In our house, the busiest day of the week is Sunday. My husband pastors a small country church so instead of a respite, Sunday is a day packed with activity--Sunday School, morning worship, choir practice (me, not him), and an evening service. Early on, it became apparent that this was not going to be a day of rest for our family; it also became apparent that it wasn’t going to include leisurely brunches or lavish Sunday dinners either. Because while some people may think that Sunday is the ONLY day my husband works (to quote my daughter, “My daddy’s a pastor--he doesn’t have to work very much”), no one can argue that Sunday isn’t the busiest day of his week. It’s also the day he’s most likely to see leftovers.
Thankfully, I married a man who doesn’t know any better.
Growing up, my mother-in-law’s longstanding policy was that “Sunday is my day off.” To hear my husband tell it, she’d come home from church, put a jar of peanut butter and a loaf of bread on the counter, and be done with it. If they were lucky, there’d be leftovers from earlier in the week. So even before entering the pastorate, my husband had accepted that the best way to spend Sunday was to quickly change into comfortable clothes, race to the refrigerator to get the best leftovers, and then collapse on the couch to watch/sleep through an afternoon of football.
Little has altered for him, and this past Sunday was no exception. While he and the children were changing, I found myself rummaging through the refrigerator, praying that I would find enough leftovers to feed a family of five. Chili from Thursday? Check. Two slices of pizza? Check. One sweet potato and a minuscule piece of venison steak? Sure, why not?
In the end, there was enough to go around despite the fact that everyone’s plate held a slightly different, “personalized” version of Sunday dinner. So when we bowed our heads to say grace, my husband--ever forthright--thanked God for “the abundance of leftovers.” The abundance of leftovers.
And that’s when I understood. Those scattered bits of food--that last serving of chili, the single piece of cornbread, the dried-out tuna fish macaroni—those leftovers didn’t represent scarcity; they represented wealth
. So much wealth that we couldn’t even eat an entire meal at one sitting. So much wealth that we needed a refrigerator to keep our food from spoiling before we got hungry enough to eat it again. So much wealth that someone had to invent Rubbermaid and Tupperware to hold it all. So much wealth that our garbage is better than what most people will eat in a lifetime.
Theologians throughout history have argued that pride is the root of all sin—the lifting up yourself, the thinking of yourself as better than others, better than God even. Pride leads us to all sorts of evil because we can justify just about anything thinking that we “deserve” it. But if pride is the root of sin, ingratitude has to be its first blossom.
The ingratitude that says that I deserve better than what I have. The ingratitude that fails to recognize that what I have is so much better than what I deserve.
So that when we fail to acknowledge God’s goodness in our lives, when we fail to be thankful, we set ourselves up for a world of temptations.
And yet, we don’t fight our ingratitude with feelings of shame or by pushing away God’s good gifts. After all, the opposite of pride isn’t guilt--it is humility. And the opposite of ingratitude, thankfulness. So that even as we live lives of abundance—even as we indulge in the things that God has given--we do so with profound and utter humility. We do so with profound and utter dependence on His goodness. And we do so with a profound and utter joy in the abundance itself.
Even if--especially if--that abundance just happens to come in the form of leftover chili on a Sunday afternoon.
This week, we’re in the middle of sending out Christmas cards. And while I’m sure Martha
would not approve of my timetable, I think that we’re actually doing quite well. For the last two years, we didn’t even send cards so the simple act of ordering them is, in my mind, significant progress. And thanks to my husband (the organizational guru), all the recipients’ names and addresses are neatly typed into a spreadsheet, ready to be printed onto easy-stick labels. But because he’s been doing most of the prep work, I didn’t realize until last night that we had nearly 200 names on our list.
As I sat there reading over them, I couldn’t help but feel a little sad, a little nostalgic, and surprisingly a little guilty, all at the same time. Because we’ve moved so often, we’ve collected a lot of friends; but the danger of this is that it is very hard to keep up with them all, and so if I’m completely honest, many of names on our list easily classify as “Christmas card” friends—those friends that once held a prominent place in our life but now, due to time and distance, whose friendship is rooted more in memory than daily relationship. (“Christmas card” friends are cousins to Facebook friends.) And while I’ll unabashedly indulge the nostalgia--there’s something irresistible about savoring the memories attached to each name--I find myself fighting the guilt, the guilt that tells me I’ve failed in some way because I haven’t been able to maintain over 200 intimate relationships.
