimes turn to gold. Tempted as you are to the solutions of either and or, you know that what you really need is a both-and. You understand that you’re both corrupt AND called.”

Corrupt and called. Check and check. This is why I’ve hesitated immersing myself in social media engagement that feels like self-promotion – posting selfies, recording live videos, curating an Insta-worthy feed. It’s a fear that keeps me wondering if I should ditch this writing gig and go stock shelves at Costco.

I resist building a platform because I know how much I lap up praise and approval, and I worry I might drown in it.

More of him
Platforms have their place: to raise something to prominence. If I’m that something being raised, it’s likely my head will either fill with hot air or explode with worry. I might think too highly of myself or lose sleep wondering if others don’t think highly of me. Such is the temptation for anyone who steps onto a stage. How do you put your name out there and not hope that people will remember it?

The problem begins and ends with the wrong focal point: me. Jesus belongs on the platform. Of course I know this, and in my innermost heart, want to acknowledge his rightful position there. But instead of locking eyes on him, I drift back to myself. I forget he cleansed me from evil and erased the stain of pride that used to pollute my decisions. I let fear of sin become a sin itself, dwelling on how wretched I am instead of how glorious Christ is.

More of him, less of me. That was John the Baptist’s approach to public ministry. Paul also took the low road, boasting about his weaknesses and counting his strengths as worthless trash. Yet neither man would be considered a wallflower. They spoke to crowds boldly, fearing God more than people, fulfilling their calling instead of fixating on their corruption. Paul even commended himself to the church at Corinth when critics challenged his authority. “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Corinthians 4:5).

Paul’s example helped author Whitney Capps reframe her perspective on speaking from a platform. In her book, Sick of Me, Capps confesses how early in ministry, the Lord convicted her of trying to appear unimpressive. Seeing that Paul commended himself to proclaim Christ led her to reevaluate her motives and shift the focus of her messages. “Rather than trying to deflect glory from ourselves, what if we focused on reflecting glory back onto him?”¹

That’s it, friends. That’s what I decided is my way of escape through the pitfalls of platform building. Accept that the vocation of writing requires an amount of attention that scares and tempts me, and prayerfully press on to direct that attention toward Christ.

Serve the caller
How will this change the way I engage on social media? Wouldn’t we both like to know. It depends on what the Lord nudges me to do. Clearly, it should not involve campaigning for others’ approval. Sharing the gospel isn’t a popularity contest from which I emerge as the winner.

As of now, I’m viewing this as an attitude adjustment more than a behavioral change. My curmudgeonly self is gone, or at least restrained; my new life has come as a reluctant yet willing platform occupant. For the sake of Christ, I can use platform as a tool to elevate him in the eyes of however many people read my words. As I strive to proclaim his fame, my fist-shaking might give way to knee-knocking, as I try silly things like talking to my face on a screen.

In this world flooded with temptation, it helps to remember one of the both-ands of our lives as Christians. We’re corrupt – hardwired to make ourselves look and feel important. And we’re called – cleansed of our self-sickness and set apart to declare the excellencies of our king.

If I had any say in the matter, I’d vote to scrub the platform lingo in favor of more accurate terms: writer instead of influencer, readers instead of followers. Because as much as I appreciate you, dear reader, you really shouldn’t follow me. We’re both much better off following Jesus.

¹ Capps, Whitney. Sick of Me. B&H Publishing, 2019, p. 143.

Photo by Masha Rostovskaya on Unsplash.

Hope of the New Year

As I grew up ringing in the New Year with my family, I wondered, but never asked, why January 1st is considered a holiday. When your parents let you stay up and watch TV way past bedtime, you keep your mouth shut and let the good times roll.

Now that I’m an adult and have children of my own pleading their case for late-night privileges, the tradition of celebrating the flip of the calendar has piqued my curiosity once again. Seeing commercials for New Year’s programs and store end caps already stocked with fireworks and noisemakers reminds me of my long-held questions: What’s so special about the start of another year? Why do people around the world hail its arrival with feasts and proposals, kissing and crooning a Scots poem? Besides providing an excuse to party, why do we celebrate the New Year?

