“You’ll never guess what just happened?!”
“Oh no, what?!” My husband says, looking at me with a concerned expression.
“My electric toothbrush, the brand new one I’ve had for 2 weeks, is broken!”
The concerned expression fades away and is replaced by look of mixed relief and frustration.
“Mary Rose, why don’t you try not to complain for the rest of the day, no matter what else happens.”
His encouragement/correction stings and the frustration inside of me prepares to bubble over. How could he be frustrated with me when it’s really all the toothbrushes fault!
I wish I could say that I don’t regularly get angry at inanimate objects, but sadly I do. It’s been a joke in my family for years. I am not naturally a particularly joyful person. Most days I can find a million and one things to complain about, critique, and be generally dissatisfied with and lately, it’s been quite bad. Thank goodness the Lord puts people in our lives who call us on to holiness.
Rewind a couple of years. My husband and I had a wonderful courtship- we fell in love doing youth work in Detroit and a few years after meeting God brought our paths back together again. When we started dating, I knew that there was a lot of discernment in store for me- he was from Scotland, I was from Michigan. He felt strongly called by the Lord to return to Glasgow (after having lived in the US for some time) to start grad school. It became clear that I would need to think about a move to Scotland. I asked the Lord and he spoke quite clearly- I knew in my heart that he desired for Andy and me to be together (as did I!) and that he had mission for us to do together. I knew, on paper, what the sacrifices of such a move would be. I said yes.
Fast forward to fall of this year. My willing heart was nowhere to be found. I was deep in the trenches battling it out with God over the sacrifices I knew I would have to make but had at some point decided were too painful. I had grown used to stuffing the feelings of home sickness down deep where they couldn’t be found. I would stifle tears and ignore the heart ache. Yes, I knew all the scripture verses. I knew God had good plans for me and that leaving behind my friends and family was a sacrifice that the Lord would honor. But I’ve felt the pain of separation from my family, I’ve heard my mother’s tears as we say goodbye over the phone again, 3,500 miles apart. I thought sheer grit and determination would get me through the hard times.
Then I find myself complaining to my husband about my broken electric toothbrush and suddenly, things begin to unravel in my mind. I realize that I have run out of places to stuff my grief and that grief was making its way into my everyday- poisoning my outlook, predisposing me to complaining and generally making me bitter. What was at one time a healthy grief had turned into something that was unhealthy. I was trying to deal with my emotions on my own and was slowly turning into a hardened, joy-less, chronic complainer. The sacrifice I had made freely and joyfully to the Lord? Well, I was asking for it back. My spirit had lost its willingness.
Advent arrived and I hear the Lord’s persistent call to behold him and to let myself be held by him. My heart is worn out, it's will to solve all on it's own, gone. I realize my own shortcomings, my puffed-up pride and self-sufficiency. I see my brokenness and I slowly bring myself to acknowledge that my heart ache, my stifled tears and all my fears must be offered up to the one who created my heart. What comfort I have found these past couple weeks knowing that Jesus came as a small baby and endured humanity. That he would see the pain in his mother’s eyes when she knew she would lose him and he would hear her cries. That he would surround himself with a group of men, his disciples, all of whom would have to leave family and friends for love of him. He must’ve known their sorrow, their heart ache at leaving their loved ones.
And so, I come to Week 3, Joy. I check my mail this morning and find a book, One Thousand Gifts, that I had ordered many weeks ago. I tear open the package, excited to feel the book in my hands. I’ve read this book before and have found much comfort in the author’s words. I gently open the cover and begin reading. These words jump out to me:
“Where hides this joy of the Lord, this God who fills the earth with good things, and how do I fully live when life is full of hurt? How do I wake up to joy and grace and beauty and all that is the fullest life when I must stay numb to losses and crushed dreams and all that empties me out?”
I pause, knowing these words are meant for me. Lately, I have felt that joy is an elusive idea. I thought I could force myself to be joyful, but (shockingly) as often as I grit my teeth and try to eek out some joy…it most often never appeared.
As I continue reading 1 Corinthians 2:7 is offered up “His secret purpose framed from the very beginning is to bring us to our full glory.” As I reread these words a new truth sinks into my heart. I guess maybe I didn’t know all the verses. The holes that have been bored into my heart because of my lack of trust and confidence in the Lord- he will heal those too. His plan will bring me to the full glory he intends for me. Hope stirs in my heart.
In chapter 2 of One Thousand Gifts the author recounts the story of the ten lepers from Luke 17. “Jesus asked, ‘Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ Then he said to him, ‘Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” Luke 17:17-19 NIV
Christ came to give me fullness of life. Although this leper was healed physically, he was not healed fully until he returned to Christ to give thanks. It was the leper’s faith that saved him, and his was a faith that said thank you.
I pause again. Have my circumstances this last year been trying? Yes. Have I had reason to grieve? Yes. But mine is a life meant to be fully given over to Christ and I have allowed the wounds and hurts I have been nursing to stop myself from giving thanks, keeping me far from the fullness of life that God has for me. I realize, with a heaviness in my heart, that I have been refusing to say thank you to the Lord. Yes, I have offered up praises and thanksgiving- but they have been hollow, offered against a backdrop of you have taken something precious from me. Deep, heartfelt, soul-singing thankfulness…that I have not offered to the Lord.
When I think of a full life, I think of a joy-filled life, an abundant life. In my mind now the connection is clear- for my life to be full, as God intends, I must have a faith that thanks the Lord. I must have a faith that despite any circumstances, chooses to express gratitude to my Creator.
Sisters- I don’t have much of this figured out. My reflections have led me to one simple truth: I need to give thanks. So for this week, let’s keep it simple. Will you strive, along with me, to express a genuine gratitude to the Lord and name at least 15 things each day you are thankful for?
My suspicion is that in the careful counting of God’s blessings, big and small, our hearts will be awakened to just how much the Lord is giving us, truly, a full and whole life. We will see just how many times the Lord is saying I love you and I choose you. Pure Joy.
Father, help me. You know my frailty, particularly the frailty of my heart. I repent of the many times I have given into my feelings and left your blessings unacknowledged. Your faithfulness, Lord, truly reaches to the heavens. Help me to change my heart Lord, that I may be more like you. This week Lord I will give you genuine thanks and praise for your goodness to me. Thank you, Father, for revealing more of your truth to me this week. Thank you that you do not let me stay in a rut, but offer me, always, a path onwards and upwards. (I prayed this prayer, feel free to use it too!)
A note on the book: the quote mentioned above is from Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts. The book is published by Zondervan, copyright 2010, and is available on Amazon and other online retailers.