Finding Holy In The Suburbs by Ashley Hales

February 22-23, 2019, we are going to have Ashley Hales come out and teach at our Women’s Retreat. One of the moms, Jenna Moffatt, who attends New Life Church, knows Ashley fairly well. So I asked Jenna if she would be willing to share a little bit about “Finding Holy” via my blog. So here you go! BTW-Great job Jenna!

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My third child will be six months old in a few days. I had expected our son’s birth to usher in the highest amount of stress, since research shows (of course) that three children are more stressful than any other number—higher or lower. In many ways, having three has been harder, my husband and I are outnumbered, more time spent nursing than attending to my two daughters or cleaning the house. But, in other ways, number three has ushered in an easier season. I no longer feel the need to strive for perfection around the house, socially, in parenting; rather, three has shown me that these lofty goals are impossible.  I cannot fix myself or parent in such a way that my children will turn out to be the cutest little moral beings that you ever did see. In many ways, Ashley Hales’ book came at a pivotal time for me as a new mother trying to find my place in the craziness of new life.

As I’m feeling temptation of “keeping it all together” slip through my fingertips and combating the guilt of a disheveled stay-at-home mom with discolored grout creeping up my all-white bathroom tile, I wonder what higher calling God has for me in this time. Have you also wondered how the gospel is relevant for where and how you live? In her new book, Finding Holy in the Suburbs, Ashley wrestles with temptations of everyday living in America and graciously orients us toward the story we ultimately were created for. I found that one reviewer stated it best, “[Ashley] only cuts where it can bring healing.” Throughout her beautifully written words, most often with first being vulnerable herself, she consistently points us back to our redeemer, Jesus.

If you’re not from the suburbs, don’t stop here. Her words are relevant for anyone who lives in any community with at least a modest income in America (including in rural communities like my own). The book consists of three sections: common idols that suburban Americans face, living in repentance and belovedness, and then counter steps to take when pursuing holiness.

Idols of the Suburbs

Through these chapters, I discovered that I had fallen victim to idols I had previously fought to identify. Ashley writes in a way that puts words to and holds up a mirror to clearly reflect our sinful desires. In four chapters, she highlights the idols of consumerism, individualism, busyness, and safety, all as means we use to fill healthy hungers like, “having good work to do, to be significant or safe.” Each is a counter-narrative to finding our identity in Christ, who wants us to come home to Him like the prodigal son and celebrate grace from the Father, rather than trying to earn our way like the elder brother.  

The discussion on busyness was particularly convicting. Ashley writes, “instead of trusting in a God who is with us even in the wilderness, in the suburbs we use our busyness to stiff-arm God.” We fall into the belief that our actions will save us, even if they are true and good. When the world is racing madly on, how do we as Christians take a step back and find true rest? The anecdote to all of these temptations is to turn to Christ’s work on the cross: the Gospel.

Now What?

Weaving in Biblical stories of exile of God’s people and then provision for their every need, Ashley points us to the true One who will quench our thirst and satisfy our hunger. At the end of each chapter, she shares practical ways to orient our hearts back to Christ.  She also shares how we can partake in God’s great adventure even if we aren’t called to missions overseas but rather a middle-class cul-de-sac. In the second section of her book, the first steps forward to finding holy are redemption and belovedness. First, to participate in God’s beautiful story and find his kingdom on Earth, we are called to repent. This, “is both a turning from [sin] and a turning toward [God]”. These are the first small steps to being embraced by your Beloved and, consequently, having the ability to extend forgiveness to others in community.  We are also called to quit chasing belonging through what we look like, buy, or do, rather resting solely in being beloved by God. Here, our greatest failures fall away and we find true rest, beauty, joy, and hope.

In the last portion of the book, Ashley presents the practices of hospitality, generosity, vulnerability, and shalom that train our hearts to be fed by God wherever He has us. We must begin small, finding ourselves content in Christ’s redemptive work on the cross to propel us outward, bringing glimpses of the kingdom to our neighborhoods. It requires that we switch the narrative from my story to God’s story. As Ashley states,

The work of beloved is a constant returning to the story of creation, sin, redemption, and glorification. It is in remembering and embodying the story together in our local churches. It is in starting daily liturgies that draw us in to a beauty that overwhelms and is even present through pain.

Only then can we practice true hospitality, give of our time, money, and resources generously, be vulnerable in a way that brings healing to both people and the place we live in, and bring shalom or God’s “faithful presence within” our communities. These exercises give us a taste of the glory of the ultimate Kingdom we await: God coming down to live among us, with no more tears or pain. It is the culmination of joy and beauty and love.

If you, like me, struggle to find the plan God has for you in the trenches of early motherhood, or question why God has brought you to your hometown, rather than the inner-city or abroad, there is hope. You can find Holy in the Suburbs.

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If you are interested in attending the retreat with Ashley please be watching for more details coming soon on our Facebook page.

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