Jen Oshman: What Lies Beneath
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Jen OshmanJen Oshman is a wife, mom, and writer, and has served as a missionary and pastor’s wife for over two decades on three continents. She currently resides in Colorado, where her family planted Redemption Parker, an Acts29 church
What’s going on underneath your flip-out moments? Author Jen Oshman knows what lies beneath triggers our reactions and what to do when we find out.
Jen Oshman: What Lies Beneath
Dave: So I think I know the answer to this question—
Ann: But do you?
Dave: —but: “Have you ever”—yes, you never know with you. [Laughter] I’m guessing I think I know what you are going to say—“Have you ever sought your happiness in life from me?” [Long pause] You—what are you doing over there?! [Laughter]
Ann: I’m just teasing. Yes, of course!
Dave: Your answer should have been immediately.
Ann: I was just teasing you!
Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Before we got married, I really thought, “I will never find my happiness through Dave because the Lord Jesus Christ is my King, and I will serve Him all the days of my life. That’s where my contentment, and my joy, and my purpose come from.” That was, for sure, what I was going to do.
Dave: And then…
Ann: And then, we were married a while. I started/I’m like: “Oh, wait! I didn’t know he would do that,” or “I didn’t know he would be like that.” Then, I started thinking, “Oh, he should change.” I became kind of consumed with you changing; and as a result, I thought, “I will be happy when he…”
Ann: That’s when I think, “It’s you”; and marriage started to become an idol.
Dave: I brought that up because I think that’s pretty common—we experienced that—I think a lot of people do with different things in their lives.
We’ve got Jen Oshman back in the studio with us today to talk about finding our hope and happiness in things that will never give us that. It sounds like you’re the person who did that, Jen. [Laughter]
Jen: I can relate to that. Absolutely! Who can’t?
Jen: Oh, for sure—putting our hope in anybody—I mean, I think, maybe, as adults, there is a time when we realize we put our hope in our own parents even. We feel disappointed because that didn’t deliver what we thought they would. We put our hope in our spouse, our children, our career. I mean, there are a hundred things that we ask to deliver peace, and contentment, and joy to us. They cannot bear up under the weight of that. So yes, I can relate to what you said, Ann. I’ve definitely done that to my husband and my children.
Ann: But would you have paused a long time so your husband would sweat about it? [Laughter]
Jen: Maybe, for fun.
Dave: I was like, “What are you thinking about?”
Ann: I was teasing you; it’s so bad.
Well, Jen has written a book called Cultural Counterfeits: Confronting 5 Empty Promises of Our Age and How We Were Made for So Much More. Yesterday, we hit beauty being one of the counterfeits.
But today, Dave, what you started with was—
Dave: Yes, I mean one of those five empty promises you mention is where we just started: marriage and motherhood.
Ann: That can sound like: “Wait! What? That is wrong?!”—because isn’t this a priority of God? Shouldn’t this be something really important?
Dave: Yes, so how does it become an empty promise?
Jen: Yes, so anytime I have a conversation—you know, that quick elevator pitch with anybody: “What’s your book about?”—I always start to sweat a little bit; because it’s like, “Man, this is kind of complicated; but it’s about these five idols of our age.”
The first four—for those of us who have this conversation inside the church—the first four are really obvious. It’s the obsession with our bodies—it’s cheap sex; it’s abortion; it’s the LGBTQ spectrum—it’s those things where we, in the church, readily say, “Yes, those are idols. We should not put our hope in those identities.”
But there is this fifth idol that I intentionally address and lump inside this book, on purpose, because it’s the hidden idol I think in our churches. It is that we have elevated the very good and right gifts of marriage and motherhood, and we’ve put them on a pedestal that they were not meant to be on. We’ve put on them a weight they were not meant to bear.
What I’m seeing in our church cultures/what I’m seeing in my own community, is just this desire and this longing for marriage and motherhood, a feeling that: “I will not be happy,” “I will not have arrived,” “My life won’t have value or significance until I am married or until I am a mom.” Because those are good gifts—designed, and ordained, and given by God Himself—I think they are really sneaky. They sneak around in our churches, and we all sort of bow down to them without really knowing it. That’s caused a lot of harm.
Ann: Do you think it’s harmed our single women?
