Have you ever noticed God working in your life by taking the things your heart craves and then giving you the exact opposite? I’ve been really struggling lately with such ugly tagalongs as discontentment, self-pity, resentment–and, being the constant thinker and analyzer that I tend to be, I think I’ve finally nailed down at least the source of those not-so-lovely clouds that have been hanging over me. Very simply put, I have not gotten what I want. And just like my children, I pout about it. Yes, in outward appearances, my cup is full. I have an awesome husband who is crazy enough to think I’m beautiful and funny and calls me his best friend. I have five beautiful and intelligent children who are in perfect health and bring immeasurable joy to our house. I have an extended family, including in-laws, who are nothing but supportive and loving and awesome. We have a stable and steady income, definitely not to be discounted in times such as these. We are serving in ministry with some brothers and sisters in Christ whom we love like family. So God has absolutely been exceedingly gracious to me.
But there are a couple of intangibles that I have always craved and seem to have been thus far unfulfilled. One of these is to simply be part of the group, part of the status quo. Now, notice that I didn’t say that my unfulfilled desires are necessarily good desires. To desire conformity flies right in the face of Romans 12:1-2. I know that, but sometimes what my mind knows and what my heart wants to feel are two entirely different things. Right or wrong, I can look back at my past and now see specific times when my desire for conformity caused some conflict within me. Like in school–I would consistently get top grades but began to feel embarrassed by them by about third grade. One particular moment stands out–in third grade for whatever reason, the end-of-the-year awards were given out in the classroom instead of in the auditorium in front of all the other classes. My teacher kept naming subjects: math, spelling, science, social studies. Subject after subject, my name was called to come to her desk for the certificate. At some point, a few kids said, “Why don’t you just stand up there and get them all at one time?” Unsure what to do, I stood there for a moment to see if that’s what my teacher wanted me to do. But no, she made me go back and sit down in between every award, forcing me to make seven or eight trips back and forth between my desk and hers. That’s the first time I can remember feeling embarrassed about my grades, I think because that’s the first time it was really singled out in such an obvious way that I was not just part of the group as far as grades were concerned. For the rest of my school days, I continued to make top grades, but continued to feel embarrassed anytime a fuss was made over them or anytime they brought too much attention my way. I really was proud of my grades and continued to strive for those A’s, but I wished it could just be done in secret. Silly example? Maybe, but it’s just one way I see now how the desire to not be too different took root in my life. In recent years, this has played out in a couple other ways. For example, having five kids and homeschooling them is always good for some comments, as is no secret in my writings. For the record, I feel absolutely 100% convinced and called to have this exact family and raise them this exact way. But I’d be dishonest if I said there weren’t ever moments when I thought, “Lord, why did You call me to this path that is so different from the crowd? It would be so much easier for me if I just got to live like everyone else and not always be looked upon as different.” Desiring conformity again. Silly, even a little humiliating to admit here so publicly, but authentic none-the-less.
Another desire that has gone largely unfulfilled at least since my marriage is the desire for some sense of permanency. I think this is the one that’s affecting me the most right now. The desire for permanency, I don’t think, is inherently wrong. But it rears its ugly head often enough to leave me wrestling with Discontentment and his unfriendly friends. Life in a minister’s family does not often come with a side of permanency. I did not grow up in a minister’s family. My dad has had the same job longer than he’s been my dad. I lived in the same house until I was 18, and my parents still lived in the house we built that year. Out of all my family up to my grandparents on either side, I am the only one who does not live in Somerset or within 30 minutes of Somerset. Some ministry families manage to accomplish this as well, but God has not seen fit to let us put down roots just yet. But I long for roots. I look around at our friends here in Salem and our family back in Somerset and realize that almost every one of them can look ahead a few years with a very reasonable assumption that they’ll still be living in the same place they are now. We thought a couple years ago when we moved here that this might be the place that we could finally do that, and it still might. But as much as I’d love to say for sure, “Yes, we’re absolutely staying here. We will not be leaving this position or this town,” that’s just not possible in the ministry, especially in the middle of this transition time where we currently find ourselves, waiting for a pastor and knowing nothing about the kind of leader he’ll be or ministry philosophy he’ll have or exactly how we’ll fit in after he gets here. So lately we’re operating on the mindset of, “We’re here now and that’s all we know.” And really, in Scripture, we’re never promised tomorrow anyway, are we? But while I know that I can trust God to do what is good for my family, and that my idea of roots may not be what would be good at all, I find myself sometimes being completely overwhelmed with this desire to belong, to have roots, to have permanency.
Even a desire that’s not wrong in and of itself can become an idol. I’m seeing recently how I’ve let both of these desires become idols in my heart. Wonder why I keep finding myself in situations where I think differently or do things differently or live differently than those around me? Maybe to refine the idol of conformity right out of my heart. Wonder why, as much as I long for roots, we’ve lived in five towns and been members of six churches in eleven years of marriage and find ourselves again in a situation that is uncertain? Maybe to refine my heart to long for my roots to grow in Christ instead of a town. Refining is a process, and it involves, among other things, knocking down idols just as surely as the idol fell apart beside the Ark of the Covenant. And deep down, even in the midst of a pity party, I long to be refined as gold, tested and found true in the fire. So Lord, strengthen me and open my eyes to see that You’re with me in the fire just as You were with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. We all have unfulfilled desires, and we all are susceptible to letting those desires become idols. Let’s respond rightly to these fires of not getting that for which we long, so that when a real, raging fire threatens, we will already be in an attitude of submission and trust, so that as the fire burns around us, in whatever form He chooses to send it–whether by true sorrow and suffering, or by simply withholding a desire from us–it will burn down our idols and purify our hearts as gold in His eyes.