Our culture has a funny perspective on relationships, and often we don’t realize how much it shapes our own until we find ourselves struggling through real-life ones. Romantic comedies have taught us that we need some kind of mystical Meg Ryan/Tom Hanks connection or our marriages are doomed, and for the last two decades, shows like Friends
have taught us that the only valid friendships are those that are close, intimate, and never ending. You know the type—a group of five to six friends who live in a common location and get into all kinds of exploits as they navigate the ups and downs of relationships, careers, and life. The appeal of these shows isn’t simply the quirky characters and inside jokes—it’s the community, the sense of belonging, of having friends that “get” you and accept you regardless of how often you mess up or how silly you act. And slowly, this is what we’ve come to expect from our friendships too. We begin to think that the only legitimate ones are those that play out over long conversations in coffee houses and involve perfect chemistry.
As Christians, we generally spot the false expectations of romcoms--we know that they set us up to be dissatisfied with normal relationships--but I’m not certain that we’ve been as successful in recognizing our unrealistic expectations about friendship. In fact, sometimes I wonder if we’ve tried to be a “Friends Lite” (minus the whole sexual promiscuity thing) and in doing so, have set ourselves up to be very disappointed when friends move on, to feel guilty when every relationship isn’t deep and meaningful, or to be disenchanted when no one in our church seems to “get” us. We have become so captured with some idealized notion of friendship that small, normal, warm relationships are no longer enough.
Trust me, I’m know the benefit of community, of small group settings that foster deep, spiritual bonds. But I’ve also been in situations where the bonds didn’t happen easily, where it took a long time to begin to be true friends, where we felt obligated to force a sense of intimacy because of our shared expectations about friendship. But in doing so, we actually became less authentic and essentially guaranteed that we wouldn’t achieve the very relationships we longed for.
Instead, I think we need to remember that one of the greatest benefits of community is the opportunity to live with people who wouldn’t naturally be our friends, to live in close proximity with people who don’t always “get” us. (This is also one of the benefits of spending time with extended family.) And while words like transparency, accountability, deep, meaningful, and connectedness may be the watchwords of our generation, we must recognize that these things are the by-products of commitment--they come after choosing to live life together, not before. We must also accept that they are not necessarily the measure of whether or not a relationship is worth having. Sure, it’d be lovely if we all had relationships like those on Friends
—where every friendship is deep and meaningful and close and never ends--but those relationships are scripted by Hollywood screenwriters, and the ones scripted by the Divine Screenwriter are usually messier, more chaotic, less consistent, and don’t play out as we expect.
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t pursue deep friendships when they come (we all want the kind that C. S. Lewis describes here
); I’m simply suggesting that when our other relationships aren’t as fulfilling as these or when old friends become “Christmas card” friends, we shouldn’t see them as failures. These relationships are not inferior; they are simply what they are—opportunities we once had to walk with a fellow pilgrim along a portion of this life’s journey.
So now, whenever I’m sorting through my Christmas card list, instead of feeling guilty, I’m going to take the opportunity to revel in the Providence that allowed each one of these people to be part of my life for a given moment; I’m going to marvel at the Wisdom that made our lives intersect in order to sanctify us both; and I’m going to rejoice in the knowledge that one day, through His Grace, we’ll have the chance to live in true friendship for the rest of eternity.
This Thanksgiving, my family is smack in the middle of a time of peace and abundance so, in many ways, it’s been relatively easy to count my blessings. This year has brought us our first house, a fantastic job, the chance to live close to family, and multiple opportunities to use and develop our gifts.
It hasn’t always been this way. Quite frankly, we’ve had years when we simply didn’t feel like celebrating. Like the Thanksgiving that my husband was unemployed
and we had to be out of our house by the end of November with no idea of where we were going next. Or the following year, when he was employed but working an entry level job that kept us home for the holidays and far from family. Or any of the times our Thanksgiving dinner was bought with food stamps because despite having three college degrees between us, working hard, living frugally, and carrying no debt, you simply can't raise a family of five on $9-11/hr.
