Sister of the Common Life - Suzanne
November 15, 2014
Set Apart Girl: Give us a glimpse into your growing up years and family.
Suzanne: My family has been an incredible source of encouragement and fun. I am third-born of five; all of my siblings have become some of my best friends. I grew up playing outside, loving to learn, practicing instruments, and enjoying hours reading biographies and classic literature. I was a “good girl”—perhaps just too shy to get into much trouble—and had a tender heart toward God and people as my parents taught me God’s Word. However, I knew I was a sinner, and my first memory of mercy was when my mom lessened a consequence that I knew I deserved because she saw my repentance.
Set Apart Girl: At what point did you decide to surrender your life to Christ? What things changed practically once you fully committed yourself to Him?
Suzanne: I accepted Christ in church as a nine-year-old with itchy stockings and long bangs, but more because I wanted to avoid hell and be with my family in heaven than because I truly wanted to know God. When I was fourteen, I desired to go on a mission trip overseas with my brothers, but my parents and the leaders of the team recognized that I was looking more for the adventure and was lacking a daily walk with Christ. They encouraged me to spend time getting to know God first and then consider ministry opportunities. I was convicted, and for the three weeks that my brothers were gone, I spent most of my time in the Word and reading books by Elisabeth Elliot and other strong Christians. The more I read, the more I hungered to know God like they did. John 17:3 became a benchmark in my relationship with God: “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”
It was that summer—before my freshman year in high school—that I started the journey of personally knowing Jesus in my moment-by-moment life, and that I developed the discipline of setting aside time to spend with Him each day. Throughout high school (I was homeschooled, but was involved in many outside classes), I woke up before school each day to fellowship with Christ and He truly became my joy and delight. My conversation changed, and I wanted to share what I was learning with whoever would listen. Throughout high school, I found that when I was wholly seeking the Lord, the world’s approval did not matter much to me, but when I was undisciplined in my walk with God, I focused more on friendships and slipped into comparisons and discouragement. This temptation continues, but the Lord continues to graciously teach me to live with an eternal perspective about myself and others. Recently I was broken over how short time is, and how critical it is to live in a way that we build with “gold, silver, and precious stones” rather than “wood, hay, and stubble” (1 Cor. 3:12). Jesus is coming soon!
Set Apart Girl: During your time in college, what were some of the ways you maintained and cultivated your relationship with the Lord?
Suzanne: College was a busy season, and it was tempting to justify time with friends and social activities as, “I’m just getting the college experience.” Since I attended a small Christian college, it would have been easy to become dependent on others’ spirituality, the spiritual environment, or spiritual knowledge as a substitute for my own growth. While I was not perfectly consistent, I chose to wake up early and cherish time in the morning to be with God. Instead of rolling out of bed fifteen minutes before chapel or class, I did my best to keep a schedule of exercising, getting ready, being in the Word, and eating breakfast every morning. Oftentimes that meant getting up at 6:00 am, but once it became a habit, it was much easier to keep! As I was walking to meals or classes, I began praying for each conversation I would have. I knew before I went to college that I would likely become like the people I was around (Prov. 27:17, 1 Cor. 15:33), so I purposed to build friendships around Christ. I would even store up questions of things I was thinking about to ask at mealtimes and direct conversations toward meaningful topics. God graciously blessed me with many close, encouraging friendships. Finally, I took time to cherish the little moments with God. I rarely studied on Sundays, and often spent the day outside or alone in the Word, singing, and playing guitar or piano. By planning ahead each week with my studies, I was often able to set aside several hours each week just to enjoy God’s presence.
Most recently, I attended graduate school at a state university and student-taught in a public high school. Being in situations with people that were often uninterested in—if not antagonistic to—Jesus Christ has definitely stripped me of any dependency I had on a spiritual environment. I have had to be more intentional to seek the Lord and spend time in His Word, and God has gently helped me through many times of losing perspective and focusing on the trials instead of the opportunities. As I have built relationships with students and co-workers in these environments, I’ve found that some people look down on me as naïve for not knowing all the latest TV shows, movies, pop songs, and celebrity news, but many are willing to share about their lives with me once I have shown genuine interest in their lives. Similarly to high school, when I focus my energies on loving the Lord, talking about Him is a natural outflow in my conversation, but when I focus on pleasing people, I become too concerned about what they think to share truth.
Set Apart Girl: You are newly married! Tell us a little bit about your love story.
