It is vain to look for a defense against lightning.
--Publilius Syrus, Maxim 835
When I was very small, I would go forward to altar call every week at church. There was a madness and meanness in me that the world just wouldn't leave alone. I rarely went looking for trouble . . . yet somehow it always found me, even if it came disguised as an older sister persecuting me to amuse herself when she was bored. And, in my anger, I would sin, over and over again. (My fuse has always been quite long, but once the explosion is ignited, it's not pretty.)
But the point is that even if I didn't understand how salvation was supposed to work, I knew even then that I wasn't as I ought to be when left to my own devices.
A decade of church later, I was still filling my seat for the word, just not listening to it. Familiarity breeds contempt, and even if I didn't despise the word of God, I didn't live it. I would have argued if someone had said God didn't exist, but my own behavior said that He didn't. Life had happened to me in some pretty painful ways and my own stubborn intellect fought against some of the biblical teachings; occasionally it still does.
Like Adam and Eve after the fall, I hid from God--as if He couldn't see my nakedness no matter where I stood! I partied, I ran around, I even looked at Wicca. I liked the idea of a religion filled with strong women who didn't have to submit simply based on gender. And the part of me that still liked fairy tales enjoyed the pagan mythology and "magic" that came along with it.
But the rational side of me couldn't give in. None of the theology made sense to me. Something primitive in me was drawn to the earthy ritual in ways that I couldn't understand, but no matter how I looked at it--well, at the end of the day, Wiccans still pretty much "picked" what gods or goddesses they wanted to worship based on characteristics they themselves wanted to embody.
Huh? Either the god(s) are real or they're not. If they're real, then give them due reverence. If they're not, then no amount of wishful thinking will make them live, no matter how much I want to positive-think my way to having a certain characteristic.
So conversely, the very facets of Christianity that make some people turn away helped me turn back to it and embrace the truth that set me free: good people suffer, some of the Bible doesn't make sense to me, and God requires certain behaviors of us that go against the grain (chastity, honesty, self-sacrifice).
Meaning, it's not something that any human I know would make up. There is a plan beyond my knowledge that I can't quite comprehend, designed by a Being who isn't just a more powerful version of me. And I will have to wrestle with God, just as Jacob did long ago, to get my blessing.
Goes against the grain, doesn't it? God and Jesus promise many blessings throughout the Bible to different people in different places and times . . .
. . . But the form of the blessing is not all beauty and light and lots of stuff. Despite much of the upbeat focus in modern times on blessings of prosperity, there are worse things than being poor. Being proud, being a liar, being a thief, being so focused on our happiness here that we forget our need. In our enjoyment of the blessings of plenty, we often grow comfortable and indifferent, cruel and condescending. We begin to believe we are sufficient in ourselves--that somehow we have "earned" all that we have. After all, the Lord helps those who help themselves.
How constantly I've "kicked against the goads," to borrow a phrase from the Book of Acts. How often I've torn my hair out and wasted my time fighting adversity in event after event, resenting the people who "have it easy" and are too busy being satisfied with their good lives to understand.
I've been silly and stubborn. Thank God for many blessings and many chances! Today I get to thank God for a weird blessing: that of many troubles. Too many to solve, too many to wade out of, too many to handle well.
There was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me...For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7b-10)
So I give thanks to the Maker for my blessings of plenty--troubles enough to remind me day by day that I cannot be anything that I would remotely admire on my own. To remind me that I need Him. To remind me that I was somehow enough of a reason to come to Earth to suffer for my redemption. I'm sure I'll forget again at some point. But I also know that when I do, God will be aware of my need and can meet me with blessings of plenty.
Lisa Holloway is a Christian freelance writer, as well as a copy editor and writer for Inspiration Networks. She has served with the U.S. Navy and USAID/OFDA, and has studied in India. She recently wrote four stories for the compilation "Can My Marriage Be Saved?"
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