Still, if there’s one thing I’ve learned through those lean times, it’s the necessity of celebrating when you don’t feel like it and the importance of feasting when you think you can’t afford to. And to celebrate, not in spite of the difficulties or by tricking yourself into forgetting the struggles; but to celebrate precisely because of them
Throughout human history, feasting has been the privilege of the rich, to be enjoyed by those who could afford it while fasting was the daily existence of the masses. Even today feasting and fasting are often little more than economic realities applied to the dinner table. But in his wisdom, our God turns even economic realities on their head--in his divine wisdom, he actually commands us to do both.
For those of us who are rich in this world, fasting becomes a way to remind ourselves of our spiritual poverty, of our dependence on Him for our daily bread. But for those who are poor in this world—whether in spirit or pocket book—it is the feast that requires more faith and is ultimately more instructive. For in the feast, in those fleeting moments of abundance, we remind ourselves that through His generous grace, we are indeed rich.
When Moses was instructing the fledgling nation of Israel about how to celebrate the riches of the harvest, he said this:
Before the LORD your God, in the place that he will choose, to make his name dwell there, you shall eat the tithe of your grain, of your wine, and of your oil, and the firstborn of your herd and flock, that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always. And if the way is too long for you…then you shall turn it into money… and go to the place that the LORD your God chooses and spend the money for whatever you desire…whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the LORD your God and rejoice, you and your household. (Deuteronomy 14:22-26)
So celebrate--use your money for luxury instead of frugality--because in doing so you dedicate it in praise to the One who ultimately cares for you. You show your dependence on him by consuming it instead of saving it. You show your thankfulness for his provision by receiving it and rejoicing in it. And as you do, you remind yourself that all the budgeting, all the couponing, all the thrift in the world means nothing to a God who owns the cattle on a thousand hills.
So while this is probably not Dave Ramsey approved, here’s a piece of unconventional holiday advice: even if you think you can’t afford to celebrate this Thanksgiving, you really can’t afford not to.
You must find a way--whether small or great—to mark this coming Thursday as a day distinct, as a day of thankfulness and dependence. And one way to do that is to dedicate yourself to the spiritual discipline of feasting. Roast the turkey, mash the potatoes, and heap massive gobs of real whipped cream on top of that pumpkin pie. And then sit down and delight. For one day, for one moment, feel no guilt, no worry, no fear about what tomorrow holds. And rejoice. Because in your poverty, in your loneliness, this is your sacrifice. Your sacrifice is letting go of the pain, letting go of the weight in your soul and reminding yourself through the briefest moment of luxury that your God cares for you and that he always will.
(As promised, this is the first in a series about singleness and the Church by guest blogger Christa Bohannon.)
In my circle of friends and acquaintances, this was the year for weddings and engagements. I know four different couples who got married this spring and summer and then two more good friends got engaged just a few weeks ago. I’m honestly very happy for all of them, but at the same time, I would be lying if I didn’t admit to struggling with the temptation of a “when’s-it-my-turn” pity party. The plain truth is I am single at 33, and marriage, let alone a date, seems highly unlikely right now.
Still when Hannah and I reconnected this summer, I was initially very excited that she wanted to hear my thoughts and humbled when she offered me the opportunity to share about singleness on her blog. However, as my excitement dwindled, I found myself running for cover. Writing about singleness meant facing the reality of my circumstances yet again.
And since we are being really honest here, I’ll admit that sometimes it’s easier to hide. In fact, if it’s fight or flight, I often choose escape--usually running to the nearest story, whether it’s in a favorite TV show or novel. I think another other story is better than mine so I just hide out there for a while. And all the while I deceive myself into thinking that I’m waiting patiently in my singleness; but functionally, I’m living the opposite. I’m quietly rebelling against God’s sovereignty and providential leading in my life by thinking that anything other than Jesus will satisfy the longings of my heart.
Now, before you feel sorry for me (or perhaps even chide), let me say that God is graciously at work. The Spirit opens my eyes again and again to see that my greatest satisfaction will not be found in a husband but in knowing and pursuing Christ with my whole heart. And in spite of my running away, the Father still lavishes me with gifts, reminding me over and over that he doesn’t withhold anything good from those who walk uprightly
. His gift to me right now is singleness because in his mercy and wisdom, marriage for me would not be good. Remember, the Father gives good gifts.
