We are thrilled to feature ministry leader and spiritual mentor Barbara Rainey in our “Titus 2: With Wisdom, She Speaks” interview. Co-founder, along with her husband, Dennis Rainey, of FamilyLife, a ministry devoted to growing and strengthening godly families that impact their communities; she is also the founder of Ever Thine Home, a ministry devoted to encouraging women to reflect Jesus within their homes and families through faith-based content and their new Etsy store. And currently she is pursuing her masters in Bible at Dallas Theological Seminary. Even in old age we can have lofty goals!
Barbara Rainey shares an absolute wealth of wisdom and experience on the holy callings of marriage and motherhood, the importance of becoming a theologian of the Word, and her testimony of God’s faithfulness through seasons of trial and change. So, grab a cup of something wonderful, settle in, and start reading—there is much to learn from this remarkable woman of faith.
This interview was first published in the GATHER issue of Joyful Life Magazine.
Table of Contents
WHAT IS YOUR SALVATION STORY?
My parents were children of the depression and World War II, so like many in that generation, they were very private about their faith. Though we attended church every week, conversations about God were not common, and my questions and genuine desire to know Him remained unanswered until I became friends with a fellow college freshman who invited me to a Bible study.
Never having heard the term “Bible study” before, I was intrigued and eagerly said “yes” to meeting with this group of total strangers (even though my shy, quiet nature was usually much more cautious). That night I heard other students talk about Jesus as their Friend, about God as Someone who actually spoke to them and guided them. And they all shared how they first came to know Him, a concept completely foreign to me.
To Know Jesus
At the end of the study, one of the leaders approached me and asked if I wanted to know Christ. She perceptively concluded from my solitary comment, “I’ve always been a Christian because I grew up going to church,” that I did not understand salvation. She then explained to me how to become a Christian and gave me a booklet to read.
All my life I had wanted to know God and desired to follow His plan. I now understand and marvel that my childhood longing was the gracious calling of Jesus to “Come to Me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
Sitting in my dorm room on my bed the next day, I read the prayer and gave my life to Jesus. In the days, months, and remaining years of college, I couldn’t get enough Bible study! Though I was a history major at a secular state university, I really majored in knowing God, spending as much time as I could learning, leading, and inviting others to know Him too through the campus ministry of Cru. And my life has never been the same.
HOW DO YOU PRIORITIZE TIME WITH THE LORD? WHAT DOES IT LOOK LIKE IN THIS SEASON OF LIFE? WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE TOOLS AND TIPS FOR STUDYING GOD’S WORD?
My journey in learning to spend time with the Lord has been more arduous than I ever expected. I could write a book about the lessons I’ve learned. In a nutshell, I’ve gone from baby-step days of learning and hearing from God clearly, a gift I think He gives all new believers to affirm their new relationship with Him; to years of feeling like a complete failure in this endeavor as I adjusted to marriage and the addition of six children to my life, which completely upended any kind of regular time with God; to now in the empty nest becoming reacquainted so to speak with God as my Friend and constant companion.
Being in Relationship with Jesus
So, my biggest piece of advice borne out of all my years of feeling like a failure with God is this: Spending time with God is less about quiet and sitting with your Bible, and more about talking to Him throughout every hour of every day. After all, He promised to be with me forever! It’s a relationship He wants with me, not a prescribed allotment of time devoted to Him, like church on Sunday mornings. I condemned myself every time my ‘quiet time’ didn’t work as I thought it should. But Jesus never condemned me. In fact, quite plainly He says: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
However, I am not advocating we skip time in the Bible. I am passionate about women being in God’s Word in serious study. Even moms of little kids who can’t get their homework done need to be in Bible study! I’m always encouraging my daughters, all of whom are moms, to make this a priority in their crazy full lives. It’s why I attend and always will be attending community Bible studies till the end of my life; I need the accountability and the insights of others to keep growing and knowing more of God.