A quick search at history.com reveals its origins, dating back four millennia to the ancient Babylonians who observed the first new moon after the vernal equinox (a day in late March when the amount of sunlight and darkness is equal) as the beginning of a new year. The date kicked off an epic eleven-day religious celebration called Akitu, which involved feasts and rituals celebrating the Babylonian sky god Marduk’s victory over the evil sea goddess, Tiamat. Later, Emperor Julius Caesar introduced the Julian calendar, similar to the modern Gregorian calendar used by most countries around the world today. Caesar at that time declared January 1 as the first day of the year in honor of Janus, the Roman god of beginnings, who had two faces allowing him to look back on the past and forward to the future.

One common thread runs throughout the history of New Year celebrations, from the time of the Babylonians and Romans celebrating and making sacrifices to their gods to our modern rituals of making resolutions and watching a giant bright ball drop at midnight. These New Year traditions we observe and pass on to future generations glorify hope. Though we can’t know what circumstances the next year holds, we rejoice in the possibility of good things to come. The potential for blessings flutters a blank sheet before us, tempting us with irresistible freshness. We grasp for it, convinced that this unknown unraveling of time will be better than what’s already transpired, and what’s ahead will finally make us happy.

Read full article at Morning by Morning.

When We Steal the Spotlight from God

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When I was entering junior high, my mom bought me a book I found irrelevant and a little rude. Although I don’t remember the title, it would be hard to forget such a cheesy cover illustration—a smug-looking teen girl with a cartoon planet Earth orbiting her head. The point of the book—and the message my mom wished to convey—came across clearly: Don’t think and act like the world revolves around you.

Although younger generations often are accused of self-centeredness, we’re all guilty at any age. An adult who talks incessantly about his or her achievements or problems is just as absorbed in their own affairs as a tyrannical toddler who calls everything “mine.”

As with my mother, the sins I see in my children—wanting to get their way all the time, and expecting others to cater to their demands—are a proximate illustration of my own egotism. In matters such as parenting, or even minor inconveniences like hitting all red lights when I’m in a hurry, I expect my will to be done and throw a grown-up temper tantrum when it’s not.

When I think and act according to my pleasure instead of God’s glory, I elevate myself above my creator. It’s both sinful and absurd, like a clay pot trying to commandeer the potter’s ceramic studio.

Read full article at Gospel-Centered Discipleship.

[Photo courtesy Alexander Dummer on Unsplash]

Resurrecting Buried Treasure

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Hidden torments sometimes yield tragedy. The world witnessed this earlier this summer when, within a week’s span, we lost two luminaries to suicide, fashion designer Kate Spade and celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain. I hate it whenever I hear that someone chose to end his or her life; it breaks me up thinking about their pain and remembering my own darkness of anxiety, currently held at bay.

The media coverage of these losses was grossly sensationalized, and I tried to avoid most of it except for a USA Today article by CNN analyst Kirsten Powers.

Powers admits to having considered suicide at one point, and explains the results of research she conducted examining the epidemic of depression in America. Citing an interview with Jim Carrey, she suggests one reason why more people are battling despair:

If only we get that big raise, or a new house or have children we will finally be happy. But we won’t. In fact, as Carrey points out, in many ways achieving all your goals provides the opposite of fulfillment: It lays bare the truth that there is nothing you can purchase, possess or achieve that will make you feel fulfilled over the long term.

Read full article at Fathom Magazine.

[Photo courtesy Lilian Dibbern on Unsplash.]

Enjoy the Freedom of Your Redemption

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You’ll never defeat this.

My mind recites this line like a broken record when ugly, deceptive sin threatens to trap me in its patterns. Because God has rescued me from my former way of living, I know I need to stop engaging in behavior that defies his will, and live in the way that pleases him.

But persistent sins like worry and pride are so entrenched in my heart that they seem impossible to overcome. I feel as though the weight of shame and guilt will always hound me since my sins are too heavy to shake off by my own efforts.

As I carry these burdens, unable to unload them, I forget the deeper truth revealed in human weakness: What I can’t accomplish, Christ already did.

Read full article at Unlocking the Bible.

[Photo courtesy Paula May on Unsplash]