So if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that singleness and marriage are both gifts. For the longest time I thought marriage was a given--deserved even. I expected that I would finish college and get married like everyone else. But of course, the longer you are single, the more you hear talk of a different gift, the “gift of singleness.”
Maybe like me, you’ve thought this gift of singleness was a super spiritual gift for people who chose
to remain single and celibate their entire life. And this gift gave those who possessed it supernatural ability to be constantly joyful and content in singleness and celibacy that seems entirely impossible to everyone else. The trouble is that this view of the “gift of singleness” is not only unrealistic; it is also far too individualistic. I would say the same for our view of marriage too. We like to think about what joys we may get from
marriage, but what would happen if we better understood both of these gifts in a broader corporate context? Marriage and singleness are gifts to the Church
to use in serving Christ and the Body, not simply gifts for our personal happiness. So when I say the Father gives good gifts, it is two-fold. His gift of singleness is given as much to me for my joy
as it is to the Church for the edification of the entire Body, just as the gift of marriage is given ultimately to display God’s glory and covenant-keeping love to the Church and the world.
With their gift, a married couple uniquely pictures God’s covenant love in a way that I can’t. In my singleness, I can display something about God’s sufficiency that those who have a spouse as a constant companion may be tempted to forget. In fact, singleness points us uniquely to the reality of the new creation in which one day no one will be given in marriage because the shadow that pictured The
Marriage will no longer be needed. We will all dwell in union with Christ our Bridegroom, finding our greatest delight and satisfaction in the presence of Jesus himself. When you look at it that way, the Church needs both
gifts--neither marriage nor singleness is a better gift than the other.
Recognizing the broader purposes of these gifts will determine how we use them to love and serve the Body. Over the next couple of posts, I hope to share some specific observations and recommendations on how married and single Christians can interact in ways that use these gifts—both singleness and marriage--to the fullest. Until then, let’s start by encouraging one another to keep fighting for contentment in Jesus in whatever trying circumstance we are facing. This Truth is what we must all cling to as we fight for true joy--whether we are single, married, waiting on children, a better job, or children to outgrow a certain stage. Fill in the blank; we are all in a fight for contentment to believe that Jesus is our greatest joy.
So if you see me running away from the fight, feel free to drag me back again.
A native of southeastern VA, Christa Bohannon studied Christian Missions as an undergraduate and ultimately received her MA in English in 2004. After a stint as a Jr High English teacher, she now works as an Instructional Systems Developer and is active at Redemption Church. She's always eager for a good story, especially if it is accompanied by coffee and good friends. She also loves to travel and sometimes pretends to be a runner.
I grew up on stories of Amy Carmichael and Mary Slessor and Isobel Kuhn. When I was young, I prepared myself for a future of grass huts on far away continents with limited supplies of food and medicine, battling back the forces of darkness with mosquito netting and late-night prayer meetings. In high school, my dreams turned to running an orphanage for middle school boys in (of all places) a lighthouse. We were going to live by the sea and I was going to be a combination of Jo March and Maria von Trapp. Except there were no plans for a Colonel von Trapp or Professor Bhaer, simply a black lab and a pick-up truck.
So here’s my question: how did I end up living a polite, quiet, life in middle American? How did I end up being a pastor’s wife, dressing up in my heels and stockings on Sundays and making pies and casseroles through the rest of the week? And how did I become the mother of three beautiful (although somewhat crazy) children who to date have had no significant issues save speech lessons and milk allergies?
I’m asking because I’m not sure that I know.
If you’re a regularly reader to SAL
, you know that our family has had our share of difficulties
—some related to ministry, some simply the pressures of adulthood—but over the last year, God has brought us into a season of blessing and stability. We recently bought our first home, my husband has a job that he loves (and does well), and I’m in the full swing of motherhood and domestic life.