Jen: Oh, a hundred percent. I mean, whenever I talk about this—this particular idol—with my single friends, they could sit and talk about it for hours. They are usually sharing stories—story after story—about how they have felt very marginalized; how they can’t have a conversation with anybody in the church without them asking: “Well, are you dating anybody?” “Anybody promising out there?” or somebody saying something like: “Well, you know, you really won’t get over selfishness until you get married,” or “Motherhood is sanctifying; if only you could be so sanctified,”—you know, these things that people say.
It’s not on purpose—it’s very subconscious—but it comes out. It comes out loud to our single sisters and brothers that: “You are not quite mature enough,” “You’re not quite/you haven’t quite arrived, because you haven’t received these gifts yet.” They feel marginalized for sure.
Ann: I think, if we were raising our kids today—I used to say to our kids: “When you get married, it will be blah, blah, blah,”—but now, I think I would say, “If you get married,” so that they are not anticipating: “I have arrived when I do get married.” Because God has a lot of living for them to do before they get married.
Jen, did you ever make your marriage an idol?
Jen: Yes, that has definitely happened. I remember specifically, in an early year of our marriage—I think it was, maybe, year two when I had expected so much of my husband—specifically, that he would meet my needs relationally: that he would be my everything/my every friend—
Jen: —that I could bear everything with him, and he would be able to walk me through it and talk me through it in just the exact way I wanted him to. I remember him saying, “Jen, I cannot be all of that for you. I just can’t meet all of those needs.”
That was a real awakening for me: “Okay, you are right. You are one finite man. I must first go to God above”; but also draw on the community that God has given me—
Jen: —the other sisters and brothers that God has provided in my local church, who want to shoulder those things and walk with me through this.
Ann: It takes a weight off our husbands, too, because they weren’t meant or made to be able to meet all of our needs.
Ann: I think that is really wise.
Dave: Yes, but where do you/where does a woman get that? Again, I’m not saying we don’t have that, as men—longing for happiness from our marriage and from our spouse—but I really see it/I mean, you’ve talked about it many times. A woman really thinks a man is going to bring—is that from the culture?—or is that in the DNA of being a woman?
Ann: I think it is in the culture. I think our culture has elevated marriage to the—I mean, if you watch some of the shows on TV and the movies—“You can finally be happy and whole when you are married,” or “…when you find the right person.” It’s a little bit like The Bachelorette and the obsession with that, like, “Oh! When you find him…”
Jen: I talk about The Bachelor and The Bachelorette in my book in the chapter on “Cheap Sex.” It’s kind of a double idol there—
Jen: —that you are seeing in that particular show—because we are told and we are conditioned, you know, to play the field, to date as much as you can, to have as many sexual encounters and sexual relationships as you can before you settle down; but at the same time—and even on the same shows, The Bachelor or The Bachelorette—[they] say, “No, actually, after all those sexual encounters, when you’ll really arrive is when you have the perfect mate; and you are going to find him amongst these 25 guys. Go ahead and spend time with all of them, and you’ll find just the right one; and then, you will finally be happy.”
But here is what I think happens is: God created us, and created marriage good, and created motherhood good—these are really good gifts—but what happens is we often take the best gifts, and we turn them into our idols.
Jen: It happens to all of us, and it happens multiple times a day with multiple idols as we look to those good gifts and we expect them to be the best gift. We, instead of looking to the Giver of the gifts, we look to the gift itself.
Ann: I remember sharing with a group of women, talking about this, like how to know if something is an idol. I said, “I want you to take a second right now”—and our listeners could do this right now—“and just gauge: ‘What do you think about the most in a day? What goes through your head all the time?’”
As I was thinking about that, in different phases of my life—sometimes it could be Dave and how he is not measuring up—
Dave: I was going to say, “It’s not a good thing about Dave; it’s a bad thing.” [Laughter]
Ann: Well, no; but I’m saying that’s—
Dave: No, that’s how I’ve let you down.
Ann: —sometimes, it would be worry; and worrying/one of the things I worry about a lot, my kids.
Ann: As wonderful as that can be, that we are moms, becoming a mom and our kids can be an idol if we are finding our worth through them.
Jen: Yes, and what happens is we crush them under the weight of our desire and expectation. We expect them to deliver what only the God of the universe can deliver to our souls. They feel that, and they don’t like it.
Ann: —not at all.
Dave: I’m recounting many times I’ve heard pastor and author, Tim Keller, talk about idols: how we prop something or somebody up, to be the ultimate, to deliver. The way he defines how you know—I’m not looking at an exact quote, so I’m hoping I remember this right; but he said—and it’s what you said—“It’s the ultimate,”—this person/this relationship is the ultimate.
