Friday, November 16, 2012

Opening Hands, Open Hearts

I remember a story that Bob Pitman, our pastor from our seminary days, would tell about his grandmother. Whenever there was a new baby in the family, Bob's grandmother would grab the baby's tightly closed fists and gently unfurl them. She did this in hopes that the baby would grow up with open hands towards God and others.

I loved this idea, not because unfurling little fists guarantees a life of generosity, but because of the sentiment. We want to be training our little ones in being open and generous right from the get go.

I don't think I am being unkind when I say my children can be selfish and greedy. They come by it quite naturally, because they have parents who can be selfish and greedy. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree, as they say.

I can recall being in the lunchroom at Byron Elementary School as a third grader and being surprised at my best friend's willingness to share the best parts of her lunch. I had my own lunch, of course, and if there was going to be any sharing, it would be something that I didn't really want like a celery stick.

My best friend, Lisa Smith, had a much bigger and open heart than I did. That was probably one of the first times God showed me that I had a struggle with greed. I didn't think, "Oh wow, I have a struggle with greed." But I did think, "Wow, Lisa, is so willing to share. I'm not so willing. I would like to learn to share like Lisa does."

That is a God message. It is not a natural thought, but a stirring of a desire for something beautiful, something that outlasts the moment. The beauty of Lisa's generosity lay in her willingness to share the best.

Since the end of October, I have been trying to teach lessons on sharing to my little Levi. He is four years old now, and his Halloween candy has been like a miser's secret stash. We had to count it all, at least twice. I was even his scribe as he asked me to write down each kind of candy and how many he had of each. And about once a day, he proclaims something such as, "Look, at all this candy I have!"

But he has shown no desire to share even one piece of it with me, his dad, his sister, or his brother.

And here another message comes from God into my thoughts: "You've gotta teach this child to let go of stuff. This will rule his life if you don't show him a better way."

Now, I could have just taken all his candy, given it out to the family, and told him he had to share and that was how it was done. But since I am a big believer in true generosity and not redistribution of wealth, I wanted him to get the bigger picture. (I know I have crazy ideas about what children can understand and even desire, but I believe God can speak to their hearts.) And it wasn't even my idea as much as it was a God moment and it happened something like this.

Levi was admiring his candy, when he held out to me a package of Whoppers. I reached out to take them, but he pulled them back. I said, "That was not very nice. I thought you were going to share your candy with me, but you snatched it away." Levi suddenly got very sad looking and tearfully said, "I love you so much Mommy, but I don't have anything to share with you except my candy. And I don't want to give any of my candy away. I wish I had something else so that I could share with you."

Isn't that just how our hearts think? "Oh God, if I had a million dollars, I would do this and that. But I don't have anything to share with You now except this little bit over here and I need to keep it." Or if we have some leftover junk we don't use and we give it away, then we pat ourselves on the back for our generosity. That's not generosity. That's cleaning out the garage. We need to know the difference.

I knew because of the emotions from Levi that God had given me a teaching moment. As much as my first desire was to say, "Oh, it's okay, you don't need to share. I'm good without your candy," I saw bigger things involved.

"Levi," I said, "sharing the things that you love is real sharing. If it's stuff that you don't really want, then it's easy to give it to someone else. But God is pleased when we choose to give away what is important to us. Your candy is important to you, but God wants you to learn to share with others."

"I want to teach you a way to help you share," I added. "I want you to imagine giving a piece of your candy to me and how happy I would be because you shared. I want you to think about how I would smile and say thank you. And I want you to imagine how happy you would be because you shared."

Levi stopped crying and slowly a smile started to come to his face. He looked over all his candy and picked out the Whoppers again. He offered it to me. I smiled and said, "Thank you! I love Whoppers! That is so kind of you to share your candy with me!"

Levi said, "I do feel happy about sharing with you! And God is happy I shared too!"  

It was a touching moment, but we have more lessons to come. The hoard is still there. That's how it is life. "Oh, I learned that sharing stuff way back when!" And then we live in a way that shows we forgot the lesson.

Life is the lesson. True learning is repeating an action until it becomes a part of who you are. And I know that as I watch this child struggle with his candy, that I have many of the same struggles with the good things God has given me. I can easily move from thankfulness to Him to clutching the things from Him, as if the things and not God were my Provider.

I was taught to share many years ago, but generosity still needs to become part of who I am, not just an occasional thing I do.

"Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver." 
2 Corinthians 9:6-7

Monday, November 5, 2012

No Mind Has Conceived

There was a time when I was a spiritual island. My deepest hurts and struggles were kept only between me and God. Sometimes I prayed them. Sometimes I journaled them. But I never, ever shared them with other believers. The problems seemed too dark and dangerous to put out there. I feared the rejection and shame that would fall upon me as I fessed up to being less than a spiritual rock.

I am a verbal/external processor, which means I like to talk things through with other people as sounding boards. Just saying the words, just finding the verbal expression can solve much of the problem for me. Having others that I trust who can speak into what I am going through is a giant help. When I am alone with my problems, I feel very alone with my problems!

And so I was alone with my problems. Because even my tendency to verbalize and my desire to share my heart was overruled by fear. I gave vague references to my closest friends, but mostly I covered it all and prayed it would all go away or Jesus would come sooner.

God has a special way of dealing with those fears. It's called pain. And it moves us to get out of the nest of hiding and into the branches of sharing the song of faith. It's not easy and it doesn't come naturally, but supernaturally. Pain is the gift we don't want, that accomplishes all that we pray for.

Supernaturally, God placed me in a safe place called City of Refuge. It was here that I sat in a circle of women as they poured out their pain, shortcomings, and grief. It didn't take long for this spiritually dry rock to crack under the gentle, continual pressure of the water of authenticity and acceptance. I wasn't going to be avoided for admitting the depth of my despair. I wasn't alone in the hiding and the fear. I didn't have to make God look good; He is good. I was safe. I could be real. I began in the smallest of ways to open up to this sunshine that was falling. The tightly closed bud began to blossom.

Ironically, it is in weakness that I found strength. Admitting fears and failures allowed God's power to be made perfect in my weakness. God tells us this in His Word, but I can't claim to understand. It is a mystery, but it is truth. Somehow and someway God uses our weaknesses, struggles, shortcomings and failures to declare His power and to draw others to Himself.

I still don't get it logically, but I can grasp it by faith. I have seen it in action. I have watched women open their hearts and be authentic and real. And I have been drawn to the beauty of  admitted weakness, vulnerability, and limited ability. I have been changed by this world of honest relationships, where pain and beauty collide.

If only we women could get this. If only we could let go of superwoman, mom-enough, and all those savior identities we try to take on. If only we could learn to say, "I am not enough. I need others. Would you walk this journey with me?" If we could learn to say that, our lives would change in ways we cannot even imagine. It's one of those, "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him" promises from 1 Corinthians 2:9.

And since our Father has prepared this for us, let's rest, let's be real, and let's walk in the grace of relationship with one another.