But what you may not know about me is that I never really had any plans to be here. I never had any plans for Prince Charming to sweep me off my feet and even if I had, they certainly didn’t include marrying a pastor. A missionary perhaps--but only if he planned on living in a grass hut, learning countless native dialects, and contentedly eating grubs with the chief of the tribe. Instead, I married a man best suited to a quiet rural life, happiest puttering around his country parish, making plans for chickens and gardens, and putting down deep roots.
So here, over eleven years later, I’m still coming to terms with it all.
It’s not that I didn’t expect to be involved in ministry—that has always been a significant part of my life as my parents were teachers in a small church-based school—but I guess I never expected to live a “normal” American life. Growing up, because of my parents’ work, we often struggled to simply get by. I learned very early the difference between want and need and as a result, I think I actually was a lot happier than some of my peers. (To this day, I can still get a thrill out of something as simple as eating out at IHOP.) On top of that, we also suffered a house fire when I was five and spent the next decade rebuilding our home bit by bit with the help of friends and family.
Still what we lacked in finances, we had in abundance in faith and dreams. We lived on 10 acres of family homestead, complete with fruit trees and gardens, woods and a creek. We never lacked for books, music, imagination--or British television. My dad believed strongly in Christian education and made sure that his both his sons and daughters
received one. And when I announced that I wanted to study the Humanities for the sheer joy of it, for the sheer joy of discovering the world that God had created, instead of trying to dissuade me and guide me to something more practical, he simply said, “That sounds fine. College is too expensive not to love what you’re studying.”
We were living Radical
long before David Platt ever suggested it.
So coming into adulthood, I don’t think I had any dreams of financial success or settling down into the routines that are assumed by so many Americans. And yet here today, I find myself living a life that is polite, domestic, and comfortable. In a word, the American Dream. I’ve also discovered that this “dream” can come with a lot of angst. How can you spend money on extra clothes for your children when you know that there are children in this world who have no shoes?How can you indulge in the luxury of dieting and exercising when men and women around the world are expending legitimate sweat and tears simply working to provide a few morsels of food for their evening meal? How can you enjoy the blessings of family when your friends’ marriages are falling apart and you know other mothers who are facing life-threatening illnesses and may not even live to see their children grow up?
Of course, you help where you can. You send money. You pray. You even go when God calls. But still, you return to your lovely home and air conditioning and full pantry. And on Sunday, you worship God together with other believers in freedom and comfort. And soon, the blessings, all the milk and honey, start to feel like burdens. Maybe you don’t have this problem—maybe it’s the opposite for you. Maybe you grew up in such comfort that it’s hard for you to let go of it. But maybe, like me, you grew up with deprivation and you find it hard to let go of that too. Maybe you have a hard time accepting the blessings of God.
Because what I’m discovering is that as much as some people have to surrender to the possibility of deprivation and instability, some of us have to surrender to stability and comfort when He chooses to send them. And I’m learning that it takes as much faith to accept blessing as it is does to accept trial. It means believing that all
things come from His hand—wealth, poverty, stability, trials--and it means learning to be content and thankful and full of joy in whatever circumstances He chooses to place us.
Even when it is the best of them.
The other night, my eight-year-old daughter and I spent a considerable amount of time trying to put together an outfit that was--in her words--“dazzling enough” for the first day of school. And although we quickly learned that we don’t have the same fashion sense, we ended up doing a pretty good job of meeting her need for dazzle and my need to keep her as young as possible for as long as possible.
Since becoming her mother, I’ve gained a heightened awareness for the role that fashion and beauty play in forming a woman’s sense of worth. Some of it has been through my own struggles to come to terms with the physical changes that happen through pregnancy and aging—as much as I feel forever 21, no one told my body what my mind knows. Another part has come from watching my daughter develop her own sense of beauty. Even at eight, she has definite ideas about what “works” and what doesn’t. She loves flipping through my magazines and can put together a doll’s outfit like nobody’s business.
So I’ve been watching the industry with a wary eye and following the cultural conversation surrounding it. A lot of talk has centered on the inferiority that normal women feel when they compare themselves to air-brushed, tummy-tucked, photo-shopped and CGI enhanced models. Because while no one’s staging Occupy The Catwalk, beauty--in many ways--has become as exclusive as wealth, with the majority of it being held by the 1%.
