A few years ago women students at Talbot were invited to a luncheon to listen to a couple of faculty women talk about Wisdom Calls. A student coordinator, Angela Song, sent me these questions in advance and here are the answers I jotted down.
1. What does it mean for you to tune your ears to wisdom, to search after it as you would for lost money or hidden treasure?
Wisdom is hard earned. It is a constant pursuit—one doesn’t just have wisdom and then sail along. Wisdom requires a lifelong paying attention to what God says, listening humbly to Him, and acknowledging that He knows and you do not. The word wisdom in Hebrew actually means, “skill in living, making righteous decisions, living in harmony with God’s plan.” So it’s not esoteric—it’s highly practical. It’s righteous living at its best. I think the words, “search,” indicate that it is not just out in the open, but it is somewhat hidden, yet findable, and requiring energy.
I just finished reading “Eat. Pray. Love” because I’m preparing a message on it for our Women’s Fall brunch at church. I wanted to see what was in this book that has been captivating for so many women! It has been on the bestseller list for months and now is a popular movie that many women have seen. Anyway, I’m not recommending the book—it won’t give you wisdom. But the author talks about meeting with a wise man in Bali. He just sits on his porch and dispenses advice, reads people’s palms, etc. But I noticed that he lived by many of God’s standards. She asks him for advice about sex with a man she is not married to, and he replies that he cannot give her any because he has only had sex with one woman, his deceased wife. But in that statement he gave true wisdom, because that is God’s call for us—to have sex only with our husband or to be chaste until marriage. That’s true wisdom—living with skill.
2. If you could reframe one Biblical character’s experience whose transformation or growth has impacted you, who would that be? What have you learned from them that’s spoken into your life?
Well, I love all the Biblical women. In fact, they are my area of interest and study. I teach a course on “Biblical and Historical Women in Ministry” here at Talbot.
I identify with Eve, she was deceived and she ate. I am like her in my sinfulness. I identify with Leah, raising a large family, trying to follow God in that—all the havoc of a large family, an unruly family. I identify with Deborah, leading a nation and leading as a mother. But I guess I may be most impacted by Elizabeth.
Elizabeth is described as “upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly.” That’s an incredible statement in scripture for any person, male or female. Elizabeth was completely out of sync with her culture; she had not done the one thing that was required for prestige and honor from her community, which was to bear a child, yet in spite of that handicap, she walked with God blamelessly. She was humble enough that she undertook to mentor the mother of our Lord, Mary, who was a slip of a girl, young enough to be Elizabeth’s daughter, yet when God said, “You, Elizabeth will bear the forerunner to the Messiah, and this little girl, your relative, will bear the Messiah,” Elizabeth said, “May your Name be praised and exalted, King of the Universe.” She accepted what I think should have been a reversed position! She, the wiser, the older, should have borne the Christ child, but instead, she humbly accepted second place and mentored the younger woman who achieved far greater lasting honor.
I am so humbled by this—it is so not me! But I also see Elizabeth’s example of mentoring the younger woman, and I am instructed by that. I want to follow in her train.
3. What is one area that has been like a “thorn in the flesh” that has increased your sensitivity to being absolutely dependent on Christ?
I think perhaps having 5 children, though I hesitate to say they are a thorn in the flesh—surely not! Yet they limited me. And at times I chafed against that. And the Lord reassured me again and again that they were His plan for my life. That it was not better for me to work, or write a book or teach a large Bible study. For many years they were the center of my work, but they were limiting. They kept me coming back to the Lord to say, “Set me free from this dastardly ambition that keeps rearing its head. Let me serve you quietly, humbly here from home.”
But that is seeing it all from the wrong perspective—was Moses limited in his years in the desert? Was Abigail limited by her surly husband? Was Esther limited by her role in the palace? Yes, and no. The limitations that God builds into our life are purposeful—they are intentional. Like Elizabeth, He wants us to walk through them with integrity, yielding to Him instead of fighting Him. Saying yes, Your will—not mine. Don’t underestimate your will---it is strong and it is oppositional to God when we operate in our flesh, our self.