[Normally] if I lose this, it’s a bad thing; I’m sad. But if it’s the ultimate, I’m devastated; I can’t live anymore when this thing is removed from my life. That, he says, is when you know, “Wow; that’s too important.” The only ultimate in your life is Jesus and God;—
Dave: —if you lose that, it is devastating. But if I’m in a relationship, and we’re dating, and she leaves, and I can’t get out of bed for a month: “Guess what? You made somebody an idol, because they were the determination of your happiness.” If you lose your job, and you can’t function anymore, it was more important than it needed to be.
Talk about that in terms of moms—because I’ve watched women, especially my own wife with our children—it’s like children are, in some ways, the ultimate—it’s like, “It’s everything I was made to be and do.”
Dave: Am I right?
Jen: Yes; well, I talk about it in the book. I opened this chapter with an illustration/a story that happened to me a couple of years ago. I was at a baby shower. The hostess of the baby shower said, “Motherhood is a woman’s highest calling.”
That felt like a punch to the gut for me; because I was sitting next to a dear friend, who has struggled with infertility for years. She longs to be a mom; and God has not seen fit yet, in His providence, to allow her to be a mom. Now, we know that God created children; and those are good gifts. For some reason in His sovereignty, she has not received that gift yet; but for her to hear: “Motherhood is a woman’s highest calling,” then implicitly said to her: “Then, you aren’t good enough. You have not achieved this status of Christian womanhood.”
Dave: “You are an incomplete woman.”
Ann: “You’re a failure.”
Jen: Exactly, that is what she heard.
We—“Motherhood is a woman’s highest calling,”—is something we throw around in church a lot. That’s not the only time I’ve heard that; it’s sort of a colloquialism that we exchange in church circles.
Ann: Here is the problem: then, our kids grow up/our kids leave—I mean, this happened to me—like: “Who am I now? What am I supposed to do?” I think there are a lot of women, who go into these empty nest years, not remembering who they are. It’s like you have to go back: “Jesus, I’m more than just a mom. What do You have for me?” There was such a purpose right in front of you—and there is still a purpose—it’s not that we sever or break the relationships with our kids; [however], our kids do not want to be the center of our world’s when they get out of the house.
I think it’s just really good to go before God and to ask Him, “Lord, that was a time and a place; but there is more for me.
Ann: “What is that?”
Jen: Yes; I mean, marriage and motherhood—I just don’t want the listener to hear me wrong—they are good gifts.
Dave: Right; right.
Jen: Receive them with joy.
Ann: And it’s fun!
Dave: It’s almost like they are good gifts; they are not the ultimate.
Jen: They are not the ultimate.
Jen: Absolutely. We just do a disservice to ourselves and to each other when we make them ultimate. That is the cry of that particular chapter is: “This can be an idol. It is subtle; it’s sneaky in the church; let’s not make this good gift the ultimate gift.”
Dave: Okay, so here is a question: “How do you break that?” As I’m listening to you, I’m thinking of idols in the Old Testament: they destroyed them. God said, “Tear them down”; because they were made out of brick and asphalt, and they bowed down to them. That’s how we think of idols, like, “I don’t have an idol. There is nothing like that in our culture anymore.” We sort of dismiss that.
Yes, we do have idols—they don’t look like gold statues anymore—they could be your kids; they could be your marriage.
In the Old Testament, they destroyed them. How do we destroy those?
Jen: I think it’s like yesterday when we talked about the idol of outward beauty and ability. We have to be renewing our minds; we have to go back to the Word. This is another area where we are being discipled by social media. I mean, how much of my Instagram® feed is beautiful weddings, and beautiful babies, and beautiful families; right?
Dave: Oh, yes.
Jen: So these images of perfection and beauty are coming across my screen. Those images aren’t wrong, but they are discipling my heart to desire this perfect image that is not necessarily real.
So we’ve got to go back to the Word of God. Let us not forget that Jesus was single; let us not forget that Paul was single; let us not forget—
Ann: —and said, “It is better for you to remain—
Jen: Yes! He said, “Desire this gift [of singleness].”
Jen: Inspired by the Holy Spirit, he said, “I’d rather you be like this”—inspired by the Holy Spirit, he said—“It is good for you to be single.” I think we just misplace things that are right in front of us. We put our hope in the tangible people right in front of us rather than doing the work of returning to the Word of God and remembering what is true about singleness and marriage.