Serious Study of the Word
One of my regrets is that I didn’t make serious study more of a priority in the years I was raising little kids. I trust God’s timing and work in my life, but realizing in hindsight the joy I now know of discovering and experiencing deeper truth about God, makes me eager to encourage younger women every chance I get to be involved in serious study. Become a theologian! It’s not just for seminary students, but moms really need to know God this way, because your children are looking to you for answers to their faith questions.
And don’t let book studies be a substitute for real in-the-Word Bible study. Books are wonderful, but they are supplemental, secondary to the primary Book. I love Precept studies because of the depth of study into the meaning of words, the cross-referencing, and the intense focus on both the overall focus of each book and the verse by verse study.
I also am a big fan of Bible Study Fellowship and other similar classes. Your church may offer Bible classes taught by a pastor or a retired missionary or another older wiser woman who has walked with Jesus for decades. Make the time to learn from these men and women, to give some of your hours each week to knowing Your Savior more. You’ll never regret it.
WHAT IS A CHARACTER TRAIT OF GOD THAT YOU’VE COME TO KNOW FROM WALKING THROUGH A TRIAL? HOW DID HE REVEAL HIMSELF TO YOU THROUGH THAT SEASON?
This is another topic on which I feel I could write a book. And maybe someday I will. Naively, I began my faith walk thinking if I followed Jesus’ lead, obeyed His commands, and especially if I served Him in full-time ministry—which I did right out of college and have continued to do for over 45 years—then He would protect me and those I loved from hardships. I didn’t believe it would be a perfectly smooth life. I knew enough of God’s Word to know trials were real, but I never expected the deep and multiplied sufferings we have endured.
My sufferings list includes: my near death at 28 from an unknown heart defect, a son’s unexpected neuromuscular disease, a daughter’s wandering from the faith, normal marriage struggles, a first-born granddaughter who lived only seven days, a daughter who was date raped, and the resulting marriage stress from the different ways men and women process loss.
All of these hard experiences spanned decades and shadowed not days, but years of my life. This list of headlines does not convey the depth of loss that an entire chapter on each would reveal. In addition to these crises, we had broken bones, surgeries, heartbreaks, relationship failures, ministry disappointments, and the agonies of watching our teenage children make potentially life altering decisions, praying all the time that God would overrule their foolishness and protect them. Clearly, God allowed things I would never have permitted.
But oh, how I love Jesus more than I ever thought possible because He was with me and never left me in all those trials and more. When the worst possible things happened, I found He was greater still. And when I thought there was no way forward, He provided a way. When I feared my child would reject Him forever, He reminded me “nothing is too hard for Me” (Jeremiah 32:17).
It is precisely when we have come to the end of our abilities—our resources are depleted, our hope is gone—it is then that we need Him most, and He becomes more real than our next breath. There is no one verse, no one trait that we can recite or claim that fixes. And that’s what our high-control natures want. Give me a verse I can memorize and repeat like a magic wand.
He is not a formula. His Word, though powerful and alive, is not for me to use for my purposes and my agendas. I have learned He is enough. He will show me what He wants me to see and know and learn. God is head-shaking incomprehensible. But wondrously, He delights to work with each of us as individuals. His plan for me is unlike His plan for anyone else.
At this season of my life, I know with humility that more trials and suffering will come. Yet, even amid seasons of hardship and loss, God in His great kindness gave me real glimpses of His presence with me.
One evening in particular, His nearness was so real I sensed I could have reached through the veil separating this world from the next and touched Him. And then He gave us the gift of our 24th grandchild in November. As I watched my youngest daughter labor for 27 hours then have to be rushed to surgery for a c-section, I thanked God for His provision of modern medicine. I knew in my heart my daughter and her unborn baby would have been among those women who died with their infants in childbirth not that many decades ago. How good God always is in all seasons of our lives. He never changes. His presence is everything.
May God give us eyes to see Him more clearly with each day.
IN WHAT WAY IS THE LORD GROWING YOU IN YOUR CURRENT SEASON?