4. In what ways do you rejoice and fully embrace your gender as a woman? How has it been difficult for you to love the ways you are different from a man?
I love being a woman. The feminine body is complex and beautiful—just visit any museum in the world and you will see feminine beauty glorified. I feel connected to women—I understand what they are going through. I can empathize and encourage. Women are internal. Our body teaches us that. We are not all on the surface. We don’t even understand ourselves, yet we expect the men in our lives to understand us. That’s pretty much impossible.
In my day, coming of age in the 60’s when women’s liberation began to have such an effect on society, I found that I envied the autonomy of men—they could have it all—ministry, family, travel. And I was confined by my large family and a very busy husband who traveled a great deal. We lived far from our families of origin so I didn’t have a mom or sis to help me with the kids. So God had a lot of work to do in my heart to cleanse me of so many jealousies and ambitions. To teach me to be happy in a quiet place at home.
Today men and women are probably regarded as too similar. The idea of woman’s work is passé, yet I still love women’s work. I’m grateful not to have had the responsibility of a lifelong financial support of a family. But I had to really work on releasing the autonomy thing to God.
5. What does it look like for you to be in submission to your husband, and in what ways has that posture changed or been challenged throughout your marriage?
Submission was an issue for me before Don and I were even married. I grew up in a family where my mom ruled the roost, and she didn’t do it well. She was overbearing with my dad and even unkind to him at times. It made me long for something different in my marriage, but then I had this model of the wife getting her way! That was probably not going to happen with Don Sunukjian who had his own plans, thank you very much!
So God had to change my heart, quiet my heart, and give me the desire to follow my husband’s plans for our lives even before we were married. I can tell you the place on the 5 freeway where God spoke to my heart and made me willing to love and yield to Don as my husband. There have been many times that I’ve rebelled, but in the main, Don has known that he could eventually count on me to follow his leadership. He took me places I didn’t want to go, but in every circumstance, God was faithful.
As we have aged together, our marriage has been much more sharing in household activities. He made dinner more often than I did during the last 11 years that I worked full-time. He did most almost all of the grocery shopping, he cleans up after meals more often than I do. He accommodated my schedule and encouraged me in every way he could while I was pastor to women at Ev. Free.
6. How important is it for you to practice the discipline of rest or the commitment to seek beauty in your life as a woman?
I’m deeply committed to both practices. I rest daily on a regular schedule of going to bed and rising. I don’t cheat on sleep. It doesn’t pay. I always take a day off from my responsibilities—to spend time with my husband, to be outdoors, to get up without an alarm, to have a long conversation with a friend.
I need beauty in my life and seek it regularly. I see it in my garden, in daily walks through my neighborhood, in regular vacations with my husband, in being outdoors, roses and many flowers, and in the faces of my beautiful grandchildren. Nothing could be more beautiful than they are. I relish sunsets, walks on the Huntington Beach pier, quiet mornings with fog in my backyard, Sunday worship music and the mountains when they are covered with snow.
7. What are the roles you find most satisfaction in and how have they been areas of growth for you?
My role as mother has been the most satisfying in my life. And it has required constant growth in time management, anger control, prayer, and the practice of giving thanks.
I also found enormous satisfaction in serving as pastor to women for 10 years. I loved the planning, leading a team, praying for the people of our church, and teaching the scriptures. It was profoundly satisfying and certainly required tremendous reliance on the leading of the Holy Spirit.
Being a pastor’s wife was also very satisfying to me. I liked having a ‘mom and pop’ operation, as Don called it, with both of us deeply involved with the church and the lives of the congregation, and then hearing him preach every week.
Teaching at Talbot now is a bonus and joy and very satisfying, too. Getting to mentor young women is the frosting on my cake!