I realized this weekend that something has happened to me. I wish I could say it’s been a good change– a noble transformation. But in terms of Life After Rehab, it probably would fall under the category of “relapse”. The best way for me to sum up my condition: an ugly exchange.
In preparation for a women’s retreat in which I am speaking in a couple of months, I’ve been studying the simple reality that God takes the bad and replaces it with good. Charles Spurgeon calls it the ‘beautiful exchange’. There are numerous places in Scripture where God promises to take the ugly and replace it with beauty–to give us an amazing trade. It’s the spiritual version of receiving filet mignon in exchange for a day old peanut butter and jelly sandwich at the lunch table. We do nothing but benefit from the deal.
However, this is what I mean by my recent ugly exchange:
I’ve given back the fillet mignon and have snatched the pb and j after it’s been halfway down the throat of another. It’s gross and ugly.
I went from a sensitivity to the Spirit’s stimulation to an overstimulation of insensitivity.
November is the month of ‘thanks’. It’s customary to stuff our faces, overindulging in the good stuff at Thanksgiving dinner, and go around the table giving thanks for all we have. What better time is there than now to refresh gratitude, to count bounty, to turn away from the ugly exchange and embrace once again the good Jesus has for me?
I’ve gone from scooping up dish after dish of all that God has placed before me, to starring at my empty plate listening to others ask for me to pass the sweet potatoes. I look down and have forgotten to lift my eyes to the cornucopia feast laid with care for me– well, for all of us. I have starred at the emptiness and have entrapped my eyes on all that is missing, insomuch that when I hear the requests of little ones for help in cutting their turkey or buttering their roll, I forget that the table is even set. When I hear loved ones asking me to pass the green bean casserole, I grow frustrated and disillusioned. I merely shout back, “We don’t have turkey, we don’t have butter…there is no green bean casserole!” But, of course, in front of my place card, the facts are sure and certain: There is a bounty to be had. Yet, all I can see is scarcity on a shiny white plate.
There is nothing for me.
There is nothing for them.
What went wrong? Where has the beauty gone? Why has the sensitivity to the Spirit abandoned me?
I have approached the table without gratitude, with eyes closed to what the Father has prepared for me. My vision is near-sighted and all I see is what lay immediately under my nose. When I have been sensitive to the Spirit, it is only because my first waking breath has started with authentic gratitude.
Ann Voskamp has picked up and reenergized what has existed since creation: “And God saw that it was good.” It’s a fact and an attitude of thanks that our society has forgotten. We love to wallow in our hardships. We love to loathe in our sufferings, because to do so (in theory) receives the attention and affections of others. Why are we so hungry for pity and mercy to fill our plates when love and grace have been poured out to quench our appetites?
Have you ever known someone who is (or perhaps you find yourself) longing for encouragement, affirmation, and care, only to receive pity? It doesn’t satisfy our hearts. Most of the time when we pity others, they only persist all the more in telling us how horrible or difficult the situation because their need has not been met. In our selfishness, this only convinces us to serve another round of pity and false compassion. Almost assuredly when we are overstimulated by the sensitivity of others all we seem to produce for them is disingenuous pity. It’s a horrible cycle. In our competitive society we are rarely comfortable to sacrificially love and support one another. We wrongly assume that genuine care jeopardizes our own successes. We desire lack-luster meals of pity because there is an absence of daily and persistent offerings of authentic gratitude for one another.
What if we daily fed to one another encouragement, reminders of God’s love, words that promote peace and gentleness? We’d probably sound like happy-go-lucky hippies…and maybe that’s my point.
We might sound uber-positive in a sarcastic and ribbing world, and that might be uncomfortable (for us and others). It might even look a little self-righteous or inauthentic in the eyes of those who’d rather live at surface level competing for “best-looking”, “most-popular”, or “most likely to succeed”. However, we wouldn’t be so aggravated by the weak, the needy, or the hungry. We’d see the feast of provision before us. We’d smell all the wonder of pumpkin pie and desire to share it even with those who mock us. We wouldn’t be so cruel and self-centered and we’d pass the friggin’ peace!
I have taken the beauty of the Holy Spirit and traded it in for the old selfish pouting of the past. What was I thinking?
When I adhere to the Word of God:
1 Thessalonians 5:18: “…give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
…than I realize I have more than enough to share. I have more than enough time. I have more than enough compassion. I have more than enough love. I have more than enough prayer. I have more than enough grace. Not because I am righteous, holy, or better than others, but because it has been graciously given. I stop being insensitive and annoyed and am genuinely thankful that I have been adequately equipped for all the hungry mouths before me…and I even start sounding like I have peace that passes understanding and joy that never ends.
Please, be my guest at the table and have a generous helping. The feast set before us tastes much better…
…and there’s more than enough to go around.