Monday, April 23, 2012

The Great Gain

The wind sucked and swished my hair around like a vacuum first then a twister.  "35 miles per hour winds, Sarah," my neighbor admonished.  "Should we cover our plants?  The temperature's gonna drop."  It did drop.  And soccer practice went long on the one night when the temperature plummeted, and the wind raged her fury.  I was cold.  We walked--my son, his friend and I--to keep warm.  Nate shared his too-small-for-me black fuzzy gloves, and I gladly accepted the woolen warmth of his giving heart.

Still chilled in our bones with the kind of cold that doesn't give you goose bumps, but leaves  you stiff, corpsish even, we elbowed our way through the entrance to our home.  Our 70 degree home.  The temperature was set.  I had keyed in 70 degrees earlier in the day thinking what was the use in freezing to death when I didn't have to.  I have that choice.

I thought of pouring a steaming bubble bath and using some of my 9 year old green-tea bath salts my sister gave me after Cort was born.  I hoard them for special moments because they smell like spring and heaven and grass and rivers, and I want to have them for as long as I live.  We keep our thermostat for hot water set HOT.  I like hot water.  Tepid water doesn't clean, doesn't warm, doesn't refresh.  I have that choice.

Taking the red kettle mom gave me for my birthday, I filled it with a steady stream of water from our tap.  I turned the storm-grey knob on our gas stove and watched as flames licked the belly of the kettle.  A mug of clear, hot water blanketed me from the inside out.  I had that choice.

Dinner hour had long since slipped away.  Suppertime too had slipped beyond the grasp of our busy Monday schedule.  We were all hungry.  We'd agreed ahead of time on the menu for the week.  All of us had said we were in, but when the moment came . . . we may have regretted our zeal.  Beans and rice.  One small scoop of each at supper.  For the week.  It's true, chicken, sausage, beef roast, ground chuck, fish, hot dogs, pork chops, bacon, and a myriad of other choices clogged my cavernous freezer.  We had that choice.

I told the boys to chew slowly.  Don't rush, there are no seconds tonight.  And I looked in my eldest's eyes.  Disappointment.  He knew he wouldn't be full.  I knew he wouldn't be full.  You don't have to do this; you know I know your heart.  I don't expect this from you.  He wanted to.  But his face showed what his lips refused to speak:  shock at the reality of hunger.  The first night in his life he will have gone to bed hungry.  He had that choice.

But not everyone does.  Have that choice.  Have a home with temperature set just so.  Have clean water to drink much less pour lavishly into an antique claw-foot tub.  Even have beans.  Even have rice.  Not everyone has that choice.
My first month of SEVEN is winding down.  I've chosen to focus this month on food in an attempt to wrap my senses around world hunger, around the reality that 18,000 people die every day just from hunger, and that's not including those who die from lack of clean drinking water.  Some will call me crazy, and I'm okay with that.  What I can't seem to be okay with, though, is the reality that while I've cushioned my backside with a pantry three feet deep and then gone out and bought bigger pants to contain my greed, children were dying every five seconds.  I needed a radical realignment.  This month has been a good beginning.  A good beginning.

Not having my usual comfortable foods has forced me to remember the faces of children I've never met--children who have never had a single comfort.  It's caused me to think of the anguish that must swallow their mothers' and fathers' hearts in single gulps when they look into hungry, pained eyes and can do nothing to help them.  I want to be a part of their hope.

"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in . . .I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.' "  Matthew 25:3,40

Did it for Him.  The nameless children of hundreds of destitute regions are not just someones children.  They're God's creation, His masterpieces.  He formed them in their mother's wombs, knows the number of hairs on their sweet heads, and you know what?  Forget the number of hairs on their heads.  He numbers the ones that flitter and flutter to the ground as their scalps bald from malnourishment.  They're His babies, and he planned for them to be a part of this wonderful world He worded into existence.  When I withhold, hoard, keep for myself, I keep from Him.  And when I open palms and purse, release plans and purpose, I do it unto Him.  And wasn't it He who specifically said, "Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God."  (II Corinthians 10:31)  All of it. For His glory?
And while Marie Antoinette cries out, "Let them have cake . . ."  am I just the same as she?  A Christian bellowing in holy tones, "Let them have Jesus."  Let me not insist all they need is Jesus and ignore their bellies bulging with starvation and mud cookies made with oil and water. Jesus himself did not ignore the physical needs of the people He loved.  What of manna, and fish and loaves multiplied?  He made us physical beings.  Dare I ignore His sacred creation's needs under the shiny-cellophane packaging of "purely sharing the gospel and leaving their physical needs to some other organization?"  We are that organization.  We.  The Church.  Me.  I'm broken, undone by that reality.  I'm just one person; we're just one small family.  Could we actually make any difference?  A dent in all this suffering?
In the early moments of day's breaking, before school lessons and ringing phones, emails and music lessons,  I read from I Timothy 6.  "But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. "
If we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. With just that? 
Are you, Sarah?
Am I, God?

