Monday, August 6, 2007

Whine Connoisseurs

It’s 6:24am and I have just given my infant son his bottle, an hour ahead of schedule. I am gazing into his little round face, getting in one last snuggle and sniff before I lay him back down, when a thought passes through my drowsy brain: He never ever says thank you. Not once! No “thanks Mommy for getting up with me every hour on the hour to pop my pacifier back in my mouth since 3:30 this morning.” No “thanks for interrupting your dreams at 6 to make my favorite breakfast (6 ounces of warm Similac Isomil).” Occasionally I might get a smile or a coo, but this morning, not even that. In fact, he is fussing at me right now.

I am being a bit facetious because he is only four months old. But recently my annoyance regarding the lack of gratitude has been more authentic regarding two of my other children, who are ages 2 and 3. What irritates me no end is when we have had a wonderful, utterly child centered day. Say we have been to the mall playground and then to an “eat house” for quesadillas and Sprite, i.e., toddler nirvana. As we walk back in the door of our home, one asks for a popsicle, Mommy says no, and all Hades breaks loose. Weeping and gnashing of teeth, full on temper tantrums ensue. Then my annoyance is quite sincere. I have been Perfect Sacrificial Mommy all day long. I have orchestrated my entire day around their pleasure. And now they are throwing fits because yet more sugar was refused by me, Responsible Mommy, who has only dental health and approaching bedtime at heart? Little ingrates! has thundered through my brain on such occasions.

A thought has struck me - does God ever feel like I do? Does he look at all he has given me, all that he has arranged for my pleasure, and get irritated when I throw a tantrum because I didn’t get a popsicle too?

Well, the Old Testament is full of God getting extremely irritated at his people’s ingratitude. From the very beginning, God gave Adam and Eve every single thing in the garden but one and they just aren’t satisfied and they just have to have that popsicle of Good and Evil, and here we are all now. The main job of the Old Testament prophets was to tell the people, watch out, shape up, turn back to the Father with hearts of thanksgiving or he’s gonna blow. His righteous anger over their ingratitude led to the Babylonian captivity, for one thing, and possibly to the Flood. His displeasure at their blatant lack of gratitude is most flagrant in Exodus. God rescues the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt through a series of spell bounding miracles and as soon as they hit the desert, the whining begins on a grand scale. My children would be proud of them. The result for the Israelites? No Promised Land for you, bellyachers. Your children will enter, but you will grumble to death here in the desert.

So what does God think when he surveys the beautiful, healthy, and oh so prayed for children that surround me while I whine about how tired I am? Or when he sees me in the kitchen with my husband, the one I begged the Lord for 20 years, received by his grace, and now curse because he has shirked his trash duty again? Is he frustrated beyond belief while I sit in an air-conditioned church that the martyrs died for and gripe about the music?

Praise be to God, he is not. Because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, who laid his life down to deflect the wrath of the heavenly father, when God sees me, I think his heart dances in the same way mine does when my new son gives me a crooked smile. My sin is completely covered; my complaining has been washed by the blood of the Lamb. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). Because God truly is the perfect parent, by the grace and works of Christ I am in his eyes the perfect child! The phrase Little ingrate does not cross his mind when he sees me. He is never ever irritated at me, which is a concept that took me a long time to fully believe. Whew.

So what is the issue? When my kids act that way, beneath the aggravation lies hurt. I know that they are young with no concept of empathy, so the hurt is currently small – but as they grow, it will grow as well. The feeling of ingratitude, of being unappreciated and possibly unloved despite our best efforts cuts our souls. Is this a reflection of God’s heart? Do I hurt him, do I grieve the Holy Spirit by my whining? Sadly, perhaps.

When I complain about an earthly situation, I am exhibiting an utter lack of appreciation of God’s providence. I have written in my bible from the first time that I studied Exodus, “Grumbling is a sin.” When I grumble I am not complaining against the situation per se. I am audaciously complaining against the one who orchestrated the situation. Moses and Aaron told the Hebrews, “You are not grumbling against us, but against the Lord.” Exodus 16:8. Apply that to my gripes and –the Ouch of conviction. I do not want to miss out on joy in the Lord, my own promised land, because I am too blinded by the imperfections of my situation to seek the beauty of his sovereignty.

I am reminded of when Job questioned the Lord (rather meekly, in my opinion) and got a downright sarcastic response from God, who essentially said, ok Job, aren’t you so smart, being that you created and control the world and all, tell me how you did it and then we'll talk. God is obviously very insulted. And poor Job actually had some very serious complaints. He had lost everything. Even still, God would have none of it.

At this point in my life, I can truly say that I have nothing to complain about. We are currently in a season of blessings. I have nothing on Job, nothing. But boy oh boy, can I whine when I think I deserve more popsicle!! How pathetic of me to insult the Lord, whose amazing sacrifice for me far overshadows my small maternal sacrifices, just because I didn't get my own way. Like....a two year old.

My prayer is that my response will be like Job’s in verse 40:4:

“I am unworthy – how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth.”

I'll start with my mouth, and try and work my way down to my heart.

Wish me luck.

Sunday, December 31, 2006

Great Expectations

I have been thinking a lot about Mary lately, being that it is Christmas and all. Actually since I first became pregnant four years ago with my son Shepherd, Mary has been constantly on my mind.

On Christmas Eve at our church the pastor spoke on expectations of Christmas, and how our expectations often do not match with our reality. Which made me think a lot of what Mary would have been expecting when she went to Bethlehem? Consider this…the girl had had angels come to tell her she was pregnant. Now that is a long way from how the rest of us find out, by peeing on a stick.


