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When We Grow Up

Do you remember when you were a kid what you wanted to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be a missionary pilot. . . and a stunt woman and military captain, a horse tamer and rock climber and famous author. I was going to be gutsy and strong and independent: like Mulan, like Arwen, like Black Widow, like J.K Rowling. I dreamt of being heroic, taking a stand against the forces of evil, slaying dragons, and doing glorious work . . .

There’s this place in the backyard where I sit and watch the children, and from there I’ve been noticing the paint bubbling on a rafter beam for quite some time. And the other day I climbed up there and poked at it with a screw driver, and the beam just disintegrated amidst termite droppings. I was supposed to fertilize the lawn a few months ago, but I forgot. The rocking chair cushions on my front porch are still covered in ash from the recent fires. And the other day someone waved me down on the road to tell me my tail lights were out.

My daily to-do's are anything but exciting or glorious. Was I wrong to hope for something else?

Shall I go looking for adventure in a new house, a new job, or a new hobby? Or shall I give up chasing the rainbows end by becoming a disillusioned sensible woman who doesn’t expect too much of life, who looks down on those childish dreams and is quite content to be older and wiser now.

Or do I believe that: if God gave me these longings for adventure and danger and glory, that he also means to fill them?

“If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or be unthankful for, these earthly blessing, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same.” (Lewis, 137)

“To press on to that other country." To be at peace, full of joy and gratitude in this country because I am thinking about that heavenly one . . . to do effective and glorious work here because I am part of God’s eternal work.

How does anyone do that? What do we have to do? More service? More giving up our desires? And if I'm dissatisfied here with my daily tasks, if don’t feel the Lord’s peace and contentment, am I doing something wrong? Shall I try harder? Read the Bible more? Be a more sacrificial wife and mom?

Perhaps you’re like me in that I keep falling into this trap of thinking that I'm an essential player in supplying peace and satisfaction and joy to myself.

Oh, the striving that has gone on thinking that it’s all up to me, that my works were necessary to make it all happen. I have strained and stressed believing that . . .

If I'm not a good enough parent . . .
If I don’t soothe this angry person . . .
If I don’t model Christianity well to my unbelieving neighbors . . .
If I don’t say the right things . . .
If I don’t keep in touch . . .
If I don’t pinch pennies. . .
If I don’t speak up . . . .
If I don’t keep my mouth shut . . .

And the Lord, again and again, has asked me, "What? What would happen if you didn’t do these things?

. . . would you do irreparable damage to your kids, put them beyond the Lord’s reach?
. . . would you run out of money and go into debt, unseen and uncared for by God?
. . . would you end up looking just like everyone else, no different, not created unique?
. . . would you implode with a burst of emotion that you’d rather others not see because that would break the illusion that you're more righteous than them?
. . . would that friend shut you out and never speak to you again proving you aren't worth loving?
. . . would the Lord himself be displeased with you, shake his head and tsk tsk tsk?

How we deceive ourselves into thinking that our labor is necessary to produce good fruit: a little peace, a little joy, a little glory for God’s kingdom. We’re like Cain putting all the fruit of our labor onto the alter before God when what God wants has already been given . . . the lamb on the cross.

What’s the point of our efforts then? Why try at all? Because now, all our efforts lead us again and again to the vital moment in which we turn to God and say, ‘You must do this. I can’t.’ (Lewis, 146)

Our essential work—the only fruit we produce that in the end won’t burn like hay and stubble on the altar—is our surrender to God's work in us.

“Of all the plans of securing success, the most certain is Christ’s own, becoming a [kernel] of wheat, falling into the ground and dying.” (Ragland quoted in Wilson-Carmichael, 233)

Your success is “what God does with your life as he sets it right, puts it together, and completes it with joy.” (Rm 14:17 MSG)

The work no longer streaked with our own anxious striving, that's the work that doesn’t burn in the end. That is eternal. That produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and self control.

If we ever want to know what our work is, it is to let go and trust God do his work . . . both in us and through us. Isn't that the only way to be filled? By first being emptied?

And isn’t that what Abraham and Moses and Elijah did? They joined in what God was doing because they believed he would do it, not them. And God's work is always something we never would’ve guessed. That's why this world keeps disappointing me and probably you too. We've invented a different story in our heads about how things ought to work out. Or as Amy Carmichael described it, the devil has come and painted in our minds glorious pictures of what might have been (Carmichael, Loc 68).

But God’s work is quite different. He will disappoint us a thousand times to do a better work, to write a better story, one far more complex than the one we had invented. One that makes beauty out of termite-eaten wood and unfertilized lawns and the latest ashes on the front porch. One that uses the ongoing process of refining, this friction that wears us down in the places we thought we’re the strongest . . . until finally we see that here too we need Jesus.

“I hear the Savior say
Thy strength indeed is small
Child of weakness watch and pray
Find in me thy all and all.” (Elvina M. Hall, Jesus Paid It All)

Carmichael, Amy. Candles in the Dark. Fort Washington: CLC Publications, Kindle Version 2012.

Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity. New York: HarperCollins, 1996.

Ragland Fellow of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge as quoted in Wilson-Carmichael, Amy.  Things as They Are: Mission Work in Southern India. London: Morgan and Scott, 1905.


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