In light of my journey with multiplied sufferings, I’m learning that to continue to grow with God and be used by Him is a choice. A continual day by day decision to say with Isaiah, “Here I am Lord, send me” (Isaiah 6:8). Offering myself to Him brings the possibility of great reward or great hardship or both. It is in the darkness that the light shines most brightly. I know that now. I didn’t know that in my 20s.
It would be easy in this season of life, now that we have officially handed over the reins of FamilyLife to a new God-chosen leader, to settle into a life of relative ease; of retirement as defined by the culture. And no one would fault us. Dennis and I have worked very hard in ministry for a very long time.
The Word As Our Guide
But the Word is still our guide. Acts 13:36 says that after David fulfilled the purposes of God in his generation, he slept, meaning he died only after God’s work for Him was complete. As our friend and mentor Howard Hendricks used to say, “Man is immortal until his work is done.” I also remember this calling on my life, “For we are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works which He prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).
Though I ask God this question some days, “Are You finished with me or us already?” He reminds me that to coast, to quit engaging the issues of our day, is not His design. Even though I know tomorrow is not guaranteed, we have begun to risk dreaming again. We are asking, “What do You have for us in the future? How do You want us to steward the treasure of truth You have imparted to us over the last 46 years of our marriage?”
I am choosing to believe God for the future, knowing He has a good plan and is already there.
WHAT IS YOUR BEST PIECE OF ADVICE FOR YOUNGER WOMEN ON HOW TO LOVE THEIR HUSBAND’S WELL?
On this question, I have written a book! As my four daughters and two sons started getting married, and at the request of one of them, I began summarizing many of the lessons I learned in marriage to share with them and their friends. The advice began in the form of small group emails which then became a book, “Letters to My Daughters, The Art of Being a Wife.”
The best way to make marriage a priority for life is to make a commitment—an ongoing commitment—to never quit or give up on your marriage. This decision to never quit is a theme woven throughout the pages of my book. I wanted to remind my girls and now you—yes, you made those promises on your wedding day, but like our relationship with Jesus which demands repeated surrenders to His Lordship, so our marriages need the lifegiving strength of renewed commitments. Tell each other you’d marry one another all over again; restate your love regularly; feed your relationship with time for just the two of you; and most importantly, decide over and over in the hard days and seasons and years to never quit.
Divorce is not the only way to quit on marriage. Divorce is just the visible evidence of a relationship in which one or both spouses gave up years prior. Sometimes it feels too hard to keep trying to understand, to be patient and wait for change, or to have the same conversation again for the umpteenth time. Surrender to mediocrity feels far easier. Quitting on growth together feels safer than the risk of more vulnerability.
Pressing On When Marriage is Hard
Believe me, I understand. There were seasons when I wanted to quit trying so hard. I just didn’t have the energy or the faith or the perseverance. I was physically and emotionally tired. And there were times when my husband felt the same way about me. But we both have resolved repeatedly over the years that we will not resign and settle for mediocrity in our marriage. Even this last year of difficulty has challenged our marriage. Many times in the last 12 months, I asked God to help me love and listen and encourage as He wanted me to. My well was dry. But God’s never is.
Sadly, we think we shouldn’t have to ask God for love for our spouse. After all, we all felt such overwhelming feelings on our wedding day and in those early months or years that to ask God to help you love seems all kinds of wrong. We believe there is something wrong with the marriage if we aren’t feeling love. But the truth is, there is something wrong—with us! We are imperfect and incapable of loving in marriage as God desires for us. It’s pure arrogance to think we don’t need God to help us love our spouses.
So resolve to never give in to resignation (which is very different from waiting and trusting God for His timing); never let yourself quit on your oneness; and never stop loving your husband. But instead keep opening your heart to God’s miraculous work. Ask Him to transform you, and you will find peace even if your husband doesn’t change.
