Sunday, April 6, 2014
When I was young, my family didn't have a whole lot. You might say that we were poor. Dad was employed full-time and Mom stayed at home and homeschooled four young children who were very close in age. They sacrificed, scrimped, and scraped by to make it work.
Mom sewed our matching Easter outfits, we made homemade Halloween costumes, we almost never ate out. I remember being in fourth grade or thereabout and when I saw a Pepsi in my friend's fridge I asked her what it was "for". She was confused by my question because the Pepsi was there to be consumed but my mind had such a hard time grasping what soda was doing in the fridge if they weren't having an event or friends over or some kind of special occasion to justify the treat of soda in the house.
When my parents made the decision to enroll us in public school so that Mom could go back to school, we all got new backpacks (I think from Sam's Club). We each got the same style in a different color. Mine was purple. They had drawstring tops with faux leather flaps that clipped down over the drawstring. I used that backpack every year from fifth grade until the middle of high school. Every year I begged my parents for a new backpack, I wanted a Jansport like my friends. But every year my parents asked me, "Do you NEED a new backpack?" and I could never say, "yes." My backpack worked just fine, I WANTED a new backpack. So one year I set aside a portion of my back-to-school-clothing-and-supplies-money to buy a new backpack for myself. Ten years later and I still use the backpack I bought that year.
During Bible studies sometimes we come across verses that talk about how "God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus," (Phil. 4:19) and each time my mind pipes up with a reminder about the differences between "wants" and "needs." And I think to myself, "This is no promise for cable, smart phones, new designer clothing, and the best food, this is a promise for needs." And for me needs have always been a short list: clothing for work, food, shelter, transportation, etc. Basic survival needs.
But here's the flaw in that line of thinking: we all die. All of us. Even the people that Jesus raised from the dead, they died again. So verses that promise that God will meet all of our "needs" can't be saying that He will always meet all of our individual survival needs. It just doesn't add up. I've come up with two possible explanations for how these verses can be explained in ways that I think more closely represent the whole of Scripture (bear in mind that I'm not in Seminary and I have no formal training, these are just some thoughts that ring true with me and some other people whom I would describe as being very wise and in-step with the Spirit).
The first explanation is that many passages which talk about how God will meet all "your needs" are passages in which the author is addressing a community of believers, not an individual. As a community, we are comforted in the midst of the grief we experience when a member of one of our families dies. As a community, the presence of The Lord transforms us in the midst of suffering and death. And a remnant will persevere. There will always be at least a small group of believers who are spared in the midst of a catastrophe. So in a sense, if these passages are speaking to a community of believers, then the "needs" which God supplies might in fact be related to physical survival... of the community in the form of a small remnant. Members of the community may die, but there will be members left to carry on the work of the Gospel.
The second explanation is meant for the individual. The Lord spoke to Paul and he recorded it in 2 Corinthians 12:9, "But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.'" My list of "needs" is already pretty short--food, clothes, shelter-- but maybe it needs to be even shorter--His grace. If His grace is the sum of my needs then I can trust him in the midst of the worst trials and suffering I've ever experienced. I can take the posture of accepting whatever He chooses to give me instead of clutching onto the things that mean the most to me --especially my husband and my kids.
There are so many different ways that The Lord can speak to us. It's usually not an audible voice. A few months ago I went to a Women's Conference at my church and one of the songs we sang had a line that repeated, "Your Grace is Enough," (it might have been the Chris Tomlin song but I don't remember exactly) and I couldn't sing it. I try to think about the lyrics of songs when I'm singing them, especially in church, and if I can't sing the lyrics honestly, I refrain (haha, no pun intended). I most commonly remain silent during songs that are about healing and especially if the worship leader has set the song up to be one about physical healing--for reasons that can mostly be explained by this post. But during that song, in the midst of this conference, I felt The Lord prodding me and in my heart the question burned, "Is His grace enough for me? Will I be satisfied with His grace alone? Even if every member of my family dies. Even if I fail as a mother. Even if we have another miscarriage. Even if. Even if. Even if. Is His grace enough?"
You guys, I started writing this post three weeks ago. Nathan had taken the boys to church but he had to come home without even unloading the kids because James was having such a hard time and he knew that it'd only get worse for James in Sunday School. Nathan and I had a fight that morning (which we resolved that afternoon). The next day Liam was unexpectedly diagnosed with autism and we began to question whether trying for a third baby again would be unwise. The following day was our due date for the second miscarriage we had last year. And since then I have felt so weighed down. I have felt incompetent, incapable and unworthy. I am a hot mess, I can't keep up with house-cleaning, bill-paying or budgeting. I am constantly second-guessing myself and I am desperate to make all the right decisions. I am terrified to say yes to Jesus, that His grace is enough. Because to say "yes" is to give up control. And I know that even though this is the scariest question I've ever wrestled with, saying yes is the only way to be free from fear. It is the only way to know that I won't be crushed under the weight of loss.
Jesus said, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matt. 11:28-20) A few chapters later he says it a different way, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." (Matt. 16:24) I think it might be the same message to two different groups of people who needed to hear it differently--the first to those who know they don't have it together and are hurting and the second to those who think they have everything sorted on on their own (younger brother vs. older brother from the Prodigal Son story). Either way, we have to say, "Yes, I will stop clutching my illusion of control (setting down my burdens/denying myself) and I will trust Him and obey Him because His grace is enough for me (taking on His yoke/taking up the cross).
I feel like I am right on the cusp of saying "yes". Of course I've said yes in the past, but since then my faith has become a house of cards, dependent on the Eleventh Hour Miracle. The suffering of this past year has blown my house-of-cards-faith over and I'm re-building the foundation. In Luke 9:23 Jesus words are recorded as, "Take up his cross daily," which gives me hope. I'm supposed to say yes every day, but I've already told you that I'm a hot mess. Sometimes I don't wake up with a smile on my face ready to release control of the things that matter most to me in the world. Maybe for a little while I'll say yes two out of every seven days and more and more the muscles of release will loosen up, they'll stretch and strengthen until I can say yes 29 out of every 30 days.
Maybe the more I say yes, the more I can keep saying yes. Every day, His grace is enough.
Today I will say, yes. His grace IS enough.