The Bliss of Missing

Thanksgiving. 

Just that one isolated word, brings so many things to mind. Turkey is usually the first noun associated with it, followed by football, family, and flab. There is the occasional “half-empty” individual who will automatically begin complaining about all the cooking to prepare for the day and all the dieting following the feast. But the majority of people, whether they are tree-huggers, criminals, or Presbyterians, will find at least one thing to be thankful for on this day. The obvious blessings stick out from the rest…clothes on our backs, food in our pantries, a place to call home, and families to call our own. Some of the older and wiser folks among us will sing the praises of democracy, voting rights, guns, and the Pilgrims who first brought our freedom to us.

But what about the things that we don’t have?

Perhaps we would be most grateful for those things that we do not possess if we knew what having them would mean.

Instead of looking back on the infamous “road not taken” with regret, it might do us good to thank the Lord for not letting us go down that path. The catastrophes He has prevented and heartaches He has saved us could perhaps be a list extending into eternity. A relationship He ended that could have led to unhappiness and a divorce, a job offer declined that might have sucked us into covetousness and greed, or a baby who died in the womb that would have been paralyzed in a wheelchair for life.

My sweet friend and relative, Karla, has a little boy who has had one serious health issue upon another since his birth. As she told of his numerous struggles this past month, she started crying tears of joy at the wisdom of God. She said, “I don’t know what to pray for, so I don’t ask for healing anymore. I just ask God to give us what He wants, because His way is always best.” If God had given her little boy good health, would she have failed to see God’s goodness and sufficient grace in a way that I do not? Perhaps this is why God tells us to offer Him sacrifices of thanksgiving (see Psalm 107:22). We may not always FEEL joyful for what is happening around us, but we know that we can trust Him to use it as a stepping stool to bring us to a higher place with Him. 

This Thanksgiving, while I am counting my blessings, I am also thankful for the things He denies. I am thankful for His omniscient, all-knowing ‘no’s’. I am grateful for the hurtful words, actions, and decisions of others He allows that guard my heart from becoming too involved. I am thankful for the tears He allows to soothe my soul, and thankful that I can add to His tear collection. I am grateful for the rain that makes way for new life and growth.

And at Thanksgiving, and all year-round, I am mostly thankful that when I don’t understand life, He does not cease to be God.

Leave the Scar

The six hour drive to Alabama seemed like about two. We talked so much we weren’t even thinking about being hungry. We just talked. And as we chatted, all of the wounds came to the surface. Some wounds I knew about. Others, I didn’t. So I just quietly listened. I listened to her words, but mostly to her heart.

I had spent the day before our trip praying for two specific things: healing from wounds we knew we had. And healing for things we weren’t aware of.

I had no idea how much of a surprise I was in for.

When we reached the location of the ladies’ retreat, the looks of the building or even the size of the crowd who congregated there would not have been impressive. But the Spirit of God was represented there. And it seemed as if He were there to play darts and had no intention of missing the middle.

The first speaker declared this: You have been given everything you need for this. Whatever our “this” was. Healing from the lie that I am not worthy to complete the task before me. The second speaker declared this: “I am God’s choice for distributing God’s Presence.” Rather than resisting processes, His plan will come about much quicker if I yield. Ridding me from myself… from my own control, my own desires, my own plans.

Then the third speaker brought this admonition: God’s call on your life does not include barrenness. If you are experiencing an area in your life that does not include obvious fruit, you are not experiencing God’s best. And that’s where the healing-we-didn’t-know-about came in.

Two days later, I accidentally found out that one of my best friends was pregnant. This is not very significant, except that we had talked about having children together. There was no question that I was excited for her. But it was hard to swallow seeing the death of that dream. I had never specifically verbalized it or prayed for it, but when reality set it, it had the potential to devastate me.

But my issue was not physical barrenness. It was spiritual barrenness. I was not producing the fruit of gratefulness that relies on the truth that Christ’s plan is better than my own plan. I was looking to other people or circumstances or success to determine my level of happiness.

