Truth & Orthodoxy

Learning How To Handle Abundance

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My life is filled with good things. As I write, my sweet boy is crawling around the room babbling to himself, every now and then coming to check in with me, snuggle, and play. My two girls are still asleep after a late night yesterday— one of them stayed up to help me clean while waiting for daddy to come home. So I sit in a now tidied-up room in a home I love. I write with a relatively clear mind and healthy body. The sun rose again this morning as it does every day, and I remember its glory I witnessed during Monday’s solar eclipse. I hear footsteps upstairs now. One little lady is up and calling for me.

My life is filled to overflowing with good and sometimes I don’t know how to handle it. I don’t merely mean sentimentally, though at times my heart does feel so full it could burst. And I don’t mean how to handle all the cuteness of my fuzzy haired boy or handle the messiness caused by my energetic, playful, artistic girls.

What I mean is that I often struggle with knowing what it means to respond to all this good, or as Paul writes in Philippians, how to “abound” and “have plenty,” in a Godward way. It may sound like I’m overthinking things, and maybe there’s a hint of truth in that, but stick with me for a moment here. I have a hunch that I’m not alone in this.

A few weeks ago, I read a fascinating NY Times magazine article, “Losing It in the Anti-Dieting Age.” In it the writer shares an anecdote about how she decided to stop dieting only to realize she didn’t know how or what to eat. She writes about seeing a nutritional therapist and learning to eat in an intuitive-eating class. In it, they took small pieces of food, starting with a raisin, and learned to eat food as if they were “aliens who had just arrived on Earth and were learning what this thing called food was and why and how you would eat it.

Ever since Adam and Eve took of the fruit and ate it, our relationship with things of the Earth has been complicated to say the least. Because what God made is good, there is good in the world. The skies proclaim his glory, people reflect his worth. But with sin’s entrance came the distortion of good things.  Food is one example of this, but it is just one category among all created things has the potential to be confusing, twisted, or misused.

After the Fall of man, we have elevated created things to the place of God and misused what we have toward idolatrous ends. We are tempted to find satisfaction in people and things rather than God and to use them for our own glory.  Furthermore, with sin came an element of fearful anxiety cast over our days, the entrance of loss and risk in a world now inhabited by thorns. We make friendships, work, buy houses, and start families knowing we could lose everything we have in an instant. And even with all the good we have, in the back of our minds we are always aware of countless others who are presently suffering.

In a world East of Eden, filled with good things but also of temptation, uncertainty, and suffering, it is then a struggle to know how to handle the “good things” in life– the created things that God has declared good. Like someone learning to see a raisin in a healthy way, we often need to undo and relearn our relationship to created things.

Apart from God, we only see glimpses of the purposefulness behind the universe and all it contains. But as Christians, our relationship to created things is redefined by our knowledge of the Creator to whom, for whom, and through whom all things exist. And as we grow in the faith, God teaches us how to relate not only to trials in life, but to the good, the blessings he chooses to give.

For those who struggle with temptation, guilt, fear, or anxiety in dealing with good things from God, here are some ways to start rethinking and receiving God’s gifts.

Receive good from God as a gift. (Or, receive with thanksgiving.)

I’ve written about how when my son was born, I struggled with reconciling such enormous blessing from God with the suffering I witnessed around me. Why God, why such blessing? I wondered. And God’s answer to me was simply that he is a good God who gives good gifts (Ja. 1:17).

I cannot make sense of the good things I have because I don’t deserve any of it. But I don’t need to deserve it to receive them as gifts. I am called thus to turn to God in thanksgiving, to the Giver of every good and perfect gift. And when I meditate on the heart of the Giver, I am drawn to him not to his blessings as ultimate, but to see his grace and surrender to his wisdom.

Receive good from God as a sermon. (Or, turn to God in worship.)

God speaks through the goodness of created things. As a Creator, his nature is reflected in his works— his beauty in the skies, his abundance in supplying our physical needs, his wisdom in creating our bodies, his lovingkindness in the care of others.

Sometimes, in an effort to push back against the prosperity gospel, we neglect to see that though God speaks through suffering, he also speaks in his endless supply of good things. The sun rises and rain falls— that is a sign of his goodness to all creation, to both evil and good. The skies proclaim his handiwork, day to day pouring out speech, declaring his glory. We breathe in his air, we walk on his earth, we enjoy the company of others made by him in his image.

All the goodness in creation is a sermon meant to harken our ears to the Preacher and turn to him in worship. As one pastor said, we don’t honor the Preacher by ignoring the sermon (quoted here.) As we guard our hearts against thinking God only speaks in blessing us, we don’t need to ignore the ways he does speak to us in giving good gifts. Rather we can see his character in the things created and turn to him in worship.

Receive good from God as a postcard. (Or, long for home with hope.)

Because we live in a world where death and sin have yet to be swallowed up, our enjoyment of good is often tainted with sorrow. We are sorrowful over our inability to enjoy good gifts today with those who have passed on. We endure the uncertainty of knowing those we love aren’t guaranteed safety and longevity. We are aware that every vacation must come to an end, each peaceful stretch on life’s road will eventually come turn into a place of struggle. As another has written, the “prospect of pain threatens our pleasure.”

We live in the time in between Jesus’ resurrection and return, after the beginning of the restoration of all things, but not at home yet. And so, all of our enjoyment of created things, though real, is still a flicker. Our delight in God’s good gifts are in a sense still fleeting. The flickering and fleetingness, though meaningful and wonderful, point us to our lasting hope at the end of the road. Only at the return of Jesus will our joys never be followed with sorrow, our gains never threatened with loss.