Dave: You are saying all of this on FamilyLife Today,—
Jen: Right. [Laughter]
Dave: —which is a ministry that’s all about marriage, and family, and parenting, and children—which, does that feel funny?—or I think what it feels like is: it feels righteous.
Dave: It feels balanced. It feels like God’s heart, like, “Yes, marriage and family matter.”
Ann: We are all about the marriage and families.
Dave: We’re all about helping people pursue the relationships that matter most, which is what we’re talking about: our family.
Dave: Yet, there has to be this balance. It isn’t the ultimate; right?
Shelby: That’s Dave and Ann Wilson with Jen Oshman on FamilyLife Today. We’ll hear Jen’s response in just a minute; but first, you know, talking about cultural counterfeits today, it reminds me there are a lot of counterfeits in our culture when it comes to family. FamilyLife is committed to bringing the clarity of God’s Word to a confused culture, and we need your help. Would you consider partnering with us financially?
All this week, for your partnership, we want to send you a copy of Carolyn Lacey’s book called Extraordinary Hospitality (for Ordinary People). You can take action at FamilyLifeToday.com or by calling 800-358-6329; that’s 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Alright; now, back to Dave and Ann’s conversation with Jen Oshman and how we can make idols out of really good things, like family.
Jen: Yes, I was telling my small group the other night that I was coming here for this particular interview. They said: “Have they read the book? Do they know what the fifth idol in the book is? They are not going to like that.” [Laughter]
Ann: That was the first bummer, like, “Oh, we’re talking about this.”
Jen: Yes; and they were kidding; but yes, it was a pretty funny moment.
But I think to have the best marriage, and to have the best motherhood or fatherhood experience, is to rightly order our loves—to use that from the church father, Augustine—is to have our loves rightly ordered. We cannot shove humans into the God-shaped hole in our heart. We have to place the Lord there: put Jesus on His throne, and receive from Him the gift of singleness or the gift of marriage, the gift of motherhood or the gift of spiritual motherhood. We see the calling of Christ in the Great Commission to: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations.” We are all called to procreate, but it is not necessarily physically; it might be spiritually. Those are good gifts.
Ann: So let’s get real practical.
Ann: With your four daughters/they are living in a culture that is screaming at them: “This is where you will find your happiness.” As a mom, how are you navigating that? You talked about praying over them/with them, before they go to school, in the car.
How else? It’s so hard, and it’s so tricky these days with our kids to try to get them to see: “This is where you are going to find life/true life…” How are you doing that, as a mom, and what can our listeners do?
Jen: I think we are just trying to have the conversation. I mean, every night at dinner—we don’t have dinner together every night—but most nights we do; we sit around the table, and we talk about all kinds of things.
Dave: By the way, that’s unusual.
Jen: It is, and it’s hard.
Dave: And that’s intentional.
Jen: We fight for it.
Jen: We fight for it.
Ann: We did too.
Dave: Way to go.
Jen: Yes, we’re just/I think pretty candid. You know, my husband and I both come from long lines of divorce—both of our parents were divorced more than one time over—so we know what it is to be raised in a broken home. We are thrilled that, by God’s grace, our kids are growing up with married parents. We don’t take it for granted, but I do want to constantly be reminding my kids that: “This is not my identity: ‘I am not, first and foremost, “Mark’s wife” or “your mom.”’”
Ann: You say this—
Jen: I say this all the time. I tell them: “You are not, first and foremost, a student,” or “…an athlete,” or “…a college student,” or “…whatever role God has for you right now. That’s not who you are. Who you are is a child, created by God in His image, to reflect Him to a watching world, and to abide in Him, and to rest in Him.”
Yes, maybe, it sounds cheesy; but I have to preach that to myself. So I’m saying that to them all the time. I just want them to be satisfied in Jesus, and resting in Jesus, and not putting their hope in a degree, or a man, or motherhood, or any of these other things that are fleeting and temporary; but to be putting their hope in the eternal Christ, who made them and died to save them.
Ann: Do they ever push back?—like, “Mom, I just want to look at my Instagram account.” [Laughter]
Jen: Oh, yes. [Laughter]
Ann: They do.