WHAT IS ONE THING YOUNGER MOTHERS STRUGGLE WITH TODAY THAT WASN’T A STRUGGLE WHEN YOU WERE YOUNGER—AND WHAT IS YOUR ADVICE TO THEM?
I’ve had multiple conversations with young moms who have felt guilty that they didn’t have a ministry like other women they know, or know of, in their 20s, 30s, and 40s. Because of Instagram, many young wives and moms have achieved instant celebrity status. It’s like being the most popular girl in high school but on a much larger scale. And the stakes are equally high.
All of these moms have told me they see other women starting ministries or writing books or blogs, and they feel their stay-at-home mommy job is inferior. My reply to all of these many young women has been the same.
No One Can Do It All
First, I tell them I felt the same way; raising kids full-time was not regarded highly by our culture when I was a young mom, and the rush was on for women to return to the workforce. Working moms were lauded and celebrated for being able to ‘do it all’. TV commercials and the media heralded these women for doing it all. But let me tell you, no one can do it all. We all have limitations and “to everything there is a season.” To believe otherwise is to be seduced by the enemy of our souls who loves nothing more than to harm children, marriages, and families.
Two months ago, I had a sweet conversation with a young woman, pregnant with her first child, working full-time in a ministry but about to resign. We had been discussing this topic in a larger group, and I shared that I worry about the marriages and children of these young moms who are being courted by publishers, running ministries, and absorbing the accolades of thousands of women. To illustrate this trend, my “Letters to My Daughters” book was rejected by all the major publishing companies, and some not as well-known, because of my age. I am not a young promising new author. And mine isn’t the only experience being rejected because of age. The pressure to produce is on young women today.
As I voiced my concern for these women, I said, “I’m afraid someone will pay; someone will suffer for a mom’s decision to have a full-time career or lead a ministry and have children and grow a thriving marriage.” I’ve seen too many failed marriages and lost children already. At our break, this adorable young mom-to-be said, “thank you for saying someone will pay.” With her hands caressing her pregnant belly she continued, “I don’t want my baby to be the one to pay if I continued my job full-time.”
Motherhood is a Ministry
Secondly, I share with young moms my passionate belief that mothering is a ministry, a high and holy calling to raise and invest in the spiritual development of the next generation. No one can do that work but you. God gave you your babies, and He intends for you and your husband to be the primary influence in their lives for all of their first 18 years. And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Nothing is more important.
But parenting is a season. It’s not the whole of your life. There will be time one day, unless Jesus comes back, to do all you dream and more. And if Jesus does return, God will fulfill those desires in heaven. He wastes nothing.
There is also great pressure on today’s young women to not just do it all but to have it all. Again, Instagram and other social media showcase homes that in my generation most couldn’t afford until their 40s or 50s or beyond. So many women, often encouraged or pushed by husbands, go to work to achieve a status of living that is born out of comparison. Yes, there are women who need to work, but too often today, ‘need’ is defined very differently than it used to be. Too often, need today is not to put food on the table or clothes on your kids’ backs, but to earn more money to accumulate more things, more house, more status.
The Temptation to Compare
The temptation to compare is as old as Adam and Eve who listened to Satan whisper that God hadn’t given them enough. More could be theirs if they followed his plan. The same temptations continue today in a million nuanced ways. Compare. Conclude you don’t have enough. And compare again and again. Always Satan whispers–you can have all this, do this, too.
But God calls us to mimic His Son, not other fallible humans.
The pressure today is real and because it comes from within the Christian community, the urge to have a ministry feels more noble and right than a desire for just a job.
Choosing to be okay with being unknown or unrecognized outside your community or church; or choosing to invest in your children and marriage today knowing He will give you other opportunities in the future; choosing to wait on God’s timing for His plans for your life. These are courageous steps of great faith. And I applaud all the unseen, unrecognized moms who are choosing to be content in those places. These women are living for the future. They are laying up treasures in heaven.
WHAT ARE SOME WAYS YOU HAVE INTENTIONALLY PURPOSED TO ‘BUILD UP YOUR HOME’?
