Wednesday, October 3, 2012

of concrete and kingdom

I waivered between the $2.00 plain jane strawberries and their $3.00 more holy organic cousins; what is a dollar worth to me? What is the weight of pesticides and pennies? This must be why grocery shopping takes me the better part of three hours and I return home to a husband in disbelief it requires an entire evening to bring home our daily bread. My sniffing of strawberries and calculating of risk and benefits were interrupted by Judah,
"Mama, when's God gonna get out of our bellies?"
Truthfully, I ignored the question at first. The strawberries smelled sweet; they'd be great in Belle's lunch. Which to chose, which to chose.
He persisted, "MAMA! When is God going to get out of our bellies? He's in peoples' hearts. When is he going to get out of our bellies?!"

I'm pretty sure he's confused and has mixed his preschool systematic theology with his recent experiences of an invisible baby grown to maturity and exiting out of his 'mama's belly'.

We walk on toward the check out and I try to explain how God lives within us but he's in heaven and yet near anytime we call on him...and yes, in our hearts too. Everywhere.

I load produce and nuts and discounted meat atop the conveyer. Judah grabs a cooking magazine and sits in the middle of the aisle, leafing through recipes, licking his lips.

He asks for a penny to ride the pony, and by golly I found a lucky one just for him. I tell him we'll go together, soon as I pay, but he's my instant gratification child, the one who'd eat the marshmallow now despite being promised two later if only he'd wait (have you heard of that study?). He danced and waited an eternity of ten seconds before running full speed, mounting "Butterscotch LaLu" without my help (just a few months ago he was timid of this creature), inserting penny, and pressing go. I scribbled my signature without even looking, eagle eyes across the store on my boy, all guns and glory atop that pony.

We find our car and mean to find our way home, and in the madness of loading babies and bags of groceries, I left Judah unharnessed. Judah proudly announces he loves riding like this, no straps and free. We cross an eight lane highway and I dart instructions to strap himself in, right this minute. He explains how much he likes his riding without 'stwaps', and I return with threats of car crashes and him flying out of the vehicle if he's not strapped down to it.
He ponders for a moment and sweet as pumpkin pie reassures me, "Its okay mommy. I can't fly out of the car because I don't have any wings."

All of these conversations and I marvel at how abstract we speak and how concrete we live. My child calls me out on it. And I wonder more on how we approach this unseen kingdom through metaphors and ideas and there in Matthew Jesus' words of changing and becoming like a child, humble and trusting, if ever we are to enter the kingdom of heaven.

I feel like I'm close to something, some revelation for today. Today as I've already cried, just a little bit, over feeling frustrated with this walking by faith, but knowing there is no other way but the narrow path for us, because of the One leading us on it. Some days the woman in me just longs for a little concrete to sink my feet into, anchor down tight my world which feels so floaty up in the air. My frustration isn't in the path itself, but in this feeling of lack of control, as we prepare to pack up our lives and seek first the kingdom, resolving to take Jesus at his word that our Father knows we need food and clothing and shelter, why worry over these things. We seek first the kingdom, both in the abstract and in the concrete, and He supplies all these things. These concrete things. Some days it just seems easier to have a sign-on-the-dotted-line kind of job that will pack you up and pay for your move (or two if you're us) and benefits to boot. But I am reminded that Jesus and his disciples never really pursued an easy life. They did however, pursue an obedient one, a purpose-filled one, a life with clay feet firmly planted on earth but spirit eyes ever seeing the prize.

Because one very real day, God the Father, the Great I Am, will be out of our hearts and before our very eyes. Face to face. We will know him no longer in the abstract, but the concrete.

My three year old understands this, and oh how often I miss it. I pray for more faith, childlike and humble, help in my unbelief, and I repent of my loyalties toward my old masters of comfort and security. I want to live a life worthy of his name, want to live the faith of which I so easily speak.

I place the three dollar organic strawberries in the crisper, and a peace settles down over my heart. Jesus, the fullness of God, who made the abstract so concrete for us, leads.
And for today, he fills me with strength and faith and courage to press on.


j said...

