Guest blog by my stellar student
In childhood we constantly hear, “What do you want to be when you grow up.” At 52, I still ask myself that question. Today, we live under the impression and pressure that the sky’s the limit. We create great expectations for ourselves and for others. Fears of not measuring up or of missing out on the prize often inflate our answers and our egos. One of my favorite novels, Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations tells how bigger-than-life ambitions have the power to crush joy. Dickens’ title references a poem by Philip Sidney who nicknames our great expectations “friendly foe.” These expectations ultimately get in our way of living a life that pleases God. Through the years I’ve learned my “friendly foe” starts innocently enough, but easily becomes a tempter driving me to be noticed, proud, right, praised, or envied. Which of your ambitions, or those others have laid out for you, might crush your joy?
As Christian women, how do we wisely estimate our options, ambitions, and images of success? Better than Dickens, Paul discusses ambitions in 1 Thessalonians 4:11 and 12, Paul counsels us to never underestimate the price and prize of peace and quiet.
…make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, 12 so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders, and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.”
In verse 11, Paul tells us to “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life.” Then Paul describes the quiet life for us. It’s important to note this “quiet life” relates to consistent unity and peace in our relationships, not to being muzzled, isolated, or boring. The quiet life requires self-control. Look again in verse 11 – “[you] make it your ambition to lead a quiet life.” So, instead of passive escape from everyone and everything, the quiet life requires powerful living. Many translate this phrase, “make it your ambition to be unambitious.” What a counter-cultural expectation!
Culture calls us to go big or go home. If you’re like me, you do not strive to be a brand name, the top of the org chart, or famous. The “friendly foes,” I struggle with don’t carry big names. They carry big adjectives quietly seeking to be better than everyone else. At times, I’ve been driven to become the best friend she has, the brightest woman on staff, the coolest mom, the most hospitable neighbor – unloving, unfruitful, personally ambitious adjectives; joy-crushers. The price of making it my ambition to be unambitious costs my pride and competitive nature.
The quiet life revolutionizes our calendars. Instead of idly daydreaming about our big someday plans, the quiet life daily aims to do small, unambitious things well. John Burroughs, an American essayist, said, “the smallest deed is greater than the greatest intention.”
The quiet life invests in others by keeping our noses out and our hands in. Look again in verse 11 where Paul reinforces, “you should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you.” In other words, God-pleasing expectations never involve being nosy or lazy. These two obstacles have to go. Nothing robs women of peace and quiet like discontent, gossip, comparisons, jealousy, or judging our Christian sisters.
Commentators tell us some able-bodied Thessalonians were so sure Jesus was coming back any day that they stopped working. They unduly burdened others to support them. This imbalance disrupted the peace and quiet of the congregation, and the world was watching. We all wonder when Jesus will return. That’s the Father’s business. But, we do not have to wonder what to do while we wait. We all know the difference between waiting like a servant waiting tables and waiting like an idle, impatient passenger at the bus stop. Years ago, I could never imagine myself in the bus stop crowd. But, I’m getting older and increasingly fatigued by the world. For me, that bus stop could also be called a well deserved retirement from all forms of ministry and service. That's a friendly foe to be avoided.
Paul reminds us that our world and our churches need women living quiet lives, rolling up their sleeves and going to work mending what’s broken and helping others get ready to meet Jesus. Whatever age, social status, or occupation, Christians who lovingly lead quiet lives get outsiders’ attention. As we develop relationships with them, we may earn their respect. In turn, they may receive the gospel in word and action. Never underestimate the price and prize of peace and quiet because God uses our lives to invite and escort outsiders into His family.
I was 28 when my mom called with the news she had breast cancer. I became her primary caregiver and hospice provider. By the time she died four years later, my grandmother and dad were both sick. Then our youngest daughter became devastatingly ill until 2013. I ended up serving my family as caregiver for 20 years. I possessed some great expectations for my 30s and 40s. I paid a price for the quiet life, but I gained the prize of others’ respect. For God’s glory, he let me take part in and witness first-hand my parents and grandmother gain new life by grace through faith. Reconciliation occurred. Lost years were restored. Peace and quiet reigned.
Through Paul, God says never underestimate the price and prize of peace and quiet. Jesus Christ, fully God, became fully human to experience the ultimate price and prize for a quiet life. He sympathizes with us in all our weaknesses. Paul counsels us to live a spiritually fruitful, personally unambitious life.
Do you aim to live as Christ? How might God use these verses to help you better estimate your ambitions now and in the years to come? Whatever price we pay, the prize of pleasing God will ultimately exceed our greatest expectations.
Lisa White is a student at Dallas Theological Seminary. She enjoys serving her church and other ministries, including Bible Study Fellowship, as a leader, teacher, speaker, mission partner, and content developer. She and her husband, Alan, live in San Antonio. Their three grown children, son-in-law, and daughter-in-law also live in Texas.