She knew she was chosen. Being that she was Mary and not Missy, she did not get arrogant about it, nor proud – she remained humble, as we see in her Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55). The Gospels do not tell us what her pregnancy was like (a sure sign that they were written by men. Imagine if God had chosen a woman to write a Gospel – how many chapters would have outlined her morning sickness and labor?). I assume Mary threw up like the rest of us and woke up every hour to tee tee and had backaches and embarrassing gas moments.

Catholic tradition teaches that Mary did not suffer in childbirth – but I don’t even like that idea (nor can I reckon it theologically). The thought of Mary having sciatica makes me love her so much more. Anyway, she knows she is carrying the Savior of the world in her womb. She knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that the baby who has been kicking her all night long for months now is going to bring peace to all mankind. She knows this. That angel had told her. And being that she was human, I would imagine she had some...expectations.

As her contractions increased and she walked the long road to Bethlehem feeling, as we all do at 9 months gestation, like a big fat cow, I doubt Mary was expecting a gilded room at the palace (I am sure the thought would have crossed my mind, but as I mentioned previously, I am no Mary). However, I'd bet that Mary was expecting God to provide her with at the very least, a room - a private, warm, reasonably clean room to deliver this precious child. Such a small request! She had earned at least as much – suffering through the societal stigma of an unplanned pregnancy, and almost losing Joseph – surely God would make it up to her in childbirth. **

The one thing that I doubt Mary expected God to provide was a stable. I have had three (and counting) babies myself; I just cannot imagine giving birth in a barn. Non-Mary I, in the third stage of labor, would have had some tacky things to say about this particular arrangement. What must have gone through her and Joseph’s minds? The Messiah, the Prince of Peace, the Mighty One, is coming into the world in a barn? Surrounded by animals and manure? Imagine how protective we are of our brand new babies – and imagine lying one to rest in a manger that cows eat out of?? Hardly sterile.

Do you think they wondered if they had gotten the message wrong? Did they ask if this was some holy joke? While she was pushing our pure and stainless Lord into the world onto hay and dirt, did Mary keep waiting for someone to rescue her? Mary had been obedient, she had prayed unceasingly, she was the ultimate woman of God, yet in her time of great need, doors were repeatedly slammed in her face, literally. I think she must have been very confused in that stable.

I know so many people who are in a stable right now. Many of my dear friends are amazing women of God. The pray, they fast, they are so obedient. Some of them even do their quiet time, every single day. They are much, much godlier than I am. They are doing everything “right”. Yet we have cried together over this last year. Things are not going the way they planned. Several are mourning the inability to conceive and grieving lost babies. One has been stricken with a mysterious debilitating illness. Some are in unhappy marriages or going through divorce. And my heart is especially burdened for a few girlfriends who are in their 30s, strongly desiring marriage and children, but God has yet to call them to this. This life is not going the way it was supposed to go; it's not what they signed up for. It’s not what they thought they had been promised. This life right now is definitely not what they expected. And they, perhaps like Mary was, are so confused.

We have the blessing of hindsight to know that the stable was representative of a very different kind of messiah. A humble messiah, with a message of peace, not the military hero the Jews were expecting (there is that word again.) A messiah who hung out not with kings but with the dregs of society, beginning with the shepherds who were his first visitors. “Not the righteous; sinners Jesus came to call.” By ordaining such a humble birthplace, God sent a message from the very beginning that this baby was going to rock everyone’s expectations, and shake their world view, and cause them to question everything they thought they knew. God does nothing haphazardly. There was a purpose in the stable. There was something bigger going on than Mary or Joseph – chosen ones, righteous, yet mere humans - could see or grasp.

I submit that there are purposes for our stables as well. Usually we cannot see the reason for the stable when we are in it. Sometimes, God clues us in later, and when it happens that is a real treat. But we don’t always get the blessing of knowledge. In fact frequently God in his infinite wisdom does not clue us in. I don’t know why the desires of my sweet friends’ hearts are not being met. I don’t know why Christian marriages fail, I don’t know why babies die, and I don’t know why my dear friends can’t get pregnant. I don’t expect to find out this side of paradise, and there is no biblical promise that it will be revealed to me in Heaven. I only know this – that God is sovereign and God is good.

There have been times in my life when “God is sovereign” has been a mantra I screamed repeatedly inside my brain. And there have been times when I just got depressed and wondered when I was ever going to get out of this dumb stable. But (praise him) our responses and our feelings and our confusion regarding these stables do not change the fact that God is sovereign, and God is good. And that he is up to more than we can see, that his grand design is greater than our greatest expectation, however noble it may be – which means, without a doubt, there is a purpose for the stable. God is intimately, unceasingly, invasively, personally involved in every aspect of our lives. At some point, on earth or in Heaven, we will praise him for the stable, because he loves you and me just as much as he loved Mary – now, take a moment and grasp that – and He has as much reason and purpose for putting us in our particular stable as he did Mary and baby Jesus - as dirty, uncomfortable, and unexpected as the stable may be. And this should give us hope – And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. (Romans 5:5)

** A noted biblical archaeologist whom I greatly admire, Jim Fleming, believes that Mary would have had other women in her family around her – they would have all been in Bethlehem as well, so of course they would have attended her birth. When I first heard that Mary did not deliver Jesus with only Joseph for company (whom, remember, Matthew 1:25 says she had had no sexual relations with as yet – and childbirth is a great get-to-know-you party) that brought me immense comfort.