Because godliness with contentment is great gain, and the Greek meaning of this word gain is the best thing you can procure for yourself.  It must be important. 

I hear of people's investments yielding great gains, but what if we have missed it?  What if while we build our fortunes and pad our retirement funds we have missed The Great Gain?  Is it possible in our haste to be financially responsible citizens, in our hurry to build comfortable, seeker friendly churches with pleasing, paved parking lots, in our fervor to give our children every opportunity, we have somehow missed our purpose?  What if our comfort costs someone else's life? 

What if The Great Gain is discovering the sufficient nature of a God who promised to supply all our NEEDS according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus, and realizing He Is Enough?

And if the best thing I can get in this life is godliness with contentment, then this, THIS is The Great Gain:  That we cease to search for the next best high and realize The High lives within us.  We have all we need pertaining to life, to godliness.  We have HIM.  In HIM is life.  In HIM is satisfaction.  In HIM is contentment.  "And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work." (II Corinthians 9:8)

And when we gain this contentment it is for a purpose--so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.  We are not blessed to spend on ourselves but to abound in every good work.  Every.  In all things.  At all times.
I can't help but think about Timothy's words again.  Content with food and clothing.  Is that how you define Paul's words, having all that you need?

Just food?  Just clothing?
Which food? Rice and beans?  Every day?  Surely not.  We've been given all things to enjoy.  Haven't we?  Where is the cap?  Where do we stop?  When do we say we have given enough?  Can we really ever say, "This much is for you God, and no more.  The rest is for me."?  Can we?  Do we all go out and buy 1990's-hunter-green-water-proof-Ozark-Trail tents from Walmart, sell our homes and find a field to squat in, giving the rest to Haiti or Africa?  Is this what we do? 

These are the questions that wash ashore in my mind like waves on the Atlantic coastline.  They've repeated themselves a thousand times a day this month, and I don't yet have answers.  This I know, Jesus said the path is narrow and few will choose it.  Speaking of sacrifice doesn't sit well with me.  I'd like to cut a check for ten percent and call it a day.  The rest I can find plenty of good uses for.  I've got a bucket list, plans for a fifteenth wedding anniversary romantic getaway.  And could I say, if I dared, that perhaps we who call ourselves Christians have created some form of Jesus-following that doesn't really follow Him at all?  Are we not really just white-washed, sweet-speaking selfish hearts?  Some of us?  Me?  (I don't dare say it.  Sorry I  mentioned it.)
Too though, I know this.  Jesus came to freely give us that thing we lost in Eden--that abundant life.  That walking in the garden with God in the cool of the evenings.  That unlimited access to all the splendor of His creation without fear, without sickness, without pain.  In Him we get that abundance.  I haven't suffered this month.  Not once.  Giving up coffee had to be like losing my right arm--maybe even both arms.  And sugar?  On dear Lord, please restore to my the joy of my sugar . . . I mean salvation. (Ps. 51.  It's in there.)  What I have seen is that I miss the abundance of God because I'm too busy feeding myself.  And not just with food do I fill.  It's television, computer, people, activities, events, projects, things . . . oh dear things.  So many possessions.  And this filling creates a numbness.  I don't feel my great need of God, nor do I feel my great blessings of God.  I miss The Abundance.  The Great Gain. 
It is a beautiful journey--this walking with God--and I'm too distracted by the choices I have to notice it.
Tonight at bedtime, my eldest prayed, "Lord, thank you that we can feel what it is like for the starving children.  Please help the ones in Haiti and Africa . . ."  Thank you for hunger?  Yes, I too am thankful.  Somehow the hunger awakens my sleeping senses to the heart of God.  I'm still searching for answers.  We're ambling, embarking, seeking, learning, and stumbling through.  But for now, at least we are glimpsing some of The Great Gain.

Pray with me:  Jesus, you are life.  YOU are life.  Teach me to seek fullness in YOU.  Align me to your heart.  I'm sorry I miss the way when it is YOU who IS the way.  Help me to see YOU are the GAIN.  Help me to hunger not for more stuff, more food, more places to go, more mountains to conquer, but for the person of YOU.  Fill me.  Amen.


lewie lew said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
aislinn said...

sorry, that was me above, logged into my little boy's blog!
what a beautiful post... i struggle with this a lot too, but never seem to know what to do about it.
thank you for sharing your heart <3

Kelli said...

So glad to be on this journey with you. Love you!

Sarah said...

Thanks for sharing Aislinn--we're on a journey to discover what it is we should do also. Desiring to be a doer of the word and not a hearer only, and seeking to line ourselves up with God's heart and purposes--even when I think we're aligned, I discover we're out of whack! Welcome to my blog :-) Kelli, me too! love you.

Our Mission said...

What an amazing journey! Your family is blessed as together you seek for "deeper"!