Sunday, March 12, 2017

Songbird Barbie Blues: Thoughts on Disappointment and Gratefulness

When I was six years old, all I wanted for Christmas was Songbird Barbie. I saw her on the shelf of a department store and was immediately obsessed. I thought she was the most beautiful Barbie I had ever seen, and in my vivid imagination I made up stories featuring this singing princess, talking birds, and, of course, a few handsome princes for good measure. In my mind, Songbird Barbie lived. I made sure my parents knew how much I wanted her. When I went to bed on Christmas Eve, I dreamt about running to the tree the next morning and finally unwrapping my coveted doll. Reality, however, was sorely disappointing. I don't remember what I actually did receive that Christmas; I was so focused on what I hadn't been given that more than twenty years later, I still remember that I didn't get Songbird Barbie after all. Woe was me.

My six-year-old conception of real happiness
As an adult, sometimes I've caught myself repeating this negative kind of focus. Sometimes I find myself so fixated on things that aren't working out the way I wanted, that I miss what I can be grateful for in the moment. I sigh over what I don't have and don't fully appreciate what I do have. I look so long at some loss that I forget to see gain. I focus on what God isn't giving rather than what He is giving. 



John Eldredge tells a story of how he went on a wilderness hike to fish in a particular creek. As he hiked along the way, he fished in the beautiful Bear river.
"The Bear proved to be the treat of the day. By the time I reached the creek, I'd caught a half-dozen fish without much effort. And now that I'd reached my goal, it became obvious that the creek was unfishable." (Walking with God, p. 68)
John was as disappointed at not getting his creek as my six-year-old self had been about not getting her Barbie. Although the river had turned out to be everything he had hoped the creek would be -- "solitude, beauty, wild fish on a dry fly" -- he sulked the way back to his car because he hadn't got what he wanted. However, he draws a profound point from his experience.
"Then I remembered something that God has been teaching me this summer--it's not what he isn't giving but what he is giving. We can get so locked onto what we don't have, what we think we want or need, that we miss the gifts God is giving." (Ibid.
It's about what God is giving. This is something I have been learning, too.

Sometimes there's a reason we don't receive what we want, a reason that God is not giving us something, as I have discovered more keenly with jobs and relationships. Sometimes we can look back and honestly say, "Actually, it's good that didn't work out the way I thought I wanted it."

For example, recently I applied for a librarian/teaching job. I thought I really wanted it; the description sounded like it would suit me perfectly. I didn't get the job. I did cover the position until the new staff member arrived, however, and I was surprised to discover that I didn't like the role after all. It didn't fit me, and I felt a surge of relief when the cover period was over! It was one of those moments when I could look back and be glad something wasn't given to me.

At other times, we just have to wait for God to give us the something we've been asking for.

And sometimes God wants to give us something totally different.

Wherever we are in the process of asking, waiting, receiving, or not receiving, I'm learning that it's so important to focus on what God is giving. Every day there is something.

"He doesn't deny any good thing to those who live with integrity." (Psalm 84:11)
"You feed them from the abundance of your own house, letting them drink from your river of delights." (Psalm 36:8)
"So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him." (Matthew 7:11)
"Now to the God who can do so many awe-inspiring things, immeasurable things, things greater than we could ask or imagine..." (Ephesians 3:20)
"Pray, and keep praying. Be alert and thankful when you pray." (Colossians 4:2, emphasis mine)
The Bible is full of promises and verses about God's abundance and desire to give us good things. The trick, I guess, is trying to see things from His perspective, especially when it appears He isn't giving that good thing we want yet! I continue to learn to trust that He is working out the best for me, that He will give good things, and that He is giving good things.

Cultivating a habit of gratefulness, of paying attention to what He is giving, even in the small things, makes so much difference to your perspective and your emotions. (It may even make a difference to your brain!)

So, what is He giving you today?

"Father, forgive me. Forgive my demanding posture that life has to come to me on my terms. Oh Lord, how many gifts have I missed? The posture is ugly and narrow. I pray for a more gracious posture, to be open and grateful for what you are giving at any time." (Walking with God, p. 70)



Friday, February 17, 2017

I Will Lead Her to the Wilderness

The new year did not start very well for me.