In response, companies like Dove have launched “real beauty”
campaigns, supermodels themselves have begun talking about the pressures of the industry,
and the internet is full of memes contrasting a busty Marilyn Monroe with today’s waif-like fashionista. It seems like the solution to beauty inequality has been to promote inclusive beauty—everyone’s simply beautiful in their own way. Yet for all the discussion, for all the public service announcements, we don’t seem to have made much progress as a culture. And I think it’s simply because we’re not being honest with ourselves. We haven’t yet acknowledged what drives this industry--what drives us as human beings. We haven’t yet touched the darker side of our nature. Because false definitions of beauty aren’t the problem--jealousy, covetousness, and lust are.
Only this morning I was flipping through my latest edition of Real Simple—not an industry standard by any stretch—and interspersed among the typical “balance your life and achieve perfection ads” were a couple of ads that struck me because of their transparency. One was selling Jones New York jeans with the tagline, “Keeping Up with the Jones’ [sic]” and the other was a spread for Sephora skincare. Their tagline? “Skin So Bright You’ll Make Everyone Else Look Dull.”
Finally, here is the truth. Because if we are really honest, the fashion and beauty industry isn’t propelled so much by becoming a better me, as it’s propelled by becoming better than you.
You see, we human beings have a difficult relationship with beauty. It’s not enough for us to simply appreciate it from a distance. No, we must possess it, we must own it, we must have it exclusively. And so while a man may lust after a woman, desiring to physically possess her beauty, women just as quickly lust after each other’s beauty, desiring to possess it in our own bodies. It is not enough that we are all beautiful. I must be more beautiful. I must be better than you. I must have your beauty for my own.
And it’s all vaguely reminiscent of another beautiful creature
whose own beauty was not enough to content him.
For many of us, the solution is to teach our daughters that charm is deceitful and beauty is vain,
but even in this, I don’t think that we go deep enough. It’s not that beauty simply hides the truth of a person’s negative character or even the false corollary that plainness can actually reveal greater spirituality. No, the truth is that beauty and charm deceive us and drive us through our lust, jealousy, and pride to aggressively fight to overcome each other.
The answer to this can’t simply be that everyone is beautiful or even that beauty is unimportant. No, the answer must be modesty. And not a modesty defined by skirt length or a lack of fashion sense, but a true modesty—a heart of modesty, a heart of meekness and humility. A heart that doesn’t use fabric or cosmetics or diets or anything else as a way to one-up someone else. A heart that doesn’t judge itself superior or try to draw attention to itself. A heart that is more concerned with making others beautiful than making itself so.
Because this kind of heart will overflow into hands and feet and lips and bodies that go about bringing beauty and joy and peace to everything and everyone they touch. This kind of heart—this truly modest heart--will produce girls and women who love others and love well. And trust me darling, if you do that, you will be dazzling.
In our family, metaphysical epiphanies strike at the most unassuming moments. Like when we’re heading home from a less than stellar trip to the grocery store, having exhausted nearly a week’s worth of patience in explaining why we aren’t buying Lucky Charms and Jolly Ranchers and why it’s not a good idea to go twirling down the pasta aisle, arms outstretched. I was following a white exterminator’s van, trying to navigate through an unfamiliar section of town because our normal route was blocked, when my eight-year-old daughter piped up.
“Mommy… (thoughtful pause) I just wonder, ‘Why am I me?’ Why don’t I have somebody else’s life? I mean, why can’t I see different things or do different things? Why am I me
I snapped to attention. Forget the Lucky Charms and blocked streets, this was a “teachable” moment.
“That’s such a good question.” I said. “In fact, people ask themselves that question all the time. I mean, why am I a Mommy? Why am I driving home in my van? Why do I have three children? These kinds of questions are the things that we all ask about our lives, and--”
“Not me, Mommy,” said my six-year-old son, quickly correcting me. “I never ask myself those questions--I like my life.”
Like most epiphanies, this one was quickly eclipsed by more interesting things—namely, arriving home and racing to see who could turn on the Olympics first. The moment lasted a bit longer for me though because it came on the heels of a conversation that I’d had with my husband the previous weekend. We were out celebrating our eleventh anniversary (apparently while the tenth anniversary nets you a Caribbean cruise, number eleven involves Chipotle, Starbucks, and back-to-school shopping). As is natural on this kind of occasion, we were talking over the years that had led us to this point. Because here we were in our early thirties, with three kids, living in yet another state, finally settling into our first house and none of it could have been predicted that day we first exchanged vows over a decade ago.