Suzanne: John and I met at our tiny Christian college. Neither of us was on the hunt for a spouse, but rather sought to build deep friendships with those of our own genders. After a period of two years, we had observed each other and gotten to know each other as casual friends through group meal conversations, class prayer times, playing volleyball, leadership positions, and even doing the dishes for the school kitchen. Even though both of us were still in our late teens and had immaturities, I saw in John a man who loved the Lord, loved people—especially the vulnerable—was willing to stand for truth, and was a servant to everyone. I’ll admit that I struggled with being distracted by him, and had to frequently seek the Lord for help to stay focused. When we graduated, I had little expectation of seeing him again, as we were from different states and there was no reason for us to spend time together. I had purposed not to pursue him, and instead turned my energies toward seeking the Lord. We had minimal communication through the summer, and in fall 2011, I decided to attend Ellerslie. Little did I know that John had been wrestling in prayer all summer about whether God would have him pursue a relationship with me, and had finally received peace to move forward the same week I applied for Ellerslie. I found out after I returned (and had fully surrendered any hope of a relationship to God and found Him to be my all-sufficiency) that John had sent an email asking permission from my dad just hours after I had been accepted to Ellerslie! My dad knew that I was taking a season set apart for the Lord, so he wisely waited until I returned before discussing with me John’s intentions. All through our relationship we prayed for God’s timing. Our theme verse was, “He has made everything beautiful in His time” (Eccl. 3:11). Even when things did not seem to go according to our plans, God was faithful in every aspect to draw us together at the right time. Because we set a foundation of waiting on the Lord and trusting Him during our relationship, the transition into marriage has maintained that same focus.
Set Apart Girl: What are some lessons the Lord has been teaching you during this new season of marriage?
Suzanne: Marriage has taught me so many things about God. As women who choose a set-apart lifestyle, there is often a temptation to be performance-based in our relationships with God, assuming that we can achieve God’s love with our “goodness.” Marriage has shown me that just as John has covenanted with me “til death do us part,” God’s eternal covenant with us is based on His Word, not our performance. I used to live like the only way I could show God love was through reading the Word and prayer, but marriage has deepened my understanding that loving the Lord permeates every little practical aspect of life too. While my marriage to John does not revolve around practical ways we serve each other, they are a critical element to a healthy relationship. In the same way, spiritual disciplines are an outflow of our love for the Lord and something we joyfully choose to have a healthy relationship, not a chore.
Becoming a wife added a new element to my relationship with God, and I have seen how important it is that both John and I still cultivate personal time with the Lord as well as times of prayer and study together. We are learning to develop habits of praying together when we first wake up and right before bed, as well as taking moments even in the car to read the Word aloud and talk about it.
As a side note, marriage can be so full of joy and fun when instead of being irritated at my burnt croutons or accidental splattering of the cottage cheese all over the fridge, we both laugh, or instead of stressing out about traffic, we take the time to enjoy the moments together. As Proverbs 15:15 says, “A merry heart has a continual feast.” While little things may need to be discussed —like how we each handle dirty dishes or leaving a few minutes earlier to be on time—little things should stay little things. Every day together is a gift to be cherished!
Set Apart Girl: How would you encourage young women to prepare for a potential future relationship while keeping Christ their focus?
Suzanne: I think one of the most encouraging and beautiful aspects about our marriage is the opportunity to discuss insights we’ve learned from the Lord, ideas, and books. This grew out of years of our sharing with others—family and friends—what we were thinking about and learning. While many girls may prefer to talk about the latest movies and celebrity action, take time to cultivate deep spiritual friendships with other girls now, as it will develop in you the skill of going deeper in relationships.
The strength of your communication can often determine if your marriage will be a patch of weeds or a garden of flowers. Proverbs 20:5 says, “Counsel in the heart of man is like deep water; but a man of understanding will draw it out.” I remember hearing as a teenager how “Girls are impossible to understand.” I made it a goal to not give “I’m just a girl” as an explanation for my emotional drama. Instead, I recognized that my emotions were responses to my thoughts, insecurities, fears, and physical state, and by learning to trace my emotions back to my root struggles, I could communicate the why behind how I was responding. This discipline has greatly helped our communication in marriage, as I can (usually) explain what triggered my response, and John can both understand and help me to speak truth in my heart.
It’s easy to think, “Once I get married, then I’ll be happy.” However, happiness in marriage comes from finding our identities in Christ; to put those expectations in a husband is to set ourselves up for discouragement. When our joy is found in Christ, our emotions can be wrapped up in Him instead of being determined by the people around us. When we know our position in Christ, we are able to truly love others instead of looking to them to validate us. This is critical in marriage, and begins in our friendships today. When Jesus remains the center of our lives before and after marriage, He truly does make all things beautiful.
Fun tidbits: My husband is thirteen inches taller than me; I have traveled in 11 countries, but my first move was when we got married; I taught myself guitar (I bet you could too!).
Hero(es) of the faith: My husband, Corrie ten Boom, Brother Yun
Favorite verse/quote: “And He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again” (2 Cor. 5:15).
“My goal is God Himself, not joy, nor peace; nor even blessing, but Himself, my God. Tis His to take me there—not mine, but His; by any path dear Lord, by any road!” (F. Brook).
Favorite Things: Taking walks and singing with my husband, playing guitar, quality time with friends, meeting new people, traveling, blueberry pie, volleyball, reading a good book, being cozy near a fire, looking at the stars, rainbows.