Our economy is bad. I’m not sure if you’ve noticed:). We know lots of people our age that have lost their jobs and are having trouble finding work, or are “under-employed.” Others have started their own business or ministry and are having a hard time making ends meet with what money they can make from that. Our family is included in these ranks. It’s been almost 10 months since my husband lost his job. Eventually severance packages come to an end (ours did), then there’s unemployment–if you qualify, which we didn’t. That comes to an end as well. But there’s the scrimping and saving and wondering. It’s easier to say “God is our provider” when the provision comes through a steady, every-two-week paycheck with benefits and a retirement plan. It certainly requires more faith to believe God is our provider when it’s from rather random, short-term jobs or writing songs that you won’t be paid for until 2012; or caring people who quietly and anonymously send gift cards to Wal-Mart or Target, with messages of love, encouragement and prayers.
I was speaking to a friend in a similar circumstance last week. We were talking about the struggle to feel like our lives are thriving, instead of just be in survival mode all the time. It’s hard. It’s just hard sometimes. It’s funny how the prosperity gospel creeps in, even a little bit, to our minds despite the fact that I certainly don’t believe it. But on the days when I’m clipping coupons from my grandmother’s Sunday paper she’s shared with me, so I can eek out a little more on our grocery budget, it’s tempting to think about people who haven’t lost their jobs and feel like maybe God has blessed them more, or maybe likes them more-not loves them, just likes them better. To say “Wow, God has really blessed them, they have a great job.” Does that mean He has not blessed our family, or our friends’ families, as we struggle; that He loves us any less?
To our minds, His blessings are the circumstances that look good in the non-Christian world view–safety and security, freedom from financial want. God’s eyes see differently than ours, and He can see, as my Bible Study Fellowship leader used to say “The end from the beginning.” His lenses do not view His blessings the way we do. As the Church, I think He wants to grow us to see things His way, the upside down economy of God.
I read Ann Voskamp’s book, 1000 Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Where You Are, and came across this quote by Jean-Pierre de Caussade from A Guide to Prayer for All God’s People: “You would be very ashamed if you knew what the experiences you call setbacks, upheavals, pointless disturbances, and tedious annoyances really are. You would realize that your complaints about them are nothing more nor less than blasphemies–though that never occurs to you. Nothing happens to you except by the will of God, and yet [God’s] beloved children curse it because they do not know it for what it is.” Wow. In God’s expansive mind, somehow, this loss of job is a blessing? This lack of money; this place of not knowing where the mortgage payment will come from, where we will work and live, how we will thrive, not survive is a blessing from God?
Ann’s unlocking the secret to living fully, having a full, God filled life when that life is hard or circumstances are difficult is not an idealistic theory she made up in a classroom. She’s lived it–a life that has included the pain of losing a baby sister to a horrible accident, witnessing her parents’ marriage dissolve and her mother not able to handle the pain of this world and watching her brother-in-law’s family bury two children. Her book is a journey to living the blessed life of gratitude or eucharisteo, seeing God’s blessings, not just in the flowers and the beauty in the world, but in what she calls the ugly-beautiful:
“Because eucharisteo is how Jesus, at the Last Supper, showed us to transfigure all things–take the pain that is given, give thanks for it, and tranform in to a joy that fulfills all emptiness. I have glimpsed it: This, the hard eucharisteo. The hard discipline to lean into the ugly and whisper thanks to transfigure it into beauty. The hard discipline to give thanks for all things at all times because He is all good. The hard discipline to number the griefs as grace because…God chooses to cut into my ungrateful heart to make me whole. All is grace only because all can transfigure.”
So, how to thrive and not just survive? How to not live as Peter, sinking in the waves, looking frantically with fear at the wind and waves he could not controll? It comes down to thanking God for what He has given me, not wishing for what He has chosen, in His omnipotence not to give. I will continue my gratitude list, and look harder for the blessings in the ugly-beautiful, the difficult, the sometimes painful circumstances. I will not fight these labor pains as something new, whatever it is, births in our lives and hearts and spirits. I will try to join the ranks fo George Muller, who waited expectantly and gratefully for God to provide the breakfast for his orphans and Corrie ten Boom, who thanked God for the lice in her barracks that kept the Nazi soldiers away. I will rest in Him and the knowledge that He is good, all the time. All the time.