Thought-provoking guest post by my friend Janel Breitenstein
Lately—I’ve been grieving.
The short version: My family and I are moving back from Africa, i.e. place I have felt technicolor, I-heart-my-life alive for the last five years. Though I believe God is showing us it’s time to move back for now, and though it’s also been a place where our family has encountered profound suffering, all of us are struggling with returning. We’ve been so stinkin’ happy in this place. For me, serving in my sweet spot has throbbed with purpose and meaning.
Ugly truth: My hide has been, off and on, a little chapped. I don’t completely understand why God’s doing this. And after all we have endured here, truth is still percolating into my heart that, hey, God can put me wherever He wants me.
Truth: Even (especially?) in work that serves God, I can get pretty…entitled.
During this last trip to America, my mom recalled a time from my teenage years. She and my dad had just left the family farm to join staff with Cru. But in the place they were stationed, the schools were actually quite…underwhelming. Though God could still turn amazing feats with my sisters’ and my education—and did, in fact—because of her sacrifice, she admitted to feeling entitled for God to make it up to her.
It’s actually not unlike some of the prosperity-driven beliefs that have lit Africa afire: Give to God, and He’ll give to you.
When my heart gets like this, sometimes it’s as if I’ve transformed God into some kind of cosmic vending machine. Tim Keller writes,
From [Christian Smith’s] research he concluded that most young American adults are “practical Deists”—though few of them have ever heard the term. Smith meant that they see God as a being whose job it is to meet their needs. The implicit but strong cultural assumption of young adults is that God owes all but the most villainous people a comfortable life.
….The presumption of spiritual entitlement dooms its bearers to a life of confusion when things in life inevitably go wrong.
…If there really is an infinitely glorious God, why should the universe revolve around us rather than around him?
…Perhaps the real puzzle is this: Why in light of our behavior as a human race, does God allow so much happiness?
God does love to bless us; loves to bless our kids! Scripture is stuffed with evidence that God loves to reward the sacrifice and goodness of His people.
And yet—there’s a thin line, I think, between our kids trusting in God’s good character, His working everything out for our good, waiting expectantly for God to work on our behalf…and us feeling entitled to His tangible reward here on this planet, when we want it, as we want it.
Yes, God is our portion in the land of the living. Yes, those who give up houses and farms and relationships for the sake of God’s Kingdom will receive 100 times as much in this life and the life to come. But how terrible would it be if we trained our kids to love God (as Satan accused God of Job) to love God for what we get?
Practically, what’s this look like with our kids? Shouldn’t we tell them God will reward their kindness, their generosity? In a few words: The difference lies in whether we’re training them “I deserve” rather than “I trust.”
Perhaps especially as North American children, they might be tempted to think God will help them to realize their dreams if they’re living for Him. In our culture that so rigorously attempts to stave off death and suffering, perhaps they will not expect to suffer. To experience the God who not only gives, but takes away.
If my “faith-filled” theology doesn’t apply to, say, a faith-filled Syrian refugee or a Chinese factory worker, does it really hold water? Would it be helpful, truthful, and compassionate to say, “You can be anything you want to be?” Or, “Nothing bad is going to happen?”
The other night, my oldest came to me before bed with a toothache in a tooth projected to fall out in the next couple of months. I would love it if the thing fell out on its own. So we prayed together for God’s kindness to let that baby fall out rather than us going to the dentist. And I don’t feel the need to hedge my prayers, making sure God has an “out” if He doesn’t want to “show up” (as if unanswered prayers are God not showing up, right?!). But in my prayer, I did include, Lord, if this isn’t what you want, help us to trust you and give you the glory anyway.
Someday, our kids might be like Job, standing on the black edge of their own child’s grave, or forfeiting all their material wealth in this world. I suppose I want my kids to be ready even if God doesn’t say yes to what they hoped desperately for (see this excellent post by Melissa Edgington: Even If He Doesn’t). As much as I hate to admit it—God does not owe our children happiness, fulfilling careers, or even health.
Whatever hits them, I long for them to be able to turn their suffering not into demanding, but praise.