There’s a part of you that can’t help but wonder what would have happened if at any point you had taken a different route? If a particular street hadn’t been blocked and you had simply taken the road you intended to. And you realize that you could have been something--somebody
--very different entirely.
This kind of backward longing is most tempting when things aren't as they should be. When life is difficult, when a marriage is struggling, when you feel like you’ve lost yourself along the way. And you being to believe that maybe, just maybe, you were meant to be someone else after all. That who you are today was not who you were supposed to become. And even if you were, in these times, you wish--like my daughter--you could be someone else entirely.
But the reality is that this life—the one that you are living right now—is a given
It’s not that we have no choice in the matter and it’s not even that our mistakes and failures don’t affect the outcome. It’s just that we’ve become too enamored with our own ability to shape our lives, with our own ability to control our destinies, with our own ability to be whoever we want to be. And we forget that today--who we are in this moment--is as much a gift
as the day we first entered the world. We get so busy longing for the life we wish we had that we're not thankful for the one we’ve been given. The given life.
To live not just as if your first breath were ordained, but that every breath after it was as well. To believe that even as each choice presented itself, the hand that offered the choice was His. And to know--despite its twists and curves— He made the road run straight
before you and led you exactly where you were meant to go.
This is where we must live. We must live in this moment. We must live as we have been called.
We must be precisely who He made us to be.
Because once you reach that place, once you recognize that the given life
, like all of His gifts, is a good one—well, in that place, it doesn’t much matter why you’re not someone else. All that matters is that He has given life to you
, that He has ordained that you
would exist, that He has made your
life to be useful and reflect Him in a unique way.
And once you reach that
place, you can say, with the confidence of a six-year-old, “Thank you--I like my life.”
I have a complicated relationship with the Olympics, and no, it’s not because every four years I end up doing handstands in the middle of the living room floor. (These days I’m content to spot for my six-year-old.) No, my dilemma with the Olympics stems from a much deeper place—that place in the soul that is full of insecurity and doubt. That place that taunts me with the truth that I’m not normal enough to be normal and yet, not talented enough to be great.
And it seems to shout loudest every four years.
It says things like, “Just look at her--you never did that. You’ve never achieved success at that level much less any other. What have you done with your life? You’re a stay-at-home mom trying to convince yourself that you’re a writer. And let’s not even begin to talk about that body… you might as well pass the Doritos sister because there is no way you’re ever going to recover from the last fifteen years.”
You think I’m joking. I’m not.
Only three days ago I was on the phone with my father reminding him of the Olympic champion that I never was. Because one way I cope with all this angst is to do what so many other people do—I blame my parents. After all, if I was ever going to be a real contender for the women’s gymnastics’ all-around gold, they should have gotten their act together when I was three and enrolled me at the local gym. From there, it would’ve only been a matter of time before I was discovered. But they didn’t, so I wasn’t.
Now, every four years as I sit and watch all the pageantry, as I thrill at those hundredths of a point that separate good from best, there is a part of me that continues to feel very judged by it all. You’re not good enough. You’re not competitive enough. You’re not dedicated enough. You’re not one of the best. In fact, you never even had a chance.
Before you judge me one neurosis short of certifiable, let me quickly acknowledge that I agree with you. I have a huge problem with accepting my limitations. Because of this, even the smallest decisions (and their accompanying restrictions) paralyze me. I know that once I choose one option, all the others will be closed off to me. Pick the linguini and I can’t have the shrimp. Buy the purple heels and I have to pass on the yellow flats. Put my kids in traditional school and they’ll miss out on the opportunity of a free-range education.
In short, take the road less traveled but understand that there’s no shortcut back to the other one.