Jen: We have/for sure! I mean, the cry of my household is: “Can I get more screen time?” [Laughter] Because we moderate their screen time. Like every night, it is like, “Can I get more?” Sometimes, my husband makes them do push-ups; and then they get more screen time. [Laughter]
Dave: That’s how it works?! [Laughter]
Jen: Yes; that’s one of the ways it works. [Laughter]
Dave: “So work on your beauty to get more screen time.” [Laughter]
Jen: Yes; yes. I think he just wants them: “You know, it’s going to hurt a little bit if I give you more screen time.” Don’t read into that more than you should. We’re kind of just a kooky family—[Laughter]—is the bottom line—don’t derive any principles for good living from that.
Yes, to be honest, we are having that conversation of/about: social media, about images, about their friends’ decisions, their own decisions—I mean, I am failing; my husband is failing; they are failing—we have to keep returning to Jesus and ask Him for help.
Ann: Of course, we will fail. We are living in a battle.
Ann: I think we forget that. I would love for my kids, just to be like, “Yes, Mom; you’re so cool, and I’m going to abide and listen to everything you say.” [Laughter] But the truth is we’re in a battle—and we are loving the people in our culture—but we are also fighting against, as believers, the things that they are saying will bring us happiness.
Ann: That’s a mantra. We would talk about that all the time at our home, like, “Where will you find real life?”
Ann: I think those are great conversations to have with our kids and share how—even Dave and I sharing, like, “Guys, I did not find my happiness through Dad. As wonderful as he is, He is not the ultimate,”—I like that you’re saying that, Dave, with Keller.
Dave: Well, I’m just copying Tim Keller; but I think we have to keep reminding ourselves—
Ann: Me too.
Dave: —not just for our kids—because we say it to our kids; and yet, I think, if we are not at the point, where we can turn on a TV show like we mentioned earlier, and laugh when we see lies—if we are leaning in, like believing that, and we don’t see that it is a lie—then we don’t know the truth. We have to be ingesting truth, which is the Word of God, to remind us: “Oh, yes.”
Because—I mean, think about it—we talked today about marriage and mothering, and it could be fathering: we have a phrase in our culture that highlights it’s an idol—we say, “I found the one,”—that’s like: “What does that mean?!” We say it like, “I found the one, and now I’m going to be happy.”
I would just remind us, if we are followers of Christ, there is One—it’s a capital “O”—and His name is Jesus. He has to be first. You have found the two or the three—whatever you want to call it—but never make your spouse one; make them number two.
Whenever they become number one—we call it in our book, Vertical Marriage: “When you try to find life horizontally—and that’s we think: ‘I’m going to find it from her or him,’—you are never going to find it.” But when you go vertical, and you find it in Christ, then you come back to your marriage, and she or he is number two. Now, you have an overflow; and that is a marriage that you will find happiness in, because it’s not where you derive your happiness; you’ve already got it [in Christ].
I mean, that’s what you are writing. It is so beautiful to say, “Oh, it’s a counterfeit from our culture”; and we have to be able to identify it from the truth of the Word of God.
If anything, I’m hoping a listener goes, “I’ve got to get in the Word. I have not been there. I have been in the weight room, doing the push-ups,”—which is great; I applaud you and I hope you can do a hundred like I can do in one setting; I’m working on that right now—[Laughter]—I’m kidding. But no; if you are not working out your spiritual life, that’s your step.
Shelby: You’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Jen Oshman on FamilyLife Today. Her book is called Cultural Counterfeits: Confronting 5 Empty Promises of Our Age and How We Were Made for So Much More. You can get a copy at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call 800-358-6329; that’s 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
I’ve got the president of FamilyLife, David Robbins, here with me in the studio. David, we’re here in the thick of summer; but often, when we are in summer, we are thinking about the fall, and life change happening, and kids getting older. You’re no stranger to all of those elements in your life; is that right?
David: Yes, that is right. I have had a mentor say, “You’ve got 18 summers with your kids; invest them wisely,” which stresses you out in one way but also makes you intentional. Actually, the last two summers, I have had kids entering into sixth grade; and Meg with my daughter and me with my third son have done Passport2Purity®. It’s an amazing resource to get the conversations going, with your kids, around “the talk” and all that you grow up into as you become a young adult.
What I love about it is that it makes the parent the hero. The resource allows you to listen to the content that does a lot of the hard work. Then you turn to each other and talk about what you just heard in an amazing way.
Shelby: Yes, that’s great. You can find out more about FamilyLife’s Passport2Purity at FamilyLifeToday.com.
Next week, Dave and Ann Wilson are going to be joined by Jessica Ronne, who managed to find God’s goodness in the midst of losing her spouse to cancer. That’s next week.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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