The good gifts from God we enjoy today are “postcards from the lasting city that are meant to be handled, admired, passed around, stuck on the fridge.” They are truly good but they are still shadows of what is to come for those who believe in Christ. So we enjoy these postcards with great hope and anticipation of a place filled with only good and eternal joy.

Receive good from God as a stewardship. (Or, seek to be generous.)

Sometimes, when we consider our lack of merit in receiving good from God, we are tempted toward guilt and introspection. Who are we to receive such good? And while there is an appropriateness to feeling our unworthiness, we are not meant to stay there because all we’ve been given is not just for our own sakes, but for the sake of others.

In 2 Corinthians, Paul exhorts the church in Corinth to give generously so that their abundance may supply the needs of others. He references the Israelites gathering manna, saying “As it is written, ‘Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack’” (2 Cor. 8:1-15).

Rather than merely feeling guilty about our lives being relatively struggle-free compared to others or even fearing that the trials of others will come upon us, we are called to willingly enter into the suffering of others to bring relief. Whether this means having the time and emotional capacity to intercede for the hurting or financial means to give to someone who lacks, all we have has been allotted by God to us to use for others. We are merely stewards of the created things we have however much and for however long God chooses to entrust them to us.

My life is filled to overflowing with good. Little things like a curbside find of a like-new infant push-walker we’d mentioned would be nice to have but weren’t going to buy or opening up the fridge for a late night snack to find fried chicken wings Jeff brought back from church last night. Important things like our wedding anniversary we just celebrated, three sweet little people in our home, and a cherished church family.

And I am learning to receive all this good and more from our gracious God— in thanksgiving, worship, hope, and generosity.

“For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” (Rom. 11:36)

Motherhood & Family

Excerpt From My First Book

Written a few months ago and self-published, it’s based on true events and is semi-autobiographical. It deals with themes of patience and trust when our desires are denied or deferred, dependence on God in our obedience, repentance, loving others in our treatment of them, and turning to God in community for help in times of need.

And here it is!

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And here is the promised excerpt:

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Sorry if I psyched anyone out! But thought it’d be fun to post one of the “books” (thus far there are two) that I put together for my daughter. Technically, this is my fourth book after “Hammy the Hamster”, “My Mom A V.I.P.”, and “The World’s Greatest Dad” (approx. titles) –all written in elementary school. When I wrote this, I was trying to teach her about waiting, fussing, and obedience. I actually wrote and drew it on looseleaf as I made up and told the story to her and decided to type it up later for fun. It’s silly and simple, but she enjoys it (who doesn’t like a book when they’re the main character?) and it’s been helpful for us. I heard her the other day talking to herself and saying “I will wait!”

A few thoughts though on parenting that contributed to putting this “book” together…

I’m challenged to be intentional about the instructive side of discipline. It’s the thing I slack on most when I’m tired or distracted since it’s easier sometimes just to wait until there’s disobedience to correct it.  But discipline isn’t just about correction, but instructing and helping my children learn obedience and succeed in it.

I’m learning to know serve my daughter as a unique individual. The idea to put it together came because she loves to read and she loves Dr. Seuss’ rhymes. Sometimes it’s easy to get lost reading blogs about another parent’s ways of teaching and raising their children and then feel like I should be implementing the same systems, activities, and routines as them. It gets overwhelming after a while since I end up feeling like I should be taking all that I’m learning about the activities and decisions of multiple families and combine them into a massive schedule for my own! While it’s helpful for me to learn from others, I need to learn what it means to love my children well. (Similarly, regarding marriage, one of the most helpful things I heard when prepping for marriage was that though wives can give advice to others about how they love and respect their husbands, the best way to know how to love and respect your husband is to ask him!) As a new mom, an older mom advised me to pray to God to help me to know my daughter well. I want to know my children well– how they are uniquely wired, their strengths, their weaknesses– so I can love and teach them well. This is an expression of the Greatest Commandment and my calling to love my neighbors and not someone else’s.

I’m learning to apply what I know about my need for God’s help to obey when asking her to obey. Sometimes, it’s so easy to feel like my daughter needs to “just obey”. Like it’s only a matter of her knowing what the right thing is to do and then getting to it. But the reality is that I need help from God to obey him when it’s hard, and I need to extend that truth in teaching my daughter. So, I want to teach her that it’s okay to be sad and upset when your desires are denied, but you bring those desires for God and draw strength from him for obedience. Of course, this is easier said than done on my part, but we are learning and trusting God will answer all the prayers we are lifting that she will “obey from the heart.”

I’m enjoying being creative and using my gifts to love my family. I enjoy going to other mom friends’ homes and seeing the way that they are uniquely expressing their gifts in the service of their family. One friend was trained as an architect and made this amazing cash register out of cardboard for her boys. I saw it and it looked like one of the models I’d see at the architecture studio at USC! It was so obviously put together by an architect. I love that it’s an expression of her gifts used in service to others! If you come to my house, you’ll see a “stove” and “microwave” in the kitchen for my daughter that’s two boxes stacked on top of each other covered with a piece of paper and tin foil. In fact, I’ll attach a picture of it to this post. It probably would be classified as a “Pinterest Fail” but she uses it to “cook” with flour and water as I cook next to her. When I looked online at other cardboard kitchens for ideas, it amazed me at the skill of other parents. And that’s great, that they use the talents they have (and I obviously lack). I just need to remember that just as I am called to love my neighbor,  am called to love my neighbor– in a way that is uniquely expressed through the way God made me!

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Behold said kitchen!