One particularly difficult night, as I spilled my hurting soul onto the pages of my journal, I listened to one song again and again. The chorus resounded, "I will trust you. All my hope is found in your love. I will trust you. My whole life is found in your love. And your goodness, kindness, faithfulness persist through the night." Yes, I thought. In the end, God, it's all about your love, even through the night. Show me.

The next morning I woke up with these words running through my mind: "I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her." I knew it was from a Bible text; I had seen a friend post a Facebook status about it several weeks ago. A quick Google search gave me the verse.

"Therefore, look! I will now allure her. I will make her go out to the wilderness, and I will speak to her heart. There I will restore her vineyards to her, and the Valley of Achor will become a doorway to hope." Hosea 2:14-15 (International Standard Version)  

In that moment, as my heart responded to the text, I knew God was speaking to me.



I knew God had been leading me, but...I hadn't expected to be led into the wilderness. Such a barren, difficult environment is hardly somewhere you would expect to be allured to. Yet perhaps it was here that I would be in a better position for God to speak "tenderly" to me, or speak to my heart, as the translation above puts it.

The Hebrew word translated as "tenderly" (v 14) is literally leb, meaning "heart." God was saying he would have a heart-to-heart with me -- an intimate conversation from his heart to mine.

The Bible commentator Barne's notes on this passage threw some further beautiful light on the meaning of God speaking to the heart:

"Literally, on her heart, making an impression on it, soothing it, in words which will dwell in it and rest there... God speaks to the heart so as to reach it, soften it, comfort it, tranquillise it, and, at the last, assure it...

"It is in solitude that he so speaks to the soul and is heard by her, warning, reproving, penetrating through every fold, until he reaches the very inmost heart and dwells there. And then he infuses hope, kindles love, enlightens faith, gives feelings of childlike trust, lifts the soul tremblingly to cleave to him whose voice she has heard within her.

"Then his infinite Beauty touches her heart; his holiness, truth, mercy penetrate the soul; in silence and stillness the soul learns to know itself and God, to repent of its sins, to conquer self; to meditate on God."

That, I knew, was what I wanted. To hear God more clearly, to have my walk with him be even more real and personal. At that moment I felt that although I wasn't quite sure how, I would get through the wilderness if I could hear him speak to my heart like that.

 "...There I will restore her vineyards to her, and the Valley of Achor will become a doorway to hope."

Beyond the assurance that God would speak to me in my wilderness, this verse reminded me there was good to come. Although the desert place may be full of trouble and hardship (as the Hebrew name Achor signifies), God would somehow use it as a doorway to hope.

In that moment, my heart felt peace. Somehow, ultimately, everything would be OK.

In fact, reading the next verse showed me more of what God would be doing through this experience.

"'At that time,' declares the Lord, 'you will address me as 'My Husband,' and you will no longer call me 'My Master.'" (Hosea 2:16)

Our wilderness experiences can lead us to a more intimate view of and relationship with God.

I think that's beautiful, I wrote in my journal, because after all, that is what my whole life is about, and what I ultimately want most. 

As I wrote down more of my reactions to the verses in Hosea, I looked them up in the original Hebrew (yeah, I'm geeky like that). I was struck to find that the word translated as "lead" or "make her go" into the wilderness can also be translated as "come" or "accompany."

So God goes with me into the wilderness, I noted. Then my eyes fell on the Bible texts printed at the bottom of the journal pages I had been filling:

"May the God of peace Himself give you His peace at all times and in every situation." (2 Thess 3:16)

"Let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts." (Col 3:15)

"Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. When you go through deep waters, I will be with you." (Isaiah 43:1-2)

Oh, the kindness of God. He knew what I needed to hear.

I knew I was still going to struggle through a difficult time, through my own wilderness, but I wasn't going to be alone. God was up to something. God was speaking to me, and he would continue to speak to me. I simply had to wait.

The God who speaks his heart to me, who cares about the details of my personal life, and who relates to me as if I were the only one on earth to have his watch-care, feels exactly the same about you.

In the middle of your wilderness, he is with you. He wants to speak to your heart. He waits and works to turn your difficult place, your "valley of Achor," into a doorway of hope.

Trust him.

 "To all who grieve, He will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the Lord has planted for his own glory." (Isaiah 61:3)