“I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.”
Christmas is the ideal time to reflect on the gifts God has given. If I would attempt to count my blessings and name them one by one (as the old song instructs), I’m confident that I would quickly discover the impossibility of such a task. God has truly showered me with gifts, all of them undeserved, and many of them unexpected. James 1:17 reminds us of the source of every good gift in life: “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights…” Many times, I’ve recognized the unexpected gifts God has given for what they are—good and perfect. But there have also been times when, for the life of me, I couldn’t see anything good about what God had provided.
Take my years of singleness, for instance. I was almost 27 by the time I got married. Looking back, those years of waiting don’t seem that long, but at the time, I watched the years pass me by with a growing dread that I was destined for spinsterhood. Singleness, they said, was a gift, but I often wished I could head to customer service to make a quick and convenient exchange. Now, as a very happily married woman, I can reflect on my single years and thank the Lord for each and every one. I wouldn’t trade the work He did in my heart during that time for any other gift. Sometimes we just need God to adjust our perspective before we can see how perfect His gifts truly are.
Nearly 4 ½ years ago, God gave me another unexpected gift. Once again, it took me quite some time to recognize the goodness of God’s choice, but He has brought me to the place where I can honestly thank and praise Him for His wisdom. Childlessness was not the gift I asked for, but God knew it was exactly the gift that I needed. In recent posts, I’ve explained how the Lord has used the past few years of childlessness to teach me important lessons on submission and surrender. Today, I want to close out this series with two more lessons I’ve learned in the classroom of childlessness.
Lesson Three: Self Denial—There’s no party in a pity party
In my last post, I mentioned that trials provide us with new opportunities to see the true contents of our hearts. Although I hate to sully the pristine image of me that you may carry in your mind, I must tell you that when I don’t get what I want, I am capable of departing from my usual saintly behavior. ;) That’s putting it mildly, to say the least. Suffering provides a tremendous temptation to turn our attention inward and become entirely self-focused. The “Me Monster” that tends to stay somewhat satisfied during the good times, can become a raging beast when it’s deprived of something it really wants.
For a time, my monster would turn nearly every situation into a chance to howl and whine, “Look at me! Look at me!” When a friend would call with the good news that she was expecting a baby, the monster would ignore the Bible’s command to “rejoice with those who rejoice” and focus instead on how I didn’t have a baby. When a counselee at the pregnancy care center where I volunteer would tell me she didn’t want the baby she was carrying, the Me Monster would question God’s wisdom in bestowing fertility upon the ungrateful. And when other people would meddle and unwittingly allow their own Me Monsters to rub salt in the fresh wounds of my grieving heart, the monster would roar inside like an angry she-bear, and I had to fight to prevent my lips from vocalizing my thoughts.
Ah, yes, the years of infertility provided me with ample opportunity to realize how truly wrapped up in myself I had become. I love a good party, and a pity party took place in my heart almost 24/7. The problem with a pity party, as you probably know, is that it isn’t much of a party at all. As comedian Mark Lowry used to say, “There are only two people who come to a pity party—you and Satan.” Yuck. Party with Satan? I’d rather not, thank you.
Throughout this nasty battle with my selfish self, God was overwhelmingly gracious, as always, comforting me during times of genuine sorrow and convicting me of frequent occurrences of sin. He helped me to go through the process described in Ephesians 4:20-24 of putting off the old self with all of its sinful desires and cravings, being renewed in the spirit of my mind, and putting on the new self in the likeness of God. Basically what that means is that in order to overcome my sinful responses to my God-ordained trials, I had to stop the sinful behavior (self-pity, anger, bitterness, complaining, etc.), learn to think rightly (God accomplished this through prayer and His Word), and start behaving in ways pleasing to Him (showing gratefulness, reaching out to others, being patient, etc.). This process of sanctification took time as God slowly peeled back one layer after another from my stinky, onion-like heart, revealing more patterns of sin in my life that I had previously failed to notice or confront. Although the Me Monster still rears his ugly head on occasion, I am grateful to say that at least in regard to the issue of childlessness, the Lord has worked wonders in taming the angry beast.
Lesson Four: Satisfaction—All He has given is all that I need
While driving home the other day, I saw a horse that had wiggled its head through an opening in the fence so he could munch on some grass located on the other side. I laughed out loud as I thought how silly it was that he thought the salad bar on the outside of his corral would be superior to the acres of greens available on the inside of his pen. I went on to think about how much we as humans are like that horse. We’re always looking for the next big thing, aren’t we? When we’re teenagers, we can’t wait for college. Once in college, we can’t wait to get out. After graduation, we can’t wait to get married, and once married, we soon set our hearts on starting a family. It’s all too easy to focus so much on what we want next that we fail to enjoy what God has already given.
The Lord has not yet given me the next big thing, but He has given me the best thing—more of Himself. Last week on Focus on the Family, I heard a pastor named Ken Hutcherson, who has battled cancer for eight years, make this astounding statement, “Every pain that I felt has been a blessing from the Lord.” Referencing Romans 8:28-29, he expressed his belief that “There is no bad circumstance in a Christian’s life.” Although he acknowledged that we may go through terrible situations that cause us great pain, he went on to explain, “If anything is going to mold me like Jesus, how can it be bad?”
Even though I have never experienced anything like the suffering that Pastor Hutcherson has endured, I think I understand what he means. If I had the chance to go back 4 ½ years and change my life’s events so that instead of experiencing childlessness I could have started a family on my own timetable, I wouldn’t do it. If life had gone according to my plans, I could have continued to believe that I was content in God alone, when in reality, I was only “content” because God had given me all that I wanted. Through this trial, He has caused me to love Him more, He’s torn down false idols in my heart, He’s molded me to look just a little bit more like Christ, and He has turned me into a more effective worshipper. I’ll admit that my story wouldn’t make for a good Christian movie script—I haven’t experienced what is often thought of as the “happy ending,” but I am happy and even more. I am content. The gift was unexpected, but it is good, and I praise the Lord for what He has done.
What unexpected gifts has God used in your own life?