“And He went forth unto the spring of the water, and cast salt in there.” (2 Kings 2:21)

Sometimes the salt burns. The teacher who desperately tries to instill principles in her students but leaves the schoolhouse every day with a feeling of exhaustion and hopelessness. The woman who has reached the midlife crisis and can’t find another reason to move on or stay married because what is the point? Or the mother who extends her helping hand and her wise words but her children ignore and despise her investment.

Not many weeks later, I was offered the opportunity to take over a preschool/daycare. I was elated at the possibilities and had faith that God would come through and show the world that He was indeed God and still worked miracles. In 3 weeks. But He did not show up. He was silent. I didn’t hear a word from Him. And so I declined the offer because I knew that I couldn’t attempt such a huge responsibility without Him.

And once again I found myself on the brink of devastation. Where was God when I needed Him? Did I not have enough faith to please Him? Where is the balance between faith and practicality? I thought miracles had nothing to do with the reasonable. I was angry that I had thought this was God’s will but then He “pulled out.” I had shown promise and the parents had been excited and I was now coming up empty handed.

But I was not physically barren. I was spiritually barren. I was allowing my status in life to determine my worth when my identity does not lie in my abilities or my career or even my ability to come through for someone in their misfortune. My identity is attached to Christ. And when my eyes turn to other lesser and earthly things to decide my value, I will sink every time.

The very stinging is often what cures the wound. Sometimes, without the sting, one wouldn’t realize the wound was there.

“Thus saith the Lord, ‘I have healed these waters; there shall not be from thence any more death or barren land.’”

We serve a loving God who never designed barrenness to describe our life. He never ordained death in His original plan. Mankind brought that on ourselves. It is still His perfect will to heal us and to create fruit in us and in the lives of those around us.

The spirit of barrenness need not remain. I realize that this was a specific message to the children of Israel. I am not one to read other peoples’ mail, but I do believe that my God is a God of principle. And if His plan for those children was fruitfulness, His plan for His children today is no less.

A “spirit (of anything)” is a time when you can count several incidents, seemingly unrelated, of a similar affect. A season of life that has gone on far too long and the battle seems to thicken instead of lessen. A series of failures and defeats that seem to occur regardless of the method. A series of relationships that produce nothing but frustration and spiritual exhaustion. The enemy will use it to weaken our faith and resolve and get us to give in. You don’t have to live with that spirit of fear or depression or anger any longer.

The bitter water would not have been healed without the salt.

Elijah cursed the land and caused a famine to come for three and a half years. And then, when the Lord instructed, He called rain to fall. And James 5 says that when he prayed again, the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit.

And I almost miss the most obvious part. That there must have been seed in the soil for something to grow once the rain came. Seed that remained dormant for years but was not forgotten.

And my hope springs up anew.

And until now, I have wondered about the portion directly after that segment in James. It goes from talking about famine and rain to restoring a brother gone by the wayside. It says that if any of us would wander from the truth, and someone bring him back, he should know that the one who brings a sinner back from his wandering path will save that person’s soul from death, and will cover a multitude of sins (the last verse in James).

Because He doesn’t want us to lose hope in that seed. The seed that has been planted will eventually take root.

And the disappointments that would try to steal our hope don’t have power anymore because they submit to the One Who conquered death so that I didn’t have to face it and Who took the barrenness so that I could experience life.

And so that I can choose to see the fruitfulness in all the beauty around me instead of focusing on the physical seed I wish I had.

You never know what truth you need to glean that will prepare you for the road or task ahead. He gives greater grace. Sometimes before, sometimes after, and sometimes during.

And you never know when you are planting seed that someone else will water later.

And you almost never know when it’s up to you to receive that seed.

I have been given everything I need for this. I am God’s choice for distributing His presence. Barrenness is no longer in my vocabulary.

Heal the wound but leave the scar
A reminder of how merciful You are
I am broken, torn apart
Take the pieces of this heart
Heal the wound but leave the scar
-Point of Grace