I read your post last night and was waiting to respond until I had a bit more time on my hands. Immediately, a few thoughts came to my mind. And then later last night I received a fb message from someone who was explaining her situation to me...a situation in which her plans for her life were derailed and the original sought after goal was given up on and replaced by something else in which God was beginning to bring beauty. I told her that often times it's more about the journey than the end result.

I was speaking from experience because most recently, I had prepared for something in which the end result didn't look like what I had expected or intended. But as quickly as disappointment and doubt flashed through my senses, I heard God whisper just this to my spirit: "Sometimes I'm more interested in the journey than I am in the end result." And peace settled. And stayed.

When I woke up early this morning for some quiet time with the Lord, I began reading part of a book on Christian Caregiving. Would you believe that the theme of this chapter was about being process oriented vs. result oriented? I don't believe this as coincidence. And while it spoke to me, I see how this speaks to so many as well.

We live in a result-driven society. We want the concrete. There is a feeling of comfort and security in the concrete, in the known. It's our nature. But often times this focus leads to disappointment, fear, and feelings of doubt and failure, in which we miss all of the traces of "God" in between. But God is reminding us that the results belong to Him...He just chooses to let us share in them.

For too many years I have prayed for a certain "thorn in my side" to be removed. I keep praying for that end result. For that concrete answer to prayer. And even in this, I hear God steering my attention back to the journey...the process, rather than the end result. Even as recent as last week, I found myself in tears over this darn thorn. Feeling despair over it. Hopelessness. A drowning in it. God directed my thoughts back to James... in the man who doubts being like a wave of the sea blown and tossed by the wind. That he should not to expect to receive ANYthing from the Lord. And I knew God was telling me to quit doubting. He led me back to Jeremiah where He has reassured me on several occasions since this journey in the unknown began. And each time He brings me back there, He speaks afresh, anew. This time, He showed me Chapter 30:17 "But I will restore you to health, and heal your wounds,’
declares the Lord." To me it was confirmation that He is far more concerned about our hearts (about the journey, the healing, the growing, the trusting) than He is about our circumstances (or the end result, the concrete). And that it starts there. The end result will eventually come. But, He begins within. It gave me hope, and resolve in that patient endurance.

In my reading this morning, the book elaborated on those concrete end results and the author writes:

"Don't stalk them; let God send them to you. Desire them, but don't lust over them. Expect results, but don't concentrate on them. Celebrate them, but don't cerebrate them. Be glad when they come, but don't spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to make them come. Count on the certainty that the Lord's sense of timing and purpose is better than yours."

j said...

(haha! it made me cut this response in half bc the original was too long to post as one comment!) Here's part 2 (continued):

I found breathing room in these simple truths. Walking into the unknown makes us yearn for concrete all the more. It requires exercising trust and dependence on Him for absolutely everything in our day-to-day.

It's OK to pray for Him to answer prayers and to remove the thorn. The concrete may be a stable job, a permanent home, financial stability, food on the table, or complete healing. These things are worthy of requesting. But getting caught up in them, in the concrete, in the end result, can steal our joy and our ability to rest in Him, in the now.

As I look into our journey into the unknown (which started over 2 years ago)...I see all of the ways God has been faithful to us. Our great provider. Sometimes it came in ways that humble. Sometimes it came in ways that surprise. But always it came in ways that strengthened my faith and belief in His faithfulness. To truly believe Him. While the journey into the unknown, apart from the conventional "American way of life," can grip one with fear, it will be a lived out demonstration of His power made perfect in your weakness. Faith being stretched like a woman's body giving birth. Painful at times. At times feeling like too much to bear. But through the pushing and pressing on, what will be born out of it will be new, beautiful, and life-giving.

Perhaps, this speaks nothing to you. And the angle I'm coming from doesn't resonate. But I understand your desire for concrete. I understand the "giving up the day job and ditching the benefits" to follow God's lead. That lead is different for everyone, and our circumstances vary. Each one has a distinctive path of its own. But, I'm excited for your new journey. I'm thrilled and eagerly wait in anticipation to see the ways God will work in and through your family. You are going to get a front row seat to His providence and sovereignty. And I'm certain, in the end, you'll give Him a standing "O."

Much love to you my friend. Praying courage, peace, and childlike faith for you in these months to come.