Still, through this last decade of adulthood, I’ve also come to realize that I’ve got to stop playing the “What if?” game. Blaming my parents or berating myself for my own lack of decisiveness hasn’t made me more successful or happy—it’s simply makes me resentful and guilty. Because the real cause of this touch of existential flu isn’t that I’ll never win an Olympic medal or that life often takes unpredictable turns. No, the real cause of all this angst is my need to regularly and humbly accept the role of providence in my life.
For most of us, God’s providence comes with overtones of the grand sweep of history, seeing the bigger picture, or understanding the tapestry of life. Providence is “God’s intervention in the world.” But for me? Well, I need my providence to be of a bit more personal variety. Because for me, personal
providence is the only thing that keeps me sane during those times when I’m feeling particularly small or I feel like I don’t quite measure up. In short, God’s personal providence explains why I never made it to the winner’s podium and why I never even came close.
In my life, learning to trust His providence means accepting that the decisions that I’ve made—and the ones made for me—are entirely within His will. It means accepting that He placed me precisely in human time and space for a specific purpose. It means trusting that His sovereign power has deemed me to be exactly who I am, where I am, and when I am. Ultimately trusting God’s personal providence means embracing His hand as the guiding force of my life, not my own.
And here, there is no room for regret, no room for remorse, no room for failure, no room for angst. Instead trusting Him frees me to pursue what He has always intended for me--loving my family and friends, developing my distinct gifts, and serving those around me. Trusting Him frees me to live right here, right now.
In a world where success isn’t easily quantified like at the Olympics or grade school, where no one is handing out medals for finally making the monthly meal schedule and the only gold stars are the ones we use for potty training; in this world, personal providence means everything. Because in this world, we’re aiming at a goal much more elusive, much more private, but much more enduring. We’re pressing toward the goal of the high calling of Christ Jesus
; we’re waiting for “well-done.
And that only comes by faithful obedience to His providence.
It doesn’t come by chasing someone else’s dreams; it comes by chasing the ones specifically prepared for me
. Dreams of love and peace and security.
And in my case, that means that every four years, I have to once again accept that maybe, just maybe, He never intended me to be a champion Olympic gymnast.
Recently in light of all the bad economic news, I’ve started using a one-dollar bill as a bookmark. It’s just my way of reminding myself about what’s really important. And I don’t mean money.
In all honesty, the last few years have been a struggle for our family financially. While we didn’t suffer the direct effects of the housing bubble, we, like many of you, have had to tighten our belts, learn the difference between want and need, and pray a lot more. And at times, it has seemed like no matter how hard we work, we can’t get ahead.
For us at least, The American Dream simply isn’t.
But luckily, we have other dreams. Ones that rely less on picket fences and picket lines and more on picking our joys and learning to live in contentment and generosity. Ones that realize that even if we’re never in the 1%, we’re already among the wealthiest people
on this planet simply by virtue of being born where we were. And ones that believe that the only things of true value are the people around us.
Yet for all my starry-eyed idealism, I still struggle. I struggle as I watch friends and family move on, I struggle with having to say “no” to my children, and I struggle with the day-to-day weight of being forced to choose between good things. And apparently I struggle more than I’d realized.
A couple of weeks ago, my daughter made a list of the things she thought we needed to pray for as a family. And four out of the five were directly related to employment or income. (The fifth was about her daddy’s ability to sing, and the least said about that, the best.) As I read her list, my heart dropped and I realized that whether I’d meant to or not, somehow I had taught her that the most significant thing in life is money.
For those of us going through hard times, it’s easy to start thinking this way—maybe even easier than for those who are economically stable. Because when you lack money, it suddenly becomes your greatest need, and the next promotion, the next big windfall, the next extreme couponing experience will be your savior. When you’re poor, it’s easy to start thinking that the god of frugality will rescue you from your guilt, embarrassment, and helplessness.
And you forget, that all the money in the world is pointless if you loose your own soul in the process.
Trust me, I do understand how this world works, and I’m not demonizing frugality or poverty or even wealth for that matter. Money is essential to life and there are plenty of desperate people out there who need more of it. I’m just learning to not let my soul be consumed by it. I’m learning to pray that God will simply give me what I need—no more and no less. I’m also learning to be thankful that I have a roof over my head, food on my table, children that love me, and a husband who is my best friend. I’m learning that I’m rich already.
So rich in fact, that I can use money for bookmarks.