If you’ve followed this conversation this long, I feel you deserve some kind of reward! So here is a bullet list for easier reading—I hope! Here are several practices I made priorities over the years.
Make Holidays Meaningful
Holidays are a natural time to invest in your family. Make them meaningful by continuing traditions from your childhood and starting new ones. Holidays are inherently meaningful because most of them are biblically based. Christmas and Easter are obvious, but Thanksgiving is about gratitude which is woven throughout the entire Bible, and Valentines is about love and we all know God is Love. Use these annual holidays to teach your children and yourself about who Jesus is. For more ideas, I’d love for you to visit my website, everthinehome.com.
Prioritize Family Dinners
Family dinners are too often non-existent today because the plethora of sports and practices squeeze out this hour of natural gathering. But you can make the choice to make dinners a priority which feed more than stomachs.
Pick a few nights a week that are most likely evenings you can protect. Mom and Dad have to lead and be vigilant or this will never happen. Require your teens to not work on those evenings. Say no to practices. Make the meal something relatively simple so the cooking doesn’t get in the way of the gathering. Or make the cooking something everyone can participate in. At times, my daughter has assigned one of her teenage sons to help with meal prep because it’s a way she can spend time with them, benefit from extra hands, and get them to talk!
Ask questions around the table; ask everyone to share their high and low from the day. Or read a book together on one night, say every Monday, taking turns reading and then talking about it together. Or read the Bible! Is that a novel idea? Let your kids take turns and let everyone ask questions. And helping your kids feel comfortable asking questions about God and the Bible is a good way to guide them to faith. God is never afraid of our questions. If you don’t know the answers, say so and then do the work to find an answer for your kids. This practice will keep you parents on your toes about what you believe too!
Model Marriage and the Christian Life
Intentionally modeling marriage and the Christian life in front of our kids was a personal goal of ours. From time to time we discussed topics Dennis and I disagreed on in front of the kids so they saw us resolving conflict. We never voiced hurtful words or talked about topics that would frighten them.
Forgive One Another
We also intentionally made forgiveness a big deal in our family. We laboriously taught our kids over and over the right way to apologize and ask for forgiveness. It’s important that kids learn to own their mistakes and their sin so we made this a high priority.
Admit Our Failures and Mistakes
And then we also tried to share what we were learning as followers of Jesus. We admitted our own failures and mistakes, sharing how God showed us we were wrong. Again and again we asked for their forgiveness. We shared what we learned in Bible study or how we saw God work that day. And we invited friends who had vibrant relationships with Christ for dinner and had them tell stories of how they came to faith or stories of what they’d seen God do. We wanted our kids to hear excitement about God and our faith from others because Mom and Dad can sometimes sound too repetitive and other people can carry more weight in their eyes.
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO ENCOURAGE A MOTHER WHO IS STRUGGLING WITH GROWING ‘WEARY IN WELL DOING’ IN THE MIDST OF RAISING CHILDREN?
In summary, I would say, not just to moms who are growing weary in well-doing, but all women who are weary, and that includes just about every woman alive: Keep your eyes on Jesus. Being weary in well-doing is real in all seasons of life.
It is precisely in these moments of weariness; these times of feeling completely inadequate for this day, this responsibility, this crisis, that we throw ourselves before the throne of grace and ask Him to give us what we do not possess. I love this verse, “that by them [His promises] you may become partakers of the divine nature” (Peter 1:4). My nature is hardly divine, but oh, how I need it to be transformed to be like the nature of Jesus!
Weary has been a constant companion of mine since my late 20s. I’ve wished it weren’t so, but God knows it’s when I am depleted that He can supply and show me Himself.
Keep trusting Him. Consistently look to Jesus. Keep walking by faith especially when you can’t see the way ahead, because He will never leave You. When you feel you can’t make it, He is still there. May you be counted among those who like Job have said, “… yet will I trust Him” (Job 13:15).
— Barbara Rainey